On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 13, 2016


Don't believe everything you hear. That would be the first thing I would tell people if they were to ask what I thought about the latest entry in the DC Comics extended universe as funded by Warner Brothers. Don't believe everything you hear in that Suicide Squad isn't nearly as terrible as those early reviews have made it out to be, but don't believe everything you saw in those trailers that made you think this might be a new super hero masterpiece either. Suicide Squad has its flaws. Plenty of them in fact-the biggest perpetrator being the convoluted story that ultimately does so many circles around itself that it becomes a pointless exercise in power for Amanda Waller (as played by the wonderful Viola Davis). Suicide Squad also has its fair share of highlights as well-most of them concerning the effort the cast is putting into making this group of misfits feel like a family when the script gives them little to work with. This is all very disappointing mind you as writer/director David Ayer (who wrote Training Day and who wrote and directed the likes of End of Watch and Fury) clearly has a knack for these types of characters and putting such characters in high-stakes situations that bring out qualities and traits viewers will find endearing and affecting despite potentially being revolting. The issue here is that Ayer seemingly felt the need to include so many characters that he let his storytelling techniques get away from him and instead decided to give us an introductory hour where we are presented with each of the ten (count 'em ten) main characters as well as how they all ended up together and walking into the plot device that is both meant to unite them and that could have also been completely avoided if the idea to bring them together was rejected in the first place. There is interesting ideas aplenty here and the film very well could have explored the difference between bad and evil and how many bad things one has to do or ends up doing before they cross that line. Instead, Ayer uses this opportunity to bring together his comic book version of the Dirty Dozen and expose them at face value, for what they are, and how they work together. Just so we're all on the same page-that would have been fine. I don't have an issue, especially at this stage of the game, with a DC film not leaning too hard on the philosophical stuff and instead focusing more on simply having fun, but even in doing this Ayer's story does itself no favors by making everything interconnected to the point the film renders itself irrelevant when all he really needed to do was give these usual foes a formidable one of their own. Video review here. Full review here. C

Yes, Miss. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is one of those young adult adaptations where a seemingly normal kid who possesses zero self-confidence comes to learn that he's special in some capacity. That he is in fact "the chosen one" and that without his presence an evil plan couldn't possibly be thwarted. Director Tim Burton's (Edward Scissorhands, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) adaptation of author Ransom Riggs' best-selling novel is indeed that type of movie and there is no eluding those comparisons. What allows this seeming cookie-cutter product to come off a different conveyor belt than some of its peers though is the level of uniqueness with which it is operating in. Riggs' novel plays by the conventions of the genre, sure, but there are so many fresh and interesting ideas brought to the table that it is easy to see past the rather standard narrative beats. It is all about the journey rather than the destination, right? If one has little trouble buying into that saying than they should have no trouble finding a point in which they can immerse themselves in the world of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her peculiars. While I can admit to the fact the adaptation (penned by Jane Goldman of Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsman fame) has a few shortcomings in not giving a few of its exceptionally talented cast members enough to do while sporting other scenes in which the exposition is far too glaring the overall product we are delivered is one of wonder and curiosity. I can only imagine going into the film having not read the source material that the plot could come off somewhat convoluted-especially in the obligatory action-heavy third act-but more times than not Goldman finds interesting ways to speak around the necessities of the plot which are only aided by the visual flair of Burton who finds himself firmly in his own wheelhouse with this world. From the overly dark and dreary opening credits sequence to the way in which it cuts abruptly to sunny Florida where Burton once again chastises the slums of suburbia it is clear Burton is back in a field where he feels his creative juices are free to flow. Essentially-the guy can do whatever he chooses and it will likely work in this alternate reality where what we come to be treated to is a fully realized world with special powers giving way to numerous adventures that is only halted from time to time by the not fully realized characters that populate it. Video review here. Full review here. B-

There have been many a film versions of Lew Wallace's classic epic Ben-Hur, but of course the most notable is William Wyler's 1959 adaptation starring Charlton Heston that garnered eleven Academy Awards. It is a behemoth at three and a half hours and a product of a different time in Hollywood's history. A time when the studio system still reigned and historical/biblical epics were as hot as comic book movies are today. It was the success of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments that also starred Heston that spurred MGM to invest $15 million (the most expensive film ever made at that point in time) in a new version of Ben-Hur. So, the question is: why re-make such a larger than life classic? Why even attempt to overcome the aura that surrounds a staple of popular culture as definitive as Wyler's Ben-Hur? While I questioned the reasoning for such a re-make it was easier to understand why an updated version of this story was necessary. The 1959 version is very much a product of its time and one that, through rose tinted glasses, can only be seen as this great epic that nothing and no one can touch or challenge. It has gorgeous practical sets and thousands upon thousands of extras shot on panorama that gives it the impression of being that much larger in its scope. It is also a movie someone of not only my generation, but those likely born in the decade prior to me and certainly those born after me, can't see without the already its status as one of the biggest, best movies ever made. Heston is this mythical type-figure of the golden age of Hollywood that can never be touched and so to even try and match such larger than life precedents would be an immediate way to automatically disqualify one's self from even being considered a valid piece of filmmaking. Still, with the 1959 version being as intimidating as it is an updated, shorter, and more current telling of the story might allow a way for modern audiences to find a way into the older version that they'd heard so much about though likely felt they'd already seen due simply to the lasting impression it's left. From the get-go director Timur Bekmambetov's (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) new version felt like it was going to be little more than a cheap knock-off (despite that $100 million production budget). Fortunately, while this 2016 take on Wallace's story is certainly the cliff notes version when compared to Wyler's it is surprisingly effective in accomplishing what it sets out to do and even has enough gumption to emphasize certain themes and actually develop characters rather than simply summarizing the previous versions with contemporary editing practices. Full review here. B-

It's beginning to feel like a trend. This thing where the first hour or so of a film is really promising before deciding to devolve into a predictable and ultimately disappointing piece of genre filmmaking. Directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley Scott) Morgan is familiar and yet for at least the first forty minutes or so is a nicely paced and well-executed look at a premise we've seen many times before, especially in the last few years with the likes of Ex Machina, Lucy, and even this past summer's Stranger Things to a degree. Each of those pieces of entertainment analyze cautionary situations of man attempting to play God and in Morgan we find another group of scientists hoping to craft a certain genetic code in order to build a specific type of life form that will fit their specific needs. There are numerous amounts of ideological and ethical questions that can spring from such situations and thus what made the aforementioned Ex Machina so engaging last year, but while Morgan seems intent on following a similar pattern if not setting its titular experiment in a different set of circumstances it quickly dissolves into little more than a ridiculous action romp that would rather spill blood than explore ideas. It is always easier to revert to a formula rather than continue on a prompt into territory where ideas might become revealing or genuinely insightful. Naturally, this requires more thought and investment on the part of the writer and though Morgan is the product of a singular screenwriter in Seth W. Owen it feels, especially in the hurried second half, as if the film was put together by a committee who found the first half to be too boring and trying for modern audiences and thus forced Owen and Scott to infuse their contemplations on artificial intelligence and the difference in demonstrating and actually feeling real emotions with a high body count. This isn't even necessarily an issue were the film to still give due diligence to the larger ideas it clearly has on its mind, but at a slight ninety minutes it feels as if Morgan is forced to choose between being a thinking person's film and a strict action movie and by splitting those categorizations right down the middle it isn't enough of either to excel as one or the other. Full review here. C-

It was late in the summer of 2009. The first weekend of August with the understanding I was now closer to starting a new semester instead of the end of the last one. The Hangover was the break out flick of the summer, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince had us all on pins and needles waiting for the two-part finale that wouldn't come around for more than a year and G.I. Joe had just extinguished any hope of it actually being decent after checking it off on its opening Friday night. And so, just like summer that first weekend in August was coming to an end, but before it did a friend asked me if I wanted to join him and a few others to see Julie & Julia on that Sunday afternoon. I wasn't familiar with Julia Child, I wasn't overly interested in the film, but I knew Meryl Streep was in it and who doesn't have a soft spot for Nora Ephron, right? Strangely enough, Julie & Julia has become one of those movies that hits just the right comforting spot when in need of something to view on a rainy night or lazy weekend afternoon. It is a unique true life story that is able to convey some major life themes and the struggles as much entails through something we all, to some degree, have in common: cooking. All of this is to say that, given the time of year and somewhat similar subject matter (true story, I mean) I was hoping to have very much the same warm reception to this new Streep vehicle as I did that of Ephron's final picture. To be fair, Florence Foster Jenkins has a lot of charm and beyond the obvious intrigue of having one of the planet's greatest actors in the lead with such steadfast support from Hugh Grant and a notable turn from The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg not to mention the film was directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena). Essentially, the credentials for this thing are through the roof as far as creating something reliably entertaining goes, but that's the thing-Florence Foster Jenkins is reliable and little more. The film hits the expected and necessary moments for the audience to understand the story and feel just enough sympathy for the right characters, but there is nothing about the film that transcends the standard or average conventions this type of movie fits into. This is a bit ironic considering the film tells the story of a woman who defied conventions and expectations despite not having the talent to match her ambition whereas this feature film version of her life has all the talent and tools at their dispense to defy as much, but delivers a final product more tedious than tremendous. Full review here. C

Any movie that decides to play Janet Jackson over its opening credits is off to a good start. Especially when it's "Miss You Much," coupled with eighties inspired pink text flashing across the screen. From the opening scene Southside With You sets the tone of a late summer day on the streets of Chicago at the tail end of that decade we've all suddenly become enamored with nostalgia for. It is 1989 and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) is getting set to accompany the summer associate she is advising at the law firm she works for to a town meeting to address local community issues. As the lone African-American woman working at this law firm Robinson has had to work doubly hard in order to gain the respect she desires and she's not about to let the first charismatic, smooth-talking black guy convince her to undo all that hard work by going on a date with him. Or is she? It just so happens this young, summer associate is a hotshot from Harvard named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers). And so, yes, Southside With You is the story of the first date between the now President and First Lady of these United States of America via the lens of something akin to director Richard Linklater's Before trilogy. It's a clich├ęd comparison at this point, but an apt one as the majority of Southside With You is filled by our two main characters walking and talking. If you haven't seen Linklater's trilogy that chronicles a couple meeting and spending a single night together that was little more than that in 1995 it is the epitome of characters walking and talking. Chronicling that magic of how perfect strangers can connect so intimately over a short period of time and analyzing that indescribable feeling that creates a strong, trusting bond between two people-a bond that will inevitably turn to love-Linklater's films provide a nice template for how to both simply and intricately weave together the innocence of falling for someone and the complex emotions that will inevitably come with circumstance. Linklater has returned to his characters in ten year intervals with sequels in 2004 and 2013, but with Southside With You writer/director Richard Tanne takes notes largely from that initial meeting treating his characters not as the future Mr. and Mrs. President, but simply as two people in that awkward phase between true adolescence and true adulthood who are just trying to figure themselves and the world they live in out.  Full review here. B

They made another one. I'd never seen any of the previous Bridget Jones films and so I didn't bother with Bridget Jones's Baby. Maybe I will devour the whole trilogy one day, but for now I have zero to no interest in seeing what Renee Zellweger has been up to.

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