On DVD & Blu-Ray: July 24, 2017

For all the hoopla surrounding the whitewashing of what were originally Japanese characters and the hype that surrounded the source material from which Ghost in the Shell is based one might imagine it being easy to go into this movie with some sort of expectation. Given I have no connection to Masamune Shirow's original 1989 manga or the 1995 anime and understood that in order for such a property to get the big budget Hollywood treatment that it would require someone like a Scarlett Johansson in the lead role I went into Ghost in the Shell with no qualms and more or less an open mind in the hopes that ScarJo was only continuing to make interesting action movies concerning A.I. as she'd done not three years ago with Lucy. While Ghost in the Shell doesn't feel like a breakout in the same way that Luc Besson film was it is still very much an entertaining if not more dour experience than I half expected it to be given the color scheme of the marketing. Speaking to color scheme, it is in the futuristic environment that Ghost in the Shell finds its greatest strengths. Rather than simply offering a few neat visual cues here and there director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsmen) owes his production designer, Jan Roelfs (Gattaca, 47 Ronin), and art department a huge thank you as it is this fully realized if not somewhat familiar future world that gives the film a sense of uniqueness despite its overall derivative nature. Of course, the deal with Ghost in the Shell is very much the same as the case was with 2012's John Carter in that much of what the source material inspired in popular culture (namely The Matrix) this big screen feature will now be accused of resembling. It's a sad state of truth, but the order of exposure appropriates how properties are perceived in the larger scope of the public eye and in some cases can tarnish the brand name. Ghost in the Shell isn't bad enough to offend or truly tarnish the name of the material it has re-imagined, but more it isn't noteworthy enough to seemingly live up to the past incarnations that share its namesake. Given I have no connections to those earlier versions of these ideas I actually came away thinking Sanders film was well constructed, that it held more emotional heft than expected, and executed its main ideas clearly if not as effectively as it could/should have. Video review here. Full review here. C

I was reading a piece last week by Jaime Weinman for Vox that talked about a shift in film criticism recently and how critics have become more socially conscious than ever. While the piece is an interesting assertion of how many movies of late have come to be judged as much for their ethics as their art there was one particular section that took me by surprise and stuck with me. In a section titled "The end of Kaelism" Weinman says, "A work of art — serious or popular — isn't supposed to be judged by how much you agree with it, but by how it makes you feel and whether it can convince you of its validity." The context of this quote is key as the writer was discussing the approach of critics such as legendary New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, the man who invented the auteur theory, as critics who ultimately sported an "art-for-art's-sake approach to culture." I was reminded of this approach, this train of thought, as I sat watching the latest from director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man). I was struck by the fact that despite recognizing the predictable tropes utilized in Gifted that I was really, really into the story and that despite the clichés of the courtroom drama Webb's techniques were overcoming them in a way that was delivering a film, a piece of art, that made me feel good; that made me appreciate movies for showing me what they can do. How they can move you. I went into Gifted expecting something along the lines of a sappy, Hallmark-style melodrama with better actors and production design, but within the first fifteen minutes Gifted had convinced me of its validity — it had convinced me of its sincerity that was ingrained in its otherwise competent execution. Sure, many will dismiss Gifted for being the type of film that is emotionally manipulative because it wouldn't be mad if you shed a few tears and/or formulaic in the way that the premise is an old cliché that has been used before (specifically in 1991's Little Man Tate which I haven't seen, but more or less sounds like the same movie), but just because a movie might indeed be full of cliché or admittedly formulaic doesn't mean it's automatically bad. Webb is able to tell this recognizable story in ways that allow it to pop. The director and screenwriter, Tom Flynn, are able to prove certain tropes aren't always bad and that doing the opposite isn't always good by delivering all that is predictable and formulaic about Gifted with a warm and wholly wonderful sincerity that comes straight from the heart. Full review here. A

Alec Baldwin voices this suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying baby who pairs up with his 7-year old brother to stop the dastardly plot of the CEO of Puppy Co. I have no interest, but I do have a two and a half year-old, so i'll no doubt end up seeing The Boss Baby at some point in the near future.

Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl star in yet another attempt to capitalize on the success of Obsessed as Unforgettable follows a woman who sets out to make life hell for her ex-husband's new fiancée. It's almost too easy, but this movie looked so forgettable I forgot to put it on my watch list and odds are it will never be added.

I typically don't highlight re-releases of older movies on newer formats in this post, but can't help but to highlight the fact 1993's Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is being released on Blu-Ray today after having been restored by Warner Home Entertainment. After the success of the Batman: The Animated Series television show, directors Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm were able to have a big screen version of their creation greenlit. Mask of the Phantasm only pushed everything about the animated series that made it great that much further and into that much of a darker, more complex territory-which was hugely appealing to a kid who loved the animated series and couldn't imagine where they might go next. Phantasm showed me what was next and the possibilities of where the character of not only Batman, but Bruce Wayne could go. Radomski and Timm utilized cinema's relaxed content standards to deepen and expand their psychological profile of Bruce Wayne and it was legitimately affecting in ways my seven to eight year-old self had not yet comprehended. Animated or not, Mask of the Phantasm is one of the greatest Batman movies ever made and it's good to see this feature finally getting the treatment it deserves on home video. I'll certainly be picking this one up as soon as possible.

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