On DVD & Blu-Ray: May 12, 2015


Remember that one time when Johnny Depp was going to star in Wes Anderson's (now Oscar winning) The Grand Budapest Hotel? Can you guess what role Depp might have likely ended up playing? Given the headlines that went out shortly after Moonrise Kingdom became a bigger hit than expected in the summer of 2012 I would venture to assume it would have been the lead of M. Gustave. A role that, thankfully, ended up going to Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is brilliant in a way and to an extent we've never seen him before in that role, but if you're still upset that we haven't seen the fruition of an Anderson and Depp collaboration, or more specifically, what it might have been like had Depp taken on the lead role in The Grand Budapest you might now be in luck as Captain Jack himself has presented us with Mortdecai. With a screenplay from Eric Aronson whose only other credit includes 2001's On the Line (and if you're not of my generation and don't immediately recognize that title, it's the romantic comedy that starred Lance Bass from Nsync) and based on the first novel in the Mortdecai series by novelist Kyril Bonfiglioli titled Don't Point that Thing at Me, Depp has essentially brought what his interpretation of Gustave might have looked like in a film that feels like a Wes Anderson movie as it were directed by a more conventional filmmaker. This is nothing against Mortdecai director David Koepp who is known more for his screenwriting credits that include several Spielberg films and large property adaptations than his directing work. Still, Koepp has directed his fair share of features including the solid Stephen King adaptation and first, post-Pirates movie for Depp, Secret Window, as well as the likes of underrated little gems such as Ghost Town and Premium Rush that he also penned the scripts for. It's hard to tell if it's because Koepp doesn't seem to have had a hand in the development of the screenplay here that he isn't as passionate about the material, but there is definitely something lacking as far as the soul of this movie is concerned. What a missed opportunity. Full review here. C

The worst thing about Blackhat is simply how forgettable it is. The fact the title is something of a hacker term, unrecognizable to the common consumer and doesn't spark much interest makes it something of a task to even get people interested, but when the film itself turns out to be tedious and rather dull, the case is only worsened. It might have been better had the film gone out under the name, "The Untitled Michael Mann Project," but then again, audiences have been somewhat dissonant with the well-regarded filmmaker as this will mark his third film in a row where expectation likely don't meet reality. Since discovering the director for myself in 2001 with Ali and being riveted by his follow-up, 2004's underappreciated Collateral, I've always looked forward to what he has to say next. Most will know him for helming Heat, Last of the Mohicans or even Manhunter all of which were interesting to go back and watch after seeing Collateral and experiencing the evolution of his style all at once, but with Blackhat the director seems to be on autopilot. A blackhat is essentially a fancy word for a hacker or someone who violates computer or internet security maliciously or for illegal personal gain. In the film, both our protagonist and our antagonist are classified under this title, but one is looking to redeem himself while the other is simply in it to see how creative he can be in order to get away with more than a few major crimes and terrorist acts. Mann clearly wants to bring his style and sense of storytelling to a topic that is both relevant and lightly documented. This is obviously a fine enough goal to have, but the final product is little more than a standard police procedural with a topical twist. With that, one walks away from the film feeling unmoved as none of the characters are endearing and while their plight can become interesting at points it in no way resonates, it in no way leaves an impression, but rather washed over me with an attitude of being unimpressed or indifferent to anything the villain was doing because they (the good guys) already knew they'd eventually outsmart him. This isn't exactly what you might call fun and so we (the audience) end up feeling the same way as our intended heroes- unimpressed and indifferent because we've experienced and seen this movie so often before. Full review here. D

Honest to a fault, Still Alice feels as heartbreaking as you might expect any traumatic event in your own personal life to affect you. The story is basic, the people are familiar and the storytelling is uncomplicated. In some fashion you might peg the film as something of a Lifetime story in pedigreed actors clothing, but it is only because Alzheimer's has become such a hackneyed topic at this point. This is unfortunate as the disease is of course a very serious one as well as being close to soul-crushing for those who bear witness to their loved ones slowly drifting away from the person they once were. Thankfully, I've never had to deal with the disease in any form with any family members, but as it's been used in films before it is easy to see why storytellers not only position it to gain large amounts of sympathy for their characters, but depend on it to pull in the entire emotional investment of their film. When used correctly though, stories concerning Alzheimer's can not only be affecting and moving, but like Still Alice, they can be eye-opening. There are moments within the film that naturally ring familiar and tread the line of being somewhat overly-sentimental and manipulative but this is only due to the timing and use of lyrical songs as well as the inclusion of a big speech to clarify the emotional peak of our protagonist. These moments are few and far between the more personal, small highlights of what it's like to exist outside these moments though. This introspective look is what sets the film apart from something you might see on late night cable along with, of course, the lead performance of Julianne Moore that all but guaranteed her an Academy Award. Still Alice is not a film that screams innovation and isn't even anything to necessarily write home about, but it does take you in completely as you give yourself over to its briskly paced hour and forty minute run time. Concerning itself with the basics of life and the unforgiving nature of the disease at the heart of its story Still Alice provides a no frills look at both deterioration and inadequacy in the human spirit that cannot be controlled and is all the more poignant for it. Full review here. B

The case of Adam Sandler is a continuing saga of fascination for me. It is hard to pinpoint what exactly his motivations are whether they be in the realm of making movies because he genuinely loves movies or simply in making money. Unfortunately, at this point in his career many wouldn't even consider his movies to be comedies anymore as it's apparent his domination over his little part of the box office has been slightly waning as he's continued to repeat himself as the same guy in Grown Ups (10%), Just Go With It (19%), Jack & Jill (a mere 3%, which only slightly better than the 0% Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star scored which Sandler helped write and produce), That's My Boy (his only deviation in character and highest ranking tomatometer score at 20%) Grown Ups 2 (7%) and last years Blended (14%). That, in his mainstream films, Sandler has had to resort to sequels and a third reunion with Drew Barrymore let us know he's running on fumes to preserve the lifestyle he and his family have grown accustomed to. Jack & Jill was the turning point that shifted the atmosphere around his movies from always being dismissed by critics yet typically having a strong enough following of fans who showed up to watch him do his thing to an all-around frustration. It became evident the ever-reliant audience was shrinking and might one day be no more and so Sandler has turned both to the ever-profitable family film market in the form of two Hotel Transylvania films and this summers Pixels as well as trying to return to more subtle, dramatic work that might not only reaffirm to all of his haters that he can actually do good work, but that he actually cares about the craft and art of making movies. The bad news is that in his effort to subvert public expectations he has delved into two independent, inherently more artistic pictures that have consequently been ravaged by critics. On paper both Men, Women & Children and The Cobbler should have been home runs in terms of critical darlings: credible directors, one relevant to todays issues and one with a rather interesting premise, both with stellar supporting casts and yet it still seems the Sand Man can do no right. Full review here. D-