The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchinson, Liam Hemsworth and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material

     It has finally come to the end. In this last chapter of the highly anticipated Hunger Games franchise, Katniss and her two boyfriends, Peeta and Gale, set off to do battle in the capital with the hope of killing off President Snow once and for all.

     The great thing about this Hunger Games finale is that the franchise started out strong and each one of these films has been consistent since. This film is no different. It is a loyal telling of the book’s story and while the movies have gotten progressively darker (hard to believe if you haven’t read the books), they have not deviated from their source material in any major way.

     In other words – you won’t be surprised – and that’s a good thing. Since a vast majority of the audience has read through the novels at least once, almost everyone will get exactly what they expect out of this finish. This sounds elementary, but so many recent franchises haven’t accomplished this. Twilight, Maze Runner and The Divergent Series have managed some extreme let downs due to filmmakers’ inability to represent the various authors’ visions on screen. The fact that The Hunger Games has carried out this feat in spectacular fashion is a huge accomplishment and one that will be heralded for decades to come.

     So is the film perfect? Hardly. I’m still not convinced that we needed a two-part finale. While the actions taken by the cast are in the book, much of it is unnecessary for the telling of the overall story and I bet a talented screenwriter could have put this thing in at one film with less than a three hour running time. That being said, the studio wants to make money and this formula has been working for Hollywood so I get why they do it.

     At least the filmmakers didn’t sleep walk through it. It appears that they made every attempt to give us our money’s worth. If they are going to try to take some extra hard-earned dollars, its nice that they at least want to have you enjoying yourself while you cough them up. Overall, I feel that my time spent with these films has been well-rewarded. A-

New in Home Entertainment – November 24, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

November 24, 2015

Shaun the Sheep
Rated PG for rude humor
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
From the creators of Wallace & Gromit comes this fantastic little stop-motion animated film about a family of sheep who inadvertently give their owner amnesia while trying to take a day off, and then go on an adventure to recover him. Told without spoken dialog, the film is a creative and fun story with great imagination and big belly laughs. While technically a flop (the film only made 19 of its 64 million dollars in the U.S.), it was a critical smash, garnering a 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Whether or not you have kids, you owe it to yourself to check this one out as it will bring a huge smile to your face and give you a great film to suggest to your friends who I can almost guarantee haven’t seen it yet. A-

Ricki and the Flash
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Everything about this film says it should have been a hit. The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme was at the helm and Juno writer Diablo Cody wrote the script. The greatest actor of our time, Meryl Streep, was the star. The film even had my favorite rock star, Rick Springfield, in a large starring role. But this film about an aged rocker wannabe who tries to rekindle her relationship with her family falls very flat. The movie has its moments but so much of it seems inauthentic that it becomes a hard pill to swallow. C

American Ultra
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, drug use and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
American Ultra asks the question “what if Jason Bourne was stoner?” It’s a question that only a stoner would ask, but enough talented people put their time and money into it to really come up with a solid answer. In this case Jesse Eisenberg is just a loser pothead who suddenly realizes that he is a butt-whooping secret agent capable of taking on whatever the US government can throw at him. Along with his girlfriend, Kristen Stewart, the two try to stay alive long enough to figure out what is going on. Eisenberg and Stewart are actually somewhat likable heroes here and some of the film is fun to watch. The plot is ridiculous and contrived, but the acton is extreme and the violence has a twisted sense of humor to it that makes it less real and less offensive. Still, the film has a very limited audience and it justifiably flopped at the box office. C+

New in Home Entertainment – November 10, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

November 10, 2015

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
From The 40 Year Old Virgin director Judd Apatow comes this shock comedy about a selfish single journalist (Amy Schumer) who knows love is in her best interest but would rather live her life without romantic commitment. Written by Schumer, the film is as dirty as her standup comedy and television show, but deep within there is a heart, if not misplaced. The result of bringing Judd and Amy together is an absolutely hilarious two hours that will have you cringing at some moments and tearing up at others. B+

Terminator Genisys
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in yet another Terminator film where resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends back his father Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to protect his mother (Emilia Clarke), who is already being protected by an older version of the Terminator robot played by Schwarzenegger. Of course things don’t go as planned and a ridiculous plot unfolds leaving you scratching your head for two hours. To make matters worse, the actors, who are all mostly very solid, give horrendous and unbelievable performances that I can only blame on the lousy script and direction by folks without the pedigree to handle a big franchise film such as this. And to make matters worse, the special effects, for which this franchise is probably most famous, are a step down from what we’ve seen in previous installments. D

New in Home Entertainment – November 3, 2015

inside out

New in Home Entertainment

November 3, 2015

Inside Out
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Pixar has always had a talent for taking stories that don’t sound very interesting and turning them into thrilling pieces of animated art. For example Up followed an elderly man obsessed with balloons and Ratatouille tells the tale of rat who dreams of cooking. In this case, Inside Out shows us the inner emotions of a pre-teen girl as she moves with her family from the midwest to San Francisco. She’s up, she’s down and then when a chemical imbalance occurs she is at risk of forever entering a dark world with no joy. Speaking of joy, Joy is her personified happiness who scrambles in her brain to try to fix the problem and get her girl back on track. It’s a brilliant, lovely film, full of intelligence and creativity. After a string of critical misses from Pixar, it’s nice to see that their brain trust isn’t dead, but rather very much still alive and kicking. A

The End of the Tour
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
From The Spectacular Now director James Ponsoldt comes this based on a true story about the five day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) which took place after the release of his novel Infinite Jest. Because of the very nature of the film (it’s an extremely dialog-heavy pic with a very heavy undertone) it is somewhat of a hard sell, but this really is a great little indie worth checking out if not for the subject then for the terrific performances by Segel and Eisenberg. A-

Seymour: an introduction
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Available on DVD
In his first attempt at a feature narrative, famed actor Ethan Hawke shows us the life of virtuoso pianist Seymour Bernstein and his impact on the people in his life. The beautiful thing about this doc, besides the music, is the way Hawke has allowed us into the world of Seymour. It’s like we ourselves get the chance to sit down over coffee and absorb an ounce or two of the man’s greatness. It’s inspiring and motivating to say the least. At times it will absolutely bring a tear to your eye. A

I Love Lucy: The Complete Series
Available on DVD
I just couldn’t find anything bad to review this week and to close out there’s I Love Lucy on 33 DVDs. It’s one of the most important television shows of all time and still hilarious 64 years later. This new set from Paramount contains all six season of I Love Lucy (1951-1957) plus three season of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-1960). It will take you weeks or more to get through but could be the perfect Christmas present for the right fan. A

New in Home Entertainment – October 27, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

October 27, 2015

Rated R for language throughout, and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Training Day director Antoine Fuqua gives us his take on a boxing movie with this drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a champion heavyweight who faces an unimaginable tragedy which takes him from being on top to spiraling down to the very bottom. While boxing movies are very formulaic, and this one is no different, Southpaw beats the audience up with darkness, bringing you down to the depths felt by its hero. It’s a tough and challenging film to watch but the performances by Gyllenhaal and Forrest Whitaker, elevate the film to a perch where you can at least breath while you’re waiting for something positive to happen. Some of the film isn’t the most authentic, such as the time it takes for both his world to fall apart and the climb back, but this is a very solid movie for the subgenre and very much worth the journey. One final note, pun lovingly intended, this is one of the last scores by Oscar-winning composer James Horner who died in a recent plane crash. It’s a really great piece of music that adds a huge amount of emotional depth to the picture. B+

Rated PG for action violence, peril, brief language and some thematic elements
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Growing up I had an overabundance of dog adventures to keep me busy, such as those from Lassie, Benji, and even Rin Tin Tin, but it seems like its been decades since we’ve had a good one hit theaters. With Max we get a German Shepherd whose master is killed in a skirmish in the Middle East and then sent to live with his master’s brother back stateside. While there, a dangerous adventure unfolds putting everyone’s life at risk. I actually expected more of a kid film here, considering its rating and trailer, but I would suggest not letting young kids see it as it takes a violent turn towards the end that was completely unexpected. That being said, that turn creates a different kind of film that I actually found enjoyable. While Hollywood veterans Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church play the adult leads (not that great I might add), its the dog, named Carlos in real life, who steals the show. I was amazed and inspired as they turned Max into an action hero. B

Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Adam Sandler is back at his dumb-movie best as a former child video game champion who must save the planet when aliens attack the Earth in the form of 80’s video games like Galaga, Centipede and Pac-Man. If the premise isn’t bad enough, the lack of laughter pushes this one over the edge. I think the filmmakers, led by Harry Potter director Chris Columbus, thought that several big-budget set pieces connected by whatever plot they could dig up would be enough. But its not and the film ultimately stagnates with mediocrity. D

Mulholland Drive: Criterion Edition
Rated R for violence, language and some strong sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
It makes sense that Criterion would take on this 2001 thriller by David Lynch about a women with amnesia (Laura Harring) who befriends a young actress (Naomi Watts) staying in her aunt’s home in beautiful but gritty Los Angeles. While the film has its dramatic and engaging moments, it leaves you with a sense of oddity that is rather difficult to piece together. This Criterion collection has new special features that try to help you have a better understanding of what you are watching, but I’m not sure if it is worth your time. C

New in Home Entertainment – October 20, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

October 20, 2015

Jurassic World
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Likely to hod the 2015 box office record until Hunger Games and Star Wars come down the track, Jurassic World was the surprise box office smash of the summer and a very pleasant diversion from some other deeply disappointing tentpoles. Taking place years after the disasters of the first three films, the park Jurassic World is now open to the public and entertaining millions of visitors per year. Since people have become somewhat bored with it though, the scientists at the park create a new dinosaur named Indominus Rex who unleashes chaos and havoc throughout the island when it escapes from its compound. While much of the plot is ridiculous and counterintuitive, the film itself just plods along knowing the audience won’t care and will have a blast by the end. It helps having a lead like Chris Pratt who I will credit almost 100% of the film’s success to. He is a dynamic and likable hero who has the potential to be one of the biggest stars of his generation. But credit must also go to the phenomenal creative team who put together a two-hour roller coaster ride that you want to get back onto the second you get off. B+

Rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence – all involving teens
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This Sundance favorite tells the story of young black nerd named Malcolm who dreams of going to Harvard but must face the reality of growing up in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles. When a party goes wrong, Malcolm discovers a large amount of drugs in his backpack and he and his friends must decide what to do to not end up dead or worse, in jail. While the plot sounds like an extreme drama, it is actually an absolutely hysterical comedy unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It tears apart stereotypes while at the same time giving them credibility. It is a movie that makes you laugh, cheer, cry and think, all in the span of less than two hours. It’s the kind of film that people for years to come will be talking about with great admiration. A

Z For Zachariah
Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
After what we can assume was a devastating nuclear war, a young girl who thinks she’s all alone in the world (Margot Robbie) discovers another survivor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) near her farmhouse. As the two begin their relationship as the last couple on the planet, a strapping young survivor (Chris Pine) enters the scene to disrupt their harmonious relationship. While interesting, the film ultimately feels like it is missing something. I’m not sure how they could have improved it but the whole project seems like its waiting for something to happen that never occurs. That being said, it is well acted and believable given the circumstance. It’s just not very enjoyable. C+

Testament of Youth
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including bloody and disturbing war related images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Based on the best-selling memoir by Vera Brittain, Testament tells the tale of brilliant young women (Alicia Vikander) who is determined to get into Oxford when World War I hits and changes her entire life. I’m actually surprised this film didn’t get more attention upon release. It’s a lovely period drama with good flow and some rather great acting by a young and talented cast. It has a strong message about seeking and finding meaning in life without thumping you over the head with the message. And between Ex Machina and this, Vikander will definitely be on my short list for a best actress nom this year. A-

Billy Elliot The Musical Live
Not Rated – but would be an R due graphic language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Winner of both the Tony and Laurence Oliver for Best New Musical, Billy Elliot is a great example of taking a very good movie and turning it into a beautiful stage production. With music by Elton John, the songs and drama are stirring and intelligent and the story becomes so much more than just a boy who wants to dance. My only problem is that while I’d love to watch it with my own young son, I can’t due to the extremely harsh language throughout. While I’m sure it’s organic in nature, it’s the one reality of the show I wish they could have made a little less real. A-

New in Home Entertainment – October 13, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

October 13, 2015

Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In the hopes of giving life to a theme park attraction, Disney created the huge tentpole Tomorrowland and threw one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, George Clooney, into the mix with a story about a young girl on a mysterious journey to find the future. While full of lush and beautiful special effects, the film’s plot, or lack thereof, kills any chance of keeping its audience engaged during the adventure. It’s not horrible but it is a mess. C

San Andreas
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Dwayne Johnson stars in this new disaster pic that asks “what would a huge earthquake along the San Andreas fault would actually look like?” While visually interesting, the story is quite insane. Where most disaster films will follow many storylines, San Andreas essentially has two. The first is Paul Giamatti plays the scientist who discovers the earthquake will occur as it occurs, which makes him quite useless. And then The Rock plays a determined copter pilot who attempts to fly from L.A. to San Francisco to rescue his daughter, who he assumes will be the only human to escape the disaster. So if you are going to watch, turn off your brain, multitask with a game on your iPhone, and you might be able to pull off a little enjoyment. C-

Mad Men: The Final Season, Part 2
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Rather than letting Mad Men ride into the 1970s and beyond, AMC decided to do a very brave thing with one of America’s most loved shows: kill it before it dies. The last season doesn’t tie up all of the loose ends but it does give us a reprieve from watching Don Draper (Jon Hamm) crash and burn, and you get to leave knowing that almost everyone will be just fine without you watching. When you compare the last episode to that of AMC’s other hit drama which recently ended, Breaking Bad, it is clear to see that the network has put an emphasis on going out on a true high note. A

Dexter: The Complete Series
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Dexter is just your mild-mannered forensic expert for the Miami police department by day who by night transforms into a serial killer who only kills the bad guys who escape justice. While the show started out great, it unfortunately lasted two seasons too long. That being said, the first six seasons here are really worth watching and believe me – they are easy to burn through. B

New in Home Entertainment – October 6, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

October 6, 2015

Insidious Chapter 3
Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
There have been so many of these types of movies lately that I’ve completely lost track of which is which. I remember kind of liking Insidious 1 and hating number 2, but darned if I can remember any sort of plot. The good news is that this newest chapter is a prequel and apparently has little to do with the first two chapters. The story revolves around a young girl who, in an attempt to track down her dead mother in the afterlife, brings back a vengeful and rather scary spirit, leaving Elise, the psychic from the first two films, to try to save her life. While the story isn’t anything new, the scares are plentiful and not forced. This is a genuinely creepy movie with many hair-raising moments throughout. And while I usually make the claim that PG-13 does not a decent horror movie make, this one proves that thought somewhat wrong.  B

We Are Still Here
Not Rated – but would be very Rated R if it was
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Ahhh. October. Tons of horror films coming to home entertainment. This week I’m covering three but the choices are plentiful. We Are Still Here is a little indie horror flick from Dark Sky Films that centers on a husband and wife who move into a new home after the death of their son only to discover that there are evil spirits living in the house and a knowledgeable town who will do anything to keep the spirits appeased. Some truly terrifying moments lurk throughout the film and while the acting is pretty poor at times, the scares are first class with some incredibly well-conceived and imaginative monsters.  B+

Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Rated R for sexuality and horror violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This doesn’t feel like classic material yet, but believe it or not, it’s been 23 years since Francis Ford Coppola’s horror masterpiece hit theaters, and this newly remastered version looks and sounds even better than I remembered from a half-lifetime ago. This lushly produced retelling of the famous novel about the first vampire is expertly crafted and the talented cast provide for a wonderful fright night experience. This film really set the stage for all modern monster movies that have followed.  A-

Road Hard
Not Rated but again would be very Rated R if it was
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Looking for something other than horror this week? Check out Adam Carolla who stars as a version of himself, trying to eke out a living on the road as a stand-up comedian while desperately attempting to get back into the world of television. While the first half feels almost too personal, the second half turns rather sweet as Carolla’s character puts his life into perspective. Luckily the whole film is filled with some great little stories that I’m sure were inspired by real life scenarios.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – September 29, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

September 29, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and some suggestive comments
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
This second Avengers movie finds the group at war with an artificial intelligence robot named Ultron, built by Tony Stark/Iron (Robert Downey, Jr.), who, instead of protecting the world decides to destroy it instead. While very fun at times, it also becomes trying at others as the story becomes increasingly more preposterous. And while I can definitely appreciate the aggressive ambition of tying together an entire universe of movies, I have found myself forgetting past plotlines that I am certain will be important to remember once this whole cosmos gets pulled together in the next Avengers film. That being said, there is no doubt that this is an entertaining enough picture that will keep your teenagers (and younger) out of your hair for more than two hours at a time while they study it instead of their schoolwork. B

Rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content, nudity and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Vinnie Chase and his band of brothers leave the small screen for the big in this single entity adventure that takes place not too long after the last episode of their last season of the hit HBO television show. In this storyline, Vinnie gets the chance to direct and star in a new film while Ari is forced to defend his choice of allowing it to happen. The whole thing feels like a condensed version of one of their seasons, which is better than stretching the whole thing out over 3 months. The story isn’t horrible, but the acting isn’t great by any member of the cast and the cameos only make it worse. While I used to enjoy peeping in on their bad behavior, I wish now that they would just grow up. C

Cop Car
Rated R for language, violence and brief drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Kevin Bacon stars in this indie thriller about a small town sheriff whose cop car is stolen by a couple of pre-teen runaways. Of course the sheriff is up to no good when the car is stolen, and the events that transpire, while simply plotted, are hard to take your eyes off of. This is a well-crafted little film with a lead actor that gives it credibility. And while its hard to like any of the characters, including the kids, you still can’t wait to see what happens to them. B

The Bear: 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Rated PG for violence
Available on Blu-ray
With the help of computer animation, this film would be fairly easy to make now, but twenty five years ago that wasn’t the case. Following the life of a young bear and a wounded Kodiak who are being hunted by humans, the movie uses amazing wildlife footage to tell a story that actually makes it look like the bears are a couple of cooperative actors. While the film is essentially a nature film, it is far too dark for young children due to the extreme amount of realistic violence contained. A-

New in Home Entertainment – September 22, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

New in Home Entertainment

September 22, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2
Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In a world where A Capella singing is more important than football, the girls from Pitch Perfect are back and performing for the president. When a severe wardrobe malfunction occurs, they are banned from recruiting or competing unless they can happen to beat the Germans in a world-wide competition. What is surprising here is how awfully random the story is. The filmmakers put together some pretty impressive song arrangements and performances, but every bit of dialog in between is filled with nonsensical silliness. While I didn’t care for the first Pitch Perfect, at least it had a bit of a story. This poor excuse for a plot is insulting to the audience, even if they just want to enjoy the music. D+

Saint Laurent
Rated R for graphic nudity/strong sexual situations, substance abuse throughout and some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In French and English with English subtitles
The life of the famous French designer Yves Saint Laurent is explored in this graphic but beautifully produced biopic. After spending almost three hours watching this film, I must admit that I am not even close to being the target audience. While I’ve seen the initials YSL in high end stores, I didn’t even know what it stood for. And while I’m no longer shocked at graphic homosexual material, it isn’t something I find enjoyable to watch. On the plus side, the film gave me a better take on the man behind the label and it is a well-crafted project aesthetically, as you could imagine. But given the subject matter, it’s not something I found to be deserving of this kind of epic treatment and I was easily bored and distracted. I can see how, for the right audience, this could be an inspiring and satisfying project. C+

Rated PG for menacing fantasy action and some mild language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Twenty years have now passed since Robin Williams brought us with him into this grand adventure about a board game that brings the jungle into your living room. At the time, the graphics and special effects were mind-blowing, but twenty years later, the film does look old. That being said, the story is a blast and extremely well-crafted. There is a sense of sadness as you watch the brilliant Robin Williams doing what he did best while listening to the score by the late James Horner which was much better than a film like this usually gets. Were this the eighteenth anniversary edition instead of the twentieth, this might have been a much less sobering experience. B+