On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 14, 2017


Arrival is one of those movies where you understand you're waiting for the resolve to see if it justifies the journey we've taken to (pun intended) arrive there. This doesn't mean the one hundred minutes prior aren't fascinating and worthwhile, but it's clear we're ultimately waiting to see what bigger picture these pieces are painting. This can of course be something of a double-edged sword given how the approach effects the re-watchability of a picture, but by the time we come around to the conclusion of Arrival it only seems repeat viewings will do nothing but make it more moving if not add shades and complexities to small nuances we may not have noticed upon that initial viewing. In other words, Arrival is a masterfully told narrative that deals in themes of interpretation and perspective through conveyors such as language and the guise of an alien invasion movie. What's interesting though is, despite the marketing, Arrival is hardly about an alien invasion, but more a film about communication and figuring out one another before jumping to conclusions based on cultural precedent or expectation. Arrival is about that fear of what we don't know and how such a phrase manifests when a genuine situation arises that it can be applied to. In the barrage of CGI summer blockbusters that depict alien invasions more as mass extinctions it's become easy to feel nonchalant about the ramifications of proof of life beyond our earth and solar system legitimately existing and furthermore, showing up in our backyard. In Arrival, director Denis Villeneuve conjures not only a palpable fear and panic that would sweep across nations in light of such events, but more he and specifically Amy Adams in an absolutely stellar performance highlight the sheer incomprehensibility of the situation. Giving insight to the smaller moments, recognizing the first time Jeremy Renner's Ian Donnelly touches the material this alien craft is constructed from as a major moment rather than choosing to ignore its significance speaks volumes. In this way, moments that are actually bigger play as that much more profound. Villeneuve is a master of restraint and the slow burn as he has shown in previous features such as Enemy and Sicario, but Arrival may be his most accomplished work to date as not only is it visually enrapturing, but the larger ideas the film has on its mind are applied to its precise visual sense giving the experience an all-around aura of awe. Full review here. A

We all lead complicated lives. This is the simple lesson Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) takes away from her experiences as documented in the directorial debut from Kelly Fremon Craig who also has the sole credit on the screenplay for The Edge of Seventeen. We all lead complicated lives and unfortunately, having problems isn't what makes Nadine special despite the fact she thinks it does. Given Nadine is a junior in high school who has little to no social life outside of her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who doesn't get along with her mother, and who is the younger sister of all-star older brother Darian (Everybody Wants Some!!'s Blake Jenner) there seems valid reason for her amount of self-loathing. Of course, the main idea in Edge of Seventeen is for Nadine to come to the realization her problems aren't singular to her life, but that there are in fact always those who have it worse. That type of hackneyed advice isn't what teenagers want to hear though, and Edge of Seventeen isn't here to serve as a lecture for those who can associate with its protagonist. Moreover, Craig's film feels very much like a personal essay or even more, a love letter to her own formative years that, despite feeling like hell in the moment, she couldn't be more thankful for now. This is a difficult task. Capturing the essence of what you were feeling throughout a certain time in your life without spelling it out in the dialogue is one thing when writing the screenplay, but when actually attempting to do so through execution of that written word it becomes clear how critical tone is and if the tone isn't right, the themes and ideas won't translate and you end up with a final product as foreign a feeling as popularity is to Nadine. To say that Craig excels in overcoming these obstacles would no doubt make the writer/director chuckle as she likely questioned herself and her abilities on a daily basis, but what has come out of what I have to believe was a slew or re-writes and re-calculations to make sure that not only was the essence of her youth captured, but also a character arc that rings true for a number of us is a high school movie for the ages, a close relative to those John Hughes movies that captured all the angst and innocence of adolescence, but with the natural edge of the current culture. Full review here. B+

Not actively terrible, but nowhere near the introspective character study it seemed destined to be Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is an amalgamation of interesting ideas and endearing ambition that went wrong somewhere in the process of its creation. Helmed by auteur Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) the director has, for one reason or another, decided to make his latest endeavor the first film to ever be shot in 120 frames per second and in 4K 3D which is well over the standard 24 fps most movies are shot in. Add to this the fact Lee easily surpasses the last, failed effort of the higher frame rate variety in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and it's a curious decision given the truth of the matter is most audiences who choose to experience Billy Lynn will do so in traditional theater presentations given the set-up for such an advanced display requires much more than most theaters are willing to budget for at the moment. And so, while it is admirable for Lee to want to push the boundaries of cinema and, at the very least, experiment so that later generations may build upon such experiments-watching Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk in a traditional format because there are no resources to take advantage of how it is meant to be seen across the majority of the country only makes these choices made for the sake of the format that much more glaring. Lee is a master filmmaker and one of the most diverse auteurs in the game at the moment and for that it's impossible not to respect his effort. Over the course of just his last three features the director has taken us from Woodstock in the summer of 1969 to being stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to us now joining him and the surviving members of Bravo Squad at the halftime show of a Dallas football game. This track record combined with the inherently deep and somewhat controversial subject matter made me more than eager to see what conclusions and ideas Lee came to with his film, but rather than any ideas, conclusions, or even narrative cohesion Lee seems to have paid more attention to how best his story could enhance his new format rather than the other way around. Full review here. C-

Though the national stage for boxing has only seemed to grow smaller and smaller over the years Hollywood's infatuation with the sport has only grown stronger. Between Southpaw and the generally terrific Creed last year to Hands of Stone and now Bleed for This the question around the story of Vinny Pazienza was always going to be not what made it worth telling-we know what the hook is-but more what makes this film in particular worth watching as the options for such sports dramas are continually growing. One could go on to discuss the committed and rather spectacular performance that Miles Teller gives in the role Pazienza, or the cool aesthetic that matches the time period in small, effective ways, but despite the casts best efforts and writer/director Ben Younger's endeavor to paint more a portrait of a man determined to overcome the odds rather than going through the motions of another redemptive sports tale, Bleed for This unfortunately ends up reducing itself to just that. It's a difficult place to be in as the genre trappings of such a film are so familiar and so easily relied on at this point that it is difficult to conjure up any such alternate as to how to go about telling such a story. Younger clearly has a knack for visual storytelling and each of the performances on display here, with the supporting turns from Aaron Eckhart, CiarĂ¡n Hinds, and Katey Sagal standing strongly next to Teller's lead performance, are far more than competent and in fact add heavily to the overall arc these characters experience allowing them to not just remain stock characters. This is key as it's always the characters who are going to allow pieces like this to stand out. Younger and his cast are able to create fully realized human beings who come across not as functions for the purpose of this movie or who are only present to further certain plot strands, but instead as individuals who have found themselves in the circumstances of this dour situation who are each trying to figure out how best to deal with it. Sounds rousing, right? Maybe even inspiring? It certainly could be as Bleed for This has all the right moves to make it a cornerstone boxing movie, but pacing issues and a lack of any heavy emotional impact leave this one stranded in the middle of the ring. Full review here. C

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