New Blu-ray Releases a star is born

This week’s Blu-ray round-up features not one, but two highly underrated films from 2018 – a heist flick and a Western. You’ll also find a big Hollywood musical, two very different Disney films, and yet another reboot of Robin Hood. These are the new Blu-ray releases and their special features you should check out this week and beyond.

A Star Is Born

Back in September of 2018, when I saw A Star Is Born at TIFF, there was already a firm narrative in place that this musical remake was going to be the Oscar frontrunner. That Lady Gaga was going to take home Best Actress, Bradley Cooper was going to snag Best Director, and the film was sure to win Best Picture. And you know what? I was fine with that. Do I think A Star Is Born is the best movie of last year? Nope! But it’s the type of handsomely mounted movie that usually does win Oscars. More often than not, those films kind of stink. But A Star Is Born is good!

So what a surprise this Oscar season has been. Not only does it seem unlikely that A Star Is Born is going to take home anything other than Best Song, but Bradley Cooper didn’t even score a Best Director nom. So it goes. But enough talk about awards. A Star Is Born works exceedingly well, especially for being a remake of a remake of a remake. Cooper’s direction is a bit too reliant on medium-shots, but the first-time filmmaker does a great job capturing the electric energy of a live concert. He turns in the best performances of his career, too, as sloppy drunk musician Jackson Maine. One night, by chance (or fate), Jackson encounters Ally (Lady Gaga), and is blown away by her singing. And rightfully so – just like Lady Gaga herself, Ally can sing. Ms. Gaga is dynamite here – the movie belongs almost entirely to her, and she carries it with grace. You could argue that she’s just playing a fictionalized version of herself – but so what? She does it well. A Star Is Born is emotional, romantic, sexy, and highly watchable. Time will be kind to this film, even if the Academy isn’t.

Special Features to Note:

In addition to music videos and “jam sessions” featuring music moments that didn’t make it into the final film, the new Blu-ray release contains a making of featurette that’s predictably polished, and totally in awe of both Cooper and Gaga. Here, Cooper says he always wanted to direct, and he felt a love story was something that everyone could relate to. He wanted the film to be authentic, and that’s why he wanted Lady Gaga to star, to bring her authenticity (and killer singing voice) to the film. “I met this incredibly open, compassionate, warm, giving person,” Cooper says of Gaga, “and I knew the camera was going to…love her.” He’s right. Cooper talks about how he wanted the film to utilize all of Gaga’s strengths. “Everyone already knows she has a voice,” says the actor and director Cooper, but he wanted to show that she had acting chops as well. For her part, Gaga is enamored with Cooper’s talent as well, and has nothing but praise for his direction. This all makes for a highly pleasant featurette, but don’t expect anything too in-depth. It’s a shame Cooper didn’t opt to record a commentary track for his directorial debut. 

Special Features Include:

  • Jam Sessions and Rarities
    • “Baby What You Want Me To Do”
    • “Midnight Special”
    • “Is That Alright”
  • The Road to Stardom: Making A Star is Born
  • Music Videos
    • Shallow
    • Always Remember Us This Way
    • Look What I Found
    • I’ll Never Love Again

 

Widows

For reasons that escape me, Widows fizzled. How the hell did that happen? How could a movie this great, with such a killer cast, talented director, and smart screenwriter fail to wow audiences? I just don’t understand. But to hell with them – Widows is one of the best films of last year, and it plays even better on Blu-ray. The set-up: a group of women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki) team up to pull of a heist after their criminal husbands are killed. Along the way, they recruit a driver (a scene-stealing Cynthia Erivo). It sounds like the set-up for a traditional heist flick, but director Steve McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn have a lot more on their minds. They craft a movie that’s both an action thriller and a sharp, smart commentary on current events. Perhaps its this last part that threw audiences. Perhaps audiences were expecting just another heist film. The cast is all doing bang-up work here, particularly Elizabeth Debicki, who towers over everyone, both figuratively and literally (she’s really tall, folks).

Special Features to Note:

A multi-part making-of featurette offers insight into the production, the locations used, and the type of movie McQueen and company were striving to make. The filmmaker says he wanted to make a movie that was exciting and engaging but also about our time. McQueen also says he was drawn to the original miniseries that inspired the film because it was about characters who achieved things no one thought they could, and as a black person growing in London, he could relate to that. When it came to finding an American location to set the film (the original miniseries is set in the UK), Chicago seemed to be the obvious choice. As McQueen tells it, Chicago was an important and perfect location to deal with race, politics, crime, religion. “Chicago is an epicenter of all of that,” says McQueen. McQueen and Flynn hoped to both make an exciting thriller, but also a movie that dealt with real issues. And a movie that showed, in Flynn’s words, “What it looks like when women come together and take their own form of power, and what it looks like when female relationships are put together in a professional way.”

Special Features Include:

  • Widows Unmasked: A Chicago Story
    • Plotting The Heist: The Story
    • Assembling The Crew: Production
    • The Scene Of The Crime: Locations
  • Gallery

The Sisters Brothers

Jacques Audiard’s dreamy, melancholy, existential anti-Western The Sisters Brothers was just too weird to bring in audiences, even though it boasted a cast comprised of John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed. Reilly and Phoenix are the Sisters Brothers, a pair of hired guns who couldn’t be more different. Phoenix’s character is brash, brutal and prone to outbursts. Reilly is more childlike, more curious, less bloodthirsty (not that he has a problem killing anyone). The two get mixed-up in a plot involving a prospector (Ahmed) and a scout (Gyllenhaal), and a secret formula for finding gold. But Audiard isn’t particularly interested in the story. Instead, the filmmaker focuses on building a unique, beautiful, often shockingly violent world. The Sisters Brothers is wholly unique, and the perfect film for audiences to finally discover now that it’s on Blu-ray.

Special Features to Note:

“Making a Modern Day Western” strives to showcase the unconventional Western Audiard made. Audiard reveals he doesn’t have a taste for Westerns as a genre in general, and thought of The Sisters Brothers as more of a period piece and a fairy tale. He talks about how he approached the characters as grown men who also act like 12-year-olds, which is a perfect summation of the two gun-toting brothers. John C. Reilly adds that he finds most Western movie characters to be opaque, but what he loved about The Sisters Brothers was the emotional availability of the personas on screen. 

Special Features Include:

  • Striking Gold: Making a “Modern Day” Western
  • Q&A Panel
  • Promotional Featurettes:
    • Brothers Forever
    • Wanted Dead or Alive
  • Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

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