New in Home Entertainment – July 25, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

July 25, 2017

Kong: Skull Island
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
It was only 12 years ago when Universal gave us Peter Jackson’s terrific vision of King Kong, but in an attempt to rebuild a monster movie franchise, they are at it again. This time Kong is much bigger, and the bad guys are the humans trying to kill him, led by Samuel L Jackson. Meanwhile, the heroes, led by Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) and Brie Larson (Room) try desperately to escape from Skull Island while at the same time keeping the giant ape alive. It’s a fun enough popcorn movie with tons of action and some really great effects. It also has an impressive sense of humor due to the antics of the always great and goofy John C. Reilly. Overall I’m excited to see what Universal does as they prepare to pair up Kong with Godzilla for a big monster mash up. B

Ghost in the Shell
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%
Based on the Japanese manga of the same name, Ghost stars Scarlett Johansson as a robot with a human brain who is programmed to be a leader in an anti-terrorist military unit. The film itself is beautiful to look at but lacks the screenplay and the vision necessary to pull it off. The actors are definitely well-chosen, but there is an awkward spirit to the film (no pun intended) that keeps it from achieving greatness. Perhaps its the PG-13 rating that holds it back from reaching its potential. Or maybe they just put too much emphasis on production rather than the substance of the story. C+

New in Home Entertainment – July 17, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

July 17, 2017

The Lost City of Z
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Based on the non-fiction best-seller by David Grann, The Lost City of Z follows the legacy left by British officer and explorer Percy Fawcett, as he attempts to discover a mythical city off of the unexplored Amazon in the early twentieth century. Charlie Hunnam turns in a solid performance as the adventurer, but Sienna Miller as his wife shines in a stellar supporting role. While the film is disjointed and largely unfocused, historically it has value and helps us better understand the lives of those who first explored South America. B

The Promise
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50%
Inspired by true events, The Promise carries a bad title but an impressive resume, as it tells the story of a sort-of love triangle between an Armenian medical student (Oscar Isaac), an AP journalist (Christian Bale) and a young woman caught in the middle (Charlotte Le Bon), all set against the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century. Written and directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), the film plays like a big saga, but with little chemistry between any of its leads, and a story that lacks the emotional punch it should carry, you end up with an historical epic that is much better at the history part than the actual story-telling. It could have been, and should have been, great. C+



New in Home Entertainment – July 11, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

July 11, 2017

Not Rated but would be an R due to language and violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Available on Netflix
With the success they have seen in television-style shows, Netflix has been pumping money into movies and Okja is one of their very high-profile projects of the year. Written and directed by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host), and executive produced by Brad Pitt, Okja is a story about a meat processing company who creates a super pig to meet the world’s meat demands and thus creates a worldwide competition for best pig to see which country comes out on top. In this case, a South Korean girl raises one of these pigs (named Okja) and over 10 years has become best friends with it. When the company tries to take Okja back, the girl, along with an animal liberation group, attempt to steal the pig from the corporation. This is a wildly creative story which is well-told with impressive CG effects. What I found most fascinating was the terrific cast. While half of the film is in Korean with unfamiliar actors, the English-speaking cast includes Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins and others. One final note – before you put this on for the kids, please note that this is not for them. Honestly, they could have made an ET-like version of the film with the language and some violence removed, but this project would be considered a strong R if rated. A-

The Zookeeper’s Wife
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
Based on the novel by Diane Ackerman, which is based on a true Holocaust story, Jessica Chastain is the wife a zookeeper in Warsaw who houses Jews in their zoo after the Nazis exterminate their animals. At its heart it is a remarkable story, but here it is poorly told. Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) seems to be phoning it in and the narrative suffers as the film moves through its paces. This should have been a much better, much more emotionally exhausting piece, and instead we just have a better glimpse of an unfamiliar group of heroes. B-

Straw Dogs: The Criterion Collection
Rated R
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Back in 1971, this Sam Peckinpah film starring Dustin Hoffman as an American mathematician fighting off a group of crazed locals at his British cottage was considered an uber-violent thriller. And while it is still rather gory, by today’s standards it is not unsettling so. But still, I love its dark demeanor and Hoffman’s understated performance as the meek math geek who is competent and calm as he takes on the bad guys. That being said, the rape scene is a misogynistic nightmare that could never be filmed in the present and would have improved the original tremendously had it been omitted. With the typical amount of extras Criterion includes here, it is a great title for collectors and film aficionados, but might be out of place for the average audience looking to watch older films. B-

New in Home Entertainment – June 27, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

June 27, 2017

T2 Trainspotting
Rated R for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content,  graphic nudity and some violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Being that 1996’s Trainspotting is one of my all-time favorite movies, I was extremely excited to see what director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) could do with this long-awaited sequel.  Taking place 20 years later, the old team of Mark, Spud and Sick Boy, (Ewan McGergor, Ewen Bremner and Jonny Lee Miller) get together for another bit of illegal enterprise (dealing in sex instead of heroine like before), only to be haunted by their old teammate Begbie (Robert Carlyle) who has escaped from prison with the one goal of revenge alone in his priorities.  While dark in tone, the film plays like a comedy and provides some of the biggest laughs I’ve seen at the movies this year.  While not as impactful as its predecessor, I found the film to be immensely enjoyable and still surprisingly insightful.  A

Rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use
Rotten Tomatoes 16%
With the moderately impressive successes of old TV throwbacks like 21 Jump Street, it makes sense that some studio would throw some money at the old hit CHIPS (California Highway Patrol) in the hopes of another retro-based hit.  Here Dax Sheppard, who writes, directs and stars as Jon Baker, teams up with undercover agent Frank Poncherello (Michael Pena) to take down crime.  Honestly, this film had me bored from the very start.  I like Sheppard and Pena, but the script here is simply awful and unfunny and unfortunately a miserable theatrical experience.  I have no doubt there were good intentions, but man is this comedy a true stinker, worthy of the bad reviews and insults it has received.  F

The Pink Panther Collection
Blake Edwards’ classic 60s, 70s and 80’s Pink Panther films get the blu-ray touch here with this collection highlighting the talents of one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history, Peter Sellers, as his French inspector Jacques Clouseau chases down jewel thieves.  While not all of the films are necessarily worth your attention, they make for a highly entertaining collection.  This six-movie set includes The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark (my favorite), The Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Revenge of the Pink Panther and Trail of the Pink Panther.  And because it highlights Sellers rather than all of the other Panther films without him, there is a cohesiveness and pattern to the set that is best felt with these six pictures.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – June 20, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

June 20, 2017

Rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
This sci-fi horror flick follows a group of scientists who discover a rapidly evolving life form that will do anything to survive. If you’ve read the synopsis or seen the trailer, you will think that this is just an Alien knock-off pic. And you’d be correct except for one thing – the cast. This film smells of B-movie, but the cast is A-list, which makes you think there’s something more. With Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds heading up the small but exceptional team, you think that you’re going to possibly get a greater than expected experience. The action and the acting are good, but the only thing I was surprised about was how predictable the film was. The characters’ choices and the ensuing results from those choices fall in line with the formula. It’s not all bad though. There are some extremely frightening creep-crawly moments throughout and it is a better-made film than the latest actual Alien franchise pic: Alien: Covenant. B-

South Park: The Complete Twentieth Season
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Now in its twentieth season on Comedy Central, South Park is still trying to keep it fresh and this season not only delivers the goods comedy-wise, but offers up a remarkable social commentary as well. Watching their take on the recent 2016 election will make you laugh out loud, but the whole season is a buildup of one long joke that by the end isn’t funny but rather shows an honest and insightful look at how social media has had an adverse effect on our population. Its a strange and yet powerful season for a show that keeps pushing the envelope. A-

New in Home Entertainment – June 13, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

June 13, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie
Rated PG for rude humor and some action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Batman was so popular in 2014’s The LEGO Movie that Warner Brothers immediately gave him his own movie. The story, inconsequential as it is, follows the caped crusader as he both attempts to stop The Joker from taking over Gotham City and becomes more awkwardly social as he befriends and adopts the young Robin. The voice talent here is as good as it gets with Will Arnett as Batman, Michael Cera as Robin and Zach Galifianakis as The Joker. In addition, the movie is extremely funny, most of the time. I think if it were any longer than 90 minutes it might start to get stale, but the pacing is almost perfect and you can’t help but walk away smiling. It helps that these new Lego movies are actually concerned with keeping the adults engaged, thus making everyone in the audience happy rather than just the youngins. B+


John Wick: Chapter 2
Rated R for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
No one could have predicted that Keanu Reeves could have made such an impressive comeback in a project like the hitman thriller John Wick, but indeed he did, and the filmmakers once again put out some extremely creative violence in this crazy sequel which finds Reeves going further down the rabbit hole as pretty much the entire planet is out to kill him. While the action and violence are highly stylized and fun to watch, the villains could have been much stronger and much more worthy of our time. That being said, the movie is engaging and weird and full of surprises. And although its violence comes at a bad time in regard to current world events, the killing in this film seems so distant from the world we live in that somehow it manages to be enjoyable rather than upsetting. Coming from a non-violent, pacifist film critic, that is saying something. B

New in Home Entertainment – June 6, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

June 6, 2017

Beauty and the Beast
Rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Next on Disney’s live-action remake list is this take on their classic tale of a spoiled prince who is transformed into a beast with his only hope being to fall in love and have someone love him in return. With an all-star cast led by Emma Watson as the smart-as-she-is-beautiful Belle, the story is well-served by many actors who turn out to be more than decent singers. While all of the main songs from the movie are included here, rather than throw in songs from the Tony award-winning Broadway show, Disney wrote many brand-new tunes for this remake. While some of the new songs are solid, I would have preferred the Broadway versions as the music for the show is far superior. Overall, this version is hit and miss for me. I’m glad they got creative with the story and I can appreciate the changes, but this is by far my third favorite Beauty and the Beast production from Disney. That being said, it gets the job done in a grand fashion that helps you forgive its flaws. B

Land of Mine
Rated R for violence, some grisly images, and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
In German and Danish with English Subtitles
This Oscar-nominated foreign film tells the story takes places directly after WWII and follows a Danish officer who is placed in charge of a POW camp that forces young German captive soldiers to disarm the thousands of land mines scattered throughout the Danish beaches. What I liked most about this film is that it provides a fresh take on the war with a compelling story we’ve never heard before. They treat it like a story which really needs to be told, with the resonating message being that not everybody we fight in a war is an enemy to us afterward. That we are all humans after all, soldier or not, and in many cases pawns in a larger chess game acting against our own self-interests until true freedom is acquired. It’s a tightly paced, focused film that proves, once again, that there are an endless number of stories about the Great War that still want to be told. A-

New in Home Entertainment – May 30, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

May 30, 2017

Rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
The year is 2029 and most of the mutants have been wiped off the planet. Left here are Wolverine (Logan) and Professor X who are seeking out their survival in a Mexican border town. But when Logan discovers that a young mutant with similar powers to his own needs his help, he attempts to help her and, at the very least, find her way to safety. If you are like me, you have been gravely disappointed by the Wolverine spinoff films so far. But this is different. And not just because it is very Rated R and filled with graphic violence and blunt darkness. It is different because it is no longer a super hero film but rather addresses bigger issues including, unfortunately, death and desolation. It is now the end of May, and this is still the best movie I have seen this year. It is an emotional roller coaster that takes you to places you might not want to go in a hero flick, but rather on a journey that you neither expect nor welcome. But still the journey, while not pleasant, is important and very much worth the undertaking. A

The Shack
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 21%
It is hard for a Christian film to get good reviews nowadays, so take the Rotten Tomatoes score here with a grain of salt. But the filmmakers here try with great integrity to bring William P Young’s best-selling novel to life in a way that should, at the very least, make an impact on an audience that wants to see it. The very story is as dark as it gets. A young father (Sam Worthington) loses his daughter to a serial killer, only to meet up with God (Octavia Spencer), Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in the very cabin where her life was stripped from her. The broken man must come to terms with his creator and find a way to move on when that choice was not an option before. Even within Christian circles this story is controversial, but the movie is both artistically and delicately handled here with an exceptional cast and impressive production values. Most of today’s Christian films, I hate to say, truly stink. In spite of this unearned negative critical response The Shack has received, the movie is a nicely created piece of fiction with a strong message that is well-delivered without shoving it down your throat. Yes it has its small problems (Worthington is in and out of his native Australian accent for one), but its issues are forgivable and a step in the right direction for the genre. B

Fist Fight
Rated R for language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug material
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%
When a fired teacher in need of anger management therapy (Ice Cube) challenges a fellow teacher (Charlie Day) to a fist fight, the former must prepare for either a legendary butt-whooping or an even worse embarrassment if he cowards out. While the film attempts to make a statement about our current public school dilemma, instead its just spirals into a gigantic mess that it can’t recover from. And while it is filled with a talented cast, you wouldn’t know it from these performances of a horrible and completely unfunny script. D

My Life as a Zucchini
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive material
Rotten Tomatoes Score 100%
This French stop-motion animated film follows the life a young foster child who attempts to help a fellow classmate get out of the mess she is in when her awful aunt attempts to take custody of her. Beautifully animated with a short but sweet story (the runtime is at 66 minutes), this largely unheralded pic isn’t a bad kids film, but is better served for adults. This American version features some great voice talent including Will Forte and Nick Offerman, and while it is not a box-office friendly family film, for the right audience it will be quite the gem. A-

New in Home Entertainment – May 23, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

May 23, 2017

Get Out
Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Key and Peele’s Jordan Peele writes and directs this gigantic hit of a horror film about a young black man going home to meet his girlfriend’s family for the first time. Rather than taking it in an overtly racist and stereotypical direction, Peele here chooses to throw in some incredible surprises as he shocks the audience into feeling comfortable with the racism on display while waiting for the right moment to pile on the discomfort and soon thereafter the sheer terror. You know it’s coming, but you don’t expect what lurks around the corner and the scares are unsettling, as you try to laugh through the awkwardness. While 2017 hasn’t been a stellar year for films so far, Get Out proves that terrific movies might be lurking around where you least expect them, just waiting to pounce on you. A-

The Great Wall
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 35%
Hero and House of Flying Daggers director Yimou Zhang brings in Matt Damon to help a group of super fighters take on a dragon invasion with the Great Wall of China being the only thing that can save humanity from the beasts. While all of the elements are there, including a top notch production team, wildly visionary director and an excellent cast of both Hollywood and Foreign actors, the film just never seems to ignite and the whole thing just sort of collapses under its own ambition. This is a movie I was incredibly excited to see, but the excitement quickly turned to disappointment. C

Dheepan: The Criterion Edition
Rated R for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
In French and Tamil with English Subtitles
This winner of the 2015 Cannes Palme d’Or tells the story of three strangers from Sri Lanka pretending to be a family in order to escape their war-torn nation for a chance to immigrate to France. While their very presence in the country is a lie, they attempt to contribute with integrity in spite of dangerous challenges within the community they are placed. It’s a tough film to watch at times, but it is beautifully told by an amazing director and an extremely talented cast. When I see films like this and the recent Sin Nombre, it really challenges me to rethink the narrative I have assigned (or perhaps ignored) pertaining to immigrants in my own region and beyond. I really loved the quiet power of this movie. A-

Rock Dog
Rated PG for action and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%
Wishing to escape his destiny as a Tibetan sheep herder, a young Mastiff escapes to the city to take up guitar in his journey to become a rock god. With stale animation and a lousy plot, the film is another crappy attempt at filling in the gap when parents really want to take their kid to the movies and nothing else appropriate is showing. Kids might find it an acceptable diversion, but their parents will be less than enthused. D+

New in Home Entertainment – May 16, 2017

New in Home Entertainment

May 16, 2017

The Space Between Us
Rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 17%
This sweet sci-fi adventure kept getting pushed back and pushed back until it was released in theaters in February of this year, only to be met with a thud at the box office. Telling the story of a young boy who is born as his mother is on a mission to Mars, only to remain a secret until he comes to Earth to chase down the girl he has been secretly talking to online, The Space Between Us is a nice enough way to spend two hours and doesn’t deserve the bad critical rap or lean audience it was met with. The film has a few problems, but its stars, Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson, cover for them admirably and I found the film to be far better than tolerable, even to the point where it is likable. 2016 proved a tough year for the sci-fi romance mash-up, but this attempt turned out a pretty solid teen romance with a nice twist. B

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Rated R for sequences of violence throughout
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33%
This sixth and apparently final chapter of the Resident Evil franchise finds Mila Jovovich heading back to Raccoon City to fight one last time with the Umbrella Corporation in order to find the antidote for the disease that has been thrust upon the planet. I don’t want to fool you into thinking that this is some kind of good film, but it’s not as bad as the others, which I guess is as close a compliment as I can muster. There are some nice revelations which makes the writing seem somewhat logical and planned, therefore giving the franchise a goal which I didn’t see coming. Yes it tries too hard to be a Mad Max/Walking Dead hybrid, but it just can’t seem to get there. I’m certain the fans of the series will have a greater appreciation, though, since it might be working through some pretense of creating a good ending more than creating a money-printing sequel. C+

XXX: Return of Xander Cage
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of gunplay and violent action, and for sexual material and language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 43%
For those that consider the Fast and Furious franchise to be too intellectual, there is XXX. This time Vin Diesel is back (rather than the last even more horrific outing with Ice Cube) to fight a rogue government agency who is committing assassinations with crashing satellites. The plot is awful but if you like action there is plenty of it there hoping to disguise the lack of a real story. I didn’t hate it but I did find it mind-numbing and only rarely impressive. I’m sure there’s an audience for this kind of film – but it ain’t me. C-

Paramount Classic Crime Drama Releases
With Mother’s Day gone, its time to start thinking about the dads and I am in love with the new classic Paramount releases this week including The Godfather Trilogy, Chinatown, The Untouchables, Chinatown and Road to Perdition, all in new Blu-ray editions for super cheap. While they don’t feature anything new per se, these are all must-own movies in a slick new packaging, and at around the $10 range, they won’t make you feel like you just got robbed.