On DVD & Blu-Ray: April 15, 2014

A sense of anticipation and excitement fills me whenever Ben Stiller decides to direct a film and to know that his latest, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, was as much a passion project as it was an option for the producing studio to re-make a classic title that starred Danny Kaye from the late 40's only upped my anticipation for what would hopefully turn out to be an insightful and life affirming tale of a man equally forced and scared out of the direction he once believed his life was going to take. Many people take issue with Stiller for reasons I can understand, but that mostly pertains to his acting ability, comic schtick and lack of range rather than the creative choices he makes when he is in full control. The guy can make however many Focker and Night at the Museum movies he'd like and I will still attend them because there is simply something about him and his ability to play the everyman with the right touch of comedy that appeals to me, but seems to have worn thin with many audiences. The good news here is that Stiller keeps his persona in check and the outright moments that are played for laughs to a minimum simply allowing the story to breathe. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is truly something to take on and though I have not seen the original Kaye version nor have I read the short story from James Thurber that inspired both films, it seems best to take Stiller's version on its own terms as it has modernized the themes that were likely the spirit of the original source material. I was floored by the initial trailer for this film; the tone, the shot selection, the music and everything else about it were sprawling yet exquisitely calculated and seemed primed to hint at a complete film that not only allowed for a bit of fantastical elements amidst the doldrums of a nine to five routine, but looked to say something akin to what we find on the inside of greeting cards without all the cheese and ingenuity. Instead, with a sense of real merit and heart; something that would speak across all kinds of racial and generational boundaries to the simple fact that life is worth living, so go out and make something of it. Stiller's film is indeed beautifully captured and delicately precise, but it never reaches the emotional heights it seemed so intent on achieving and in that regard it never truly captures the audience, but gives us more an interesting perspective than an engulfing experience. Full review here. B-

Sometimes, in life, there are subjects and themes that float in and out of our existence and can define certain time periods of our life. Whether it is for the fact that many of the ideals and themes represented in Philomena are also present at this time of my life made this film hit closer to home than I ever expected or if it is simply because the story in which the film tells is so interesting and captivating that I was completely swept up in it, I can't tell. Either way, there is something about the latest from director Stephen Frear's (The Queen, High Fidelity) in which I can't immediately put my finger on, but am unable to shake. While I went into the film unsuspecting of its charms or its narrative I'd heard nothing but pleasant things about it and that it was something of a delight given the chemistry between leads Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. The last thing I expected was the kind of mystery adventure I was taken on that allows faith, religion and the way we look at God and who he is, if he is, and how he manages to effect out happiness and outlook on life while bringing more meaning to the relationship between a mother and her estranged son. There are moments when this could have easily become a light, road trip comedy with the old lady getting on the younger, sophisticated mans nerves while eventually coming to realize they have a true affection for one another that will allow this relationship to become a cherished friendship, but that isn't the route the film decides to take and thank God for that. Sure, there are moments, entire scenes even,where the content may suggest that is exactly where Philomena is headed, but another of the surprising things about the film is that it never goes exactly where you think it will. There are familiar situations and set-ups that could have easily gone a more predictable way, but ultimately the fact this is based on a true story allows it a stronger sense of truth and the way in which things unfold I can only imagine will be more satisfactory for most than if it ended with a convoluted twist that named Coogan's character as the son (of course that doesn't actually happen, but if you thought you had it figured out beforehand, you don't). While Philomena will fly under the radar for most, it is a film the whole family can enjoy while also stirring up interesting conversation afterwards. Full review here. A

Ride Along is something of a normality in the world of comedy. It is perfectly packaged, with standard jokes ensured to offend no one and completely appealing personas playing two archetypes that are sure to be so familiar to general audiences that they will settle right in and enjoy this brief, hour and a half comedy that keeps the laughs and action well balanced while carving out just enough of a niche for Kevin Hart while demonstrating his ability to play a fully formed character rather than just the comic relief. There is nothing terrific or substantial about the film and in fact it is rather sub par in many areas for despite the fact it is competently directed by veteran Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four) it displays no sense of style or wit beyond that of the typical Hollywood production with enough cash to back its story but not enough actual story or jokes to sustain the simple quotas we ask for from our most commonplace films. That is what Ride Along is after all: a film put together by a committee to appeal to as many people as possible in hopes of creating a bankable star in Kevin Hart that will allow them to roll out films year after year with thin premises, little to no imagination in the script while trusting that the on-set riffs and improvisations are enough to satisfy our need for laughter. In short, if everything goes according to plan Hart will turn out to be the next Adam Sandler (who is now experiencing a slight downfall) and the studios distributing and financing these slapdash efforts will have someone on hand that is a sure bet. Ride Along will be that solidifying film for Hart and he does fine with what he has to work with here making the most out of the otherwise dry material. There are movies like this, movies so obviously put together by a board room that I can't buy into it and I'm unable to get past the fact I'm not seeing a specific vision of what this story was supposed to be, but rather a combination of several ideas with only the intention of pleasing as many people as possible to get the biggest profit. I typically can't take films like this and while I understand these kinds of films aren't made for critics or true cinema fans, but despite all of that this commonplace comedy that has five writers names attached to its screenplay and a director who seems to be on autopilot I didn't mind what Ride Along had to offer even if it was nothing more than a brief diversion. Full review here. C-

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