The Holdovers

BLU-RAY DISC REVIEW:

Street Date 1/2/24;
Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $18.3 million;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, some drug use and brief sexual material.
Stars Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa, Carrie Preston, Naheem Garcia, Andrew Garman, Gillian Vigman, Tate Donovan, Brady Hepner, Michael Provost, Ian Dolley, Jim Kaplan.

Director Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers blankets itself in the filmmaking sensibilities of the 1970s to present a bitterly comedic tale of three lonely souls who have slipped through society’s cracks and find themselves stranded together by circumstance.

Paul Giamatti, reuniting with Payne nearly two decades after the iconic success of 2004’s Sideways, stars as an overbearing teacher at a New England boarding school in 1970 who is tasked with supervising a handful of students who have nowhere else to go over the two-week winter break. With dreary snow limiting their options for recreation and forcing the group to bunk in the lone building that isn’t shut down for the winter, the stakes seem set for a classic clash of wills between Giamatti’s hard-nosed taskmaster Mr. Hunham and the students who are itching to break free of his confines.

But what starts off as The Paper Chase meets The Shining veers a bit back toward Sideways territory when four of the five students are whisked away on a ski trip by one of their wealthy fathers. Guilted into trying to provide the lone remaining student, the troubled Angus (newcomer Dominic Sessa), with a decent Christmas, they embark on a “field trip” to Boston, joined by the school’s head cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who is still grieving over the recent death of her son in Vietnam. In embracing each other as an ersatz family unit, the trio take their first steps in moving forward from their sorrowful fates.  

The Holdovers is the result of a bit of creative serendipity, as Payne had wanted to do a movie about a boarding school and came upon screenwriter David Hemingson, who was pitching a TV show about the same subject. Hemingson then reworked his script for the pilot episode into the screenplay for Payne’s film.

The result is an engaging, thoughtful and amusing character study punctuated by the terrific performances of the three leads.

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The home video edition of the film includes a smattering of interesting bonus materials.

The making of the film is ably covered in two featurettes — a 10-and-a-half-minute video about the cast, and the eight-and-a-half-minute “Working With Alexander.”

Also included are about seven minutes of excised content, consisting of four deleted scenes and an alternate ending. These include text introductions explaining why they were cut, and are accompanied by a written explanation from Payne, who mirthfully apologizes for the “meager offerings.”

 

Star Trek: Lower Decks — Season 1

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount/CBS;
Animated Sci-Fi;
$27.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $41.99 BD Steelbook;
Not rated;
Voices of Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Eugene Cordero, Noël Wells, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Fed Tatasciore, Gillian Vigman.

A glimpse into the lighter side of “Star Trek,” “Lower Decks” offers a comedic take on the franchise, using animation in the vein of “Rick and Morty” to present the adventures of the kinds of crew members who usually don’t get much screen time.

The series borrows its concept and name from an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that similarly focused on the lives of ordinary Starfleet officers serving on the lower rungs of the chain of command. It is set aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos, which itself is sort of a second-tier starship, sent in to clean up after better-known ships such as the Enterprise have their fun.

Though set in the “Star Trek” universe, the show is as much a parody of the franchise’s tropes as it is an addition to the canon. The animated aesthetic lets it cheat a bit in that regard, as it gets away with a perspective that would be hard to accept from a live-action “Trek” series. This is essentially “Star Trek” turning a satiric lens on itself much in the same way “The Orville” can only do as an homage.

“Lower Decks” is the brainchild of Mike McMahan, who wrote and produced for “Rick and Morty” and brings much of that sensibility here. The 10 episodes of the first season are peppered with references to earlier “Trek” series, including a number of obscure references to the 1970s animated “Trek” series. The series presents its main characters as essentially fans of ships such as the Enterprise, essentially making them in-universe “Star Trek” fans who get to make fun of the canon even as they actively play around its edges. The meta-commentary reaches its peak in the ninth episode, which is basically just a spoof of “Star Trek” movies, from horn-heavy music to a saturation of lens flares a la J.J. Abrams, presented within the world of the show through the holodeck.

While it’s hard to take the episodes too seriously as legitimate “Star Trek” plots, many of the resultant jokes can be rather funny, particularly to “Trek” fans who have enough knowledge of the franchise to appreciate them. To outsiders, the show would probably seem more like a wannabe “Futurama.” Still, it’s the best “Trek” series of the so-called new era that includes “Discovery” and “Picard,” which isn’t saying much.

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The Blu-ray and DVD editions of the series offer about two hours of behind the scenes material, the bulk of which are presented under the “Lower Decktionary” banner. In total, this is a 10-part documentary that runs about an hour — or, at least, it would be if it were presented in a more logical manner, to borrow a phrase from the Vulcans. Each part of “Lower Decktionary” is presented as a bonus feature with a particular episode — though more often than not the topics reflect the series as a whole and might point to that episode as an example. Also, the video quality of these featurettes is spotty at best, likely owing to editing together interviews from the cast and production team members that was culled from Zoom videos during the pandemic.

There are two additional standalone featurettes. The 24-minute “Faces of the Fleet” focuses on the development of the characters, while the seven-minute “Hiding in Plain Sight” discusses several of the references built into the show.

A couple of the episodes also include deleted sequences in animatic form (sketches rather than finished animation), while a full-length animatic version of the first episode also is available.

Rounding out the extras is a fake trailer for the fake movie at the center of episode nine.