On DVD & Blu-Ray: October 6, 2015

In the summer of 2012 the idea of Magic Mike seemed little more than a way for the studio and Channing Tatum himself to push his celebrity and sex appeal even further than The Vow and 21 Jump Street already had that year. When the film ended up having a $40 million opening weekend on only a $7m budget it was clear Tatum was no longer just an added-value element, but something of a movie star in his own generations right. This was a film with no previous film in the franchise, no brand recognition, no book or memoir it was based off of, but instead was solely the product of Tatum sitting down with writer Reid Carolin and hashing out a story around his early days as a male stripper. Billed as a film for the ladies, Magic Mike actually turned out to be something of a heavy handed dramatic piece as directed by Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, the Ocean trilogy) that wasn't exactly what the target audience expected. There was still plenty of dancing and grinding, but beyond this the film examined the social stigmas of such a career choice and the difficult task of leaving that kind of life behind despite someone only being able to last in that lifestyle for a small window of time in their life. This latter part is where the sequel, Magic Mike XXL, picks up and more or less runs with the idea of knowing this won't last forever so let's give it one last hurrah. There aren't as many deeper themes going on here, in fact there isn't really much going on at all other than the goal of having a good time and in that regard, the Kings of Tampa succeed. Magic Mike XXL is not the same kind of film its predecessor was, but this sequel doesn't attempt to be that kind of film either. Instead, XXL is its own beast entirely and while that may, on the surface, make it less of an artistic success than the first this exclusively fun, road trip movie turns out be just as good and just as insanely stylistic because it never loses sight of what makes these movies tick: the characters. Full review here. B-

There is something to be said for a scary movie that can make you legitimately feel chills in the dead of summer. As the third chapter in the Insidious saga came somewhat oddly to us on the first weekend of June rather than in the midst of fall I was rather cautious as to if this release date was more a strategy to cover up the lack of quality or if it was simply time for this franchise to play in the big leagues. Due to the fact director James Wan, who guided the first two films in the series to great success before taking on Furious 7, exited and both the scripting and directing duties were handed over to Wan's longtime collaborator, Leigh Whannell there was reason to be hesitant. It certainly seems Whannell has at least been paying attention and taking notes since the two first collaborated on Saw over a decade ago as Insidious: Chapter 3 is a sufficient if not significant piece of horror that does its job in terms of getting you to jump at the right time while adding depth to some of the more interesting characters in the previous films. The downfalls aren't so much downfalls in that they make the movie any worse, but more in the fact they simply allow the film to be adequate and exactly what one would expect without striving to be anything more. This makes for a pleasantly unpleasant viewing experience that fulfills expectations and plays into ones predictions for how things may go. Unlike Chapter 2 this film doesn't delve narratively into new territory, but more recreates the first film with a new set of characters that just so happens to take place prior to the events that occurred in the Lambert household. Lin Shaye is your connective strand as psychic Elise Rainer though she is hardly the central character. What is most disappointing is that this third film doesn't take on the story that was hinted at in the end of Chapter 2 that might have again dealt with the red-faced demon from the original. Instead, Chapter 3 seems to be saving that for yet another installment making this one feel like little more than a footnote. Full review here. C

Everything about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl screams artsy film festival fodder. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact a decade ago that description would have suggested anything but a bad thing and yet there is such a stigma around films molded on the tendencies of Wes Anderson now that they've become ripe for criticism. What also doesn't help Me and Earl and the Dying Girl's case is the level of self-reference it operates within. On one level, how can we expect any person or movie to exist without a certain amount of self-awareness when the environment we live in is a heightened social media one where each of us are called out for the cliché's of our life? And yet, on another level, there is still the viable option of embracing one's self or one's story wholeheartedly to the point the audience is enveloped in it's earnestness. It's a tough choice to make and just because Me and Earl and the Dying Girl decides to go way in one direction doesn't immediately make it a recycled, overused picture that lacks real meaning or effect because the techniques it uses to convey it's story may no longer be as fresh or meaningful as they once were. This is the area where some seem to have accused the film of being trite or even irritating, but beneath all of the style that director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has smothered upon Jesse Andrews quip-heavy screenplay (adapted from his own novel) I find it hard to believe anyone could justly deny the emotion and straight-up craft the film also packs into its running time. This brings us to the beginning of the film where our protagonist and narrator, Greg (Thomas Mann), can't decide how best to begin his story and thus debates between a trope such as, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." or simply remaining in his head so as to guide us through his thought process. As the latter wins out we are given examples of what Greg might consider the best of times and what might qualify for the worst. Before springing into the title credits Greg looks to his left to see what would indicate that what he's recently experienced, what he's going to tell us about, were indeed the best of times even if he didn't realize it in the moment. Full review here. B

Oh what a difference an interpretation can make. One has to wonder if, after having seen both Gone Girl and Dark Places, which might have been the bigger success had the directors of each switched projects. One could argue the phenomenon of Gone Girl wasn't as much due in large to David Fincher's direction, but more the universal themes of relationships, cheating husbands and the acknowledgement of a very real presence in the exploitation of bad news for good ratings, but I wouldn't. I would argue these elements and the style with which they were presented heavily influenced what audiences took away from the film and that the story is wholly indebted to Fincher's direction. Don't get me wrong, Flynn's Gone novel is a well-written piece of noir that is highlighted by it's alternating narrators and cynical introspection, but it could just have easily been turned into a Lifetime movie and that is the difference between it and Dark Places. Written for the screen and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah's Key) Dark Places attempts to cover all of the seeming ideas and themes floating around in it's source material (I didn't read this Flynn novel prior to seeing the film) whereas with Gone Girl (I did read that one) Fincher chose to focus on one major theme and let whatever else came to the surface come out of that one focal area. This isn't to say Dark Places is necessarily a failure as a different approach could certainly work with similar material, but in Paquet-Brenner attempting to cram as much as he can into a two-hour movie the film eventually devolves into a standard procedural of uncovering the core mystery rather than being any kind of meditation on the factors that inform the mystery. Full review here. D+

Manglehorn is another one of those Al Pacino vehicles from last year (Danny Collins and The Humbling also come to mind) that was seemingly poised to signal some kind of last act rejuvination of the actor's career, but went quietly into the abyss of VOD instead. While I haven't seen either this or The Humbling I enjoyed Danny Collins well enough to possibly give Manglehorn a shot somewhere down the line. Given this story of an eccentric small-town locksmith who tries to start his life over again with the help of a new friend after having his heart broken was directed by David Gordon Green (Our Brand is Crisis) there is an extra sense of urgency to seeing how this turned out.

I was rather anxious to see People Places Things from writer/director James C. Strouse and starring Jemaine Clement and Regina Hall about a newly single graphic novelist who has to learn to balance parenting his young twin daughters and a classroom full of students while exploring the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him. The trailer looked really funny and inspired if not, like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, very artsy film fodder. Hopefully I'll have an opportunity to check it out once it inevitably hits Netflix in a few months.

Another one I was interested in seeing, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. takes an in-depth look at the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology. Documentarian Alex Gibney intimately profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, shining a light on how they attract true believers and the things they do in the name of religion. It sounds endlessly fascinating and I can't wait to see this much-discussed documentary for myself.

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