On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 11, 2014

At the time of first seeing this film I'd made it about halfway through Orson Scott Card's nearly 30 year-old novel and needless to say I expected some pretty great things. The deal is though, that despite the fact I was attempting to finish the novel prior to seeing the finally realized film adaptation of said unfilmable book I never felt as if the story took off or that it was going to anytime soon and it made no clear path for what direction it wanted to go in. That said, I was anxious to see what the movie would do with this and, as I didn't know the ending to the first chapter of Ender's saga, hopeful that I might be proved wrong in expecting the story to amount to much more than the now tired premonition that children would make better soldiers than adults because of their over-indulgence in video games. Turns out, Card seems to have had the idea for the final act before having anything else and had to figure out a world to build around this idea that would allow a functional story to be told leading up to it. The conclusion was likely the best part of the film, and that isn't saying the rest is bad, but it certainly feels as if the film finally gets going and gets into the thick of things just short of rolling the credits on us. Having said that, there is much to like about Ender's Game, but there isn't much to love or get excited about. As I walked into the film I knew better than to hope for a traditional adventure film, but was still optimistic this might serve as another entry in a rather good year for sci-fi that would remind me of films like Jumanji that would take me to a different world and that I could put on repeat as a child. Having given such credit to 2011's Real Steel and Pacific Rim earlier this summer, I was more than willing to believe Ender's Game would have a similar effect on me, but this is a much more serious film than it purports to be and despite the average age of its cast member is a movie filled with mature dialogue that will have some kiddos turning to their parents and asking what is going on while all they'll really be waiting on are more scenes in the zero gravity battle room. As a fan of science fiction and an inherently nerdy person when it comes to the great beyond, themes of reality and perception, and the psychology of humanity among other things I was intrigued and entertained by the film despite the fact it lacks a consistent tone and hook that will keep its audience more in tune with the time rather than allowing them to get lost in space. Full review here. B-

Walking into The Best Man Holiday I was willing, but had no prior knowledge of what these characters had been through and what this feature might contain. I knew in the back of my mind I'd seen bits and pieces of director Malcom D. Lee's 1999 debut feature over the past fourteen years, but never had I sat down to take it all in. That being said, the first few minutes of this belated sequel give us a slight catch-up on the main characteristics of the ensemble cast before setting us back down into their day to day lives to play a little catch up with each before reuniting the gang for a holiday celebration. Having not seen the original I'll admit I was hesitant to jump into the sequel, but was anxious to see if expectation would be trounced and if the film would deliver a distracting two-hour experience. Much to my surprise I was rather taken with the film and wrapped up in the going-ons of each individual character or couple and the problems they were facing given I hadn't been waiting to see how things turned out for them for nearly fifteen years. I knew going into the film that the true test of whether the film moved me would be if I immediately wanted to go home and watch The Best Man. It would be rather pretentious of me to hold out and not say what the outcome of this desire was, so I'll tell you now I immediately searched through a few local places and online to see if I could locate the film on DVD. There is a distinct welcoming tone that pulls you in and holds your interest while setting up all the oncoming conflicts that weigh down the second half of the film and deliver blow after blow to your emotional sensory. Still, when all is said and done this is a film meant to serve the purpose of reminding its audience how important family members and memories are and the seasonal backdrop only re-enforces a certain sense of nostalgia that makes the effect of the film all the more powerful, especially for those that identified with and have felt close to the characters they were originally introduced to over a decade ago. As someone who had no particular expectation or anticipation for the film, The Best Man Holiday is one of those films that would easily escape a Caucasian male when walking into a movie theater, but there is plenty to relate to here because despite me not being in the target demographic, many of the situations and family dynamics are elements that are universal and are executed in a way where everyone feels welcome. Full review here. B-

Everything in director Ridley Scott's latest is so perfectly put together one would think it difficult to find any fault in it's composition as a complete package. Instead, these exceptional pieces of casting, beautiful photography, and impeccable costume designs add up to little more than a meditation on the decisions and eventual repercussions and how those actions affect the people around us through the extreme example of a man accustomed to leisure that must become a player in the business of illegal narcotics in order to keep up appearances. Little more than this has been highlighted in the unexpectedly low-key marketing campaign for a film that seemingly has all the right individual parts to make up a grand film except for the one element that makes all movies worth watching: an intriguing story, a reason to exist in the first place. Whether it be the legendary director, the fact this script comes from Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy in his first gig as a screenwriter, or the well-pedigreed cast that has both credible "movie stars" in Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz while also featuring the likes of critical darlings Javier Bardem, the typically underrated Penelope Cruz, and the man of the moment, Michael Fassbender. Still, The Counselor somehow fails to ever take off and falls completely flat while remaining nothing if not forgettable a mere few hours after watching it. I won't lie in saying I held out high hopes for the film. While there are elements that stand out, performances that deserve recognition and aspects of the script that are interesting in individual scenes they, for one reason or another, are unable to build upon one another or contribute constructively to the larger narrative McCarthy is trying to accomplish. We understand the overlapping relationships and how the storylines tie in to one another, but none of it adds tension to the proceedings or even a small hint of interest into how these short vignettes will ultimately pay off for the characters taking part in them. The Counselor is an interesting case of a movie as I would never refer to it as a necessarily "good" movie or one worth watching for its entertainment value, but it is oddly intriguing for its dedication to style and subtlety of theme that at least keeps us curious as to what exactly this beautiful disaster was trying to say. Full review here. C

In one of my scriptwriting classes in college we were asked to write an opening scene for a film that included zero dialogue. At first thought this may not seem like too large a task (just write a bombastic action sequence that hooks the audience, right?) but to set that up, to provide context would be something more difficult. It would have to be all about the visual clues, the details included that would be vital in pushing the story forward. That is why what director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) has done with All is Lost is both extremely difficult and at the same time extremely impressive. That the writer/director has accomplished this stylistic choice with such naturalism that the audience never feels as if it is forcing a "no dialogue" rule on itself is all the more reason to be surprised it succeeds as well as it does. With a running time of an hour and forty-six minutes the film can sometimes be a bit of an endurance test as to just how much more our unnamed protagonist can take and though it rises and falls from high-pressure situations to mild boredom in spots, we never want to leave our surrogate character until we at least know the conclusion of his journey. That is what this film is about after all, for it is not a movie we go to the theaters to buy popcorn and entertain ourselves with, but instead is nothing short of a captivating experience that places us right in the middle of the isolation with the silence forcing us to question how far we might go before we give up; before we decide that putting up a fight might not be worth it any longer. It isn't your typical cinematic experience, but it is one that demanded to be seen on the big screen and that, in its own right, makes this an experience worth having even as it tests everything that you find comfortable about your life. Full review here. A-

If Twilight is the bubblegum pop of young adult literary adaptations and Hunger Games is the more alternative rock that still gets played on Top 40 radio, then How I Live Now must be labeled as the punk rock version of these popular archetypes that continue to be re-imagined and place young, female heroine's at the center of their conflict. I had not heard of Meg Rosoff's novel that was first published in 2004 (a full year before Twilight and four before The Hunger Games) prior to discussions of director Kevin Macdonald's adaptation out of the Toronto International film Festival last year. I was intrigued not only because Macdonald has directed a slew of acclaimed documentaries and feature films, but because it starred an aggressive-looking Saoirse Ronan and the last time she looked to be in this form was 2011's Hanna in which she contributed a great performance to one of my favorite films of that year. Though Ronan attempted to headline her own young-adult female-centric fantasy adaptation earlier last year with The Host, that effort bombed both with critics and general movie-goers, but How I Live Now is a different beast entirely. The mega-hits like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games fall into that category because they are the first out of the gate in concept and execution, while the ones that trail behind will not find near the success for that same reason. The good news concerning How I Live Now is that it doesn't strive to be anything it's not and while it will seem all too familiar with today's Hunger Games-fueled audiences this is not a likable protagonist at the center of the story, it doesn't offer the typical love triangle nor does it strive to extend its saga over multiple chapters, but instead Rosoff created an isolated incident of how the greater effects of war and isolation affect a single soul as we see a large event through a small window. Much like Steven Spielberg's version of War of the Worlds, Macdonald uses the personal perspective to differentiate his film from those that we have seen before where a more global look is taken as society comes to an end. Here, we are as confused and lost as the characters we are following. This doesn't always work in terms of successful storytelling, but it certainly keeps us intrigued and ready to stick with wherever that story decides to go. Full review here. C

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