On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 12, 2016

I tried. I really did. I even read the first two books, but I knew it was a bad sign when it took me two tries to make it through the second novel in author Veronica Roth's dystopian young adult series, Insurgent. I didn't even bother to try and read the third and final novel in the series if that tells you anything about how much I cared about what happened to these characters and their overly complicated world. If nothing else, I thought not reading the source material might make the third film (which of course is part one of a two part finale that splits the final book in half-the second of which doesn't arrive until next summer) more intriguing given I didn't know exactly where the story would be heading, but as with the two previous films while there is always stuff happening, the story doesn't necessarily move forward. This is the problem with the series as a whole never mind the individual films. There is even the idea there is too much going on as each character's dialogue is plagued by large portions consisting of pure exposition, but if we don't know what we need to know about this world by the third film there's simply too much and Allegiant suffers greatly from too much talking and not enough actually happening. The film seems a pristine example of taking two steps forward only to take three steps back. At the very least, we expect story tropes of the YA genre to be pushing the audience forward to some type of inevitable showdown between the exceptional protagonist and the jaded authority figure who doesn't believe in them, but The Divergent Series has repeated this so many times at this point that there is no tension left and worse, we can see where things are going given they've been telegraphed a handful of scenes prior. I'm sure Roth had interesting ideas she wanted to explore going into writing this franchise and some even start to peek through in certain moments here, but it seems like the filmmakers and crew are as tired of making these movies as audiences are of watching them and thus the cohesiveness of the actual story is the last thing on their minds making Allegiant go straight to the back of ours as soon as the credits begin to roll. Full review here. Video review here. F

Much like with director Jeremy Saulnier's previous film, Blue Ruin, his latest positions itself as something of a straight genre film with bigger ambitions underneath the surface. With Ruin, Saulnier was keen to allow the audience to piece together the story of the protagonist as he pulled back the layers at his own pace, but the real trick was that he kept audiences transfixed the whole time despite the fact we lacked large chunks of context. In his new feature, Green Room, Saulnier once again works from a script solely of his own doing, but instead of teasing out the challenges our main characters face this time around our "heroes" are placed on the front lines against their very visible enemies-Saulnier standing between them ready to let his checkered flag fly at any moment. This choice to not rely so much on mystery seems to come from nothing more than a need to tell a different story in a different way, but the tendency to want to hold back seems natural to the writer/director as the backbone of Green Room's plot (but not all of its tension) relies on the audience knowing the immediate threats of the situation without knowing what originally put these events in motion. It's a keenly crafted screenplay that tends to get slightly redundant near the end despite its already slim running time. That said, the main objective for the multiple protagonists is never unclear and the conspiring reasons they find themselves in the situation along with several other factors that come to be of critical importance are introduced in sharp fashion. It is not the storytelling that will fascinate here though, but rather the way in which Saulnier and his team are able to balance the downright horrific nature of what unfolds in front of us while keeping the tone that akin to something of an eighties era slasher. There is a heft, an integrity even to a number of characters and events, but there is also a very knowing tone, a sarcastic or rather a very punk attitude to the whole affair that elevates what is essentially a hostage thriller to that of a true rebel among its genre trappings. Full review here. B

"There's a party down on the corner, do you want to go? They got rhythm, a little blues, and a whole lot of soul. I don't care what you've got to say, you're comin' with me anyway. We're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time." So go the words of Huey Lewis and the News' 2001 song "We're Not Here for a Long Time (We're Here for a Good Time)" and while Richard Linklater's latest film takes its name from the more appropriate Van Halen track from 1980 the writer/director is echoing the same sentiments as Lewis and his News were in their song. One of the many characters in Linklater's entertaining ensemble even throws out the familiar saying at a moment when we're discovering the drastic steps he's taken to recapture his more idyllic past. An idyllic past is mostly what Everybody Wants Some!! is really about, though. The ability to escape and live in an existence, at least for a period of time, that feels like the perfect mix of being care-free and celebrating that freedom by partying as consistently as possible. This window of unattached existence is what Linklater seems to have deduced brings out the most natural form of who we are meant to be as human beings. In experiencing this type of freedom by simply existing we are allowed to pine for that period of time the rest of our lives as most will go on to conform with the societal structures expected of them. Thus, our idyllic past is created with the key being it must remain that idyllic high point without any attempt to recreate such memories because we all know real, genuine fun can't be commonplace. It can't happen every night and the same thrills remain intact. If humans were to live forever as the characters in Everybody Wants Some!! do over the course of this three-day weekend we'd likely live half as long and grow tired of the emptiness drinking and promiscuous sex with many anonymous partners would eventually bring. And so, what Linklater is slyly conveying is that of a cherished time in his own life; memories that inform the man he is today with the added acknowledgment that it can't last forever, but is beyond critical to drink in when that time occurs. Full review here. A-

I'm not opposed to faith-based films and I have even genuinely liked/appreciated a few of them, but the fact the majority of those produced to convert viewers to the light, the way, and the truth, but mostly end up preaching to the choir are overly cheesy and sentimental (if not badly written and directed) doesn't help. In the case of Miracles from Heaven, another film lifted from the popular literary genre of "I spoke to God and decided to write a book and profit off of it-Hey! Movie deal!" that enlists real actors like Jennifer Garner, I didn't feel compelled to see it because the trailer essentially gave away the entire movie. Seriously, it gives away every dramatic beat it can possibly contain and if there are more the movie is hiding then there is just too much going on in the movie period. As cynical as this all may sound if you really want to give viewers conviction give them something real, something worth investing in, but don't hope that cookie-cutter Americana with a splash of life-threatening disease only to be resolved through prayer and not the tools God gave you and others to work with is going to fly. Show us coping with tragedy through faith or dealing with everyday struggles by a persistence and work ethic based in one's beliefs-maybe then these faith-based films won't simply catch those already convinced, but may even stand the chance of perking the ears of those who never knew or gave up. I'll stop here before I go on too long, but needless to say I don't plan on checking out Miracles from Heaven anytime soon.    

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