On DVD & Blu-Ray: April 8, 2014

Usually, I'm rather fond of middle chapters in these serialized movies that seem to come in threes these days, but there is something distinctly offensive about this second installment of Peter Jackson's return to middle earth. First off, and I stated this in my review of last years An Unexpected Journey, is that we knew at some point the fact a trilogy of movies, at three hours a piece no less and drawn from a 300-page book and its appendices and further Tolkien notes was going to begin to feel a bit drawn out and if anything re-enforces that fact to every detractors point it is the last half hour of Desolation of Smaug. It literally felt like the first two hours flew by; it had my attention, my appreciation and even my interest (for the most part), but when our heroes finally reach the mountain and encounter the dragon whose name plagues the subtitle it goes on, and then it goes on a little more, and then it continues. It is over-indulgence at it's finest and seems to exist solely for the fact that Jackson and his team of writers might feel they've placed a large enough action sequence near the end of the film to serve as the big climactic set piece when in reality all it does is feel like they're really trying to make you feel that two hour and forty minute runtime. If they'd only just teased the entrance into the kingdom under the mountain and been fine with a just over two hour movie all would have been better off, though the cliffhanger is even more ridiculous, I admit. Which brings us back around to the point that there was no need for more than two films based off this book in question. It is what it is and we can't change the greedy minds in Hollywood now that they will have plagued the credibility and artistic achievements of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films with these sub-par prequels. It is simply spreading the butter too thin and though I assume many of the fans of Tolkien's work might find it enthralling to be wrapped up in not only what was on the original page in The Hobbit novel, but to see that world fleshed out with his later writings that built a further and more dense mythology for middle earth might be ecstatic and find these to be on the same level as Jackson's previous trilogy, but as pieces of individual cinema this second installment fails on the most basic of levels. Full review here. C+

August: Osage County brings us into the dynamics of the dysfunctional Weston family as well as the countless issues, secrets, lies, and attitudes that constantly butt heads and leave everyone in a state of disarray and disappointment. There is much to be marveled at here as the cast is expansive and the acting is the real draw, but beyond the performances and familiar names this was first a stage play written by Tracy Letts (who also wrote Killer Joe which should give good indication as to how much bite this has) that no doubt won a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize due to its strong narrative and sharp dialogue. It is one of those films made for a very specific set of minds who find things such as this to be both entertaining and insightful. I find the psychology of what it means to each person to lead a successful life fascinating and to see a family, a group of familiar but distant characters, come together over a tragedy and let the flood gates open when it comes to expressing each of their issues with one another (and not in a calm fashion, mind you) to be something of a real treat. That said, this isn't the film the trailers have somewhat attempted to make it out to be. There is some feel-good music, but it is more for storytelling purposes than that of creating a certain tone. There are comedic moments, some that we readily identify with, but overall this is a very dark picture that delves into the issues each family member literally and figuratively brings to the table. There is so much characterization, so much to be learned from the small visual and vocal indications each of the characters give one another yet the film never feels overstuffed or bloated. Director John Wells (The Company Men) coaxes the tangled web of plotlines nicely as Letts adapted his own play for the screen and no doubt worked closely with the director to better translate his story for the more personal format of film rather than the open, less claustrophobic setting of a stage play. In the end, August: Osage County may have one too many twists to render it as credible as it would like to be, but after really thinking about it I couldn't help but feel even this was more the presentation of these facts rather than the fact they actually happened. We are talking about full lifetimes here and all the mistakes and events that come with that. It is an intense look at putting perspective on things and one that flourishes due to those bringing it to life. Full review here. B

While the Paranormal Activity franchise has yet to reach the point where it is something more scoffed at than taken with anticipation it somehow doesn't feel like that point is too far away. This October will mark five years since the first time we met Katie and Micah and all the strange, demonic events that started happening to them and while each subsequent film that has pushed the limitations of people filming every important piece of their lives to the brink of implausibility, there is something to be said for the scope of what has developed here with having such humble beginnings. While the fifth film in the series was meant to be released last fall it was instead pushed back to 2014 and so now, as these films bookend the year for us we are sure to feel both caught up and virtually still in the cold as to what is actually going on with this coven of witches that Katie and her sister Kristi became entangled in at a very young age (as the third film tells us). While each film has given us another piece to the bigger picture what comes to be more obvious with this off-shoot of the series is that they need to begin giving the audience more otherwise people are going to stop putting in their time and money to see these micro-budgeted movies that are dispersed consistently, but feature very little progression in narrative development. What makes The Marked Ones a worthwhile endeavor is that it delivers both more scares and more actual background information than any of the previous installments. The new characters introduced here serve as more of an explanation as to "how" everything that has been hinted at in the main canon films has developed as opposed to "why" this all seemingly began with Katie and Kristi and why it has all spiraled out of control since then. I generally like the Paranormal franchise despite the fact I'm never excited to actually sit down and watch one, but once I do I'm usually sucked into the intriguing if not normal people subject to the scares and moreover how this piece will fit into the overarching story that is being told. It would seem obvious from the marketing that The Marked Ones is not essential viewing, but if you're a fan of the series it at least opens many more doors to be explored and is worth catching if you intend on seeing numero cinco this Halloween. Full review here. C

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