On DVD & Blu-Ray: January 29, 2019

Not being overly familiar with the German story from which the famous ballet drew its inspiration I was completely game for this Disneyfied version of The Nutcracker story. If nothing else, I thought The Nutcracker and the Four Realms might make me feel like a kid again. You know, being fed classic literature through the guise of Walt Disney’s interpretation and being spared any gory or potentially upsetting details in favor of being sent home with a belly full of sentimental, if not substantial, satisfaction. This, coupled with the fact it might be nice to get a break from what might have otherwise been another “live-action” re-imagining of one of my childhood classics made for a fair amount of-I won’t say excitement, but eagerness on my part. The fact it clocked in at a brisk 90-minutes didn’t hurt either.

And for the first half hour or so I was on board with what both the Mouse House and director-for-hire Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules) were doing and seemingly wanted to do. Without so much as breaking a sweat the film instinctively provides this necessary aura of Christmas warmth. I say Hallström is a director-for-hire because that’s what it feels like at this stage in his career and with this type of project, but as one can tell from the man’s past credits this is not a single-faceted filmmaker and thus there are some very cool, very classic choices in terms of style as not only does the film pay homage to large ballet productions, but to the golden-age of movie musicals as well. I won’t sit here and pretend I know all there is to know about classic Hollywood musicals or ballet productions and make comments on how Hallström uses there influence to craft his visuals, but I will say that thousands of life-size mice forming together in constant motion to create one big Mouse King is absolutely terrifying and also rather visually inventive too. So, there’s that.

It is once the parameters of the plot are defined and the characters all established that things become all the more predictable; the motivations of the characters and the lessons intended to be taught all equally as obvious. Our protagonist, Clara (Interstellar’s Mackenzie Foy), is meant to learn lessons about and the differences between trust and responsibility as well as deception through this journey she has to commit to completing on her own and though these may feel like terribly trite lessons, there is something to be said for the fact that sometimes all people need for you to do is trust in yourself and hold strong to your ideals. It is in this regard that it’s hard to come down on The Nutcracker and the Four Realms in any real, harsh way. The fact the film starts off strong enough and initially feels as if it might become as immersive as the very expensive digital effects and fantastical sets make it seem to be only makes it more odd that it very quickly devolves into a stilted narrative that often times feels as if it too still has to work out the plot. Instead of putting in the work to figure out how the story might naturally progress though, and finding a resolution that might stress the aforementioned themes it instead hurries through the beats of a discarded YA script to reach an underwhelming and lackadaisical finale.

Morgan Freeman has maybe (maybe) a day’s worth of work in here and Helen Mirren barely registers. The same goes for Eugenio Derbez and Richard E. Grant who are massively wasted as afterthought supporting characters while Keira Knightley makes a (bold?) choice with that voice. More Matthew Macfadyen in things though, please. Thanks.

The whole Russian nesting doll concept with real people was a cool idea too and it’s bits like this mixed with the lack of them anywhere else in the third act that hint towards the fact Joe Johnston’s (October Sky, Captain America: The First Avenger) re-shoots might have been a bit more extensive than routine re-shoots. C-

As someone who constantly wrestles with their faith if not necessarily the belief in a higher power, one of the lessons I've personally come to learn in life thus far is that, despite many a country songs telling you to "stand for something or you'll fall for anything," the truth of the matter is that to so deeply steep yourself in one set of beliefs is to ultimately guarantee that you'll eventually (in all likelihood) become a hypocrite. Human beings naturally evolve, we continuously experience new things, and gain greater perspectives on any number of situations all of which inform an ever-developing outlook on the world and the people that populate it. To be so stubborn as to try and categorize these present experiences and interpretations of life through the prism of a single piece of literature written over two thousand years ago only seems counter-intuitive to the abilities and intelligence God has blessed us with, not to mention a rather stressful way to frame ones existence; having to make sure what is inherently felt as right or wrong is supported by doctrine whose composers couldn't have imagined the world or society as it presently stands. There is so much clout given to these rules that outline what our behavior should be that people seem to often lose sight of that inherent voice-your conscious, God himself, whatever you want to label it-that really lets you know when something is right and when something is wrong regardless of what anyone or anything else's stance on the subject might be. That is not to say the Bible isn't helpful, of course it can be and is to millions upon billions of people across the globe, and this is not to imply there aren't certain absolutes of decency that can or should be swayed, but what is being suggested is that to commit so strongly to a single set of ideals is to also make one fear change. To fear change is to stop growing. And to stop growing is to willfully succumb to a limited or narrow view of the world. It is this conflict that Russell Crowe's Marshall Eamons, a Southern Baptist preacher living in Arkansas, faces in director Joel Edgerton's second feature, Boy Erased, when his teenage son is forcibly outed as gay. Full review here. B-

"There's nothing more dangerous than a writer whose feelings have been hurt."

The Wife is one of those movies you'll want to watch again as soon as you finish it the first time if not for how intense or fascinating it is, but for the delicately layered elements of perception versus reality that both Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce convey over the course of it. The Wife may look like your typical stuffy, Oscar drama fueled solely by the performances of its illustrious lead and while it most definitely is all of those things it also turns out to be much more than this; a searing portrait of intimacy and how as much between two people can be both the most familiar and painful thing in ones life.

Bonus points for good turns from Christian Slater and Max Irons. Bonus bonus points for having Annie Starke, Close's real-life daughter, beautifully portray the younger version of Close's Joan. The way Starke compliments her mothers performance hammers home the personal betrayal at the heart of the film. B

Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman lead this action/thriller that I missed in theaters because I opted to see Halloween a second time on the IMAX screen. I'll undoubtedly catch this at a Redbox sooner than later though. Hunter Killer follows a U.S. submarine, the USS Tampa Bay, that vanishes while shadowing a Russian Akula-class submarine in the Arctic. In light of this, Rear Admiral John Fisk (Common) sends a Virginia-class submarine, the USS Arkansas, under the command of newly-promoted and unorthodox Commander Joe Glass (Butler) to investigate. At the same time, a Navy SEAL team under the command of Lieutenant Bill Beaman (Toby Stephens) is sent in to discreetly observe a Russian naval base. When they arrive at the naval base, they witness defense minister Dmitri Durov (Michael Gor) conducting a coup d'etat and taking Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko) prisoner, and swiftly realize that Durov intends to trigger a war. Where Oldman figures into this, I have no idea...

As has become common with Amazon studios releases in my neck of the woods...they simply don't make it here. Neither You Were Never Really Here, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, or Cold War have opened in a theater near me and while I was pleasantly surprised I was able to catch the likes of Beautiful Boy and Life Itself in a theater, but the movie I was most looking forward to from the studio last fall, the one I would have most liked to experience on the big screen, was Suspiria and that just wasn't going to happen. Director Luca Guadagnino's (Call Me By Your Name) re-make of Dario Argento's 1977 film stars, among others, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Chloë Grace Moretz in a story about a world-renowned dance company that engulfs the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. This thing is said to be two and a half hours of creepy insanity and I can't wait to check it out, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bummed it will be at home on my couch.

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