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

 

New in Home Entertainment – March 8, 2016

heart

New in Home Entertainment

March 8, 2016

In the Heart of the Sea
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and peril, brief startling violence, and thematic material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Based on the best-selling novel In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, Ron Howard’s latest opus tells the true story that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The film was lambasted by critics and ignored in theaters but it is an interesting adventure with some really great special effects. Perhaps its a tad bit too ominous for a truly enjoyable experience, but there is no doubt it is a well-crafted picture. Honestly, I would have rather seen Howard tackle Moby Dick rather than this project which seems to be a lesser story. B-

Macbeth
Rated R for strong violence and brief sexuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star as the Macbeths in this new uber dark version of Shakespeare’s play about ambition, power and corruption. Artistically it’s a fantastic production led by director Justin Kurzel. But its a tough watch unless you are a big fan of the bard. Personally, I love Shakespeare’s stories, but not his plays. There is so much underlying context that when combined with old English, I feel you almost have to be a Shakespeare historian to fully appreciate the works. This particular project especially proves that. C+

Coming Home
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Mandarin with English subtitles
Chinese director Zhang Yimou is best known for his stunning epic films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero, as well as his grand opening ceremony in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But here he tells the quiet story of a family separated by decades when the husband is imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution. Upon his final release from labor camp, he comes home to a daughter who doesn’t know him and a wife who has a medical inability to recognize him as she patiently waits for his return. It’s a challenging story, and one I’m surprised was allowed by the Chinese government, but overall one I’m glad I watched as I now feel more connected to a culture that I’m completely unfamiliar with. After all, that’s the power of a great foreign film. B+

Hogan’s Heroes: The Complete Series
Available on DVD
It seems so random now that we have whatever we want to watch at our fingertips, but growing up we were reliant on a few select channels, and one of those channels showed a lot of Hogan’s Heroes in syndication, so I have a deep nostalgia for this classic comedy. Following the adventures of a group of POW’s in a German prison camp who turn their camp into their secret headquarters for carrying out crazy missions, the show makes light of a very serious part of history and in the process churns out a lot of really great comedy. This new set contains all 168 episodes on 27 DVDs which is one heck of a binge. B

New in Home Entertainment – March 1, 2016

creed

New in Home Entertainment

March 1, 2016

Creed
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Many rolled their eyes at me last year when I told them that one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing at year end was the latest Rocky sequel. But what had me excited wasn’t Rocky, per se, but rather the re-teaming of Fruitvale Station director Ryan Cooler with its star Michael B. Jordan as the son of Rocky nemesis Apollo Creed. Here the young boxer seeks the assistance of Stallone’s Rocky to help him follow in his father’s footsteps. This is the best Rocky film since the 1976 original and while I never thought this statement would come from my mouth, Sylvester Stallone turns in a performance here that is truly worthy of the Oscar he didn’t win this last week. A-

The Danish Girl
Rated R for some sexuality and full nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Eddie Redmayne here plays artist and transgender pioneer Einar Wegener. In her Oscar-winning performance, Alicia Vikander is his wife and fellow artist who must patiently evolve with her husband’s transformation into womanhood. This is a beautiful-looking film, directed by Tom Hooper (Les Miserables) with a lush production, but honestly, it’s just not my thing. I can fully appreciate its artistry but its subject matter to me is not something I would choose to watch if I didn’t feel I had to. And while after watching I did feel empathy for both of its leads, I still have to admit that its just not a picture for me. C+

Paulette
Rated R for drug content and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
In French with English Subtitles
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
On the outskirts of Paris, retired widow and destitute curmudgeon Paulette (Bernadette Lafont) discovers the world of cannabis sales as she creates an empire based on delectable baked goods. While the content is dark, the film is ultimately a light-hearted comedy with a lot of uncomfortable laughs. It is entirely accessible as a foreign film though and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this doesn’t spawn an American remake starring Judy Dench within a few years. B

New in Home Entertainment – February 16, 2016

Steve Jobs

New in Home Entertainment

February 16, 2016

Steve Jobs
Rated R for language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In 2013, director Joshua Michael Stern gave us version 1.0 of the life of Steve Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, and while the promise was there, the product failed to deliver. With version 2.0 though, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin deliver up Michael Fassbender as the iconic tech idol and the result is a brilliant, elegant story that is as engaging as it is enlightening. Rather than a chronological step-by-step, Sorkin opted for a three act play with each act taking place solely at one of the major, now infamous, launch meetings. The acting by Fassbender and fellow cohorts Seth Rogan, Kate Winslet and Jeff Bridges is inspiring and the movie flows like a beautiful symphony. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is the lousy results at the box office. Almost everything Steve ever touched in life, including his official biography, has turned to gold. Could it be that folks have finally lost interest in the once-invincible tech god? A

Black Mass
Rated R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Johnny Depp here disappears into the role of James “Whitey” Bolger, the once-powerful Boston gangster who was recently the FBI’s #1 most wanted until his capture a few years ago. The story itself is fascinating enough, as they kept to the saga of the far-reaching corruption exhibited by a multitude of real-life villains. Unfortunately the makeup was tremendously distracting. What should have been Oscar-worthy transformations, looked like something from a bad church play. I would suggest, rather than picking this one up on blu-ray with awesome resolution, opt for the DVD and watch on an old tube TV so that the lousy makeup won’t be as offensive. C+

The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Series
Available on DVD
It seems like this has been released before, but now officially, comes the entire series in a new box set on 39, count’em, 39 DVDs. All 8 seasons from the 60’s featuring 249 episodes (why couldn’t they have gone for an even 250?) in one set. While this sounds like an unimaginable binge journey, it sure is fun revisiting Mayberry with Andy, Ron Howard and Don Knotts. The show is completely dated, in a good way, and one of the best special features in the set are the original sponsor ads included on the season 2 and 3 discs. A