New in Home Entertainment – August 19, 2014

THE-AMAZING-SPIDER-MAN-2

 

New in Home Entertainment

 

August 19, 2014

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) continues his new adventures here as he fends off Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan), Electro (Jamie Foxx) and The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) from destroying New York City. You would think that the filmmakers would have learned their lesson from watching Spider-man 3, but apparently they are comfortable with history repeating itself. As in that critically pounded pic, this second in the new franchise has thrown too much in the mix. Too many bad guys, too much tortured love, too much story. There is a great plot to be found here in Parker’s relationship with the Green Goblin’s alter ego Harry Osborn, but rather than let that mature, they dumb it down and drown us with too much other unnecessary material. And its not like they needed that other material to show off their technological prowess. This new franchise has decent special effects, but is definitely not ground breaking by any means. That being said, sacrificing story for action has not hurt this Spidey’s box office as it has surely made a killing and will no doubt continue to do so in peoples’ homes. C

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
While HBO’s hit show about prohibition in Atlantic City isn’t getting quite the critical reception it once did, it is still churning out a binge-worthy serial with superb drama and fantastic performances. Joining the cast this year is Jeffrey Wright as Doctor Valentin Narcisse, a proclaimed man of God who also runs a drug empire. While not as scary a villain as the third season’s Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), Narcisse provides an intriguing new dimension that counterbalances the weaker plot lines involving the characters played by Michael Shannon, Kelly McDonald and Gretchen Mol. With the upcoming season five to be the last, Empire’s sendoff is looking to be quite a bit better than True Blood’s desperately awful finale. B+

Muppets Most Wanted
Rated PG for some mild action
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this latest addition to the Muppet franchise, a notorious gangster who looks similar to Kermit the Frog takes Kermits place, sending Kermit to a Siberian prison upon the mixup. The film tries so incredibly hard to be clever that it just can’t accomplish the feat. Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey are so into making a “kids” movie that they forget to entertain the adults. Aside from a couple of decent songs, the movie fizzles as it bores you into not caring about the Muppets again. This is something that has happened before, and I’m sure someone brilliant like Jason Segel will come to rescue them again. C

God’s Not Dead
Rated PG for thematic material, brief violence and an accident scene
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
As far as Christian films go, this drama that centers around an atheist professor who publicly battles one of his Christian students was a huge box office hit for the genre. While the whole setup is unbelievable and forcibly dramatic (what professor could ever keep his job if he made his students sign a piece of paper that reads God is dead?), the central message is presented in a convincing fashion. Where the film ultimately lets down though is in its desire to be overly complicated, almost mimicking the film Crash, and in its shameful over-publicizing of Duck Dynasty and The Newsboys. At times it feels like you are watching commercials for the real-life characters rather than a narrative that is supposed to move you. Had the filmmakers tightened the story and left out the fluff, maybe they could have had a film that would have been impactful for everyone rather than just Christians who would have liked it no matter what. B-

A Brony Tale
Not Rated
Available on DVD
Most consider the show My Little Pony to be a cartoon for little girls. This documentary follows a new subset of weird called Bronies, grown men, mostly straight, who openly love the show, primarily told from the point of view of one of the voice actresses who cautiously visits a Brony convention in New York City. While I find the subject matter extremely over-the-top, the documentary does give a fascinating and fairly framed look at a sub-culture that I really have no desire to understand further. B-

New in Home Entertainment – August 12, 2014

locke

 

New in Home Entertainment

August 12, 2014

 

Locke
Rated R for language throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This 84 minute pseudo-thriller follows thespian Tom Hardy (Warrior) as he attempts to handle a number of very delicate situations over the phone while driving. Yes that’s it – one man driving and talking on his speaker phone. Had I known this going in I would have probably not started watching the movie. And boy would I have missed out on a really interesting film. It takes some time to get the story into high gear, but this terrific script, performed by an amazing actor, is masterfully pulled off. B+

Bears
Rated G
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Disneynature’s 2014 Earth Day documentary follows a mother and her two cubs as they try to survive the harsh wilderness of the Alaskan peninsula. This very taught 78 minute feature is so packed full of “how did they get that shot” moments that you just get used to them. And I can’t think of a more perfect voice for the narration than the goofy John C. Reilly. Like all of these Earth Day narratives, some of the story seems to be a far stretch from what is actually going on, but when you are trying to tell a tale with nature as your backdrop, sometimes you have to have a little artistic license. B+

Boredom
Rated NR
Available on DVD
This Canadian documentary attempts to tell the story of boredom, a state of mind that we all suffer from but apparently know little about. Sound boring? Filmmaker Albert Nerenberg tells it using a huge symphonic score with more b-roll footage (mostly irrelevant) than any documentary should need, making boredom seem, well, quite exciting and entertaining. I’m not sure how much I actually took away from the movie, but at least I wasn’t bored watching it. B

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians_Of_The_Galaxy

 

Guardians of the Galaxy
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Lee Pace
Directed by James Gunn (Super)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language

     Digging deep into the Marvel universe for some of its more obscure titles, Disney and Marvel pull out this comic which teams up 5 very unlikely heroes, including a talking raccoon and a walking/talking tree, who task themselves to save the galaxy from the likes of an evil alien who wants to rule it.

     From the very first shot, this movie wins you over . Without going into too much backstory or exposition, the film tells you all you need to know to get you going. You might not know the leading character, played here brilliantly by Chris Pratt, but you sure do empathize with him. And that’s what wins you over regarding the entire team. While each is deeply flawed, they also have had a very, very tough life and a good heart, making them heroes you can truly cheer for.

     Of course it helps that the characters are superbly written here by director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. And it also helps to have the perfect cast, which they most definitely do. Pratt, with his hot looks and witty sense of humor is an excellent counterpart to the sexy yet deadly Saldana, who trades in her Avatar blue for a new shade of green. And while no one in the past has ever accused WWE wrestler David Bautista of being a real actor, here he proves his worth as the muscle bound alien who seeks revenge against the man who killed his wife and daughter. Rounding out the team are the voices of Bradley Cooper as Rocket Racoon and Vin Diesel as the tree Groot, both of whom steal the show as they recreate the Han Solo/Chewy vibe for a new generation.

     While the characters aren’t new and original, they certainly feel that way here on the big screen. You get the sense that you are experiencing something truly creative and breathtaking as you watch the heroes fight the villains in ways you’ve seen before but seem fresh here.

     What ultimately makes this movie succeed, though, isn’t the originality or the special effects (although they don’t hurt), but rather its smart sense of humor. Experiencing this movie is like going on a date with a super model only to find out she or he is a member of Mensa and a stellar stand up comedian to boot. What sounds too good to be true comes to life here before your very eyes. A

New in Home Entertainment – August 5, 2014

Need for Speed

 

New in Home Entertainment

 

August 5, 2014

 

Need for Speed
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash sequences, nudity and crude language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Based on the highly successful video game, Need for Speed follows Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as he attempts to join a highly secretive street race worth millions of dollars to the winner. While I admire the fact that the project has a great deal of integrity and that everyone involved took the movie seriously, its hard to get past the fact that it still feels like dumb, mindless entertainment. There’s no doubt that Paul is a talented actor, but he needs better projects than this if he wants to evolve into the movie world. C

Community: The Complete Fifth Season
Available on DVD
I am so surprised that this NBC sitcom has survived this long. While the first season was a tough one to get through, and number four was even worse, the show has picked up steam with season five, probably from show runner Dan Harmon’s return, and offers up a lot more in the laughter department than I expected. That being said, the show feels like something you might watch in syndication if there’s nothing else on, but its hardly something you dive into for a good binge watch. C+

Herzog: The Collection
Available on Blu-ray
German director Werner Herzog is one of the most prolific and eccentric filmmakers of the last half century. Racking up 67 directing credits according to IMDB, the man has been a busy one and this new set includes a wide swath in order judge his work by. Including 16 of his acclaimed features and documentaries from the 70s and 80s, many for the first time on Blu-ray, the set is an exhaustive look at his work. And by exhaustive, I mean that if you go through even half of them in a short period of time you will be completely exhausted. While his films are interesting for sure, they are also sometimes disturbing and his all too familiar voice is something that should only be experienced in small doses. Still, this is a great tribute to a very talented and risky filmmaker that loves to show us a view of the world that is hardly ever seen elsewhere in motion pictures. B+

July 29, 2014

Noah

New in Home Entertainment

 

July 29, 2014

 

Noah
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
I love a good biblical epic and there have been relatively few in my lifetime. So when I heard that one of my favorite directors, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) was tackling the story of Noah, I got rather excited. I was even more excited after seeing it. The movie is wildly creative, extremely well-acted by its talented cast including Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone and Logan Lerman, and it even manages to stick to the bible, for the most part, while still adding many unthought of dimensions. It is rich and inventive storytelling that is sensitive to its source material. One warning though. The actual story of Noah isn’t about a happy man on a boat with animals. It is a dark tale and one of the most violent moments in history or literature. That being said, this is probably not the best film for young children to be watching, regardless of being PG-13. A

GMO OMG
Unrated
Available on DVD
While many recent documentaries have attempted to tackle the issue of food corporations and their Genetically Modified Organisms, this film holds GMOs as its central focus as it discusses their impact on farmers and food crops world-wide. The film is most successful at showing that by living in America, it will be hard to avoid GMOs and the problems associated with them. The movie stirs up a lot of questions but gives little in the way of answers. I do think it gives a good argument for eating organic and the need for product labeling, but it fails as a battle cry, simply because we are limited to what we can do about it. It’s more of a take notice movie rather than a take action one. B

The Big Chill: Criterion Edition
Rated R
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Lawrence Kasdan’s hugely influential 1983 film about a group of yuppies that gather together for a weekend to remember the passing of a friend is getting the Criterion treatment with this new release. It’s nice to have the large collection of features associated with Criterion, but I was a bit disappointed in the digital film transfer as it doesn’t give off that crisp look we are used to. Also, while I understand the importance of the film, I’m still not the biggest fan of it. It’s much more about character than story and watching a bunch of now big actors “find themselves” is tedious. Still, the film has influenced many, many movies and filmmakers since and included is an essay by Girls creator Lena Dunham to discuss the film’s impact on her and its actual relationship to the real world. B

Hercules

Hercules-The-Rock

 

Hercules
Starring Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt and Ian McShane
Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour)
Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity

This revisionist take on the mythical story of Hercules finds Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the supposed son of Zeus. A demigod with monumental strength and extreme cunning in battle, Hercules finds himself and a few friends he has picked up along the way, as mercenaries who are hired by a Greek lord (Hurt) to train their army of farmers in order to protect the kingdom from a ruthless warlord.

Brett Ratner stories have always excelled when it comes to action with a big sense of humor, and this film is no different. Johnson has terrific comic timing and can be both physically imposing and goofy at the same time. Bringing that talent to this famous mythological character isn’t the worst idea Hollywood has ever had. Supplying him with cronies that help to add to his legend is another interesting touch that works for the film.

Unfortunately for me the movie felt more tedious than enjoyable. Yes there is a lot of action, but when a film is wall-to-wall action, sometimes it gets boring, and that seems to be the case here. The filmmakers seemed to know this and they created a backstory for Hercules and his family to give it some edge, but the way they did it didn’t seem to add the emotional depth they were hoping for. Maybe if they had stolen a page from Gladiator, it could have been a more successful plot device.

And then there is a huge plot twist leading into the third act that doesn’t over well at all. Sure it was a surprise, but the plot holes get huge and I’m certain a second or third viewing will have most audiences scratching their heads.

I’m not sure if a few more revisions would have helped, but they sure couldn’t have hurt. That being said, this summer has really had a lack of big, mindless Hollywood epics, so this one just might fill that long-missing gap. C

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

1280-dawn-planet-apes

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell
Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language

A decade has passed since the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and now Caesar (Serkis) and his very large group of apes have a well-organized community on the outskirts of San Francisco. The plague from the first film has almost decimated the human population, but a small group of human survivors living in San Francisco are attempting to make a comeback but need access to the damn near the apes’ village to restore power They must choose to either negotiate with the apes or fight their way to it.

This is one heck of a great summer film. The last film opened our eyes as to what truly brilliant people could do with one of the cheesiest franchises in film history. It’s almost unfathomable that a well-written, well-acted and relevant film could come of such source material. But I for one am sure glad that the folks at 20th Century Fox took a chance.

The biggest difference between these two latest genesis films is that while the humans really added to the enjoyment of the first film, I could have pretty much done without them in this one. Clarke, Oldman and Russell are all fine actors, but their characters here are paper thin and almost unnecessary. The apes are what you are here to see, and they won’t let you down. Here, the special effects have been taken up a huge notch and the story is once again amazing. Now if only Hollywood could have filled our summer with this caliber of filmmaking, they might not be having such a terrible year at the box office. A-

Chef

chef_movie_still

 

Chef
Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt and Sofia Vergara
Directed by Jon Favreau
Rated R for language, including some suggestive references

Former Iron Man director Jon Favreau goes back to his indie roots with this film about a talented chef who is stuck in a rut when he fights with the restaurant owner he works for (Hoffman) and quits his cush job in order to do what he wants in his own food truck.

Being a huge fan of his first film, Swingers, I was extremely excited to see him go back to a relatively small budget, even if it’s kind of cheating since he now has access to some really big names who are willing to work on the cheap just to have fun with him. That being said, the film is, for the most part, pretty good. There are some big mistakes that almost damage the overall experience, but the main ingredients, acting, screenplay and production, are top notch. I wish he would have gotten some help in the story category though.

If I were a food critic, my review might read something like this:

The meal started with a very simple yet elegant appetizer that created a fulfilled wish during the creative and complex entree. Unfortunately, rather than give us dessert, the waiter merely came by the table and asked us how it tasted. How weird is that? Shouldn’t a meal like this have something to show for dessert?

In actuality, the movie does a terrific job presenting food porn. I’ve never wanted to be on a film set so bad as when the group showed up at Franklin BBQ in Austin and walked away with several briskets. This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to eating at Franklin and I swear I could actually smell the meat in the movie theater. But I couldn’t help but be disappointed that Favreau basically skipped the ending. It felt like they might have considered putting a third act in place, but chose rather to just show the aftermath of that third act instead. That immediately turned a four star meal into a three. B

New in Home Entertainment – July 22, 2014

Blue-Ruin

 

New in Home Entertainment

 

July 22, 2014

 

Blue Ruin
Rated R for
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
I really love it when an indie comes out of nowhere and smacks you upside the head. Blue Ruin is just that kind of film. The story follows a desperate man who finds out that the redneck who was sent to prison for killing his mom and dad has just been released from prison. After a quick and carelessly thought out revenge, his whole world comes crashing in around him. Once the story gets going, the movie singes along with an incredibly fast pace that leaves you almost sweating from the tension. While there are no known actors in the project, that doesn’t matter in the least as the performances are all perfect and the story and directing match. While you might not have heard of it during its short-lived theatrical run, this is a film that should get great word of mouth on DVD and streaming. A

Sabotage
Rated R for
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Arnold Schwarzenegger once again tries to advance his comeback with this tale of an aging DEA special forces agent whose team is being picked off one by one, apparently by a South American drug cartel. While the story is somewhat salvageable, the writing is pretty poor with performances equally as bad. The word cliche could be used to describe much of the screenplay. Insulting would also work. While the cast is a who’s who of minor league celebrities, they can’t overcome the source material and ultimately a pretty bad excuse for a movie is all that is left. D

Transcendence
Rated PG-13 for
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Johnny Depp stars in this box office dud about a computer scientist who is reincarnated into his machine upon being assassinated. As you would expect, the acting isn’t half bad as Depp, Morgan Freeman and Olivia Wilde maneuver through the script. Unfortunately, the movie comes off as extremely preachy and pretty boring, considering it is being sold as an intellectual action flick. Not even a major special effects budget can rescue this very faulted picture. C-

Shogun
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
As many of you might remember from 1980, this CBS miniseries based on James Clavell’s best selling novel was a major television event. For the decades since, die hard fans have been craving a decent obtainable release for the series but really none has been found in America. This new hi-def transfer gives an amazing looking project that while at first seems dated, quickly becomes a captivating narrative about an English ship captain, played by the venerable Richard Chamberlain, who is shipwrecked in Japan and forced to assimilate into Samurai culture. While there has been a huge change from the way miniseries events used to look to today’s polished gems, many will enjoy the nostalgia and even newcomers should be able to enjoy the spectacular story telling. Most notable in this new release is the pristine look and sound which have been remastered for blu-ray. Since the quality of televisions wasn’t great when it was released, many will be shocked at how beautiful this production is. A-

New in Home Entertainment – July 15, 2014

under_the_skin_stills.435747

New in Home Entertainment

 

July 15, 2014

 

Under the Skin
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This trippy sci-fi import from Scotland features Scarlett Johansson as an alien who searches the highways for lonely men to consume. Johansson, who walks around naked for much of the film, gives a really interesting performance, but the story is just too weird to be enjoyed. Part of me is glad that they didn’t just create another flick from the Species franchise, which they easily could have, but I wish a stronger narrative could have been present. It’s a brave and bold project, but not one that is entertaining or memorable, aside from Johansson presenting her, um, assets. C

 

Rio 2
Rated G
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
I basically despised the first Rio film, so going into this one I had the lowest of hopes. Maybe that expectation was what was needed since I walked away having felt a tinge of fun. The story line follows the parrot Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), his wife Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their three kids as they fly into the jungles of Brazil and discover a tribe of their own kind, led by Jewel’s father (Andy Garcia). While still a little too silly and of course not enough meat, Rio 2 suffers from some of the same problems as the first, but saving the day are the villains voiced by Flight of the Concords frontman Jemaine Clement and the wicked Kristen Chenoweth. I found myself laughing my tail feather off at their antics and was thankful the writers had the ability to add such witty and edgy material to a film so geared towards small children. C+

 

Watermark
Rated PG for smoking images
Available on DVD
I have mixed feelings about this new documentary focusing on how water literally and figuratively shapes the world around us. The film is stunning to look at, especially in HD, and it is by no means preachy like many other docs of its kind out there. The problem is that it is really dull and I had a tough time focusing. The material is interesting, but certainly not even close to groundbreaking. C