On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 17, 2013

Elysium is as much a disappointment as it is a success. While director Neill Blomkamp's first feature came out of nowhere with no sense of expectation and no precedent, it is because of the success and quality of that effort that the bar was pretty high for his next film. I was especially intrigued by Blomkamp's second effort due to the way he was able to integrate such a strict science fiction plot into a documentary-like style in District 9. The worlds were blended so seamlessly to the point the audience was able to accept that this was not only an allegory for apartheid, but was a finely crafted, and emotionally poignant piece of filmmaking. While much of that could also be applied to Elysium the difference unfortunately comes in the latter part of that description where, while there is ample amounts of allegorical messages and high-tech science fiction, there isn't that element of the film that hits an emotional connection with the audience that makes the film as memorable as the way the directors previous film did. What makes the movie just as much a success though is the fact that despite all of this, it still represents some of the better things about large scale filmmaking in today's world. Blomkamp made District 9 for $30 million, but Sony gave the director $115 million for his follow-up and to this great advantage the director created a fully encompassing world that gives the film real scope, real consequences, and a platform big enough to tell a story that parallels the issues of immigration and health care in today's world. While the more money you have the more extravagant the film can be, but what seems to have been lost in the process is the personal touch that was such a crucial element in his debut feature. All of this is to say that while I thoroughly enjoyed myself in terms of pure entertainment value (there are a few great fight scenes, interesting characters, and a bevy of baddies), but I was also hoping for more of a compelling story, something that might move me, affect me, or leave me thinking about the film days later. Instead, what we have is an average action flick more in the vein of White House Down and 2 Guns than a film that has aspirations bigger than delivering thrills in the form of explosions. Full review here. B-

It's hard to complain about a movie when you know so much hard work and care went into the production of it. The movie adaptation of The Lone Ranger traveled a long and rugged road in order to reach the big screen and along the way I'm sure saw many more tribulations than the common cinephile were exposed to. As the whispers of production issues didn't come into play with World War Z's box office success this past summer I was hoping the highly-publicized budgetary problems with Gore Verbinski's latest might play out the same way, but where the reviews were surprisingly glowing for the Max Brooks adaptation it almost seems critics were ready to jump on this latest Johnny Depp adventure before it was even out of the gate. Quite the opposite happened last summer when hopes were high for the Depp/Tim Burton collaboration Dark Shadows, but released only a week after The Avengers the film was lost in the shuffle and word of mouth was not kind. Still, I found myself enjoying the film rather immensely and have since re-watched it more than once on blu-ray trying to find what was so repulsive about it. I can't help but feel the same way about The Lone Ranger. I can certainly see where some of the criticism is coming from. The biggest issue the film faces is that of a tone and pacing crisis. There is never anything that jump starts the film and allows the audience to settle into their seats and enjoy the adventure about to take place and while there are fits and starts of rather harsh violence the film predominantly tries to take a comedic if not mostly slapstick approach to things. These kind of blunt tonal shifts can sometimes take us out of the experience we are trying to become a part of, but in the end it would be a disservice to this film and the people who might count on your opinion to decide if they'll see it or not to call this a bad movie. It is not a bad movie, it is a beautifully shot film with a layered story and some fine performances. It took a while to get going and though it doesn't really find its stride until the last half hour, one has to at least ask themselves what did they expect? It certainly couldn't have been much better than what we've been given. Full review here. B

The first Kick-Ass was one of my favorite films of 2010 and though it was never the huge hit folks would like to assume it now was simply because it was a super hero flick, it garnered a strong enough following and was of high enough quality to garner a second installment. I, personally, have really been looking forward to this sequel and though I've never read the source material I'd at least be willing to bet that this continues to honor the tone of the comics if not copying the story lines exactly. What was so fresh and shocking about the first film was that it was able to so seamlessly weave together the tones of several different genres of film. In both the original and the sequel there is plenty of action, a fair amount of drama and a dominant wave of comedy. Most importantly, just like the first film, Kick-Ass 2 knows what it wants to be and goes for it with no regards as to what others think or who might be offended by it. Plenty of people have cited the morally reprehensible actions of the characters in this story as inexcusable or declining into the very thing it is satirizing, but I can't help but feel the film does a fine job of doing exactly what it sets out to do. Was I as impressed with this sequel as the original? No, but that would have been a tough thing to do anyway and with original director Matthew Vaughn not returning and Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) taking over it was pretty much impossible. And while there are several factors that make Kick-Ass 2 a step down from the original, the main thing being that the novelty of it all is now gone and we are more nestled into this ridiculous world, what helps it rise above being a complete misfire is that it puts its focus in the right place: Hit Girl. Though the titular character is still a major factor the film goes back and forth, giving equal time to both the unfortunate situation he gets himself into and the evolution of Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz). This and the brutal honesty with which it tackles the tropes of the genre it's satirizing help what could have easily been a lackluster sequel into a satisfying follow-up to one of the more shocking films of the past few years. Full review here. B-

Prisoners is as much a compelling drama as it is an investigation into the psyche of moral dilemma and how far is too far when the end goal is hope, but the road is littered with hate. It presents an interesting debate for the audience to discuss not only because it documents a gripping series of events, but because it begs you to ask yourself what you might do were you placed under the circumstances of the characters on display here. The film opens with a stark shot of a wooded area. The gray and light tints of green and brown are almost overwhelming, but we are soothed by the voice over of a man praying. He is saying the "Our Father," and though my first thought was somewhat dismissive of this being a cheap trick to try and be mysterious and vague by serving up the familiar words as a cautionary layout for where we were headed there came to be no religious theme, but simply a characteristic that helped us better view the complexities and the eventual battered state of Hugh Jackman's body and soul. Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) makes his big studio debut with this film and he has picked and intricate and tightly plotted script from Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband, I know, I know) and filled it with such massive talent that what at first seems to be little more than a story about two girls being kidnapped with their respective families doing whatever it takes to try and find them and turns it into something akin to the great crime dramas that have come out over the past two decades, mostly thanks to David Fincher. I mention Fincher specifically as Prisoners shares more than a tone with both Se7en and more appropriately Zodiac as it featured a subdued but impressive performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and this film gives us an equally subtle, but more intense showing from the actor. The film is a mystery wrapped in the normality's of middle America which allows it that extra layer that makes it all the more chilling, all the more close to home, yet doesn't flinch or back away from what it's committed itself to when it gets down to the tough spots. Prisoners is a brutally relentless, but consistently engaging film that stays with you. Full review here. A

There is something oddly sweet to a black comedy like The Family. Even though labeling it as a "comedy" doesn't feel right as this is clearly just trying to be what it is and nothing more. In many ways this is a movie that is very much in love with itself and the genre it so desires to be a part of. It is a love letter from writer/director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) who seems to have always wanted to make an American gangster film, but could never find the twist he would like to put on his own story until now. As this is executive produced by Martin Scorsese and stars a myriad of familiar faces in the mob genre you can see how Besson might have accomplished his goal. On the other hand it is with extreme caution we approach an off hand Robert DeNiro comedy these days as he's appeared in countless studio projects over the past few years that have looked to be little more than nice paydays. This ultimately seemed to be the most offensive though, not only because he was tarnishing his legacy by starring in another forgettable movie that would no doubt be seen by few people, but because he was now tarnishing the legacy with a rip off of the kind of movies that gave him said legacy. Fortunately, this is not the case for as much as The Family is in love with itself it is also a sincere tribute to mob movies and the way they function. It places DeNiro at the head of the table because it wants you to be reminded of James Conway and Sam "Ace" Rothstein and has Michelle Pfeiffer at his side because of 1988's Married to the Mob and even Scarface. These are not perfect examples of type casting in the casual sense, but they are intentional casting because they are both recognizable to general movie audiences and function as a nice nod to past work as well as a nice inside joke for cinephiles. I wouldn't say all of this without the confirmation of a single scene that takes place in the latter half of the film that is brilliantly executed and downright hilarious to watch unfold. I won't give any more away than that, but will say it's worth the price of a rental in itself though I doubt you'd be disappointed in the rest of the movie either because it's actually pretty damn fun. Full review here. B-

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