On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 14, 2015

I don't know that I've ever reviewed a Nicholas Sparks film on this site before. There often time seems no point due to the fact that if you're seeing these movies you know exactly what you want and what you're getting. while that is probably the case here as well, there was something unquestionably intriguing about the tone set by the trailers for The Longest Ride. The musical choices that included Banks "Waiting Game," signaled something of a forbidden, almost haunting love story that might be worth tuning into. The team behind translating this Sparks story to the screen also felt uncommon and intriguing. Given love stories depend more on the way they're told and the chemistry of the actors to be successful than the actual story with director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Notorious, Faster) behind the camera there seemed potential for something at least vaguely interesting here. Love is such an intangible thing it's always difficult to capture the essence of what makes it so special without resorting to cliches and typically that is what Sparks works end up doing. The Longest Ride fortunately doesn't fall prey to the trap of some of the more recent Sparks adaptations in that it doesn't go completely bonkers in the end and make all kinds of convoluted twists with the only reason being to shock the audience. I haven't seen Safe Haven, but heard it was quite a doozy while I actually caught The Best of Me and despite the set-up hinting at nothing down the road it became fairly evident where things were heading the moment a couple events took place one after another. With that in mind, what there is to appreciate about Ride is that it is little more than a basic human story about figuring out priorities and becoming satisfied with a routine that only has a few contrivances forced on it in order to create conflict, but none so outlandish it makes the viewer realize the ridiculousness of it all. It at least feels like an earnest attempt to portray love whereas the majority of recent Sparks films feel more like cash-grabs capitalizing on manufactured emotions. Full review here. C

This is a story of ideas. A story of very precise ideas. It is the ideas that make the story and not the other way around. This is a film that if you were to take all the attributes of any major summer blockbuster and put them on the opposite end of the spectrum it would be something similar to what we have here. In essence, this is a few people in rooms talking. As always though, it is the human mind and the countless contemplations we can come up with when given an interesting topic that fuel how fascinating such a simple set-up can be. There is no need for explosions, action or even a convoluted plot when instead all of the adrenaline these things strive to rouse in an audience are done through the power of conversation, possibilities and our own interpretations. Needless to say, writer/director Alex Garland's directorial debut, Ex Machina, is fascinating not just for the ideas it brings to the table, but for how well it executes them. It is a combination of many factors coming together to form a completely harmonious final product that feels labored over to the point of near perfection. It is clear this began with the script as the aforementioned basic set-up doesn't take a single line of dialogue for granted. Garland is communicating tone, thoughts and themes among many other facets with his script and as he brings in actors to bring them to life these things only become more enhanced. As Garland brings in the production designer things are only implicated further. Everything in the film builds off one another until we reach a point where we're almost suffocating in the amalgam of philosophy, technology and mystery it presents. That is, of course, until it reprieves us from the weight of those implications just long enough for us to catch our breath before delving back in to explore the unknown a little further. To put it bluntly, Ex Machina is enthralling in a way that is almost cryptic. There is nothing to warm up to here because it is a decidedly cold film, but despite that coldness this story of ideas pulls you in by the nature of its bleakness hitting a little too close to home. Full review here. A

This could have gone rather bad were director David Robert Mitchell not completely sure of how he'd be able to pull it off. Because, let's face it, the idea of someone walking after you isn't exactly frightening at first thought and could easily be interpreted as comical were it not presented in the right way. Presentation is key and Mitchell has this down to a science in It Follows as everything from the framing to the movement of the camera and into the accompanying score is drilled down to a science. In that the film feels so specific in its making allows for the final product to feel assured in its execution and thus its ability to play on the minds of those taking it in for the first time. As much as people like to imagine we are smarter than the characters on a screen, especially in scary movies, It Follows has the ability to make us question that confidence by building up the mystery of the circumstances and placing both the characters and the audience in a race against time whether we realize it or not. While things could have gone one of two ways quite easily, the quality of the production and the keen sense of Mitchell being able to capture exactly what he wanted has seemingly allowed for the creation of a horror film that isn't necessarily as scary as it is intimidating and eerie. One could easily read the synopsis and laugh, one could easily read the synopsis and find it trashy given the certain set of rules with which the films central conceit operates, but in understanding why it all works as well as it does and why it makes sense, is to see it play out with your own eyes and try to deny the cool yet disturbing feeling that takes you in. That is what It Follows does best, that is why it deserves the praise it has received so far; because it takes you into its world and doesn't let you go. Even as you leave the theater it raises the hair on the back of your neck making you turn your head to check if anyone's there. If anyone is following. Full review here. B+

I hardly remember seeing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel back in 2012, so when the sequel came around this year my interest could not have been lower. Also, the fact the title basically admits to it being second-rate to the original gave me no reason to believe I was missing out on anything.

I've heard nothing but great things about Clouds of Sils Maria and look forward to checking it out as soon as possible. Kristen Stewart was the first American actor to win France's Cesar Award and her chemistry with Juliette Binoche is said to be electrifying. Though I'm only vaguely familiar with the plot of the film I look forward to seeing what all the fuss is about.

Unfortunately, this is probably the most high profile release of the week. Since I didn't see it I can't speak to how awful it actually is, but I can at least do my best in championing that you see any of the aforementioned films before this one (yes, even The Longest Ride has to be better than this mess).

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