On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 23, 2016

First up this week is what I consider to still be the likely winner of the Best Picture Oscar this Sunday. Spotlight is a fine example of what perfect execution looks like. From the outset we are given the broad scope of the issue the film looks to tackle and from there we dive right into Boston, 2001 to meet the key players in the game the film will be playing. There are no hiccups, no time for second guesses and nothing narratively to take away from the main objective. Spotlight is a prime piece of meat with all of the fat trimmed and only the juiciest parts left so as to make the whole experience one of pure, concentrated excellence. That said, it is certainly an interesting case in a couple of areas. The first being that director Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, Win Win), who is generally regarded as both a solid writer and filmmaker, was coming off the worst reviewed film of his career a year ago with The Cobbler and so to bounce back so ferociously with this effortlessly intelligent thriller makes it clear there is something more to be said for the process of filmmaking. The other, is that this reviewer in particular is a Catholic. This is an influential piece of information considering Spotlight is about the Boston Globe's investigation into the Church's sexual abuse scandal that gave cause for people everywhere (Catholic or not) to take a second look at one of our most respected and trusted institutions. Because the film plays it straight down the middle, with no time for subplots or unnecessary qualms, no one party is ever viewed unfairly, but rather the irrefutable facts presented allow the audience to make up their own minds. Full review here. A+

Like all Disney and Pixar films, The Good Dinosaur pulls at the heartstrings by chronicling the change of innocence into experience, of a child into an adult, and of those premature ideals into broader perceptions. Like most Disney and Pixar collaborations The Good Dinosaur also features a duo on a journey to both save/rescue someone or something while discovering things about themselves and the world they exist in along the way. Sure, there is more to each of these stories that have given the studio partnership a reputation of not just crafting animated movies for children, but for their parents and adults alike. These core ideas and themes are what Pixar tends to stick with, though. With their latest, the studio twists things around by essentially re-writing history and then pulling a role reversal meant to engage the mature minds while utilizing the popularity of dinosaurs to get the attention of young kids. This works for the most part as the premise is just as engaging as Pixar's previous release this year, Inside Out. While such a statement might make some wince given the personified emotions of that film allow it to go to some pretty heavy places for a "children's movie" the idea of mingling in what the world might be like today if a massive extinction hadn't taken place millions of years ago is just as tantalizing as being able to create some kind of organizational system within our own minds. Unfortunately, The Good Dinosaur doesn't do as much with its promising premise as Inside Out did (though that one didn't do as much as I would have liked, either), but it does mix some interesting genre aspects and narratively creative ideas into it's proceedings often enough that it manages to be nothing short of an entertaining family film. While the film does indeed share many similarities to Pixar's previous offerings in terms of what makes them so effective what is more striking is the kinship it seems to share with the earlier, hand-drawn animated films of the Walt Disney company. Through this affinity for those that have come before it, The Good Dinosaur, while not being innovative or weighty on it's own terms, is a nice reminder of the power of a simple story told through beautiful imagery. Full review here. B-

There was a time when something like Secret in Their Eyes would have reigned supreme at the box office and likely been heralded as something of a dramatic force of nature that was brought to its emotional edge by three daring lead performances. There was a time when both Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman could have played these same roles in this same movie and it would have been a lot buzzier a film with bigger box office returns based off their names alone (more, of course, for Roberts as Kidman has never been much of a big money movie star). Unfortunately for Roberts this is not the world we live in anymore. Instead, we live in a world where the best hope you have of becoming something even resembling a cultural phenomenon is if you're based off a comic book, young adult literary series, or have any other type of brand recognition/nostalgia factor you can tap into. When it comes to purely adult dramas like Secret in Their Eyes though, chances are slim of anything greater coming of your efforts unless you have David Fincher behind the camera or are pegged as an Oscar contender prior to release. All of that said, this is a movie that is just fine. There are moments of potential greatness, of truly riveting material and the three leading performances, including a heartbreaking psychological exploration of the struggle for atonement in Chiwetel Ejiofor's character, that more than deliver, but there is nothing about the film that feels exceptional by the time the credits begin to roll. Instead, writer/director Billy Ray (who's written The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips and the 2009 State of Play adaptation, but hasn't directed a film since 2007's Breach) has taken director Juan José Campanella's 2009 Argentinian film of the same title that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (which I have not seen) and has adapted it for American audiences in a way that makes it feel more procedural than it should be given the emotional resonance of the situation at hand while never feeling as urgent or compelling as the original must have been to garner such praise. Full review here. C

In what feels like another in an endless stream of faith-based, inspired by true stories football films we now have My All American. This one covers the story of Freddie Joe Steinmark who played football for the University of Texas and was a member of the 1969 Texas Longhorns football team, who won the national championship in the "Game of the Century" against the 1969 Arkansas Razorbacks. Two days after the game X-rays revealed a bone tumor just above his left knee. While I have something of a personal interest in the film given I'm from Arkansas and grew up hearing about this game I can't help but be cautious about the quality of the film. That said, the film sports a pretty solid cast including Aaron Eckhart (who is obviously a gifted actor, but needs to fire his agent) and The Big Short's Finn Wittrock as well as being written and directed by Angelo Pizzo who penned the screenplays for such classics of the genre as Hoosiers and Rudy. Maybe these tempered expectations will lead to me enjoying the film as much as I possibly can, but we'll see as I'm sure I'll end up checking this one out at some point in time.

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