New in Home Entertainment – May 3, 2016


New in Home Entertainment

May 3, 2016

East Side Sushi
Rated PG for brief violence, suggestive content and mild language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Available on DVD
Ultra low-budgeted films, most of the time, feel like ultra low-budgeted films, but every once in a while a great little indie project comes out to remind us that terrific films don’t just come from the Hollywood machinery. This little film that could takes a working-class Latina single mother who jumps head first into the world of sushi – a cuisine dominated by Asian, primarily Japanese, men. While the film doesn’t throw any real surprises at you and is largely a feel-good crowd pleaser, it sure does hit the right chords as it progresses through the motions. And as pure food porn it must be effective because I have eaten sushi now three times since watching it last week. A-

Unrated, but would be an R
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The very beautiful and talented actress Sarah Bolger heads into creepy horror film mode as Emelie, a babysitter with evil intentions, in this latest low-budget horror flick. The film succeeds at giving you pause at who you leave your children with. But ultimately it fails at providing a convincing narrative. There are so many great places this film could have gone but instead it feels like the filmmakers just wanted to upset their audience rather than give them a compelling reason to keep watching. The good news is that the film comes in at only 80 minutes, making it much less torturous than it could have been. C+

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.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies



The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New in Home Entertainment – October 28, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


October 28, 2014


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

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

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

New in Home Entertainment – September 23, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


September 23, 2014


Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this latest entry to the frat house comedy genre, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are thirty-something parents who are completely happy with their calm lives when Zac Efron and his fraternity purchase the house next door. While much of the bad behavior is expected and still very funny, what works best here are the many surprises. For what it is, the film is solidly written and only has the occasional eye-rolling moment. And while some of the best gags are featured in the trailer and commercials, many are not, mostly due to the very graphic nature of the jokes. Overall though, it turns out to be an impressively thoughtful raunch-com. B

Rated R for language and some bloody violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Writer/Director David Michod turns in another bleak but powerful picture about a man (Guy Pearce) in Australia whose car is stolen and who will do anything to get it back, including team up with the car thief’s brother (Robert Pattinson) to go after him. Upon revisiting the beginning, I realized that I missed the very vital intro that stated that the movie takes place 10 years after a societal collapse, so I just assumed that people crucified from telephone poles might be a normal sight in the remote outback. That being said, I was glued to the screen from start to finish watching this absolutely frightening world unfold onscreen. Pearce is dynamite as the loner and Pattinson almost makes up for the misery he put me through in Twilight. While its not a film for everyone, I was blown away by the picture and while not as strong as Michod’s first film, Animal Kingdom, it is equally as riveting. A-

Roman Polanski’s Macbeth: Criterion Edition
Rated R
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In between making Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, Roman Polanski directed this visionary interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous work. This tale of jealousy, murder and revenge is still a miserable story to watch, but very well done. The production is fantastic and the fight choreography at the end is fantastic and memorable. I’m still not a fan of the play Macbeth, but watching your favorite directors tackle it can be rewarding. 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

New in Home Entertainment – February 11, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

February 11, 2014

All is Lost
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Not many actors can carry a film by themselves.  This year even Sandra Bullock got a hand from George Clooney.  In All is Lost, Robert Redford is the sole actor playing a man lost at sea when his yacht is destroyed.  A challenging film from start to finish, All is Lost is a great example of the struggle to survive against insurmountable odds, but as a narrative it lacks.  If I’m going to watch a movie about being lost at sea I would much prefer to take in Life of Pi or Kon Tiki.  Redford is amazing, and probably should have received an Oscar nom, but I have no interest in watching the film again and cannot give it a strong recommendation.  B-

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and innuendo
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Napoleon Dynamite director Jerusha Hess loves silly, simple and clean comedies and this year’s Austenland gives us another very similar outing.  Here extreme Jane Austen fan Keri Russell travels to a resort in England named, sensibly, Austenland where she hopes to bring her favorite novels to life.  The plot is preposterous and the writing isn’t too great, but the film goes all in and the end effect is at least charming.  I especially loved American Pie’s Jennifer Coolidge as the brainless yet boisterous millionaire hoping for her own special memories.  B-

Spinning Plates
Available on DVD

This foodie documentary follows three restaurants in different stages of success and struggle, all trying to do what they love to do most – feed people good food.  I was attracted to the film when I heard that Chicago’s Alinea, possibly the best restaurant in America, was going to be a chief area of focus.  But then I was equally pulled in with the stories of the family diner in Iowa and the failing Mexican restaurant in Arizona.  This terrific little film is a must watch if you’re like me and love learning about food as much or more than you like eating it.  A-

Mother of George
Rated R for sexuality, some language and a disturbing image
Available on DVD

Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead’s Michonne) proves she has some major acting chops in this fascinating story about an African woman living in New York City who is put under immense cultural pressure when she is unable to give her new husband a child.  Winner of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Cinematography Award, the film is simply gorgeous to look at although some of the musical choices were awkward in spite of their significance.  It’s a tough drama but certainly worth the watch.  B+

The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition
Rated G
Available on Blu-ray

Certainly one of my all-time favorite Disney films is finally getting the Blu-ray treatment as well as a nice amount of new bonus features.  Following the adventures of Mowgli, a young Indian boy raised and protected by animals, The Jungle Book has some of the best animation and music amongst all of their classic films.  New in this edition is a sing-along Bear-E-Oke as well as a view of an ending that almost came to be.  A

New in Home Entertainment – December 10, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

December 10, 2013

Despicable Me 2
Rated PG for rude humor and mild action
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

It was surprising when the first Despicable Me scored a $500 million plus world wide gross, but absolutely stunning is the almost billion dollar haul from its sequel.  Back again is Steve Carrell as the voice of the super villain Gru as he works with a secret agency to take down an even worse baddy.  This new installment is not only a cuter film but is a much stronger narrative as well.  The minions are still adorable and their antics are hilarious.  While its not the caliber of films like Frozen and The Croods – it is still entertainment that won’t make the adults watching it want to leave the room.  B+

Fast & Furious 6
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The Fast and Furious gang, including Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the late Paul Walker are back and this time hired by the government to take down a huge criminal ring.  When it pulled in $786 million at the box office I assumed that big improvements were made to the franchise, which I considered silly and ridiculous.  But I was wrong.  The writing is still horrible, filled with senseless exposition dumbed down for an assumed ADD audience.   The action is nonstop, but the laws of physics are completely thrown aside as are any brains behind them.  What you get it is simply the title: fast and furious action with no thought or intelligent design.  C-

Mary Poppins
Rated G
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Having caught a sneak preview of the new Tom Hanks/Emma Thompson film Saving Mr. Banks, I was in the mood to revisit the Disney classic that inspired it.  Widely considered to be Walt Disney’s crowning achievement, Mary Poppins was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 5 including actress, editing, effects, music and original song.  Now almost 50 years later, the movie still looks amazing thanks to a beautiful digital restoration by the mouse house.  And if you’re like me and haven’t seen it since you were a kid, you, once again, are in for a huge treat.  A

The Brad McMullan Show

When my good friend, former colleague and Emmy-winner Brad McMullan left television a few years ago to start his own business, I must admit that I was blown away.  After all – he is one of the best newscasters I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on air.  And if you are unfamiliar with him, he is the only victim of Borat who came out smelling like roses in his hit movie.  If you’ve seen the entire footage of the morning show where Borat was being interviewed by Brad, you could tell that Sasha Baron Cohen was getting frustrated because Brad wouldn’t lose his composure.  With a genuine approach to delivering information and none of fake persona that you many times are used to seeing on and off air, Brad looked like he was poised to take over the airwaves.  Well good news – now he’s back!  Brad is now hosting his own show – The Brad McMullan Show which has great potential to be a hit family-friendly talk show in syndication.  With great self-effacing sketches and interviews with local celebrities and sports stars, Brad has found the perfect opportunity to join us in our living rooms once again. 

You can follow Brad on Facebook

You can also download his app on iTunes or Android

New in Home Entertainment – December 3, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

December 3, 2013

Rated PG-13 for some drug content and brief strong language
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Ashton Kutcher stars as the infamous Steve Jobs as he goes from building computers in his garage to starting Apple.  Glossing over some of the most important parts of his life, the script has holes where it can’t afford them.  And while Kutcher and Josh Gad are decent enough as Jobs and Wozniak, the film plays like a movie of the week rather than a big-budget theatrical.  C

The Smurfs 2
Rated PG for some rude humor and action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

The little blue creatures are back as they go to Paris to rescue Smurfette after she has been taken by Gargamel.  While not nearly as terrible as the first Smurfs outing, this new one isn’t all that great either.  It passed the kid test in that my toddler loved it, and the humor was slightly more sophisticated than I expected, but the writing and plot were both lame,  unoriginal and frankly uninteresting.  So if you’re merely looking for a ninety minute baby sitter then I guess you’ll be in luck.  Any more than that expectation and you should be able to accurately predict a smurfing let-down.  C-