On DVD & Blu-Ray: June 30, 2016

There is comfort in the familiar. There is comfort in understanding a certain feeling, but there is also peace in being able to give up control. Giving up control might not always be comforting though. It is the amalgamation of the familiar, the unsettling, the insecure, and the eventual calming notions that ultimately make the tone of Midnight Special one we find both comforting and grandly mysterious. Both soothing and simultaneously unnerving. In essence, director Jeff Nichols latest is all about tone. Were it not for the tone of a late seventies/early eighties mesh of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg it would be difficult to contemplate what exactly Nichols was attempting to say with this film. Instead, every aesthetic choice helps to inform the interpreted meaning behind the narrative. Without the score from David Wingo or the cinematography by Adam Stone (both who have worked numerous times before with Nichols) the emphasis on the juxtaposition between the mundane world of the southern region of the U.S. and the magic of Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher of St. Vincent) would be lost. The somewhat arrested progression of architecture and the numerous cracks in the freeways combined with the tired areas of suburbia and run-down motels our protagonists venture to throughout all possess that strangely comforting feeling of being lived in and yet the reasons these characters venture so quickly through these places is of uncertain consequence. Why they feel the need to put cardboard on all of the windows in whatever domain they enter or who exactly this young boy is and why he's so strikingly different from the rest of us is anyone's guess. Nichols, who also penned the screenplay, layers on the mysteries one after another for much of the film delivering one unexpected turn after another with just the right amount of answers to the countless questions that pop up. These elements of tone and style, story and emotion come together and go hand in hand to create a damn near perfect film that is too nuanced to be about one thing in particular, but rather has the rare ability to convey different yet subtle shades of meaning to each individual in the audience. Full review here. Video review here. A-

It has been fourteen years since My Big Fat Greek Wedding took America by storm and grossed $241 million domestic on a $5 million budget. It's a wonder that this isn't the third or fourth sequel to the film especially given writer and star Nia Vardalos has found little success outside of her Greek origins. Vardalos has written three features in between her Wedding features, none of which reached the commercial success of her breakout and thus the reason we likely have a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. If you enjoyed getting to know the Portokalos clan then you will no doubt enjoy their company this time around as well. Not much has changed beyond some of the dynamics shifting given the inescapable fact time does go on, but this seems to be the major point of issue for Vardalos when crafting the script: how might one develop characters who are so stuck in their ways? To answer this question and provide some deeper insight into who these people are (or more accurately who they once were and how they've become the characters we see today) Vardalos undoes the basis of the entire family: she discredits her mother and father's marriage by revealing it was never properly acknowledged by the church. For Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) this more or less makes the lives they've been living for the past fifty years something of a sin and a sham. Of course, Gus wants to correct things as quick as possible and have his marriage acknowledged by the church, but with this new found information Maria is eager to soak up her new found freedom and make her "husband" earn her love for him, elaborate proposal and all. Couple this with Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) dealing with the impending high school graduation of their only daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), and there's more than enough material for Vardalos to mine obvious comedy out of without actually mining the characters for any real insight or genuine arc. Full review here. C+

Now more than ever Sacha Baron Cohen seems to be looked to for cheap comedy rather than the once prestigious, if not still outrageous version of comedy that he was known for. This transition seems to have largely occurred due to two factors in that 1) Cohen became too famous to fool the commoner, politicians, or other celebrities into thinking his bits weren't bits and because 2) his targets haven't been as precise as they once were. Borat is now ten years old and I can remember sitting in a packed theater opening night and experiencing more consistent laughter than I have maybe ever during a theatrical experience (Step Brothers is a close second), but last night I sat with a friend (and fellow Intial Reaction co-hort) at a 10:00 pm showing in an empty theater to watch the latest from Cohen and whether it was the atmosphere (or lack thereof) or the fact the movie really is as lackluster as it seemed it was going to be one truth remains evident: for someone who has seemingly come so far Cohen has regressed more than anything. Sure, The Brothers Grimsby is a raunchy, over the top action comedy that pushes Cohen's comedy to even more ridiculous heights, but ultimately the film feels so slapdash and something of a mess that it is hard to take the jokes seriously. I realize that may sound contradictory, as in it doesn't make sense given that making jokes is the exact opposite of being serious, but what I mean to say is that there is hardly any substance left for Cohen to squander on his projects and rather than writing a story or coming up with a character in which the comedy naturally and inherently flows out of the comedian seems to have become more focused on coming up with gross out gags first and then going back to figuring out a story to work around them. I remain stern in my thought that Borat is one of the best comedies of the last twenty years (probably more than that even, but I won't test my limits) and hoped that Bruno was only something of a misstep, but while The Dictator was fine enough if not mostly forgettable The Brothers Grimsby once again skirts that line of being fine, but nothing special and nothing that will be remembered past this weekend no matter how ridiculous the stunts he pulls. Full review here. C

More and more Terrence Malick's films are becoming a collection of interesting images and random thoughts more than anything resembling coherence. The dialogue is sparse, the music more integral than ever, and yet rather than getting better at telling stories through these tools it seems the auteur peaked with his first attempt at such a loose narrative in his masterpiece The Tree of Life. Much like the more in tune with itself To the Wonder Malick directs Knight of Cups as if he is writing a poem. And by doing so he continues to stray further and further from conventional methods despite exploring themes we've seen touched upon many times before. Of course, one can't dock a filmmaker for being unoriginal in this day and age as it is the way in which they explore these emotions that really counts. The approach is clearly what is to be appreciated here while it is the ability to actually convey the sense of emotion and conflict that Malick is exploring that is coming up short. Once again the director is touching upon something of a "meaning of life" quest though this time through the eyes of a Hollywood writer rather than a Southern family in 1950's Texas or a woeful couple and pastor in the open planes of Oklahoma. We enter this indulgent environment through the guise of Christian Bale. I say guise for despite the fact we see the physical representation of this well-known actor there isn't much to suggest the true nature of who this character he's playing is much less what his journey might be about. Rather, it seems Bale has been left to figure out as much about his character of "Rick" as we have. While such methods as giving your actors only a character description instead of a fully formed script might help in capturing the natural development of said character's state of mind, for the viewers this doesn't remain consistently engaging enough for us to care what journey these characters are going on. Even worse is the fact that Malick is using such storytelling techniques in order to elicit more emotion from his actors and in turn his audience, but with Knight of Cups these attempts feel emptier than ever. Whereas Tree of Life really transcended the large themes the director was tackling through his pure filmmaking artistry Knight of Cups feels as numb as the Hollywood lifestyle it looks to comment upon. Full review here. D+

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