On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 16, 2014

The big detractors from the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles naturally come in the form of story given what is being re-packaged here is the characters that have survived for so long now. It begins when we realize the one too many writers on this project (Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec usually work together while I imagine Evan Daugherty was brought in Damon Lindelof-style) have re-worked the origin story to include April (Megan Fox) in the development of how these turtles came to be mutants while keeping intact that Splinter (an on-set Danny Woodburn with Tony Shalhoub voicing) raised them and made them ninjas. It all seems a little too similar to the reincarnated Amazing Spider-Man storyline in which a deceased father figure was in on a secret science experiment that he disagreed with and paid for with his life that has come around to haunt his offspring by their off-chance involvement. Still, I was able to look past these similarities and have a good time with experiencing seeing these childhood favorites on the big screen again. I will admit there was even a fair amount of giddiness in seeing Shredder take the stage again with an appreciation for the films unabashed eagerness to introduce this major villain rather than digging back into the annals of TMNT history to find some obscure bad guy that might be a prelude to the one we all want to see. What didn't mesh as well is the constant downfall of these types of films and that is the motivation of the bad guy. William Fichtner's character Eric Sacks is the deceitful businessman who wants to be both the destroyer and savior of New York City while his mentor and father figure, the more menacing Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), is the source of the science that fuels the turtles and the only cure for the contagion they plan to release upon the city. Power, greed and money-the same ole things fuel the desire of the antagonists actions and results in paper-thin tension when our heroes finally do face their arch-nemesis despite the fact it looks super awesome. Full review here. C+

Young adult literary adaptations have become as much a genre to themselves as the super hero or comic book movie. They exist in a vacuum where many of the same rules apply to the different worlds being brought to life. As of late, and meaning after the breakthrough of Harry Potter, the solidification of Twilight and the confirmation of not simply being a fad by The Hunger Games, we have received several female-led, dystopian-set tales of rebellion and individualism that employ fantastical creatures and environments to communicate their bigger themes to the youth of today. In all honesty, I've enjoyed a great deal of them for either their tone (Beautiful Creatures) or extent of creativity (Divergent) while others have been downright terrible (Mortal Instruments). While it may be easy to spot a YA adaptation from a mile away these days it doesn't mean the trend is fading, in fact it is the opposite, for if anything it feels these types of titles are just ramping-up in the way that studios have finally found solid ground on which to build these series hopefuls. It is in the same vein that it took Marvel nearly a decade to establish their own cinematic universe after the X-Men hit the screen for the first time, but now that we have a type of blueprint things are moving much faster. No matter the eventual box office return, the feature adaptation of a popular teen-lit series can't presently be labeled as a bad idea and thus we have been brought The Maze Runner. Based on a series of four books (which, if successful, will eventually mean five movies) by James Dashner this is the first real departure for the genre since becoming an institution that deviates from the formula of female lead in a failing, dystopian societal structure. Instead, what we are given is a very stripped down, human survival story with plenty of mystery surrounding the circumstances to keep audiences intrigued as our host of characters slowly peel back layers of the secrets within twisting both our expectations and hopes while consistently keeping us engaged in its proceedings. It is as much an accomplishment as any non-branded, non-sequel movie to hit theaters these days and become a hit as it is for the first installment of a YA adaptation to stand completely on its own while still setting itself up for more stories and if The Maze Runner has a single great strength, that's it. Full review here. B-

Director Shawn Levy's This is Where I Leave You is a film elevated wholly by the talent of the cast involved and the stock they decide to put in their characters. To that point it would seem that the material is the weak point here, but that isn't apparent until the last act of the film when the amount of drama and issues incorporated into one family become too much to the point of inauthentic. We can only buy into so much drama before it all seems to become a little too convenient to make certain points. That said, this is a film nowhere near as hokey (in both its sentimentality and contrivances) as it made itself out to be in the trailers. Levy is a more than capable filmmaker who has shown time and time again he has an aptitude for crafting features the entire family can easily enjoy (junk food movies to a certain extent) so why not turn the tables on himself and make an honest, R-rated movie about those he so often entertains? I don't know if that was the directors intent or if he just loved the Jonathan Tropper novel this is based on, but either way he has put together something that both young and old family members will likely enjoy and be able to relate to. This is Where I Leave You is a film that is at least willing to find the comedy in every situation, the laughs that would naturally be thought of as inappropriate are appreciated thus making the family at the center all the more endearing despite the mountain of baggage each member brings to the table. It is a film made more fun and more enjoyable by those you share in the experience with as I'm sure it is more affecting when seen with siblings or parents than it would be with a group of friends. There is little in the way of outside influence sans significant others as this is a story fully focused on the family unit and how the dynamics between different individuals of different status' within that unit relate to one another and mean a certain extent to one another depending on the situation. It brings to the surface not just the comedy of "the friends you can't choose" scenario, but also the intricacies of how these relationships differ which is interesting. While not being a completely genuine or necessarily heartfelt piece, it is a melodrama of the more credible degree mostly because we like the people playing the people we're watching. Full review here. B-

Magic in the Moonlight marked the fourth year in a row I saw the annual Woody Allen feature in theaters and it would be a lie to say I'm not growing fond of the tradition. Of course, there is no telling how much longer this tradition might continue as the prolific writer/director is nearing seventy-nine and I can only imagine will continue to remain as consistent for so much longer. Allen continues to defy expectations though as he continues to both craft interesting enough stories for relevant actors to embody and piece them together in rapid fashion. It is hard to even pinpoint at what stage of life Allen first put the idea we're currently watching on screen to paper, but I can only imagine he has a drawer full of premises that he pulls from every year and crafts a screenplay around yet all the while jotting down more ideas to add to the drawer. It will be interesting to see what he leaves us with as the next few features are likely to be some of his final ones, but if there is anything particularly telling about his latest it is that the guy isn't scared of getting old. Magic in the Moonlight may be able to pull off seeming like a romantic comedy for intellectuals and even as the film slogs to its inevitable conclusion it seems Allen would have liked to convince himself of this as well, but really the film is simply another exercise for Allen, the writer, to voice his complaints about mortality, the mystical side of life and the belief in a higher power. He does this with both vigorous and insightful dialogue that is conveyed through what is at least an inventive situation. It also doesn't hurt he has placed the film in what we perceive as a more innocent period of time (1928) to soften the blow of his logical observations and make them feel more farcical than forceful. I am one who doesn't mind the arrogant, slightly egotistical nature of Allen especially when it has been imbued upon as charming an actor as Colin Firth and there truly is, as is typically the case, some finely-crafted dialogue here that cuts to the heart of the conflict our central character feels, but as a film in and of itself Magic in the Moonlight feels more minor than the significance of its ideas. Full review here. B-

Like last weeks I Origins I am sad I wasn't already afforded the opportunity to see this film, but will definitely be checking The Skeleton Twins out as soon as time allows (which, unfortunately, probably won't be until after the new year. Wiig and Hader together? It has to at least be entertaining enough, right?

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