On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 27, 2015


Ernest Hemingway said, "Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." Hemingway means to inform us of the repercussions of getting carried away with violence as power, but director David Ayer asks us to contemplate not the repercussions but the mentality it takes to execute such acts of war. Is the ruthlessness with which these men approach their actions acceptable? Is their matter-of-fact attitude towards taking a life understandable within the confines of the circumstances? There is never a moment in Ayer's latest effort, Fury, where we let ourselves become distracted by the action sequences or the curiosity of where the story is going because we know exactly where it's taking us and that, in many ways, is the only let-up the film offers as it's otherwise a consistently tense and mentally exhausting experience. In order to deliver this disjointed, but outwardly insightful look Ayer has combined a typical plot-driven narrative with large elements of a pure character study. The director clearly wants to depict the type of men and personalities it took to win World War II, but further than this it is about how they became these beings free of any kind of moral compass yet trapped in a mindset that left nearly every other human an enemy. When we look at history we see what we are taught in textbooks and reference what we learn in lectures, but the little details escape us, the unimaginable is left at that and the countless lives sacrificed are best forgotten as their bodies are lost in a sea of limbs. Carnage is a disgusting act of man that seems to settle little more than who has more men fighting for them and Fury gets to the heart of this ugly method that sees men, people just like you and I, transformed into these conditioned warriors that see things in nothing but black and white, all or nothing, live or die. It is in these hands governments put as much power as they can muster which naturally translates to the indestructible mentality of soldiers thinking of themselves as an exception while the talkers, the leaders sit back and hope for the best possible outcome. Fury commentates on the ugliness of war by laying waste to the idea those we call heroes couldn't feel less like one. Full review here. B+

A lot of people who write about movies become not what most refer to as out-of-touch with general audiences, but rather accustomed to the ways in which films operate. They become an authority not just on how to receive a film, but on what it should do in order to accomplish its intended goals. In terms of adult dramas most would not include a Bon Iver soundtrack and in-your-face metaphors on the list of must-haves. I won't sit here and be even more pretentious to the point of thinking I know what everyone else is thinking, but it's not hard to see why a movie like The Judge is heavily dismissed. It's viewed as hokey and manipulative because it deals with situations that have come to be recognized as trite. I get where those who feel this way are coming from in that the film has plenty of issues to work out. For starters, it is too long-clocking in at nearly two and a half hours and not having the restraint to cut itself off two or three scenes earlier or trimming a few subplots. Screenwriters Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque have stuffed their story with so many archetypes it isn't even funny and I realize that. We not only have the tortured protagonist who returns to his roots to discover who he really is or the tough, unforgiving father but we also have the brother whose ultimate life didn't match his early promise, the mentally challenged brother and the girl who never left her small town. You recognize these characters, maybe moreso from movies than real life, but the point is there is something or someone here for everyone to connect with. There are what have come to be considered hokey circumstances because they've become so heavily relied on for drama and heartbreak, but the truth is cancer is devastating and when played right, is effective. Like its parade of clich├ęd characters there are multiple issues that come into play that you expect to find when circumstances must be played for drama. There is not only the mentally ill brother, but the murder at the heart of the films plot, the aforementioned life-threatening illness, questions of paternity and to top it off, a tornado comes through just in time to symbolize what a storm of emotions and issues these people are dealing with. I get it. The Judge is not necessarily high art, but I am a sucker for these types of films and this one in particular hit home enough for me that I can easily forgive its shortcomings. Full review here. C+

There are a lot of interesting things going on in director Jorge R. Gutierrez's feature film debut, The Book of Life. There are a lot of ideas, some very intriguing storytelling functions and a visual element all its own that will set the film apart from other animated fare for years to come. Still, there is both something distinctly unique to the work while never rising above mediocrity in terms of how affected or entertained I was by it. Surely, those in the Hispanic community that venture out to see this tale of their heritage come to life will get more out of it than I did, but taking it simply on the terms of being a movie it didn't entrance me like I'd hoped it would after seeing the gorgeous trailers. All of this could be due to my lack of knowledge around the history of this holiday, but however unfair it may seem the film should still reach beyond the borders of its intended audience and pull unfamiliar onlookers in. After walking out of the film, I thought to myself that I didn't really have much to say about it other than it is a movie, it exists and it's fine for what it is. It says what it wants to say without getting caught up in having to conform to any typical standards that come along with being a movie for children, but that doesn't make it all the more interesting. With this seeming freedom Gutierrez takes the most liberties with the look of his film and adheres to the character design of what is clearly the dolls he grew up being familiar with. His three leads in Manolo (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) are each charismatic and charming, but despite this being a story straight out of their cultural background it is one that still feels familiar. I didn't dislike the movie, not at all, but I didn't ever come to care about the characters as I should have given their trajectory and likely serves as the reason I feel so disconnected with the material. There is clearly a lot going on here that will entrance the eyeballs and a fair amount of musical interludes that will perk up the sometimes sullen material, but all in all The Book of Life just feels too routine to amount to anything as great or groundbreaking as it seems to be reaching for. Full review here. C

I almost went to see Before I Go To Sleep in theaters, but even then I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to do so. This thing came and went so quickly I can't imagine anything coming of it or ever inspiring me to give it a look, but maybe it will find an audience on home video because it certainly didn't in its theatrical run.