On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 13, 2018

I guess I should start out by saying that I am and always have been a fan of Zack Snyder. Without much effort I can recall sitting in the theater and experiencing Dawn of the Dead along with that moment when it clicked that this wasn't just a fun horror flick, but it was a good movie. I can remember seeing 300 several times if not for the admittedly thin story, but for the ways in which the director was pushing the boundaries of the visual medium. My heart almost dropped out of my chest upon first glimpsing that opening credits sequence to Watchmen in glorious IMAX and with Man of Steel it felt as if Superman had never been so epic; that the whole scope of his being had been presented, warts and all, even if most didn't agree that Superman should have warts. I loved Man of Steel and to a certain degree, I loved Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice as well. I'm not one to say that film is without its flaws, there is a convoluted nature to the proceedings that are unnecessary and it devolves into a CGI crapfest for the last forty minutes, but for me BvS was very much a personal film and one that was as grand in scale as it was deep with heart and rich with themes. Though the marks against it have their validity it is a film that arguably has more to say and more at stake than any other superhero film produced in the last seventeen years and certainly in the last nine or so since Marvel has streamlined the process. This brings us to Justice League, a movie that is hard for me to even call a Snyder film for, despite having the trademark look of the director during certain sequences, is undoubtedly the least Zack Snyder film to have ever been produced. It's sad and disheartening in the way that Justice League, or what Snyder began in 2013 and has been building through to up until recently has culminated with this, a vanilla action film with people dressed like characters we know and love, but to the benefit of a story that is paint by numbers if not the simplest example of such, a barrage of unfinished CGI and shortcuts, with no real stakes to be felt. Say what you will about those civilian casualties or the lack of awareness for them in previous films, but they added a weight to these proceedings that reinforced that in order for evil to be avenged evil first has to occur. Warner Bros. and Geoff Johns have gone out of their way to ensure Justice League took into consideration the complaints from previous endeavors and it does, resolving it to be the broadest and most generic theater-going experience one might have this year. The masses will no doubt love it. Full review here. D+

Guillermo del Toro films are typically notable for their aesthetic choices, their production design, and their attention to detail. One can look back at the filmmaker's body of work and quickly see that there are countless themes that re-surface time and time again, much of this happening within the realm of the types of stories del Toro likes to tell and the visual prowess with which they are presented in. With his latest, The Shape of Water, the director is still very much working within his wheelhouse, but for the first time in some time it feels as if there is nothing more important to the movie no matter the extravagance of the sets and costumes or the practicality of the monster make-up than the story itself as well as the core relationship that both grounds this story and lifts it up. Now, if you know anything about The Shape of Water prior to going into the film then you know that this core relationship is formed between a human woman and a mysterious sea creature that is housed in the bowels of the top secret facility where she works as a maid. If that initially weirds you out a bit just think of it as the opposite of Ariel and Prince Eric; this way you can find some solace in the fact you at least understand you were holding a double standard against the picture. I understand there is a slight difference in the two because of the full-on creature feature being portrayed in this film whereas the scenes featuring Ariel and Eric being romantic in The Little Mermaid were ones where she was walking on land, but the concept still supports it and more, The Shape of Water completely owns this relationship from the moment we first glimpse our meager protagonist in Sally Hawkins' Elisa Esposito. Yes, of course The Shape of Water is a gorgeously rendered portrait of some alternate universe in the early sixties where government experimentation goes as far as studying a God-like merman and feels like a fairy tale of sorts for adults where not everything is perfect, ideal, or even necessarily magical, but what The Shape of Water does find and allow are these fantastical elements that breathe a fresh life and perspective into what are otherwise some dark and troubled times both in this universe and in the lives of characters who were seemingly never given a fair shot at life in the first place. This is effectively why The Shape of Water succeeds for as much as one can go on about all of the beautifully crafted extraneous factors it is this belief that comes to be sustained in this abnormal relationship and the beauty of the affection it conveys in its own right that we are, maybe unexpectedly, moved. Full review here. B-

Full transparency: I love Hollywood stories. This fact may be questioned when I tell you that I haven't yet read actor Greg Sestero and journalist Tom Bissell's book that documents the behind-the-scenes look at the making of, "the greatest bad movie ever made" that is The Room, but I assure you I am. I know, I know-this may be an even less convincing statement when I tell you that I've still yet to see Tommy Wiseau's 2003 film that Sestero and Bissell's book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, is based on which James Franco has now adapted into a movie of his own with The Disaster Artist, but I assure you-I am. I listen to the You Must Remember This podcast, if that helps my credibility at all. The point being that, even without having little to no reference point beyond the handful of clips I've seen of The Room on YouTube Franco's The Disaster Artist is still very much an accessible and easy to understand piece of work that is as much about chasing one's dreams of stardom and realizing your own passions into a formidable career as it is a good movie about a really bad movie. That said, I loved this movie in a way I kind of haven't loved a movie in a long time. I mean, I've loved other movies this year and loved other movies more, but there is this unique relationship with The Disaster Artist in that it is a movie made completely endearing by the total lack of awareness of its main character and the complete willingness of the second lead to fling himself into whatever he has to do to make his ambitions become reality. Sure, some of these decisions are ill-advised, but the point is that, for an aspiring artist of any kind that feels the industry is designed to keep you out, The Disaster Artist offers a portrait of a couple of guys who decided to take things into their own hands and build their careers on their own backs in the most bizarre and questionable way possible. The idea that this story is being re-created by two brothers whom Hollywood has accepted with open arms and who book consistent, high-profile work is a little ironic, but so is the existence of this movie at all. This caveat of Hollywood elite making more money off of the (once) failed aspirations of those looking for a way in aside, The Disaster Artist is not a movie that looks down on those who want to create, who want to make movies, and who want to be actors, but rather it is a movie about embracing the struggle that finds great affection for the drive of these people that is made into a story worth telling for the pure mystery and oddity at the center of it that is Tommy Wiseau. Full review here. B

The story of Tonya Harding is one of a true American tragedy. Tonya Harding is America. She is unapologetic for the way she was raised and is seemingly either embraced or rejected immediately. She is emblematic of America's tendencies to always need someone to laugh at, a necessary punchline to fool ourselves into believing we're better than something or someone despite the outward appearance of wanting to be welcoming and tolerant of all walks of life. I, Tonya is a portrait of this single woman's life that would seem the perfect vehicle for a rags to riches story, the kind of story America typically likes to celebrate and champion in showing how much we, the people, promote this idea of advancement and the improvement of one's status through nothing other than hard work, but in the case of Harding we get the opposite: a life of nurturing that was anything but; where every person wanted a piece of the only beacon of light and hope in their lives while punching her down to feel better about themselves rather than pulling her up. Tonya worked hard her whole life, devoted every fiber of her being to this passion (which is something it seems no one in her life, with the exception of maybe her mother, would question the hyperbole of or dispute), but no matter how hard she dared work she was never a match for the fact her image was not that of who the skating world desired to represent them. It is these constant battles, the ones that cause people, relatives, coaches, to ask, "Why are you the way that you are?" that come to define exactly who Tonya Harding was and no doubt still is. She is a real human being who dared to have the right amount of balls to not be defined by a sport that never wanted her, but that she couldn't do without. Her relationship with figure skating being indicative of every other relationship Harding would have in her life; passionate, but flawed. Complicated being an understatement. And sure, there are two sides to every story, of course, but in the case of I, Tonya there are multiple sides to her story and in particular to the event that came to define her life and who she was in the public eye. It is in this examination of how Harding is forced and mostly refuses to balance herself between the world she is from and the world she is meant to be a part of that serves as the crux of what director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and writer Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, Stepmom) are attempting to say while Harding herself and all her story represents just happen to be the perfect, searingly tragic vehicle for such a theme. Full review here. A-

The adjective you're searching for is "tender." From the first series of title cards through to every instagrammable frame of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name it is the tenderness that remains pungent to each of the senses. While it may not always feel or seem as if there is a particular tenderness to the love story being told here-the film takes its sweet time introducing this inevitable aspect-there is always a tenderness to each of the characters as they exist in this bubble of eternal warmth brought on by the summer season and their escape to Northern Italy. Tenderness breathes through every ounce of Guadagnino's film whether he is highlighting the see-through indigo waters of the Ligurian Sea or the intimate brush of soft skin between two human beings. This consistently gentle, but still strikingly beautiful aesthetic paired with the large amounts of sympathy we, the viewers, continue to feel as we grow more and more involved in the story paints this overall portrait of seventeen year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and his budding relationship with the visiting Oliver (Armie Hammer) in gentle motions of complete tenderness. Suffice to say, Call Me by Your Name is not simply a film about the coming of age of a young, gay male in the early eighties, but it is a complex character analysis of this young man who has been given every academic advantage, but still struggles to figure out who he is among his liberal Jewish family that has refined his cultured and delicate personality. Elio is a personality that is wholly understanding and forthright about the circumstances that have led to his upbringing and how such has shaped the person he presently is, but this level of perspective has also brought about a level of self-awareness that allows Elio to understand how little he understands about the more vital, emotional aspects of being. Though I've yet to see Guadagnino's 2009 breakout hit I Am Love I wasn't all too impressed with last year's A Bigger Splash as it was more a melodrama where the characters had nothing better to do than create their own drama while yearning to be of huge emotional resonance, but ultimately failing to do so because those characters brought so much of their strife upon themselves. With his latest, Guadagnino adapts André Aciman's novel from James Ivory's screenplay and transcends the intellectual bubble of privilege and emotional consumption by submitting itself entirely to the tender love story that is its essence. Full review here. B

I went into Ferdinand completely intending on writing a full review, but when the fire alarm was pulled with forty or so minutes to go in the film and the power shut off in the entire theater that goal kind of went out the window. The family and I didn't stay to see if we might get a refund or if we could finish the movie, but this was more out of a concern for safety than it was the quality of the movie. That said, my three year-old wasn't necessarily all that into it and given the fact we were cut off as the third act was beginning I have a fairly clear idea of where all of this was headed. Ferdinand is totally competent and completely fine in all it is, but that it was never meant to be anything more than an entertaining children's diversion makes it a movie that walks the middle of the road as well as anything else you saw last year.

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