On DVD & Blu-Ray: June 2, 2015

I faced something of a conundrum with Focus as I was really rooting for it and yet I'm wondering if I enjoyed the film more because it wasn't as all over the board as it seemed to be or if it's because it's genuinely pretty fun. There is also the case of Will Smith. Smith is one of those personalities I feel like I've known my entire life and that I've grown up with. And like many, I've acquired an affinity for the actor/rapper over the years and have been happy to support him in his mega-stardom and remain hopeful when he delivers bombs like After Earth. If anything, anyone who is, was or might still be a Smith fan was looking to Focus to redeem our hope in big Willie's style and get the guy back on track, back to where he needed to be both at this point in his life and career. For me, that was the aura surrounding this film and it felt good because Smith had never looked cleaner and the film had all the same slick edges to it that seemed to match Smith pound for pound in its style. Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love) these guys are the first ones in what seems like too long that actually know how to use Smith in what he does best. In Focus there are plenty of pretty people wearing what are no doubt outrageously expensive clothing in exotic locations, but it is the confidence of Smith not only in his appearance, but in the way he conducts himself and his ability to portray all of that effortlessly with a sense of cool to match that keeps him our main point of, well, focus. And so, despite being concerned I was coming at the film from something of a biased perspective (though really, I have no reason to) I can't help but feel it follows through on what it promised in that it's a stylish con man thriller in the vein of not only pulling one over on its characters, but the audience as well in that they're too self-aware to go for the "one con to end them all" scheme, but that they instead get away with as many twists and turns as they do while coming out unscathed with audiences who are seemingly hip to their game. In a movie that is so much fun to watch with characters so attractive and interesting one is literally unable to take their eyes off the screen. Full review here. B-

There is something oddly charming to the outright oddity that Jupiter Ascending is trying so hard to be. It is in this pushing, this trying to separate itself that the Wachowksi siblings, Andy and Lana, perpetuate their inherent "weirdness" while what they are actually trying to do is paint a mind of possibilities in a way that feels illogical when first introduced, but makes greater sense as a greater understanding and deeper contemplation are taken into account. As written by The Wachowski's it would seem likely that Jupiter Ascending once had a greater amount of substance to it than what the final product delivers. As the credits began to roll what I was left with was the incessant nagging of my brain questioning what exactly the directing duo were trying to say with this film. There is always a stream of consciousness to The Wachowski's films hinting at an overarching theme, but it seemed all I was left with here were a few cool ideas, some exceptional visuals and a solid piece of entertainment value, but little to actually ponder. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with making an outright spectacle that delivers large scale thrills in spades with little to no substance, but what makes Jupiter Ascending not that type of movie is that it's clear that wasn't the original intent of its creators. Throughout, there are consistent hints of a much larger, much stronger narrative existing within this well-developed universe The Wachowski's have created, but unfortunately much of it is lost in the barrage of frequent action scenes that take us from point A to point B. It's also true that the plot becomes a little too convoluted and tiresome by the time it reaches the third act yet I was never bored either with what I saw unfolding in front of me or what might be staged next. In this regard, while Jupiter Ascending is certainly strange to the point it will immediately off-put some and may be The Wachowski's most outright weird production to date, for others familiar with their work it is also their most commercially accessible given the style over substance mentality it has seemed to take on in its delay. Despite it not living up to what I'd hoped it to be, there is still plenty of fun to be had here and more than enough to marvel at. Full review here. C+

With something like McFarland, USA you know exactly what you're getting into. Still, McFarland is full of surprises and the big one here is that despite being an inspirational Disney sports movie based on a true story director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) and screenwriter Grant Thompson have garnered the genuine heart and real sense of community in this story and successfully brought it to the film adaptation. There is immediately a stronger aesthetic to the film than any of the more recent outings in this mini-genre that make the stories feel manufactured and the characters little more than archetypes. Everything from the titular location to the characters we should seemingly already know feel authentic in a way that garners an inherent respect for what is trying to be accomplished. To the point of going in and expecting one thing and getting more than you bargained for it is somewhat surprising, given his résumé, that Kevin Costner hasn't already starred in one of these Disney sports films and kind of unbelievable this story hasn't already been tapped for a feature film. I'm glad it hasn't and that Costner waited patiently for, despite his clear admiration for films around America's pastime, a film that makes good use of not only his persona, but the influencing factors of that persona. This adoration for baseball we associate with the actor allows him to fit perfectly into the mold needed for Coach Jim White. For as much as White is out of his depth in the city of McFarland we see the unease of Costner in returning to a genre that makes him feel at home. Just as Costner is trying to reinvigorate his career White is trying to figure out his life as a coach maybe not of the sport he knows best, but of the ones his particular pupils have a greater skill for. He is out of his depth, but he is willing to try and find something that reinvigorates his passion, just as the actor playing him is doing. McFarland, USA isn't really about Coach White though, but the community at large and reinforcing Costner's casting all the more is the fact he's a perfect surrogate for the majority of Americans into a world we think we understand well enough, but have no honest idea of. Full review here. B+

Having never seen an episode of SpongeBob Square Pants or his previous feature film I had no interest in seeing Sponge Out of Water, but will say that the whole animation to live-action sequence looked pretty trippy and interesting. I'm just not the audience for these movies and that's okay. If you are, I'm sure you already have or will be checking this out now that it's available in every format.

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