New in Home Entertainment – June 23, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

June 23, 2015

Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In French, Arabic and English with English Subtitles
This Oscar-nominated foreign film tells a fictional account of the damage Sharia Law did to the ancient city of Timbuktu when Jihadists captured the city and made illegal much of their culture including music, laughter, cigarettes and even soccer. Written and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, a Muslim from the neighboring country of Mauritania, the film captures the brutality of the brief occupation without being exploitative. At PG-13, the film tries to show the impact on their culture in a way that demonstrates its harshness without succumbing drastically to the monstrous actions of the invaders. While not a great narrative, you definitely get the sense of what it would have been like to be stuck in this region during this horrible time in their history. B

The Fisher King: The Criterion Collection
Rated R
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Terry Gilliam’s twisted fairy tale, shock DJ Jeff Bridges tries to help a homeless man (Robin Williams) when he finds out that one of his on-air rants was the cause for the man’s ruined life. Together they set off on an Arthurian quest to reclaim the Holy Grail from a castle-like mansion in Manhattan. As with any Criterion release, the film has been restored to its original beauty in this new 2K transfer with a freshly scrubbed soundtrack. The set also includes many old and many new special features that really help shed light on how this brilliant 1999 fantasy came to life, and its legacy long after. A

New in Home Entertainment – June 16, 2015

run all night

New in Home Entertainment

June 16, 2015

Run All Night
Rated R for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
I’ll admit that Liam Neeson movies sort of melt together for me. In his latest thriller he is a hit man for a mob boss (Ed Harris) who kills Harris’s son when his own son’s life is threatened. In the process, he is hunted for his actions and will do anything to keep he and his son alive. While the film is a tad predictable and cliche, there’s a reason why Neeson keeps getting projects like this: he’s good at it. His character is believable and ultimately he is very watchable. Yes the film is a bit of a mindless mess and the assassin played by Common was a terrible idea, but if you can remove your brain before starting the movie, you might just enjoy it. C+

Wild Tales
Rated R for violence, language and brief sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Spanish with English Subtitles
This Oscar-nominated Argentinian export tells several unconnected stories about people and situations that get completely out of control. For example, in one of the stories two men exhibiting road rage cross the line in a hilarious yet disgusting display of primal anger. Or then there is the wedding where the bride discovers a secret about her groom that drives her to near insanity in the middle of her reception. The pic is sick, twisted and extremely funny in a perverse way. But it’s also sobering because you find yourself thinking that the actions and reactions are easily understood even though they are horribly unconscionable. You hope that you wouldn’t act this way, but you also know that sometimes its hard to keep in control. A-

New in Home Entertainment – June 9, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

June 9, 2015

The Duff
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), according to this story, is the member of a group of friends who is thought to be included merely because he/she makes everyone else seem more attractive. In this teen comedy, Mae Whitman discovers that she might be her friends DUFF and she strikes out to do something about it. You would fully expect a film like this to be a simple and stupid comedy not worthy of being watched or appreciated by anyone over the age of 18, but instead we get smart and complicated storytelling that brings back both a nostalgia for our teen comedies along with a dose of sophistication that is entirely unexpected. It never tries to be more than what it is, but it totally over-delivers on its outward promise, like a good DUFF should. B+

Project Almanac
Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This found footage teen drama follows a young man who discovers a time machine in his father’s lab and upon tweaking it, finds a way to send he and his friends back to change their destinies. I fully expected to hate this film, but honestly it is a thought-provoking story and while the science is insane, the decisions made by the teens are realistic given their circumstances. Too many times I found myself thinking that they should have been more creative in terms of their time travel, but then I remembered that the movie is made about teens making silly teen decisions, making it weird that the film has an unusual realism at its base given the overall premise. B-

1776: Director’s Cut
Not Rated (Original was Rated G)
Available on Blu-ray
Not a lot of folks know about this 1972 movie musical, but this classic musical based on the 1969 Broadway hit is a wonderful little movie and very worthy of Sony’s special treatment here. In this new blu-ray edition of this musical about our founding fathers and the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Sony decided to fully remaster the film in 4K and clean up the soundtrack to the point that the film has never looked or sounded as good as it does here. And while some critics think the film a little silly (and it might be), it is still full of fantastic songs performed by amazing actors. It is a highly enjoyable pic from the most unusual of historic sources. A

Falling Skies: The Complete Fourth Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
While it is popular with a small, underground section of sci-fi fans, I’m surprised that this little TNT series hasn’t gotten the same recognition as that of shows like The Walking Dead. In season four, Noah Wyle is back as the leader of a group of humans still at war with an aggressive alien race and trying to not only merely survive, but fight back as well. The writing is creative and ultimately the show works merely because they keep breaking new ground in their storytelling. That and the special effects are much better than they should be for a cable series. Also hitting blu-ray and DVD this week is TNT’s new show The Last Ship which has turned out to be quite the big hit for the station. B

New in Home Entertainment – June 2, 2015


New in Home Entertainment
June 2, 2014

Jupiter Ascending
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
The Wachowski siblings have always pushed the limits of storytelling and special effects in their various projects since they made The Matrix back in 1999. In Jupiter Ascending, Mila Kunis is a young immigrant house cleaner who discovers that she is actually the reincarnated form of an intergalactic queen who must save Earth from her evil children who plan to harvest the planet for sinister purposes. While there are definitely some plot holes and a few cheesy moments, I thought for sure, upon leaving the theater, that this would be a huge hit. Overall I found the movie to be a fun, witty and entertaining piece of sci-fi. But I have to admit that most folks (especially other critics) have quite the opposite opinion and the film ended up being a complete dud at the box office. My advice would be to check it out anyway. You just might find yourself having a blast like I did. B+

Not Rated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Exclusively available at Best Buy
Spring tells the tale of a young man, who upon losing his mother to cancer, decides to take a trip to Italy in an attempt to help him move on. Upon settling on what I can only assume is Cinque Terre, he falls in love with a beautiful young woman who is hiding the secret that she is actually a Jeckyl and Hyde-like monster trying to overcome her disease. While not overly scary, the film is wonderfully interesting and beautiful to look at. With such a tiny budget, the filmmakers were able to put together a terrific leading man and woman with some rather disturbing and well-crafted creature effects and a story straight out of the X-Files. This is a gem for those of you in need of a great midnight movie. B

McFarland, USA
Rated PG
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Based on a true story, Kevin Costner plays the legendary high school coach Jim White, who brought the first ever cross-country track program to the small, mostly latino farming town of McFarland, California. These kinds of stories always come off as a little corny, merely because its hard for them to not be overly earnest in their storytelling. But with Costner on board, the movie has a lot more weight than you would expect and ends up being a nice little inspirational, family-friendly sports movie. B-

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
In this newest Spongebob adventure, the titular character finds himself and his friends entering the real world in order to track down a loopy pirate (Antonio Banderas) who stole the coveted Krabby Patty recipe. I’ve never been much of a fan of Spongebob. I can appreciate the humor, but the weirdness just seemed too forced and extremely annoying. And to make matters worse, the movie is stretched out to an extreme length. They sell the film like it mostly takes place in the real world, but just to get to that point, you have to wade through an awful and awfully long underwater cartoon experience. And while technically PG, I didn’t find it to be terribly kid-friendly. While most young kids won’t get the dirty jokes and the sexual references, I have no idea why they needed to be in there in the first place. C-

Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Will Smith stars in this story about a con man who runs a large organization of advanced-level street thieves who go from city to city to separate average folks from their money and jewelry. To fully fill you in on the whole story, I would need a lot more words and risk some big spoilers, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. I found the first half very interesting, and the second half too much of a con that just feels too inauthentic. As a warning about thieves in the world such as this, I feel like part of the movie was worth my time. But then it felt like part of my time was stolen from me also. C+



Starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Bill Murray
Directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry McGuire)
Rated PG-13 for some language including suggestive comments

In Cameron Crowe’s latest rom com, Bradley Cooper stars as a defense contractor hired by a billionaire (Murray) to obtain a blessing in his old stomping ground of Hawaii for approval of a large business deal. In the process he falls for a young captain (Stone) assigned to cart him around and revisits an old flame (McAdams) from his previous life on the island.

Throughout the years Crowe has proven to be a master of smart romantic comedies that stick with you long after the credits. He is known for displaying honesty and creating great moments from John Cusack holding a boom box over his head in Say Anything… to Tom Cruise’s iconic line in Jerry Maguire “you complete me.” His writing and directing is quirky while at the same time quite wonderful. Most of the time. Aloha is a complete miss. In fact, if I hadn’t known this was a Crowe film, I wouldn’t have believed it afterward.

The biggest problem with the film is the insane plot which doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s something about getting a blessing from a Hawaiian king to launch a satellite for some sinister purpose that never gets fleshed out. The whole thing feels like an inside joke told from kids who think they are cool and want you to really want to know, but the joke isn’t funny and the kids are far from cool. They act like we should know the characters and the culture, but we don’t really know them and we don’t really want to either.

Then comes the bad character choices that lack any authenticity. For example, much ado is made about Cooper being the father of McAdams oldest child, and yet the person who has been playing dad for her entire life seems like more of an outsider in the equation than Cooper who has been gone for over a decade and newly introduced. Their decisions make the whole crew look shallow and weak.

The icing on this lousy piece of cake is the multitude of poor performances. I have really liked these actors in the past, and Bill Murray I’ll forgive simply because it’s him, but the acting here is so bad that it makes me question if any of these players are any good at their craft.

So it is with great disappointment that I have to throw this one under the bus. Sadly, San Andreas is not the only disaster movie hitting theaters this weekend. F

New in Home Entertainment – May 5, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

May 5, 2015

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The big controversy at this year’s Oscars was the near exclusion of this powerful drama about Martin Luther King and his legendary civil rights campaign in Selma, Alabama, culminating in an epic March from Selma to Montgomery. While cries of racism went up everywhere concerning the dis, the discussion I’m surprised never came up was that Paramount waited until the last possible minute to show their film to voters. Personally, my nomination ballots for the Critics Choice Awards and the Houston Film Critics Awards were both turned in before I was allowed to see the films. Regardless, the movie is very good, even with some apparent historical inaccuracies. David Oyelowo is perfect in the role of the iconic leader and the project is stuffed with other terrific performances throughout. What I liked most about this biopic is that it covered a mere moment in time, a single story, rather than trying to focus on the entire life of King. It’s a truly great story, well-told with focus and passion. And it is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. A
Black Sea
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic images and violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this modern-day claustrophobic undersea drama, Jude Law plays a laid-off Scottish submarine captain who puts together a misfit crew of sailors in order to find a sunken treasure of Nazi gold from right under the Russian Navy’s fleet. I’ve always loved submarine films, and this modern tale gives that same scary, trapped experience your’e used to in these sorts of movies, but with a heist story that adds to the already highly pressurized drama. Law is terrific as the sub captain and his all-male crew is full of talented actors that make you feel like perhaps you’re actually on the journey with them. B+

Miss Julie
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexuality, disturbing images, and language
Available on DVD
This new interpretation of the 1889 Swedish Play by August Strindberg places Colin Farrell vs Jessica Chastain in a tug of war where each uses their fiercest weapons, be it wit, social status or sex to dominate the other. The movie starts out extremely dull, but once in the second act it hits some rather intense moments. Unfortunately, after watching the two sides take the lead from each other for two hours, I became rather apathetic as to who will win. It’s like watching a well-matched basketball game between two teams that you don’t care for and that do nothing to earn your allegiance. There’s no doubt that the acting is great and the production is grand, but the characters aren’t worthy of my time. C-

New in Home Entertainment – April 28, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

April 28, 2015

The Gambler
Rated R for language throughout, snap for some sexuality/nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Mark Wahlberg stars in this dismal drama about a college professor whose reckless gambling endangers not only his own life, but that of his family and friends as well. Movies about gambling have always expressed the negative aspects of the sport, but at least in films such a Rounders and 21, there is some fun to be had as well. The Gambler is negative all the way down and by the end you could care less if he wins or loses. Honestly, it’s a film that shouldn’t have been greenlit, and if it weren’t for Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt at the helm, it would have had difficulty getting funding even from indie circles. D

Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
While a bigger box office hit outside of the states than within, this highly praised pic about the huggable bear and his adventures in England is an extremely lovable and very funny picture, whether you’re young or old. Upon seeing the first trailer, I’ll admit that my eyes were rolling and I couldn’t imagine myself enjoying a film such as this. But with such a heart-warming yet exciting story and an immensely enjoyable cast of characters, it’s hard to imagine anyone not changing their mind away from any negative misconceptions going in. B+

Inherent Vice
Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Ever since Boogie Nights, I’ve been a big fan of Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. Even when his films took two or three viewings for me to come around, like with There Will Be Blood, Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love, I found myself really fascinated with his work. Inherent Vice marks the first time I have been disappointed with what I have seen. I’ve tried to watch twice now and this jumbled mess of a film that stars Joaquin Phoenix as a drugged out private eye on a trippy investigation is too much weird and not enough story. Based on the book by Thomas Pynchon, the movie has a cult feel to it but never arises to the level of compelling cinema. C-

Last Days in Vietnam
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This Academy Award nominated PBS documentary takes an up close and personal look at the final days of the Vietnam War and the impact on both those that got out of Vietnam and those that didn’t. The film is very successful at providing a feeling of what it must have been like to be a patriotic American trying to help a desperate people survive an imminent threat. What it doesn’t do is tackle both sides of the equation, and instead attempts to portray the war as simply the good guys losing. Still, I found it profoundly interesting and a great source of deeper discussions. B

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Another PBS documentary seeing its debut this week is this masterfully produced documentary from Ken Burns and Barak Goodman, based on the book by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This incredibly ambitious six-hour documentary explores the history, present and future of cancer and its many treatments in a detail never seen before. Expertly crafted, the film works as both a highly informational piece and as a compelling story. And while some of the material will hit you like a ton of bricks, the overall feeling once completed is that of pure hope. A

New in Home Entertainment – April 21, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

April 20, 2015

Escape from New York
Rated R
Available on Blu-ray
Unbeknownst to my mother, Escape from New York was the first Rated R film I ever saw. Back when VHS was a new technology, my friend invited me over to watch this ultra-cheesy B movie about a rogue criminal named Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) who is tasked with rescuing the President of the United States after his plane crashes in New York City, which is now a maximum security prison. Now, almost 35 years after its theatrical release, Escape has a new 2k restoration and the violent cheese nearly melts off of the screen. Sure it’s not a great movie. The acting is bad (even with a stellar cast) and the story is littered with cliches and plot holes. But it is still a fun movie to watch regardless. You get over the nostalgia quickly and move on to a movie whose influence is still seen today. B+

Sullivan’s Travels: The Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
I love it when I discover old classics that I should have watched and just never knew I needed to. Sullivan’s Travels is such a film. Preston Sturges’s 1941 classic stars Joel McCrea as a big Hollywood director whose desire to make the social drama “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” drives him to want to live on the streets with the poor of society, just to really feel their struggle. Of course he does it in his own wealthy way, making the comedy really come to life. This new digital restoration gives the 74-year-old film a beautifully crisp look and the tale is as relevant now as it was back in the day. In fact, it might be even more relevant as we haven’t really learned from our history and are still reenacting it today. A+

Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Documentarian Anthony Powell spends a year filming in Antarctica in order to show what it’s like for the souls that brave it out down near the South Pole. I can’t say I’ve ever had a desire to visit the southernmost continent, but that being said, I found this documentary to be both interesting in subject and stunning to look at. Using interviews along with tons of indoor and outdoor photography, you get a real sense of what you would expect if you were to ever make the decision to join the handful of people who live there. What the film doesn’t do is explain why you would want to make such a decision. Personally, I got the sense that to make such a commitment requires not a sense of adventure, but rather a slight absence of mental health. B

New in Home Entertainment – April 7, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

April 7, 2015

Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Reese Witherspoon stars in this true story about a young woman who sets off on a solo trek across the more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail in order to leave behind her regretful past and hopefully point herself to a better future. There’s no doubt that there is a good movie here, but so much of this film is difficult to watch. I’m not a big fan of being witness to such a huge self destruction, even if it does come with a rejuvenation, but Reese does as good a job as she possibly can to tell this story. A lot of people found inspiration in the best-selling book written by Cheryl Strayed, and subsequently in her portrayal on the big screen. And while I think the performance is fantastic and even the production is solid, it’s just not my ideal way to spend two hours. B-

A Most Violent Year
Rated R for language and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
A Most Violent Year tells the story of an owner of a successful oil-delivery service in 1980’s New York City who desires nothing more than to achieve success without resorting to the violence and corruption that plagues his industry. The most interesting thing about the film is that it fights the urge to become a gangster film. It sells itself as a violent crime drama, but it is only subtly so. While this allows for storytelling that doesn’t resort to cliche, it also disappoints at times because of this. Still, the drama is interesting and performances are strong, so it’s not a complete wash. B-

New in Home Entertainment – March 31, 2015


song of the sea

New in Home Entertainment

March 31, 2015

Song of the Sea
Rated PG
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
If you are still scratching your head at the Oscar snub for The Lego Movie and wondering what else could have been so much better than the brick hit, feast your eyes on Song of the Sea. This Irish import from Secret of the Kells director Tomm Moore tells the story of a young boy who must guide his sister on her journey to rescue a world of fairies from their stone imprisonment. Not only is the story richly told, it is stunningly beautiful to look at. Every frame is truly a work of art. Even my four-year-old was mesmerized throughout every moment of the film as both of us couldn’t take our eyes off of the screen. One word of advice before you watch – wiki the word selkie. The film is based on Irish folklore that I had not heard of before and the story makes so much more sense once you have a little background. A

Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Science Fiction has always tried to push the limits of our existence and show us a place where we could be going, but rarely do films take us on more than a roller coaster thrill ride. Not since Minority Report have I seen a more ambitious sci-fi epic that both excites and melts the mind. In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey is a former astronaut who is forced to become a farmer when the planet starts to die and farming becomes a necessity for most humans. But when a strange force leads him to a secret NASA base, he is convinced to fly another mission in the hopes of discovering a habitable planet that could save human existence. At almost 3 hours, this is one of the rare films that could be longer without many complaints from its audience. What makes this a truly special sci-fi film is that the amazing special effects only exist in order to serve the story, not distract from it. Director Christopher Nolan went out of his way to make sure the science behind the story was well-researched and yet presented in a way that most audiences could grasp, even if loosely. And while the ending still doesn’t make complete sense to me, I love that I want it to, and will keep revisiting until it does. A-
Song One
Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Anne Hathaway stars in this low-budget indie about a young woman who comes home to help out with her brother, who is in a coma after an accident, only to fall in love with the musician he was obsessed with before the coma. Just like the recent releases Rudderless and Begin Again, Song One attempts to recapture the magic from the film Once by presenting its story as a modern-day musical where song comes organically rather than the actors simply breaking into tune. It’s a sweet enough love story but the music isn’t captivating enough, leaving a rather flat feeling throughout. C+

Veep: The Complete Third Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This comedic companion to House of Cards (no they’re not related but they’re so much fun to watch in tandem) stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the disrespected Vice President of the United States as she attempts to run for President. The laughs are virtually non-stop and delivered from a superb cast of talented actors. And since the show is on HBO, it has the ability to possess a scary realism that could not be reproduced by the major networks. I cannot wait for April 12 when HBO brings us the new seasons of Game of Thrones and Veep back to back. A-