- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2017

Here are two Academy Award-nominated films recently released on Blu-ray that are packed with emotion and real-life struggles.

Lion (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 119 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $34.99) — Last year’s multi Academy Award-nominated true story of one man’s determined quest to reunite with his family arrives on high definition.

Garth Davis (in his directorial feature film debut) takes viewers on a riveting ride spanning three decades and two continents to deliver a harrowing adventure of the human spirit.

Based on the autobiographical book “A Long Way Home,” a 5-year-old boy Saroo Brierley (Sunny Pawar) accidentally gets caught on a train and taken to Calcutta, India, almost 1,000 miles from his life in Khandwa and his family.

Afraid, unable to speak the language and overwhelmed in a very big city, he eventually ends up in a government prison for lost children.

Luckily, a loving Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), eventually adopt Saroo and help him lead a less-stressful life.

However, as an adult, he (now played by Dev Patel) yearns to find his origins, and, after prodding from friends as well as some help from Google Earth, Saroo begins an odyssey to locate his Indian birth mother, brother and sister.

Although viewers will find many moments to shed a tear in the performances, none is more poignant than when Mr. Davis reveals at the end of the film a real meeting between the mothers, introduced to each other by Saroo.

The movie also points out that over 80,000 children go missing in India each year often exploited in human trafficking, a shocking and unacceptable statistic.

By the way, for those wondering, the film title refers to Saroo’s real name Sheru (he mispronounced it during most of his life) that translates as “lion” in Hindi.

The digital transfer never does the film’s locations justice. I would have appreciated much more clarity and color in showcasing the sweeping landscape shots from cinematographer Greig Fraser highlighting the impressive terrain in both India and Australia.

The flat, too-naturalistic soft focus of the transfer often clouds the potential visual smorgasbord.

Best extras: Surprisingly, viewers do not get much bonus content for such an acclaimed effort.

Specifically, only a series of five vignettes (roughly 22 minutes in total) with key folks from the film including Mr. Patel, Miss Kidman, Mr. Davis and Mr. Brierley. Of course, Mr. Brierley is the most important as he encapsulates his true harrowing tale in a scant eight minutes.

20th Century Women (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, rated R, 118 minutes, 1.99:1 aspect ratio, $34.99) — Independent filmmaker Mike Mills found a legendary leading lady to helm a coming-of-age film last year that is now available to home theaters.

Set in 1979, with punk music in full swing, the Academy Award-nominated screenplay explores the life of a 55-year-old, chain-smoking single mother Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) running a boarding house in Santa Barbara, California.

Feeling a loss of connection with her 15-year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), she enlists help from a pair of females, artistic tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and the boy’s precocious best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), to help guide him into manhood.

The film fits nicely into the John Hughes and Cameron Crowe cinematic universe with not only a humorous look at the emergence of a teen’s sexuality but the human experience through the eyes of feminist characters.

An equally important co-star in “20th Century Women” is the work-in-progress boarding house, in constant renovation by hippie tenant William (Billy Crudup). Its dilapidated but charming appeal always seems to parallel the freewheeling lifestyle of Dorothea and her guests.

Despite some grain, the digital transfer impresses by highlighting the antiquated and colorfully painted house, some of the punk hairstyles and clothing of the era and some gorgeous beach shots.

Audio lovers get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that often highlights some great music from artists such as David Bowie, The Clash, Black Flag, Talking Heads, The Germs, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Devo and Buzzcocks.

Best extras: Most important is an optional commentary track from Mr. Mills reflecting on how the movie is close to his early life experiences.

He also assumes listeners are interested in the filmmaking process and spends generous time talking about his love of the medium, the actors’ performances and liberally mentioning influences such as Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut, Woody Allen and Věra Chytilová.

More directly, he often deep dives in the lighting choices made for the film, offering a near professorial reflection of the illumination of scenes.

Additionally, viewers get a 20-minute overview of the production through a pair of featurettes loaded with interviews from the actors and director talking about the process of performance, and with each member mentioning the brilliance of the other.

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