New in Home Entertainment – May 24, 2016

Risen

New in Home Entertainment

May 24, 2016

Risen
Rated PG-13 for Biblical violence including some disturbing images
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 52%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
From Sony and Waterworld director Kevin Reynolds comes this faith based Biblical epic about a Roman Tribune (Shakespeare In Love’s Joseph Fiennes) who is tasked by Pontius Pilate to investigate the disappearance of the body of Jesus shortly after his crucifixion. While the story of Christ has been told many different times and in many different ways, none has ever been approached from the point of view of the Romans left to try to put the pieces together. It’s a brilliant take on the greatest story ever told and the project was expertly executed. While the budget was modest, the film sure doesn’t look it. The production is top notch and the majority of the cast are made up of very solid actors. Overall I just loved that Fiennes was placed to be our eyes and ears, witnessing an event that was on its way to reshape the world. The whole thing is an enlightening experience to anyone who wants it to be one. As an aside, I’ve always thought that most Christian or faith-based films are made exclusively for Christians and are usually lower in quality productions with poor in-your-face scripting and even worse acting. That is not the case with Risen where the script, production and acting are all on a much higher level and the film can be watched, interpreted and appreciated by Christians and non-Christians alike. A-

The Finest Hours
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In 1952 a daring Coast Guard crew set out on a rescue mission to bring back a group of men whose ship was destroyed in a blizzard. It is one of the most famous rescues in Coast Guard history and in this family-friendly rescue film from Disney, the tale is immortalized with Chris Pine and a talented group of actors behind it. Unfortunately, even though the film is less than two hours, it feels much, much longer. The back story and personal life of the hero feels forced and the sequences with the crew on the destroyed ship aren’t nearly developed enough, giving you the feeling that a lot of time is wasted. You get the sense that a great rescue took place but I lost interest long before it did. C

How to Be Single
Rated R for sexual content and strong language throughout
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The latest in the multiple story comedy sub-genre is this tale of four single women in various life stages living single in NYC. Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann and Alison Brie, the film has some very funny moments but the project pales in comparison to the far superior Sex and the City and Girls franchises which serve up much better images of practically the same tales. C+

Zoolander 2
Rated PG-13 crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 24%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
15 years after the events of the surprisingly good Zoolander, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell are back for another round of fashion thriller comedy madness. This time out, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) comes out of hiding and is forced to team up with his former partner/now rival Hansel (Wilson), to once again stop the evil plot of the fashion uber-villain Mugatu (Ferrell). I’m not sure anyone was screaming for another Zoolander film but one was churned out anyway only to be met with a lousy box office and rightfully lousy reviews. The jokes are stale (fifteen years stale to be exact), and the whole movie is completely irrelevant with hardly a laugh to be found anywhere.  F

New in Home Entertainment – May 17, 2016

Deadpool

New in Home Entertainment

May 17, 2016

Deadpool
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray
Ever since the short appearance of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in the awful 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie, fans have been screaming for the famous dead super hero to get his own stand alone film. It took a lot of bravery from the folks at Marvel and Twentieth Century Fox to give the fans what they wanted, and even more guts to not kidify it by making it a very hard R. This first in what will no doubt be a multi-film franchise tells the genesis story of urban mercenary Wade Wilson who, upon getting a very short cancer death sentence, signs up to have a secret agency turn him into a mutant. Of course the agency doesn’t do so in a nice way and he eventually dies and comes back as Deadpool, hell-bent on getting revenge. From the amazingly funny opening credits to the Ferris Bueller tag, the film proves itself to be one of the most audacious and creative films of the year – and more than that – lots of fun. To say this is the best work Ryan Reynolds has ever done is an understatement. He is one of the most talented actors working in Hollywood today but his film choices, for the most part, have been dismal. This, however, was the role he was born to play and he is spectacular in it. The second viewing isn’t as good as the first and the lack of budget shows, but overall this turns out to be one of Marvel’s best super hero films to date and the start of what will hopefully be a thriving franchise full of quirks and surprises. A-

The Witch
Rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Welcome to my very first non-review. Out today is apparently one of the scariest films in years, but honestly I just couldn’t force myself to watch it. As part of its marketing strategy, the studio releasing the film, A24, decided to hold several screenings with the help of The Satanic Temple (an atheist group that follows the teachings of Satan – still not sure on that one) after they came out fully endorsing it. I’m sure A24 thought that this co-marketing might attract some into the theater with the illusion of authenticity but I stayed very much away. The film follows a Puritan family in the early 1600s who experience evil events on the frontier. In my mind there are some things that you can’t unsee and apparently this film is full of those moments. I never want to put myself in that position. So rather than ignore – I thought I’d put out this non-review as a warning. As a critic I have to weed through a lot of garbage and while occasionally I enjoy a good scary movie, I purposefully don’t subject myself to certain films. So many people these days just go to Red Box and pick a movie because of its cover, not knowing what they are getting into until it’s too late. At least if you’ve read this you will have some context of what lies within the box.

New in Home Entertainment – May 10, 2016

Where to Invade

New in Home Entertainment

May 10, 2016

Where to Invade Next
Rated R for language , some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The title of Michael Moore’s latest documentary gives the immediate thought that he will be tearing into America’s obsession with acting as world police, but what we get here is very different. Moore goes to countries all over the world and finds one thing they do better than the U.S., explores the subject, and then claims that one thing in the name of America. It is a smart, observant, touching and patriotic film – or as many would like to call it: liberal propaganda. When he ties it all up at the end, he makes an extremely convincing argument which will bring many to tears. A-

Joy
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This being one of my favorite films of 2015, I was shocked to see its icy reception from critics and awards groups. This highly stylized biopic from David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) has Jennifer Lawrence starring as QVC and Home Shopping Network queen Joy Mangano and the struggle that took her from rags to riches. It is an absolutely fantastic example of what it takes to be a woman entrepreneur in America and the story and the way it was told had me deeply inspired and empathetic. The performances are terrific from this wildly talented cast including Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper and the amazing score and soundtrack, which they didn’t even campaign for, drove the film forward with a crazy yet clear progression. Again, I am shocked that this film wasn’t a major winner at the box office and a player in last year’s award race and I hope it finds a better home on peoples’ televisions. A

New in Home Entertainment – May 3, 2016

East-Side-Sushi-Photo2

New in Home Entertainment

May 3, 2016

East Side Sushi
Rated PG for brief violence, suggestive content and mild language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Available on DVD
Ultra low-budgeted films, most of the time, feel like ultra low-budgeted films, but every once in a while a great little indie project comes out to remind us that terrific films don’t just come from the Hollywood machinery. This little film that could takes a working-class Latina single mother who jumps head first into the world of sushi – a cuisine dominated by Asian, primarily Japanese, men. While the film doesn’t throw any real surprises at you and is largely a feel-good crowd pleaser, it sure does hit the right chords as it progresses through the motions. And as pure food porn it must be effective because I have eaten sushi now three times since watching it last week. A-

Emelie
Unrated, but would be an R
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The very beautiful and talented actress Sarah Bolger heads into creepy horror film mode as Emelie, a babysitter with evil intentions, in this latest low-budget horror flick. The film succeeds at giving you pause at who you leave your children with. But ultimately it fails at providing a convincing narrative. There are so many great places this film could have gone but instead it feels like the filmmakers just wanted to upset their audience rather than give them a compelling reason to keep watching. The good news is that the film comes in at only 80 minutes, making it much less torturous than it could have been. C+

New in Home Entertainment – April 26, 2016

Son of Saul

New in Home Entertainment

April 26, 2016

Son of Saul
Rated R for some disturbing content, and some graphic nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In German and Hungarian with English Subtitles
This Hungarian Oscar winner for best foreign film tells the story of a nazi concentration camp worker, whose job it is to facilitate mass murder and dispose of bodies in Auschwitz, who discovers a young body he takes to be his son and does everything he can to give the young man a proper Jewish burial. With extremely well choreographed long takes that give the film a tremendous point-of-view fluidity, this is as much of an artistic enterprise as it is a powerful drama about a man losing and then doing anything he can to regain his humanity. It’s a tough film for sure, but worth the watch on multiple levels. A-

Krampus
Rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence/terror, language and some drug material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
When a young boy loses his faith in Christmas during a dysfunctional family holiday visit, the demonic spirit of Krampus visits his home to wreak havoc. The first time I had ever heard of Krampus was when Rainn Wilson brought him to life on The Office several years ago, but believe it or not, he is very much a part of European folklore for families who would rather scare their kids into being good rather than incentivize them with Santa. This particular film does all the right things with a very recognizable cast and solid production. The third act is a little weird and the ending could have been better executed, but I can see warped families enjoying this one for many Christmas times to come. B-

Phoenix: The Criterion Collection Edition
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief suggestive material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In German with English Subtitles
Getting the Criterion treatment this month is this 2015 German film about a Jewish woman who has undergone reconstructive surgery from a bullet wound after WWII only to find no one recognizes her, including her husband. When she goes to find her husband, he not only doesn’t realize it is her, but tries to persuade her to help him pretend she is his wife so he can collect on her inheritance. This fascinating story is never dull to watch and has one of the most rewarding endings of any of last year’s films. While the plot is a bit contrived, it is never less than intriguing. B

New in Home Entertainment – April 19, 2016

revenant

New in Home Entertainment

April 19, 2016

The Revenant
Rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD
Leonardo DiCaprio was bound to win an Oscar for best actor and I’m so glad it came from this monumental film about a fur trapper seeking revenge for the murder of his son. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and legendary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki create a dark and cold journey of vengeance that will make you feel like you are too close to the action and in very real danger. With subtle special effects that feel all too authentic, the movie recreates a world long gone in a way that tricks your mind into thinking the filmmakers might have invented time travel rather than becoming masters of production. And if you’re lucky enough to own a 4K television set or projector, the infamous bear scene will be the one segment you show off to your friends over and over for years to come. A+

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead
Not Rated but equivalent to a hard R for language, adult themes and nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Having grown up watching Animal House and Vacation, I always loved National Lampoon, but never really understood where they came from or considered their legacy. This new documentary from Magnolia shows the history of the magazine, from its inception as the Harvard Lampoon in the late 60’s to its last issue in 1998 and everything since. Interviewing key people from the magazine as well as those it has influenced in the comedy world, this funny yet educational doc gives us a close look at the folks who are largely responsible for the shape of American comedy today. B

Veep: The Complete Fourth Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In its fourth season, HBO’s hit show starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the dysfunctional Vice President proves that there is a never ending amount of source material to make you cringe and laugh at when it comes to politics. In a move way too similar to its more serious counterpart House of Cards, Selina is now the president and her main concern is appearing to be presidential. The show is still a laugh riot and the perfect following when you need to relax your mind after an intense episode of Game of Thrones. Both start up again this Sunday, April 24. B+

A Whit Stillman Trilogy: Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco (The Criterion Collection)
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In the 90s, filmmaker Whit Stillman hit us hard with these terrific dialog-heavy dramadies surrounding young people in a changing and evolving world. Each story is very different yet still extremely similar in tone and voice. Criterion is packaging this set as a trilogy, which is very fitting considering the overall arch of the films. We talk about television binging a lot these days, but these three films make for a binge-worthy feast as well. It might be a good time for a sick day. A-

New in Home Entertainment – April 5, 2016

Star Wars

New in Home Entertainment

April 5, 2016

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The biggest movie of 2015 (and the reigning all-time box-office king) hits store shelves this week where it will most likely break records again. Continuing the saga, the film takes place decades after Return of the Jedi where a defected storm trooper (John Boyega) joins forces with a beautiful young scavenger (Daisy Ridley) as they find themselves the target of an Empire-like First Order and their leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Joining forces with an aged Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca, the team attempts to take on the First Order while they are on a desperate search for the missing Luke Skywalker. Director J.J. Abrams here did an impressive job of giving us everything that was sacred from Episodes IV-VI while at the same time delivering special effects that have a completely organic look and feel to them. Sure the plot around the Star Killer Base is pretty similar to what we’ve seen before, but overall the similarities are well-handled and the differences give us something to hope for in future films, which will be coming at a rapid pace over the next several years. Included in this set is a good amount of supplemental material worth watching including a rather intricate look at how the film was put together from concept to completion. I wish they had included at least a trailer for the new Rogue One film coming in December but I’m sure that’s all coming soon. A

Noma: My Perfect Storm
Unrated but contains much adult language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 54%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Rather than making another simple food porn movie about the world’s most celebrated restaurant, director Pierre Deschamps here gives a good, bad and ugly account of how chef Rene Redzepi has won the world over with his Copenhagen restaurant touting an all-Nordic cuisine menu. While I did come away with a pretty decent sense of the chef’s vision, I thought I’d be ready to book a trip to Denmark after watching and that just wasn’t the case. It’s a fascinating subject, and worthy of a feature-length documentary, but if they were trying to sell their audience on Redzepi and his food (and I’m not sure if that was their goal) then they could have done a better job with their presentation. B-

Batman v Superman

BATMAN v SUPERMAN

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Jessie Eisenberg
Directed by Zach Snyder (Man of Steel)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality

With the amazing success of the recent Avengers films, DC thought it was time to throw multiple heroes in the mix, starting with their two most famous: Batman and Superman. In this latest creation, Batman (Affleck) doesn’t like the danger that Superman (Cavill) has put the planet into, so he decides to unilaterally take him out. Somehow orchestrated by the evil mastermind Lex Luthor (Eisenberg), the two have an all-out clash with a new baddie added to make things interesting.

Opening last weekend, the film blew the door off of the March opening weekend record, in spite of a plethora horrible reviews from the press. The question is – was the movie bad enough to warrant these kind of scathing reviews?

The film starts off having the same dark tone as the Christopher Nolan Batman films and the previous Man of Steel (which I really enjoyed). Zach Snyder has a unique vision for the project, which is well conveyed throughout and consistent with the universe. You get the feeling that you are walking into a world you know and love. Maybe that’s why so many people showed up in the first three days – because they didn’t trust “the critics.”

Unfortunately, production alone isn’t enough to carry a film. This project really suffers from a horrible script and its victims: the performances. Having written all of the aforementioned titles, you would expect David Goyer to churn out a tremendous script in order to set up what will eventually be the Justice League. But this script is a mess, both in story and in dialog. The story takes one wrong turn after another, making it so you can barely see the right turns when they occur. The dialog, though, makes it so that the talented cast has no choice but to phone in their performances.

I heard so many people complaining about actor choices after the press screening last week, namely the decision to cast Affleck as Batman. Was it a mistake? Maybe. But I can understand why Christian Bale baled and left such a huge vacancy. The screenplay wasn’t worthy of his talents and would have ruined the legacy he left behind with Dark Knight. Affleck might have went out and buffed up to a massive degree, but while his muscles were super strong – his acting here seems inversely weak due to the material he is working with. I don’t think he’s a bad actor, but it is hard to prove that point with this project.

This film had such a huge potential, and maybe that pressure got in its way. Regardless, it’s a lousy way to start off a humongous new franchise and I hope that Warner Brothers can figure out how to fix the problems before we start to see the many films which are to follow in the years to come. C-

New in Home Entertainment – March 22, 2016

Brooklyn

New in Home Entertainment

March 22, 2016

Brooklyn
Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This best picture and best actress nominee stars Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish girl who leaves her homeland in Ireland to make her way in America in 1950’s Brooklyn. Ronan, once again, turns in a mesmerizing performance as the young heroine and turns what could easily appear as a chick flick into a beautiful and engaging story that can be appreciated and admired by anyone. It is an absolutely lovely movie that you owe it to yourself to check out. A

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This final chapter to the popular Hunger Games franchise was met with a surprising amount of gloom as it underperformed at the box office (compared to the first three films) and received a fair amount of bad reviews. My take is that it is consistent with the other films and delivers a very passable version of the book to the screen. Yes it’s the darkest chapter of the series. Yes they probably could have made Mockingjay into one film rather than split it up to make more money. But overall, the film gives the books’ fans an excellent visualization of their beloved novel. B+

Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs
Unrated
Available on DVD
Sometimes you just gotta watch a bad movie, knowing full well that it’s gonna be bad – especially when it’s called Cowboys vs Dinosaurs. This ultra B movie finds a team of miners in Montana who accidentally allow an army of blood-thirsty dinosaurs to escape from a huge cavern beneath the Earth. As they rampage the local town, its up to a former bull rider and some scantily-clad blondes to take down the prehistoric beasts. Honestly, it might be the funniest film of the year so far but I’m guessing that that’s unintentional. Still – its horrible, awful and everything in between so enter at risk. C-

Daddy’s Home
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 30%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Will Ferrell is a lovable step-dad to two kids who don’t respect him when suddenly their real father, played by Mark Wahlberg, steps into their life. Competing for their attention at every turn, the two men go to war over the kids. I think two things kept this film from reaching success. First, the film relies on silly physicality for much of its humor where the big jokes are widely wasted on the trailers. Second, this could have been a more-than-decent family film but language and a bit of raunchiness keep it out of the very category it most obviously belongs in. C+

New in Home Entertainment – March 15, 2016

Big Short

New in Home Entertainment

March 15, 2016

The Big Short
Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Based on Michael Lewis’s best seller, The Big Short tells the story of the 2008 housing crash in a perversely funny manner with one of the best ensembles of the year. With Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling (as well as many other big names) writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman) weaves a devastating tale that makes you laugh ferociously while at the same time making you feel bad for laughing. An Oscar-winner for adapted screenplay, there are many, including myself, who were quite surprised when they didn’t win best picture.  A

Carol
Rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this awards season favorite, Cate Blanchett stars as a 1950’s socialite who lives a secret life as a lesbian in Manhattan. When she falls for the much younger Rooney Mara, her secrets come out, disrupting and potentially ruining her life. Just like Spotlight and The Danish Girl, I have an appreciation for the film but it wasn’t one of my top choices for the year. I found myself empathetic to the characters but I also struggled to connect with their story. The performances are very strong and the production values are excellent, but without that connection it remains good not great. B

Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this latest season of HBO’s megahit show based on the books by George R. R. Martin, everything goes south for our beloved heroes while the villains, for the most part, seem to be making their way to the top. You get the sense that the season is a giant setup for season 6 and beyond and then you wonder how they will carry on now that they’ve reached the end of Martin’s written material. All I can say is that I can’t wait for April 24 to come around so I can see where this magnificent story will take us next. A

Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine
Rated R for some language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
And yet another Steve Jobs movie? Well this time its a documentary about his life as told by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side). It’s a no holds barred look at Jobs’ life that almost makes him appear to be less of a visionary and more of an aggressive man whose biggest attribute was his ambition. While I didn’t love the film, I have a feeling that between a gigantic novel and two biopics, it’s just that I’m getting a little tired of hearing about him. B

Sisters
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler star in this broad comedy (no pun intended) about two sisters who try to save their parents’ home by throwing a giant party in it. While there is an occasional laugh or two, the whole thing feels like they are trying too hard and in the process it comes across as just dumb. Don’t get me wrong, these are a funny couple of women, but they just aren’t any good in this schlock. D