On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 1, 2016

I feel like I can make a fair assessment of the movie I'm about to watch simply by the quality and inventiveness of its title card. There is just something about the way this opportunity can be executed that seems to somehow connect with how far the director was willing to go to make every ounce of his film thrive. This is all to say that Creed has a pretty great one and from the moment the title and namesake of our lead character rises on to the screen with an epic and bombastic score behind it the movie just rolls. What I truly appreciate about the suggested epicness that director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) implies with this title sequence-that is set up perfectly by giving us an epilogue of sorts that shows a young Adonis Johnson on the fast track to nowhere in 1998 as just another kid in juvy who likes to fight-is that it recognizes the legacy of what the film is taking on and in this moment sets a tone that encapsulates everything the rest of the movie will attempt to demonstrate through it's actions. In essence, Coogler sets the stage in such a manner that lets us know this movie means business and that, while it will operate in the world of Rocky, is a fresh perspective on an age old tale for a new generation of underdogs. The script by Coogler and Aaron Covington hits all of the expected beats of a film such as this, but they are executed with such authenticity and weight that finds real credence in the source material that it's genuinely effective. That's what makes a Rocky movie a Rocky movie, right? The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment, of overcoming insurmountable odds. As we've more or less seen Rocky grow from an ambitious thirty year-old with nothing to lose to a nearly seventy year-old man who's come down on the other side of life battered and broken, but never beaten there is little left to say. This isn't a movie about Rocky though, and so the real question moving forward was going to be if Adonis Johnson could resonate in a way that we'd feel the need to stand up and cheer. In summation, round one goes to Creed. Full review here. B+

Sitting down for a Seth Rogen comedy now means one of two things in that 1) we're either going to get a stoner comedy extravaganza with over the top comedic bits or 2) we'll still get those things, but they will be balanced out by some type of life lesson that typically holds real dramatic weight. Which Seth Rogen movie we end up getting usually depends on who he's collaborating with and lucky for us, with The Night Before, Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have reunited with their 50/50 director Jonathan Levine. 50/50 was one of my favorite films from 2011, but I haven't felt the need to re-visit it as often as I'd initially imagined. While The Night Before isn't as impactful simply by virtue of not dealing with as serious a subject as cancer it is a film I could see myself returning to more often than not, especially during the holiday season due to the fact it's solid, raunchy fun. While the gist of the film is just that, to be a dirty, filthy, drug-fueled and foul language-filled R-rated Christmas comedy, there is clearly something more at play here and we can sense that from the opening sequence in which Tracy Morgan narrates as if reading a classic Christmas storybook. The film is framed and presented as something of a spoof on the traditional Christmas movie where everything is softly lit as if every viewer is cuddled up next to a fireplace watching and finding solace in the thought that things will never change and traditions will hold up for decades upon decades, but that is the exact theme in which The Night Before hopes to tackle. One has to wonder how long Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (who is credited as a screenwriter here along with Levine and two other writers) are going to continue to harp on the themes of boys becoming men and growing up even if it's something you don't necessarily want to accept. They have more or less been harping on these ideas for ten years now as here Rogen is playing the opposite of his Knocked Up character and the movie overall is something of a Superbad eight years down the road. The catch is, it works, and it puts a kind of kibosh on the theme as each character either comes to realize these truths or is able to get over the hump of revealing them to the ones they care about most. Full review here. C+

Alice in Wonderland has been used as inspiration for what are surely an innumerable number of stories. The idea of getting lost down a rabbit hole or your life not going the way you'd imagined it when you were a child is universal. The metaphors and analogies to be made are no doubt endless with any aspect of any single persons life, but Room is a certain kind of Alice story as you can feel the loss of our protagonist both physically and psychologically. Loss is a key word, a key theme if you will, given the circumstances of the situation presented in the film, but if you don't know that situation going in you're all the better for it. All that is necessary to know is that Brie Larson plays Joy Newsome, a woman who has seemingly been trapped in a single room shack for an ungodly amount of time while having raised her five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), in this confinement for the entirety of his life. There is only a single door in their room and it is protected by a locking system that only a mysterious visitor (Sean Bridgers) knows the code to. This stranger, referred to as "Old Nick", brings Joy and Jack food once a week, but like the majority of the supporting characters in any Alice story, he is cruel towards our heroine. Knowing little more than this myself before walking in, Room operates as a tense and unnerving thriller for it's first half before becoming an intense psychological trip in it's second. Both are equally engaging as is the film as a whole. Full review here. A-

Despite The Danish Girl being one of the more anticipated premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival last year I couldn't have been more hesitant to embrace the film. This has nothing to do with the fact it consists of a story about the first man to undergo sex reassignment surgery, but more it so blatantly felt like awards fodder. Everything about the film screams Oscar. It is directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables), is a period piece, deals in a very hot topic at the moment, and stars Eddie Redmayne who won the Best Actor award last year for playing Stephen Hawking. After playing a real-life person with a severe disability what is the second most obvious choice for an actor to play if they hope to be nominated or win an Oscar? Well, playing a woman of course. Beyond this, I haven't been a fan of Redmayne's up until this point either. I'd not seen him in anything prior to My Week With Marilyn and thought him fine in that, but he only irritated me as Marius in Les Mis, he was gloriously bad (not over the top, just irritatingly bombastic) in Jupiter Ascending (I know, what wasn't in that film?) and I personally didn't think he deserved the Best Actor statue over Michael Keaton last year. And yet, here we are with Redmayne having delivered a performance I would have no issue with him winning for because despite all its obvious pandering The Danish Girl is an affecting and beautifully captured story of bravery and inspiration that shouldn't be boiled down to or judged by it's perceived intentions. That said, the one shortcoming with the film is that it fails to really leave an impression. In the moment, it is very much a moving and undeniably powerful portrait of a disorder many don't care to understand, but further out the only lasting memory of the film is just how good Alicia Vikander is. Still, that moment counts for something and when in the throes of the experience it's admittedly difficult to avoid the word "exceptional" to describe much of what you're witnessing. Full review here. B-

Legend is a movie that aspires to be a great gangster epic and in some regards, it is. This is not the gangster epic in the same vein as something like Goodfellas, though. It is more a representation than an adaptation, which is fine because it works for the characters at play and never fails to be thoroughly entertaining. Director Brian Helgeland delivered a straightforward, but rousing biopic of Jackie Robinson two years ago in 42, but has written films such as L.A. Confidential and Mystic River in his twenty-seven years in Hollywood. With Legend, Helgeland tests his directorial prowess by taking on a much bigger scope and a more complex story that features a diverse set of personalities. Each of these things having to be managed and pieced together in a way that feels coherent. There are times you can almost feel the structure creaking under it's own weight. Near the end of the second act the film almost gives way to a full on tsunami of varied tones and plot strands falling in on themselves and flooding out to leave behind nothing more than puddles of once strong and vibrant storytelling methods as well as the exceptional double performance of Tom Hardy. Lucky for Helgeland, he hired an actor with as much gravitas and ability as Hardy allowing him to pull off this stunt and leave the audience ruptured in his showing to the point we don't so much care about what else is going on around him. We acknowledge the given circumstances the real-life people fell into, but we're all just watching to see what Hardy does with the situation. Full review here. B

I may not have any right to review director Paolo Sorrentino's (The Great Beauty) new film given I'm what I'd consider a youthful twenty-eight and this is clearly a film meant to elicit the broad scope, the big picture or the authentic perspective of an experienced life. I recognize that I can't even attempt to understand all of what this film is trying to say or all of what Sorrentino hopes to accomplish with such a work, but I feel I can at least recognize what he is going for. In fact, one character even describes the seeming intent of Youth within the film when he describes the film he's set to direct himself as a, "sentimental and intellectual last statement." While Sorrentino himself seems far from this stage of his career it seems as if that's the kind of film he intended to produce here; a sentimental ode to aging and the wisdom that experience and perspective bring while simultaneously becoming too old to recall any of this knowledge as processed through the guise of an intellectual. There is no issue with the aspiration as I would love to bear witness to a film that does some kind of justice to the striking injustice that is finally reaching a point where you might find some true hint of understanding only to develop Alzheimer's or croak the next day, but Youth is more a film that serves as a discussion of such philosophies and sentiments rather than one that tells a story that conveys those ideas. Full review here. C

My original plan was to see Miss You Already starring Drew Barrymore and Toni Colette at last years Toronto International Film Festival, but that didn't pan out and if it opened in a theater near me I didn't see it. And so, while I don't feel particularly motivated to seek out the film it seems like decent enough fare that I wouldn't mind watching were it to be the only thing on or was eventually available for streaming on Netflix. That said, there is so much in front of it that I need to get to I don't know that I'll be rushing to cross it off my list any time soon. The film follows two life-long girlfriends whose friendship is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

The latest effort from director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) that was actually released last year is Don Verdean starring Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Will Forte, and Jemaine Clement. While I might have preferred to see Masterminds I am somewhat curious as to what Hess has to offer with this film about a self-professed biblical archaeologist who falls on hard times and starts to bend the truth in order to continue inspiring the faithful. The religious premise is ripe for satire and the cast is pretty impressive. Pair these factors with Hess' unique, awkward style and despite the negative reviews I feel like there has to be something interesting to take away here. Maybe I'll wait until Masterminds is finally released and have a Hess double feature.

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