On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 28, 2017


For what is mostly the first entry in a brand new series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is also very much a re-boot to the Harry Potter universe that Warner Bros. has surprisingly let remain stagnant for a solid five years. As someone who grew up with the books, who matured as they matured, and grasped the implications of the ideas and themes more as the series went on and explored more complex ideas and themes itself I have to admit to not being too thrilled by the fact Warner Bros. planned on extending the world of Harry Potter to New York City and the 1920's with a film about the guy who...wrote one of Harry and his friends textbooks? Despite the fact J.K. Rowling herself would be penning the screenplay there was still a fair amount of trepidation that whatever this Eddie Redmayne-fronted extension of the magical world might ultimately be it would inevitably be little more than a cash grab. A boardroom mandated blockbuster that would repeat as many of the same beats from the Harry Potter franchise as it could while doubling the amount of merchandise and thus the revenue. And so, here we are-the full swing of the Holiday season in November is in full force and amidst the crowded multiplexes sporting a number of high-profile releases and awards season hopefuls we again find the comfort and ease of knowing that while not exactly Harry, we are once again able to escape to the magical world Rowling has conjured up and that, no matter the protagonist, is something of an unavoidable happiness members of a certain generation can't pass up. For the truth is, after allowing my hesitations to subside and instead becoming excited by the fact Rowling and director David Yates (who made the final four Harry Potter films) reunited for a brand new chapter in the development of the wizarding world and that this chapter of the bigger picture would ultimately add more depth and scope to this world we already believed we knew turns out to be a solidly entertaining thrill ride. Though Fantastic Beasts certainly has its issues and two too many endings it casts a charming enough spell to leave audiences wanting more from the adventures of Mr. Newt Scamander and his inevitable battle with Gellert Grindelwald. Video review here. Full review here. B

One goes into Patriots Day with a certain expectation of what they believe will be delivered to them. We're all familiar with the story. Heck, if you're of legal age to see an R-rated film in theaters (meaning this one) then you were at least fourteen when the Boston Marathon bombing happened on April 13th, 2013. There is this expectation that the film will take us through these events we're already familiar with adding the caveat of getting to better know some of the individuals involved. When it becomes apparent what director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) is doing though, it's not difficult to realize this is going to leave a greater mark than expected. With Patriots Day, much like with his previous two efforts with Mark Wahlberg, Berg has crafted a narrative around recent history that could very easily have been a kind of simple procedural; taking us through the day's events step by step and doing little more than adding a personal aspect to a story the whole world has already heard, but rather than allow this lack of time or perspective to hinder his film Berg allows this immediacy to relate to who he knows will make up his audience in stirring, emotional ways. There is a tinge of jingoism that builds throughout the film and becomes what is probably too obvious by the time Berg tags his film with interviews with the real life people we've just seen portrayed on screen, but that doesn't mean it isn't effective. It's a bit much, extreme even, but it works in the films favor more than it doesn't. It is in how much Patriots Day ultimately moves its audience not by simply taking us through the moments, but rather by expertly crafting a narrative around key individuals and bringing each together until they are tied in unison; some in expected and others in genuinely surprising ways. It is not so much what is being conveyed, but how the context of such moments is set-up and carried through that make the emotional heft of this thing as great as it ends up being-and it can be a tough one. The film does have its shortcomings-mostly in that it fails to better characterize its antagonists instead painting them as monsters, and deservedly so, but with no insight into their mentality or personal justification we are led to believe we should lump them into the Muslim stereotype that has become associated purely with terrorism. This stereotype can certainly prove true, but if you're making a whole movie around the reactions to these guys actions then we need a slightly more perceptive take on them. The movie also runs just a tad too long. At two hours and thirteen minutes Patriots Day begins to show its running time in the third act when the momentum slightly stalls and we feel the otherwise expertly structured film unravel just a bit. Video review here. Full review here. A-

John Hamburg hasn't directed a feature film since 2009, but that film was I Love You, Man. Seven years and several television directing gigs later and Hamburg has delivered Why Him? Personally, I love I Love You, Man. It has become one of those reliable movies you can put on at any given time and are guaranteed to laugh and enjoy while having the added bonus of intelligently breaking down the barriers of masculinity and the weird culture surrounding male friendships. This automatically sets up an expectation that the follow-up won't be nearly as good, especially based on the rather outlandish trailers we received for Why Him? The thing is, it wasn't that I Love You, Man had a more seasoned or credible screenwriter, but in fact Hamburg himself seemingly had a lot to do with both screenplays with his co-writer on Why Him? admittedly having more promising if not limited previous works on his resume whereas Hamburg's co-writer on I Love You, Man, Larry Levin, has such credits as Doctor Dolittle and Dr. Dolittle 2 to his name. Of course, comedy does and doesn't have a lot to do with the writing as the funniest jokes in the world can be written down, but if they don't have the right people to execute them they'll still fall as flat as the worst types of jokes. What is on the paper provides only a basis for the type of comedy hoping to be obtained as well as a launching pad for talented comedians and improvisational actors to take the material to new heights. And so, it isn't that I Love You, Man necessarily had better writing going for it, but rather that it was a novel premise that thrived on the chemistry and appeal of its two stars. Why Him? doesn't necessarily have as interesting a dynamic at its core and its stars aren't nearly as charming as Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, but that doesn't automatically render the film a failure on the comedic front. By all accounts, Why Him? is a perfectly accessible broad if not rather crude comedy that utilizes said broadness to relate to whole families in Middle America, teenagers, and older parents that walk into the film because the trailers featured a scenario familiar to them or because they saw the guy from Breaking Bad being funny. Why Him? is a perfect example of why mainstream comedies both work on certain levels and why they can easily fail on so many others. Though it may not garner me much credibility I rather enjoyed Why Him? to the point I'm not grumpy enough to get mad at a movie for failing to be as introspective about the dynamics it means to document while instead making up for such a lack of substance with easy laughs. Full review here. C

Cancer movies suck. Let's go ahead and put it out there-having to deal with a movie, a piece of entertainment, that reminds us of just how debilitating and ruthless a disease cancer can be not to mention the lack of control we are able to extend over it is not exactly something we like to be reminded of in our attempts at escapism. Putting a plot in your film that concerns the disease dealing in abnormal cells can be cruel and if nothing else seem a blatant attempt to play on the real life emotions so many viewers will recognize from dealing with cancer themselves or through that of a loved one. It's a bastard of a disease and despite the fact it gets no different a representation in A Monster Calls, the latest from director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible), it remains the focus of this sorrowful fairy tale serving as the catalyst for all that our young protagonist experiences. What is most fascinating about how A Monster Calls deals with this potentially tired trope of a disease though, is that it never allows the disease to take center stage. This is not a story about the person suffering from cancer and it isn't a movie about how cancer will define the lives of those it will leave in its wake, but more it is about confronting the disease, dealing with it in an honest fashion, and having the gall to stare it down. What I have always found disheartening about Bayona's films is that they consistently tell powerful and affecting stories that are executed in glorious visual fashion, but never tend to stay with the viewer in any real impactful manner. Rather, Bayona is a director who calculates in order to elicit emotion as his pieces are all in their place and his aesthetic is of just as much value as the way in which he conveys his necessary themes, but no emotion from his films ever seems to grow inherently out of these carefully considered factors that are coming together to tell this particular story. Maybe it's that he considers such elements too long to the point there is no opportunity for organic emotion to grow in between, but with A Monster Calls there are serious strides made. More than any other feature the director has led prior A Monster Calls latches onto its themes and is able to convey with conviction this truth that is hard for our protagonist to swallow as well as the agony and adventure he must go through in order to finally admit that truth to himself. Full review here. B-

Silence is director Martin Scorsese's twenty-fourth narrative feature and one the auteur has been longing to make for quite some time. With that, Silence is a nearly three-hour epic that feels as if it has so much on its mind while at the same time not exactly conjuring much thought about anything other than what is physically presented. This is somewhat troubling considering Silence is a movie wholly about spirituality and the fact it isn't so much the traditions and exteriors of a religion or set of beliefs that matter, but whether the individual practices what their faith teaches daily while realizing how best to do so when that faith is inevitably tested. There is clearly a lot going on in Silence and much Scorsese seems to want to discuss, but the final product we've been delivered is so subtle about its deeper meanings and feelings around the people and subjects it is taking on that the viewer really has to reach into the depths of their attention to pull something substantial from the experience. One can counterpoint with the fact that Scorsese simply isn't spoon feeding viewers what he wants them to think and how he hopes they perceive his ponderings, but rather that he gives the facts of these "based on true life" events with limited shades of interpretation to allow the audience to have their own. This is fair. We have so many churches and/or places of worship these days due to the fact so many couldn't let their interpretations settle into an already established denomination, but this isn't the same kinds of conflicts of faith our characters in Silence struggle to comprehend. More, this a film about the thought process, the heart of the teachings Christianity and other religions preach, and how these intangible things define who we are as individuals and the role they play in determining the tone of humanity. There are no concrete definitions, no absolutes, no black or white, but instead Scorsese and co-writer Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York) have adapted Shûsaku Endô's 1966 novel into a meditative film that has the odd distinction of both being completely about what lies beneath the surface yet often times feels only surface level as far as impact and effectiveness are concerned. There is no denying that the film has layers upon layers from which numerous conversations can be elicited while featuring gorgeous photography, a couple of committed and rather brilliant performances, as well as some genuinely heart-wrenching moments that, depending on beliefs prior to seeing the film, will either reaffirm your faith or cast greater doubt than even before. For such factors alone, Silence is a staggering piece of work that should be commended, but on a basic level of raw emotional response the film didn't leave the lasting impression or transcendent experience great sermons hope to accomplish. Full review here. B+

Time is fleeting. This is a phrase heard countless times throughout our youth and throughout our life as a reminder to cherish the days we're living in as they'll be gone before we realize it. What we never realize though, is just how fleeting such times are when we're actually in them. The young man at the center of 20th Century Women, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), was born in 1964 with the film opening in 1979. This makes Jamie a young fifteen as made even more apparent by his clear skin and boyish features that render him still a child in our minds rather than the adult he would have us believe he is becoming. My own father was born in 1964 and I can't say I've ever considered what the world looked like at the time of his most formative years. Hell, I don't know that I ever even realized it was the fall of 1980 when he turned sixteen-with only six years to go until he married my mother on the cusp of his twenty-second birthday. Sure, I've heard him tell stories of the things he did as a young boy with his older brother and neighborhood friends, but never did I take a minute to step back and look at the bigger picture; really consider the world they were living in at that time. With 20th Century Women writer/director Mike Mills (Beginners) explores these small, fleeting moments in time and reflects on what made what is presumed to be his mother, his mother. This isn't simply presented by the circumstances of her life, but by the circumstances of the time in which she was born. This is a fascinating way of perceiving things, but can also be rather dangerous considering the infinite possibilities one can imagine were they to consider who they or someone they know/love might have been were they born in a different time. This framing of lives through fleeting moments with the added perception of where each of the individuals chronicled came from and where they're going reveals a lot of truths, but mostly it works best by affirming what we don't always have enough time to acknowledge-that happiness comes most naturally when we're not actively trying to chase it. Full review here. B+

I get it, but I don't. The fuss I mean.

"Even listening to the same story, people imagine different things."

A delicious drama with twists and turns that is structured as tightly as a tourniquet can't totally rescue a narrative that never feels as shocking as it yearns to be.

That said, Park Chan-Wook is a master of utilizing every inch of the screen to great effect. The camera work and visuals are tremendous. The Handmaiden feels like an epic that's hero’s quest can't quite match its visual scope. Entertaining without being wholly fulfilling. B

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