On DVD & Blu-Ray: June 30, 2015

The question I kept repeating to myself as Get Hard continued on and on was how could such a supposedly intelligent man be so stupid? There is a hint of something interesting in the beginning though so let's begin there. It is suggested in the opening credits sequence as the striking comparisons between the morning routines of the wealthy and the working class are displayed, much of the time in split screen, that the balance is more than off. It is imagery that much of who I imagine the audience to be will both recognize from both their real-life experiences and the dreams they have of one day hitting it rich. It demonstrates the reality of our routines and the fantasy that feels just out of reach. The most appealing thing about this choice though is not only that it establishes the worlds of our two leading characters, but also because it evokes a reaction. It is a moment of recognition, one that forces thinking audience members to contemplate not who each of these men are today, but the roads they traveled to arrive at their current destination. Even as the film continues through to after the title card it further demonstrates the reasons these two mean have landed in their current situations are due as much to opportunity and association as they are hard work. This begs the question of how much of a clean slate do we all start out with and if hard work is truly all it takes to get to where you want to be or does having the right people in the right places help significantly. The answer is, of course, pretty clear and it's obvious Get Hard knows that, but beyond this observation and the ability to display it provocatively one would think the film might delve into what it thinks of this predicament, an unavoidable one, really and use that fuel to create satire from the actual downfalls of our society. Instead, writer Etan Cohen's directorial debut offers little more than a few inspired moments. There are some solid ideas that are glimpsed by the jokes that really land, but much of the time the film skates by on it's over-reliance on vulgarity and close-ups of Ferrell doing his schtick with nothing but the hope you'll laugh at anything Ferrell does. Full review here. D

The Gunman, which takes Sean Penn and does the only thing Hollywood now knows to do with aging male actors by turning them into would-be action stars, has some rather interesting elements to it. There is a clear issue to be addressed here that a news reporter even states while looking directly into the camera at one point which is that of large corporations seeking control of the development of resources in poor and impoverished countries. Where our titular gunman comes into the fold is when America's corporate and government contractors hire mercenaries to knock off Third World socialists in order to protect their profits. The issue here is that the film presenting these issues is neither as compelling nor as important feeling as it would like us to think it is. As directed by Pierre Morel (Taken) the film clearly knows it is a genre film, but even with this approach one would be hard pressed to find anything fun or interesting that it brings to the mix of this current crop of action flicks. As fun is clearly not the game this film wants to play one has to ask what unique or original element it brings to the table and in that regard there isn't much to discuss. Much like Get the Gringo, The November Man or even After the Sunset, The Gunman deals with the standard tale of an aged assassin somehow gone awry after his supposed last job who is looking for redemption as he comes to terms with mortality that also happens to feature exotic locations. Morel can always be counted on for highly-stylized and rather beautifully rendered action sequences especially considering his backdrops, but unfortunately here they end up being more riveting than the story or the characters they serve. As mentioned near the top, there are certainly some interesting elements at play including the overall mission statement of the film as well as the largely metaphorical, but extremely literal medical condition that Penn's character suffers from. It also cannot be argued that The Gunman features an impressive cast with a great mix of acting styles that fuse for some interesting moments, but there still remains a hollowness to the production that is inescapable and ultimately renders the film as unaffecting. Full review here. C-

Before we start anything here, it should be noted that I've only seen two other Noah Baumbach pictures. While I've generally enjoyed what I've seen so far and certainly have an interest in earlier films such as The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding as of this writing I've only seen Greenberg and the rather infectious Frances Ha. I state this at the beginning to preface that while I found his latest, While We're Young, to be much more accomplished and substantial on first viewing than anything I've seen of his prior work I wouldn't be surprised to find out he was repeating himself in some way, on some major themes. Heck, some of what Ben Stiller's character goes through here feels like it has some shades in his titular Greenberg character, but I honestly don't remember that film well enough to say for sure. That concern aside, what I do know for sure is how strongly this film hit me, how its ideas are universally relatable despite depicting a very specific niche and simply how magnificent the writing is. While the dialogue is quick and forms full characters who have specific and individual mindsets intact I can't imagine the hours poured over the page by Baumbach in order to create this natural ease with which each of these characters speak. In a word, the characters and the dialogue are more than archetypes or composites of several other people, but they are authentic and authenticity is essentially what While We're Young is all about. Baumbach, who both wrote and directed this film, is a man of forty-five. Stiller, who in real life is forty-nine, plays a very specific forty-four year-old and in that small detail it is apparent that Stiller serves as the Baumbach surrogate. Stiller's character wonders how he came to be on the other side of life, the one where striking and profound realizations such as knowing things exist that he'll never do must be accepted. It is a film that both acts as a study in adjusting to getting older while at the same time dealing with accepting the generational differences of the current young people and the culture that existed twenty years prior. The film opens with the quote from Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder where Hilda suggests to Solness that he open the door to the younger generation he fears. The thing is it's not whether he opens the door or not that's the real decision, but how far. Full review here. A-

Danny Collins means no harm. In fact, he just wants to be liked and to make amends for his past shortcomings and the movie that takes the title from his name seems to want those same things by way of its star, Al Pacino. In an earnest role, Pacino turns on something of a Neil Diamond persona as he plays a famous musician who has long since lost his way in the haze of fame that has created a far cry from the person he thought he'd become in his early years. He was once more the singer/songwriter/poet in the vein of Dylan than the splashy showman who sings his hit, "Baby Doll" (that sounds ridiculously close to "Sweet Caroline") every night for adoring senior citizens. When his manager (a dynamite Christopher Plummer) uncovers a letter written to Danny in the early seventies from John Lennon it jolts Danny into something of an awakening. How might his career have differed had he received this letter when he was supposed to? Would he still be the washed-up, coked-out, old man who's been through three marriages and is about to embark on a fourth that will inevitably end the same way because she's half his age? It makes him wonder and it forces Collins into a new headspace; one where he retreats to a small hotel in New Jersey run by Annette Benning (who he immediately has a strong rapport with) so that he might write some original music for the first time in thirty years and possibly even reconnect with his long lost son, played by Bobby Cannavale, who is now married (Jennifer Garner pops up as the pregnant wife) with a daughter and another baby on the way. Danny Collins can't help itself in being a little cheesy, but it means well and it has so many strong qualities to its rather conventional story of redemption that it's almost impossible not to enjoy. I found myself wrapped up in the characters and their individual plights as well as rooting for Collins to make good on the promises he makes to himself in the beginning. The third act experiences some truly uninspired clich├ęs, but I can understand why they're necessary to get us to the truly touching conclusion. B

I've heard nothing but positive things concerning Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and intend on giving it a look as soon as I can. Unfortunately, it is just another in a long list of critically acclaimed films I need to see before the end of the year that I was unable to catch in theaters and that list will only continue to grow in the coming weeks. With a premise that concerns a jaded Japanese woman discovering a hidden copy of Fargo on VHS and believing it to be a treasure map indicating the location of a large case of money, Kumiko will go to the top of this list though as it sounds beyond intriguing and more than worth a rental.

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