On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 17, 2019

Ad Astra is a Trojan horse of a movie for as mainstream as a film about space exploration wrapped in mystery and starring Brad Pitt sounds like it would be if one is able to expel such expectations set by the marketing and feast on the fulfillment that Ad Astra ultimately embodies given the aspirations of writer/director James Gray's (Two Lovers, The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) latest work one would quickly come to realize this is a film filled with ideas and questions bubbling just below the surface despite its apparent facade; questions the movie as well as Gray's screenplay may or may not have answers to. Ad Astra is also, and not coincidentally, a film that is as slick in its storytelling as it is its visual representation meaning there is an immediate confidence to the film that speaks to the idea that it knows exactly what it wants to be and where it's going even if, as we go further into the deepest reaches of our solar system, the philosophical ponderings posed by the film seem to be or at least feel more like questions born out of questions that were born out of the writing process. Moreover, the themes and ideas Ad Astra ultimately come to wrestle with being more the products of streams of consciousness writing than they do necessarily questions that pertain directly to the initial idea Gray was chasing. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, as it in fact makes for a rather rewarding experience given the mysteries the narrative offers. The few, distinct answers the film delivers are slight in both comparison and reward to the number of new questions and ideas one's own mind will generate; the thought of the individual experience and reaction to certain material being such that each individual will respond differently, but with valid interpretations and inquiries is a claim not many films-especially mainstream Hollywood space movies with movie stars on their posters-can claim these days. Yes, there have been a number of films about space starring members of the Ocean's Eleven ensemble lately, but neither of those films approach the topic of the stars with as much of a balance in cynicism and optimism as Ad Astra does. Given the Trojan horse comparison, one might expect the subtleties of the film to outweigh the more blunt aspects general audiences require from a space adventure, but there is a specific moment when, like Pitt's character of Major Roy McBride, we come to realize there are more layers to the picture than the ones being highlighted for us and that we can choose to either dig as deep as we'd like or revel in the surface pleasures-both have their perks-but the true reward comes in finding your own place to land. Video review here. Full review here. A-

As with most animated films, Abominable is about a girl who is looking for a purpose. Someone trying to fill a void left by a departed parent, but what is different about writer/director Jill Culton's (Open Season) film is that it doesn't deal as much with this emotional process through the mind of a child as it does that of an older teen/early adult; an individual mature enough to more fully comprehend the ramifications of such a life event than a character like...Nemo. This isn't to say that automatically makes Abominable more interesting or better than that Pixar classic or any of the many Disney animated films that open with or include the death of a parent. What it is implying is the fact the journey we go on in this latest DreamWorks fable while still familiar, hits the recognizable beats with something of a different perspective. It is for this reason that I almost wish the film hadn't resorted to leaning so heavily on the (somewhat unexpected) magical element as contributed by the yeti referenced in the title, but it is this friendship between the mystical creature, Everest, and our protagonist, Yi (Chloe Bennet), that ultimately lends real soul to the proceedings and keeps the movie from becoming a kitschy fantastical tale solely for the kiddos. These magical elements also make for some wonderfully creative imagery that will sweep one up in the themes of perseverance, dealing with loss and the importance of friendship even if such routine topics don't initially strike one as engaging. Great supporting characters such as Peng (Albert Tsai) make for great comic relief and therefore some memorable moments while Eddie Izzard's Burnish, the purported antagonist, is oddly hysterical and childish in frequently hilarious ways even if the movie lets us know too early exactly what it's going to do with the character. Video review here. B-

I didn't see Rambo: Last Blood in theaters, but in what is supposedly the final Rambo film Stallone's title character must confront his past and unearth his ruthless combat skills to exact revenge in one last mission. While I haven't seen Last Blood and have no particular ties to the Rambo franchise, one of our producers over at Tavern Talk by initial reaction saw it and reviewed it with his dad as they had many a shared experiences with these films over the years. Watch the video review here.

Much like with Rambo, I haven't seen a single episode of PBS' Downton Abbey and thus I didn't bother seeing Focus Features production, but I hear that the film is both satisfying for those who adored the series as well as being-if not something you'll necessarily care about all that much-is at least able to be followed by the uninitiated. I did get a screener for it a few weeks ago and may decide to pop it in at some point, but can't decide if I should make an effort to watch the show first. Honestly, I probably shouldn't be thinking about it this hard.

Directed by Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimny, this is a new, live concert performance of Springsteen singing songs from his new album Western Stars. I was able to catch a screening of the film and while not the target audience for something like this given I have no real attachment or connection with Springsteen's music outside of appreciating his talent and artistry I was still able to find an engaging throughline about life, time, what we do with it and how the weight of what pulls us down only gets heavier the longer we ignore it. Needless to say, there's some heavy and insightful stuff packed into the swift 80-minute feature, but that's probably no surprise to longtime Springsteen fans. B-

Overcomer is the latest from Affirm Pictures and the Kendrick brothers who have produced faith-based films such as Fireproof, Courageous and War Room. This time around, co-writer and director Alex Kendrick's film follows a high-school basketball coach who volunteers to coach a troubled teen in long-distance running. 

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