New on DVD/Blu-Ray

Week of November 24-30, 2014

starstarnbsp; Expendables 3, The

Action, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 2:06       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
That lovable band of washed-up '80s action heroes has returned in full glory for the third installment of Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables series. And, while some of the names have changed, the basic mission statement remains the same: bring together many action icons from the past and throw them into a cocktail overflowing with testosterone. For a variety of reasons, most having to do with a weak screenplay and poor pacing, The Expendables 3 is the least successful entry in the series.


starstarstarnbsp; Giver, The

Science Fiction, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:34       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
Despite a number of changes necessary to make the story more cinematic, The Giver is largely faithful to its source material. The allegorical and metaphorical aspects of various plot elements means there are "suspension of disbelief" hurdles to be cleared. The film's strengths, however, more than compensate. This is a thoughtful motion picture with strong acting, a powerful visual approach, and well-developed themes.


starstarnbsp; November Man, The

Thriller/Action, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:48       MPAA Rating: : "R"
The November Man feels like just about every B-grade spy thriller that has ever been committed to the silver screen. With a slipshod narrative, The November Man provides us with an operative who comes in out of the cold and ends up wading through conspiracies on his way to unmasking the unsurprising mastermind of the setup. The screenplay dials up every spy cliché imaginable and tosses them in the blender with shoot-outs, fight scenes, and chases.


starstarhalfnbsp; What If

Romance/Comedy, 2013
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray
Run Time: 1:35       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with What If - it does what one expects it to do and gets the two opposite sex pals to cross the line between friendship and romance - but its approach is perfunctory. There's nothing special about this love story. It feels familiar and the appeal of the leads can't fully compensate for unremarkable dialogue and the obligatory (but nevertheless irritating) "romantic complications" subplot.

Week of November 17-23, 2014

starstarhalfnbsp; 22 Jump Street

Action/Comedy, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:53       MPAA Rating: : "R"
There are times when 22 Jump Street is borderline brilliant. Unfortunately, those instances are outnumbered by segments that don't work for one reason or another. On balance, the film has just enough to earn it a recommendation but, with a little trimming to a too-fat running time and less focus on the action elements of the "comedy/action" label, 22 Jump Street might have earned a place as one of 2014's most memorable comedies.


starstarhalfnbsp; And So It Goes

Drama/Comedy, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:34       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
With a title like And So It Goes, it would be reasonable to expect something generic and forgettable - and that would be in line with what the film delivers. Everything about the movie is as uninspired as the title. This is vanilla and palatable. It won't cause indigestion but neither will it fill the belly of someone hungry for a substantial cinematic meal. It's a bland snack designed for an older crowd.


starstarhalfnbsp; If I Stay

Drama, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:47       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
If I Stay answers the burning question of what The Sixth Sense might look like if the screenplay had been written by Nicholas Sparks. The supernatural element that differentiates this from every other teen romance novel is underemployed. Distilled to its essence, If I Stay represents an unremarkable opposites-attract high school love affair. What gives it life isn't the use of a ghostly apparition but the luminous performance of Chloe Grace Moretz.


starstarstarnbsp; Into the Storm

Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:29       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
Into the Storm is as straightforward a disaster film as you're likely to find. It has all the characteristics of the genre. The narrative trajectory is linear and uncomplicated. The two-dimensional characters are entrenched in their own flimsy, soap opera-ish storylines. Most importantly, however, the destruction and carnage is presented with verve and flair, making this a fine example of tornado porn.


starstarstarnbsp; Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Thriller/Action, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:42       MPAA Rating: : "R"
For those who appreciated Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's 2005 campy, kinetic film noir homage, Sin City, the 2014 follow-up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is unlikely to disappoint. It's more of the same and, although a good deal of the freshness associated with the original has evaporated and the stories aren't quite as well packaged, the second installment remains enjoyable, fast-paced, and visually inventive.


starstarstarhalfnbsp; Wind Rises, The

Animated, 2013
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray
The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki's eleventh animated film as a director, may be his last. If so, it's an excellent swansong - a movie that takes the hallmarks of a great career and elevates them to new heights. In terms of tone, visual beauty, and storytelling, The Wind Rises represents Miyazaki at the apex of his abilities. This languidly paced biography focuses on character over plot, allowing the viewer to absorb the story rather than having it trample past at breakneck speed.


Week of November 10-16, 2014

starstarstarnbsp; How to Train Your Dragon 2

Animated, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:42       MPAA Rating: : "PG"
Instead of doing the easy thing and fashioning a retread, writer/director Dean DeBlois elected to expand the scope of the world and characters and move into darker, more serious territory with How to Train Your Dragon 2. Although there are times when bits of the movie feel extraneous, the production as a whole comes across more like an organic extension of the original tale than something tacked on purely to score at the box office.


starstarhalfnbsp; Jersey Boys

Musical, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 2:14       MPAA Rating: : "R"
This straightforward biopic account of Frankie Valli's life exposes how generic it was. These might be true events but there's nothing in Jersey Boys that we haven't seen in other rags-to-riches-to-rags tales. The film's notable quality is the music and as soon as one song is finished, we're ready for the next one. Unfortunately, there are often long passages of dialogue and narrative to endure before getting there.


starstarnbsp; Tammy

Comedy, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:36       MPAA Rating: : "R"
Tammy is a road trip movie and, like many road trip movies, it embraces a meandering, aimless tone. It's often said for films of this sort that the journey matters, not the destination. Unfortunately, in this case, neither is worth the price of admission. There's nothing about this movie that's either so bad or so good that it sticks in the memory. The uneven comedy offers a few sporadic chuckles. The hackneyed dramatic elements fail to tweak the heart-strings.


Recently Released

starstarhalfnbsp; 300: Rise of an Empire

Action/Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Rent/Purchase)
Run Time: 1:42       MPAA Rating: : "R"
300: Rise of an Empire is one of those unnecessary sequels that exists primarily because the previous installment made a lot of money. The lack of a creative driver behind the film leads to a level of fundamental dissatisfaction. The movie delivers all the necessary elements but their impact is dull. The virulent mix of adrenaline and testosterone that fueled 2006’s 300 is diluted in this follow-up installment.


starstarnbsp; Amazing Spider-Man 2, The

Action/Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Rent/Purchase)
Run Time: 2:22       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
The fifth Spider-Man feature, which is the sequel to the unnecessary reboot, is all over the place, an undercooked cinematic casserole that blends some genuinely touching moments and well-presented action sequences with bad melodrama, overlong exposition, and overexposed CGI. There are too many negatives to keep the experience from being the kind of giddy adrenaline rush one hopes for with a Big Summer Flick.


starstarhalfnbsp; Are You Here

Drama, 2013
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase, Rental)
Run Time: 1:52       MPAA Rating: : "R"
It's easy to become frustrated with Are You Here because it affords tantalizing glimpses into a world where it would be enjoyable to spend a relaxed vacation but, because movies like this are constrained to run less than two hours, we're provided with too little to be satisfying. It's a tease: worthwhile in some ways but ultimately too diluted to offer a fulfilling movie-going experience.


starhalfnbsp; Blended

Romance/Comedy, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Rent/Purchase)
Run Time: 1:57       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
It's tough to say whether the lackluster Blended is the result of a bad script of whether star Adam Sandler and director Frank Coraci did unfortunate things to something better written. In the end, it doesn't matter - despite the change in tone and genre, Blended still falls into the "forgettable to unwatchable" category.


starstarstarnbsp; Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Action/Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 2:17       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
Captain America: The Winter Soldier represents the first film from Marvel Studios since The Avengers to capture the true superhero spirit: plenty of derring-do, action, adventure, and an ending that doesn't fall apart. A sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, this film is unlikely to convert a non-Captain America lover into a fanatic but it's assembled with sufficient skill that those who enjoy this sort of motion picture will have a good time


starstarnbsp; Earth to Echo

Science Fiction/Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase, Rental)
Run Time: 1:31       MPAA Rating: : "PG"
It would be fair to characterize Earth to Echo as an homage to E.T.. There are, however, a couple of fatal flaws in the approach. First, the script is dumb. This isn't a family-friendly film - anyone over the age of about 8 will immediately recognize that significant chunks of the story don't make sense. Secondly, the decision to use a "found footage"/first-person approach to the presentation is not only distracting but ineptly handled.


starstarhalfnbsp; Fading Gigolo

Comedy/Romance, 2013
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Rent/Purchase)
Run Time: 1:30       MPAA Rating: : "R"
Fading Gigolo is a slight movie but enjoyable nevertheless even if its brevity hints at something that, given more time to breathe, could have been a richer, more rewarding experience.


starstarstarnbsp; Fault in Our Stars, The

Drama/Romance, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 2:05       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
Calling The Fault in Our Stars a "teenage cancer romance" might be understating the film's laudable qualities but it's also a reasonably accurate three-word summary of the plot. Adapted from John Green's best-selling YA novel of the same name, The Fault in Our Stars merits notice not because of its formulaic storyline but because of the heartfelt manner in which it is presented.


starstarstarnbsp; Godzilla

Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 2:03       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
Although the 2014 edition of Godzilla isn't the be-all and end-all of monster movies, it's a respectable big-budget effort. Most importantly for legions of fans across the globe, it's a Godzilla movie, honoring not only the look and feel of the Big Green Lizard's most famous outings but paying homage to his entire history. To the extent that summer movies are all about mayhem and destruction, Godzilla delivers everything expected of it, and perhaps a little more.


starstarhalfnbsp; Good People

Thriller, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase, Rental)
Run Time: 1:30       MPAA Rating: : "R"
Although a serviceable thriller, Good People suffers from the disconnect that exists between its narrative structure and its pacing/tone. The "feel" desired by director Henrik Ruben Genz is that of a slow-burn neo-noir effort but the screenplay barrels ruthlessly forward, eschewing the kinds of detail and background that would make this a fuller, more rewarding experience.


starstarstarnbsp; Grand Budapest Hotel, The

Comedy/Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Rent/Purchase)
Run Time: 1:39       MPAA Rating: : "R"
The Grand Budapest Hotel is instantly recognizable as the output of director Wes Anderson - it possesses all the qualities that make him beloved by his admirers and disliked by those who find his films pretentious and inaccessible. Compared to his earlier work, this is a middle-of-the-road effort. It offers an engaging 90+ minutes of unconventional, comedy-tinged adventure that references numerous classic movies while developing a style and narrative approach all its own.


starstarnbsp; Hercules

Action/Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:38       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
Hercules is a big-budget misfire of a sizeable order, a visually busy but emotionally dead endeavor that wearies the viewer with endless computer generated special effects while failing to provide a scintilla of human interest. Director Brett Ratner has always been associated with spectacle but, even for him, this represents a misstep because the "wow!" factor is muted.


starstarstarnbsp; Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

Science Fiction/Action, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase, Rental)
Run Time: 1:53       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
An Earth-versus-aliens tale set in the near future, Edge of Tomorrow (renamed Live, Die, Repeat for the video release) offers a time travel twist to its proceedings. Unlike many movies that toy with journeys through the fourth dimension, this one doesn't dwell on paradoxes. Edge of Tomorrow is clever enough that the viewer doesn't have to feel embarrassed sitting in the audience but not so clever that there's no fun to be had.


starstarstarnbsp; Maleficent

Fantasy/Adventure, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:38       MPAA Rating: : "PG"
Maleficent might best be described as an alternate universe re-imagination of Sleeping Beauty. The screenplay presents an inverted version of the story where the "villain" is presented as the main character. The changes work within this new context and, in large part because of Angelina Jolie's forceful and nuanced performance, the title character escapes one-dimensionality. She's a deeply tragic and conflicted figure who seeks solace and finds redemption in the most unlikely of ways.


starstarnbsp; Million Ways to Die in the West, A

Comedy, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase, Rental)
Run Time: 1:52       MPAA Rating: : "R"/NR
It would be inaccurate to claim that A Million Ways to Die in the West is devoid of humor. It isn't. However, Seth MacFarlane's hit-and-miss spoof of Westerns has far more "misses" than "hits" and the actor-director-writer doesn't seem to realize that less is sometimes more when it comes to comedy. Too many of MacFarlane's jokes, which are initially funny, lose their luster because they go on too long or because the movie plumbs the same well too often.


starstarstarnbsp; Neighbors

Comedy, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 1:36       MPAA Rating: : "R"
Neighbors contains many of the qualities that make raunchy comedies a popular commodity. However, while there's no denying the film's "mature" credentials, there's an element of honesty to the humor that is surprising and refreshing. There's no doubt the filmmakers want to make us laugh but, in doing so, they touch upon a theme many older viewers will find familiar: the rite of passage from a college party animal to the responsible role of a father or mother.


starstarhalfnbsp; Purge, The: Anarchy

Action/Thriller, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase, Rental)
Run Time: 1:43       MPAA Rating: : "R"
The Purge: Anarchy is set in the same world as the first film, albeit a year later. Writer/director James DeMonaco is interested in doing more than regurgitating the home invasion elements that characterized The Purge. This time around, he flips the tables and takes us outside into the dog-eat-dog world of the streets. The result is an action-oriented survival tale, not unlike the kind of movie that Stallone or Schwarzenegger might have made back in the '80s.


starstarstarhalfnbsp; Raid 2, The

Action/Thriller, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Rent/Purchase)
Run Time: 2:30       MPAA Rating: : "R"
For those with strong constitutions, The Raid 2 offers one of the most intense motion picture experiences available; it may also be the most violent movie ever to be released into theaters. The Raid 2 is not for those who quail at images of blood and viscera or who shy away from the sight of two seemingly indestructible men pummeling, cutting, and pounding on each other for lengthy periods. This is an action junkie's fix and it literally pulls no punches.


starstarnbsp; Sex Tape

Comedy, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase, Rental)
Run Time: 1:30       MPAA Rating: : "R"
Two fundamental problems afflict Sex Tape: a shocking ignorance about the state of modern technology and a mistaken belief that the subject matter is inherently edgy. The humor is sophomoric, relying on slapstick while ignoring potentially ribald possibilities that could arise from the situation. And the film's attempts to build characters and relationships are undercooked. Yes, there are some laughs, but they're not as big or as frequent as one might expect from a would-be "major" comedy.


starnbsp; Transformers: Age of Extinction

Science Fiction/Action, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 2:45       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
This is as excruciating a movie as is likely to be experienced by anyone, anywhere. It isn't merely that the story is insulting, the characters are bland, the action is dull, and the CGI is everywhere - it's that all this goes on for nearly three hours. That's three hours of your life you'll never get back.


starstarstarstarnbsp; Universal Classic Monsters

Horror, Various
Available: DVD
Run Time: 48:00       MPAA Rating: : n/a
I don't have a review of the collection, but this is too good a buy to pass up. 30 of Universal's Monster Movie Classics featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and others, this spans the "Golden Age" of b&w Monster Movies from 1931 until 1956. It's an absolute must-have for those who grew up on these sometimes-great, sometimes not-so-great early horror films.


starstarstarhalfnbsp; X-Men: Days of Future Past

Science Fiction/Action, 2014
Available: Widescreen DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (Purchase)
Run Time: 2:11       MPAA Rating: : "PG-13"
Not since The Dark Knight Rises has a movie featuring familiar heroic figures taken such a grim and unconventional path. To reboot the X-Men franchise, director Bryan Singer, who first gave these characters screen life fourteen years ago, has crafted a continuity-lover's nightmare. This is the most unique and audacious genre entry in a couple of years and, on those terms alone, it deserves to be seen.


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