On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 13, 2015

Having read the Gillian Flynn "airport novel" before heading into David Fincher's adaptation I knew what to expect. Having started reading Flynn's novel only a month ago and knowing who was playing who I knew what to picture in my head. There was never any debate in my mind how perfect for this role Ben Affleck was (or any of the cast for that matter). Having seen the trailers before opening the pages I knew what tone to imply and what aesthetic to place these characters in. As with any Fincher film, it is a world of precision and it couldn't have been more in tune with the demented psyches that populate the characters of this world. What is fascinating is how easily this could have been something else, something that was picked up by Lifetime as a made for TV movie and is given a more prestigious, thought-provoking, heavier translation by Fincher because that is the point-the point being this isn't just another Lifetime original for us to latch on to as entertainment. These are lives, painfully honest explanations of how even exceptional individuals can become clich├ęs. This is not only the story of a wife, a once high profile New York socialite who married a salt of the earth Missouri boy who came to disappear on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, but of how the media reacts to these simple, concrete facts they can play with. How they can twist, manipulate and exploit any one detail they want turning the entire personality of a man or any subject it sets its eyes on into a one note killer. Further, it is the analysis of relationships gone wrong. When the person you thought you married grows up to be someone you didn't think they'd be and you don't necessarily like who that person is. It isn't so much a discussion of the white suburbanite household or marriages that slip into boredom because they become routine, but more it is the discussion of how well we know ourselves and the things we truly want, even if we know we'll never have the gall to take them. What would happen if we did though? What would happen if we were so self-consumed with not only ourselves but how others perceive us that we did whatever it took to keep that image and ambition intact? That is what Fincher's adaptation of Gone Girl explores and despite the fact I knew what to expect going in, it surpassed every expectation. Full review here. A-

At this point it's a matter of just how much of a badass Liam Neeson can be. As I said in my review for last years Neeson opener, Non-Stop, the guy has more than solidified himself as everyone's favorite action star by doing what Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger wish they could at his age and reaping the box office returns they desire. Why these aged action stars can't catch a break is because everyone saw them in their prime, knew what they were at the peak of their careers and lives and find it somewhat disheartening and sad, the reality of time. We never saw Neeson as a young action hero though, it took time for him to transcend the realms of serious and prestigious works to lighten up a little and deliver consistently in the B-movie genre, but that is likely a discussion for another time and another piece. Today, Neeson's latest turn as the man on the other end of the phone in A Walk Among the Tombstones is on home video though. Knowing very little to nothing about the plot or types of characters involved I imagined this as a western (c'mon, that's a great title for a western) and from the few stills I'd seen prior hoped Neeson might be playing the scorned Sheriff who had to show the townspeople he still had what it took or the outlaw with a moral compass that put him in a sticky predicament where he had to choose between his code and his life. That is neither here nor there though as what the film actually plays out to be is a detective story from the perspective of a retired police officer and now private detective that was once unable to resist the temptation of the drink and is now unable to resist a case where women have become the price paid for their husbands sins. It is a nasty little movie, one that doesn't break any molds or provide any new insight into the genre of film in which it resides, but it does what it is intended to do well enough while going on for fifteen minutes too long and resulting in a much less profound conclusion than it could have had it simply let the audience draw their own conclusions. Full review here. C

I watched with my iPhone out, taking notes as I sat alone in the theater with the latest from director Jason Reitman unspooling in front of me. As the man behind Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air he will always have my attention, but as he somewhat pretentiously preached to what will no doubt be the choir about how technology has brought us together by pushing us apart I couldn't help but feel this was redundant and worst of all, boring. It makes sense as ultimately this is a film about people who are bored so it is a question of how to make boring people interesting and the conclusion seems to have been to cram as many boring people as possible into the story so there would be plenty of problems to fill out a 100-minute movie. That sounds harsh, but the problems don't stop there and the truth is this is such a dramatization of man-made, first world, too personal too understand when casting wide net problems that it all comes off as trying and whiny. It isn't meant to be that way; Reitman clearly wants to elicit serious reflection, to inspire questions and probably even likes to think he reveals something to us about ourselves that we don't already know, but as I sat tapping away at my screen I felt no remorse or reflection, but rather just appreciated the irony. Men, Women & Children ends up coming off not as a meditative look at how much closer to meaningless our existence is as we create such issues as those under examination, but rather a film so perverse, dark and one-note for the sake of being all of those things that it ends up feeling insignificant. I use "insignificant" because we are asked multiple times to consider what really matters in our world, but more than trying to offer some existential philosophy on how the ramifications of our instantly gratifying society weave into these issues I was instead left wondering if this was truly representative of the high school experience these days or had Reitman actually turned into as obvious a director as I suspect his portrayals of the human race are. I understand the characters function as a means to tell a specific story and relay a certain theme, but while the film wants to cut deep in that it tries to get on a level typically reserved for minimal interaction it comes off more as a collection of extreme examples with no depth or dimensions to give us reason to feel affected or involved. Full review here. C-

Love is Strange isn't about the tragedy at hand, but more the tragedies that circumstance forces us into and the way life seems to backhand those circumstances into more dire consequences. What we see and what we are receiving are two different things as on the surface this could simply be taken as a movie about the current struggles of homosexual couples. In reality though, this is about little more than a single emotion, an emotion the title glorifies as odd and the film describes in several different scenarios and stages. Sure, the hook is that it deals with the homosexual relationship between Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) because it is their relationship that serves as the catalyst for the events that occur in the film, but they are rarely even seen together. This is, of course, intentional as them being apart tells the audience more of their relationship than it ever could if we saw them together constantly. And so, what Love is Strange has to offer is a melancholy tale cloaked in Saturday afternoon sunshine that makes it feel more light and frothy than it has any right to perpetrate. While there is a certain amount of vitriol in the screenplay from writer/director Ira Sachs and writing partner Mauricio Zacharias it is a very measured amount to the extent that none of these characters play into archetypes, but instead deliver the most poignant moments in the film by portraying these characters as human beings most will seemingly be able to relate to. I would like to assume there is a certain amount of understanding in humanity where we can drop the facades of acting the way we think we're supposed to and just speak in truths of empathy, but I also realize how much wishful thinking that actually is. This is why Love is Strange is so powerful in its execution and its presentation of these characters that everyone might not agree though as it is still able to relay a part of the viewers life to the point of understanding even if their orientation differs. I came to the film not knowing much about it other than the fact its two lead performances were being highly praised, but as it slowly sneaked up on me I felt it was rather middle of the road until the final scene hit me with the subtlety it had been playing at all along. Full review here. B

There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about The Two Faces of January, but that doesn't make it a pointless experience. In fact, it is rather refreshing in the sense that it knows what it is and takes pride in accomplishing what it sets out to do fairly well. It is a film set in the early 1960's that doesn't overly glorify the day and age it takes place, but rather insists on the time period for the aura despite the tone of the film feeling closer to that of a forties drama/romance. Everything we see unfold here is standard within that type of film and within the genre we know we are nestling into, yet the inherent excitement that comes with the engaging premise consistently manages to entertain. It is when watching a movie such as this that one begins to take into consideration how well a film works within the restrictions of its classification and judge its success on that and not simply on what statement it might be trying to make. In talking specifically about The Two Faces of January we are taken into a world of yesteryear where the politics weren't politics, but agendas disguised by adventure and if you don't know any better that's all you have to take it as. Though I'm sure Patricia Highsmith's 1964 novel from which this is adapted has a level of deeper meaning akin to the time in which she wrote it as well as alluding to possible themes someone such as myself, raised in the modern world with little reference to older lifestyles, will not pick up on I was still able to have a fun time watching things unfold. This is a thriller in the most stylish sense of the word and despite the fact that by the time the conclusion comes around you'll feel it's all vaguely familiar one can still appreciate the film for what it brought to the table while it was running. Like I said, this isn't necessarily anything new or refreshing in any sense, but it is comforting in that it is reliable and is constructed beautifully with top notch performances from some of today's more serious-minded actors elevating the material to even more efficient enjoyment. Full review here. B-

I really wanted to see Andre 3000's turn as Jimi Hendrix in Jimi: All is By My Side, but it only ended up playing in my area for a week or so before disappearing. I didn't even realize it was coming out on home video until yesterday and will hopefully have the opportunity to check it out soon, but it has a lot of competition this week.

The feature I missed in its theatrical run that I'll be checking out first on home video is the documentary, Keep On Keepin' On which follows jazz legend Clark Terry over the course of four years as it documents the mentorship between Terry and 23-year-old blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin as the young man prepares to compete in an elite, international competition. The film has received great reviews and there's almost nothing I love more than a music-inspired documentary a la Searching for Sugarman and 20 Feet From Stardom.

Another film I was interested in seeing, but only premiered on VOD was the Jake Paltrow (younger brother of Gwyneth) film, Young Ones starring Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The film looked visually arresting while telling the tale of a dystopian-like future where water is hard to find and a teenage boy sets out to protect his family and survive. I don't know that I'll get around to it any time soon and the medicore reviews aren't all too compelling, but I'm still interested and hope to make time.

Another straight to VOD release, Jessabelle is about a girl returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate after a horrific car accident. There, our titular character comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return and has no intention of letting her escape. It sounds like a solid enough little horror flick and at ninety minutes it may be one I bring back up around Halloween this year as I'm interested to see more from Sarah Snook who turned in a great performance in Predestination, but I feel no immediate need to see it.

This is where we begin to scrape the bottom of the barrel as "Martin Scorsese Presents" was slapped across this one to little effect and I heard nothing about Revenge of the Green Dragons except for how bad it was. Directed by Wai-Keung Lau and Andrew Loo the film tells of two best friends who rise through the ranks of New York's Chinese underworld in the 1980s and I couldn't care less. Also, it stars a desperate-seeming Ray Liotta who also appears in the last new release of the week...

Sitting at 7% on the tomatometer and known as the movie that kicked off the slumming September season right as the summer movie extravaganzas came to a slogging stop, The Identical always looked pretty bad and even the lack of releases around it couldn't force me into theaters to see it. Featuring a cast that includes Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green, Joe Pantoliano and introducing Blake Rayne as twin brothers who are unknowingly separated at birth. The story the film chooses to go with is that one of the twins becomes an iconic rock 'n' roll star who is supposed to be Elvis, but isn't actually Elvis while the other struggles to balance his love for music and pleasing his father. You couldn't pay me to watch this after the horrible trailer, see what I mean here.

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