On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 3, 2015

John Wick is extremely straight forward. Both the man and the movie based around him. It could be said that there may not be a whole lot going on in the minds of the makers behind the film or the titular hero as they machine gun their way through a standard tale of revenge, but regardless of how intelligent or not the film comes off it never effects the amount of fun to be had here. It has probably been six years or so since I've seen Keanu Reeves on the big screen and so it is somewhat of a welcome return this film offers him both in the traditional sense of what he's come to be associated with and as a revival of sorts. What makes John Wick so accessible and fun though is that we can all agree it knows what it is. In knowing the kind of film it is and wants to be, it keeps its ambition in check and goes only for what it needs, never trying to over do or over-complicate things. There is no means to elicit anything more here than what is presented to us and it revels in that. It is a matter-of-fact film more about the action and how it is conveyed than the story which you could catch onto walking in mid-way through. It is a movie not above being surface-deep and it wears this self-awareness on its shoulder as a badge of honor. There is an almost visceral experience to be had with John Wick as it is the visuals and the bombast that connect with us rather than any intellectual property it brings to mind. Honestly, as I sat there watching the film and as it came to its inevitable conclusion the only thing that I actually began to think about was if Wick had really thought about what all his trouble actually achieved. Would it bring him real peace? Would he feel vindicated not for the initial death that caused him the most pain, but for the peace that was offered him in the wake of his loss that was stolen out from under him? It is likely Wick didn't think any of this through and simply reverted to his natural instincts of shoot first, ask questions later and over the course of the next hour and a half he puts on full display why that isn't necessarily a bad way of approaching things, especially for eager audiences. Full review here. B-

Dear White People is calling for an age old request heightened by the arrival of consistently new stereotypes and enlightened by articulate characters who know how to argue and persuade with passion, perspective and pointed examples. "Dear white people with Instagram..." Sam (Tessa Thompson) begins on her college radio show of the same name, "you have an iPhone and you go hiking. We get it." It would be too easy to argue that Sam uses racism to battle racism with snide remarks such as this on her radio show. Hell, one of the black (and I will use black instead of African American in this review because that is what Sam told me to do and I swear, I'm not a racist) characters even accuses her show of being racist to her face, but it's not really. What Sam is doing is throwing around stereotypes that she thinks will quantify all those that do the same to her by trying to break up a predominantly black house on campus into more mixed ethnicity's because the white leaders don't want a bunch of black kids hanging out and cavorting together. Whether there is any truth to this we don't really know because the film never makes it clear the real motivation behind the motivation that gets everyone so riled up. This is more than okay though, because writer/director Justin Simien has filled his film with a semester's worth of short stories with sharp racial politics and dialogue that is executed in a way only such dialogue can be while being as natural as possible and remaining extremely funny. The fact it is intended to be funny is an interesting choice though, because by the end credits it is clear this is a very serious subject in the eyes of Simien and one he intends to let people know is still relevant in our country even if most opposing views will see this as recycling the past to feel relevant. Simien is not blind to where others are coming from though as he slips in the voice of the opposing team in the form of the President of the University's son, Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner). Granted, Kurt is a spoiled brat who does and takes what he wants, but even this example is intended to represent those who overcompensate just as Sam does on the other side of things. Leaving what is most impressive about this satire to be the way in which Simien doesn't fight for just one side, but all sides. Full review here. A-

First time feature writers Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama have traced the root of the Dracula name back to the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia or "Vlad the Impaler" and told his story as a point of origin for the Dracula myth that was popularized by Bram Stoker in his 1897 horror novel. While this may seem like an interesting take on an age old tale it speaks volumes that it arrives at a time in the cinematic landscape when Universal wants to create a universe akin to Marvel's with their classic monster line-up as well as being on the back end of the vampire craze. It was evident from the first trailers of Dracula Untold that everything this film had to offer was already being shown. Strangely enough though, the trailers implied a large-scale film; one with sweeping locations and handsome costume design that would span possible centuries while rooting this origin story in an environment we might want to come to better know given the chance. In actuality the final product feels very small, a film akin to that of I, Frankenstein which results in nothing more than an ugly step-sister to the summer blockbusters that have equally silly stories or premises, but real vision and money behind them. To come down even harder on Dracula Untold is to take into consideration this is director Gary Shore's feature directorial debut (working from a screenplay by two rookie writers) and every ounce of that inexperience shows on the screen. To keep it simple, this is as by the numbers as you could ask for which I'm sure Shore was happy about because he'd managed to make something that looks and feels like everything else does at the moment, but it does nothing to set itself apart as an introduction to a world where great things could possibly happen. It is even somewhat unfair Universal would strap that responsibility on Shore and his crew in the first place. From the first 300-inspired frames of the film one can see where this is going, one can tell the type of tone that will be used simply by the dim aesthetic and bland dialogue that comes from every other film set in the 1400's. Dracula Untold is a mess, a film with some clear ambition (which is actually saying something), but one that can't seem to summon that ambition either on the page or in its visuals resulting in a film that is little more than recycled rubbish. Full review here. D-

In the long line of Nicholas Sparks adaptations I've only seen about five of them which is why I probably gave up around Dear John. They have become rather dull and predictable and are now little more than a higher class of Lifetime originals with bigger names and better acting (sometimes). The latest is The Best of Me and stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan, two more than capable actors looking for a hit on their resumes, and yet I still have no desire to see this whatsoever. If this is you're thing though, you can now own the "Tears of Joy Edition".

I haven't heard of anyone liking this thing, even my seventeen year-old brother who went with a group of his friends to see it said they all thought it sucked. Not good when even your target audience can smell the crap you're cookin' up. Ouija will tout being from the producers of genuinely frightening horror such as Insidious, but from what I can tell this is such a distant cousin of that production it won't ever be worth wasting time on.

The first of two films I plan on checking out tonight. I was sorely disappointed I never had the chance to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby in theaters. I was hoping it might at least make an appearance at the local indie theater, but that time never came and so I have anxiously been awaiting the arrival of the Jessica Chastain/James McAvoy romantic drama that was originally planned to be given two different versions: a version from the male perspective and one from the female. If you purchase the 2-disc set of the film on Blu-Ray or DVD you will apparently be able to see both the directors cuts of the film as well as the abridged Weinstein Company edit that was released in theaters.

The second film I'm anxious to see is Starred Up featuring Unbroken star Jack O'Connell. I'd planned on catching this last summer when it was available on VOD, but never found the time to do so. With it now being available on DVD and Blu-Ray I will finally have the opportunity to see what everyone was raving about.

I'm beginning to get weary of Simon Pegg in his outings apart from those with Edgar Wright. I checked out The Fantastic Fear of Everything last year and found it somewhat interesting, but rather uninspired and Hector and the Search for Happiness seems to be no different. I've heard fine enough things, mixed things, but more than anything this feels like just another movie that I have no reason to care about. I'm somewhat intrigued by the combination of Pegg and Rosamund Pike, but with its stiff competition on home video this week it's likely I'll end up passing on it.

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