On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 28, 2014

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, while flying under the radar, stands to be the funniest and one of the more enjoyable animated trips of last year. If you missed the events of the first film and wander into this one unsure of what to expect there is no need to fear as the first few minutes catch us up on the debacle Flint (Bill Hader) caused in the first film when his invention, affectionately referred to over and over with varying degrees of success as the "FLDSMDFR", went haywire and started raining food. We are then dropped right back into the moment following those events as the citizens of Swallow Falls are trying to figure out what to do to take care of their home and the food that has engulfed it. Enter the arrival of new character Chester V (the hilarious Will Forte) a scientist Flint has looked up to his entire life and who has apparently been commissioned by the government to help clean up the mess Flint has caused on his home island. Chester informs the citizens of Swallow Falls that he will need to momentarily re-locate them to the mainland while his crew does their jobs, but that they will return to their homes soon. Flint and his gang are eager to get back to their homes and start fresh, especially Flint and Sam (Anna Faris), but Chester V has a set of plans all his own. Chester offers Flint the opportunity of a lifetime when he gives him the choice to work for his Live Corp Company and possibly even become among the elite inventors that have their creations chosen to help better the human race. Things don't necessarily work out for Flint the way he expected, but when he is asked to go back to Swallow Falls by Chester V himself to locate his FLDSMDFR and turn it off as it is now creating humanoid-like beings out of the food it's producing Flint jumps at the chance and brings his friends, including Sam, his father Tim (James Caan), Officer Earl (Terry Crews taking over for Mr. T), Brent (Andy Samberg), camera man Manny (Benjamin Bratt) and of course his trusty sidekick Steve the monkey (Neil Patrick Harris), along on the ride to find his machine and stop these food-animals before they figure out how to leave the island and attack the mainland. Full review here. B+

Upon first hearing about Rush I was under the impression that it would mainly center itself around the wreck in which Formula 1 race car driver Niki Lauda was severely burned and had such a drive to compete and will to win and become world champion that he returned to racing less than a month after his wreck and surprised everyone. Even in that admittedly compact and typical synopsis it is easy to see why this true life story would be ideal to tell on the big screen, especially with the bonus of being a sports movie. I also assumed that Chris Hemsworth would be playing Lauda as he seemed the central point of the project and I had no former knowledge of the world of Formula 1 racing or what type of history they were pulling from here. When I watched the first trailer for the film and discovered that not only was the film about Lauda, as portrayed by Daniel Brühl of Inglorious Basterds, overcoming the brakes his near fatal crash put on his career, but also a famous rivalry between he and the far more adventurous James Hunt (Hemsworth) I was pleasantly surprised there was more to the story. While I've never been a fan of racing it was easy to see why this movie could be an intriguing piece of drama and with Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) at the helm it was at least guaranteed to some degree that there would be a level of pedigree to the project, but whether it would stray towards safe, middle ground or exceptional territory was what we were left to determine. Lucky for us, Rush is not simply the movie of a man who drives cars in circles for a living overcoming a set of odds, but it is almost a psychological evaluation of two men who have vastly different approaches to the same thing and how those approaches define them as men and determine every other aspect of their lives that has nothing to do with their job that happens to put them in life or death situations every time they start their engines. It is a fascinating and thrilling film to experience, one I could hardly make any complaints about other than the fact that it didn't have as impressive an impact on me as I expected yet it remains one of my favorites of 2013. Still, this is a well crafted film that defies story convention and features great performances from its two leads that will serve as a true breakout for one and a definitive breakaway for the other. Full review here. A

Sometimes I have to ask myself what makes some of the more prestigious films that much better than the mainstream fluff that comes out the rest of the year and have just as much potential to deliver satisfactory film-going experiences, if not more enjoyable ones. These Oscar-bait films that studios reserve for the final two months of the year yearn to be important, thought-provoking, and of course have a level of class to them that lesser, studio fare made more for profit than art could even imagine. Still, there is a comfort food feeling that comes along with much of the big studio fare that comes out around the holiday season and older audience members, families, and unknowing theater-goers are looking for just that kind of thing; something to be entertained by for an hour and a half, a quick escape from the real world that might offer fun conversation later or something that may allow them common ground or a nice suggestion. Last Vegas had no problem filling that type of quota last November as it has every single aspect these types of general audience members are looking for. First and foremost it has the star power, employing four highly recognized and well-respected actors that together will had no problem bringing in a wide range of people and second it plays nicely off the well-received first (if not now played out by its two sequels) Hangover film. It plays up the fact this is basically that film, but for the older generation so that they could lean on the crutch of laughing at senior citizens doing inappropriate things while any extra comedy might come purely from the chemistry between the four leads and Viagra jokes. One could even call this something akin to the comedy version of Red and to a degree that is fine because ultimately this is pretty harmless, fun stuff and that both were able to nab Morgan Freeman has to mean there is at least something worth taking a look at here even if the results are more minor than substantial. Full review here. B

Anytime you approach a film with the word "jackass" in the title you can't so much look at it as an actual movie, but more as one big joke. That would obviously be the intent anyway, right? Why would you put such a degrading word in the title of your movie if not to be completely stupid and outlandish in the execution of what makes up the content of said title? Naturally, as we are on our fourth installment in the Jackass movie franchise we have come to expect little more than stupidity out of these products with the bright side being they usually come with a lot of laughs. Originally premiering as a half hour MTV show in the Spring of 2000 Jackass introduced the world to the likes of Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera, and the late Ryan Dunn whom this current film is dedicated to. What these guys did was take the gags played over and over again on family-friendly shows like America's Funniest Home Videos and push them to the limit. They were able to set up ridiculous stunts and scenarios that would no doubt induce a fair amount of pain for them, but equal amounts of laughter for the audience. The pain was no doubt worth it despite the show only running for two years as it was able to spawn the aforementioned movie series beginning in 2002 and adding another installment every four years since. With each of these films having a marginal budget compared to what they usually pull in opening weekend it is no surprise we keep getting and will continue getting either direct sequels or spin offs such as this latest incarnation, Bad Grandpa. Knoxville brings back his Irving Zisman character who he has used countless times before and stretches the sketch to feature length. Not to doubt the trickery of these guys, this installment doesn't trade-in the traditional pranks and gags that include the players and unsuspecting victims for narrative and emotional impact, but it does attempt to include both of these elements which is both a bit of a surprise and one of the detractors of the film. It is hard enough for us to take the material seriously, but for Knoxville and his crew not to let the audience in on the joke seems an odd choice. This is slightly redeemed, but it's almost too little too late. Full review here. C+

We go to the movies to be entertained and not necessarily for history lessons. That hasn't stopped writers and filmmakers from making countless films that chronicle historical events since the beginning of the mediums inception. Even D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation which is credited as one of the first motion pictures and innovating several techniques that shaped modern filmmaking is a story revolving around the Civil War and reconstruction-era America. The majority of the time though there seems reason to bring these stories and settings to the big screen by way of there being an inspirational, harrowing, unbelievable, or simply engaging story that deserves to be told and expressed to the largest audience possible. The Fifth Estate has very little to none of these qualities. It is easy to see how writer Josh Singer who has written for several credible TV shows such as The West Wing, Law & Order, and Lie to Me and director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey and yes, the last two Twilight films) saw the inherent drama and, to use that word again, engaging elements of the story of Julian Assange, the Australian activist who began the website WikiLeaks. There is naturally a human element to this story as Assange is an intriguing public figure that has received plenty of press over the past few years and his name and image might very well be more popular or recognizable than the reasons why this is so, but there is also a cultural aspect of Assange's story that addresses the changing of the tide on how the world receives information and this aspect, while I didn't see it coming as a part of the narrative, has a very interesting idea to it that could have been taken advantage of and conveyed in a much more interesting way while the human element is simply left to the performers trying to make the drama function while having nothing solid to work with. They are left to trying to make staring intently at a monitor and typing ferociously as intense as possible rather than backing up and dealing with the actual emotions that come with the weight of what they're typing on their laptops. It isn't so much engaging as it is facts being stated with nothing for us to be moved, shocked, or entertained by. Full review here. D+

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