Topping this week's new DVD releases are films about people dealing with very unique problems.
"Wonder"; 3 stars: This is the kind of movie that should be shown to young and old as a life lesson about how to deal with people who appear to be different. It has a wondrous message about tolerance, acceptance, understanding and respect. There's no guarantee the message would register with all moviegoers, but social ignorance can be cured one person at a time.
Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) has been home schooled all his young life by his mom (Julia Roberts). That was necessary because of the physical complications the youngster was born with that required him to have a long string of surgeries to correct many of the problems. It's decided that middle school is the perfect time for Auggie to start attending classes with other children.
Too often films that offer such lofty visions are presented in a demanding way. "Wonder" is not one of those movies as director Stephen Chbosky ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") manages to make some very important points while not sacrificing the entertainment elements. He does this through a script lovingly based on the best-selling book by R.J. Palacio and a cast that can deliver emotional moments without being melodramatic.
"Roman J. Israel, Esq."; 2 stars": The role Denzel Washington attacks with vigor is that of a lawyer with a brilliant and beautiful mind who is more comfortable poring over law books than dealing with social situations. When his law partner dies, Roman is forced to leave the comfortable environment he has enjoyed for decades to search for other work. He eventually ends up in a high-end law firm run by George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a former student of Roman's old boss. He has problems adjusting, however, and problems arise.
Dan Gilroy has worked as a writer for years, but "Roman J. Israel, Esq." is only his second film as a director. A more experienced hand likely would have known to pull Washington back a bit and realized the script -- especially its second half -- needed a major rewrite.
"The Deuce: The Complete First Season"; 3 stars: The HBO series about pornography and prostitution in New York in the '70s and '80s recalls a world that should be seen as one of America's great shames, but it's hard to ignore because out of it came so many political, social and business changes. Those behind "The Deuce" never show the dark matter as something of honor but as the unflinching, dehumanizing and destructive world that existed and remains a part of America's dark past.
The series offers no excuses, takes no prisoners and never apologizes. There are times when the darkness feels so overwhelming any relief would be welcomed. But, "The Deuce" draws strength on how this isn't a cushioned look at a sociological abyss but thrives on being as blunt and real as necessary.
ALSO AVAILABLE ON DVD FEB. 13
"Broad City: Season 4": The cable series finds Abbi and Ilana contending with gray hairs and the prospect of real relationships.