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Mr. Church Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Mr. Church (2016) movie poster Mr. Church

Theatrical Release: September 16, 2016 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Bruce Beresford / Writer: Susan McMartin

Cast: Eddie Murphy (Mr. Henry Joseph Church), Britt Robertson (Charlotte "Charlie" Marie Brooks), Natascha McElhone (Marie Brooks), Xavier Samuel (Owen Baxter), Lucy Fry (Poppy Samuels), Christian Madsen (Eddie Larson), McKenna Grace (Isabel "Izzy" Marie Brooks), Natalie Coughlin (Young Charlie Brooks), Madison Wolfe (Young Poppy Samuels), Thom Barry (Young Owen Baxter)

Buy Mr. Church from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD + Digital • Instant Video

One of the biggest movie stars in the 1980s and a frequent draw into the early 2000s, Eddie Murphy's career flatlined after he lost on his first Oscar nomination (as a Dreamgirls supporting actor) the same winter that Norbit did good business to ice cold reviews. Murphy had weathered major flops before, like 1998's Holy Man and 2002's somewhat infamous The Adventures of Pluto Nash. But something seemed to change after the Dreamgirls/Norbit combination that made Murphy unappealing to moviegoers.
His next two vehicles -- 2008's Meet Dave and 2009's Imagine That -- barely earned eight figures domestically despite each opening in over 3,000 theaters. Tower Heist did all right in 2011, but it was more of an ensemble movie and a Ben Stiller one than an Eddie Murphy one. When he tried to fly solo again in 2012's A Thousand Words, Murphy disappointed again, even with a less than super wide theater count.

With the Shrek saga having worn out its welcome and put an end to lavish paydays for easy voiceover work, Murphy finds himself in need of a career reinvention. He attempted that in Mr. Church, what was intended to be an inspirational true drama that opened in a limited release of 354 theaters. It underperformed and fell off precipitously, essentially finished now with a gross under $700,000. Amplifying the film's commercial disappointment are Lionsgate's extremely rapid DVD and Blu-ray releases, hitting stores Tuesday barely a month after the film opened in 25th place.

Eddie Murphy reveals a dramatic side playing a family's life-altering cook in "Mr. Church."

"Inspired by a true friendship", Mr. Church opens in 1971. In Los Angeles, 12-year-old Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin) and her single mother Marie (Natascha McElhone) awaken one morning to find Henry Joseph Church (Murphy) in their kitchen preparing breakfast. Mr. Church is a gift to the family from Marie's deceased lover, who was married to someone else. Unbeknownst to Charlie, Marie has been diagnosed with breast cancer and given six months to live. In exchange for a lifetime of financial security, Mr. Church has agreed to cook for the mother and daughter until the mother passes.

Mr. Church embodies the old Magical Negro archetype. Usually reserved for supporting duties, this character is front and center, dazzling the family with his grits "made with secrets" and bringing an assortment of fine literature into the home. Mr. Church can paint and dance. He even becomes something of a surrogate father to Charlie (who becomes Tomorrowland's Britt Robertson), making her a prom dress. She grows up and goes to Boston University as her mother beats doctors' expectations many times over.

The only somewhat strange thing about Mr. Church is his demand for privacy. He deflects Charlie's questions about his personal life. All she really knows is that he also lives and works at a jazz club called Jelly's Place. But glimpses emerge of his demons and a drinking problem. The movie does not linger on Mr. Church's dark side, instead celebrating his generous soul and magnanimity, as he continues to feature in Charlie's life even after her mother passes.

The happy family of three: Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy), Marie (Natascha McElhone), and Charlie (Britt Robertson) pose for a timed photo before Charlie's prom.

Historically averse to drama, Murphy must have foreseen this as a comeback vehicle. It does hail, after all, from Australia's Bruce Beresford, who applied a tasteful touch to another tale of interracial friendship, 1989's Best Picture Oscar winner Driving Miss Daisy. Beresford is one of the few directors of a Best Picture winner not nominated for Best Director also (although he earlier was, for 1983's Tender Mercies) and his career decidedly did not take off after that.
His biggest hit of the past quarter-century was Double Jeopardy, a 1999 thriller released at the height of Ashley Judd's stardom. Murphy even gets to sport white hair here, aging with distinction just as Morgan Freeman did for Beresford to the tune of a Best Actor nomination.

Critics hated Mr. Church and their disdain is somewhat understandable. This is a schmaltzy and manipulative drama, one that tries to warm your heart and water your eyes without earning either reaction. Most would fault Beresford less than screenwriter Susan McMartin, giving us her first film since a story credit on the 1993 Pauly Shore vehicle Son in Law. McMartin, who has spent the past twenty-plus years in television (most extensively "Two and a Half Men" and CBS sitcom "Mom"), fails to imbue her true experiences with realism and detail. Everything is just so sweet, from her prom date with a basketball player (Xavier Samuel) to an unplanned college pregnancy that is nothing less than a blessing and miracle. McMartin is more interested in telling a feel-good Hollywood story than she is in telling a real and nuanced one, which is odd since this is her story (she's obviously the real life Charlie) and it would be more compelling with some shades of gray and relatable emotion.

Produced for $8 million, Mr. Church will remain in the red for the indefinite future. But it has a chance to reach more than the 80,000 people who saw it in theaters on Tuesday via Lionsgate's DVD + Digital and Blu-ray + Digital HD editions. The bolding means we're reviewing the latter here.

Mr. Church Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital ($19.98 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

An independent production, Mr. Church doesn't look quite as polished as most new studio fare, exhibiting a bit more grain than usual. Still, Lionsgate's 1.85:1 Blu-ray presentation mostly satisfies, with vibrant colors and an otherwise clean element. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is unremarkable but sufficient.

What can Eddie Murphy cook? Find out in "Food on Film." Mother (Natascha McElhone) and daughter (Britt Robertson) share a bed embrace on the Mr. Church Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Mr. Church is joined by four short HD featurettes on Blu-ray,
which are equipped with a "Play All" option.

"Britt Robertson" (3:52) focuses on the young protagonist of the film and the actress playing her. "Eddie Murphy: Doing a Drama" (3:56) pays notice to the project's significance in Murphy's filmography. "Food on Film" (1:14) mainly lets Murphy talk about prop food and his cooking abilities (or lack thereof). "Based on a True Friendship" (3:31) comments upon the real story that inspired the movie, while oddly not letting screenwriter Susan McMartin speak on the subject.

No trailers for this or anything else are included.

The main menu loops sunny, golden clips of the movie.

An insert supplying a complimentary Digital HD with UltraViolet accompanies the full-color disc inside an eco-friendly keepcase whose artwork is reproduced in glossy slipcover form.

His hair grayed with age, Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy) also serves as a magical presence to Izzy Marie Brooks (McKenna Grace), a third generation of the family he served.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Not only did Mr. Church fail to reinvent or redeem Eddie Murphy, but this saccharine drama flat out failed to find an audience. Although critics hated this, those who saw it for fun quite enjoyed it, as evidenced by the well above average ratings on IMDb and Amazon. My opinion falls in between the two extremes. If you're a fan of the cast or of cinema designed to warm hearts, this might be worth a look. Lionsgate's Blu-ray is basic but fine.

Buy Mr. Church from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD + Digital / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Eddie Murphy: A Thousand Words • Mulan • DreamWorks Holiday Classics • Dreamgirls • Norbit
Britt Robertson: Tomorrowland • Delivery Man • Dan in Real Life | Xavier Samuel: Love & Friendship
New to Disc: Café Society • Lights Out • Complete Unknown
Lee Daniels' The Butler • A Home of Our Own • Flipped • Miracles from Heaven
Directed by Bruce Beresford: Bonnie & Clyde (2013) | Written by Susan McMartin: Gary Unmarried: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed October 23, 2016.



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