New in Home Entertainment – March 21, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

March 21, 2017

Passengers
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%
Set in the distant future where mankind hibernates in deep sleep in order to relocate to distant planets, Chris Pratt, and later Jennifer Lawrence, wake up 90 years before the end of their 120 year journey, to find that they are alone in their predicament and unable to go back into hibernation. As the ship starts to suffer from malfunction, they must figure out to how to repair the ship or risk losing the thousands of other lives still sleeping. The story here is fantastic and you can’t beat the pair of actors for both talent and chemistry. Unfortunately, the last act just doesn’t set in right, ultimately leaving the audience disappointed. If you are wondering why this wasn’t a mega-hit, it was simply due to bland word of mouth. It’s not a bad film, but its hardly one you can get passionate about, and with the pedigree found here, this needed to be a film that blows you away in order to succeed. Still, its worth checking out now that you can watch it at home. Side note: if you do watch it and you start to get a WALL-E vibe, that’s probably due to the fact that Thomas Newman composed the scores for both projects, and they are similar throughout. B-

Miss Sloane
Rated R for language and some sexuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
In this box office dud, Jessica Chastain is a high power Washington lobbyist who tries to force through a bill that would enact common-sense gun regulations, only to find herself in the battle of her life as she fights the gun manufacturers. This is a case of a very good film that didn’t have the common sense of a smart release date. So while they were trying to sneak into the awards scene (Chastain was worthy of some love here), they ended up getting buried at both the box office and the trophy hunt. But the film is worth checking out, especially if you have feelings towards the argument. B+

Sing
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
In this very colorful but story-dull animated feature from Illumination Entertainment (Minions) comes this tale of koala who attempts to save his theater by holding a singing competition. And of course the different animals have all sorts of backgrounds and reasons for wanting to win the contest. While my young son liked the movie (not nearly as much as everything else he saw over the holiday), I found little use for it. The majority of the film was trying to show off how creative it was, but with little substance to prove its point. I tell my son not to call people or things stupid, but honestly, stupid applies really well here. D

Live By Night
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 35%
In the follow up to his Oscar win for best director for Argo, Ben Affleck takes on this prohibition-era gangster film, adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane. While I’m sure there’s a decent movie hidden away in here, this project seems to have gotten away from him. Maybe it was rushed to take a shot at awards, or maybe it was a mess throughout the project, but it is overly long (run time is 128 minutes but feels like Godfather-length) and painful at times to sit through. And to make matters worse, Affleck is terrible for the leading role, and he should have had the sense to cast a much more fitting actor while he helmed. This was truly one of the worst films of 2016. D-

New in Home Entertainment – March 14, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

March 14, 2017

Fences
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Built off of the original Broadway production from playwright and screenwriter August Wilson, and starring basically the same cast, Fences tells the story of a black garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh (Denzel Washington) who boasts of the days he used to play ball in the Negro Leagues before the color barrier was broken, while his wife (Oscar-winner Viola Davis) and family struggle under his drinking, cheating and temper. You can probably tell already that the story isn’t going to cheer you up and make your day brighter, but the main reason to watch this drama is the collection of remarkable performances, most notably those of Washington and Davis. It is a literal masterclass in dramatic performance and a wonderful way to immortalize Wilson’s powerful work. A-

Jackie
Rated R for brief strong violence and some language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Natalie Portman here takes on the role of a lifetime as Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, telling the story of the days immediately following her husband’s assassination. Portman does an exceptional job portraying the unique mannerisms that Kennedy was known to possess, while at the same time not giving in to the grief and panic the world expected from her. While the performance was solid, the film is unexpectedly bland and forgettable. It washes in and out like a dream, and sticks around in your head just as long. B-

Drunk History: Season 4
What started off as viral web series is now in its fourth season on Comedy Central and the show is still just as funny and engaging. The premise is that comedians and historians tell a story from history while getting drunk with the host, and then famous actors and actresses reenact the scene, in period costume, mouthing the words of the drunk storytellers as they tell them. This season ends with an ultra-celebrity as Lin Manuel Miranda gets drunk telling Hamilton stories with Aubrey Plaza and Alia Shawkat as Burr and Hamilton. It’s the best balance between learning and laughter that I can imagine experiencing. B+

New in Home Entertainment – March 7, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

March 7, 2017

Moana
Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief theatrical elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Disney’s latest princess flick heads to the Pacific Islands as a chieftain’s young daughter wishes to save her dying island by leaving against her father’s will in order to try to force a missing demi-god (played by Dwayne Johnson) to aid her. The story itself is strong enough to carry the film, but when you throw in musical numbers from Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and some of the prettiest animation ever to come out of the mouse house, you end up with a monster hit with a huge emotional punch. I really thought that this would be the Oscar winner for best animated film this year (Disney’s other hit Zootopia won) but with such competition, Moana had a bear of a time vying for the three awards that would have normally come easy for it: animated, song and score. But who cares? At my house this was the movie that won the year, and will no doubt be a favorite for years to come. A

Rules Don’t Apply
PG-13 for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements and drug references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%
It’s been nearly twenty years since Warren Beatty has written, directed and starred in a movie (the last time was 1998’s Bulworth), and this time he’s back with a story about a young actress and her chauffeur (Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich) who work for the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes (played by Beatty). The film tries at time to be a comedy, a romance and a drama, but misses on all three fronts, and ultimately left me scratching my head at what I just saw. Not helping is the 126 minute running time that feels more like three hours. I’m not certain if this is the case – but the film felt rushed – like they were desperately trying to get this out to voters in time for their deadlines without stopping to think if it was ready enough to be a contender. Then again, I’m not sure if this project ever had the potential to hit that kind of chord. C

New in Home Entertainment – February 28, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

February 28, 2017

Moonlight
Rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
It’s difficult to pin down the story of Moonlight and describe it to someone, especially if you want to give them cause to check it out But after Sunday night’s monumental Oscar win, a bunch of folks who might not have been interested before, are suddenly going to want to see the picture that took on – and beat – the seemingly unstoppable La La Land. In a nutshell, Moonlight tells three stories about one person. The first act is about a young child in dire need of supervision and guidance, who finds it in the most unconventional of places. The Second act sees the same boy as a teenager, trying to find friendship and connection in a harsh place where anyone who acts different can be pushed to the edge. In the third act, the boy is now a man who, while tough on the outside, is in desperate need of a friend who he can relate to on an intimate level. My fear is that someone will not watch because it is a “gay” film or a “black” film. I would propose that if that is you – you are the main audience for this movie. Far from the way it looks on a surface level, this is not about a gay black child growing up in urban America. It goes far deeper than that, with characters that demand empathy and understanding. Characters that strive for you to see the human in them and not the color of their skin or the preference of their partner. It is a beautiful film, uniquely told – and very deserving of its big night and the attention it is about to receive. A

Doctor Strange
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Having been a fan of the comic as a teenager, I really didn’t see much of a chance for success for this Marvel movie, but I was holding out hope. Luckily, some wildly creative filmmakers took a relatively obscure super hero and gave him a convincing genesis story with an insanely talented cast and some of the craziest special effects you’ve ever seen in a hero flick. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the once-talented neurosurgeon who loses the ability to operate after a brutal car crash, only to find the ability to manipulate the world around him with the help of some time and space bending monks in Asia. It’s an extremely fun and creative ride that tells a complete story while at the same time setting up further adventures that will have a new audience of fans impatiently waiting. A-

Allied
Rated R for some violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star in this big-budget WWII drama from director Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump) about two spies who fall in love with each other after their mission, only to face problems once home. The first half of this film, where the two are spies on a dangerous mission, really works. It is exciting and thought-provoking, providing an intriguing look at a part of the great war that is rarely shown in film. But when the second act hits, it really misses, giving the audience a dull and overly long narrative that ends with a flat thud. The film is beautiful to look at with spectacular production values, but the way it transforms into a lifeless drama makes it rather difficult to watch. C+

New in Home Entertainment – February 21, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

February 21, 2017

Nocturnal Animals
Rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
IF you can get through the first five minutes (which have basically nothing to do with the movie), then you will be able to dive into one of the best movies of 2016 that will burn a place into your memory. This Hitchcock-like thriller from writer/director (and clothing designer) Tom Ford, stars Amy Adams as a bored art dealer whose ex-husband, Jake Gyllenhaal, sends her the first look at his big novel about a young family who are violated by a group of west Texas hooligans. Really – the story you’re going to walk away with is that of the novel – but the rest of the film just adds a complexity that demands repeat viewings. And while Adams and Gyllenhaal are very good, the real stars of the film are the supporting characters. Aaron Taylor-Johnson won the Golden Globe for his role as the villain. Meanwhile the officer assigned to help Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, turned in my favorite performance of 2016, which also got him an Oscar nomination. Many of you will not like this film. But those of you who do will most likely be long-time fans. A

Manchester by the Sea
Rated R for language throughout and some sexual content
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
This critically-hailed drama stars Casey Affleck as a New England janitor who is named the legal guardian of his nephew (newcomer Lucas Hedges) after the passing of his brother. While the film itself is as depressing as can be (Affleck even pointed that out during one of the best Saturday Night Live episodes in a decade), it also has a perverse sense of humor that can only be brought out by hurting people trying to find a way, any way, to cope with the death of someone close. It’s a film worth seeing for sure, but it won’t exactly brighten your day. I’m not sure if its best picture-worthy, but the performances by the terrific cast are are worth paying attention to. All this being said, you gotta be in the mood to see and appreciate a film like this – and that’s a hard sell for a lot of folks. B+

Bad Santa 2
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 23%
I am one of those people who absolutely loved the first Bad Santa, and laughed hysterically at all of the horrible, foul behavior exhibited by Billy Bob Thornton. So who wouldn’t want more? I realized after the first thirty minutes of watching his new adventure that I don’t actually want to know more about this guy, and his antics are no longer funny but rather sad and pathetic. Was there a way to make number 2 as funny as the first? I don’t know. But this attempt was a depressing thing to watch. D

The Passion of the Christ
Rated R for sequences of graphic violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%
When Mel Gibson’s biblical epic The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004, one of the most artistic aspects of the film was that he wanted to create a feel as if you were really there watching. Yes that means it is extremely violent. But he also wanted the language to be realistic so he wrote the screenplay in English and then had a professor translate it into Latin and the dead language Aramaic. Originally he didn’t even want subtitles, but he obviously decided to go with them in the end. So now, after 13 years, we are getting yet another version of the film – this time dubbed into English and Spanish. Both the original and the recut version (the version with some violence removed) are included here. The dub is very decent, not at all like the kung-fu movies you would imagine. I’d still rather see the original and just read, but I do understand the need, both financially and otherwise, to make this subtle change. The movie still holds up as a sobering reminder of what Jesus went through and a remarkable piece of art from an underappreciated artist. A

New in Home Entertainment – February 14, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

February 14, 2017

Arrival
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Every few years we get a really great, original science fiction film that makes you think, delivers a meaningful social commentary and completely takes us by surprise. This year that film is Arrival, which just landed eight Oscar nominations including best picture and director. The story follows a scenario where alien ships have appeared all over the planet, and when the U.S. military can’t find a way to communicate with the aliens on board, they enlist the help of a linguistics professor (Amy Adams) to figure out their intentions. As Adams attempts to find a way to decipher the alien language, we, as an audience, attempt to decipher what the film is really telling us. If you are looking for a mindless action pic, this for sure isn’t it. But you might just find yourself feeling a lot smarter after having experienced it. A-

The Edge of Seventeen
Rated R for sexual content, language and some drinking – all involving teens
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Before you blow off this coming-of-age comedy, as most people did when it was in theaters, please consider giving it a look. Yes its about another awkward girl (Hailee Steinfeld) who gets herself into extremely awkward situations, but rather than the lighthearted PG-13 world you would most likely see in most films of this genre, Edge prefers to be edgy with what feels like a true vibe of the way modern teenagers act, talk and feel. Much more like Juno than American Pie, the film puts you through a lot of discomfort but provides a resolution that will put your soul at ease and help you better understand the teenage human. If none of that interests you, at least check it out for Woody Harrelson’s well-written and even better-performed sarcastic school teacher who gives you hope that there are educators who are more concerned with turning teens into functioning and successful adults rather than merely aiming for a test score. A-

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Rated R for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug use
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%
Until very deep into 2016, the film that was most likely headed toward best picture was this war movie directed by Life of Pi’s Ang Lee. The story comes from the point of view of a 19-year-old private who, along with his fellow soldiers, are being honored at a Texas football game for unique bravery. As the moments at the game move by, Lynn flashbacks at his time in Iraq, showing the stark contrast to the life he has to live while home. The battle scenes are few but powerful, providing a background that, by themselves, are riveting. But the scenes in Texas are almost just unbearable, filled with lousy acting and inorganic writing, making it almost look like the direction was at fault. I say almost because I just can’t imagine Lee directing a film that is this flat. This story has been told before, but much, much better than this. C-

Beavis and Butt-Head: The Complete Collection
I’m not going to tell you that there is anything good that could come from watching over 1000 minutes of these loser teens making stupid commentaries on 90s pop culture, but if you’re like me, you’ll do it anyway. Mike Judge’s MTV iconic classic is getting this huge release with hours and hours of content, including their feature length film “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America,” in order to give you an overdose of nostalgia that makes you better appreciate that you eventually grew up – if you did. B

New in Home Entertainment – February 7, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

February 7, 2016

Loving
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
In writer/director Jeff Nichols’s latest drama, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga portray the real-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple in 1967 Virginia who had to fight a brave legal battle (that would end at the Supreme Court) just to stay married. Nichols’s gentle take on the subjects is masterful as are the inspiring performances by Negga (Oscar and Golden Globe nominated) and Edgerton (Golden Globe nominated). I was surprised, not at the outcome of the story, but by the fact that it wasn’t a tear jerker but rather just a touching film about love as presented by a couple with the most ironic of last names. Much like the film Hidden Figures, this period pic is both historical and relevant in that while it seems that we have progressed quite a bit, we still have a long, long way to go. A-
Trolls
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
I was certain going in that the very thought of a movie that gives a story to the famous and rather nostalgic dolls would have me cringing in my seat. I’m happy to say that the folks at Dreamworks Animation did an impressive job of creating a fascinating universe for the creatures to live in and the animation, when looked at with a high-res picture is absolutely mesmerizing. And then to add Justin Timberlake as the main character with his already top hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” leading the way? Well that was just smart. There’s nothing here that will blow you away, but the creativity on display is easy to appreciate and even easier to enjoy. B

Desierto
Rated R for strong violence and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%
In this thriller from “Gravity” co-writer Jonás Cuarón, a group of Latinos, including Gael García Bernal, run into a sharp-shooting vigilante (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a role similar to his portrayal of Negan on The Walking Dead) who wants to do what the Border Patrol won’t do: pick them off one by one with his rifle. While this film was in production long before talk of a wall became part of the American political campaign, the movie’s release now is timely, although rather sensationalized. There have been many instances of vigilante killings along the border but the violence and scares here make the movie appear more like a snuff film, or at the very least a monster movie, rather than a political statement. Still, the subject gives food for thought as it demonstrates that the people trying to find a way to make a better life for themselves are actual human beings and not an invasion of rats that need to be gotten rid of, or in this case, exterminated. B-

New in Home Entertainment – January 31, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

January 31, 2017

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%
In number two of Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the famous character from Lee Child’s best-selling book series, Reacher finds himself being hunted by the military while simultaneously investigating a young girl who might be his daughter. While I hated the first Reacher film, I found this one pardonable, mostly due to the far superior pacing, no doubt provided by director Edward Zwick (Glory). Unfortunately, the screenplay is a mess with a plot that feels like it wants you not to try to figure it out so that you won’t recognize its obvious problems. Full disclosure – I still have an issue with Cruise’s notorious real life which I have to admit gets in the way of my full enjoyment, although I really do try to keep this fair. C+

Mastermind
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 32%
Zach Galifianakis once again plays your average boring guy, who upon falling for a crazy co-worker played by Kristen Wiig, is talked into committing a heist. Director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) does have a unique style, but the story never seems to take off, mostly because it feels like a big pile of been-there-done-that with great comedic actors playing one-dimensional caricatures that aren’t as funny as the writers think they are. This movie was supposed to be released a year before it was and the final product shows why the studio heads tried to find the perfect time to dump it. C-

New in Home Entertainment – January 24, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

January 24, 2017

The Handmaiden
NR (But most likely would have been NC-17 if rated)
Language: Korean with English Subtitles
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Park Chan-wook, the brilliant South Korean director behind Thirst and Stoker, gives us this sexy new crime drama set in Korea under Japanese colonial rule. The story follows a conniving “count” who wants to marry a rich young girl only to have her committed so he can steal her inheritance. To help him with his plan, he hires a fellow con artist to become her handmaiden for some inside assistance. For much of the first act, I began to wonder if Chan-wook has gone Merchant Ivory on us; but alas, once the story gets going, it evolves into one of his most ferociously twisted tales yet, full of multiple unexpected turns, savage violence and extremely graphic sex. That being said, if you are even slightly turned off by the last sentence, you need to leave this one alone. Then again, if you are a Chan-wook fan already or just love great movies of any kind regardless of subject, you might just come to love this one. A-

The Monster
Rated R for language and some violence/terror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) is a divorced mother who makes a late night trek to drive her young daughter to live with her father when their car crashes and they are stranded on a desolate highway with a creature that won’t let them escape. While it looks on the outside like an outright monster movie, the film plays surprisingly like an R Rated version of the similarly titled “A Monster Calls,” where the monster may or may not be real, but the pain and coping mechanism very much are. In this case, the mother struggles with alcoholism, which has greatly impacted her daughter. In spite of reasonably good reviews, the film is basically straight to home entertainment, probably because it is too smart for the genre it is pretending to be in. While there is plenty of gore and some decent scares, the film makes you question everything you’ve see – after you see it. B

New in Home Entertainment – January 17, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

January 17, 2016

The Girl on the Train
Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 43%
Based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins, this thriller hit theaters full-steam with great anticipation only to be met with a head-on collision by a disappointing box office. The story follows Emily Blunt as a young woman whose commute has her fixated on the life of a beautiful girl in a neighborhood she passes every day. Of course there is a lot of darkness in her own past that intertwines when she blacks out one night. The film has potential to be a fairly decent mystery but with the script written for the sake of the twist, the story feels mundane rather than innovative. It tries so hard to be Gone Girl but when the fuse burns up, we end up with a dud rather than fireworks. Sorry – I didn’t want to rack my brain for another more fitting train metaphor. C-

Keeping Up with the Joneses
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 19%
Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher are your average boring couple who are thrust into international espionage when spies Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot move into the house next door. I’m not sure if there is potential for success anywhere near this project, but its execution failed miserably as the movie lacks the comedy and adventure it promises. I love the casting of the four leads, but the missing elements (including script, directing and chemistry) bring the film to Razzie depths. D

Zero Days
Rated PG-13 for some strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
If you want an in-depth, and I mean really in-depth, look at cyber warfare, check out this newest doc from Alex Gibney, the Academy Award winning filmmaker behind Taxi to the Dark Side and Going Clear. In this rather frightening film, Gibney shows his prediction of how the next World War will be fought with the real-life examples of the US and Israel meddling with the Iranian nuclear program as well as a whistle-blower describing the devastating effects cyber attacks can (and very well could) possess in the future. If you think this type of warfare ends with hacking an election, this film will give you a sobering look at the reality we don’t really understand yet. A-