On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 1, 2015


In many ways, I'm the exact type of audience member director Asif Kapadia (Senna) had in mind as he constructed his latest documentary, AMY. I was never a huge fan of Amy Winehouse when her meteoric rise hit the U.S. in 2006, but it was more out of a lack of interest in the personal drama swirling around her than any disdain for the music she was creating. By the time of her death in 2011 the drama, drug abuse and drinking came to overshadow anything the singer was doing or had done in the world of music and thus I didn't really care to take any interest. Of course, shutting out the external influences and strictly listening to her voice the talent is undeniable. In Kapadia's new film we are given an all-access pass, warts and all, to the singer's trials and tribulations and to the eventual downward spiral that became so out of control, the crash was inevitable. What makes this documentary cater to my frame of mind is that it is an attempt at restoration in many ways. Sure, you probably know this famous person because of their off-stage antics and problems, but the film tells us there was much more to it than this and thus a reason to listen to what the film is trying to say in it's plight to restore the proper legacy that Winehouse's talent deserves. The opening footage we see of Winehouse comes from a time far removed from that of where she would go. At the tender age of fifteen or sixteen (which we would later learn was already plagued by the beginnings of bulimia) she sings happy birthday to a friend and you can already hear the flourishes of her voice and the jazz-like influences that are present. The singing of a song as broad as "Happy Birthday" also shows in simplistic form how impressive her voice was while playing to the "sameness" in relation to audience members lives. It's a surface-deep introduction that we realize doesn't cut to the core of who this young lady was, but is just enough to hint there was a lot more and no doubt something very interesting going on beneath the surface. In short, it hooks us. Full review here. B

Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, It's Kind of a Funny Story) Mississippi Grind is a story about an expert talker and a man who doesn't know when to stop. It's a film about the slums of gambling and the inescapable ditch you're constantly trying to crawl out of when you can't avoid the itch. In this regard, it's admirable in it's telling of certain personalities and it's perfectly in line stylistically with those it owes it's inspiration to. Whether it be The Gambler or California Split there is a distinctive 70's-inspired feel to these proceedings. Boden and Fleck have made a partnership of exploring human psyche's with crippling problems, but never have they seemed to commit to a genre so boldly. With this distinction in mind, Boden and Fleck take on this specific tone more than anything and more or less capture what they seem to be going for due mostly to two charismatic and emotionally compelling performances from Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds. The story is rather generic as Mississippi Grind quickly becomes a road movie about redemption these characters know will never be earned, but it is within this standard storytelling that the small, interesting caveats of character are born and are what continue to make the film as entertaining as it consistently is. Throughout the film Reynolds' Curtis comments on how it's not the destination, but the journey that matters most and that mantra stands true of the film as well. While this is a nice sentiment that permits the film to fall into certain cliche's, it remains an above average film due to it's character development as well as the unexpected but engaging dynamic between the two leads. And yet, this oft repeated motto still doesn't allow the film, as a whole, to be anything more than an impressive experiment in nostalgia that succeeds in some areas and is only content in others. Mississippi Grind is a solid film, a movie of rhythms and textures, but it's nothing so compelling that it will stick with you. Full review here. C+

In his second feature of the year writer/director Noah Baumbach delivers much of what we're accustomed to with sharp observations and witty dialogue that cut complicated emotions down into simple and coherent sentences. Re-teaming with Frances Ha star and real-life companion Greta Gerwig the two have crafted a script that tells of lonely college freshman, Tracy (Lola Kirke), whose world is turned upside down by her adventurous soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke (Gerwig). With Mistress America Baumbach and Gerwig have again tapped into this hip world that only exists in New York City and exploited it for the benefit of relaying universal themes we all consider more as time continues to pass us by. As I said in my review of While We're Young earlier this year it tends to feel as if Baumbach is repeats himself especially given Gerwig could essentially be playing an extension of her Frances as both of these young women are embarking on their thirties and watching the possibility of realizing their dreams dwindle. Still, it's as if each of these features that have featured a mix of Ben Stiller and Gerwig are, while similar, still able to present a certain caveat of what makes these similar characters unique to each film. By illuminating one particular quality and focusing in on a certain set of flaws the whole of Baumbach's body of work will seemingly one day amount to an exploration of what a single yet complicated human psyche actually looks like. In Mistress America we are given a brief eighty-five minute exploration that feeds off the creative mind and the difference in living and creating. Tracy is the young, aspiring writer with her entire life in front of her who finds a muse in someone ten years older who is simply trying to live as much as she can before maturity inevitably takes away all her youthful tendencies. Essentially, Tracy knows not what she has and Brooke, while admittedly something of a mess, wants only to hold on to what Tracy has an abundance of, but takes for granted. This is a precisely written, hugely funny movie that only makes me yearn for more collaborations between these two. Also, like Frances Ha, the music choices are once again on point. B+

I have not yet had the chance to see Goodnight Mommy, but plan to do so as soon as possible given the strong word of mouth and it's truly eerie trailer.