On DVD & Blu-Ray: August 4, 2015

Child 44 is a movie that seems to want to be one thing, but doesn't know how to be that thing. It has ideas of how to be this grand period piece/spy thriller yet it isn't sure how to convey the inherently intriguing story it is dealing with. There aren't necessarily too many facets occurring or even a lack of focus, it's simply a script issue in that the gripping story wasn't told in the most gripping of ways. It's actually impressive that what was seemingly used as the shooting script was able to make it to that stage in the first place. If the film I saw was taken directly from the screenplay, and it's highly unlikely there was any improv on this set, then one would imagine it would come to light pretty early that there were some major structural problems that needed to be reassessed. Instead, director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) and his exceptionally talented cast drift through this somber and distinctly cold film without seeming to notice that the pieces aren't congruent. There could be any number of reasons Espinosa and his crew didn't take note of these shortcomings while in the midst of shooting as I imagine there is a great pressure to get things done in a certain amount of time and under budget, but while something should have come of this in the editing room (where many directors admit a film is truly made) the major issues still come back around to point their fingers at the script. Based on what the final product delivered this was more like the second draft of a screenplay rather than one further down the road, one that was able to find its voice and emphasis on particular themes. Adapted from a novel by Tom Rob Smith and written for the screen by Richard Price (who hasn't written a feature since 2006 and has tellingly worked more in television) the editors were unable to craft a slimmer film from the footage that was shot because each moment admittedly relies on a detail in the previous scene despite the two halves of the film feeling completely disconnected. Full review here. C-

The immediate assumption when seeing a movie starring both Jonah Hill and James Franco is that it is of course a comedy, but when you place the fact both of these guys are Oscar-nominated actors in front of that you can understand where things might not be all you expect. In a new collaboration between the actors simply titled True Story there is little to smile about, much less laugh at. All of that taken into consideration, I wasn’t sure what to expect given this seemed a deliberate attempt, especially from Hill, to further his dramatic career while Franco is so sporadic at this point it was up for debate how much time and effort he actually put into the role of a seemingly normal man who came home from work one night and murdered his entire family. To these points, suspicion was dismissed fairly early as director Rupert Goold (making his feature film debut) jumps right into the hook of the piece while following it up with an intense exploration as to why that hook might have existed in the first place. The chemistry between Franco and Hill is on full display as the majority of the film concerns itself with these two central characters figuring out the other with the remaining facets outside these more fascinating moments being more by the numbers. We’ve all seen movies based on real life crime stories of course and have become accustomed to the beats they hit as far as how to figure out the big question of whodunit and why the typical protagonist might make certain mistakes, getting too close to the case for their own good, but this only happens in True Story part of the time. While these archetypes certainly detract from the more fascinating relationship formed between Hill’s Michael Finkel and Franco’s Christian Longo there is enough here between the two of them to create a rather enticing piece of character study for the audience to decipher and ultimately decide where we come down not just on the accused murderer, but both of these men. Full review here. B-

There were a lot of questions surrounding director Thomas Vinterberg's interpretation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd from me personally. Having never touched the source material I didn't have a clue what surface the story skimmed and given this was clearly a period piece intended for a specific audience with a specific purpose I wondered why it might be making its debut so early in the year. Would Fox Searchlight not even care to grab a costume design nomination or did they know this would likely get lost in the shuffle of awards season? In all respects, the right choices seem to have been made as questions of quality and profundity surround every turn in the film. Clearly, this is melodrama, but is it simply melodrama with pedigree because of its Victorian era-setting? It is easy to defend these older works, these definitive works as they made way for the conventions we see run rampart today, but the key for modern film adaptations, and maybe this is unfair, is that they find something new and fresh to bring to the table, a reason to tell this story again. Of course, many will testify that simply keeping these stories alive is reason enough to tell them again and while I'm almost positive Vinterberg and screenwriter David Nicholls have streamlined much of Hardy's novel in order to make it a two-hour love story modern audiences may understand without the hindrance of cultural differences it still feels very unmoving despite largely dealing with life-changing events that are clearly meant to appeal to our emotions. There are the usual good things to be said about the cast, Craig Armstrong's beautiful score and the gorgeous, natural cinematography of Charlotte Bruus Christensen, but when your last film was The Hunt, a movie that elicited a more visceral reaction than any other in recent memory, one would think your follow-up might evoke more than just a groan of complacency despite touching on some always relevant and interesting themes. Full review here. C

Insurgent, the second film in the second-tier Hunger Games series, was a film I didn't get around to seeing in theaters given my wife also wanted to see it and at the time of it's release our four month old wouldn't allow it. It was also one of those ones I wanted to see purely out of the interest in what they might do with the material given I could hardly make it through the book and didn't even bother to read the third novel in the series based on the experience I had getting through this one. I'll still see Insurgent, probably later this week in fact and will likely even write a full review for it, but if you haven't detected my expectations already, they're almost completely nonexistent.

I started watching Adult Beginners earlier this year when it was initially released on VOD, but never made it around to finishing the film. I intended on writing a full review of the movie and was actually quite anxious to see it given the appealing cast, but never made it back around. I imagine this one will be on Netflix soon enough and I might finish it at that point, but I'm in no rush.

A Little Chaos is Alan Rickman's 2014 directorial effort that saw a limited release stateside earlier this summer. Starring Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts in his second period piece this Tuesday (see Far From The Madding Crowd above) the story tells of two landscape artists who become romantically entangled while building a garden in King Louis XIV's palace at Versailles. What makes this intriguing at all to me is that it is an original story and not based on any previous work. Rickman co-wrote the screenplay with Alison Deegan who originally conceived the story. Is that enough to get me to go out of my way to see it, probably not, but given it shows up on a streaming service I wouldn't be as eager to overlook it.

While I will likely never see Barely Lethal it has a rather heavy cast that will no doubt warrant some people giving it a shot. How this teen actioner starring Hailee Steinfeld, Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba was acquired by A24 before being dumped on DirectTV in May and the rest of the VOD outlets the next month escapes me as it seems something of a missed opportunity given the target audience might have been interested were it marketed correctly, but oh well. This doesn't change the fact the film looked pretty bad overall and maybe wouldn't have even been worth the trouble.

Finally, today brings the BBC miniseries adaptation of J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy to home video. This is one of those things I wanted to read and then I wanted to see, but I simply still haven't. I don't know if I'll ever make it around to seeing this adaptation as I'd still like to give the book a go first. Still, my interest is piqued and if I simply continue to delay reading Rowling's novel I may just give in and check out this miniseries first. Anyway, that's all for today. Lots to choose from and plenty to look past if you so choose.  

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