On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 27, 2015

This is not your yearly dose of Dennis Dugan's Adam Sandler if that's what you're thinking. No, as big as Pixels looks in its marketing it actually is on the big screen. There seems to have been no expense too big, which includes flawless special effects, big action set pieces, legitimate craftsmanship and, unfortunately for Sandler, the hiring of quality actors to play opposite him that only stand to make him look all the more lazy. While this isn't your typical Dugan/Sandler fest in the vein of Grown Ups or Jack and Jill it is still Sandler phoning it in, doing what he's done every summer since about 2002 when Mr. Deeds more or less set him on a patterned course. There have naturally been deviations both in his comedy and into more serious territory since then, but the comedian always returns to his safe zone and delivers exactly what he believes his teen and contemporary audiences want from him. There is too much going on in Pixels for this to count purely as another Sandler bomb though and fortunately Pixels won't be judged on the immediate reactions of modern critics looking to dismiss the movie because of a single component before even walking into the theater. It is sometimes shocking, the vitriol which is spewed in Sandler's general direction, but I admit the majority of it is well-founded. With Pixels though, it will be the children of today who truly define what role this film will play as part of our pop culture society. In case you are unfamiliar with the name Chris Columbus (and no, not the Italian explorer) he is the guy that brought to life some of my generations favorite childhood films whether they be both Home Alone 1 and 2, Mrs. Doubtfire and even the first two Harry Potter films. Columbus has a knack for tapping into what makes kids enlist their truest sense of wonderment and he seems to have modernized that technique here while still remaining true to the decade that gave him his start. I'm not saying Pixels is as good as anything else in Columbus's filmography, but I am saying kids will love this movie and likely champion it through their teenage years and into their twenties as a haze of nostalgia will keep their love of it intact. Full review here. C-

"We are what we choose to be," or so goes the saying someone said once upon a time and has been repeated countless different ways a billion times since. In the case of Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) though, one seriously begins to wonder what kinds of choices dictate a meteoric rise and then a literal loss of everything precious in his life. Is it simply defending his wife? Getting angry over a fellow boxer challenging his strength and insulting his woman in the process? Would we have done something different than Billy or was he destined for this path of loss and eventual redemption? That seems the simple answer, yes. You strip away the key stone and the rest of the rocks come tumbling down. Why does such an insignificant seeming choice dictate the remainder of your life? It is an impossible question to answer and one that would make anyone want to end their own life were they to contemplate it for too long. Life is about choices-some we are proud of, others we'll regret and then there are the ones that will haunt us forever. When we meet Billy Hope he is on top of the world. He is the undefeated lightweight champion of the world at 43-0, he loves his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) more than anything and they have a young daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence), whom Billy adores. He seems to make more money in one fight than most pro athletes do in a season as he, Maureen and Leila reside in a mansion outside of New York City while his boys (who came up with him through an orphanage in Hell's Kitchen as did Maureen) hang out and collect benefits. His manager, Jordan (50 Cent), seems more than a little sleazy, but his only real point of stress in the opening moments come from fellow boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez). After the opening fight in which Billy takes a beating before finding the fuel to light his fire to deliver a knock-out punch, Escobar shows up to taunt the still undefeated champ into fighting him next. Proclaiming that Billy's afraid to go against a real fighter, Escobar knows just how to get to Hope. It is in the split second decision to react to Escobar's taunts rather than think things through that Billy makes the choice that will alter his life and his career in unbelievably depressing ways, setting Southpaw up as little more than a familiar story that is carried by great performances. Full review here. C

In 2008 I was really beginning to dig into all kinds of films, exploring more of the independent material that was coming to light than ever before. I remember 2008 mainly for the remarkable summer at the theater that it was, but I also find it easy to recall a small film from a pair of brothers that made waves. It was a little film called The Square that was co-written by a guy named Joel Edgerton and directed by his brother, Nash. As far as I'd heard, it was a solid contemporary example of film noir and concerned itself with betrayal, revenge and cheating couples. It indeed turned out to be a well-executed thriller. I came to recognize Joel for his work over the next few years in Animal Kingdom and what could be considered his break-out American film in Warrior that led the way to him starring in more major Hollywood productions. It seems after building some solid ground beneath him in the industry though, Edgerton has returned to the thriller genre to write and direct for the first time. With The Gift, Edgerton has delivered a tense and slow-boiling psychological drama that stems from a thesis of how an idea can take hold of a person and tear them down. From the moment we meet Edgerton's Gordon Mosley we can sense that there is something slightly off about the guy, but having Edgerton play his own creation lends the perfect tone to what could have otherwise been an over-the-top showing that would lessen the effect of the final act in the film. That is all to say this product feels like the result of a singular vision, a focused and finely tuned story with specific characters and even more labored over depictions that come to show the audience how both credibly and expertly such genre pieces can be pulled off with the right amount of skill and vision. Edgerton feels at the top of his game here and with this technically being his feature directorial debut, I can't wait to see what he does next. Full review here. B

Max is a movie about a dog that helped US Marines in Afghanistan who returns to the U.S. and is adopted by his handler's family after suffering a traumatic experience that was directed by the guy who made Remember the Titans. I can't muster up any kind of excitement for the film and the mediocre reviews don't really inspire any further need to see it. I'm sure there is a large animal-loving audience out there for this tale of heroism, but I'm not in it.

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