On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 8, 2013

I was somewhat disappointed in myself for not making time for this all out action-fest when it first hit theaters in September, but it disappeared so fast that I hardly had time to keep up with it. This is a shame, really. The makers of Dredd likely hoped to spin a new franchise out of this remake based on a character made famous by Sylvester Stallone in 1995's Judge Dredd. This is not a re-make however, but a different story entirely based on the adventures of Judge Joseph Dredd in the British science fiction anthology 2000 AD which features Dredd as its longest running character. Though I have read none of this source material nor seen the original Stallone incarnation I was inclined to believe this new film to be a good bit of fun seeing as it was grabbing such good word of mouth and now seems destined to develop a cult following on home video. In this film Karl Urban (Star Trek) plays the titular hero and is forced to partner up with the rookie cop archetype, personified here by the charismatic Olivia Thirlby (Juno). The two of them pick up the beat on a triple homicide that is linked to a new druglord in town known only as Ma-Ma (Lena Heady). Once they get to the massive complex that houses Ma-Ma and is the site of the crime the film becomes a slight cat and mouse thriller that has the villain chasing down the good guys for extermination and Dredd using all his cool gadgets to get out of the trap alive. It is a fun, very noir tinged film and drapes all of its visuals in a sharp, edgy, but still grungy feeling palette. I enjoyed the film well enough, not so much that I'd watch it again, but complete fun nonetheless. B-

For those that don't know the history of Frankenweenie, it was originally a live action short film that Tim Burton made for Disney based on an original idea in 1984. Burton was subsequently fired from Disney after they claimed his film was too scary for young children. Now, whether it be for reasons that Burton himself is more a brand than an actual director or that the head honchos at Disney have moved around enough to see the opportunity this might afford them they have decided to let Burton back in and flesh out a full length feature of his beloved short. What this history does open up speculation for is what might have taken away from the viewing experience this time around. If the original was written and made to be a short film there was surely a reason for it and to try and expand that idea an extra hour can cause more damage than it likely will help. This seems to be the case as with the original Sparky (the cute canine at the center of the movies) was killed off in the first scene. Here, we get much more exposition, maybe even a layer of motivation for the dogs young owner Victor (Charlie Tahan), but that never goes anywhere. What the movie really cares about is making itself a kind of parody as well as a homage to the classic horror films and famous movie monsters that have come before it. While this is all well and fine, there needs to be more going on, there needed to be better character development instead of trusting the audience would know the multiple references being made (which isn't an issue) but also trusting that they know the inherent qualities of those characters. The story is not original, it is taking the tools used to tell Mary Shelly's Frankenstein and playing it out with school children. A fine idea, one that has great comedic opportunities that are taken advantage of most of the time, but misses one too many when it comes to providing the same kind of entertainment value. C+

In what feels like amateur hour at the movies House at the End of the Street piles on every cheap scare, cliche about teenagers, and desperate plot twist it can to try and keep its audience engaged while in all actuality doing nothing more than scaring off audiences from ever wanting to trust in mainstream Hollywood horror ever again. Everything about the film is just so typical it is hard not to shake your head every single time you know what should happen next actually does. The dialogue is stale and the movie drags on for no point other than what feels like it's biding time before the "shocker" of an ending comes around. We are then forced to re-evaluate everything we've seen in order to feel that it was a legitimate twist. I really wanted to enjoy the film, I wouldn't have wasted time going to see it if I didn't believe it had potential and even despite the measly 11% tomatometer rating that showed up, I still held out hope. Everything was going against the film, leaving no reason to believe it could rise above what low expectations were being created for it. I try to be fair when it comes to feature films, giving the benefit of the doubt, considering all the work that several people had to put into this to make it work but here I feel like there is no choice but to look past that. The whole production feels lackluster and thrown together not benefiting any of these actors especially the blooming star at the center of it. Following up one of the biggest films of the year and using this as a precursor for what will likely be an Oscar-nominated role in The Silver Linings Playbook Jennifer Lawrence should have passed on this script and let some other hopeful take a shot at carving out a chance of a career; but no matter who is in the lead role this horror schlock is nothing if not easily forgettable. D

I am likely in the minority on this one, and am now sad to see Hit and Run didn't garner much recognition in its initial run, but ultimately happy I was able to see this film and truly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It is one of those light, action adventure comedies you could truly slip in at any point in time and know it is going to satisfy whatever entertainment desire you have. It is the fun, goofy tale of Charlie (Dax Shepard who also wrote and co-directed the film) a guy in the witness protection program and his now lovely little life with Annie (Shepard's real-life girlfriend Kristen Bell) and his protections officer Randy (Tom Arnold). It is when Annie gets the opportunity to teach at a university in LA that Charlie has to bite his lip and venture into a city that risks exposing himself to the people he testified against who are now free. Obviously, hijinks are going to ensue once the couple hit the road and they do with a fair amount of hilarity and witty dialogue. Close friends of the writer/director such as Bradley Cooper, Kristin Chenoweth, and Beau Bridges show up throughout the film and provide some nice moments as does some of the stunt driving that clearly doesn't haven't the biggest to go on, but they make it work. In many ways it is a throw back to those films of the 70's, those kind of exploitation films, this is very much in the same vein as that. We get a set of interesting characters and send them on a road trip that has plenty of ridiculous obstacles in the way of them getting from point A to point B. You could easily call this pointless or unnecessary, but it is a fun bit of escapism that has action, souped-up cars, and nice patches of comedy. More than worth a rental, hit and run is not a hit and miss. B

Compliance brings up an interesting question: can the quality of a film still be great despite the fact one might be repulsed by the story it tells? Does the story have a real purpose? Does it mean more than to simply entertain? Is it teaching a lesson or giving a warning? What are the intentions of the film if we are engrossed by it yet doubtful it could ever truly happen even if the one thing we know and you need to know before seeing a frame of the film, is that this actually happened and happened many times. It is a string of questions that not only challenge you as you watch the film unravel, but it allows Compliance to be a film where you don't say that you "liked it" in the common sense of the word, but that you took something from it, were fascinated by it or that maybe you were in fact disgusted by it, think every character in it is stupid and would never watch the film again. The crazy thing is, I feel I can see justification for any one of these opinions and not feel inclined to inject my interpretation of the film as to why that opinion might differ from my own in one way or another. The overall accomplishment of the film though is to see how far people will go, how much we will trust in authority, and how obedient we can be when the commands are clearly violating some kind of ethical code. Would we still go against that inherent voice in our heads telling us no because of a slim promise that to do this will make it easier in the end? We don't know what we might have done in these characters situations. It is a complicated scenario to pull off on screen without each of the characters losing credibility and it is easy to say you might have done something different but in that moment, when your back's against the wall and you have someone who, by the pillars of our society, we believe we can trust and in turn are going to do as they ask. We trust that they are having us do what is best for everyone and to abuse that power is to cause an avalanche of things, of worlds falling apart.  B+

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  1. Compliance is one of those films that really bothered me. So much so that I actually walked out of the theater. The story seemed unbelievably preposterous. I didn’t know anything about it when I walked in. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was based on a real incident. Even though I can appreciate the craft that went into making the film (Ann Dowd’s performance is incredible) I just can’t endure the ugliness it presents. Perhaps that’s the film’s greatest triumph.

    1. I found it hard to watch as well, but was fascinated at the same time by what it implied even though I found it absurd. I agree, Dowd was great. Have you heard about the lengths she's been to on her personal Oscar campaign?