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_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-

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

raid2

 

New in Home Entertainment

 

July 8, 2014

 

The Raid 2
Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence throughout, sexuality and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Indonesian and Bahasa with English Subtitles
This follow-up to the hit Indonesian pic The Raid: Redemption follows the further adventures of martial arts master Iko Uwais as he goes undercover for the police force to infiltrate the Indonesian mafia. This two-and-a-half hour epic, written and directed by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans, is so ultra-violent that it is almost ludicrous. Actually, it was at first so disconcerting that it was sort of a turn off. But then I started enjoying the story and the overall production and before I knew it, I ended up a fan. I’m apparently not alone as the film has become a huge international success and even ranks in the top 200 films of all time on IMDB.com. While the story is interesting enough to keep your attention for a lengthy period, its the fighting that will impress you the most. The choreography is unique and insanely entertaining. What makes the fighting special is that instead of getting lazy like some filmmakers, the sequences are filmed where you can actually see the absolutely brutal fighting in wide shots rather than be incredibly close up where the actors can essentially fake it. B+

 

Bad Words
Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity
Available one DVD and Blu-ray
Arrested Development star Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut as well as stars in this feature about a grown man who discovers a loop hole in the childhood spelling bee rules which allows him to enter and crush the competition. Similar to Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa, Bad Words shows adults behaving badly around seemingly innocent children. Just like Bad Santa, Bad Words is well-written and the acting is pretty decent as well. Bateman proves he has directing skills to match his acting and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can pull off next. Whatever it is, I hope it’s at least as edgy as this guilty pleasure. B

 

Jodorowsky’s Dune
Rated PG-13 for some violent and sexual images and drug references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In 1975, director Alejandro Jodorowsky, hot off the success of his cult classic hits El Topo and The Holy Mountain, began working on a movie based on Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi novel Dune. Bringing together an eclectic band of filmmakers and artists like Dan O’Bannon, Jean “Moebius” Giraud and H.R. Giger (all responsible for the Alien franchise and other sci-fi classics), signing actors Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, as well as convincing Pink Floyd to provide the soundtrack, Dune was shaping up to be a huge and important piece of science fiction. But as the project got bigger and bigger, the studios all got gun shy and the film was never made with Jodorowsky at the helm. This documentary explores what many consider to be “The Greatest Film Never Made.” It is fascinating from start to finish, even with the heartbreaking fact that the film couldn’t go into full production looming over the narrative. What is truly mind-blowing is how influential and inspirational this film became, in spite of never having a single shot put to celluloid. A

 

Bad Grandpa.5 Unrated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Know what you are getting into with this new Bad Grandpa release. If you haven’t seen the film or are looking for an extended edition, then avoid. If you are wanting to see an 86 minute making of documentary, then you are in luck. Personally, I did not get a chance to catch Bad Grandpa in theaters or on DVD previously, so I was deeply disappointed that this new edition didn’t contain the original film, which I would like to have seen. This whole product feels like something that should have been merely a special feature on the original release. While interesting to see how they were able to shoot the film, this is certainly not a project that is worth purchasing unless you are an extreme fan. C-

New in Home Entertainment – July 2, 2014

The-Lunchbox-Movie-Stills

New in Home Entertainment

 

July 2, 2014

 

The Lunch Box
Rated PG for thematic material and smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this sweet little Indian drama, Irfan Khan (Life of Pi) is a widower on the verge of retirement who accidentally receives the wrong lunches from a young house wife (Nimrat Kur) trying to please her husband with extraordinary meals at work. By passing notes back and forth to each other through the lunchbox, the two strike up a friendship that helps both of them both cope with their difficult lives. Sometimes you need a break from the Transformers of the world and this movie provides a terrific little slice of life tale from the other side of the planet. It’s a great screenplay, well executed by excellent actors and impressive production values. And even though it has a small indie feel to it, it ends up being quite memorable. A-

The Unknown Known
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and brief nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Similar in theme to his Oscar winning documentary The Fog of War, Errol Morris’s The Unknown Known replaces Robert McNamara with Donald Rumsfeld as he tries to explain away his time as Secretary of Defense during the Dick Cheney, pardon, George W. Bush administration. While trying to come off as professional and competent, the former leader too often shows his true colors and how different his morals and ethics are from the majority of Americans. This is a fascinating documentary, if you can get past the nausea. B+

New in Home Entertainment – June 24, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

June 24, 2014

Winter’s Tale
Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Sometimes the critics are so wrong.  You won’t hear me say that often but this time it sticks.  The Rotten Tomatoes score for Winter’s Tale is 13% and yet I rather enjoyed it.  Based on the fantasy novel by Mark Helprin and written and directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Akiva Goldsman, Winter’s Tale tells the story of a mysterious young man in early 1900’s New York (Colin Farrell) who is being hunted through an entire century by an evil demon (Russell Crowe).  Sure it has its problems, but the story is interesting, the acting by most of the cast is solid and the production values are terrific.  I especially loved the score by Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams.  It’s probably not as magical or as easy to understand as it should have been, but overall, I think its a good rental that might just surprise you.  B+

300: Rise of an Empire

Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

This sequel to 300 follows the greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he attempts to unite Greece to fight Xerxes and his Persian army.  Visually, the film is just as exciting as its predecessor, but honestly, the story feels stale and all of the blood and guts thrown in your face get tedious real quick.  By the end I was just bored and ready to move on.  Maybe its the lack of Zach Snyder at the helm or maybe its just the lack of a compelling script, but this Rise falls flat.  C-

A Hard Day’s Night: Criterion Edition

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Getting the Criterion treatment this month is The Beatles iconic film A Hard Days Night which follows the Fab Four as they stumble from one scene to the next, singing songs all the way.  The good news is that the film looks and sounds great with a remastered soundtrack and restored print.  The bad news is that the film is still a silly and cheesy movie that is unworthy of the stars found within.  My advice, fast forward between songs.  C-

How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Starring Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and Gerard Butler
Directed by Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon)
Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

    When How to Train Your Dragon hit the screen in 2010 I was absolutely blown away.  It was original, gutsy, different and stunningly beautiful.  And it left some big shoes to fill for a sequel. 

    In this newest edition, five years have passed and Hiccup and his viking mates are now young men and women, all of whom have mastered dragon riding.  Upon exploring the greater world around him, Hiccup discovers a huge ice cave filled with thousands of exotic new dragons led by his mother who everyone presumed dead (sorry if that’s a spoiler but it was in the trailers).  At the same time though, he discovers an evil mad man who has trained a dragon army in the hopes of taking over the world. 

    This film does a lot of things right.  I love that enough time has passed to allow a different version of its main characters.  Hiccup especially has turned into a brave young man who is still trying to figure things out while displaying a quiet confidence in his impressive abilities.  Its a very nice transition to observe.  His cohort also are now young men and women who have two things on the brain, dragons and the opposite sex.  There are some rather hilarious moments as the teens try to woo their targets.  Like the first film, the background characters outside of the main cast are more scenery than anything, but not terribly distracting. 

    The writing, as expected, is terrific and the narrative is strong.  The story being told here is big and bold and huge in scope with a lot of surprises that I won’t spoil.  I did think the mother seemed rather useless come the big battle, which seemed out of place given her talents as a dragon master.  Its almost as if they forgot about her in the third act.  That being said, I did like the directions they took in the story. 

    Probably my favorite quality of the film is how beautiful it is .  Once again, Dreamworks Animation put together a talented crew and I’m sure using legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins again as a visual consultant greatly enhanced the look.  While I’m not crazy about the 3D of the film, the actual cinematography and lighting were breathtaking.  There are moments in the battle sequences that actually look like real giant dragons fighting.  And the flight sequences are beyond anything we’ve ever seen previously.  Add that to a new score by the Oscar-nominated composer John Powell and songs by Icelandic musician Jonsi and you get quite a stunning collection of memorable sequences. 

    So while I would still pick the first Dragon as my favorite, I will concede that this film could grow on me over time.  When I first saw The Empire Strikes Back I preferred the first film for years.  Now I see things differently.  Number 2 here could be the same as I will most definitely enjoy it again and again as I let it simmer in my brain.  A