ON DVD & Blu-Ray: January 14, 2020

For a movie that primes its audience to experience a tale of villainy and "pure evil" as incarnated by the title character of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie returning), Maleficent: Mistress of Evil largely doesn't fulfill its promise as the character is a mistress in the sense she's in a position of authority or control, but never does she wield these positions in ways one would exclusively associate with or consider to be "evil". Misunderstood, sure, but evil? Nah. Like the 2014 original, this sequel is more telling the audience a story we were unaware of concerning the character with the intention of ultimately altering our opinion of her and gaining a newfound sympathy for the character as her representation in the 1959 Disney animated classic was apparently a by-product of those circumstances and not "the whole story"; a reputation built off a single perspective of not only an isolated incident, but one with some justification as far as Maleficent's emotions were concerned even if her actions never could be. While that 2014 film was more or less restricted by the original tale of Sleeping Beauty (we've seen the iconic cursing of the baby moment in live action, so let's move on) this second chapter in Maleficent's story breaks free of those constraints and pushes the narrative past Aurora's (Elle Fanning, also returning) sixteenth birthday and on into adulthood where she is now set to wed the re-cast Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson instead of Brenton Thwaites) as they start a life of their own together whereas Maleficent had now inadvertently become something of a mother figure to this young woman she originally cursed and has therefore only recently come to feel as if she's gained the genuine love of what she might describe as a family. Jolie's Maleficent exudes this gracefulness as embodied through the strong presence of Jolie herself as she is not only a warrior and commander, but a woman who is complex in her deep, emotional feelings that the film demonstrates are also possible for someone of such strong nature to possess. It is this characterization and the breaking of such long-standing archetypes that truly allows this sequel to outshine not only its predecessor, but the majority of these live-action Disney re-makes or re-tellings. Director Joachim Rønning (Kon-Tiki, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) takes over from Robert Stromberg and brings with him an aesthetic less reliant on big, CGI spectacle (though there is still plenty of this) and a visual prowess more interested in broadening the scope of the world the first film only hinted at. At the same time, Linda Woolverton's screenplay brings together a trifecta of female characters that serve as the heart and soul of the themes of the narrative coalescing in a sequel that not only surpasses the quality of the original (which, admittedly-was not a high bar) by doing everything that original wanted to do, only better. Video review here. B-

There are few things more disappointing than a movie that moots the charisma of Will Smith. And yet, somehow, Ang Lee's Gemini Man manages to not only do this, but do so as the film literally doubles the amount Smith while equally subduing the level of charm the movie star typically brings. Gemini Man is a science project of a movie in which Lee once again tries to make a case for the practice of utilizing higher frame rates as opposed to the traditional 24 frames per second, which is pretty much how all movies have been shot since moving pictures and sound collided. As with his previous feature, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the filmmaker shot Gemini Man at 120 frames per second and though only a handful of theaters in North America will be able to show the film in this intended format Lee continues to insist this is the way of the future of cinema or more appropriately-the next step in salvaging the theater-going experience. To this point, Lee's intentions are obviously admirable as he is experimenting in these techniques to try and enhance the immersiveness of the theatrical experience and it might even be further to this point that Lee has tried to implement such techniques through as generic a genre thriller as Gemini Man, but despite the technology (and this is something Lee should have learned on Billy Lynn) the level at which an audience is immersed in a film and the experience of movie-going as a whole is still rooted in the basics of story and character. That's not to say the core concept of Gemini Man doesn't have potential-films cut from the same cloth such as Looper, Minority Report or even The Terminator to a certain extent have all succeeded in different ways while more or less using the same tools-but here, the premise seems to simply be an excuse to try these new advancements in the field of filmmaking; essentially making Gemini Man a crapshoot of a movie that will help the film industry figure out what works and what doesn't. Furthermore, in the age of properties and brands being bigger than old school movie stars Will Smith is still arguably still one of the biggest celebrities if not movie stars on the planet still as well as being one of the most charming and likable personalities to boot, but in Gemini Man all of that presence and personality is squandered in a movie uninterested in who Smith's character is. Gemini Man ultimately feels less like a step forward in any aspect of its production and more like a regression in the ability of Lee to tell a compelling story with or without all the bells and whistles. Video review here. D

Jexi is a comedy about what can happen when you love your phone more than anything else in your life. Sounds like an intriguing bit of current commentary from the writers of The Hangover movies that have also directed projects like 21 & Over and Bad Moms, right? I know, I know-nothing from the guys that brought us 21 & Over and Bad Moms can necessarily be intriguing or if it is will certainly be rendered the opposite by their direction, but with a solid concept and comedic talents like Adam Devine and Rose Byrne aiding their vision how bad could it be? Well, it's about as good as can be expected without being downright terrible. It has a few solid gags and Michael Peña is always good for a laugh, but my biggest takeaway from the film is that I apparently really need to see Days of Thunder. D+  

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