On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 7, 2015


Woman in Gold is a perfectly fine film. It is as competent as it is generic. The issue with the film though is that it so clearly wants to be more than that. It has a sense of needing to feel important based on the origins of its story when, in reality, the fashion with which it's told and the narrative structure it's delivered through make it appeal as little more than light, afternoon fluff with only a slight edge in existing over something that is purely melodramatic. There is nothing wrong with being no more than an afternoon distraction or even a slight piece of information that serves to highlight little known aspects of major events we've heard about time and time again, but Woman in Gold, while recognizing a number of themes dealing with mortality, isn't the heavy handed drama it seems to want to be or thinks it is. And so, while director Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn) and first-time screenwriter Alexi Kaye Campbell may or may not have been aiming for one thing by casting Helen Mirren in a role so perfect for Helen Mirren it's almost cliche to have her actually play it and doing the opposite with Ryan Reynolds as he plays against type while dealing with a story that involves Nazi's it would of course seem one would have the perfect formula for a pre-packaged Oscar contender. What Curtis and Campbell have actually delivered though is ironically something largely opposite the heady and often too artsy for mainstream movie-goers the Academy does nominate in delivering a by the numbers account of a true story that both rouses the human spirit and will no doubt be appreciated by older audiences for its clean sense of class and respect for history. More times than not it is the straightforward, fluff-type films that serve ones interests better and for that, Woman in Gold has nothing to be ashamed of simply because it doesn't reach the heights it seemed manufactured to scale. Full review here. C

There is something that stings about John Maclean's directorial debut that goes further than the typical resonance a western might have with me. Raised in a time when the western had become something of a genre of tropes and little more, Slow West is eager to create a film not of the place in time that has been crafted by nostalgia, but more in the vein of the intense harshness this location at this period in time actually represented. The West at the turn of the century was not for the faint of heart and Maclean is sure to hit this point hard. He is clearly messing with the aforementioned tropes that typically made up large portions of westerns made after the 1950's, but even further than this he brings a different aesthetic than what we typically expect from westerns which inadvertently throws ones expectations for a loop resulting in a film that is strangely engaging, darkly humorous and overall oddly fascinating. Everything about Slow West feels rather slight, as if any character or any scenario might fall apart or render insignificant at any point, but as the film continues to play out and Maclean's script allows each characters arc to naturally unfold it reveals a very specific set of goals. That is almost to say the film has something substantial to say when in reality it is more about making a statement or observation concerning a time that happened not so long ago with people we hardly recognize. Of course, I have no real idea of what Maclean's intentions were with the film or what drove him to write a western, much less make it his first directorial effort, but what effectively comes from his story is the grand significance of our shifting humanity. At the tail end of the film, and this isn't to spoil anything, there is a montage of every single life that has been taken throughout the course of the film. This isn't to drive home how fragile life is, but more to reinforce the nature and brutality of the time. Life wasn't worth as much back then, which is good for us who can now sit back and call this entertainment, but it's something worth noting in our current state. It's a rather extraneous concept when given the content of the film, but Slow West is just weird enough that it kind of makes sense. Full review here. B-

At first glance it would seem Maggie is an attempt to cash in on the zombie craze that has been spearheaded by the likes of serious-minded interpretations such as The Walking Dead. That a small, independent way of going about this story would be an interesting, more dramatic choice that would allow a sliver of the story The Walking Dead is telling to be something just as fascinating, compelling even. Now, I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of the The Walking Dead, but I can see what attracts people to it. They can pick up on the large metaphors at play or simply delve into the action and brutality that is presented week after week. Either way, tough choices have to be made. Emotions overtake logic and the repercussions of ones inability to put a bullet in the head of a loved one even when they are at your throat trying to rip through it says something about our mentality, our humanity and ultimately about the love and connection we sometimes feel that outweighs our own existence. What is life worth if not filled with the people you love? It's a valid question, a depressing thought, but these are the kinds of notions and ideas that the characters in Maggie must take into serious consideration. All of that said, one might be wondering what someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing in a movie like this. A zombie apocalypse film, sure, but a somber, meditative zombie apocalypse film where the focus is not on surviving, but more on the relationship between the father and daughter? Strange, right? With the father facing the inevitability of losing his little girl and that little girl coming to terms with her own death Maggie isn't necessarily what you expect and for those reasons along with first-time feature director Henry Hobson having a clear vision of how to bring this story to life, Maggie is something of an effective take on a genre that I presumed to be played out. Full review here. B-

Despite the fact '71 was put together by newcomers to the world of feature films you wouldn't know it from the hard-boiled style and breathless pacing that enables it to become an intriguing tale of a single soldier. Led by Jack O'Connell (Unbroken) this is not the movie you might expect given the promotional material or even the synopsis. Instead, this is a veritable history lesson that breaks an event down to its most basic human element. To give you a sense of just how basic the film gets is to know that within the first twenty minutes our main character is holding bits of one of his comrades brain in his hand. There is a close-up of this. It quickly reiterates to O'Connell's Gary Hook how close he is to death, that separating him from the unknown is simply how fast he can run from those who have killed his mate. It is his immediate reaction to flee the scene that sets him on a course for a night of unexpected challenges and consistent life-threatening experiences that test his will to live and his faith in mankind. These larger themes are hinted at, sure, but only if you choose to take them away from the film. The beauty of this rather simple tale is that, if you wish, you can take it as it is and for what it offers in its most basic of senses that being a historical action film that just so happens to genuinely strike a chord. While there isn't much to it other than atmosphere and performances director Yann Demange has managed to pull out the details of this ongoing divide in Northern Ireland to create a compelling study of humanity that speaks volumes about the larger situations at hand. While O'Connell does fine work as a British soldier cut off from his unit and left to survive alone on the streets of Belfast it is the films ability to manage the multiple storylines going on within the different mindsets and allegiances that really stands out. While I enjoyed '71 more than enough to recommend it I still can't say it struck me as something exceptionally substantial, but more as something of note due to its attention to The Troubles, an issue I didn't have much knowledge of prior to seeing the film and something I imagine many others on this side of the pond will have in common with me. Full review here. B-