Rom-Com ‘Last Christmas’ Home Release Announced by Universal

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the romantic-comedy Last Christmas through digital retailers Jan. 21, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Feb. 4.

The film stars Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) as Kate, who works as an elf at a year-round holiday shop and faces an endless streak of bad luck and poor decision-making until she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a kind-hearted man with a mysterious past who challenges her cynical world view. The cast also includes Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson.

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Directed by Paul Feig, and co-written by Thompson and Greg Wise, the film earned $35 million at the domestic box office. The film features the music of George Michael, including a never-before-heard track.

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Home video extras include an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; a blooper reel; a Feig solo commentary; a commentary with Feig and Thompson; a full performance of George Michael’s “Last Christmas”; and several featurettes:

  • “Director in Vision” — Feig offers directorial tips and fashion advice;
  • “It’s All So Cold” — how Clarke and Golding’s stayed warm while filming in chilly London;
  • “Try Not to Laugh” — Clarke and Thompson come down with a severe case of the giggles;
  • “A Legacy Revealed” — how the song “Last Christmas” was developed into a film;
  • “Pure Golding” — A profile of Henry Golding;
  • “Emilia Recording Session” — a recording session with Emilia Clarke;
  • “Love Letter to London” — Feig and some of the cast explore London;
  • “Santa and Her Elf” — a behind the scenes look at the quirky relationship between Kate and “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh);
  • “12 Days of Production” — a chronicle of the production;
  • “Paul Feig Takes Over the Tram” – Before Feig became a director he was a Universal Studios tram tour guide in 1981. Hop on the tram and experience part of the tour as Paul takes over the ride.

 

Game of Thrones: Season 8

DIGITAL REVIEW:

HBO;
Fantasy;
$19.99 SD; $26.99 HD;
Not Rated.
Stars Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Jerome Flynn, Kristofer Hivju, Joe Dempsie, Jacob Anderson, Iain Glen.

The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” is certainly its most divisive, setting off a wave of Internet debates as to whether the final run of episodes was worthy of the extensive storytelling that had been laid out before.

Much of the ire seems to be focused on the creative decisions made by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in mapping out the final story arcs of the various characters once they no longer draw from the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin, which formed the basis of the first five seasons.

A noticeable shift in the show’s pacing occurred in season six, once it was clear they had to create their own after reportedly receiving outlines from Martin about how he envisioned the saga more or less ending up. After season six, it was announced the show would wrap up in 13 episodes split into two seasons, with seven in season seven and six in season eight.

In hindsight, the argument goes, this timeline was insufficient in setting up the character development needed for the plot twists of the final episodes, leaving the final storylines feeling rushed while retroactively weakening the earlier seasons by both devaluing their story development and making it clear (particularly to readers of the novels) where the show missed opportunities to lay the foundation for the plot points the writers eventually decided to pursue.

The series has spent seven seasons seemingly maneuvering every character into two factions. One is the army gathering at Winterfell to fight the Night King and the White Walkers. This is the faction commanded by Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, who joined forces last season. However, their truce may be complicated by the lingering truth of Jon’s true heritage, which could present an obstacle to Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne.

Meanwhile. Queen Cersei has fortified her hold on King’s Landing through an alliance with Euron Greyjoy’s fleet and a mercenary army.

The first two episodes deal largely with various characters reuniting, setting the stage for the battle against the Night King, which takes place in the third episode. The final episodes involve the battle for King’s Landing and its aftermath.

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So, is the final season as problematic as the darkest corners of the Internet would make it out to be? Well, mostly no, but a little bit yes.

The ire seems to fall into two categories. The first, as mentioned, is the show rushing to get to the end. The second is the specific outcomes for some of the characters, which may have differed a bit from what some of the more entitled fans envisioned in their heads.

As to the second point, such is often the refrain of toxic fandom, and seems misguided. The character arcs themselves are fine and completely understandable, particularly when it comes to the most divisive of the individual stories, that of Queen Daenerys and her quest to reclaim the Iron Throne on behalf of her family.

The show has always been an examination of the dangers of tyranny and absolutism, even when the results of such governance may seem beneficial. The cycle of inherited power is itself the problem, not the potential for harm a new ruler may bring.

That being said, it’s hard to disagree that the final march to the end was a bit rushed, and perhaps could have used a few episodes to show events for the characters to experience that might reinforce their motivations in the final battles.

The final season is fine as it is, as easy as it is for fans to pick it apart, and will likely come to be better regarded once absorbed into the bulk of the show as fodder for binge viewing. While the asinine suggestion of fan petitions to “remake the season with competent writers” is beyond the realm of credibility, it’s hard not to at least entertain the idea of filming a few more episodes of material to expand on the character development, then re-editing them into the final couple of seasons (though, realistically, that ain’t happening either).

The show’s critics are also quick to overlook the many strengths of the final season, which offers some of the most stunning visuals of the series. This includes the purposefully dark and moody third episode, which uses its nighttime setting to great effect give viewers the same sense of unseen dread the characters would experience in fighting off wave after wave of undead armies.

There was some concern about the cinematography being too dark upon its initial airing, but this isn’t much of a problem with the digital HD presentation.

The other aspect of concern in fan circles were all the memes pointing out Starbucks cups and plastic water bottles left on the set for key scenes. The prominent coffee cup was subsequently digitally erased from episode four, but a few water bottles spotted under the chairs in the “Council of Lords” scene in the finale were still visible in the digital copy of the episode, at least within the first few days of its digital release. It will certainly be something to keep an eye out for in the eventual Blu-ray release that should arrive in a few months.

The digital package of the final season also includes a four-minute production featurette, a 17-minute profile of a key season from the third-episode battle, and The Last Watch, the feature-length documentary chronicling the making of the show’s final season that provides an enlightening look at the filmmakers and craftsman who brought it all together.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 9/25/18;
Disney/Lucasfilm;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $213.75 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.
Stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau.

The idea of exploring what Han Solo was up to before he encountered Luke Skywalker in that dusty cantina at the edge of the galaxy is certainly not a new concept in the realm of “Star Wars” fiction. No fewer than six novels have been devoted to the subject. A young Han was even considered for a cameo in Revenge of the Sith before that ill-conceived idea was scrapped. Still, the idea of a live-action prequel film devoted to the character was not something most fans would have considered to be in the realm of possibility prior to Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm.

In retrospect it’s easy for some fans to say they always thought such a movie was a bad idea, that exploring the backstory of the popular rogue would take some of the shine off his mystery and charm. But really, the prospect of a Han Solo origin movie, in the right creative hands, wasn’t without a certain appeal. It’s just, ask the average “Star Wars” fan what they would want to see covered in a spinoff film, and Young Han probably wouldn’t have been at the top of their list.

But it was at the top of the list of Lawrence Kasdan, the Hollywood veteran who in his own youth wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and was pretty familiar with the character of Han (he also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, a playground for Harrison Ford’s other most famous character). So if anyone was the right choice to write a young Han movie, it would be him (joined by his son, Jon).

That he didn’t sign on to direct it, too, may very well have been at the nexus of what the public would come to perceive as a very troubled production.

Now, two names you won’t hear mentioned throughout any of the bonus materials on a packed Solo Blu-ray are Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo originally hired to direct the Kasdans’ script. They ended up leaving the project under curious circumstances very late in the production, reportedly due to their comedic sensibilities not meshing with the studios’ intended tone of the film. (They ended up with an executive producer credit on the final film.)

Arcane union rules blocked Lawrence Kasdan from taking the directing reins, leaving the studio to turn to another Lucasfilm veteran, Ron Howard (who directed 1988’s Willow), who supposedly re-shot much of the film.

The only reference made on the Blu-ray that even hints at what happened before Howard came on board is the mention of a “hiatus,” brought up during a 22-minute roundtable discussion between Howard and the cast that segues into an anecdote about “Star Wars” creator George Lucas visiting the set of the Millennium Falcon just as the new director had come on board. Lucas apparently offered some key advice on how to portray Han on screen.

As for Lord and Miller’s influences that carried over into the finished project, fans should check out some production notes posted by Jon Kasdan on his Twitter feed.

The finished movie is hardly the mess it could have been — Howard is too skilled a director to let that happen. But it’s not exactly a masterpiece, either. It’s really just a serviceable “Star Wars” movie — a slick, fun adventure that doesn’t probe much beneath the surface of Han’s backstory beyond showcasing a rundown of some of the key events we had heard about in the original trilogy.

Think of it as the “Star Wars” equivalent of the Young Indy flashback at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stretched to feature length. Of course, that Last Crusade sequence would go on to inspire “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series. So, maybe the prequelitis in the air from the similar efforts to present younger versions of two iconic Harrison Ford characters has contributed a bit to Solo feeling more like a solid episode of a “Star Wars” anthology TV series, or even a TV movie with top-notch production values. It fits in with the saga, but it’s more like something you can watch to fill in the blanks. It does cast a few scenes from the original trilogy in a new light, so it has that going for it.

Some of the initial concern about the project stemmed from the idea of trying to find an actor to embody the young Solo without drawing too many comparisons to Ford. While Alden Ehrenreich may not have been many fans’ first choice, he’s quite capable in a role that, if given the chance, he may have very well made his own. The problem, alas, is that lackluster box office might limit his chances of playing Han in further prequel adventures. And if this does turn out to be his only chance in the cockpit, then his performance is liable to be viewed in the same vein as George Lazenby’s was in his one-and-only chance trying to replace Sean Connery as James Bond.

This Lazenby effect is the biggest stumbling block to the notion that Ehrenreich’s Han is the same character Ford played, an awkwardness that may well be alleviated if audiences ever gets the chance to get used to him from several appearances that in turn retroactively improve the perception of him in his first.

This is much less of a problem for Donald Glover as Lando, who handles the chores of personifying a young Billy Dee Williams rather effortlessly. Really, though, the whole cast came to play, and the character dynamics are really the biggest strength of the film, particularly between Han and Chewbacca once they finally meet (in a fun sequence that lets the two future partners fight each other).

The story involves Han trying to escape his Dickensian upbringing as an orphan in a street gang, vowing to return to find his lost love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). After joining the Imperial military to learn how to fly, he ends up deserting his post to take up with a crew of thieves looking to steal high-grade spaceship fuel for one of the galaxy’s roughest criminal syndicates. When it turns out Qi’ra is a top advisor to the syndicate boss, Han is given a crash course on the intricacies on life in the underworld.

Viewed within the larger context of the saga, this is really the first film to focus on the criminal underpinnings of the “Star Wars” galaxy hinted at in the other films. Thematically, then, the film is of a kind with the franchise’s other prequels, each tied to the role the original trilogy’s three main heroes — Luke, Leia and Han — represented to the story of how the Rebellion defeated the Empire. The Jedi backstory, which Luke came to embody, was explored in Episodes I, II and III. The military and political aspects of the Rebellion symbolized by Leia were fleshed out in Rogue One. And with Solo we get the flavor of the underworld and the shadier dealings of the scoundrels who might not necessarily care who’s in charge.

In addition, composer John Powell’s score imbues the film with a sense of whimsy, meshing fresh material with recognizable cues from the previous films, anchored by a new Han Solo theme composed by the maestro himself, John Williams.

The film takes a few steps to place itself within the larger shared “Star Wars” universe, with references and connections to other movies and TV shows that hardcore fans will notice and are clearly meant to set up larger storylines to pay off in other films that may or may not be direct sequels. Regrettably, the film’s underwhelming box office results caused Disney to pump the brakes on the rapidity of production of future “Star Wars” spinoff films, which would be a real shame if it meant they never made the only potential spinoff the fans actually seem to want, which would be an Obi-Wan movie with Ewan McGregor back in the role).

In addition to the roundtable discussion, the Blu-ray also includes about 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes detailing various subjects such as the writing process, the visual effects, executing key action sequences, and re-creating and re-imagining elements familiar to audiences from the original trilogy.

There are also 15 minutes of deleted scenes, including some interesting looks at Han at the Imperial Academy and an extended version of the fight between Han and Chewie.