On DVD & Blu-Ray: June 7, 2016

Zootopia is something of a combination of an analogy for our real world and the hopes and dreams of where we might one day end up-a utopia if you will. In Zootopia everything is indeed perfect and as animals have risen up to become responsible citizens of the planet it is of course, imagined. Still, this world is portrayed as a place where animals have evolved to the point there is no dividing line between the once vicious predators and the meek prey they once hunted, but rather both groups have moved beyond these primitive ways to conduct a society where everyone has the same opportunities and where all species get along with one another with no problems. Of course, there are minor cracks of prejudice between certain sects of animals, but these seem to only be apparent in some of the more backward thinking individuals who still hold old traditions to be of an absolute truth. Sound familiar? Disney seems to be making no qualms about drawing the parallels between this imagined world where cute, animated creatures roam free and our own society where we too have trouble letting go of lessons drawn from a world of different circumstance and experience and not applying them to our current cultural landscape. That Zootopia is willing to display such faults is telling in the first place, but that it goes so far as to make this desire to return to the old ways of thinking and ultimately existing by some tells even more. With a group of five writers and directors the film is primed to start many a discussions after viewing it as the film itself seems to have naturally come out of many a long conversations between its creators and their staff. If you're one who doesn't care to have your animated films relevant or culturally-charged rest assured the final product is still very much in the vein of what most parents and families will be expecting, but with the added weight of such apt comparisons and broad resolutions of love and equality with acknowledged caveats to each situation there is certainly an added layer of meaning to the proceedings if you care to look. Full review here. Video review here. B+

Director Michael Bay is not someone you would call subtle. As the director of films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys I & II, and the Transformer series it is clear to see the guy doesn't mind indulging just a smidge. Typically the guy gets a pretty bad rap for crafting films of spectacle with very little substance, of putting forth his uber-machismo attitude that displays the women in his films as little more than figures of sexuality, and for generally allowing his movies to get away from him as the action (and more specifically the explosions) take over. That said, 13 Hours: The Revenge of the Dark of the Moon is very much a Michael Bay film. Of course, it is a film that Bay has been wanting to make for some time now and that desire, that passion clearly shines through. One could add to the list of Bay's tendencies his penchant for idolizing the American flag and the country it represents. When it comes to America or at least the American military, Bay seems to believe in absolutes and by absolutes I mean the guys on the ground, the soldiers, the people doing the dirty work are the kind of people we should all aspire to be. And maybe that's true, maybe the way Bay has depicted the six men who didn't have to do what they did on September 11, 2012, but chose to risk their lives to save other American lives is completely accurate. I have no qualms with how these heroes are represented as 13 Hours doesn't look to get political, but simply aspires to tell the story of the type of man it takes under such circumstances to make shit happen. My qualms with the film come when these men have little to no substance to them, when they are more or less interchangeable, and when the attempts at adding some weight or personal insight to the situation are so blatantly obvious it takes you out of the movie. Still, those who go into 13 Hours knowing what they want and what they're getting will undoubtedly describe this as nothing short of awesome and the type of pro-American film liberal Hollywood doesn't make enough of. Instead of being pro anything though, I like to imagine most filmmakers simply try to lend each story they tell a sense of well-rounded perspective, but with Bay there is no inhibition about the actions of these men and to even question as much is a fallacy. And so, 13 Hours is the culmination of everything Bay has ever wanted to put to screen and while it's certainly an entertaining action flick it still doesn't connect in the affecting way his over-powered soundtrack suggests he wants it to. Full review here. Video review here. C

The latest from storied writers and directors the Coen Brothers, Hail, Caesar!, is what some would label a zany comedy. It is a lark in many regards, a film where there seems no other intention by the filmmakers other than to create an amusing escapade and in this regard the film genuinely succeeds. The most outward thing one could say about the film in fact is that it is exceedingly charming and fun, that the Coen's have given themselves a set-up that allows them to explore all of their favorite genres of movies in Hollywood's golden age and that they take this opportunity and run with it. Casting the likes of current movie stars such as George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, and Channing Tatum and placing them within the context of what types of movie stars they might have been in the 1950's is an incredibly appealing idea and the opportunity to see Clooney channel bits of Clark Gable, Johansson essentially play Esther Williams, and Tatum do his version of a Gene Kelly number is what sells the film. These movies within the movie are what make the film worth recommending in a sense despite the fact Josh Brolin is doing a good job carrying the connective tissue between each even if, somewhat ironically, he doesn't have enough to do. If you've seen the trailers for the film then you know the overarching plot concerns Clooney's Baird Whitlock, the biggest star in Hollywood, being kidnapped and held for ransom by a group who refer to themselves as "the future", but this turns out to be not so much what the movie is about rather just a small piece of the puzzle. Instead, as most Coen pictures do, Hail, Caesar! wants to be about something more and this time the Coen's are exploring that very thing-the worth of the movies, of stories. Words like frivolous, flippant, lighthearted, silly, and any other synonyms of the sort are used consistently throughout forcing our protagonist, Brolin's Eddie Mannix, to search his soul to find a reasonable rebuttal to validate not only the movies he and his studio are making, but his livelihood. It's true that the movies have a platform like no other and that they have the power to influence certain demographics, but beyond the Coen's attempting to convince themselves of these same things as they grow older in age, there isn't much to grasp onto here or there is too much and none of it ends up making the impact it should. Either way, Hail, Caesar! is still a rollicking good way to spend an hour and forty five minutes even if it is a minor work in the Coen pantheon. Full review here. Video review here. B-

Who is Michael Stone? It is the question we can't help but to ask after he arrives at an upscale hotel in Cincinnati in Charlie Kaufman's first stop-motion film. We ask this due to the fact we have followed this man from his flight, through the airport, on a cab ride, and into the lobby where other guests whisper his name as he walks by. We come to learn that Stone is a speaker famous for a book he published about customer service. As mundane as this sounds it is of course with some purpose as Kaufman's entire exploration of the character of Stone has to deal with the mundanity of life in general. As with the majority of projects written by Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and the one he's directed prior (Synecdoche, New York) Anomalisa also deals with themes of identity, mortality, our relationships with other people, and the big question that is, "what is the meaning of life?" This latest experiment scales things back to a simpler form though, where the complexities of these existential ponderings aren't all-consuming. Rather, they come in the form of keen observations that perfectly summarize the vapidness of the majority of our interactions on a daily basis. This, paired with the chosen visual style of the film is rather inspired as not only does it allow Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson the chance to visually illustrate what might have otherwise been conveyed through dialogue, but it also allows a rather uninteresting story to be told in an interesting fashion. Full review here. C+

Another horror film released early in the year and already forgotten, The Other Side of the Door is about a woman, who after her young son is killed in a tragic accident, learns of a ritual which will bring him back to say goodbye, but when she disobeys a sacred warning, she upsets the balance between life and death.

Mr. Right is an action/comedy/romance starring Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell that I wanted to catch at TIFF last year, but it didn't play until after I left and the buzz wasn't as hot as I expected it to be either. In the movie Kendrick plays a girl who falls for the "perfect" guy (Rockwell), who happens to have a very fatal flaw: he's a hitman on the run from the crime cartels who employ him. It sounds fun enough, but I probably won't bother with it until it inevitably lands on Netflix next month.

Another movie I planned on catching at TIFF last year, but didn't end up working out with my schedule was Kill Your Friends which stars Nicholas Hoult as his version of Patrick Bateman given Hoult's character is an A&R man working at the height of the Britpop music craze who goes to extremes in order to find his next hit. The film also stars James Corden and Craig Roberts (Submarine) if that adds any interest, but like with Mr. Right, I don't see myself going out of my way to watch this one.

Finally this week is The Confirmation starring Clive Owen and Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent, Midnight Special) that I may actually go out of my way to see as it has received good word of mouth and Lieberher seemingly has an agent with an eye for quality projects. Telling the story of eight year old Anthony who is uneasy about spending a weekend with his alcoholic, down-on-his-luck dad while his mom and her new husband go to a Catholic retreat together this is certainly one of those movies where two people discover something new about each other and themselves, but it must have something special to it given the good reviews. Color me curious.

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