American Underdog

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 2/22/22;
Lionsgate;
Drama;
Box Office $26.31 million;
$29.96 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for some language and thematic elements.
Stars Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Ser’Darius Blain, Dennis Quaid, Chance Kelly, Cindy Hogan, Adam Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Hayden Zaller.

This biopic about NFL hall of famer Kurt Warner makes a fortuitous arrival on Blu-ray and DVD, landing on shelves with a prominent cover image of Warner in his bright blue and yellow Rams uniform just as the current version of the Rams are celebrating winning the Super Bowl.

The film tells the story of how one man’s relentless belief in himself paid off. After not being drafted by any NFL team, Warner takes a job stocking shelves at the supermarket, though he continues to keep his dream of playing in the NFL alive. make ends meet, he takes a job stocking shelves at the supermarket.

In the meantime, the film also explores how Kurt (Zachary Levi) met his future wife Brenda (Anna Paquin). Falling instantly in love with her after seeing her dancing at a cowboy bar, he learns she’s a former marine and single mom whose divorce left her raising two small kids with the help of her parents. One of the kids, Zack (Hayden Zaller) is blind and developmentally disabled after the being accidentally dropped on his head as a baby.

The story is so schmaltzy, complete with the precocious little kid, that if it hadn’t actually happened it would seem like a string of sports movie tropes.

But because it’s based on a true story, American Underdog is an effective, heart-driven look at how Kurt Warner emerged from seemingly nowhere to become the NFL MVP and lead the Rams to a Super Bowl title. After playing in the Arena League, Warner attracts the attention of the Rams and gets a boost from their head coach, Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid). The rest is history

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The American Underdog Blu-ray is absolutely stacked with bonus materials, offering an hour and a half of behind-the-scenes featurettes, 11 deleted scenes totaling nearly 18 minutes of excised footage, and an informative commentary track from directors Andrew and Jon Erwin with producer Kevin Downes.

Some of the real people depicted in the film, such as Kurt, Brenda and Vermeil, are heavily involved in the featurettes. Kurt, who executive produced the movie alongside Brenda, gets interviewed about the film in the 15-minute “Meet the Champion” featurette that also includes discussions with Vermeil and the filmmakers.

Other featurettes focus on the film’s faith-based message, the discovery of child actor Zaller, and things like the editing of the film and re-creating some of Warner’s football game, at times inter-splicing between new footage and archive tape from the games.

The most intriguing extra is a half-hour sit-down discussion with Vermeil, who is interviewed by “Saturday Night Live” actress Heidi Gardner, who explains she’s a huge Chiefs fan and is appreciative of Vermeil’s time coaching the Kansas City NFL club.

The deleted scenes provide a lot of great character moments that give more insight to what everyone in the film is going through in their lives.

‘American Underdog’ Available on Digital Feb. 4, Disc Feb. 22 From Lionsgate

The sports biopic American Underdog arrives on digital Feb. 4 and on 4K Ultra HD combo pack (plus Blu-ray and digital), Blu-ray combo pack (plus DVD and digital), DVD and on demand Feb. 22 from Lionsgate.

Based on the true story of two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, the film comes from the Erwin Brothers (I Still Believe, I Can Only Imagine) and screenwriters Jon Erwin (I Still Believe, I Can Only Imagine), David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights) and Jon Gunn (I Still Believe).

It stars Zachary Levi (Shazam!, Thor: The Dark World, Tangled), Academy Award winner Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress, The Piano, 1993; “X-Men” franchise; The Irishman), Ser’Darius Blain (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Jumanji: The Next Level, “Charmed”), and Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow, Far From Heaven, In Good Company).

Based on the book All Things Possible by Warner and Michael Silver, American Underdog tells the true story of a football player who went from a stockboy at a grocery store to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame quarterback. The film centers on Warner’s unique story and years of challenges and setbacks that could have derailed his aspirations to become an NFL player. With the support of his wife Brenda (Anna Paquin) and the encouragement of his family, coaches, and teammates, Warner perseveres.

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Special features include audio commentary with directors Andrew and Jon Erwin and producer Kevin Downes; the “Inspired” featurette; the “Making the Cut” featurette; the “A Coach’s Faith” featurette (on 4K and Blu-ray only); a “New to the Scene: Hayden Zaller” featurette; a “Meet the Champion” featurette; a “Behind the Game” featurette; an “American Underdog: Behind the Story” featurette; deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Andrew Erwin; and the theatrical trailer (on 4K and Blu-ray only).

 

The Irishman

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 11/24/20;
Criterion;
Drama;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive language and strong violence.
Stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel.

Lest anyone accuse Martin Scorsese of glamorizing gangsters, he presents The Irishman, a screed against the criminal lifestyle.

The film is based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses, a recounting of the life of mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, the man who claims to have killed Jimmy Hoffa, the union boss whose disappearance in 1975 became one of the 20th century’s great mysteries.

The subject matter is fodder for Scorsese, who assembles a cast of mob-movie all-stars to deliver another highly entertaining trip into the inner workings of the criminal underworld. This includes usual Scorsese collaborators such as Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (who was coaxed out of retirement to appear). It is somehow also the first teaming of Al Pacino with Scorsese despite both being famously associated with the mafia movie genres.

The film, which earned a slew of Oscar nominations after debuting on Netflix in 2019, is lengthy at three-and-a-half hours, but is briskly paced enough to hold one’s attention. Of course, the nature of home video also allows viewers to pause the movie whenever they want, giving Scorsese plenty of leeway to indulge himself.

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De Niro stars as Sheeran, the ‘Irishman’ of the title, a truck driver who gets drawn into the mafia as an enforcer. He eventually becomes a trusted ally of Teamster president Hoffa (Al Pacino), a friendship that comes to a head when Hoffa’s actions run afoul of the mafia’s leadership.

The extended running time not only allows the audience time to get to know the characters, but it also allows Scorsese to hone in on an aspect of criminal life that wasn’t central to his earlier works in the genre: What happens to the violent gangsters who manage not to get killed and end up growing old? Was their life of crime still worth it once they realize what they had to leave behind to achieve it?

As if to carry the point home, Scorsese makes a point to pause the introductions of several minor characters to display an on-screen graphic describing their fates, which usually involves a horrific, violent death.

On the subject of aging, the film famously made extensive use of de-aging visual effects software in order to allow the elderly stars to play the younger versions of their characters since the film spans several decades. Scorsese in the Blu-ray’s bonus materials says the technology was vital to his deciding to direct the film, as he didn’t want to have to cast younger actors for the earlier scenes and only work with De Niro for half the movie. The results are subtle if not always perfect, but they don’t hamper the effectiveness of the film at all.

Because of the film’s length, Criterion has made the Blu-ray of The Irishman a two-disc set, with the entirety of the movie presented as the only content on the first disc. All the bonus materials are on the second disc and they do a good job of taking viewers behind the scenes of the film. Both discs come in a handsome fold-out slipcover with some beautiful painted artwork of De Niro and Pacino, plus a booklet with an essay about the film.

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In addition to the film’s trailers, the extras include a 36-minute “Making The Irishman” featurette that covers all the aspects of the production.

Film history fans will get a kick out of the 19-minute “Table for Four” featurette, a roundtable conversation between Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci as they discuss their careers and how they came together for this movie.

Also interesting is the 21-and-a-half-minute “Gangsters’ Requiem,” a video essay about the evolution of Scorsese’s career and how his previous works are reflected in The Irishman.

A five-minute “Anatomy of a Scene” video features Scorsese providing commentary on the Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night scene.

The film’s visual effects techniques are expanded upon in the 13-minute “The Evolution of Digital De-Aging as Seen in The Irishman” featurette, which was originally a Netflix promotional piece.

Finally, there are a couple of archival videos that the filmmakers used in re-creating historic events: a six-minute interview with an elderly Sheeran, and a 17-and-a-half minute news profile of Hoffa by David Brinkley in 1963.

Drama ‘The Parting Glass’ Coming to Digital Sept. 10 From Sony

The family drama The Parting Glass will come out on digital Sept. 10 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In his feature film directorial debut, Stephen Moyer helms an emotional drama about an estranged family coming back together when the youngest sibling, Colleen (Anna Paquin), mysteriously dies. Left to sort through her belongings, Colleen’s father (Ed Asner), three siblings (Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon and Denis O’Hare), and ex-husband (Rhys Ifans) revisit their memories and make peace together.

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Inspired by autobiographical events, Denis O’Hare makes his feature screenplay debut.