The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies



The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage
Directed by Peter Jackson
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

     I’ve read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, maybe not as many times as some, but enough to know that the story is about a group of dwarves, along with a wizard and a hobbit, who try to take back a mountain full of gold from the Dragon known as Smaug. But a huge battle? Well, in the book there is only a glimpse of it, so for me, after the removal of Smaug, this storyline didn’t seem like a necessary diversion and central focus for an entire film. And yet it fits.

     In this last chapter, after Smaug is defeated, King Thorin’s heart becomes possessed by the riches of the mountain. When the elves and men come to claim their rightful portion of the treasure, Thorin refuses to share and a large battle seems eminent when suddenly a vast orc army enters to complicate the situation. It’s a grand war full of unexpected outcomes.

     This is where a trust in Peter Jackson needs to be placed. He and his team felt that the story just wasn’t complete leaving it as is and so a huge embellishment was needed, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad he was in charge. This is not at all like The Hunger Games or Twilight where two films were made instead of one as a pure money grab. Here, this story felt like it needed to be told and like the overall film wouldn’t have been served correctly without it.

     Production-wise, this film is, as expected, first class. It appears that no expense was spared to make everything look and sound perfect. The special effects, while not as showy as in the second installment, were flawless and exhilarating. The acting was superb by the entire cast, making the entire world seem alive. And once again, Howard Shore created a new and innovative score that doesn’t just remind us of old themes, but rather livens up the movie with fresh and beautiful music.

     As an aside, while I was never bothered by the tremendous lengths of the Lord of the Rings and other Hobbit films, it will be comforting to some that this newest installment is the shortest Middle Earth film yet clocking in at only 144 well-paced minutes.

     I guess what I’m most enthused about with this final Hobbit film is that beforehand I wasn’t excited to watch it but afterward I was extremely excited to talk about it. I love a good surprise and this film made me remember why I love Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth so dearly. It is a masterful creation and a terrific way to close out what I think will be considered to be one of the most underrated and under-appreciated sagas in cinematic history. A

New in Home Entertainment – December 16, 2014

The Skeleton Twins


New in Home Entertainment


December 16, 2014


The Skeleton Twins
Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star in this dark comedy about estranged twins whose lives are brought back together after a suicide attempt. While the drama is well crafted and the actors are more than capable, the film unfortunately is so full of poison that it is not an entertaining watch. It’s hard to go for a movie like this when you just can’t like any of the characters, even if you love the actors who play them. C+

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
In an attempt to make a better-looking CG-driven Ninja Turtles movie, Battle Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebsman and producer Michael Bay deliver this pseudo-genesis story about the vigilante mutants and their fight against the evil Shredder. I can admit that the look of the film is a nice touch and at about 100 minutes, its a fast-paced mindless action flick that doesn’t have you constantly looking at your watch. For adults, the film is a bit of a letdown and honestly a waste of time. Children though will enjoy it and even though it is PG-13, it is still pretty kid-friendly. C+

This is Where I Leave You
Rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This is Where I Leave You is yet another dark comedy starring a bunch of folks we love. In this case, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and a largely talented ensemble head home after the passing of their father, only to be forced to live under one roof and suffer each others’ company for a few days. While there are some somewhat funny moments, most of the film is just a drag to watch. The script is well-acted, but not well-written and the attempt to recreate a familial Big Chill fizzles quickly. C

New in Home Entertainment – December 9, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


December 9, 2014


Guardians of the Galaxy
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
This summer was a bit of a disappointment until this unexpected gem of a sci-fi/superhero film popped out its head. Taken from the pages of a relatively little-known Marvel comic, Guardians tells the genesis story of how a rag-tag group of galactic misfits join together to, well, guard the galaxy. Chris Pratt plays the leader of the gang Peter Quill, who wishes to be known as Starlord, and together with a green princess named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), muscle-bound brute Drax (Dave Bautista), a talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and a walking tree (Vin Diesel), surprised the planet as it has become one of the biggest moneymakers in recent years. While it is most definitely an epic science fiction film, what wins audiences over is the playfulness it exudes. While it starts out a bit on the sad side, it lets on immediately that we are here to have fun and it is truly one of the best times I have had in a theater all year. A

Dolphin Tale 2
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this second installment of the Dolphin Tale saga, Winter, the dolphin who lost her tail, has lost her tank partner due to old age and is now depressed and in need of a new pool mate. Compared to the first film, this one is far cheesier, but it still manages to throw in a decent amount of magic as well. Honestly, I’m glad they are making these films, even if the quality of the writing and acting isn’t always up to snuff. To have positive live-action family films again is a good thing to add to the mix, considering the large amount of family-unfriendly films we see too much of in theaters. This is a decent enough film to entertain adults while at the same time inspiring children. B

Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Let me tell you upfront – Frank is weird. Really weird. Frank tells the story of an eclectic alt band led by Frank (Michael Fassbender), a man who goes through life wearing a giant mask like you might see at a creepy amusement park. Told through the eyes of a new bandmate (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who quits his day job to play keyboards for the band, the story meanders through rehearsals to recordings to performances culminating in a crazy pinnacle at SXSW in Austin, TX. While it might seem like experimental filmmaking, and it kind of is, it also turns out to be a fascinating fantasy about mental illness, creativity and art. Let me reiterate, Frank is very weird, but it is definitely never boring and most thoroughly interesting. B+

The Jeffersons: The Complete Series
Available on DVD
Finally getting a nice DVD release is this classic television show that ran from 1975-1985 about a black couple who upon starting a successful business, move into a fancy white apartment in New York City. For much of white America, and I’m included in this group, this was a first exposure to modern black culture. Looking back it at now, it is relevant and still very funny. I’ll admit, I only made a small dent in the 74 hours of content on the 33 DVDs, but I am looking forward to enjoying more over the holidays. A-

New in Home Entertainment – November 25, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


November 25, 2014


The Expendables 3
Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language. Also includes unrated edition.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Sylvester Stallone’s third soiree into the 80’s action memory lane arena brings back most of the cast from the first two films and adds in Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas. You cannot argue that the casting on this thing is tremendously impressive. While the story isn’t nearly as good as the second outing, there is still a lot of fun to be had. Throwing a young and unknown team of actors into the mix might not have been the best idea (honestly – there is such thing as too much), but one of the biggest mistakes was a PG-13 rating that really feels out of place for such a project. This home release includes the “unrated” edition, but a few more F-bombs and blood splatters isn’t the remedy for what ails it. If you are in the need for a truly mindless action film with a lot of familiar faces, and you can manage to put down a couple of drinks while watching, it might be an entertaining experience for you. B-

What If
Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references throughout, partial nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Daniel and Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan star in this sweet, innocent, and unnecessary romantic comedy that plays Radcliffe as a bloke who is in love with a girl with a boyfriend and is willing to become friends with her in the hope of something more. It’s not a horrible film, but the dialog isn’t as clever as it thinks it is and the whole thing is quite boring. One of the things that probably didn’t help the project is that many of the beats felt completely contrived. I got the feeling that writer Elan Mastai found a theme and then tried so hard to revolve everything around it that he forgot to create a credible and natural story. But while the story doesn’t really work that well, I really like Radcliffe and Kazan and would love to see them in a better rom com. Both have a wonderful comic sensibility and a more than decent chemistry is seen regardless of the words coming out of their mouths. C+

New in Home Entertainment – November 18, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


November 18, 2014


22 Jump Street
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Beginning where 21 Jump Street left off, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum move onto college to solve another drug investigation. I have to admit that I loved 21 Jump Street. I found it to be fresh, wildly creative and extremely funny. That being said, I liked this adventure even more. The comedy is pretty broad here and really anyone can enjoy the hijinx, but for those that understand screenwriting and movie formulas, the film is extended to new heights. Here they essentially take the Romantic Comedy handbook and attempt to recreate the beats, all the while telling you they are doing it. Personally I found this to be both clever and intellectually stimulating, neither of which is a word I would have ever thought could describe a Jump Street film. It knows it is stupid, and revels in it. It parodies not only other buddy, college and rom com films, but finds a way to parody itself at the same time. This makes for one heck of an entertaining farce. A-

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s second outing into the Sin City universe follows heroes both old and new in violent and somewhat filthy adventures about the mythical city’s underworld. Out of place is the title character, played by Jessica Alba, who is just not sordid enough to be playing this kind of depraved character. On the other hand, Eva Green is perfection as the conniving and manipulating witch that takes on more than she can handle. I really liked the first Sin City but honestly, this one just feels like more of the same. What I did really love here was the 3D which looked amazing in the theater and pops even better at home. Visually, this movie has got it going on. C+

The Dark Half
Rated R for violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Twenty-one years ago Night of the Living Dead director George Romero took on Stephen King’s twisted book The Dark Half and it is finally making its blu-ray debut this week. Timothy Hutton is Thad Beaumont, best selling author of horror books he has written under the name George Stark. When he decides to kill off Stark as a publicity stunt, Stark literally comes to life in an attempt to take over his own fate. To this day this is still one of the scariest books I’ve ever read and although I haven’t revisited the movie since it was in theaters a half of my lifetime ago, I still find it a chillingly good time. A-

It Happened One Night: Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Only three films in history have won the top five Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay): 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, and this little gem from 1934 directed by Frank Capra starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in one of the first and still one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time. While it’s nice to have some of the new special features you would expect from a Criterion release, what matters most is the beautiful 4K digital restoration. The loving spit and polish applied here gives a magnificent version of the film like you’ve never seen it before. It almost makes it hard to believe that the movie is eighty years old. A+

New in Home Entertainment – November 11, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


November 11, 2014


Jersey Boys
Rated R for language throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Since Rob Marshall took home the Oscar for Chicago a decade ago, we’ve seen many of our favorite Broadway musicals hit the big screen. Continuing with that trend is this Tony-winning musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their rise to stardom in the ‘60s. Directed by the iconic Clint Eastwood, you would think that this was a home run waiting to happen, but unfortunately something just feels flat throughout. On stage this musical is pure dynamite, not at all similar to many of the juke box musicals we’ve seen staged recently. But that magic proves difficult to bottle here as the movie lacks energy and power and ultimately bogs down under its own weight. Perhaps Eastwood was the wrong choice for such a high profile project or maybe it is just entirely miscast, but something just doesn’t feel right when watching. C

Rated R for language including sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Melissa McCarthy headlines this wannabe comedy about a loser who goes on a road trip with her grandma, played by Susan Sarandon. Directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone, the movie sells itself as a comedy but there is little laughter to be had. The characters are so desperate and sad that the film actually comes off as more pathetic than anything. Tammy is like a SNL character that might be interesting in a five-minute sketch, but this ninety-six minute movie is a miserable experience. D

True Blood: The Complete Seventh Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
For the first five seasons of this naughty Lousiana vampire saga, I was quite taken. Then came the less than stellar season six and now the deplorable seventh and final season. Packing 4 episodes worth of material into 10 episodes was such a bad idea for HBO as each hour passed in misery. First a major character would die, then we would spend the next episode talking about it. I almost stopped watching but I wanted to see how painful it would get, and boy did it hurt. If you are new to true blood, stop with season five and you’ll be in much better shape. F

UHF: 25th Anniversary Edition
Rated PG-13
Available on Blu-ray
Now that “Weird Al” Yankovic has finally scored his first number one album, its time to celebrate his storied career as a master of parody. This movie from 1989 tells the story of a weirdly creative and lovable loser who takes over a small UHF station in town. Creating original and whacky programming, he quickly becomes a target for the big networks. While extremely dated, I still laugh at the same jokes I laughed out when I was watching back in High School. And for you Seinfeld fans out there, this film practically launched the career of Michael “Kramer” Richards who turns in an absolutely brilliant physical comedy performance here as the lovable janitor Stanley Spadowski. A-

The Bruce Lee Premiere Collection
Rated R
Available on Blu-ray
While this collection of martial arts masterpieces starring the legendary Bruce Lee is getting a blu-ray release here, there is a lot to be desired. Containing The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon and Game of Death, the set is a nice cross-section of Lee’s work, but the films are in desperate need of remastering. They don’t look much different from their DVD counterparts and the language tracks need some extreme re-working. If you’ve never seen, it might be good enough, but if you are a big fan, get ready to be disappointed. C+




Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway
Directed by Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight Trilogy)
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language

In the not too distant future, our time on Earth is coming to an end and NASA is looking for a way to to keep the human race alive as it looks for potential worlds for us to inhabit. An ex-astronaut-turned-farmer (McConaughey) is recruited to fly a mission to check for the potential of survivability on another planet.

The one thing filmmaker Christopher Nolan has always excelled in is rich, thought-provoking and ambitious storytelling. And Interstellar is one of the most ambitious films in this genre that I’ve ever experienced. At its very heart it is a warning that we are destroying our planet by providing a glimpse of a dire future. But it also serves as an adventure with many underlying themes. Its very grandiosity is the most compelling reason to see the film.

While at first the film appears to be greatly influenced by such projects as 2001, Contact and even Tree of Life, the project quickly propels itself into new territory asking huge questions about our Earth, our Universe, Love, Aliens, God and other difficult to explain conundrums. When I say ambitious, I really mean it. For a film like this to exist in a three hour form seems to be an amazing feat in itself. I’m sure the movie could have been two hours longer and most would have barely minded. It goes places and attempts to give answers to many of the things we, as humans, really want to know.

That being said, we must also recognize that while there is a lot of science here, this is a work of fiction spouting some whacky philosophies which I can’t get into without creating spoilers. I’m sure that many a fan boy will look to this film as more than theory and fantasy, but rather as fact. This could be a dangerous place to go and I’m sure debates will abound when it comes to accuracies and potential pitfalls. Since I don’t have a degree in astro physics, I’m going to assume that Nolan and his crew thoroughly researched their science and had numerous high level consultants giving them knowledge and advice, but I’ll also freely admit that that does require a huge leap of faith in a Hollywood project.

For those who don’t want to go too deep with the underlying questions, the film also works as great adventure. The performances from the talented cast are as terrific as we would expect, although many of their decisions and actions are a little too coincidental and inauthentic, I’m assuming mostly to help the pacing of the film. For example, McConaughey just happens to live close to the secret NASA base and just happens to be the ONLY person who can fly the ship. Some problems you just need to overlook. Also, what about the rest of the world? Where is the news? We don’t even get to see other cities other than the corn fields of Mid America. Many little details are left out, but I have to admit that the film doesn’t really suffer from a lack of expositional weight. A-

New in Home Entertainment – November 4, 2014


New in Home Entertainment


November 4, 2014


Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
I expected the worst when seeing this new Disney spinoff starring Angelina Jolie as the popular Sleeping Beauty villain. To me the idea felt more like a gimmick then a story I wanted to see. Once again, I love being wrong. Turning Maleficent into a hero turned out to be a fantastic idea for Disney and Jolie is perfect in the starring role. Sure the king comes off as a tad too evil and young Aurora as almost a simpleton, but the story is interesting and the special effects and overall pacing add to the enjoyment. I especially loved the lush score from James Newton Howard. B+

Planes: Fire and Rescue
Rated PG for action and some peril
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Another Disney film that I had the lowest of expectations for is the newest pic from the Planes franchise. Unfortunately, the film met them. I’ll admit that this is a better project than their initial outing, which just seemed like the same old race picture we’ve gotten too much of. But even though the setting is different and the story is somewhat novel, the jokes are still stale and the whole project seems like more of a money grab than the typical Disney storytelling we know and love. C-

Hercules: Extended Cut
Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity
Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D
This Hercules for the next generation stars Dwayne Johnson as the legendary hero who is more of a smart salesman than a supernatural demigod. Selling his services to whoever can pay for them, he and his crew must fight their way out of cruel trap. The plot is interesting at least and has its fun moments throughout. Johnson is at his charismatic best and even his henchmen (and woman) are entertaining. Unfortunately the script is weak and the dialog is laborious when it shouldn’t be. Had the adventure been better written, this could have been a much better film than what is seen here. C

A Most Wanted Man
Rated R for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In one of the final projects we’ll get to see from him, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German secret service agent who tries to thwart an attack from a potential Islamist threat that has just entered Hamburg. Based on the John Le Carre novel, the film is intricate in plot and extremely well written. It’s also incredibly relevant and even eye-opening. Hoffman’s performance is brilliant and the rest of the talented cast follow suit just fine. It never pretends to be a Bond film, but rather it’s more of a thinking man’s spy thriller. A-

The Dog
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This fantastic new documentary from Drafthouse Films follows the life of John Wojtowicz, the real-life inspiration for Al Pacino’s character in Dog Day Afternoon. When you hear the phrase “it takes all kinds” this guy now comes to mind for me. While I would never want to meet him, he certainly is an interesting and peculiar little dude who comes off here as more of a freak show than the anti-hero Pacino portrayed in the 1975 Sidney Lumet classic. And while I was deeply disturbed by most of this guy’s life, I also couldn’t stop watching it. Almost like a perverted and criminal version of Honey Boo Boo. A-

New in Home Entertainment – October 28, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


October 28, 2014


Begin Again
Rated R for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In John Carney’s American follow-up to his hit indie musical (and Oscar-winner) Once, Mark Ruffalo is a washed up record producer who discovers a potential gold mine in young folk singer Keira Knightly who just broke up with rock star boyfriend Adam Levine. Just like Once, you get a more authentic movie musical with great songs and superb acting. While the concept doesn’t feel new any longer, this is a very well done effort by all and a risky venture as well. And while I might not have been tremendously moved, I was at least well-entertained. A-

Wish I Was Here
Rated R for language and sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Zach Braff’s newest theatrical release and beneficiary of a strong Kickstarter crowd sourcing campaign stars Zach as a married father of two who can’t seem to get his acting career off of the ground. While I thought the performances were good enough and the relationships were compelling, much of the storytelling was just too whiny and frankly hard to comprehend. I was especially lost at the more expensive sci-fi dream sequences that seemed to distract from the project more than enhance. That being said, I love Zach, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad and the great soundtracks Zach puts together for his projects. B-

WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series
Available on DVD
This is one of my favorite childhood shows that you don’t really see much in syndication any more. I still have fond memories of Johnny Fever, Venus Flytrap and the gang as they weave their way through the late seventies and early eighties with a great sense of humor and an even better music selection. B+

New in Home Entertainment – October 21, 2014

mad men

New in Home Entertainment


October 21, 2014


Mad Men: The Final Season Part 1
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
I still don’t know why Mad Men doesn’t just claim that this as two separate seasons or maybe release the entire final season together rather than giving us this shortened 7 episode package, but regardless, this second to last edition of the hit AMC show hits like a whopper and is full of great surprises. As advertising moves through the progressive part of the 60’s, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his crew of marketeers throw themselves right in with it without trying to get swallowed. The old guard is dying off and the new is pushing forward. It’s a fun-filled set of episodes and every bit as good as any of the other seasons we’ve seen previously. The groovy thing is that just like the era they are living in, the show is constantly changing. A-


The Last Sentence
Available on DVD
In Swedish with English Subtitles
This 2014 black and white Swedish export tells the tale of a WWII-era Swedish journalist who takes on Hitler’s Germany in his newspaper while fighting his own demons at home. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, the movie is nice to look at and at times engaging, but it does move along much too slowly throughout. I wish the focus could have been more on Sweden’s struggle with Germany rather than on his personal issues as I feel the filmmakers selected the wrong A-story for this narrative. But for a different sort of WWII film that gives an interesting point of view, Jan Troell’s saga is an intriguing watch. B-


Available on DVD
Blissful ignorance could be a good excuse not to watch this documentary about cell phones and the radiation they omit causing cancers from head to toe (or at least waist). While its not a very well-made film (it feels like a movie made by people who don’t know how to make movies), the information is scary and potentially life changing. I say potentially, because try living without a cell phone now that you are almost physically connected to one. Are the cellular companies hiding something? Most likely. Would it change anything if exposed? Not sure. C+


La Dolce Vita: Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This nearly three hour Fellini masterpiece that follows a journalist in his fruitless quest for “the sweet life” through the streets of Rome is one of the most celebrated Italian films of all time and is getting the extreme Criterion treatment here with a new 4K restoration on blu-ray and a host of new features. It goes without saying that the film has never looked or sounded better and is an extreme pleasure for the senses. A


Universal Classic Monsters
Available on DVD
This thirty film collection comprises all of Universal’s classic monster movies from 1931-1956 in one very large box set. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man and The Phantom of the Opera are all represented here in all of their fantastic campiness. While there isn’t a lot to be scared of here, it is a fine collection of where we got our modern day monster films from and what used to scare our grandparents. I really loved that they threw in most of the Abbott and Costello monster parodies in the collection. B+


Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection
Available on Blu-ray
If the nice folks at Universal hadn’t sent me this collection already, I can tell you what would be at the top of my Christmas list this year. This collection holds 8 movies on blu-ray from the master as well as a 58-page book and tons of special features. What I like most about it is that it has such a wide range of his films including some of his earliest from before he was who he is, such as Duel, The Sugarland Express and 1941. Also included are Jaws, ET, Always, Jurassic Park (and I’ll conveniently try to forget about The Lost World. Seven of eight aren’t bad. This is a must have for those of us who idolize the director. I think its also great for any budding filmmaker to experience how the greatest got his start and what he constantly did to reinvent himself. A+