Fresh on Blu-ray: ’20TH CENTURY WOMEN’ and ‘FANTASTIC BEASTS’ – tears for fears

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Preston Barta // Editor

Available Tuesday (Mar. 28) on Blu-ray and DVD:

Writer-director Mike Mills’ remarkable 2010 film BEGINNERS, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, was a comedy-drama loosely based on the filmmaker’s own father who came out of the closet in the later years of his life. Now, Mills directs his pen and camera at his mother’s story for another wonderfully wrought, fictionalized tale.

20TH CENTURY WOMEN
Rated R, 118 minutes.
Director: Mike Mills
Cast: Annette BeningLucas Jade Zumann, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup

20TH CENTURY WOMEN, like BEGINNERS, unfolds in the past tense. Through Mills’ inventive use of narration and imagery (pictures and archival footage), we observe a work of art that is a cross between innovative filmmaking and a profound video essay about a mother (Annette Bening) raising her sensitive teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann) in 1979 California, a time of cultural change and rebellion.

Mills is an exceptional filmmaker who creates works built with genuine mood and feeling. Even without knowing it’s semi-autobiographical, viewers can clearly see it comes from an honest and personal place that could appeal to anyone — and not just those who connect with its central character, but people from all walks of life.

At times, 20TH CENTURY WOMEN is a crowd-pleaser, while at other times it’s not shy at tugging at your heartstrings to ignite the waterworks. It manages to hit all the beats of life in an enlightening fashion. Whether it’s discussions about how questioning one’s happiness is a shortcut to depression or having your heart broken to learn about the world, this is a flawless film that informs, educates and entertains.

Grade: A+

Extras: An audio commentary with Mills, a making-of and a featurette with its cast.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison SudolDan Fogler and Colin Farrell

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magical creature zoologist who is expelled from Hogwarts (of Harry Potter fame), arrives in 1926 New York for personal business and research for his book. Newt finds himself wrapped up in a tangled plot, involving loose critters from his own briefcase, witch hunts and an immense threat to the magical community.

Like most franchise-starting vehicles, FANTASTIC BEASTS may try to accomplish too much in its two-hour run time (it wastes a lot of time with self-created problems, like Newt losing all his creatures before getting to the real plot). To be fair, on the other hand, it has many new characters to introduce, more mythology to establish and groundwork to lie down for the supposed next four installments.

Warts and all, FANTASTIC BEASTS warmly welcomes viewers back to its wonderful wizarding world and sets up much to look forward to in the years to come.

Grade: B

Extras: Returning to the wizarding universe with author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling, director David Yates (HARRY POTTER films 5-7) and producer David Heyman (Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins!); several featurettes on the characters, creatures and production design; and 11 deleted scenes.

SILENCE
Rated R, 160 minutes.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam NeesonIssey Ogata and Yôsuke Kubozuka

Former altar boy Martin Scorsese’s admiration and appreciation of faith continues with his quiet but stunning Silence, based on the 1966 historical fiction novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. In 1640, two young Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) set off on a dangerous quest to retrieve their mentor, Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has relented after years of violent persecution in Japan and publicly renounced his faith.

SILENCE provides an enlightening spiritual experience without ever overstepping its bounds or becoming preachy. Scorsese’s film is more than a simple tale of a divided land, for he gives us a harrowing glimpse into a fractured world. Much can be learned through its anguish and silence.

Grade: A-

Extras: I wish Scorsese included more bonus material with his releases, but I always hold onto the hope of a packed anniversary edition. For now, SILENCE includes one good-enough behind-the-scenes featurette about the journey to making the film.

WHY HIM?
Rated R, 111 minutes.
Director: John Hamburg
Cast: Zoey Deutch, James FrancoBryan CranstonMegan Mullally and Griffin Gluck

This goofy comedy takes some time to get into. At first, you may cringe a lot at its humor, which either pushes the envelope too far or is forced. But after the first act or so (as it runs a little too long), you may find yourself chuckling at its stupidity.

The story itself is pretty standard: A daughter (Zoey Deutch) brings her obscure, rich boyfriend (James Franco) home for the holidays to meet her folks (Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally), and dad isn’t too happy about her choice.

Parents can relate to this concept because we want what’s best for our loved ones. Even though we’ve seen it in many movies before, it’s fun to watch this scenario escalate to an unreal level.

Grade: C

Extras: Gag reel, deleted scenes, and an audio commentary with John Hamburg (director/co-writer), Ian Helfer (co-writer) and William Kerr (editor) and more.

A MONSTER CALLS
Rated PG-13, 108 minutes.
Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity JonesToby Kebbell and Liam Neeson

Talk about a movie that shatters expectations with its striking visuals, emotional heft and magical tale of grief and loss. Director J.A. Bayona (the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD sequel) paints a vivid picture for audiences to escape from reality and get in touch with one’s self on a deeper level by way of one boy’s (Lewis MacDougall) plight to cope with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. Co-starring Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell.

Grade: A-

Extras: A making-of, creating the tales within the film’s story, deleted scenes and more.

PATRIOTS DAY
Rated R, 133 minutes.
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark WahlbergMichelle Monaghan, J.K. SimmonsJohn Goodman and Kevin Bacon

Of all the docudramas filmmaker Peter Berg (DEEPWATER HORIZON, LONE SURVIVOR) has done with Mark Wahlberg, PATRIOTS DAY is easily his best and has the most reason for existing. Movies about modern tragedies are hard to make a case for because they’re so fresh in our memory. However, this story about 2013’s horrific Boston Marathon bombing provides a unique and tense perspective of the event. One line from the film sums up its power: “Two people took weeks to plan out hate, but love responded in an instant.”

Grade: B+

Extras: Boston Strong (true stories of courage vignettes), The Boston Bond (recounting the tale), The Real Patriots (the local heroes’ stories), remembering the tragedy with the film’s cast, and a two-part series of the actors meeting their real-life counterparts.

A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS
Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
Director: Natalie Portman
Cast: Natalie PortmanAmir TesslerGilad KahanaTomer Kapon and Moni Moshonov

Natalie Portman’s love letter to Israel may be more dark than it is loving, but it’s a visceral experience and an amiable directorial debut for Portman. Based on the youth of celebrated Israeli writer Amos Oz, A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS is an intimate family drama set against the backdrop of a war-torn Jerusalem in post-World War II. Elevated by the elegant performances from Portman and newcomer Amir Tessler, the film overcomes its flaws and loose areas by homing in on the brass-bound bond between a mother and her child.

Grade: B-

Also available this week: ARSENAL, BLOW-UP (1966): The Criterion Collection, WISHMASTER Collection: 4-Film Set, and PLANET EARTH II.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.