On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 6, 2018

You know those ideas that are better in conception that they ever turn out to be in actuality? The ones where the pairing of two things, like Vince Vaughn and True Detective, sound fantastic, but when the reality of it comes into being it only serves to prove that some mediums and personalities just weren't meant to be meshed? Well, for the first twenty or so minutes of the third solo Thor film I thought that might be what was happening. The idea of taking darling indie comedy director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and pairing him with the massive machine that is Marvel to bring their most self-serious and most dour hero into the new phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that might bridge the Shakespearian those ideas that almost felt too good to be true, you know, like Edgar Wright making a Marvel Studios film (which, it turned out, was in fact just that). It was an idea that seemed it might produce something truly singular for the long-standing MCU, but would it be too weird for Kevin Feige and the gang to really let slide? Honestly, I was waiting for the moment over the last two years when the news would break that Marvel and Waititi had to break over "creative differences" but to my pleasant surprise that day never came and today we sit here with Thor: Ragnarok, the best solo Thor movie that has been made to date, the first Thor movie that truly seems to utilize the full spectrum of the character and the world he inhabits and the never ending reaches of the cosmos he can inhabit while also upending many of the story conventions we've come to expect from our super hero epics. That is all, of course, after the rather nerve-wracking twenty or so minutes at the beginning of the film where it looked as if Waititi had bitten off more than he could chew in terms of managing a production the size of Ragnarok while also in the simple splicing together of jokes and story, of tender moments and CGI-filled natural environments where it was apparent that maybe the best choices had not been made. It's a rough start, but this only makes all that follows that much more assuring in its competency. Thor: Ragnarok is slight to be sure, but it is a ton of fun and serves up just enough freshness for the title character and his present situations that it's impossible not to throw your hands in the air and just enjoy the cheeky ride this take on the super hero genre offers. Full review here. B-

There is a line in Lady Bird that goes, “different things can be sad. It’s not all war!” Which not only served to make me feel more validated in times of my own sadness despite knowing there are countless others who have much more to complain about than myself, but this line of dialogue also kind of reassured me that all kinds of films could be great-not just the serious dramas that carry a weight of self-importance. Maybe Lady Bird does this somewhat intentionally as it knows its target audience will be the twenty to thirty-somethings that grew up in the early aughts as depicted in the film, largely compiled of the more artistic and individualistic states of mind that flock to such indie fare, who will inevitably contemplate if a coming-of-age comedy, such as Lady Bird, can be as great a film as anything else they've seen this year despite not necessarily being about something as earth-shatteringly important as other movies undoubtedly will be. Maybe writer and first-time director Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America) understood who her audience would be and wanted to reassure them of the safe intellectual zone where it would be okay to praise her debut to levels of near perfection it ultimately wouldn't be able to match triggering the inevitable backlash that she would blindly blow past due to her effortless charm. Maybe Gerwig recognized all of this in the midst of writing the film and decided to consciously insert this line of reassurance reminding all of us that it's okay to love her movie as much as you admire whatever Steven Spielberg or Paul Thomas Anderson are putting out this awards season, or maybe she was simply re-living a feeling from her youth when someone made her feel small about something she felt was really big. Either way, the fact of the matter is that Lady Bird, while admittedly specific to a certain demographic of the population (I'm all for diversity, but that doesn't mean we have to denounce films where there isn't as much we think there could be), is not just a straightforward coming-of-age movie, but one that is more about the navigation of that period in life that does the seemingly impossible task of collecting all these moments and disparate elements that no doubt each felt like defining moments in Gerwig's own adolescence and brings them together in a film that allows each to permeate throughout the entirety of the movie while at the same time shaping a thorough, comprehensive picture of our titular character. Full review here. B

The Man Who Invented Christmas may as well be one of those holiday Hallmark originals for all of the dopey, saccharine spins it puts on Charles Dickens coming up with "A Christmas Carol" and the overall quality of life in 1843, but luckily director Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day) was working from a screenplay by writer/actor Susan Coyne (Mozart in the Jungle) as adapted from Les Standiford’s 2008 novel of the same name where distinctive features of those Hallmark originals (or hallmarks of those hallmarks) come to be non-existent. There is no gushing love story at the center of it, no excessive amount of perfectly pressed pants or flannel (or whatever the equivalent was in 19th century London), but rather there is this overriding feeling that came to pass throughout the entirety of the experience that was one of lovable cheese. The usual suspects of certain clich├ęs and plot points might not all be present, but that feeling of the overwhelming power of pure holiday love and all that it can conquer, is. And while this may just be due to the fact I’m a sucker for the Hallmark channels block of holiday programming to the point I draw every holiday-themed movie back to these standards The Man Who Invented Christmas is so family friendly and earnest in its intent that it’s hard to discern between what the movie wants you to feel and what this material should make you feel. As another in a line of “story behind the story” films that have, for one reason or another, decided to catch on some thirteen years after Finding Neverland made it a hot idea to studio execs The Man Who Invented Christmas is perfectly serviceable in delivering all of the broad moments required by an audience that craves what they already know; the name Marley coming from a waiter at a restaurant where Dickens was eating for instance coupled with the tidbit that he “collected names” for his works from his everyday life. Things one could have just as easily assumed without having concrete proof of them, but this is the kind of depth and insight The Man Who Invented Christmas offers: facts that might not have been necessarily well-known, but ones that are rather obvious in that they aren’t surprising and offer little to no real drama that would justify this story about Dickens writing his career-defining novel being a story in its own right. Full review here. C

One might summarize Wonder Wheel, this year's offering by the prolific Woody Allen, as being the epitome of what many would call, "meh." "Meh" is what one would call expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm. "Meh" is what one could define as uninspiring or unexceptional and in the pantheon of Allen-produced films over the past fifty years Wonder Wheel certainly falls into the category of "meh". That said, the visual elements that see legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris) shooting Allen's fifties-set melodrama like it were a postcard where the colors are saturated to the point they are about to burst off the screen are fantastic and serve to be the only thing that is somewhat memorable about Allen's latest effort. The sweeping sequences that involve Storaro's re-creation of Coney Island that is partly comprised of practical effects, part location B-roll, and other part full-on digital trickery would seem to encourage the movie to immerse the viewer in this setting and yet, even as the strongest facet of the film, the location serves as little more than a backdrop. A backdrop for yet another of Allen's explorations of the kinds of characters made famous in the likes of Tennessee Williams works that he's already explored in Blue Jasmine and has probably explored multiple times before that, but my Allen filmography knowledge gets a little spotty prior to 2005 sans the obvious stand-outs. What I kind of expected from Wonder Wheel given Justin Timberlake's (yes, Justin Timberlake is your Woody Allen stand-in this time around) delivery of certain lines in the trailer was that of an homage of sorts to (or even parody of) the big melodramas of yesteryear where the actors were performing with a knowing sense of what they were going for and of letting the audience in on the fact of what they were going for. Were this true and we, the audience, ended up laughing with the movie instead of at the movie it might feel like a completely difference experience, but as it is Wonder Wheel is a movie out of touch with what it should be and what it needed to be in order to pull-off what it seemingly wanted to be. But hey, it really is visually stunning, so there's that. Full review here. C-

Best Animated Feature nominee The Breadwinner is currently available to stream on Netflix, but you can now own this feature based on Deborah Ellis' bestselling novel about a headstrong young girl in Afghanistan who disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. I've heard nothing but great things about this film as it comes from the creators of The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. This is one I certainly intend to catch-up with soon. 

Another Oscar-nominated film that didn't win, but is out on home video today is the highly praised documentary Faces Places which follows director Agnes Varda, one of the leading lights of France's honored French New Wave cinema era, and photographer/muralist J.R. as they embark on a special art project together that takes them on a journey through rural France and on to form an unlikely friendship.

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