On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 27, 2018

At the heart of all Pixar films there is a journey. There’s the journey to get the thing or the person to the place in order to save the day. This is a template Disney and Pixar have used time and time again in order to ensure a structure and beats that the youngest of audience members can seemingly recognize and appreciate, but I didn’t consider this initially. As an adult viewer I was simply bummed to discover that the studio was once again leaning on this crutch in Coco in order to convey what seemed to be a unique narrative from a marginalized culture. Inside Out did the same thing when it took all of these original ideas and concepts it had and then used them in service of the heroes journey arc we've seen countless times before, and especially in films whose target audience is largely children. What Inside Out did to ultimately reverse this expectation by the end of the film was to of course use that template in service of those original ideas and concepts as a way to explore them as well as the ideas and themes the filmmakers were keen on conveying. It worked. I teared up. Coco more or less does the same thing in that this is a heroes journey of self-discovery for our protagonist, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez), and it is an entertaining one at that, but while these familiar beats are present to allow the younger audience members a sense of connection and understanding it is the emotional strands of family, legacy, and pride in that family history that are woven throughout this otherwise standard structure to be the connective tissue for what Coco is truly meant to represent. This dawned on me as the credits began to roll and I was feeling content with what I'd just experienced if not bowled over by the visual prowess that Pixar is now achieving, but as I looked down at my three year-old daughter sitting next to me and asked her if she enjoyed the movie it became obvious as to why there needs to be this accessible structure by which the character's and their story arcs relate to younger viewer's otherwise Pixar would strictly be making films for adults. Pixar does make films for adults wrapped in the facade of colorful children's fables, we've known this for years, but with Coco it became more evident why this approach has been so important in that, as my three year-old grows up and continues to watch Coco, she will only gain more from it on each viewing. In this way, Coco carries on the great tradition of Pixar while continuing to diversify and expand that special brand it has now seemingly perfected. Full review here. B

You know those times when you think something is unnecessary, let's say for the sake of this format it's a movie, and yet despite those initial hesitations and questions of purpose you come to realize that it's not a complete waste of time, but rather that you actually like certain aspects of this fresh perspective it once seemed was uncalled for. I have never before read the 1934 Agatha Christie novel, Murder on the Orient Express, nor had I seen what is probably the most famous adaptation of this work in Sidney Lumet's 1974 film that starred Albert Finney as one of Christie's most famous and long-lived characters, Detective Hercule Poirot. That was, until earlier this week when I decided to catch-up with what was no doubt much of the reason 20th Century Fox decided it was indeed necessary to bring Christie's work back to the big screen with no lack of prestige in either its talent or production. In doing so, it became clear how much that '74 film serves as a perfect blueprint for the murder mystery venture and while I certainly doubt it was the first film of its kind it certainly is a fine example of how to make this type of movie in an effective, fun, and engaging manner. So, what does Sir Kenneth Branagh do when he gets his hands on such rich material and the opportunity to play as famous a character as Poirot? Well, not much really. Branagh keeps to the guidelines of the genre for the most part while the changes in characters and character arcs in this latest adaptation feel more like attempts to differentiate this version from Lumet's more than they do organic changes that came out of adapting Christie's story for a more modern audience. Sure, there are changes made to certain character's ethnicities and the color of certain character's skin, but beyond these factors serving to be acknowledged as they might have been in the context of 1934 there is no reason to have changed anything about the character other than for the sake of variety and equality, which is never a bad thing, of course, but the hope was that whatever changes Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049) made for this latest adaptation they might have been done to either improve upon the story or offer some facet previously unexplored. And yet, this version of Murder on the Orient Express is a safe if not efficient take in the mystery genre that relies on star power for character development and handsomely mounted production values to fill in for substance leaving the experience of Branagh's latest to be perfectly serviceable if not exactly fulfilling. Video review here. Full review here. C

In the first scene of writer/director Martin McDonagh's (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) new film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Pierce (Frances McDormand) drives past three billboards that are falling apart on an old road outside the titular small town she lives in that no one has used since the freeway opened. Hell, the last time a company even utilized the billboards for actual advertising was Huggies in the mid-eighties. Due to the contemplative look on Mildred's face we know the inciting incident is set to occur at any moment, but more important is the fact we take in the appearance of Mildred. Her hair is down, her clothes rather casual, and while Mildred never seems like she was ever the kid of woman to get too made-up, she looks to be in a certain place in her life that, while not peaceful, is one where she's come to terms with the reality of her situation. You see, Mildred's daughter was murdered a year or so prior to the beginning of the film and the investigation by her local police department seems to have waned over time-Mildred stating she hadn't heard a peep from them in at least seven months-prompting her to take matters into her own hands, but not in the manner of a revenge fantasy a la The Punisher or a recent Quentin Tarantino flick, but more in the vein of calling out those responsible for seeking her daughter's killer and rapist and holding them accountable for failing at their civil responsibilities. If you've seen the trailers you know Mildred does this by renting the three aforementioned billboards to send a very clear message to the Ebbing police department, calling out Police Chief George Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in particular. Once Mildred goes through with this though, her look changes and, in turn, so must her mentality. No more does Mildred ever look as casual as she does in that first scene. No more does it feel as if Mildred might ever be at peace with what has occurred in her life. Rather, from the end of this scene on through to the end of the movie Mildred pulls her hair up into a tight ponytail, the back of her neck now shaved as if to say she has no frills about what she's doing. Never again do we see her in public with her hair down or her wearing anything resembling khaki or flannel, but rather Mildred only wears her industrial work uniform and bandana. This outward exterior that takes no crap from no one is key to her surviving the ramifications that come from her actions and the complexities she didn't expect as a result of those actions. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri takes on this exterior as well, but don't be fooled as this is one of the most brutal, funny, dark, sad, and best movies of the year. Full review here. A-

That Winston Churchill was a pretty interesting guy. You've heard of him, right? Maybe? The man who was the 61st (and 63rd) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom with fifty plus years of experience in government prior, wrote over fifty books and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953, painted over five hundred paintings with exhibitions at the Royal Academy, and defied to be defined by societal lines, flip-flopping between political parties twice. Yeah, you know-that one you thought you knew well enough, but are now feeling you barely knew anything about. Don't worry, I felt the same way heading into Darkest Hour thinking I had it all figured out. And while I did to a certain degree with the prominent director recovering from a flop with rather safe material as made prominent by a well-regarded actor going full method and fully into prosthetics to play a historical figure of note in an attempt to, if nothing else, check another challenge off his thespian bucket list, what I hadn't figured out was the unexpected layers to be brought to such a character. Churchill is a man we've seen on so many pages of our history books over the years and who, with his recognizable silhouette and famous markers such as the bowler cap and cigar, is more or less embedded into the consciousness of generations who go through public school leaving us this very surface-level and mild idea of a man who many will desire to leave at that and delve no further into. To undo the myth around the man, but emphasize his influence all the more director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) make their film more in line with something akin to Lincoln than they do a full cradle to grave biopic which, ultimately, is suitable and more compelling given the plethora of material and other motion pictures that are available around the famous figure (heck, there was another movie just this year about Churchill starring Brian Cox in the title role). As Darkest Hour zeroes in on these crucial days during World War II and the Prime Minister's decision to either negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds the film itself finds a comfortable rhythm that it remains within; offering what is an insightful and often times compelling portrait of this man that is just different and specific enough to feel relevant while crafted with enough care to be commendable if not necessarily wholly impressionable. Full review here. C

Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rene Russo star in Just Getting Started, a self-described two-handed action comedy in the vein of Midnight Run (1988), about an ex-F.B.I. Agent and an ex-mob lawyer in the Witness Protection Program who have to put aside their petty rivalry on the golf course to fend off a mob hit.

Nocturama, from writer/director Bertrand Bonello (Saint Laurent), tells the story of young radicals who perpetrate terrorist attacks on Paris, after which a massive manhunt begins.

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