‘Hard Luck Love Song’ Headed to PVOD Nov. 9, Digital and On Demand Dec. 21

The noir crime thriller Hard Luck Love Song arrives on premium VOD Nov. 9, and for digital purchase and on demand Dec. 21 from Lionsgate.

Based on the song “Just Like Old Times” by singer-songwriter Todd Snider, the film stars Michael Dorman (“For All Mankind,” “Patriot,” The Invisible Man), Sophia Bush (John Tucker Must Die, “One Tree Hill,” “Love, Victor”), Dermot Mulroney (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Arrested Development,” My Best Friend’s Wedding), Primetime Emmy Award nominee RZA (2020, Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music, TV’s “Wu-Tang: An American Saga”), Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts (1985, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Runaway Train), and Melora Walters (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Dead Poets Society).

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The film follows Jesse (Dorman), a charismatic but down on his luck troubadour hustling pool in dive bars, living out of cheap motels and making bad decisions. Jesse finds himself at an existential crossroads during a chance encounter with Carla (Bush), an old flame, as their complicated past and current troubles threaten to destroy their blissful reunion.

Robert the Bruce

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Screen Media;
Drama;
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Angus Macfadyen, Anna Hutchison, Zach McGowan, Gabriel Bateman, Talitha Bateman, Brandon Lessard, Diarmaid Murtagh, Emma Kenney, Patrick Fugit, Jared Harris, Nick Farnell, Shane Coffey, Melora Walters.

The historical drama Robert the Bruce seems like what the result would be if Braveheart were made as a low-budget independent film instead of a big-budget blockbuster.

The comparison is apt, given that this year marks the 25th anniversary of Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning saga of Scottish hero William Wallace (recently re-released as a handsome 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook by Paramount. And Angus Macfadyen, who played Robert in Braveheart, returns to the role in Robert the Bruce, making it something of an under-the-radar sequel. In fact, according to some strains of folklore, the nickname Braveheart is more accurately applied to Robert the Bruce, the 14th century king of Scotland who led his people to independence from England.

Robert the Bruce depicts no major battles or sprawling adventures for its main characters. Rather, it’s a more personal story of a disheartened leader struggling to find the inspiration to carry his mission through to victory.

The film touches on a few legends regarding The Bruce, beginning with his defeat of John Comyn (Jared Harris) in hand-to-hand combat to claim the Scottish crown. Later, after suffering defeat after defeat in battle and on the run from local opportunists looking to cash in on a bounty placed on his head by the English, Robert hides out in a cave and witnesses a spider spin a web despite numerous hardhips — a famous Scottish tale that relates Robert’s resolve to fight on despite the odds.

Stumbling through the snow, Robert is found by the family of a young widow (Anna Hutchison), who nurse him back to health despite being pledged to support England. For much of the film, Robert is relegated to a background character, leaving the film as much about the spirit of the Scottish people who both inspired and drew inspiration from The Bruce, as it is about the legendary king himself.

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Production of the film took on many forms through the years, with Macfadyen developing the project for more than a decade with hopes of returning to the character. The screenplay was eventually pared down from a Europe-spanning epic to the more intimate story of a family rescuing a man from the show who just happens to be the future king. Lest anyone forget the film’s origins, however, the name of William Wallace is dropped several times throughout the film, particularly during Robert’s battle with Comyn.

The story is a slow burn, but the cinematography is gorgeous, with snowy Montana effectively subbing in for Scotland for much of the film.

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The Blu-ray offers a couple of good bonus materials, including a feature-length commentary track with Macfadyen and director Richard Gray, who aren’t shy about discussing the film as a companion to Braveheart.

Also included is a solid 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.

Venom

Tom Hardy brings the fan-favorite antihero Venom to life in this entertaining throwback to the wild sensibilities of the comic book movies of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Blu-ray is loaded with bonus materials that should satisfy fans of both the character’s history and his film adaptation.

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Action;
Box Office $213.03 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.
Stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott, Melora Walters, Woody Harrelson.

The character of Venom’s journey to the big screen shares a lot of parallels with Deadpool, in that both were introduced as a villain in another character’s poorly received movie before getting a second chance after years of development hell to get a movie of their own.

Venom was originally introduced in the 1980s as an alien entity that served as an antagonist for Spider-Man before his increasing popularity led writers to shift him into the role of an anti-hero (often dubbed the “lethal protector”). He’s essentially a living black goo known as a symbiote, which merges with a human host to create a hulking beast with super abilities and a voracious appetite.

The character’s big-screen debut came in 2007 via a much-maligned appearance in the awful Spider-Man 3, when he was shoehorned into the story allegedly at the behest of studio executives looking to make a spinoff. (Likewise, Deadpool first appeared in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in which all of his fan-favorite traits were removed — a blunder subsequently lampooned in the mega-successful “Deadpool” solo movies that were only made after the popularity of leaked test footage pressured a reluctant Fox into greenlighting the project.)

When the “Spider-Man” franchise was rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, plans emerged for Venom to be included in a Sony Spider-Man cinematic universe, only for the poor reception of 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to put a hold on that as well.

Then Sony made a deal with Marvel Studios to include Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and when that proved successful Sony felt confident in moving forward with Spider-Man-related side projects, including Venom and the animated Into the Spider-Verse.

But, with the live-action Spider-Man on loan to Marvel’s creative team, Sony had to develop Venom without using Spider-Man in his origin story, as the two characters are intricately connected in the comic books. Originally, the symbiote bonded with Peter Parker before moving on to a better-suited host, Peter’s journalistic rival Eddie Brock, to finally become Venom. This paved the way for the expansion of the symbiote concept and the introduction of characters such as Carnage and Riot who could serve as villains for Venom.

So, in the Venom movie, the symbiotes are discovered on a comet and brought to Earth by a space mission funded by megalomaniacal rich guy Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). But the ship crashes and some of the symbiotes get loose before Drake’s cronies can round up the rest for experimentation.

Drake realizes they need human hosts to survive on Earth, so he kidnaps homeless people to test out his theories. This arouses the suspicions of Web reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), whose attempts to investigate Drake’s lab cause him to come into contact with the Venom symbiote, which takes over his body.

The symbiote is able to communicate telepathically with its host, and we learn that symbiotes need to have a good match with their hosts for the pairing to work, and apparently Eddie is well matched for Venom.

Of course, with Venom/Eddie on the loose, Drake sends out a private army to kill him, leading to several action sequences around the streets of San Francisco. Drake wants to send another rocket to the comet to bring back more symbiotes, a plan that Eddie/Venom vows to stop, even if it means fighting other symbiotes who support Drake’s mission. (This being a comic book movie, a finale featuring the main character battling the evil version of himself is almost a foregone conclusion.)

The best aspect of the movie is the interaction Hardy has with, well, himself — the interplay between Brock and the Venom voice in his head that wants him to find food and that he has to convince to stop eating people.

Part action, part horror, part buddy comedy, the film shifts tone at will in its efforts to stay faithful to the character while maintaining the commercial appeal of a ‘PG-13’ movie. It feels a lot like a throwback to a 1990s or early 2000s comic book movie that would try anything to entertain its audience. The visual effects are appropriately over the top, awash in CGI flair as gooey symbiotes launch tendrils and ooze across the room in attacking whomever is nearby.

The Blu-ray comes with a “Venom Mode” that offers pop-up trivia about the character and production while the movie plays. The information is low-key and unobtrusive, but often relates facts that might not be as interesting as answering questions that might pop into a viewer’s head during a given scene.

Three deleted scenes offer some more insights about the Venom character — one features Eddie talking to himself in a cab, another shows Venom’s hilarious response to an annoying car alarm, and the third is an extended version of a post-credits scene that teases a potential villain for the sequel.

Also included are about an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes, highlighted by the 20-minute “From Symbiote to Screen,” a good primer on the history of the Venom character. The three-minute “Symbiote Secrets” unveils some of the hidden references in the film.

In addition, there’s a gallery of visual-effects progressions from storyboard to finished film.

The disc also offers a bonus scene from the recently released Spider-Man: Into the Universe, both tacked on to the end of the movie and included separately. This is in addition to the Spider-Verse trailer that plays when the disc loads.

Finally, the disc includes two music videos: one for Eminem’s Venom title track, and another for an Into the Spider-Verse song, “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee.

Venom