This first of three sequels to "Star Wars" shattered box office opening-week records to become the highest grossing U.S. film of all time with over $930 million domestic, and the second-highest worldwide grossing film (behind "Avatar") with $2.82 billion worldwide. Thirty years following the battle of Endor, the Resistance is still hard at work rebuilding the galaxy from the ashes of the Empire -- but find themselves in trouble when Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, disappears -- and remnants of the Empire, calling themselves the First Order, threaten to unleash the Dark Side on the universe. A young Resistance pilot (Oscar Isaac) teams with a scavenger from the planet Jakku (Daisy Ridley), an ex-Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to track down Skywalker, keeping one step ahead of the nasty dark warrior Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the forces of the Dark Side. There's plenty of new faces (including a new droid, BB-8, and a new Supreme Leader, Snoke, played by Andy Serkis) and old (in addition to Ford, Mayhew and Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher shows up as General Leia Organa) -- there's even a guest appearance by C-3PO. Almost a retelling of the original "Star Wars" saga, director J.J. Abrams' "The Force Awakens" infuses this myth -- and the franchise -- with new blood and energy. There are some faults, mainly the underwhelming performances by Ridley and Boyega, some cheesy special effects sequences (in particular the attack of the rathtars on the freighter manned by Solo and Chewbacca), and a bit too much buddy-boy gee-whiz excitement on the part of Isaac and Boyega. For the most part, though, this "Star Wars" is a terrific sci-fi joy ride with clear cut heroes and villains, fairly tight direction, and, aside from my quibbles above, good acting. The home video release is a class act, from the cool, jet-black plastic Blu-ray case to the plethora of neat bonus features. And don't forget the best part of the film -- the forever young Harrison Ford as Han Solo, still a wisecracking, hard-fighting, intergalactic hipster.
Vitals: Director: J.J. Abrams. Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 136 min., Science Fiction, Box office gross: $930 million, Disney.Extras: "Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey" behind-the-scenes documentary; "The Story Awakens: The Table Read"; "Building BB-8"; "Crafting Creatures"; "Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight"; "John Williams: The Seventh Symphony"; "ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force";
"Force For Change": Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. See how the "Star Wars: Force for Change" initiative has united Star Wars fans all over the globe to help others; deleted scenes.
Order "Star Wars" here.
Rising with terrifying grandeur at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, the legendary real-life Aokigahara Forest is the suspense-filled setting of this supernatural thriller. A young American woman, Sara (Natalie Dormer), journeys there in search of her twin sister, who has
mysteriously disappeared. In the company of expatriate Aiden (Taylor Kinney), Sara enters the forest having been well warned to "stay on the path." Determined to discover the truth about her sister's fate, Sara faces the angry and tormented souls of the dead that prey on anyone who dares come near them, plunging her into a frightening darkness from which she must fight to save herself.
Vitals: Director: Jason Zada. Stars: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney.
2016, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 95 min., Horror/Suspense, Box office gross: $26.588 million, Universal.Extras: "Exploring the Forest" behind-the-scenes featurette, galleries, storyboards, commentary with director Jason Zada.
An incredible cinematic masterpiece by Alejandro G. Inarritu, the brilliant director of "Birdman," "Babel" and "Biutiful." Along with "Carol," "The Big Short," "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Spotlight," one of the best films of this -- or any -- year. Inspired by true events, "The Revenant" is an epic story of survival and transformation on the American frontier. While on a trapping expedition in the uncharted wilderness that is now Montana and South Dakota in 1823, legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)'s hunting team is massacred by members of the Arikara tribe. Retreating down river with the small party of survivors, Glass is brutally mauled by a bear, then abandoned by members of his own party. Alone and near death, Glass refuses to succumb. Driven by sheer will and his love for his Native American wife and son, he undertakes a 200-mile odyssey through the vast and untamed West on the trail of the man who betrayed him: John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). What begins as a relentless quest for revenge becomes a heroic saga against all odds towards home and redemption. Winner of three Oscars: Best Actor for DiCaprio, Best Director for Inarritu, and Best Cinematography for Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki; the film also garnered three Golden Globes, five BAFTA Awards, a DGA Award for Best Director (Inarritu) and SAG Award for Best Actor (DiCaprio), among many other accolades.
Vitals: Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu. Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge, Lukas Haas, Duane Howard, Melaw Nakehk'o.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 156 min., Drama, Box office gross: $179.143 million, Fox.Blu-ray extras: "A World Unseen," which takes viewers into the world of a 19th century America and uncovers the vision behind "The Revenant" and the parallels found in our world today through the film's visionary director along with DiCaprio.
Pre-order "The Revenant" here.
The Lady in the Van
Alan Bennett's big-screen comedic adaptation of his own iconic memoir and honored stage play. Bennett's story is based on the true story of Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins who "temporarily" parked her van in Bennett's London driveway and proceeded to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favor becomes a relationship that will change both their lives. Filmed on the street and in the house where Bennett and Miss Shepherd lived all those years, acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner reunites with Bennett
("The Madness of King George," "The History Boys") to bring this poignant and life-affirming story to the screen.
Vitals: Director: Nicholas Hytner. Stars: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Jim Broadbent.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 104 min., Comedy-Drama, Box office gross: $8.054 million, Sony.Extras: "Playing The Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd," deleted scenes, "The Making of The Lady in the Van," "The Visual Effects," commentary with director Nicholas Hytner.
Pre-order "The Lady in the Van" here.
Ip Man 3
Donnie Yen returns to the role that made him an icon -- as Ip Man, the
real-life Wing Chun grandmaster who mentored Bruce Lee. This iteration of the Ip Man epic trilogy takes place in 1959 Hong Kong and finds Ip Man (Yen) attempting to save his sonís school from an intimidating property developer (Mike Tyson). With the police unable to help, Ip Man recruits his students to face off against the developerís lackeys in an action-packed fight sequence that ends with the schoolís headmaster being kidnapped. After solving this crisis, Ip Man faces another opponent in a fight to decide the true Grandmaster of Win Chun.
Vitals: Director: Wilson Yip. Stars: Donnie Yen, Mike Tyson, Lyn Hung, Jin Zhang.
2015 -- China, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 110 min., Action/Adventure, Box office gross: $2.679 million, Well Go USA.Extras: Making-of featurette, interview with Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson, behind the scenes.
Fifty Shades of Black
Christian Black (Marlon Wayans) has it all: power, success and an intense desire to get freaky. Into his life comes Hannah (Kali Hawk), a young, virginal girl who may not be as innocent as she first seems. Only one gets to come out on top in this spoof of "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Vitals: Director: Michael Tiddes. Stars: Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk, Mike Epps, Andrew Bachelor, Affion Crockett, Jane Seymour, Fred Willard, Florence Henderson.
2016, CC, MPAA rating: R, 92 min., Comedy, Box office gross: $11.612 million, Universal.Extras: Deleted scenes, "Meet Mr. Black."
Ride Along 2
As his wedding day approaches, Ben (Kevin Hart) heads to Miami with his soon-to-be brother-in-law James (Ice Cube) to bring down a drug dealer who's supplying the dealers of Atlanta with product. Sequel to the 2014 hit.
Vitals: Director: Tim Story. Stars: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Ken Jeong, Olivia Munn, Benjamin Bratt, Sherri Shepherd, Tyrese Gibson.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 102 min., Comedy, Box office gross: $82.661 million, Universal.Extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, "Ride Along With Us" police recruitment video, "Behind the Scenes of Ride Along With Us," "Kevin & Cube: Brothers-In-Law," "Inside Black Hammer Vision" Miami car chase scenes, commentary with director Tim Story. Blu-ray adds The Ride Along Roundtable, "The Ride Diaries" behind-the-scenes featurette, "The New Recruits" (Olivia Munn and Ken Jeong), "Ride Along With Kevin Hart," "Cori's Wedding Commercial."
Son of Saul
October 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Saul (Geza Rohrig) is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis. While working, Saul discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child's body, find a rabbi to recite the mourner's Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial. Academy Award-, Golden Globe- and Independent Spirit-Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film.
Vitals: Director: Laszlo Nemes. Stars: Geza Rohrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont.
2015 -- Hungary, CC, MPAA rating: R, 107 min., Drama, Box office gross: $1.666 million, Sony.Extras: Commentary with director Laszlo Nemes, actor Geza Rohrig and cinematographer Matyas Erdely, Museum of Tolerance Q&A with director Nemes, Rohrig and cinematographer Erdely, deleted scene.
Pre-order "Son of Saul" here.
When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know that this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family's home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.
Vitals: Director: Michael Dougherty. Stars: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 99 min., Horror, Box office gross: $42.592 million, Universal.Extras: Gag reel, "The Naughty Ones: Meet the Cast," galleries, commentary with director/co-writer Michael Dougherty and co-writers Todd Casey & Zach Shields. Blu-ray adds "Krampus and His Minions" special effects featurette, "Practical Danger" stunts featurette, "Inside the Snowglobe: Production Design" featurette, "Dougherty's Vision" behind-the-scenes featurette with the director and cast and crew, "Behind the Scenes at WETA Workshop: Krampus."
All DVDs are screened on a reference system consisting of a
Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc Player w/SACD & DVD-Audio, a
Rotel RSX-972 Surround Sound Receiver, and Phase Technology 1.1 (front), 33.1 (center),
and 50 (rear) speakers and Power 10 subwoofer.