On DVD & Blu-Ray: September 27, 2016

Going into the long-awaited feature film adaptation of World of Warcraft I wasn't sure what to think or expect. The closest thing I could equate the experience with was that of Stardust back in 2007 where I assumed that the tropes of wizards, witches, and magical lands would follow a rather standard plot (not knowing it was based on a Neil Gaiman story at the time). Given that adaptation came from the likes of writer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn that film turned out to be a favorite of mine that I still enjoy at least annually. This was the sole reason I had hope for Warcraft. I like Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and that he came to this project as both a co-writer and director as well as a person who seemingly had an affinity for the source material I was given slight hope in the fact this story, that more or less looked like a second-rate Lord of the Rings, could potentially turn out to be, if not necessarily good, at least mildly entertaining. As it turns out, that is where this feature adaptation of the long-running video game series finds itself. With no point of reference and close to no expectations I went into Jones' Warcraft with the simple hope that it wouldn't be terrible and it's not-by any means. In fact, there is some pretty fun stuff to experience and even some affecting moments that caught me off guard. That isn't to say this movie isn't silly-it is, but that Jones and his team fully embrace the nerdiness of the material and are willing to do a deep (enough) dive into the mythology of this world and the numerous creatures that exist shows they're committed to not only the material, but that there is a certain regard for the story they are telling. All of that said, if you're not into such fantasy worlds or such fantasy stock characters then you will still hate or at least find what is going on here beyond ridiculous. And admittedly, outside of a few combat scenes and those aforementioned surprisingly emotional moments there isn't a whole lot to find appealing for an outsider looking in, but that this final product turned out to be as coherent and, for the most part, as fun as it is counts as a win considering the twelve years' worth of material the makers had to pull from combined with the task of pleasing fans of the games and the uninitiated alike. Full review here. Video review here. C

When I see that Rawson Marshall Thurber is directing a movie and more specifically, a comedy, I feel I know what to expect. That may sound like something of a criticism, but when what you're expecting is a large scale comedy with broad appeal and a surplus of solid laughs expecting something specific isn't necessarily a bad thing. And so, with the release of his latest the director of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and We're the Millers has indeed stayed on track with what we've come to expect from him proving he has a formula and by sticking to it he will continue to produce fun if not forgettable comedies that have strong replay value and serve as a launching pad for on the edge talent or, in this case, interesting duos. It is the combination of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kevin Hart in this particular situation that elevates Central Intelligence from being more than a serviceable comedy to something of a fuller comedic experience than it might have been in lesser hands. With the standard secret agent premise being something of a disappointment considering We're the Millers was a stellar comedic idea not to mention Ike Barinholtz was a contributor on the screenplay here, the movie sometimes is overly reliant on the chemistry of its two marquee stars, but it never feels as if the film buckles under the strain of these two guys having to pull stuff out of their asses because the story isn't strong enough to hold up. More-the chemistry between the two leads, the dynamic they create, and the downright hysterical and restrained characters they have crafted for themselves so overpowers the weaker narrative that Johnson and Hart more or less render the plot unnecessary. I mean, of course it is necessary considering we need a beginning, a middle, and an end with a source of conflict to drive our characters to a climactic point in which they might both conquer their personal and professional fears and come out all the better for it, but that is to be expected. What can be hit or miss is just how fun the journey can be made to this familiar destination and with the confident comedy hand of Thurber guiding them, the dynamite chemistry blowing up in every scene, and The Rock absolutely giving it his all Central Intelligence easily becomes one of those comedies that will be looked back on fondly as the best kind of comfort food. Full review here. Video review here. B-

The Shallows is just about what one would expect from a film about a pretty girl getting stranded on a rock as she is threatened by the ominous presence of a great white shark. The film is both a contained bit of biting tension while at the same time relaying little more than schlocky fun. What allows the film to transcend its rather simple and sometimes inferior qualities when compared to the big budget fare it faced during the summer months to become more of what a horror or action auteur might have produced in their early, limited budget days is the combination of both Blake Lively's performance and the sharp, concise direction of Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night). Sure, The Shallows is ultimately a forgettable movie that will stand to leave no lasting impression and may even be disappointing to those who walk in expecting more action and less mood, but considering what the film clearly sets out to accomplish from the get-go it fulfills its goals pretty effortlessly in that Collet-Serra uses the stripped down screenplay from Anthony Jaswinski (Vanishing on 7th Street) as a way to find interesting ways to convey the story. The outline is familiar and the beats we hit are expected, but it is the way Collet-Serra slyly introduces the context of our protagonist's situation and her background that might allow some of the more necessary things that need to be done when under attack by a shark to get accomplished. It is the way in which the parts we know are going to happen are so seamlessly set-up that allow us to, despite knowing what is coming, still be surprised when those moments do in fact occur. All of this is to say that while on its most basic of principles The Shallows should be nothing more than a B-movie in the vein of something that goes direct to DVD it is by virtue of the talent involved that it has become more than that: a thoroughly entertaining thrill ride made credible by Lively's presence and made to look like that of a higher class of story by Collet-Serra's inherent ability to add real tension and stakes in an otherwise throwaway narrative. Full review here. C+

One might call Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates director Jake Szymanski's feature debut and to a degree I guess that's correct as this is his first film getting a wide theatrical release (and his first that runs over an hour), but Szymanski is no stranger to comedy or the space in which it occupies in Hollywood. In fact, Szymanski turned Andy Samberg's rather thin idea for a 30 for 30 parody, 7 Days in Hell, into a rather entertaining forty-five minutes last summer. All of this doesn't necessarily mean that Mike and Dave is anything more than one might expect it to be (it's not) and despite sounding like one of those straight to VHS American Pie knock-offs where you might find Tara Reid and the chubby kid from The Sandlot working not-so hard to earn a paycheck, Mike and Dave actually delivers on the promises and premise that have been set up in its marketing. Though it might seem obvious that 20th Century Fox would like to make something of a comedic brand out of Mike and Dave (Mike & Dave Go to London, Mike and Dave Take the World) it somewhat feels as if Szymanski and writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien feel the opposite. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is very much a contained story that gives our main cast of characters defined arcs that take them from one clear point in their lives to the next. What is nice about what both the writers and Szymanski do though is that they don't allow this transformative period to completely define these characters. The titular siblings are still very much who they were in the beginning of the movie at the end of the movie save for the fact they've learned a few lessons and earned some perspective. What I'm saying is that Mike and Dave doesn't turn into a fable of some kind where the intent of the film is to teach its characters and audience a lesson, but rather is more about the challenges and obstacles presented in a certain situation and how a specific type of person deals in the messes they've made. This is undoubtedly the films strongest trait in that it doesn't become wholly what we expect though it is mostly the obtrusive and familiar raunchy comedy you hoped it would be if you bought a ticket in the first place. That said, Mike and Dave delivers some modest pleasures for, despite largely adhering to the beats of the genre, it excels in hitting those beats through a likable and appealing cast. Full review here. B-

Though Nicolas Winding Refn is hardly a household name his films have come to feel like certain kinds of events. It is in the aura he has created around himself and his ambitions that his movies now feel like these mythic, untouchable experiences that take us into a usually weird and demented world that is largely metaphorical for the one the rest of us exist in. With what is his tenth feature film the director has made his first film with a female lead as he's chosen to explore his inner sixteen year-old girl. In his mind, if he were a girl that is, Refn would seem to want to exist in the world of high fashion and be a fashion model as The Neon Demon takes us through the age old tale of the young, pretty southern girl who travels to Los Angeles to make her dreams of becoming a star come true. This is an interesting choice as Refn adopts a rather straightforward narrative for this film while still remaining experimental through the visual design and the way he integrates interesting visual approaches to convey many of the tropes of such a story. Set in this world of supermodels, pretentious designers, and even more pretentious photographers everything about the film feels elitist-the world should belong to the beautiful. The substance matters little if the surface isn't beautiful enough to stop you in the first place. Ruled over by the few chosen gatekeepers of taste we willingly follow our protagonist despite knowing, that in Refn's hands, there is no way this ends well. What Refn is actually attempting to say (if anything) with the film is anyone's guess as it's clear he means for his works to elicit multiple interpretations, but given the more linear structure and straightforward fashion in which the film has been edited it would appear Refn wants us to believe he is discussing one thing while slyly delivering something else. These intentions don't really come forward until the third act though, when the slight of hand turns into full on spectacle with the film simultaneously becoming less effective as a result. The slow paced, meditative quality of the first two acts that analyzes the ins and outs of the modeling and fashion industries through the innocent eyes of sixteen year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) is abruptly disposed of in favor of slasher movie conventions thus making the strong build-up and examination of such a world feel short-changed by the abrupt action that concludes the film. Refn somehow still manages slight poignancy, but with not as unique a perception as he initially sets up. Full review here. B-

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