On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 5, 2016

There is something exceptionally startling about director Denis Villeneuve's approach to his rather subtle character examinations. Neither Prisoners or Enemy did anything to necessarily expand our minds to the way we work as humans, but they called often dismissed thoughts and qualities to the surface. With his latest, Sicario, the director is once again examining the human condition under the most stringent of circumstances and once again he puts our nerves through the ringer. Having more than enjoyed both of Villeneuve's previous studio efforts (I've yet to see Incendies, but clearly need to) and anticipating his latest if not based on his previous work, but for the trio of stellar actors he recruited to execute this feature I walked away from Sicario with a stunned respect for how what was being said was in fact stated. Brutal beyond measure, unflinching to a fault and featuring an extremely serious tone balanced by a slight comedic performance from Josh Brolin, Vileneuve has crafted a film that is not wholly concerned with plot as much as it is the examination of the complexities of these people who are trapped in a world convoluted beyond their comprehension that only continues to go around in circles. Sicario is by no means a masterpiece of the genre as it does tend to lose some of it's steam in it's middle section, but it more than makes up for it with a chilling conclusion and a tension throughout that is something akin to unshakable. Full review here. B+

Man on Wire is the Academy Award winning documentary from 2008 that preceded this dramatization of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. What made the documentary such a critical success and one of the more all-around entertaining documentaries ever was largely due to two factors-1) Petit himself and 2) the heist-like nature required to pull the stunt off. Petit is a character who needs no exaggeration. To watch him describe his mentality and desires in the documentary was to paint so vivid a picture that re-enactments were never needed. There was also a surplus of photos and footage from around Petit and his accomplices planning and executing this rather risky gamble to fulfill one man's crazy dream that filled in the gaps when Petit wasn't acting out his recollections. So, the question is: why would anyone want, and more importantly why does anyone need, another version of a story that has already been told in a magnificent (and no doubt more honest) way? The documentary was filled with drama and tension so why dramatize it further only to restrict it to a narrative structure that would likely end up making the distressing story rather passionless. There seems to be no definitive answer as to why this new interpretation was necessary within director Robert Zemeckis' film, but strangely it seems to make perfect sense given the man behind this particular vision. Zemeckis has always been a filmmaker who likes to push the envelope when it comes to technology and trying things other filmmakers wouldn't dare attempt (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away, The Polar Express). In Petit's story the director has found an inherently dramatic, fun and literally breathtaking tale that perfectly accommodates the type of innovative filmmaking methods he likes to march out and test on his audiences. And so, while The Walk may not be a movie we all needed, that certainly doesn't make it one worth ignoring. In fact, it's rather invigorating once it gets going. Full review here. C+

How do you make another zombie movie in a market saturated by the like truly stand out? Contemporary audiences are so accustomed to seeing people get their throats ripped out by the undead that they settle in for it every Sunday night. So, the questions remains: if you're set on making a movie featuring zombies, how do you make it feel fresh? Or necessary? Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) answers that question by combining the zombie genre with that of a raunchy teen sex comedy and allowing this interesting hybrid of styles to both acknowledge their debt to where they came from while at the same time pushing the boundaries as far as they can go so as to appease that "contemporary" part of the audience. The result of such experimenting? A really fun time. More over, a better time than you'd likely expect after just hearing that pitch. That Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse goes in such the opposite direction of what expectations were, it immediately becomes something of a treasure trove of a movie-making audience members wonder with anticipation about what we might come across next. There is something to be said about the type of film that initially seems to be nothing more than a rejected, cheap satirical comedy that stars David Koechner, but is slowly accepted over time for being judged not purely on it's credentials or the circumstances of the time in which it was made, but rather for the singular type of experience its viewing brings. I'm not saying the same will happen with this film as say Hocus Pocus, but the film in and of itself is way too enjoyable and way too appealing (especially to teen audiences) to fall by the wayside forever. At an hour and a half the film breezes by with an effortless ease that sets up its (mostly) likable characters, presents us with it's conflict and then utilizes its quirky premise to round things out in a satisfying and largely hilarious manner. Full review here. C+

It's been over a year and a half since I saw the first trailer for Eli Roth's The Green Inferno. The trailer for the film was attached to my screening of 22 Jump Street in June of 2014 and while it was odd to see such a gorrific trailer for a micro-budget horror pic right before a big budget broad comedy sequel, it made sense. The target audience would essentially be the same and the intrigue of the trailer was more than engaging. It promised a peak into the Peruvian jungle at a tribe that had never been filmed before. It was an undeniable hook that the film rode throughout it's (extended) promotional campaign, but one that unfortunately doesn't pay off in the way one might have hoped. This is often the case when the idea of something is built to be greater than the reality of what that something actually is, but this is a distinctly different kind of disappointment given there is clearly potential to be mined here still. Of course, this shouldn't be considered a surprise given director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) hasn't made anything remotely solid since (maybe?) the fake trailer segment "Thanksgiving" he produced for Grindhouse eight years ago (granted, I haven't seen Hemlock Grove, but he was only at the helm for a single episode). So, how I expected this to be any different rested solely on the hope that the director had done some growing over the past few years and found it interesting to begin experimenting with new storytelling ideas in a genre he clearly loves and feels comfortable operating in. Consider that hope officially lost. Full review here. D

I unfortunately missed the latest from director M. Night Shyamalan while I was at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, but I've heard a lot of promising talk around The Visit and look forward to catching up with it soon. Marking the director's return to horror after the truly miscalculated sidesteps that were The Last Airbender and After Earth (not to mention the general awfulness of The Happening) The Visit follows two siblings who become incredibly frightened by their grandparents disturbing behavior while visiting them on vacation.

Another I was sad to miss as it only played in a limited engagement in my neck of the woods was writer/director Leslye Headland's Sleeping with Other People starring Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis. The film received good to generally great reviews, but was hard to track down in theater play and has become even more of a mystery on home video platforms as it's been available to rent on digital streaming sites since December 22nd and was supposedly released on physical media today, but despite the DVD being available on Amazon there is no sign of a blu-ray release (despite the easy to find cover art you see to the left). Regardless, I've been looking forward to this one as I generally enjoyed Headland's last writing/directing project, Bachelorette, that was unfortunately released the year after Bridesmaids and was completely overshadowed by it.

Experimenter was written and directed by Michael Almereyda (2000's Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke) and stars Peter Sarsgaard and Wynona Ryder among other familiar faces and is apparently pretty solid. I didn't hear much about the film until its VOD release in the middle of October. Even then, it didn't seem many people were talking about the film and then, without warning, it started popping up on several end of year best-of lists to the point I now feel the need to check it out and see what I'm missing. The film is set in 1961 and is about famed social psychologist Stanley Milgram who conducted a series of radical behavior experiments that tested ordinary humans willingness to obey authority. Sounds interesting enough, right? Hopefully I'll be able to make time for it soon.

Anyone waiting on this highly-anticipated sequel can now rest easy as Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser is now available on DVD & Blu-Ray.

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