On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 17, 2015

Time is not kind. Time is the one thing we can't seem to make more of and yet the only thing, when it really comes down to it, that we could ever hope to gain. Birdman is about the moments in life when it really comes down to it. When everything in life seems so fleeting, materialistic or fake and we have a second of clarity that defines what is really important to us, what makes this existence worth enduring and even why we want to exist in the first place. Birdman is a character study wrapped in social commentary about the current state of cinema as well as a love letter written in blood to the idea of legacy. There are millions of avenues one could run down when it comes to telling a story about the basic experience of being human and those moments that define who we are, who we become or who we want to be despite our actions. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel) is interested in the moments that make up a personality and the effect or contribution that personality has on society, but he also wants to make a few other notions clear in the process. The guy hates comic book movies, clearly, or at least hates that they have become the cornerstone of the modern cinematic experience. It is hard to find fault in this opinion with as strong a case as his film makes, but then again this can all be perceived as pretentious and taking things too seriously since most comic book films have no intentions other than being escapism for the masses. As much as Birdman incorporates the world of super heroes and comic book movies into its structure to make a larger point the film is ultimately about the difference in love and admiration and how the quest to feel "special" will likely only leave you empty if you disregard those closest to you for personal gain and have no one to celebrate with when that gain puts you at the top of the mountain. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in Birdman. Both on the screen in front of you and as larger analogies Inarritu's film has a lot on its mind and is primarily so successful because it is so capable of conveying this multitude of thoughts and ideas in an entertaining and insightful manner. Full review here. A

After seeing The Imitation Game and how it concerned itself with addressing the life of a genius while centering around a pivotal narrative in his life I more or less expected the same from The Theory of Everything where instead of the subject being a mathematician they are a theoretical physicist. While my main complaint concerning the biopic is that most follow a typical template The Theory of Everything does so with seemingly no ambition to be anything more. This was unanimously my complaint with the story of Alan Turing while working to its advantage because the story it chooses to document is infinitely compelling. With the tale of Stephen Hawking though, the story is simply him. This is a documentation of his life events, but there is no driving force or specific goal behind it that desperately needs to be accomplished. A set objective isn't always necessary and great, intriguing films can certainly be made without the need of some overarching intent driving the narrative, but here it felt as if that certain something was missing. That said, director James Marsh who is mainly known for his documentaries, has crafted a movie that is more memorable for its performances and smaller moments than anything else. As far as what the film is actually missing to make up for its somewhat lackadaisical approach to plot is hard to say. It has the two young stars at the head aging unconvincingly, it centers around a man who had to overcome great odds in his life and accomplished a great many things despite those odds set against him, but it also never challenges the audience to feel his struggles. I imagine the majority of the American public would recognize Hawking's name if not for the reasons he is well-known and so one has to wonder why this story was worth telling if the real life Hawking received credit where credit was due. As the film progresses I began to understand why Marsh kept things simple as this isn't a story about a specific thing Hawking accomplished, but the pure miracle that he kept accomplishing things at all after being diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963. I understand the approach and the finished product is a fine enough summation of what has been a rather extraordinary life, but that doesn't excuse the fact it still feels like something crucial is missing that might have made the difference in a good film and an exceptional one. Full review here. C+

I was seven years-old the year the original Dumb and Dumber was released and as the oldest child was never privy to anything an older sibling might expose me too. That said, I never became attached to the original in a fashion that would conjure up nostalgic memories when catching it on cable or even when seeing the trailers earlier this summer for the long-delayed sequel. On the other hand, my wife who was six years-old when the original came out with a sixteen year-old brother and fourteen year-old sister looks at the first film as a comedy classic, as one that defines her adolescent years and one she can quote from back to front. That said as well, she wasn't very much looking forward to the unnecessary sequel as the original was probably a film best left alone. In the end, as someone who had no real emotional attachment to these characters I pretty much had the same reaction as the wife; it was a comedy, it was fine enough though nothing resembling great and it's unlikely it will deliver as much joy on repeat viewings (if it even gets that chance) as the original. Had the film been made closer to the original it might have worked, Jim Carrey might have delivered a duo of films on par with his Ace Ventura adventures, but at this point the attempt to capitalize on his past hits just feels desperate. This, on top of the fact of how old these guys look in their get-ups is just depressing. As much as people think critics (and I hesitate to call myself that as I'm simply an online movie blogger) love to rag on comedies I have said countless times on this site how much I love the subjective nature and the talented people it takes to bring these types of movies to life, especially when they are able to leave a lasting impression. Even though I have nothing to do with the creative process or production, when I initially like a comedy that generally received bad reviews and eventually becomes something of a favorite to audiences I pride myself on that and feel a part of a bigger community, a community with a shared sense of humor. Unfortunately, a feeling of such insight didn't come to mind when watching Dumb and Dumber To, but rather the thought of how cruel time can be and how punishing the industry can be, especially on a funny man looking for a laugh. Full review here. D

St. Vincent is formula, but it's damn affecting formula. As soon as we meet the (somewhat) titular curmudgeon followed by the set-up that requires him to watch over the new neighbor kid we know where things are going. This is a film though that epitomizes the saying, "it's not about where you're going, it's about how you get there." There is nothing new to find in the intentions of the story or even in the way it is executed. Everything you will take away from St. Vincent is because of the characters, their individual arcs and how it comes together to not necessarily paint a pretty picture, but a humbling one. We are in a day and age where this, in many ways, feels like the culmination of Bill Murray's master plan. He has so effortlessly (or it at least seems that way) become more of a figure, a myth than that of an actual being that we find real value in seeing him let loose as much as he does here. There have only been a few occasions over the last decade or so where the legendary actor and comic has allowed himself this much visibility and unlike 2012's odd Hyde Park on Hudson this sees him in a role that is able to be more widely appreciated. You will recognize the schtick Murray is playing because he's done it before, but that doesn't make it any less fun to watch or when his stage of life and career are taken into consideration, any less affecting. I say affecting again because despite the fact we know where the film is going and we know what it wants us to feel it is still able to achieve a genuine emotional reaction from the audience and for that alone, the film deserves credit. It is also to the films credit that it doesn't overstay its welcome and allows the actors to flourish in their roles bringing the intended ideas to the surface and moving the audience in just the right way to where we are fine with the manipulation it is pulling over on us. St. Vincent is a crowd-pleaser in the biggest and best sense of the word in that it is a film I realize could be taken as overly-sentimental or even hokey, but that I could watch over and over again and still find reasons to smile every time. Sometimes, you need a film like that and St. Vincent would make a wonderful default to turn to for, if nothing else, the showcase it allows Murray. Full review here. B-

At the very least, Seth Rogen and writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg have kept their premises interesting and a cut above by not settling for anything conventional. With their directorial debut last year in This is the End they created a satire from their own and their friends personas while combining their genre of choice with something completely out of their comfort zone. This made for one of the better comedies of the year and some nice box office returns in the process (opening against Man of Steel no less) and so Rogen and Goldberg were given free reign to administer their next project which of course became the now unavoidable The Interview. Despite the fact the film has now become more a point of controversy than an actual conversation piece there seems no reason to sit back and not take the film for what it actually is. Given the circumstances of how it was eventually distributed and the feelings of indifference toward it now that the storm has finally seemed to calm I think we can all agree it wasn't worth it. All of this is to say that the movie isn't terribly funny in any kind of innovative way, but if you like the stylings of Rogen and James Franco you certainly won't be let down. There isn't even close to as much satire existing here as in the directing duo's first effort (which is kind of shocking) while it's clear Rogen and Goldberg, the writers, would like to make a few points not only about North Korea and the state of American journalism, but the state of America in general. There is a heavy commentary about the way we conduct ourselves just waiting to break free from the confines of the dick and fart jokes that run rampant the majority of the time, but in the execution of their script the guys behind Superbad can't help but fall back on what they know they do well. It is understandable, but if you're going to go through with such a ballsy premise relying on what you know only seems to make the final product feel that much safer and while no one necessarily wanted this movie (I can't believe it was greenlit in the first place) what they expected once it was actually made is likely a far cry from the mockery that ensues once the title hits the screen. Full review here. C

Nowadays when one sees Hilary Swank gazing past the camera and through to the unknown on a poster we typically imagine it as a precursor to some uplifting tale where her character is the catalyst for change. One would again think that is the case with The Homesman as her Mary Bee Cuddy is certainly the most honorable character we come in contact with, but this isn't an uplifting drama that feels manufactured to redeem your confidence in the human race. In fact, if the film says anything about the human race it is about the savagery from which we spawned and the role of the female in the old west. Cuddy was a feminist without knowing the word to describe herself. She was a woman who heralded the strength of being a woman on her own, supporting herself and an advocate for equality all while feeling out of place because of the time in which she lived. It is an unfortunate scenario to say the least, but it certainly makes for an interesting character study and director Tommy Lee Jones seems to understand the ideas and themes he is playing with as his character, George Briggs, is both confused by yet struck with admiration by the confident and brave Ms. Cuddy. In The Homesman, what we have is a straight-forward tale of straight-forward people. There are no artistic flourishes (though much of the framing here results in a gorgeous visual prowess) or intent to be subtle about the politics of what topics the story is playing with, but rather Jones presents this story in a very matter-of-fact manner that suits the time period and the personalities of most while leaving the audience riddled with an unexpected clarity. It is one thing to say something turns out different than you expected because that would more generally be the case in film, but it is another to say you didn't expect what something had to offer and while I expected to get a fine enough western from an actor/director who clearly appreciates the genre, what I received was a meditative, heartbreaking and downright moving look at what life promised (or couldn't, depending on how you look at it) during that time and how sometimes that wasn't enough to keep on going. Full review here. B

It feels a bit backward to write a critique about a documentary that holds the subject of the man who arguably made film criticism what it is today. While there have been plenty of minds and influential voices in the industry of film criticism there is no argument that both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert cast a shadow over that world and are the most recognizable names on the pull quotes of your childhood VHS tapes. I always wondered, as a child, what made these two particular men that much more qualified to give us their opinion on movies and what made that opinion more valid. It wasn't until after Siskel passed that I came to appreciate the anticipation that came along with waiting to see what Ebert and Richard Roeper, or whoever might be joining him in the balcony, thought of the new films opening that weekend. It was a safe environment, a world where arguments could be had, creative endeavors discussed and yet there were no hard feelings because despite the often difference of opinions everyone always realized that ultimately art will always be subjective. What helped me understand and what made it comforting though was that the point of Ebert and his shows criticism was to tell the audience to strive to seek out the best kind of entertainment possible. I remember realizing you didn't have to completely trash a film to be a critic and you didn't have to necessarily like every indie movie because it was an indie movie or that it was "okay" to take a film for what it was intended to be and judge it on that basis alone. At The Movies never felt like criticism in the vein of making fun or demeaning, but was always constructive. After seeing the entirety of Life Itself it seems such romantic ideas of Ebert and his criticisms were just that and instead the man who gave the "two thumbs up" slogan a life of its own, was as much a flawed individual as the most flawed person you might know. Ebert had his bouts with alcohol, his indulgences in narcissism and his arguments with Siskel that highlight some of the more interesting parts of this doc, but to see him near the end of his road, in his most fragile state, is to put a full life in real perspective and understand what it means to live a life in your own movie and not in the trailer for it. Full review here. B+ 

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