On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 26, 2016

As a child of the nineties, as someone who was in fourth and fifth grade at the dead center of the decade I was completely immersed in the Goosebumps books. I can easily recall going to Wal-Mart with my mom every month and constantly checking to see if the new book was on the shelves yet. I would devour these books to the point of ridiculousness and their popularity was such that at this point in time even my fourth grade teacher decided to read one of author R.L. Stine's works of adolescent horror to the class so as to appeal to those who weren't on board with Tuck Everlasting. While the books meant a great deal to me and I was a big fan of the Fox Kids Saturday morning line-up at the time I was unfortunately never able to get into their live-action adaptations of Stine's stories in the TV series that ran from 1995 to 1998. There was all the excitement in the world for such a series, but once it premiered there was never enough to keep me coming back-unlike the books. And so, how would a live-action movie version of such stories be any different? Given I was also twenty years removed from the source material, would I even care if a Goosebumps movie did honorable service to the literature or was it time to move on and accept that whatever it was that made these books so captivating to so many kids on the brink of their teenage years in the mid-nineties was just an elusive quality never to be contained on celluloid? It turns out, all the material needed was a dash of meta-comedy that allowed the story to not only incorporate several of Stine's most popular characters, but Stine himself. With this opportunity to tell a brand new story rather than simply rehashing one of Stine's more popular titles the film is given a fresh idea that combines the likes of something akin to Jumanji or Zathura with the perfect balance of slightly off-kilter comedy and scary scenarios with over-the-top monsters that made the books so engaging. In short, this new Goosebumps film exceeded all expectations by delivering a fun and charming horror flick for kids that will undoubtedly be brought out every year around Halloween for a long time to come. Full review here. B

Burnt will certainly make you hungry. Whether it is for food or the better movie this had the potential to be will have to be decided by you when you come around to the "too neatly wrapped" ending it doesn't really deserve. For my money, Burnt is a movie that is fine enough because it features another committed performance from Bradley Cooper doing what he does best and that is him digging into the psyche of his character. What makes Burnt a not so stellar vehicle for the guys talent is the fact it is a story we've seen numerous times before. As soon as the set-up is delivered and we're keen to the conditions of all the major players it is clear where this thing is heading. Still, the credentials the movie sports are more than solid: Steven Knight (Locke) penned the screenplay (he also wrote 2014's under-appreciated The Hundred-Foot Journey to which Burnt feels like a lesser version), John Wells (The Company Men, August: Osage County) is at the helm (though it was once supposed to be directed by David Fincher-which really makes me want to see a Fincher/Cooper collaboration) and besides Cooper we have a pedigreed cast that includes Sienna Miller (American Sniper), Daniel Brühl (Inglorious Basterds), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Omar Sy (The Intouchables) and Emma Thompson not to mention a quick cameo from Uma Thurman. So, with so much going for it why does Burnt feel so stale? It's actually somewhat difficult to pinpoint as it's not as simple as blaming it on any one aspect. The film, as shot by Adriano Goldman (Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre), is gorgeous to look at-numerous shiny surfaces contradicted by dark shades of facial hair and the bags under Cooper's eyes with the lovely London setting all adding something of a spice to the proceedings. The dialogue is direct, the intensity of Cooper's Jones when he gets worked up in the kitchen, while Gordon Ramsey-esque, is believable and yet it is the obligations the film feels it needs to make these characters hit that pull it into mediocrity. It's not the single downfall, but it becomes the most glaring the closer we get to the conclusion. Full review here. C

I'm not a huge follower of Spike Lee. I've seen the necessary title of Do the Right Thing, but need to catch up with the likes of Malcolm X and 25th Hour. I've attempted to keep up with his activity since really getting into film and loving Inside Man in 2006. His feature filmography (dude does a lot of work in the documentary field) since then has included the likes of the ambitious but underwhelming Miracle at St. Anna, Passing Strange (didn't see), Red Hook Summer (also didn't see), the Oldboy re-make which was better than it was given credit for, and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (again, didn't see) before bringing us Chi-Raq at the end of 2015. To much debate and conversation Lee (along with co-writer Kevin Willmott) adapted Aristophanes' ancient Greek play Lysistrata that tells of one woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata (played here by Dear White People's Teyonah Parris) persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace—a strategy that inflames the battle between the sexes. Lee and Willmott though, have set this story against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago's Southside. While the statistics the film throws out in the beginning are certainly alarming, despite being public knowledge for several years now, what Lee does best is to convey his passion for the material through the way he documents his story. With this story, he wants to make history. There is clear ambition to make a difference and yet Chi-Raq becomes so much about the ploy of women withholding themselves from their male-dominated society that it forgets the issue in which it is addressing in the first place-the violence of Chicago. Instead of keeping things zeroed in on the city from which it draws its title, Lee takes things to a global level and loses some of the effectiveness because of it. That said, this ultimately feels like an earnest effort to make those unaware, very much aware of the growing violence issue in this country and is done with such intensity it is impossible to ignore. B-

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