Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi


Street 3/27/18;
Box Office $619.6 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is perhaps the most complex, thought-provoking “Star Wars” film to date in the way it asks its audience to reflect on their relationship with the franchise (a challenge many fans, it seems, were not up to). The result is a spectacularly entertaining film that deftly mixes thrills, nostalgia, emotion and humor.

The follow-up to 2015’s The Force Awakens, and the eighth of the numbered “Skywalker Saga” films in the “Star Wars” canon, answers some questions director J.J. Abrams left open in the previous film, while leaving more for Abrams to wrap up in the concluding chapter of this sequel trilogy that thus far represents the cornerstone of Disney’s cinematic plans for the franchise since acquiring Lucasfilm in 2012.

Picking up where Force Awakens left off, General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, in her final film performance) and her Resistance fighters are on the run from the First Order, which is on the verge of seizing military control of the galaxy. Meanwhile, Jedi wannabe Rey (Daisy Ridley) has located the self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and works to convince him to join the fight, all while the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hopes to turn her to his side.

Last Jedi is an improvement upon Force Awakens in many ways simply by not following so closely to the template of an earlier film (the 1977 original, in the case of Force Awakens), and not getting bogged down with trying to address every nagging plot thread from earlier films. (Seriously, to hear some fans tell it, they wouldn’t be satisfied unless Rey spent two hours sitting at a computer reading exposition about every new character from space-Wikipedia and narrating fan fiction.)

That isn’t to say the film pushes aside all tropes and familiarity. There are several plot points that echo previous installments, most notably Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, in keeping with the grand “Star Wars” tradition of intergalactic history playing out in cycles and new characters encountering situations similar to their predecessors, and having opportunities to make different choices. Indeed, Johnson at many points plays off the audience’s familiarity with these archetypes to purposely subvert their expectations, both for dramatic effect and as a bulwark against the franchise becoming stale.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film — some of the jokes and subplots have been criticized for straying too far from the formula. And certainly, the “Star Wars” films could benefit from a stricter storytelling structure that is rumored to be less of a priority at Lucasfilm than it is at fellow Disney company Marvel Studios. But for the most part, the film works exactly as it was intended to do.

Last Jedi is, at its core, a rumination on the nature of hero worship, and in forcing the characters to confront their preconceptions about the people and places they encounter, it also asks “Star Wars” fandom to make the same considerations. The film even gets meta at times, almost directly addressing the idea of obsessing over fan theories while also reminding us about the larger-than-life nature of the characters that made us want to experience their adventures in the first place.

The presentation offered by this absolutely loaded Blu-ray is a visual treat that preserves the big-screen splendor of the film’s gorgeous location photography and visual effects, including several scenes that are all-time franchise highlights.

The centerpiece of the extras is the 95-minute behind-the-scenes documentary The Director and the Jedi, an often-candid look at Johnson’s journey to bring the film to life, from the announcement of his involvement to the final photograph of the cast and crew.

For all that detractors may complain about their own vision for “Star Wars” not aligning with Disney’s, it’s clear that Johnson himself is a fan with a firm grasp of the franchise’s mythology.

There’s even more to learn in another 50-minutes of making-of featurettes, each dealing with specific scenes or concepts, such as an examination of the nature of the Force and looks at creating various battles. An especially fun one offers Andy Serkis’ on-set performance as Supreme Leader Snoke in his performance-capture suit before any of the character CGI is applied, and he’s just as menacing with little dots pasted to his face.

The Blu-ray also includes 14 deleted scenes running more than 24 minutes. While most of these are wise cuts (an extended chase sequence on the casino planet really tests one’s patience), many offer some fun moments of story and character.

Johnson provides an optional commentary on the deleted scenes, as well as for the film as a whole. It’s a solo commentary, and he and talks openly about recording it before the movie even hit theaters, which leads to some interesting passages where he ponders about how the audience will react to certain things, leaving viewers with their hindsight to fill in the rest. It’s an informative track, but also raises a few questions about just when these commentaries should be recorded.

For movies that even offer a home video commentary, they tend to be recorded just before the film’s theatrical release, likely due to scheduling concerns and possibly the idea that the filmmakers are better able to recollect certain details when it hasn’t been that long since the film wrapped. On the other hand, this might have been a good opportunity to get a few people involved with the production to record one after seeing the fan reaction and focusing it more on analysis and response. Perhaps taking such a tact is liable to raise more issues, and simply carrying on with the confidence of having created a good film is the more appropriate way to go, but it might have led to a damn interesting commentary track.

Speaking of damn interesting — and perhaps a bit of it’s about damn time — the digital version of the film offered through the Movies Anywhere service includes a score-only version of the film that puts composer John Williams’ excellent music front and center. The soundtrack version is available exclusively to Movies Anywhere accounts linked to an affiliated retailer where the film was purchased, or by redeeming the digital copy code included with the disc.

It’s a nice gesture that hopefully paves the way for music-only versions of the rest of the “Star Wars” films.

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Surges to No. 1 on Disc Sales Charts

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment again claimed the top spot on the national home video sales charts the week ended March 10, this time with Thor: Ragnarok, while five other newcomers also found their way into the overall top 20.

The latest hit superhero film from the powerhouse Marvel Studios unit had earned $315 million at the domestic box office before debuting at No. 1 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert sales chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc Unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart.

The arrival of Thor:Ragnarok pushed Disney’s Coco, from the Pixar Animation Studio, to No. 2 on both charts after it had debuted on top the week before. Coco sold about 39% as many units as Thor: Ragnarok during the week.

Dropping a slot to No. 3, also on both charts, was 20th Century Fox’s Murder on the Orient Express remake.

No. 4 on the overall chart was Lionsgate’s Wonder, followed by Fox’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which rose two spots to No. 5 after being honored with a couple of acting Oscars.

On the Blu-ray chart, Disney’s Lady and the Tramp: Signature Collection slipped to No. 4, while Universal Pictures’ Darkest Hour took No. 5. Wonder and Three Billboards were No. 6 and No. 7, respectively.

The other new arrivals popping into the top 20 were Lionsgate’s Lady Bird at No. 8 (on both charts); Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol: Sea Patrol, distributed by Paramount, at No. 10; BBC’s Blue Planet II at No. 12 (No. 10 on the Blu-ray chart); a Sony Pictures’ anniversary re-release of the 1982 fantasy epic The Dark Crystal at No. 13 (No. 9 on the Blu-ray chart); and Universal’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, a docu-drama about Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol, at No. 20 (No. 18 on the Blu-ray chart).

Notably, Dark Crystal was released for the first time on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, with the premium format accounting for 36% of the title’s unit sales. Blu-ray as a whole accounted for 86% of Dark Crystal sales for the week.

Among the other debuting titles, Blu-ray accounted for 83% of unit sales for Thor: Ragnarok, which saw 11% of its total come from UHD Blu-ray.

The comedy Lady Bird had 55% of its sales come by way of Blu-ray, while the documentary series Blue Planet II had 75% and The Man Who Invented Christmas had 46%.

Blue Planet II had 46% of its sales come from the 4K disc format, which is especially significant considering the U.S. HD configurations were either BD- or 4K-only, meaning no future-proofing combo pack containing both formats.

On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended March 11, Coco took over the No. 1 spot after debuting a week earlier at No. 2, while Thor: Ragnarok had to settle for the second spot in its first week.

The chart-topping duo from Disney defies the usual trend, as Disney titles tend to take a few weeks to build momentum in the rental market as the studio has no distribution agreement with Redbox, leading the kiosk vendor to acquire its copies of Disney films as any consumer would — at retail. This tends to give the advantage to other studios who supply titles to Redbox directly. Indeed, Disney and Redbox are currently engaged in a legal dispute over the right to resell digital copy codes included with the packaged-media copies Redbox has been buying.

Rounding out the top five rentals, No. 3 and No. 4 went to a pair of 20th Century Fox films coming week-long holdbacks at Redbox – Murder on the Orient Express and Three Billboards, respectively.

No. 5 was Paramount’s Daddy’s Home 2, which had been the top rental the previous two weeks.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 03-10-18
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 03-11-18
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 03-10-18
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 03-10-18

Justice League


Street 3/13/18;
Box Office $229.01 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, Billy Crudup, Ciaran Hinds.

As a movie, Justice League is a perfectly fine, entertaining superhero adventure, in which Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit a handful of superheroes to fight an alien invasion. Except, you just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more.

This was supposed to be the DC Comics version of Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, with the greatest superheroes of all time finally coming together on the big screen. But with Marvel’s cinematic universe having such a head start (Black Panther is the 18th MCU film, while Justice League is just the fifth for DC), the DC films creative team took a few creative shortcuts to try to jump-start its mega franchise, mostly by foregoing introductory films for many of the characters and relying on the audience to have built-in knowledge of and nostalgia for who the characters are supposed to be.

In that regard, Justice League is primarily a sequel to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which introduced Wonder Woman in advance of her own solo film, as well as most of the concepts meant to pay off in Justice League. But when audiences balked at BvS being too long and confusing, the studio allegedly mandated trimming Justice League to a manageable two hours, leaving little room for complex plot dynamics or character development.

So, where the Marvel films have become an intriguing network of interconnected stories and characters that invite and enable audience investment, the DC films have mostly been disposable popcorn entertainment, about as distinct a representation of the characters as any of the direct-to-video animated DC Universe movies, or the multitude of DC-based shows on the CW, which managed to pull off their own mega-crossover shortly after Justice League came out that many fans considered a much better example of how to present a satisfying superhero team-up.

The film itself was vastly overshadowed by rumors of production issues, as director Zack Snyder left the project following a family tragedy, and Avengers director Joss Whedon stepped in to guide re-shoots and post-production. That led to some fans trying to dissect the film to determine who directed what, with most guessing incorrectly. Then, irony of ironies, once the film came out, the fan base that decried Snyder’s vision as having muddled both Man of Steel and BvS suddenly demanded a mythical “Snyder Cut” of Justice League, as if he were suddenly their favorite filmmaker (a dichotomy somewhat echoed by the “Star Wars” fans who hated the unfamiliarity of The Last Jedi after criticizing The Force Awakens for being too familiar).

The Blu-ray offers no hint of whatever behind-the-scenes discord influenced what finally ended up on screen. For what it’s worth, Whedon is never mentioned in the bonus materials, and there’s plenty of footage of Snyder on set and praise from the cast for his direction.

Anyway, the film is fun, flashy and filled with action, though the abundance of CGI makes most of it look like it came from a video game. (I won’t even get into the controversy about Henry Cavill’s moustache grown for Mission: Impossible — Fallout having to be digitally removed because Paramount wouldn’t let him shave it for the JL reshoots.) And there are plenty of moments that comic book fans should enjoy, particularly when it comes to the homages to the classic versions of the characters.

Another highlight is the musical score from Danny Elfman, who mostly abandons the sound from the previous films in favor of something more akin to his traditional filmmusic sensibilities. In this case, that means straight-up re-using his own Batman theme from 1989 and John Williams’ classic Superman theme. Whether it serves the franchise will be open to debate, but it’s certainly helps fuel the nostalgia the film needs for the audience to embrace its version of the characters. (Though for some perspective, there were 21 years between the 1960s Batman show and the 1989 Tim Burton movie where Elfman debuted his theme, and then 25 years between Batman Returns and the theme’s return in Justice League; it’s no surprise some fans might have found it a bit jarring).

On top of all that, Justice League also serves as a decent set-up for the upcoming Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Flash (Ezra Miller) movies, and with a little tweaking to the DC formula a team-up sequel with the same characters and some new additions wouldn’t be unwelcome.

With rumors the film was heavily edited from its original intentions, there has been a lot of speculation about what deleted scenes were out there. Notably, the Justice League home video versions do not include an extended cut of the film, as happened with previous DC entries BvS and Suicide Squad. Instead, the Blu-ray includes just two short deleted scenes, running a total of two minutes, tying into the “Return of Superman” subplot.

The rest of the extras consist of about an hour of behind-the-scenes material, segmented into shorter featurettes. Most interesting for fans of the lore will be the “Road to Justice” featurette that traces some of the history of the characters.

‘Star Wars’ at SXSW

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment debuted the documentary The Director and the Jedi, a full-length behind-the-scenes look at Star Wars: The Last Jedi, March 12 at the Paramount Theatre at SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The documentary is one of the bonus features on the home video versions of Last Jedi, which will be released digitally March 13 and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 27.

I, Tonya


Street 3/13/18;
Box Office $29.51 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
RatedR’ for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Walter Hauser.

The darkly funny I, Tonya isn’t so much a docu-drama about a moment of historical infamy as it is an examination of how unfortunate circumstances could build upon each other to fuel a situation that spirals out of control.

The subject, of course, is Tonya Harding, and her trainwreck of an upbringing in Oregon that, despite all odds, didn’t deter her in the slightest from becoming a world-class figure skater. And how the elements that inspired her to fight for success also coalesced into the notorious assault on her figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan and eventually pushed Harding out of the sport (and into boxing, of all things).

The film, aided by a great soundtrack of classic pop rock hits, is structured as a series of interviews with the particulars reflecting on the events in flashback from their own points of view, even breaking the fourth wall to explain details of what may or may not be true. The characters also have no trouble throwing each other under the bus, which could muddle the picture of what actually happened were it not for an additional “interview” with a fictionalized journalist played by Bobby Cannavale to provide focus and context.

Margot Robbie is terrific as Harding, taking on the airs of a fierce competitor who can’t seem to catch a break from the institutional bias of a sport that considers her little more than white trash. Harding doesn’t do much to shake the reputation, either, with her crude antics on and off the ice, particularly when it comes to her abusive relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, rocking the famous ’stache).

The highlight is Allison Janney as Harding’s mother, a tough-as-nails wannabe show-biz mom who is willing to let her daughter hate her to push her toward success.

The depiction of the Kerrigan attack is less a blow-by-blow re-creation than it is a comedy of errors about a group of idiots planning a crime and doing nearly everything wrong to cover their tracks. I suppose it’s the film’s way of suggesting that if these are the people Harding must rely upon to achieve her goals, then whatever sympathy we might feel for her through Robbie’s portrayal aren’t necessarily unwarranted.

These attitudes would all be mitigated of course by any definitive answers as to Harding’s role in planning the assault, which the film is unable to provide. By the end, as footage of the real Harding’s figure skating plays during the credits, the film has become something of a whacky tribute to her.

The Blu-ray offers 17-minutes of deleted scenes, and in one, Robbie’s Tonya even suggests that Kerrigan planned the whole thing to make Harding look bad (which the film’s Kerrigan character swiftly denies, naturally). The bulk of the deleted scenes are a couple of lengthy takes re-creating a bizarre Diane Sawyer interview with Gillooly’s buddy Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), who may have orchestrated the entire attack.

The Blu-ray also includes five promotional behind-the-scenes featurettes running about 16 minutes, and a good audio commentary from director Craig Gillespie.

Online Voting Is Open for the 2018 Home Media Awards

Consumer voting for the 2018 Home Media Awards Presented by Media Play News has begun.

Through April 6, film and TV fans and home entertainment enthusiasts can visit to select their favorite home video titles of 2017, as nominated by studios and distributors.

The results of the consumer vote will be combined with ballots submitted by a panel of expert judges. Winners will be announced April 23. Judges will also select a top Blu-ray, TV show on disc and a best overall title.

2018 Home Media Awards Ballot

Please vote for what you think should win in these categories. Voting ends April 6. Consumer preferences will be combined with the judges scores to determine the winners, which will be announced April 23. Nominations are based on submissions by the studios. If you disagree with the choices you may write in your own, but these will be collected only for survey purposes and may not influence the outcome of the voting. Additional categories that did not have sufficient entries to advance to the ballot stage will also have winners announced.
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‘Justice League’ Light Show at SXSW

To promote the March 13 Blu-ray release of Justice League, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment created an interactive light display at SXSW within DC’s comic book pop-up shop and Superhero experience. The activation included an interactive sidewalk and holograms that activated with scenes from the movie and corresponding Superhero logos from all six members of the Justice League.

In addition, the nights of Friday, March 9, and Saturday, March 10, the SXSW X DC Experience featured the performance art of Laserman, as the Italian dancer and his partner performed inside a pair of 12-foot crystal spheres and engaged in a choreographed laser-enhanced performance to the Justice League music of Danny Elfman.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Box Office $53.35 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.
Stars Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Zeljko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Amanda Warren, Clarke Peters.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards offers an intense, character-driven examination of the relationship between small-town police and the residents they serve.

Frances McDormand gives a powerhouse performance as Mildred, whose bitterness over the stalled investigation into her daughter’s murder motivates her to rent space on the billboards of the title excoriating the cops for their lack of progress.

This naturally raises tensions in the town, as supporters of the police demand she take the signs down while putting pressure on her friends and family to force her hand.

The police chief (Woody Harrelson), has his own issues to deal with, not the least of which is an alcoholic deputy named Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is accused of torturing a black suspect in custody during an incident that allegedly happened before the start of the film’s story.

Three Billboards takes a multi-faceted view of cops’ racial attitudes in small-town America, and presents them as people and not as the caricatures some knee-jerk critics of the film would insist upon. Certainly the department must confront its troubled history of race relations, but the situation with Mildred might suggest they’re not great cops in general, or at the very least in over their head on some things.

Dixon, for example, has bigger dreams but little self-awareness, and his racism goes hand in hand with a general attitude of superiority about everyone, no doubt fueled by the toxic influences of his mother. His violent streak even extends to the white kid who sold the signs to Mildred and becomes the subject of a brutal beating in one of the film’s signature sequences — a single take of Dixon walking from the police station across the street to the advertising shop, up the stairs and back to admire the chaos of his handiwork.

Mildred and Dixon represent the opposing forces in the firestorm at the heart of the film, so it comes as little surprise that McDormand and Rockwell were among the most recognized performers of awards season.

The Blu-ray includes five deleted scenes running about seven minutes total that aren’t vital to the storylines but do offer some interesting additional character insights.

Also included is a comprehensive half-hour behind-the-scenes documentary in which McDonagh relates how seeing similar billboards on a tour of the American South inspired him to make the film. The featurette also includes a lengthy look at the making-of the single-take fight scene at the center of the film.

Finally, the disc offers McDonagh’s unrelated half-hour 2004 short film Six Shooter, which won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short. The short stars Brendan Gleeson as a man on a train confronted with mortality and the foibles of the human condition.

Mark Hamill Honored With Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

“Star Wars” icon Mark Hamill was honored with the 2,630th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a ceremony March 8 in front of the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles with special guests Harrison Ford, George Lucas, Billie Lourd, Kelly Marie Tran and R2-D2. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment releases Star Wars: The Last Jedi digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD and via Movies Anywhere March 13, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 27.

Unrated ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ Coming to Digital April 24, Disc May 8

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release Fifty Shades Freed through digital retailers April 24, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray May 8.

The conclusion to the “Fifty Shades” trilogy stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as newlyweds Christian and Ana exploring new levels of their relationship after their sexually charged past. The film earned nearly $100 million at the domestic box office.

The home video version includes both the ‘R’-rated theatrical version and an unrated version.

Extras include a deleted scenes, “The Final Climax” behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the featurette “Christian & Ana By Jamie & Dakota,” in which the actors look back at their characters.

Digital and Blu-ray-exclusive bonus materials include music videos and a conversation between actor Eric Johnson and “Fifty Shades” novelist EL James.