On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 14, 2017


Passengers is a movie of ideas that doesn't necessarily know how to expand on those ideas and so it ends up devolving into and relying on conventional blockbuster factors. Passengers is a movie where the third act requires some amount of action and thus the reason for the inciting incident gets a pass while the personal turmoil this movie could have zeroed in on gets passed over. As viewers conditioned to the standard three act structures of most modern screenplays it is easy to see where things are headed for Passengers as soon as the  McGuffin at the beginning of the film becomes the central focus rather than the conflict between what are essentially our only two characters in the film. The movie, and the script, try to justify this decision by having the resolution of that McGuffin allow a certain character to come around to what had previously caused them great strain and shock. In essence, Passengers takes the easy way out and we all know taking the easy way out more times than not is also the least rewarding route. By choosing to travel the path of least resistance screenwriter John Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange) sentences the second half of his film to that of just another in a long line of big budget Hollywood blockbusters that favors spectacle over substance. I realize that such a complaint might sound as rote as I'm describing the last act of this movie to be, but when the main idea of your film turns out to be little more than, "Don't get hung up on where you'd rather be, but make the most of where you are," and that idea is ultimately conveyed as cheesily as it sounds there's a serious issue with Hollywood's aversion to risk. One can feel the board room manipulating what might have been a more interesting or at least more complex character piece dealing in intense moral conflict being turned into an action set piece that is never really clear on the mechanics of what all it is trying to accomplish as far as making sense to the audience, but at the very least communicating that our main protagonist wasn't totally wrong in doing what he did and therefore giving him no reason to feel as bad or as conflicted as he might have would the film have not given him the best possible outcome considering the scenario. Passengers had potential, it surely did, and there is still much to admire here, but when Hollywood takes the safer route over the more challenging one it gives audiences no option but to be lazy and not the least bit surprised. Video review here. Full review here. C

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) really just wants to matter. He wants to hold influence in an area that means something to him-that matters to him-and as he feels cheated out of such significance when it comes to professional baseball it seems his only way to relieve this need is to fence in all that is his domain and rule over it with an iron fist. Of course, what Troy doesn't realize or simply doesn't care to acknowledge is that he is poisoning that of which he draws his biggest sources of admiration. Whether it be in Rose (Viola Davis), his loyal wife, or their son Cory (Jovan Adepo) who only aspires to impress and be like his father, but whom Troy cannot help but to hold back. Troy is a deeply flawed man; one who epitomizes passing the sins of the father to those of the following generations. What Troy experiences are more the effects of the sins of the father-some of which Troy couldn't help, original sin if you will, as he is simply a victim of circumstance who can't forgive the world for as much. One might say it was just as much Troy's choices within these circumstances that set him on the path in which he ends up, but there is certainly a right to some of his anger and resentment. It's where he unfolds that anger and resentment that we see his flaws. It is in the unraveling of who Maxson is and how the dynamics of his relationships with each member of his family inform this portrait of black culture in the 1950's that takes up much of the substance in Washington's third directorial effort. Adapted from a stage play by August Wilson, who also wrote the screenplay before his death in 2005, in which both Washington and co-star Davis starred in a revival of not five years ago Fences, the movie, in many ways feels like something of a safe bet for Washington to try his hand at next. It certainly meets the credentials of an awards contender and the material alone has already proven critic-proof and so what is there to do with such a property that might inspire new audiences to discover? Turns out Washington doesn't seem to feel the need to change or adapt too much at all as this feature version of Wilson's most popular play still very much feels like a play. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it’s the fact Washington's directing still feels timid more so than it doesn't serve the material well. The dialogue can certainly stand on its own and when it has actors such as our two aforementioned leads delivering it it's hard to go wrong, but just because something is obviously of a high quality doesn't also automatically render it infinitely effective either. Full review here. B-

Will Smith is the people's actor. He is a presence that radiates the kind of everyman persona that the actual everyman would like to envision themselves as. It's nearly impossible not to find the presence of Smith in any film he chooses to participate anything other than a force of genuine charisma, but not here. In director David Frankel's (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) Collateral Beauty Smith is relegated to looking as depressed as possible for the limited amount of time he actually appears on screen despite being touted as the lead of this ensemble piece. It's true-the films wackadaisical plot hinges on the actions of Smith's Howard Inlet, but it doesn't ultimately pay that much attention to him. Still, given it is Smith we care about this human being who is clearly and rightfully dealing with a tragedy on his own terms. Reeling from this great tragedy of losing a child we come to sympathize with Howard mostly thanks to the pain Smith conveys in his eyes that are constantly attempting to fight back both pain and tears. Still, we never become as invested in the character as it seems Frankel or screenwriter Allan Loeb (The Switch, Here Comes the Boom) imagined we might. Moreover, we are too shocked by what actually plays out in Loeb's screenplay as opposed to what type of movie the trailers sold this one to be. Going into Collateral Beauty there was a line of thinking that, being it was the holiday season, Loeb and the studio had intentionally written the story to take place at Christmas and released it around Christmas due to the similarities it seemingly shared with Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol. While Smith's Howard is certainly no Scrooge it seemed Loeb had more or less reverse engineered the situation and played things out as if Bob Cratchit were the boss of his own ad agency and whom he moves forward enough that Tiny Tim does in fact pass away only to have the three ghosts that are this time incarnated as Love, Death, and Time rather than Past, Present, and Future come visit our protagonist revealing the secrets to happiness long thought to be lost. Loeb certainly could have played with a few different ideas and themes coming at the story from this new perspective, but ultimately Collateral Beauty was never brave enough to try and update and/or re-engineer that Christmas classic, but would rather be as deceptive about what it actually is the same way many of its characters are. Full review here. D+

Director Paul Verhoeven will be seventy nine years old this summer, but if his latest film is any indication it seems the filmmaker has no intentions of letting age force him to be more precious. Of course, the danger in this-to prove you're just as daring or drawn to scandal as you always were-is going overboard in an attempt to defy. Going overboard in ways that can take actions or material from being seen as risky and/or bold to that of pure desperation. With nearly eight decades behind him on this planet one could certainly surmise that Verhoeven has crafted a French thriller concerning rape, betrayal, mystery, and lies upon lies for no other reason than to prove he can still be as shockingly captivating as ever, but such motivation never seems to be the case with Elle. Rather, Verhoeven is clearly only hoping to entertain as much as he provokes. It may seem odd to use the word "entertain" when describing a film that opens with an older woman (Isabelle Huppert will be sixty four this year) being sexually assaulted, but strangely enough Verhoeven opens the film with this shocking act so that the audience isn't left waiting for what has been sold as the crux of the film. Instead, we are dropped into the middle of the assault and then left to discover how there isn't necessarily a right way in which women or anyone who experiences such a trauma are expected to respond. In most instances it would seem the victim of as violent and unforgiving an act as Verhoeven documents and David Birke's screenplay describes would immediately notify the authorities and stay with a close friend or relative in light of being violated in a space they once felt safe, but none of this accounts for how Huppert's Michèle Leblanc reacts. And Verhoeven never takes the stance that his protagonists' choices are weird or wrong in any way, but more that they are interesting in the vein of bringing up more layers of this individual's story thus making the trials and tribulations of Ms. Leblanc all the more compelling and completely engrossing. It's not often with large-scale dramas or potentially cheap thrillers that the director trusts their audience enough to draw their own ideas or perceptions of the acts taking place, but just as there is no precedent for how Leblanc should react to her singular situation Verhoeven never sets a precedent for how he expects us to respond; simply laying out the facts of the story and forcing us to take them in in whatever horrific, alluring, frightening, or seductive way we ultimately do. Full review here. B

Solace is a movie about a psychic doctor, John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins), who works with an FBI special agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as they search for a serial killer named Charles Ambrose (Colin Farrell). It seems this movie was always going to suffer one of two fates and unfortunately (I guess) it went the lesser of those two ways. This thing would have spawned a series of films had it been released in '87.

I've heard many good things about The Love Witch and its inspired state of homage to 1960s pulp novels and Technicolor melodramas. I'll be watching it soon finding out if the hype is real. 

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