The DVD Report #537

The Book of Henry is one of the most unfairly maligned films of the year. Written by Gregg Hurwitz and directed by Colin Trevorrow, this character study of a three-person family comprised of a child genius, his impressionable younger brother and his fragile mother is an emotional tour-de-force even if the underlying plot leaves something to be desired.

Jaeden Lieberher, currently starring in the box-office hit It, adds his portrayal of title character Henry to the growing number of unforgettable child performances he has already given us in St. Vincent, Midnight Special, and The Confirmation. Jacob Tremblay proves that his startling performance in Room was no one-off, and Naomi Watts once again gives us a portrayal of motherly love equal to her Oscar-nominated work opposite Tom Holland in The Impossible.

Lieberher plays Henry as a normal kid who just happens to have an intellect that is superior to everyone else’s without making a big deal about it. For him it’s nothing to play the stock market so that his mother will have enough money to quit her job as a waitress in a diner to write the children’s books she’s always wanted to. When he observes the family’s police commissioner neighbor abusing his step-daughter, he calls child protective services, but they do nothing so he sets up an elaborate plan to take matters into his own hands. The problem is Henry is dying of a brain tumor and will not be able to carry out his plan, so he puts his detailed plan in a book that he gives to his little brother to give his mother after his death so she can put it into action.

The first half of the film is centered around the family with Lieberher and Tremblay providing the best on-screen pair of siblings seen in films since E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The second half is centered around Watts and her growing maturity as well as Tremblay’s coming into his own in a school assembly scene that rivals the one Lieberher had in St. Vincent, the first film in which he worked with Watts.

The potential violence that threatens to mar the film’s climax fails to come to fruition, thus keeping the film squarely in the realm of family films, albeit probably not for anyone under the age of ten.

The film also provides strong, if under-utilized, supporting turns for Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler, Dean Norris, and Tonya Pinkins.

The Book of Henry is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Kelly Reichardt began her career with her directorial debut in 1994, but didn’t attract much attention until 2006 when she made Old Joy, the first of four films set in the Pacific northwest, co-written by Jonathan Raymond. She followed that with three more co-written by Raymond, 2008’s Wendy and Lucy, 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff, and 2013’s Night Moves, all of which were filmed in Oregon. Her latest, last year’s Certain Women, is the first for which she wrote the screenplay on her own and the first to be filmed outside Oregon.

Following the documentary style of her previous films in which nothing much happens, Certain Women is set in and around the small town of Livingston, Montana where it was filmed. Based on three short stories by Maile Meloy in which nothing much happens, nothing much comes of linking the three disconnected stories other than the opportunity to look at the local scenery which isn’t that much different from the local scenery anywhere in the U.S. Maybe that was the point.

Filmed as Livingston Blows because of the town’s reputation as the windiest in the U.S., its title was changed because the original distributor thought that that made it sound like a porn film. The new title has no meaning other than that it is about “certain women”, not “particular women,” just “certain women” who could be anyone.

The “certain women” seen here are Laura Dern as an ineffectual small-town lawyer, Michelle Williams as a small business owner, Lucy Gladstone as a bored rancher, and Kristen Stewart as a struggling young lawyer. Williams and Gladstone are working together on a project, Gladstone attends a class given by Stewart, and Dern is connected through her affair with Williams’ husband (James Le Gros). Jared Harris as Dern’s confused client, John Getz as the local sheriff, and Rene Auberjonois as a senile neighbor of Williams and Le Gros, also put in appearances.

The film was released on Blu-ray and standard DVD as a Criterion Edition. Given Reichardt’s small, but loyal following, this seems like overkill, but maybe not. A Blu-ray import of Reichardt’s trilogy of Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff is currently selling on Amazon for just under $700.00.

Jodie Foster had one of the most remarkable comebacks in Hollywood history. A child actress extraordinaire in 1976’s Taxi Driver and other films, she put her career on hold to attend college, then came back to win Oscars for 1988’s The Accused and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. The same year as the latter, she made her directorial debut with the well-received Little Man Tate. Her second film as a director, 1995’s Home for the Holidays, was much anticipated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good and she didn’t direct another film until 2011’s indifferently received The Beaver. That was followed by 2016’s equally indifferently received Money Monster.

Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray upgrade of Home for the Holidays looks good, but does nothing to make the content any better. Holly Hunter still mugs too much in the film’s early scenes as a middle-aged mother of teenager Claire Danes and she, Robert Downey, Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermot, Geraldine Chaplin, Cynthia Stevenson, and Steve Guttenberg all fail to make their annoying characters’ family reunion any more endearing than it was twenty-two years ago.

Of much more interest, Sony has given us an 80th Anniversary Blu-ray of Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon with all the bells and whistles that accompanied their previous Blu-ray upgrades of Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It with You, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The 4K scan does full justice to Capra’s film of James Hilton’s fantasy about an airplane that is diverted to Shangri-La and its magical world. The performances of Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, John Howard, Margo, Thomas Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton, Isabel Jewell, H.B. Warner, and Sam Jaffe still hold up after all these years, making it a joy to watch and a film to savor.

This week’s new releases include Baby Driver and The Beguiled.

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