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Eighth Grade is so grounded in the reality of middle school it almost operates like a horrible collective flashback.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: January 4, 2018

10 NEW TO NETFLIX

"The Age of Shadows"
"Apollo 13"
"Batman"
"Cinema Paradiso"
"The Godfather"
"Lethal Weapon"
"Marie Antoinette"
"Nymphomaniac"
"The Shawshank Redemption"
"The Truman Show"

13 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD

"American Made"

Tom Cruise's career needs to turn. The ageless star (the classic trivia being that he's older now than Wilford Brimley was in "Cocoon") coasted through his 40s and early 50s, somehow selling characters that seemed much younger. Well, he's 55 now, and "The Mummy" and "American Made" are both films that undeniably would have been better two decades ago. While he still looks like a movie star, the energy has changed, and it feels like director Doug Liman knows that, and therefore chooses to film "American Made" as hyperactively as possible to disguise it. There are still beats that work, and the true story of a pilot who became a tool for drug runners and the CIA is pretty fascinating, but this movie's attempts to be "Wolf of Wall Street" ridiculous feel forced more than fun. It's a movie that's never boring, but never quite works either. And, more than ever, it makes me want to see how one of the biggest movie stars of all time figures out what's next because he can't keep this up.

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Special Features
Deleted Scenes 
American Storytellers 
Cruise & Liman: A Conversation 
In the Wings 
Shooting American Made 
Flying High 
The Real Barry Seal

"Battle of the Sexes"

Before (and even shortly after) its TIFF premiere, "Battle of the Sexes" felt like a major awards season player. After a modest box office run (although over $12.5 million for a movie like this is pretty impressive), the conversation seemed to peter out, and I wonder if anyone will be talking about this flick at all in a month or two. Fox was smart to get the Blu-ray out quickly and try to rekindle the talk around the film before that happens. I was very mixed on the movie at TIFF but it likely plays better at home and without all that "Premiere" expectation. There are two definite reasons to rent the film: Emma Stone & Andrea Riseborough, who both give performances strong enough to overcome the film's flaws.

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Special Features
Raw Footage: Billie Jean's Grand Entrance
Reigniting the Rivalry
Billie Jean King: In Her Own Words
Galleries

"Brad's Status"

Well-intentioned but a bit too sitcomish for my tastes, I'm including Mike White's latest anyway so I can mention how much I like the new phase of Ben Stiller. As much as Cruise seems to be fighting his age, Stiller is embracing the age in which parents often live too vicariously through their children or try to dissect the legacy of their older parents as Stiller did brilliantly in "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)," which contains one of his best performances. I hope Stiller continues to push himself as an actor. My problems here are more script-based and the sheer enormity of films that I've seen about middle-age crises. It's just too hard for them to say anything new at this point. Don't get me wrong. You could do a lot worse on a Saturday night, but it's the kind of movie you forget the instant it's over.

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Special Features
A Look at Ben Stiller as Brad 
A Culture of Comparing Ourselves 
Mike White on Directing His Own Script 
The Story of Brad's Status

"Brawl in Cell Block 99"

It's funny to consider the way people watch movies in 2018 in the context of this film. It felt like one of those flicks that a lot of people on Twitter were talking about at one point or another but it literally barely played in theaters, being released on VOD after its festival run in 2017. This seems like a film that bypassed the traditional theatrical window and still made an impact. And it clearly is a film that's going to be watched for years to come. Not only does it contain arguably Vince Vaughn's best-ever performance, but it's got that brutal, visceral, B-movie quality that people watch over and over again on Blu-ray. The coolest dorm room parties this fall will be in ones that have a "Brawl in Cell Block 99" poster.

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Special Features
Journey to the Brawl: The Making of Brawl in Cell Block 99
Beyond Fest Q&A with Cast & Crew

"The Breakfast Club" (Criterion)

Criterion took a lot of flack from Film Twitter when they announced the release of this beloved John Hughes flick, a movie considered a bit too mainstream and a bit too mediocre for the most important film collection in history. My response was simple: "World Cinema Projects don't pay for themselves." And not only is this a clear profit generator for a company that can then funnel those profits into lesser-known titles, but it could very easily be the "Blu-ray Gateway Drug" for young movie lovers who buy something accessible like this, realize the quality of the Criterion brand, and then dig deeper into the collection. John Hughes would be happy to know his film about outsiders could lead to the discovery of previously unheard voices for movie fans everywhere. And the actual release here is really good, featuring the best treatment the film has ever received. It's one of the most loaded Criterion titles in a long time too, including commentary, interviews, deleted scenes, and tons of archival material. Maybe "Weird Science" is next.

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Special Features
4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Alternate 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary from 2008 featuring actors Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson
New interviews with actors Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy
New video essay featuring director John Hughes’s production notes, read by Nelson
Documentary from 2008 featuring interviews with cast and crew
Fifty minutes of never-before-seen deleted and extended scenes
Rare promotional and archival interviews
Excerpts from a 1985 American Film Institute seminar with Hughes
1999 radio interview with Hughes
Segment from a 1985 episode of NBC’s Today featuring the film’s cast
Audio interview with Ringwald from a 2014 episode of This American Life
Trailer
PLUS: An essay by author and critic David Kamp

"Dunkirk"

I walked out of Christopher Nolan's latest and said to my wife, "I think we just saw the movie that wins the most Academy Awards," and I still think that's true. The technical accomplishment that is "Dunkirk" is remarkable, and given the divided awards season we've gone through, I think it could even climb all the way to Best Director and Best Picture, two categories in which it's a lock to be nominated and a frontrunner to win. How does the film play at home? Splendidly. So much was made of "how" to see "Dunkirk," but it's a blessing that WB released the Blu-ray as their technical transfers are the best of any major studio. The movie looks and sounds incredible, and has been accompanied by a dozen special features about its production. "Dunkirk" is one of those movies people will be watching for decades. Get your copy now.

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Special Features
Creation: Revisiting the Miracle
Creation: Dunkerque
Creation: Expanding the Frame
Creation: The In-Camera Approach
Land: Rebuilding the Mole
Land: The Army on the Beach
Land: Uniform Approach
Air: Taking to the Air
Air: Inside the Cockpit
Sea: Assembling the Naval Fleet
Sea: Launching the Moonstone
Sea: Taking to the Sea
Sea: Sinking the Ships
Sea: The Little Ships
Conclusion: Turning Up the Tension
Conclusion: The Dunkirk Spirit

"Game of Thrones: The Complete Seventh Season"

Speaking of beloved properties given excellent home treatment, we missed HBO's latest season set for "Game of Thrones" near the end of 2017 and so wanted to pick it up here. I'm on the record as thinking the show is one of the more overrated entries in the Peak TV era, but I have always praised how well HBO/WB treat the hardcore fans of this Emmy winner and the pattern holds true for the seventh season. Not only are the episodes in the same gorgeous quality as on their HD premieres but the set includes HOURS of special features, including a brand-new animated history of the universe of this show on a separate disc.

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Special Features
Conquest & Rebellion: An Animated History of the Seven Kingdoms
From Imagination to Reality: Inside the Art Department
Fire & Steel: Creating the Invasion of Westeros
Audio Commentaries
Histories and Lore (Blu-ray Exclusive)
In-Episode Guides (Blu-ray Exclusive)

"Lucky"

It's a real shame that Magnolia has decided that they no longer need to release most of their films on Blu-ray, going digital-only for HD and standard-only for collectors of physical media. So, the same problem that has befallen several of their titles recently (and will "The Square" soon) happens to "Lucky," which got a DVD-only release at the end of last year. Complaints about that boneheaded decision aside, how's the movie? Well, it was Matt Zoller Seitz's #1 of 2017. What more do you need to know? It's a beautiful elegy to a cinematic legend, a film built around the worldview and life of Harry Dean Stanton. It's a movie people will be watching for years and earns consideration among the best films of the year that just passed. It's also made by three of the nicest people I've met as a part of producing the Chicago Critics Film Festival, all of whom are interviewed on the DVD.

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Special Features
A Few Words From Harry Dean Stanton
Behind the Scenes: Harry Dean Stanton's Final Film Take
Interview with Director John Carroll Lynch
Interview with Writers/Producers Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja
Theatrical Trailer

"Mayhem"

Would people have paid more attention to "Mayhem" if it had come out before "The Belko Experiment"? While the two have similar themes of office settings run homicidally amok, this is the vastly superior film to the two, and Joe Lynch's best work as a director in years. It's a perfect movie rental, the kind of silly and creative horror/action flick that college kids rent on a late night and then go out and buy. It's funny and smart and features great lead performances from Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving, either of whom could become a star soon, leading people back to "Mayhem." The Blu-ray is a little slight, although the film has been released in 4K as well for those with that technical capability.

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Special Features
Creating Mayhem: The Making of the Film

"mother!"

I know the film is just as famous for an "F" CinemaScore as anything but I love the fact that Paramount was willing to release a movie that they had to know would divide audiences. Heck, I'm blown away that Darren Aronofsky was given the money to make this after the divisiveness that greeted "Noah." It's like he doubled down on that movie's insanity, again commenting on creation and creativity through a quasi-religious lense. There's so much going on in every scene of "mother!" that I stand by my 3.5-star review and wish that Paramount had stuck with the film all the way through its Blu-ray release, launching a home version with a few more bells and whistles, although perhaps this is a film that's not served well by the explanation of a commentary track. It says so much on its own anyway.

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Special Features
mother! The Downward Spiral
The Makeup FX of mother!

"The Mountain Between Us"

Don't believe the bad reviews that greeted this flick on its theatrical release. It's solid, and sometimes even better than that meek praise. Sure, it's goofy, but it knows that it's an old-fashioned adventure/romance, and I think critics and audiences weren't quite ready for this kind of nostalgic two-hander that relies on its setting and the wattage of its stars. Said stars are Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, forced into a survival drama after a plane crash strands them in the mountains. Of course, a love story unfolds. This isn't the kind of movie that is designed to surprise you too much but Elba and Winslet sell almost every beat, and the movie builds to a shockingly effective ending. It worked for me, but it may have helped to watch it on pretty much the coldest day ever too. It's one of those movies that I suspect will play on channels like TNT pretty consistently, and people will watch it, wondering why they never heard of it in theaters.

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Special Features
Love and Survival: Creating Chemistry
Mountain Between Them: Shooting in Isolation
The Wilds: Survival Stunts
Deleted Scenes
Director's Commentary by Hany Abu-Assad

"Stronger"

The movie most likely to push "The Mountain Between Us" off that TNT lazy susan is David Gordon Green's true story of a Boston Bombing survivor who lost his legs. THIS will play on cable long after we're dead and gone, and people will watch every minute of it every time. It's a wonderfully balanced motivational drama that becomes something deeper, both through the power of its central performances, and a script that delves into the very concept of heroism. Why do we label survivors heroes when they're really just unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and then lucky to survive it? The film has some interesting theories about the commodification of heroism and phrases like "Boston Strong," and why we need it. It also features truly great performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. I know it's a really crowded week but don't skip this one.

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Special Features
Faith, Hope & Love: Becoming Stronger

Recent Twilight Time Releases
"Alice"
"Forever Amber"
"The Hospital"
"The L-Shaped Room"
"Wuthering Heights"

It's been too long since I wrote a bit about the wonder that is Twilight Time. They may not get the press of companies like Criterion or Shout Factory but they're doing fantastic catalog work, as illustrated by the diversity of this month's line-up. There's a less-beloved Woody Allen film, an Otto Preminger flick from 1947, the 1970 version of a literary classic, a George C. Scott hospital drama, and a movie I had literally never heard of called "The L-Shaped Room." It's so interesting to see what TT releases every month, and their transfers are unfailingly fantastic. Pick one up. Maybe two.

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