On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 2, 2016

I'm not going to say anything new or anything you probably haven't already heard about the latest from Steven Spielberg, but hopefully it will still be somewhat insightful and interesting to you, the reader. Come to think of it, that's kind of what Spielberg himself has done with Bridge of Spies. There is nothing new or original about what he's put on display here, but it is still very much an engaging and insightful take on the topic he's decided to tackle. Everything about the film, from it's period setting of 1957 during the height of the Cold War to the fact it once again pairs the most famous director in the world with the most likable actor in the world, Tom Hanks, screams pedigree and pure Oscar bait. What's reassuring is that Bridge of Spies never comes off as such. It aspires to be little more than an intense study of the small details of human interaction and what crafts us to be the people we truly are as tested by extraordinary circumstances. This is a film purely for adult viewers, not because it contains anything too risque for younger viewers sans a few curse words, but because it is a film that moves slowly, builds its character and tension assuredly and then delivers an overall message that comes at the story from a very distinct perspective only making us consider the many other perspectives one could see this story from (which is sorta the point). Bridge of Spies isn't anything to necessarily write home about in that regard, but while you're watching it, as you're sitting there experiencing it, you can do little more than appreciate the obvious care and dedication that has gone into producing this handsomely mounted picture. That it includes a solid performance from Hanks and something of a revelatory showing by character actor Mark Rylance only emphasizes further the type of respect a film such as this deserves; not only because it is indisputably a good movie that consists mainly of adults talking, but respect for it's backers and makers for being willing to create an old school drama during a time when it seems anything in the realm of adult-skewing entertainment is labeled as less than profitable. Full review here. B

The Last Witch Hunter is one of those movies that, were Vin Diesel not coming off a more prominent period in his career, would star Nicolas Cage in the titular role. What that says about the actual state of Diesel's career outside of the Fast & Furious franchise is up for debate, but what is undeniable is the guy at least has some modicum of charisma even if it only extends so far. With that charisma he has chosen to portray an eight hundred year old witch hunter that operates within a film that feels all too familiar and all too like it should be released in the doldrums of January when the weather outside matches the dark, wet, and dreary aesthetic of the film. Instead, Summit decided to release the film around Halloween in seeming hopes that it might connect on a festive level, but folks who flock to Diesel's follow-up to the biggest entry in his Fast franchise won't find the actor giving us the knowingly cheesy tone of that over-the-top action spectacle or even any solid action as everything about The Last Witch Hunter is messy and incoherent. This isn't to say the film has no redeeming qualities as some of the character design (mainly that of the Witch Queen) is pretty interesting and the costume design is sleek even if the palette director Breck Eisner (The Crazies, Sahara) is painting on is a grainy one. This is more or less to say that Diesel shows little range in his performance, but his jackets are nice. It doesn't help that half an hour in one can fairly easily tell where things are going story-wise and while what is hinted at more or less turns out to be true it's as if screenwriters Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (yes, it took three writers to compose this slop) knew their script was too predictable and so they began throwing in random obstacles and twists that only end up making the film all the more confusing and all the more stupid. I hate to go into a movie doubting that it will provide anything of value, but if The Last Witch Hunter exceeded anything it was the expectation of just how generic and forgettable it would be. Full review here. D

Suffragette is a movie that survives solely on the strength of its true story. Beyond the compelling and often times unfathomable way that men treat women in this film, there isn't much to grab a hold of or really sink your teeth into. It's disheartening given all the film clearly has going for it, but thus is the way things seem to go when a writer makes interesting and even somewhat daring if not completely agreeable choices in their screenplay. For instance, our lead character is a fictional invention in order to convey a certain perspective on these historical events, but given the way the film comes to a swift and unexpected conclusion based on the actions of a different character whose actor didn't even make the poster the film as a whole can't help but feel slightly impromptu whereas the obvious, in my opinion, choice for the narrative direction would have been more straightforward. We are talking about an incident that concerned militant suffragette Emily Davison (played in the film by Natalie Press) that effectively serves as the climax of the film, but given we've only seen Davison in less than a handful of scenes prior the impact of her actions is not nearly as gut-wrenching as they could've been. I realize that writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame) is giving audiences more of a relatable character arc by delivering the typically passive Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who is more or less pulled into her life of activism, but given that Davison was jailed on nine different occasions and had to be force fed no less than forty-nine times I'd say that not only does Davison deserve a movie about her life, but that it generally sounds more complimentary to the cinematic landscape than that of the everywoman Morgan has crafted with Maud. That isn't to say Mulligan or her character are ineffective as they work up to a certain point, but unfortunately that is as much as can be said about the film as well. With this subject matter and these events that clearly deserve to be recognized not to mention the talent on hand it's strange how uninspiring the film can sometimes feel. It has its moments, sure, but for a fight that's unforgettable I likely won't remember much about the movie past next week. Full review here. C

Our Brand Is Crisis is a Grant Heslov/George Clooney production, but it's not Argo in the sense that it's not a political thriller and it's not Monuments Men in the sense it's not a heroic story parading around as a nostalgia trip. As this is a David Gordon Green picture though, this is a film that ends up being something of a mashup between a political drama and slapstick comedy. Green is an eclectic director who has dipped his hand in heavy drama (George Washington, Snow Angels) as well as broad comedy (Pineapple Express, The Sitter) and his latest somewhat blends these two styles to create something uniquely edgy if not completely conventional in the beats it hits. From the outset, Our Brand Is Crisis feels like a straightforward documentation of the carousel of politics this world and it's countries become wrapped up in every four years. Given this is Green we're talking about it also means the characters involved in such circumstances have a unique set of sensibilities that give the otherwise unsurprising narrative a twist. Early on in the film Sandra Bullock's 'Calamity' Jane Bodine tells a room of campaign volunteers they need to help make the narrative fit their candidate rather than the other way around. Green seems to have heeded his films own advice as he clearly caters his story to the character of Jane and her off the wall methods that have made her one of the most well-regarded campaign strategists in the game. Were Green to have not done this we would have little more than a standard political drama, but given the characters are fun and engaging it's impossible to not see it as at least a little more than that. Full review here. C+

I don't typically watch the news anymore. If I do it's only because it's on in the background at a restaurant or friends house. I don't even have cable. I get my news updates and read the latest stories on the internet. Naturally, that means Truth makes me feel like a horrible individual. This is the case because the film deals in the purity of investigative journalism, the integrity it was once synonymous with and the standards that every great reporter would ideally hold themselves to. Of course, the truth is also relative and in his directorial debut James Vanderbilt (who has written screenplays such as Zodiac and White House Down) explores this idea by telling the behind-the-scenes story of the 2004 60 Minutes investigation of then-President George W. Bush's military service in the Texas Air National Guard. This investigation, led by producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), comes under heavy scrutiny after the legitimacy of a handful of documents that question the conduct and participation of Bush while in the National Guard are thought to be fake. Vanderbilt ultimately plays things safe and goes with a rather trusted formula and conventional approach a la any newsroom drama you've ever seen, but because the story in and of itself is so interesting (as is also typically the case with newsroom dramas) and given the way the film deals with the subsequent firestorm of criticisms and accusations that cost anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mapes their careers it more than sustains itself and delivers a solid if not exceptional venture. Full review here. B-

Rock the Kasbah is a film that is neither here nor there. It is an odd case of feeling completely inconsequential while using relevant aspects of our current cultural climate to try and make a statement yet only proving itself irrelevant for it. It's a strange film-an experience that isn't exactly unpleasant while you're in the midst of it, but is ultimately more forgettable than anything I've seen at the cinema in recent memory. It's is a shame, really, as the production has so much going for it and could have certainly been an interesting film were someone with any kind of motivation or vision in the director's chair. Its always fun to see Bill Murray's name above the title, leading a film and especially if that film is a broad comedy (something we don't get often anymore), but while Murray is seemingly giving this his all director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) looks to be on autopilot. This isn't necessarily unexpected as Levinson hasn't produced anything thats been universally loved or appreciated for some time, but to have frequent Murray collaborator Mitch Glazer (Scrooged, A Very Murray Christmas) behind the screenplay and Murray front and center with an off the wall premise one would think there'd be more to this tale of a washed up music manager who ends up stranded in Afghanistan. Instead, Murray and a rather outstanding supporting cast that includes Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Scott Caan, and Danny McBride are wasted in this meandering mess that only stays afloat for the pure intrigue of seeing where the movie might go. Turns out, Rock the Kasbah isn't worth paying much attention to even if every facet it offers up is one you would normally give enough credit to do as much. It's not horrible by any means, but it's easy to see the amount of untapped potential here that inevitably makes the final product all the more disappointing. Full review here. D+

While I missed this true story drama about New Jersey police lieutenant, Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), and her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), who battle to secure Hester's pension benefits when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer at the Toronto International Film Festival I was anxious to see how it turned out. Given the all-star cast, the timely and rather weighty subject matter, as well as the fact this was the first feature from director Peter Sollett since his charmingly underrated Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist seven years ago I had high hopes. For the most part, Freeheld meets everything we expect from it, but the issue is that there is little more to go on after that. The movie is almost too uniformly Oscar-baity to even qualify as anything more than a parody of an Oscar-type film. After finally winning an Academy Award, but arguably for the wrong performance the casting of Julianne Moore as another sickly woman just feels bland and unoriginal. Pair with this aspect the further details that the woman Moore is playing is also a homosexual and is fighting the big man in the ivory tower for equal rights so that her domestic partner may be taken care of when she inevitably passes and you have one hell of a story that could truly be effective if conveyed in the proper way. This isn't to say Sollett comes at the story in the wrong way, but rather that he doesn't approach it with any kind of interesting perspective or unique in. He doesn't latch onto a single idea or theme that has come out through Hester and Andree's story, but rather goes through the motions, hits the expected beats, and delivers the true story in as objective a manner as possible. This makes for a beyond average film that could have easily inspired so much more, especially given the performances from Page, Michael Shannon, and an undeniably charismatic Steve Carell as a middle class Jewish homosexual from New Jersey are all top notch. And yes, Moore is good too. Isn't she always? C

Man Up is a movie that will be undoubtedly perfect for renting this weekend. I didn't really have any interest in checking out the film given it felt like one of those small, inconsequential movies that Simon Pegg does in between his Star Trek and Edgar Wright projects, but when it began receiving positive word of mouth I obviously became more interested. The story follows a single woman who takes the place of a stranger's blind date, which leads to her finding the perfect boyfriend. If that doesn't sound like a perfect flick for a Saturday night in on the couch I'm not sure what does. The fact it stars Lake Bell doesn't hurt either.

The Keeping Room never played in my area during its theatrical run and given my anticipation for anything Brit Marling decides to do I was rather disappointed. The film, about three Southern women - two sisters and one African-American slave - who are left without men in the dying days of the American Civil War, who must fight to defend their home and themselves from two rogue soldiers from the fast-approaching Union Army, honestly looked terrific. It premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival to generally positive reviews, but it was difficult to find out anything more about the film after that. In only a limited release last fall the film made very little waves and again quietly arrives on home video today. Also starring Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Sam Worthington (Avatar) I look forward to finally being able to catch up with this one.

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