Category: DVD Report

The DVD Report #667

Show Boat first appeared as a best-selling novel by Edna Ferber (Giant) in 1926. It was adapted into a legendary musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, which opened on Broadway in late 1927. It has been made into a film three times, in 1929, 1936, and 1951.

Fans have been anticipating a Blu-ray package of all three films for years, but that hasn’t happened. Criterion, however, has released a Blu-ray Special Edition featuring a 4K restoration of the 1936 film with audio commentary by musical theatre historian Miles Kreuger from 1989, a new interview with director James Whale’s biographer James Curtis, a new program on the treatment of race in the film and the 1979 Oscar winning documentary short, Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist, narrated by Sidney Poitier. Also included is a four-song prologue to the 1929 film and twenty minutes of silent excerpts from the film as well as two radio adaptations.

James Whale was chosen to direct the film by producer Carl Laemmle Jr. because of his ability to open up films as diverse as 1931’s Waterloo Bridge and Frankenstein, but the principal cast, all of whom had appeared in various productions of the show, were skeptical, thinking of him as a director of horror films even though he had only made four: Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and The Bride of Frankenstein. They were also dismayed by Whale’s intention to make the film from the ground up, not simply repeat what worked on stage. They needn’t have worried. Whale’s vision proved masterful with Irene Dunne from the touring company as Magnolia, Allan Jones from the Canadian production as Ravenal, Charles Winninger and Helen Morgan from the original Broadway production as Captain Andy and Julie respectively, Paul Robeson from the London production as Joe, and Hattie McDaniel from the Los Angeles production as Queenie, all used to perfection. Helen Westley was a last-minute replacement for Edna May Oliver, Broadway’s original Parthy.

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The DVD Report #666

1917 Movie Poster1917 is the best film about the foot soldier since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and the best film about the foot soldier in World War I since the triumvirate of All Quiet on the Western Front, Journey’s End, and Westfront 1918, all from 1930. What director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) couldn’t have known when he was making the film was that it would be a perfect metaphor for our time as well.

In an era when few people under 70 have been through a war, or even been in military service, we are all facing the possibility of sudden death from a very real enemy in the current pandemic. This tale of two lance corporals who risk their lives to deliver a message to a colonel deep in enemy territory in order to prevent the certain massacre of 1,600 men is fraught with danger at every turn. One will make it, one won’t.

Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones) is selected for the mission by his general (Colin Firth) because his brother, Richard Madden (Rocketman), a young lieutenant, is among those who would be killed if the mission fails. Chapman chooses his closest friend, George Mackay (Captain Fantastic) to accompany him. When Chapman is killed along the way, Mackay has two missions, one to deliver the general’s letter to commanding officer Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and the other to find his friend’s brother.

Roger Deakins, who had to wait until his fourteenth Oscar nomination for 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 to finally win one for his superb cinematography, wasted no time in collecting his second here. His amazing camerawork, which appears to be captured in a single take, was one of the film’s ten Oscar nominations and one of its three wins. The other two were for Visual Effects and Sound Mixing.

1917 is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

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The DVD Report #665

How Green Was My Valley had its world premiere at the Rivoli Theatre on Broadway between 49th and 50th streets on October 28, 1941. It wouldn’t open in Los Angeles until January 8, 1942 in a year when the cutoff for Oscar consideration was January 12 instead of December 31 of the previous year. On March 2, 1942 it would become the first Oscar winning film of World War II.

John Ford’s film of Richard Llewellyn’s novel was the first of numerous inspirational films that got us through the war. If you’re looking for films to watch while being homebound during the coronavirus crisis, you would do well to look to the films that got us through that terrible time.

Here then are six commendable films of the era, some of which only marginally deal with the war and some of which don’t reference it at all. Coincidentally Roddy McDowall is in three of them.

How Green Was My Valley takes place in a Welsh coal mining town at the turn of the 20th century. Although it centers on the youngest of a brood of five boys and one girl, it is very much about family, the entire family and what keeps them together in one another’s hearts even though they are scattered in many directions around the world. Ford’s unabashed sentimentality was at its strongest here. Donald Crisp deservedly won the year’s best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of the family patriarch. Sara Allgood was justly nominated and should have won for her equally moving portrayal of the family matriarch, a performance rivaled only by the similar work of Margaret Mann, Henrietta Crosman, and Oscar winner Jane Darwell in similar roles in Ford’s Four Sons, Pilgrimage, and The Grapes of Wrath, respectively. Where, though, was Roddy McDowall’s Oscar for perhaps the finest juvenile performance ever turned in by a young actor? Nominated for ten Oscars, it won five and deserved every one of them.

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The DVD Report #664

Bombshell is a highly entertaining take on the Fox News scandal that evolved when Gretchen Carlson, one of the network’s star news anchors, sued network news honcho Roger Ailes for sexual harassment when she was fired by the network.

Although the film is classified as a drama, much of it is played for laughs. While the situations in which the film’s women find themselves are not laughing matters, it’s difficult to feel too story for some of the characters who knew exactly what they were getting into when they agreed to accommodate the despicable Ailes with sex acts in exchange for career advancement.

Oscar-nominated Charlize Theron has the meatiest role, that of Megyn Kelly, who even if you’ve never watched Fox, you know her from taking on Donald Trump on the debate stage when he was running for U.S. President in 2016. The Oscar-winning makeup utterly transforms her into Kelly’s public image with Theron nailing her walk, voice and mannerisms.

Nicole Kidman, in another outstanding performance, plays Carlson while Oscar-nominated Margot Robbie has the film’s third lead as a fictional character based on several Fox trainees. John Lithgow in fat suit and heavy makeup is Ailes.

The title does not refer to any of the women, although any one of them could accurately be described as a very attractive woman or “bombshell” as was Jean Harlow in 1933’s Bombshell, a comedy about a sexpot movie star. Rather, it refers to the word’s other meaning, that of an overwhelming surprise or disappointment that was unleased when news of Carlson’s suit dropped.

In addition to the standout performances of Theron, Kidman, Robbie, and Lithgow, there is strong supporting work from Kate McKinnon as Robbie’s friend, Mark Duplass as Theron’s husband, Allison Janney as a Fox executive, and, briefly, Malcolm McDowell as mogul Rupert Murdoch. It was directed by Jay Roach who among other things directed the excellent TV movie Game Change with Julianne Moore as 2012 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

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The DVD Report #663

Dark Waters may not be at the top of anyone’s list of the best films of 2019, but it may be the most important. Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven, Carol, Wonderstruck), the film is about Rob Bilott, the corporate defense attorney who successfully sued DuPont on behalf of its Parkersburg, West Virginia victims of toxic pollution.

Mark Ruffalo, Oscar-nominated for 2014’s Foxcatcher in which he played a victim of the DuPont family, stars as Bilott in one of his best performances. Oscar winner Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables) co-stars as his wife with Oscar winner Tim Robbins (Mystic River) and Bill Pullman (Battle of the Sexes) also receiving star billing, but it’s Bill Camp (Joker) as Bilott’s primary complainant who gives the film’s most riveting performance aside from Ruffalo as a bull of a man reduced to a cancer-ridden wheelchair-bound relic of his old self in the film’s later scenes.

Camp plays a farmer, a friend of Ruffalo’s grandmother, who lost 90 cows to a mysterious illness that eventually affects Camp and other residents of his community. Investigations lead to the discovery of DuPont dumping chemicals in the water near Camp’s farm. These chemicals are eventually found to be related to the chemicals used in the Manhattan Project to create the first atomic bomb which DuPont later used in everything from cookware to paint. Most damning of all, DuPont knew about the hazards of its chemicals and covered them up for decades. It’s estimated that these chemicals are now in 99% of the world’s population.

Camp’s case leads to a class action lawsuit against DuPont which agrees to a settlement contingent on medical analysis of members of the class which takes seven years to complete after which DuPont reneges on the agreement, arguing that each member of the class must sue separately. Ruffalo takes them on one by one, but after the first three result in larger settlements than DuPont anticipated, they agree to settle with all members of the class.

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The DVD Report #662

Knives Out is a film that has grossed $164 million to date and has received considerable award recognition including an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. While I can understand the film’s popularity given the moviegoing public’s hunger for a great murder mystery, even if this isn’t that, it’s the film’s awards recognition that puzzles me. I just don’t find anything award-worthy about it.

The plot of Knives Out may be full of twists, but no more so than the plots of many of today’s TV mysteries. The bigger problem is that none of the characters, except for the central heroine and her mother, are people that the audience can warm up to.

Rising star Ana de Armis is the young nurse who inherits the fortune of mystery writer Christopher Plummer who has either committed suicide or has been murdered by someone in his household. Among the suspects are family members Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, and Chris Evans, one meaner and nastier than the next. The police are incompetent and the secretly hired private detective, played by Daniel Craig, speaks with a highly annoying fake Southern drawl. The best that can be said for the film is that it has marvelous set decorations, which is not something to warm the cockles of a mystery lover’s heart by itself.

A good mystery has, in addition to an intriguing plot, characters that are either interesting, sympathetic or both. Here are ten films, that like Knives Out, are available on Blu-ray and standard DVD, but unlike Knives Out, feature intriguing plots with characters that are always interesting and often sympathetic:

The plot of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man revolved around the disappearance of the title character but audiences have always thought of Nick Charles, the private detective played by William Powell who solves the case, as The Thin Man himself in this 1934 film that spawned six sequels. It was the sparkling dialogue and interplay between Nick and his wife Nora, played by Myrna Loy, that audiences, then as now, love about the film more than its plot, although the plot is pretty good, too. Maureen O’Sullivan leads a strong supporting cast as the missing man’s daughter.

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The DVD Report #661

Jojo Rabbit is the seventh of the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Awards to be released for home viewing.

The Irishman and Marriage Story are available for screening through Netflix. Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and the winner, Parasite, have previously been released on Blu-ray and standard DVD. 1917 will be released on March 24, and Little Women on April 7.

Christine Leunen’s 2008 novel Caging Skies was the source material for Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit.

Star Roman Griffin Davis is the 11-year-old son of cinematographer Ben Davis (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and writer-director Camille Griffin (second clapper loader on Sliding Doors). He plays Jojo, a ten-year-old boy in the throes of World War II who has just begun his training to become a Hitler Youth. An accident sidelines him at home where he discovers that his mother (Scarlet Johannsson) has been hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) from the Nazis. Jojo has an invisible friend that only he and the audience can see. This invisible friend is Adolf Hitler, played by writer-director Waititi, a character not in the source material.

Critics and audiences have been split on whether the Nazis are a proper subject for comedy, but this is an argument that goes as far back as 1940’s The Great Dictator and 1942’s To Be or Not to Be.

In The Great Dictator, Charlies Chaplin played the dual role of a timid Jewish barber and a dictator who looked suspiciously like Hitler. The film was an enormous hit, nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Actor, and Screenplay. In To Be or Not to Be, Jack Benny got to play an actor who impersonated Hitler. The film, best remembered for being released less than two months after the death of Carole Lombard, was nominated for one Oscar for its scoring. It wasn’t until Mel Brooks’ 1967 film The Producers that a comedy featuring Nazis was widely accepted. Nominated for two Oscars, it won for its screenplay. Brooks would remake To Be or Not to Be in 1983 and that’s been about it for comedies dealing with the Nazis.

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The DVD Report #660

Ford v Ferrari was nominated for four 2019 Oscars and won two for Film Editing and Sound Editing. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Sound Mixing. As such, it falls behind 1966’s Grand Prix, which was only nominated for just three Oscars for Film Editing, Sound, and Sound Effects, but won all three.

Auto racing films have been movie staples at least as far back as 1932’s The Crowd Roars, directed by Howard Hawks and starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, and Eric Linden. They were very popular through the mid-1960s with Blake Edwards’ The Great Race starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood; and John Frankenheimer’s aforementioned Grand Prix, starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, and Toshiro Mifune, culminating in 1971 with Lee H. Katzin’s Le Mans, starring Steve McQueen. More recently we’ve had such successes as 2013’s Rush directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl; and the long-running franchise, The Fast and the Furious, which began in 2001 and was still churning out prequels and spinoffs as late as 2019.

Based on a true story, James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is about the Ford Motor Company’s mid-1960s revenge on Italian race car champion Ferrari which its owners sold to Fiat in a bidding war with Ford. Ford spent more money developing a race car that would beat Ferrari at the racing pinnacle Le Mans than they would have spent buying the company. Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon) was an automotive designer and retired race car driver who was put in charge of developing the car and British race car driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale) was the man he picked to test the car and drive it at Daytona and eventually Le Mans. That they succeeded against the odds was never in doubt if you know the history of the Ford-Ferrari feud. What makes the story interesting is the tension between Shelby and Miles and the Ford executives who put obstacle after obstacle in front of them.

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The DVD Report #659

Grand Illusion was the first foreign language film honored with a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

We know that all the Oscar winners for Best Picture through 2018 have been released on DVD and/or Blu-ray, but what about the winners for International Film, previously known as Best Foreign Film or Best Foreign Language Film? The record there is much spottier.

With more than sixty winners to date, we don’t the space to list all the films that have been released, but we can discuss a few highlights.

Oscar’s first decade (1928-1937) did not single out foreign language films. Oscar’s second decade (1938-1947) started out with France’s Grand Illusion, directed by Jean Renoir, earning a Best Picture nomination and ended with an honorary award given to Italy’s Shoeshine, directed by Vittorio De Sica. Grand Illusion is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Shoeshine is available on Amazon Prime.

Oscar’s third decade (1948-1957) started out continuing to present foreign films with honorary awards including those given to Italy’s Bicycle Thieves, directed by Shoeshine director Vittorio De Sica, and Japan’s Rashomon, directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune. Both are available on DVD and Blu-ray.

The current practice of nominating five films from different countries from which to select a winner began with the 1956 award which was won by Italy’s La Strada, directed by Federico Fellini and starring Anthony Quinn and the director’s wife Giulietta Masina. Fellini also directed the second competitive winner, Italy’s Nights of Cabiria, starring Masina. La Strada is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Nights of Cabiria is available on DVD but hard to find.

Oscar’s fourth decade (1958-1967) honored such masterworks as Sweden’s The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly, both directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Max von Sydow, and Italy’s 8 1/2, starring Marcello Mastroianni, the third winner directed by Federico Fellini. The decade also saw awards go to two exquisite films from lesser known directors, France’s Sundays and Cybele, directed by Serge Bourgignon and starring Hardy Kruger, and Czechoslovakia’s Closely Watched Trains, directed by Jiri Menzel. They are all available on DVD and all but Closely Watched Trains are available on Blu-ray.

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The DVD Report #658

Parasite, which has been winning the lion’s share the foreign language film awards doled out by the various critics’ groups and organizations for films released in 2019, is the latest from director Bong Joon Ho, best known in the U.S. for his 2013 debut American film, Snowpiercer.

Nominated for six Oscars, the exhilarating tragicomedy is about a family of four poor Koreans who one by one ingratiate themselves into the lives of a wealthy Korean family, displacing the family’s previous help. Slowly we come to realize that although the poor family may be parasites in the home of the wealthy, their wealthy employers are also parasites living off the toils of the poor. It’s all played out in Hitchcockian style in which stairs play a pivotal role inside both the fabulously designed wealthy house and the slum apartment house the poor family calls home as well as connecting stairs on the road between the two.

Bong is himself nominated for three Oscars for Best Picture, Direction, and Original Screenplay. The film is also nominated for its intricate Production Design, fast-paced Editing, and International Film, the new name for foreign language films. The cast is headed by Bong regular Song Kang Ho as the father of the poor Kim family with Chang Hyae Jin as his wife, Choi Woo Shik as his son, and Park So Dam s his daughter. Lee Sun Kyon heads the wealthy Park family with Cho Yeo Jeong as his wife, Hyung Jun-Jung as his son, and Jun Siso as his daughter. Lee Jung Eun and Myeon-hoon Park have key supporting roles.

Universal’s Blu-ray release features a Q&A with Bong.

Twenty years ago, the film that won the lion’s share of the foreign film awards was Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother, newly given a 2K restoration by the Criterion Collection.

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The DVD Report #657

Pain and Glory is Pedro Almodovar’s third film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best International Film (previously known as Best Foreign Language Film) following 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and 1999’s All About My Mother. Almodovar was himself nominated for his direction and screenplay of 2002’s Talk to Her for which he won in the latter category. Those films, as well as 2004’s Bad Education, 2006’s Volver, 2011’s The Skin I Live In, and 2016’s Julietta and others have received recognition from the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and other awards organizations. Almodovar is Spain’s best-known director since Luis Bunuel (Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie).

Pain and Glory may well be Almodovar’s best film. This semiautobiographical film compares favorably to Federico Fellini’s equally semiautobiographical 8 1/2, which it emulates.

Antonio Banderas, receiving his first Oscar nomination, is superb as a famous Spanish writer-director who loses the will to make another movie due to ill health. Instead of going to the doctor, he self-medicates with heroin until a chance encounter with a former lover gives him the impetus to quit his addiction and seek medical help.

In addition to Banderas, there are outstanding performances by Asier Etxeandia as his actor friend, Leonardo Sbaraglia as his former lover, Asier Flores as Banderas’ character as a boy, Cesar Vicente as the older boy he teaches to write, and Penelope Cruz and Julietta Serano who share the role of his mother at different ages.

Pain and Glory is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD. Blu-ray extras include a Q&A session with Almodovar, Banderas, and composer Alberto Iglesias (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

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The DVD Report #656

Holiday was such a huge hit in 1930 that they remade it eight years later. Ironically, the much better 1938 version was a flop at the time, but has long since been considered one of the greatest sophisticated comedies of all time whereas the 1930 version has been all but forgotten.

Based on Philip Barry’s 1928 play, the 1930 version faithfully follows the stage version except that it adds a brief scene at the end where the New York heroine gets in a car to go to the docks to join the hero on his cruise to Europe. It leaves it to the audience to figure out whether she will get to the ship in time. The 1938 version eliminates the uncertainty by adding another scene in which the hero and heroine are reunited.

Ann Harding received an Oscar nomination for the 1930 version with her portrayal of the younger sister of Mary Astor whose fiancée Robert Ames turns down her wealthy father’s offer of a job because he wants to take time off before settling down, causing Astor to dump him and Harding to jump at the chance of joining him in his carefree lifestyle.

This type of film would soon be shunned by audiences of the Great Depression, but by 1938 audiences had become used to films in which fun was poked at the rich, and although no one in the audience would be cavalier enough to turn down a job they desperately needed, they could fantasize about being in the position of the hero now charmingly played by Cary Grant who is much more relatable than Ames. Katharine Hepburn as the sister of the girl he is engaged to is now the older, rather than the younger of the sisters, adding a layer of complexity to her character.

George Cukor directed the 1938 version with more verve than Edward H. Griffith did the original. Doris Nolan was good as the other sister, but aside from Hepburn and Grant, acting honors in this version went to Lew Ayres as the girls’ alcoholic brother, the role played in the 1930 version by Monroe Owsley who died of cardiac arrest following a car accident in 1937. The impromptu party given by Hepburn and Ayres for Grant’s friends Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon while the rest of the house is attending Grant and Nolan’s New Year’s Eve engagement party is the film’s highlight. Grant, who began his career as an acrobat, gets to show that he can still perform some of his old tricks.

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The DVD Report #655

1917 may well be on its way to becoming the fourth film about World War I to win an Oscar for Best Picture, following Wings (1927/28), All Quiet on the Western Front (1929/30), and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Those films and few others about the war have even been nominated for Oscar’s highest honor. The only others have been Seventh Heaven (1927/28), A Farewell to Arms (1932/33), Grand Illusion (1938), and Sergeant York (1941).

1917 has just begun its wide release and will not be available on home video for some time, but the previous nominees and winners are available. In fact, this may be a good time to catch up on previous films about the “war to end all wars.”

My list of the ten best previous films about the war are The Big Parade (1925), Four Sons (1928), Journey’s End (1930), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Westfront 1918 (1931), Broken Lullaby (1932), Pilgrimage (1933), Paths of Glory (1957), Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), and Gallipoli (1981).

King Vidor’s The Big Parade was the first anti-war film from which all others are derived. John Gilbert, in his greatest role, is the privileged son of a well-to-do banker who eschews a military commission to join his buddies as a foot soldier. He goes from being a carefree young soldier in France where he has a fling with a young farmgirl to a hardened veteran in the course of a year, returning home less a leg to find his fiancée has been two-timing him with his brother. Determined to return to France in search of the missing farmgirl, the film’s emotionally powerful ending still earns the tears it elicits.

John Ford’s Four Sons focuses on the German mother (Margaret Mann) who loses three sons to the war and one (James Hall) to America. Ford was heavily influenced by F.W. Murnau’s making of Sunrise on the Fox lot at the same time. The result is a film that looks very much like a Murnau film with Ford’s winning brand of sentimentality affecting the film’s emotional highs. The eventual reunion between mother and surviving son is as moving as anything Ford has ever done.

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The DVD Report #654

The Peanut Butter Falcon, Wild Rose, and Luce are three under-the-radar films that have factored into year-end 2019 awards but are not considered major players in this year’s Oscar race.

The Peanut Butter Falcon was among the Top Ten Independent Films of the Year singled out by the National Board of Review. Documentary filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, have received numerous First Film nominations and wins for this, their first narrative film. Star Zack Gottsagen has likewise been singled out for several awards for his breakthrough performance including the Newcomer Award from the Hollywood Critics Association.

Nilson and Schwartz met Zack, who has Down Syndrome, at a camp for disabled and non-disabled people several years before making the film where he expressed his desire to become a movie star. They wrote the screenplay built around his dreams and desires. The title of the film, which is told in a sweet, folksy Mark Twain manner, is the name Zack gives himself when he runs away from his care home in his quest to become a wrestler. Aiding him on his journey are small-time outlaw on-the-run Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy) and kindly nursing home employee Dakota Johnson (Bad Times at the El Royale).

The supporting cast includes John Hawkes (The Sessions), Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), and Bruce Dern (Nebraska). Dern, who has several scenes with Johnson, appeared with her father Don Johnson in Django Unchained), her mother Melanie Griffith in Mulholland Falls, and her grandmother Tippi Hedren in Marnie.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Wild Rose has won numerous awards for its breakthrough direction by Tom Harper (TV’s War & Peace), screenplay by Nicole Taylor (TV’s Indian Summers), and performance by Jessie Buckley, who was also memorable two other 2019 roles in Judy and TV’s Chernobyl.

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The DVD Report #653

Judy, newly released on Blu-ray and standard DVD, is a musical drama about the last days of the legendary Judy Garland, or to be precise, about her five-week run of concerts at London’s Talk of the Town (now the Hippodrome Casino) in early 1969, a few months before her death in June of that year.

Renée Zellweger, in her first important new film role since 2006’s Miss Potter, transforms herself into the emaciated, booze and drug-fueled superstar at the end of her tether, eerily capturing her look, walk, and demeanor. It’s a cliché to say that an actor is the real-life person they are playing, but that has never been truer than it is here with Zellweger uncannily impersonating a woman who died the year she born.

Zellweger is not the powerful singer Garland was for most of her career, but her interpretation is close enough to capture the still strong interpretations Garland gave her classic songs as she neared the end. Her last appearance on stage, when she is unable to perform her signature song and the audience rises to sing it to her instead, is the film’s most goose-pimply moment. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for days after seeing the film.

Aside from Zellweger, there are good supporting performances from rising star Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose) as Garland’s unflappable London assistant and Finn Wittrock (If Beale Street Could Talk) as Mickey Deems, her fifth and final husband. The rest of the cast, however, is a mixed bag, with hulking 6’4 ½” Richard Cordery ludicrously cast as 5’6″ Louis B. Mayer in the film’s heavy-handed flashback sequences.

The success of Judy on the heels of the Freddie Mercury and Elton John musical biographies, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, respectively, bodes well for the genre with Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in the currently filming Respect with an announced biography of Janis Joplin also in the works. The same can’t be said for the future of adaptations of Broadway musicals with the disastrous reception accorded Cats, but if the forthcoming film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story prove successful, there may be hope yet for the often promised, but never fulfilled, film versions of Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard and Follies to actually get made.

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