Blu Tuesday: Hell or High Water and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Hell or High Water”

WHAT: When a divorced father (Chris Pine) desperate to provide for his two sons learns that the bank is going to foreclose on his family’s ranch, he teams up with his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) to pull off a series of robberies at the bank’s various branches across Texas. Hot on their trail is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an aging lawman who would rather go down in a blaze of glory than be forced into retirement.

WHY: For as old-fashioned as “Hell or High Water” feels at times, it’s a movie that deals with some incredibly timely themes, especially in a post-election America still reeling from the last economic depression. Following his little-seen 2013 gem “Starred Up,” director David Mackenzie delivers yet another engaging family-centric story (based on a script by “Sicario” writer Taylor Sheridan) that excels in its simplicity. It’s gorgeously shot, displaying both the beauty and sadness of its picturesque landscape, and features a trio of excellent performances by Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. Nobody does unhinged quite like Foster, and this is easily Pine’s best work in years, but the movie ultimately belongs to Bridges, who’s devilishly funny as the veteran Texas Ranger, trading affectionately racist barbs with his Mexican/Native American partner played by Gil Birmingham. Though the film follows a pretty standard cops-and-robbers formula, it does so with such razor-sharp proficiency and well-drawn characters that it succeeds not just as a terrific genre film but a modern American classic in the same vein as “No Country for Old Men.”

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on the characters, performances and visual style of the movie, footage from the red carpet premiere and a filmmaker Q&A.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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No Thanks, Thanksgiving: Why isn’t there a “classic” Thanksgiving film?

thanksgiving

The holidays will soon be upon us, and with them come all sorts of rituals and traditions in which families and individuals participate. Pop culture is a part of many of these time-honored acts, with people popping in their favorite holiday films and music to get them properly in the mood. And while there is a bevy of winter holiday film classics to choose from, why isn’t there a go-to Thanksgiving film? The day itself is rife with comic and dramatic possibilities, metaphors revolving around family or tradition, but there isn’t as deep a list of Thanksgiving films when compared to Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day or even Fourth of July.

When asking people about their favorite Christmas films, there’s a wide host of answers, from “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “A Christmas Story,” to alternative offerings like “Die Hard” and “Gremlins.” Heck, there’s even a whole subgenre of horror films set around Christmas like “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” “To All a Goodnight,” “Krampus” and “Black Christmas,” among many others. But when thinking about films that people watch during the Thanksgiving season, that number dries up pretty quickly. “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is probably the closest to a “classic” film for the holiday, but even that really doesn’t deal with Thanksgiving at all (it culminates in attending the meal) and instead is more about holiday travel.

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Movie Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Starring
Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton
Director
David Yates

J.K. Rowling dreamed up the entire Harry Potterverse, and there isn’t a person on the planet who understands these characters better than she does. She has probably written a back story for Mrs. Norris the cat. However, when it comes to the much-anticipated “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” she is making her screenwriting debut, and it is clear that she still has much to learn about writing a script versus writing a novel. What made the film adaptations of her Potter books so successful was that she packed her stories to the gills with details and allowed an experienced screenwriter (usually Steve Kloves, who is an executive producer here) to pare them down, making them leaner and better. Rowling does not appear to have written a novel of “Fantastic Beasts” that she could then dissect like Kloves did her books. In retrospect, that feels like a mistake.

Seventy years before Harry Potter’s story begins, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is wandering the streets of New York City with a suitcase full of trouble. (Think of it as a zoo inside a suitcase-shaped TARDIS.) When one of the suitcase’s inhabitants escapes in a bank, Newt inadvertently picks up someone else’s suitcase, causing aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to bring home, and subsequently release, several of Newt’s magical creatures. This comes at a time when the city is already dealing with a dark force that is scaring the muggle population (or ‘no-maj,’ as they’re known in America), which has given birth to a witch hunt movement by a group calling themselves the New Salemers. Newt needs help, and he gains some at-first reluctant assistance from Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a federal agent of magic, and her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).

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Movie Review: “Nocturnal Animals”

Starring
Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber
Director
Tom Ford

It’s been seven years since fashion designer Tom Ford made his directorial debut with “A Single Man,” and although that movie was an impressive showcase for Ford’s visual panache that netted Colin Firth a much-deserved Oscar nomination, it left audiences wondering if he would be able to replicate that success. It may have taken a little longer than expected (after all, he has a fashion empire to run), but Ford confirms his debut was no fluke with a more ambitious and confident follow-up that’s every bit as stylish. Based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel “Tony and Susan,” “Nocturnal Animals” is a dark and disturbing adult thriller that gets under your skin and stays there, and while it’s not always a pleasant experience, that’s what makes it so effective.

The film opens in truly shocking style with a montage of obese, mostly naked women dancing in a shower of glitter that turns out to be part of an art show curated by Los Angeles gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). Susan has everything she could possibly want – a dashing husband (Armie Hammer), a luxurious mansion and a supportive group of wealthy friends – but she’s not happy, trapped in an unfulfilling career and a loveless marriage that’s on the verge of falling apart. One day, Susan receives a package containing a manuscript from her ex-husband Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she left 20 years earlier when he was still just a struggling writer, and is surprised to discover that the unpublished novel, titled “Nocturnal Animals,” has been dedicated to her.

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Movie Review: “Bleed for This”

Starring
Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciarán Hinds, Katey Sagal, Ted Levine
Director
Ben Younger

Boxing movies tend to follow a very clear formula. If it’s an underdog story, it’s typically obvious what conflicts will arise and, whether won or not, there’s the catharsis that comes after the final boxing match. The newest entry in the subgenre, “Bleed for This,” checks a lot of boxes, but it isn’t without heart or a good, albeit familiar, story to tell. Writer/director Ben Younger’s film entertains with some immersive boxing scenes, a real sense of time and place, and some standout supporting performances.

The movie is based on the true story of Vinny “The Pazamanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller), a boxer who didn’t believe in quitting and won three championships in three different weight classes. The story begins with the local Providence boxer having just gained some notoriety after winning two world title fights. At the beginning of the film, we see Vinny taking a beating from Roger Mayweather for the lightweight championship. His trainer Lou (Ted Levine) tells him he should throw in the towel and leave boxing forever. That’s something Vinny isn’t going to do, so Lou teams him up with fellow underdog Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), Mike Tyson’s former trainer. Rooney convinces Vinny to move up a weight class, and the gamble pays off in their first fight together. After a rousing victory and some hope, Vinny gets into a brutal car wreck, leaving him with a broken neck. The doctor tells him he’ll never box again, but Vinny doesn’t know how to do anything else. Boxing is his life, so with Kevin’s help and his family’s support, he trains hard enough to return to boxing in a year’s time to fight the biggest, and most dangerous, match of his career.

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