On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 9, 2014

In the late summer of 2006 a friend and I went unsuspecting into our local dollar theater to see a few movies we'd missed earlier that year. One we had no idea of what we were getting into, but were interested in due to the fact it featured Elizabeth Banks in a starring role was Slither. It was one of those experiences you walk away from as a nineteen year-old kid and wonder what the hell you just watched. At that age everything needs to fit squarely into a category, it has to have some semblance of order for you to think it is acceptable in the adult world and this was an R-rated horror film so that was what we expected, or at least that is what had been advertised. What Slither actually turned out to be was a literal gross-out comedy that played on the several homages it contained to horror films of days past and was more in the vein of Evil Dead than anything else. I say all of this not only to reference my introduction to the work of director James Gunn, but more to put into context the kind of non-expectations I'd set for Guardians of the Galaxy. I didn't want to know what to expect, I didn't want to understand the universe and I certainly didn't want to have any preconceptions about who these characters were given their ridiculous appearance. I'd walked into Gunn's strikingly strange Slither with zero expectation and walked out fully appreciating it for its wackiness and ability to transcend genres while clearly doing whatever it wanted. I hoped for the same thing from Guardians despite the fact Gunn had submitted himself to the powers that be at Marvel. I don't look at Marvel as this monster who assumes creative control and only hires directors willing to do their bidding because it is clear they have a plan for where they want all of this to go and they are looking for those willing to work with them on that ultimate goal, which anyone should be able to appreciate. What I do worry about with each Marvel film is the lack of any original voice coming through in conveying these necessary stories. The stories can be cohesive without the tone or style being the same and while the earth-bound Avengers began to feel more serialized in phase two, Guardians is able to break that mold not only by taking place in the cosmos but by brimming with creativity in every scene of its execution. Full review here. B+

From the outset of John Michael McDonagh's new film Calvary there is a deeply ominous tone due mostly to the nature of conversation and a single threat that lingers over the picture. The film is decidedly honest in the way it approaches the subject of life and pleasantly unpretentious in the way it deals with the psychology of religion and faith. These aforementioned subjects, these lines of thought and the conversations that spurn from them are always of an interest to me that surpass that of any material subject and McDonagh, working from a script solely of his own doing, plays with these ideas and themes in a way that entices without distancing itself from those who find solace in God. In a way, McDonagh uses the comforts and consolation given by faith and Christ as a cushion for the stories of human nature he chooses to explore here. Not only does the inclusion of a heavy hand in the church bring an interesting dynamic to the more individual stories being told, but it adds layers of concentration on sins and virtues and what, if anything, they add up to. It is easy to look at something such as Calvary and praise it for its beautiful cinematography, its gorgeous music, its fine performances and intelligently constructed screenplay that oozes with dialogue that screams serious thought, but it's the fine line the film walks between being serious about its subjects and ironic about their thoughts that make it all the more fascinating. McDonagh is a sly writer who puts an emphasis on character and lets the themes and ideas breathe through the development of these people and the interesting set of circumstances he has placed them in. The dialogue that says so much and could easily be read deeper into concerning the writers stance on certain issues and points of view simply come off as true to the character speaking them than as any kind of agenda or showy quality. It is to this effect that Calvary succeeds in being more than a story about the priesthood and the scandals that have come along with that profession, but what it's like to be a person in that role innocent of the stigmas and the vicious cycle that rarely forgives the exceptions. Full review here. A

At the beginning of Lenny Abrahamson's self-proclaimed quirky indie Frank there is a series of scenes in which Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) attempts to come up with an idea for an original song. He stands, making observations, trying to put melody to descriptive words that paint a picture of what he is saying and deeper than this he is trying to find some type of depth, some kind of weight to what he is experiencing that might translate and be appreciated in song. The thing is, Jon isn't very good at capturing what his ambition tells him he is capable of. This is not only depressing and a slap in the face for anyone too self-conscious to believe they would actually ever make a good entertainer who really only wants to create music, but it is also a promising start to a film that offered insight into the mind of someone who creates what we all find catchy. Music, no matter the genre, is universally loved and related to-hell, it is looked to in order to heal scars, to uplift souls and to affirm our belief that there is something worth living for or that there is hope for the human race. Music is a way of expressing what can't be felt through words alone by putting sound behind them that emphasizes the emotions intended. It seemed from the get-go that Frank would indeed cover the gamut of human emotion and investment involved in creating a collection of songs that represent something of meaning to those behind them and become significant to those who hear them and connect them with their lives. Instead, what the film turns out to be is a strange critique of the quest for fame and how that quest is flawed when recognition is the only goal rather than the simple satisfaction of creating art and basking in it. It is acceptability vs. eccentricity in Abrahamson's film and it is an interesting debate for sure, but ultimately you question our surrogates entire purpose for even continuing on this journey after realizing not only that Frank and his band mates are going nowhere fast, but also that they don't take him seriously. The following statement sounds shallow and close-minded yet I believe it can be rightly justified given the subject of critique here, but if there doesn't seem reason for our main character to take this journey-why should we? Full review here. C

Since seeing Brit Marling in Another Earth I have been interested in her career and the projects she chooses with frequent collaborators Mike Cahill (Another Earth) and Zal Batmanglij (The East, Sound of My Voice). In this second collaboration with Cahill from an original script by the director the two take on more philosophical questions concerning God and our existence through the eyes of a molecular biologist (Michael Pitt). I Origins never made it to any theaters around me, which was disappointing, but I really look forward to checking this out soon.

I 've actually heard some promising things concerning this faith-based sports film and wouldn't be surprised if I ended up seeing it over the Christmas holiday. It doesn't hurt that it has some credible talent on board including Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis and Alexander Ludwig as well as a compelling premise. When The Game Stands Tall is based on the true story of De La Salle High School's legendary football team who shattered all records for any American sport with a 151-game winning streak. Of course, the heart of the film is about the drama that comes to light when that streak ends.

I never saw the first one, didn't realize it was successful enough to warrant a sequel so I never plan on sitting down to watch Dolphin Tale 2. Who knows though, could be more than suitable live-action family entertainment which is a genre that feels all but dead at this point.

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