New in Home Entertainment – March 31, 2015


song of the sea

New in Home Entertainment

March 31, 2015

Song of the Sea
Rated PG
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
If you are still scratching your head at the Oscar snub for The Lego Movie and wondering what else could have been so much better than the brick hit, feast your eyes on Song of the Sea. This Irish import from Secret of the Kells director Tomm Moore tells the story of a young boy who must guide his sister on her journey to rescue a world of fairies from their stone imprisonment. Not only is the story richly told, it is stunningly beautiful to look at. Every frame is truly a work of art. Even my four-year-old was mesmerized throughout every moment of the film as both of us couldn’t take our eyes off of the screen. One word of advice before you watch – wiki the word selkie. The film is based on Irish folklore that I had not heard of before and the story makes so much more sense once you have a little background. A

Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Science Fiction has always tried to push the limits of our existence and show us a place where we could be going, but rarely do films take us on more than a roller coaster thrill ride. Not since Minority Report have I seen a more ambitious sci-fi epic that both excites and melts the mind. In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey is a former astronaut who is forced to become a farmer when the planet starts to die and farming becomes a necessity for most humans. But when a strange force leads him to a secret NASA base, he is convinced to fly another mission in the hopes of discovering a habitable planet that could save human existence. At almost 3 hours, this is one of the rare films that could be longer without many complaints from its audience. What makes this a truly special sci-fi film is that the amazing special effects only exist in order to serve the story, not distract from it. Director Christopher Nolan went out of his way to make sure the science behind the story was well-researched and yet presented in a way that most audiences could grasp, even if loosely. And while the ending still doesn’t make complete sense to me, I love that I want it to, and will keep revisiting until it does. A-
Song One
Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Anne Hathaway stars in this low-budget indie about a young woman who comes home to help out with her brother, who is in a coma after an accident, only to fall in love with the musician he was obsessed with before the coma. Just like the recent releases Rudderless and Begin Again, Song One attempts to recapture the magic from the film Once by presenting its story as a modern-day musical where song comes organically rather than the actors simply breaking into tune. It’s a sweet enough love story but the music isn’t captivating enough, leaving a rather flat feeling throughout. C+

Veep: The Complete Third Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This comedic companion to House of Cards (no they’re not related but they’re so much fun to watch in tandem) stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the disrespected Vice President of the United States as she attempts to run for President. The laughs are virtually non-stop and delivered from a superb cast of talented actors. And since the show is on HBO, it has the ability to possess a scary realism that could not be reproduced by the major networks. I cannot wait for April 12 when HBO brings us the new seasons of Game of Thrones and Veep back to back. A-

South By Southwest or… Three Days, Ten Movies and a Deep Fried Brain


South by Southwest
or… Three Days, Ten Movies and a Deep Fried Brain

     I get asked a lot about what it’s like to attend a big film festival. While there are many folks who love to attend them, most folks that would probably want to go, never brave them. One of my favorites is the infamous South by Southwest (or SXSW) that takes place in March in Austin. SXSW is really three festivals in one, with film sandwiched in between interactive and music. While music has always been the biggest and craziest part, interactive has come on strong over recent years and is now one of the largest of its kind in the world. Film, however has remained lower key – but still excellent. The festival showcases feature narratives, feature documentaries, a slew of short categories and even episodic, but I mostly love to go for the documentaries.

     You might hear horror stories of standing in long lines and still not getting into films you want to see. That can happen here. There are three ways to get into the movies shown at the festival. Buy a badge – they are expensive but you’ll have the best shot of getting into most films and you’ll even be invited to many of the big parties with free drinks and celebrities in tow. You’ll also get discounted hotels through the festival, which is a huge bonus. The next option is a wrist band, which will get you access to films after the badge folks enter. If there are seats available after the wristbands, folks can purchase a ticket for $10 per movie.

     My first film was a documentary called They Will Have to Kill Us First about musicians in Mali, Africa who were trying to bring music back to their country after Sharia Law made music illegal. While a little long-winded and in much need for some additional editing, seeing these kinds of struggles take place just to play music makes you appreciate the fact that even though a lot of our music in the U.S. is indeed bad, at least we have music.

     After grabbing a quick food truck taco, it was time to stand in line to watch a new 35mm print of Road Warrior, with director George Miller doing a Q & A. Of course everyone in the theater thought that we’d actually be seeing the new Mad Max: Fury Road instead, but it was undeniably great to see this classic on a big screen at the Paramount Theater with rabid fans and the director in attendance. And to reward the audience, Miller showed us about 20 minutes of Fury Road, which absolutely blew everyone in the audience away.

     On day two, I decided I would try to get in five films. Ambitious but doable. I started with a documentary that looks at many of the sides of the drug war in Mexico called Kingdom of Shadows. Powerful and poignant, it once again reminds you of how thankful we all should be live where we do.

     Next I wanted to see what all of the buzz was about in regard to a film called Made in Japan about a Japanese country singer named Tomi Fujiyama who dreams of returning to the Grand Ole Opry after performing there in 1964. This lovable character shines on screen and the movie became one of the highlights of the festival for me. To improve on the experience, Tomi performed for us in the theater while the credits were rolling.

     After a bowl of Kick Ass Fried Rice (that’s what it was called) from the food truck park down the street and I was ready for 7 Chinese Brothers, a narrative feature starring Jason Schwartzman as a loser who makes bad decisions in life while struggling to find himself. While the movie wasn’t as bad as its title, which had nothing to do with anything, it was one of the longest 76 minute experiences I can recall having. This was definitely my low point of the festival.

     Trying to improve upon my last film, I headed to another feature narrative after a recommendation by a well-known critic. The Frontier tells the story of a young woman on the run from the law who finds herself at a remote hotel and party to another huge crime. While a slight improvement on my last film, it still wasn’t great as the acting was iffy and the script amateurish.

     With two mediocre films in a row, I needed a whopper to finish my night. So I chose the opening film for the festival, Brand: A Second Coming, a documentary about comedian Russell Brand and how he went from a drug-addicted comedian, to a sex-addicted comedian, to a celebrity-addicted comedian to a comedian who wants to leave a positive foot print on the planet. Honestly, I expected very little, but what I got blew me away. While I still consider Brand to be quite a lunatic, I left the theater inspired by his story and impressed with him as a person. I didn’t expect that and I rather enjoyed the feeling.

     After a much needed sleep, I headed to the Austin Convention Center to take a look at the trade show and grab an SXXpress pass to get into what I thought might be a couple of crowded films later that day. The SXXpress is yet another badge perk in that it ensures you get a seat at whichever film you might be trying to attend. Upon getting to the theater for my first film of the day, Being Evel, I’m glad I had that assurance as it was mega-crowded. This documentary about the life of the famous Evil Knievel was a perfectly-made film that was as a flashy in its style as Knievel was in his stunts. As this flick was recently acquired by The History Channel, it will no doubt air on television very soon.

     After another quick taco (yes I had a lot of tacos this week), I rushed off to stand in line for one of the highest profile pictures of the festival: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. This documentary, directed by The Kid Stays in Picture filmmaker Brett Morgan, gives us a look at the haunted life of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain with never-before-seen personal videos, interviews from friends and family, as well as some amazingly orchestrated animations. Yes it was depressing and exhausting, but it was also a mind-blowing look at one of our generation’s most influential lives as well as one of its greatest tragedies.

     Now I have time for one more film. I’ve had some very good luck with documentaries thus far but not with narratives. I really wanted to see a good narrative before I left, and since they had just announced the winners of the festival, I decided to try my luck at the late screening of Krisha, the narrative that won big at the festival. Here, writer/director Trey Edward Shults, a Houston native, filmed a Thanksgiving-gone-wrong drama with his own family starring as his family. This very tough film is hilarious at times but switches to sobering quickly as you watch his aunt, played by his real aunt Krisha, spiral out of control. The film has a Werner Herzog style that overpowers its audience into submissiveness.

     After 10 films my mind was a little numb, but overall I had a wonderful time in the Texas capital. If you do plan to go in the near future, let me leave you with a few suggestions. If you can afford it, get a badge. It’s definitely worth it if you are going to be there for more than a few days. And if you buy a badge, buy it early. The price goes up as you get closer to the festival. Stay downtown if you can. Booking your hotel through the festival is less expensive and you’ll save a lot on shuttle/taxi/Uber costs. Try your hardest to avoid the venues that are out of downtown. I know there are some good films showing there, but you need to really want to see them to justify driving anywhere. I had heard complaints from everyone that the shuttle service is horrible, and Uber for me was iffy. It is so much better to walk and miss the headaches associated with using vehicles. Another thing I like to do is miss the opening weekend. Most of the big, crazy audiences leave after the first three-four days and the festival becomes much more manageable. This year the film festival started on March 13 and I drove in on the 16th. Sure I missed the premiers of the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina and the Judd Apatow comedy Trainwreck, but since those will be in normal theaters shortly, I didn’t really care that much.

New in Home Entertainment – March 24, 2015

into the woods

New in Home Entertainment

March 24, 2015

Into the Woods
Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This last Christmas, Walt Disney bravely took on Stephen Sondheim’s classic broadway musical that mixes up several fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and many others, while at the same time exploring the blessings and dangers of leaving one’s comfort zone. The impressive cast, including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp, all deliver surprisingly exceptional performances. The production itself is also a grand experience with lush visuals and an amazing score. Still, the movie could have been better. I was okay with Disney Disneyfying the movie into a PG version, but it would have been nice if they hadn’t left out my two favorite songs, Agony (Reprise) and No More. B+

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
When I first heard Peter Jackson was creating The Hobbit for the big screen, I was elated. Then came the news that it, like Lord of the Rings, would be in three parts. How? Lord of the Rings made sense – it was three books. The Hobbit is only one short novel. But he did it – and to amazing effect. What only constituted a short portion of the novel grew into this gigantic and rich story and a wonderful conclusion to the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. A

Exodus: Gods and Kings
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
Ridley Scott’s epic retelling of the story of Moses was killed by critics and lost money at the box office, but did it deserve this plague? I think hardly. Sure the screenplay was a little too creative in the retelling of the classic story (it’s a stretch to imagine God taking on the image of a child), but the movie is mostly a solid piece of entertainment. Christian Bale is fantastic as Moses and while I would have rather had a more Egyptian Ramses than Joel Edgerton, at least he is a terrific actor. My only qualm with the picture is that it bogs down in parts and could have been better paced. I just hope that the failure of this and the recent Noah at the box office doesn’t mean the temporary end of biblical epics in Hollywood. I think there are many great stories in the Good Book that could use the big budget modern Hollywood touch and I hope that there are still creative executives who still want to make them. B

Gates of Heaven/Vernon, Florida Double Feature: The Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
I find it amazing that a great documentary can be made about anything and still capture our attention. Here are two cases to prove my point. Legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris showcases two such examples in this double feature from Criterion. In Gates of Heaven, Morris looks at a community of pet owners who actually bury their pets in a real cemetery. Then in Vernon, Florida, Morris points his camera towards the strange and eccentric folks that live in this small Southern town, each one weird and yet endearing. Also included is the short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe where the famed filmmaker encourages Morris to finish Gates of Heaven with the promise that if he does, he will eat his own shoe. A-

New in Home Entertainment – March 17, 2015

Museum 3

New in Home Entertainment

March 17, 2015

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This continuation and hopeful end to the Night at the Museum franchise finds night watchmen turned event coordinator Ben Stiller heading to the British Museum in London to uncover why the tablet that brings everything in the museum to life is suddenly losing its power. Honestly, while I hated the first two films in the series, I find myself mellowing my opinion on this third one. Sure the writing suffers as much as the first, but kids seem to really enjoy it and it is a very decent source of family entertainment. I also find it interesting how many big stars pop up. Coming back again are Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Ricky Gervais. But jumping into the mix are Sir Ben Kingsley and Pitch Perfect’s Rebel Wilson. And even more interesting: they all look like they are having a blast. I just wish I could have had as much fun watching it as they had making it. C

Top Five
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Chris Rock directs, writes and stars in this sobering comedy about a comedian who, after making a series of Martin Lawrence/Tyler Perry-like films, tries to assess his career, life and purpose. One can only assume that this is an extremely close and personal story for Rock, who is usually responsible for broad comedies than intellectually stimulating fare. While the movie does have some very serious and even disturbing moments, it is also incredibly funny at times, and most importantly, the whole project is humble and self-deprecating. While some audiences will find the film rather offensive and a little too real, others like myself will find the brutal honesty a breath of fresh air. B+

Son of a Gun
Rated R for violence, language throughout, some sexuality, nudity and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This Australian crime drama follows a young man in prison for a small crime who befriends a notorious criminal played by Ewan McGregor in order to gain protection. Once out, the young ex-con repays his debt to his protector by springing him out of prison and assisting him with a series of high-stakes heists. I’m not sure why this wasn’t a higher profile film as it is a more entertaining thriller than most of the genre we’ve seen in the last year. Although he wasn’t involved, the movie felt more like a Michael Mann film than most of the famed auteur’s offerings in the last decade. It is well-written, well-produced and a real showcase for its talented cast. A-

Rated R for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Norwegian and English with English subtitles
Taking place during the early 80’s Norwegian oil boom, Pioneer tells the story of a tragic diving accident that leaves the survivor alone to investigate how it happened. While the film feels both authentic and relevant, it is also slowly paced and suffers from the weight of its own sense of self-importance. That being said, the acting is solid, especially from its lead, Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie. C+

New in Home Entertainment – March 10, 2015


New in Home Entertainment

March 10, 2015

Believe Me
Rated PG-13 for some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Upon first seeing the trailer for this Texas-filmed indie I was completely turned off. To me it looked like a film aimed at putting Christianity in the most negative of lights. But I watched it anyway and discovered the most peculiar thing: a Christian film made almost specifically for non-Christians. Believe Me tells the story of a group of friends who decide to form a fake evangelical team in order to embezzle money meant for overseas charities and missions. And while it is most certainly cynical towards some Christians, it is reverent towards Christianity. One of the things I hate most about Christian films, besides the fact that a lot of them stink, is that they are made specifically for their Christian audiences and do little or no good towards people of a differing viewpoint. So to experience a film that lovingly pokes fun of some of the problems I too see in my religion, while not being sacrilegious, is a breath of fresh air. It helps that the film, while exaggerated, feels more authentic than I expected it to be. It also helps that the screenplay is well-written and the cast is as likable as it is capable. I have many friends at church I would never recommend this movie to. But at the same time I have no hesitation suggesting it to anyone who believes as I do that most films in the genre are complete crap. B+

Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Japanese with English Subtitles
From Drafthouse Films comes this Japanese import about a man who hires a dominatrix agency to surprise him during his days with depraved and unexpected acts of dominance. While the film sells itself as a super-violent and sexual experience, I found it to be neither. I was truly surprised though at how much I laughed throughout – although it does turn truly sick about half way through the movie and completely warped by the end. Aside from a few vile moments, the film is far more entertaining than its American domination counterpart Fifty Shades. B-

The Breakfast Club: 30th Anniversary Edition
Rated R
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Yes its been 30 years since the Brat Pack, made up of the very young versions of Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Rigwald, Anthony Michael Hall and Ally Sheedy, changed our view of school detention. I’m sure director John Hughes didn’t understand the monster he was creating, but there’s no doubt that this was a ground breaking film that launched 5 careers and sold millions of soundtracks. This new edition features a fully restored and digitally remastered presentation that is more beautiful than the day it was released. While I was never a huge fan of the actual movie, I am most definitely appreciative of its impact to moviedom. B