New in Home Entertainment – April 29, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

April 29, 2014

Labor Day
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Jason Reitman has brought us some big commercial and critical hits since he came on the scene with such films as Juno, Up in the Air and Young Adult, but his latest creation landed with a thud at both the box office and with reviewers. Labor Day casts Josh Brolin as an escaped convict who forces himself onto a divorced mother played by Kate Winslet, and her teenage son.  At first the relationship seems like a home invasion, but slowly the three manage to develop a symbiosis.  While not one of the best films of 2013, it certainly didn’t deserve the piling on it received by critics.  I can see why some see it as a little cheesy, but ultimately I think it comes off as a sweet little story with some terrific performances and a thought-provoking narrative.  B

New in Home Entertainment – April 22, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

April 22, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This story has been in the works for years with directors like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Gore Verbinski attached to direct icons like Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen and Mike Myers.  But finally Ben Stiller got a hold of it to both helm and star.  For all of the hoopla, the film, which follows a photography lab rat who goes on a world-wide adventure to find a missing photograph, sure plays poorly.  It’s a beautifully produced picture that looks epic from the trailers but ends up being much smaller than it should be.  While Stiller is a good fit for the role of Mitty, many of the actors seem miscast.  The typically great Adam Scott is just annoying as the unbelievable bully and I sensed zero chemistry between Stiller and Kristen Wiig.  While Stiller is typically a great comedy director, this film doesn’t give a sense of that.  It is poorly paced throughout and brushes over some huge plot holes.  Sure it’s a fantasy, but it lacks the necessary authenticity needed to hold it together.  C

Earth Day Movies: Tapped and Greedy Lying Bastards
Available on DVD

You don’t have to be a hippie to appreciate the planet we live on and want to do what is possible to take care of it.  On Memorial Day weekend I love to watch old war movies.  In December I love to watch Christmas films.  And in late April I love to take in documentaries about what kind of damage we are doing to the planet.  This Earth Day I’d like to encourage you to check out a couple that have impressed me.  Tapped tells the story of big corporate water companies and what they are really up to.  It is shocking to think about the fact that bottled water costs more than oil in this country.  It is a challenging film that will make you think twice about how you are getting your fluids.  Even more frightening and angering is Greedy Lying Bastards which shows the length that corporations will go to cover up and make the public doubt the real causes of global warming.  While the narration by the director sounds a bit too much like Mr. Garrison from South Park, the message is clear and unfortunately very frustrating.  Tapped A-;  Greedy Lying Bastards B

Mr Magoo: The Theatrical Collection 1949-1959
Available on DVD

The Mr. Magoo I remember watching as a kid was a funny bumbling old man, but I kind of thought that the show would be a little stale by today’s standards.  These shorts that were made exclusively for movie theaters prove this theory false as the cartoons now could be considered extremely insensitive and remarkably funny.  It’s a show that could not be made today the way it was then.  This new DVD set from Shout Factory presents all 53 theatrical cartoons much of them in in their original Cinemascope aspect ratio, plus the feature film 1001 Arabian Nights.  While it will be a nice piece of nostalgia and humor for older audiences, due to its nature, it’s probably not the best cartoon to demonstrate to your kids what your childhood was like.  B+

Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real
Starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly and Thomas Hayden Church
Directed by Randall Wallace (Secretariat)
Rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations

    This is not going to be your normal film review.  I think it is expected for most film critics to slam a Christian film, regardless of being an independent or studio pic.  But most are doing it from an atheistic or agnostic point of view.  What you are about to read is from a Christian point of view.  Before I start, I have to admit that I loved the book this movie is based on.  Todd Burpo’s account of his son’s apparent journey to Heaven is a wonderful, awe-inspiring tale that had me excited and thrilled through every page.  Unfortunately this movie did the book a great disservice. 

    Opening up with a little girl from Eastern Europe painting what will eventually be a very controversial and chilling portrait of Jesus, the film starts out the right way.  While this version of Burpo’s story isn’t exactly true to the book, the differences are at first acceptable.  After the first sermon Burpo preaches in his church, however, I thought it unusual that he didn’t really discuss God or Jesus or anything very Christian.  But then I thought “hey – it’s coming.”  After all, it’s a book about Jesus.  How can he not get there?

    I do not mean for this to be a spoiler, but I think everyone knows that the book is about Burpo’s son Colton and what happened after he almost died and came back from the operating room telling stories of his time spent in Heaven.  But here the almost-tragedy of the novel was not close to being apparent.  In the book, Colton was mis-diagnosed and it wasn’t until his father illegally took his son from a poorly-run hospital to a children’s hospital in a nearby large city that you find out his life really was in danger and that he almost died.  Here, though, Colton gets a fever and he is quickly diagnosed with appendicitis and operated on.  This is too common and you really don’t get the sense of danger aside from the father getting angry at God and the town praying.  If I hadn’t read the book I would have thought that these people are really overreacting.  What a bad choice the filmmakers made here as this was some riveting drama grossly overlooked or ignored. 

    I will say that Colton’s stories are visually told well and do send some nice shivers, but then the damage comes.  While there is a lot of talk of God, the Christian message is completely brushed over.  A big example of this is when Todd is talking to a lady in the church and explaining that her son, who died overseas in the military, is in Heaven.  The rationale that he proposes is that “if God loves my son, don’t you think he loves your son too?”  Paraphrased of course.  This is extremely contrary to Christian teachings, no matter what denomination you belong to.  The message I got from this film is that God loves us all and that we will all will go to Heaven, regardless of anything.  At least they got the first part right.  I believe this to be a dangerous viewpoint and completely contrary to any teachings Christ or of any Christian church out there.  And to make matters worse, none of the preceding sermons discuss how to get to Heaven or who Jesus is, just that we will all get to meet him someday.  It just amazes me that a Christian film would try so hard not be Christian.  In a film like this I would think that most people would expect a strong message and a little preaching.   

    So you might say that this is not really a critical review in the sense of is the reviewer discussing if this is a well-made film or not.  To sum up the basics, the acting is phoned in by all of the talented cast and you get the sense that no one involved really took the time to get to know their characters or the world they live in.  While the production values are fine, the directing and screenwriting feel like folks who needed a job rather than individuals with a vision.  I would also counter that for a film to be good it must have integrity and be brave enough to stand by its convictions and be true to the actual story.  If it were a Muslim film or a Jewish film or a Buddhist film I would hold it to those same standards.  While watching, I couldn’t help but think of the studio execs in the background whispering in the filmmakers ears “does it have to be so religious?  Can you make it any less… Christian?”  Had they done what they should have and ignored these voices, the film might have been a head-turning powerhouse that could have made a difference.  Instead we get this rather cowardly adaptation of a story that has changed people’s lives throughout the world.  F

New in Home Entertainment – April 15, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

April 15, 2014

The Nut Job
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

The last several months have been filled with some very quality animated features such as Frozen, The Lego Movie and Mr. Peabody and Sherman but there have also been a lot of really terrible movies like this stinker from Universal about a group of city park animals who attempt to rob a nut store in order to feed themselves.  They got together some big names like Will Arnett, Brendan Frasier, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl, but the story is weak and the animation is embarrassingly bad given today’s accepted level of artistry.  This is the work of a group of studio hacks who are trying to capitalize on a lack of family entertainment and hoping that their pic can sneak in and sneak out of theaters in time to make a little money.  D

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This 5th chapter in the Pararnormal Activity franchise follows the “found footage” concept like the previous ones but this time a new set of characters in a Latino neighborhood in Southern California communicate with the demon from the other films and a new set of scary troubles ensue.  I’ll admit that I was scared senseless by the first two films in the franchise.  Even to this day the hair stands up on the back of my neck just thinking about them.  But with the last few additions my neck hair has remained dormant.  This newest pic has some good ideas and is a nice new direction, but the scares are few and it fails to deliver a good punch to the gut.  C+

The 400 Blows: The Criterion Edition

Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo
French with English Subtitles

It’s hard to describe what makes Francois Truffaut’s first full-length feature film such a classic but simply put it is an exhilarating ride that is hard to take your eyes off of.  An early example of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows is a semi-biographical look at the director’s young life, telling the tale of a young pre-teen who just can’t seem to make home-life or school-life work for him but all the while has wonderful adventures playing hooky through the streets of Paris.  After watching this marvelous 1959 classic, you must take in the fantastic audio commentary featuring cinema professor Brian Stonehill as he discusses the real life events that formed this fictional work.  A

New in Home Entertainment – April 8, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

April 8, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Part two of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit saga follows Bilbo Baggins and his cohort of dwarves as they journey to the Lonely Mountain where they must face the dragon Smaug.  As with the first film, this is a solid piece of fantasy film-making, but so overly long.  Artistically it is an amazing achievement with beautiful cinematography, amazing special effects, good acting, and another terrific score by Howard Shore.  But at 161 minutes in length, by the end of this second movie you are five and a half hours in and there is still one more part to go.  To label as excessive is an understatement.  With The Lord of the Rings, time was respectable as there was a lot of story to tell.  But to give the same amount of time to what is essentially one short novel is fun in moments, but very boring at others.  I know he’s including additional story not found in the book The Hobbit in order to create a closer tie to The Lord of the Rings, but this is too much.  And that’s coming from a huge fan.  Still, I will line up to see number three, just like the rest of the world, and sit down and take my medicine.  And like it.   B

August: Osage County
Rated R for language including sexual references and for drug material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It is hard for a play to translate well to the screen, even when you pop out the best actors in America like Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and many, many others.  The proof of this is this Tony award winning play by Tracy Letts about a highly dysfunctional family that have all come back home to rural Oklahoma after a crisis.  On stage the story is a somewhat sad, but hysterical look at a family that you are more than thankful isn’t yours.  But on screen you get a bunch of legendary actors fighting it out with great performances that fall flat.  Perhaps if we didn’t recognize everyone so well the film could have been just as enjoyable as the stage production, but that connection I wanted to feel again just wasn’t there.  My advice is to skip the movie and catch the play as it is sure to make its rounds over and over again in both big and small play houses for years to come.  C+

King Kong vs. Godzilla
Available on Blu-ray

Making its blu-ray debut is this classic monster movie from 1962 which has the great King Kong facing the horrible Godzilla in a legendary brawl.  Okay, its not legendary, but it is fun to watch two dudes in really bad creature suits going at it over a cheaply built set.  Honestly, the movie works like a comedy better than it does a monster movie.  My family and I had a blast watching the silly battle and the irregular and awkward story.  This definitely falls into the “so bad its almost good” category.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – April 1, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

April 1, 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
3 Versions:  PG-13, R and Unrated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The iconic Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is back as he and his cohorts (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner) try to take over the brand new 24 cable news phenomenon by reporting fluff rather than real news in order to get ratings.  While the jokes aren’t as fresh or funny in this new installment, there is an excellent social commentary to be found here.  Until three weeks ago, I actually defended CNN but with the recent plane coverage, CNN scarily resembles what we see in this movie trying to make fun of it.  My biggest problem with the film is how many old jokes it clings to such as the anchor gang fight and the sequence where Burgundy goes blind which too closely resembles a similar sequence in Talladega Nights.  Its safe to say that I did laugh and I did think, but I didn’t do too much of either.  While I didn’t care for the movie as much as I wanted to, I must admit that the Ron Burgundy-themed Ben & Jerry’s Scotchy Scotch Scotch ice cream was a joy to eat while taking in the mindless entertainment.  C+

Delivery Man
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, some drug material, brief violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This remake of the French-Canadian comedy Starbuck about a man whose sperm bank efforts fathered 533 children is basically the same movie, written and directed by the same writer/director.  While the foreign import did pretty well in the U.S., we all know that when it comes to movies, most Americans don’t read, so I guess its inevitable that a remake should come along.  In this case Vince Vaughn is the aloof meat delivery man whose hundreds of children all are suing to discover the identity of their father, and he does an admirable job with the material given him.  Unfortunately, just as in its predecessor, the movie is all heart and no brain.  Like a Hallmark commercial, the movie is meant to make you ahhhh and shed a few tears, but when you start to think about it, there’s not much about the movie that isn’t just plain stupid and disingenuous.  C-

The Pirate Fairy
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

From the world of Tinkerbell and Peter Pan comes this new straight-to-DVD Disney adventure about an outcast fairy who becomes a swashbuckling pirate.  While not nearly the quality of its recent films such as Frozen, Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, it is a far better picture than some of the other recent trash being slung at kids of late such as Planes, Turbo and Free Bird.  At least the story is polished and the animation is gorgeous.  And there even happens to be a very singable pirate song included in the mix.  B