Gates of Heaven/Vernon, Florida Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Lucille Billingsley, Zella Graham, Cal Harberts, Albert Bitterling, Roscoe Collins
  • Director: Errol Morris
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: March 24, 2015



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            When Errol Morris was just starting out as a filmmaker, still working his way through film school, he made an infamous bet with German director Werner Herzog over a feature length documentary. Morris became the winner of this bet with the completion of his debut, Gates of Heaven, which resulted in a short film in which Herzog eats his own shoe. This wink-and-a-nod to the famous Charlie Chaplin sequence from The Gold Rush is now a magnificent piece of film history itself, which has only gained significance as Morris continued to make films that solidify his place as one of documentary film’s most prolific directors. The film itself may seem somewhat stylistically dated now, but the human elements of the story remain as relevant today as they were in 1978.

     

    Penguins of Madagascar Blu-ray Review

         Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Animated, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: March 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 86 minutes

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            This off-shoot film from the Madagascar franchise may not bridge the gap between child and adult audience members in the same way its parent films have, but it does boast enough colorful animation and fast-paced plotting to keep the whole family engaged in pleasant enough distraction. The intelligence and wit from the other films will certainly be missed by the adults, though the increase in silliness may make Penguins of Madagascar more popular among the youngest viewers. Unfortunately, I feel myself at a bit of a disadvantage in reviewing this Dreamworks animated film, having long since left this demographic.

     

    Annie Blu-ray Review

        Actors: Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne
  • Director: Will Gluck
  • Format: Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Dubbed: Spanish, French
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG
  • Studio: SONY PICTURES
  • Release Date: March 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 118 minutes


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             Although I am forever grateful that it was not Will Smith’s unholy offspring cast in the iconic title role, I don’t think that Quvenzhané Wallis has the abilities needed to carry it off convincingly. For one thing, the musical numbers mostly feel at the quality level of an amateur production, and the chemistry in the film feels contrived from sequence to sequence, saved only by the support of veteran actors Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne. But for every musical number that Foxx is able to add some charm to and all of the likeable comedic charms of Byrne are not enough to make up for five minutes of Cameron Diaz’s atrocious performance, both in comedic and musical abilities.

     

    Ride the Pink Horse Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Robert Montgomery, Thomas Gomez, Wanda Hendrix
  • Director: Robert Montgomery
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
  • Release Date: March 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 101 minutes





  •         Based on the 1946 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, Robert Montgomery’s film adaptation the following year, Ride the Pink Horse, made minor changes to the narrative to highlight the primary themes found in the B-film crime movies we now categorize as film noir. And so, the novel’s draft-dodging criminal turns into a hardened World War II veteran, unable to find his place in a country he once called home. This minor adjustment turned the narrative from a typical crime film to an embodiment of the post-war paranoia shared by many soldiers returning to the States. Critics and audiences alike have praised Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper in its portrayal of the struggles of coming home from war. This struggle was also behind the success of an entire group of films in the 1940s and 50s, however indirectly it was addressed.

     

    White Haired Witch Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chiu, Fan Bingbing
  • Director: Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung
  • Format: Blu-ray, Subtitled
  • Language: Cantonese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 104 minutes


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            The popularity of Chinese epics is such that they have begun to pillage the narratives already adapted to film, utilizing the classic historic narratives with the same fervor and predictability as Hollywood comic book adaptations. The genre provides opportunities to bring to life stories which are already known (guaranteeing a loyal audience base), while also catering to the cinematic stylistic trends of the times. Sometimes the style takes precedence, while others focus on the strength of the narrative and beloved historical figures. White Haired Witch attempts both simultaneously, though is only half as successful as a result.

     

    The Liberator Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Danny Huston, Edgar Ramirez, Maria Valverde
  • Director: Alberto Arvelo
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Cohen Media Group
  • Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 119 minutes

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             For a historical epic and biopic, The Liberator feels disappointingly unimpressive. Even those unfamiliar with South American history are likely to find few surprises within this narrative, though that often does not detract from the film’s impact. Those looking for a bit more depth in their revolution narratives may be better off looking to Steven Soderbergh’s Che, the Danish Flame & Citron from Ole Christian Madsen, or even the battle for Algerian independence within Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law. For those specifically interested in the life of Simón Bolívar, The Liberator offers a fairly polished and straightforward representation of this journey, even if it feels like a watered down version of what could have been a better film.

     

    Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry
  • Director: Adrián García Bogliano
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Dark Sky Films
  • Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 96 minutes



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            Werewolf films seem to have gotten even more unbelievable over the years, mostly with the fallacy of bad CGI to blame. Say what you will about the slow-moving practical effects or the cheesy make-up from the classic werewolf films of the past, but they still manage to feel more realistic than most cartoonish computer images. Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf takes the path of practical effects and make-up, but it is in the simplicity of filmmaking where the film truly succeeds. The plot is straightforward and simple, with horror action that is so well structured and prepared that less ends up equaling more; if only the same lessons of minimalism had been applied to the film’s title.

     

    The Red Tent DVD Review

    Actors: Minnie Driver, Morena Baccarin, Rebecca Ferguson, Debra Winger, Iain Glen
  • Director: Roger Young
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Dolby, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 90 minutes


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            Many have recognized the sudden increase in biblical adaptations onscreen, from last year’s release of Noah and Exodus to the upcoming 2015 releases, Mary, Last Days in the Desert, and David and Goliath. Then there are the half-dozen projects in development, likely waiting to see how lucrative this genre revival will be. There is also a similar movement in television, especially among miniseries. Mark Burnett will take another stab at it, with “The Bible” follow up, “A.D.” and many have praised “The Red Tent,” despite being based on a bestselling novel that took liberties with one of the lesser discussed female characters from the Old Testament.

     

    To Write Love on Her Arms DVD Review

         Actors: Kat Dennings, Chad Michael Murray, Rupert Friend, Corbin Bleu
  • Director: Nathan Frankowski
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Chinese, Korean
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: SONY PICTURES
  • DVD Release Date: March 3, 2015
  • Run Time: 118 minutes


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            I’m not sure what the reason was for the delay of this film being released after its initial 2012 festival run, but the delay resulted in the film becoming one of the casualties of the Sony Pictures Studio hack. I would like to say that this is the reason for the underwhelming reception of To Write Love on Her Arms, but the sad reality is that this is exactly the type of film that will always get dumped into home entertainment formats. I would have thought 2012 would have been a great time to release a film starring the rising star, Kat Dennings, following her 2011 successes with her new sitcom, “Two Broke Girls,” and the supporting role in Thor. Unfortunately, small personalized dramas don’t have the same mass appeal as sex-obsessed sitcoms and comic book blockbusters, but I would be willing to bet that To Write Love on Her Arms has more potential for connecting with its audience, however specific it may be.

    Outlander: Season One, Volume One DVD Review

         Actors: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Graham McTavish
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Thai
  • Dubbed: Thai
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 3, 2015


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            “Outlander” is a series based upon the international bestselling book series by Diana Gabaldon, and is likely to be most appreciated by those familiar with the original text. It is not a difficult story to follow, but much of the praise the Starz Channel series has received has been about the faithfulness of the adaptation. Those unfamiliar with the romantic fantasy text are less likely to be impressed with the contrived narrative, though there is no denying the surefooted capabilities of the cast and crew in bringing this historically-based fantasy to life. There are eight novels in the series, with a ninth on the way. I don’t imagine that we will see an end to the television adaptations anytime soon either, with this narrative being dragged out and released in two sections, as studios have made habit out of feature-film adaptations.

     

    Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Patrick Wilson, Scott Foley, Greg Grunberg, Amy Acker, Dagmara Dominczyk
  • Director: Scott Foley
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: March 3, 2015
  • Run Time: 83 minutes


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             I have had many comedic actors explain to me the enjoyment that they had working on a film with many of their friends. This is an easy concept to understand, even for those of us on the outskirts of the entertainment industry can relate to the ways in which a poor job can be improved by co-workers we can also call friends. Apparently, the case is also true for the filming of bad screenplays, because there are countless awful films made by a group of people that like each other. Perhaps this comes from an unwillingness to be honest about the content that doesn’t work, or maybe having your buddies with you at work can be more of a distraction to the creative process. Whatever the reason, the group of friends, couples, and former co-workers that came together to make Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife should be ashamed at how utterly unsuccessful this dark comedy is. How ironic that the tagline is “Real Friends Do the Dirty Work.”

     

    Foxcatcher Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French
  • Dubbed: French
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: March 3, 2015
  • Run Time: 130 minutes



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            Director Bennett Miller often takes years in-between his film projects. It took him six years to make Moneyball after winning Best Director at the Academy Awards for Capote in 2005, and despite there being a shorter gap prior to making Foxcatcher, Miller seems to have applied the same careful consideration in choosing the material. In many ways a striking comparison film to In Cold Blood, the 1967 film adaptation of the Truman Capote true-crime novel at the center of Miller’s film. It is a film about unimaginable, unexpected and mostly unexplained acts of violence in America. And it is also another opportunity for Miller to showcase his ability to elevate the film with unexpected casting.

     

    Believe Me Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Zachary Knighton, Miles Fisher, Alex Russell, Sinqua Walls
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: Virgil Films
  • Release Date: March 3, 2015
  • Run Time: 93 minutes


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            There is a solid foundation of successful faith-based films within the Christian community, but these safely constructed movies made by Christians for Christians tend to inspire little thought. Not only are they shoddily made and too often starring Kirk Cameron, they shy away from any real discussion in favor of ‘safe’ entertainment that won’t offend. At the same time there is usually a spiritual message or theme that the audience is pounded with, using all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Then there are the Hollywood imitations, which try to imitate this success for a sincere cash grab. Oddly enough, there are very few independent Christian filmmakers trying to insert their beliefs into more subversive content, though I would consider Believe Me a sincere effort to do just that.

     

    Fellini Satyricon Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Martin Potter, Hiram Keller, Max Born
  • Director: Federico Fellini
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
  • Release Date: February 24, 2015
  • Run Time: 129 minutes


  •         Fellini Satyricon has the look of a spectacular box office failure, richly filled with extravagant visuals and an often incoherent storyline. Loosely based on the classic Roman satire written by Petronius during the reign of Nero, Fellini’s film is an episodic collection that plays up the infamous Roman excessiveness in decadence for visual splendor and disgust, in equal measure. Story becomes nearly insignificant compared to the film’s visual self-indulgence, though there are a series of characters we follow through much of the narrative.

     

    Beyond the Lights Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Danny Glover, Nate Parker
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Director's Cut, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: February 24, 2015
  • Run Time: 117 minutes


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            It has long been a complaint that there are not enough female directors in the Hollywood system, a point that is marked by an annual reminder in the Academy Awards, which has only seen one female director win in 87 years. I would say that this is more of a reminder how few quality female directors that are working in Hollywood, though Gina Prince-Bythewood stands out as an exception. Beyond the Lights (like Love and Basketball) may simply be a genre film and unlikely of Academy recognition outside of category for Best Song (which the film was nominated for), but Prince-Bythewood manages to elevate the genre with some poignantly relevant social commentary and committed performances from her two stars.

     

    The Intruders DVD Review

    Actors: Miranda Cosgrove, Austin Butler, Donal Logue
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 24, 2015
  • Run Time: 90 minutes




  •         I was filled with such a sense of déjà vu watching The Intruders that I ended up pausing the film about halfway through, convinced that there was another recently released horror film that had nearly the same screenplay. Even if first-time screenwriter Jason Juravic did not plagiarize the content of this poorly made horror film from another poorly made horror movie, it contains more cliché genre tropes than any of the Scary Movie or Haunted House spoofs with a deadly seriousness that quickly becomes dull. There is a family with a troubled past moving into a notorious new home, ambiguous warnings from the neighbors that conveniently give out no details of the house’s history, and a protagonist with a history of mental instability so that nobody believes her. My imagination has more surprises than this horrendously uninspired horror film.

     

    Brotherhood of Blades Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Chang Chen, Cecilia Liu, Qing Ye, Nie Yuan
  • Director: Lu Yang
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: Cantonese
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: February 10, 2015
  • Run Time: 111 minutes



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            There may be a good film somewhere in Brotherhood of Blades, but I would need to watch it again to be able to be able to understand where it is. The narrative contains too many characters and is told in a convoluted manner, so that little makes sense until the very end, at which point it will take a perfect memory to recall who each character is and where their loyalties in the narrative lie. The action is fantastic, making the last third of the film a compelling watch, though the relevance of these sequences would have been increased with a clearer storyline.

    Skating to New York Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Dylan Everett, Connor Jessup, Niamh Wilson, Jason Gedrick, Gage Munroe
  • Director: Charles Minsky
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: February 17, 2015
  • Run Time: 93 minutes


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            This Canadian coming-of-age adventure film is full of good intentions and rife with errors in filmmaking. The actual shell of the film and its components is actually quite promising, which is why the failed execution is that much more disappointing. There are contrived situations of unbelievable coincidence, dialogue so bad that I can only hope it was mostly improvised, and a narrative structure that sloppily bookends the adventure with a typical sports victory storyline. Not without its moments of accidental charm, Skating to New York still feels like a film with no need for distribution outside of Canada.

     

    Fear Clinic Blu-ray Review

  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Blu-ray Release Date: May 12, 2015, exclusively at Best Buy now.





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            Fear Clinic utilizes impressive low budget special effects in place of a decent screenplay, believable acting, or direction that is even moderately decent. The special effects department might as well be listed as the film’s director, because that is the only thing to keep this low budget cliché moving forward from one dull scene to the next. Director Robert Hall is best known for his work as a makeup artist, and his filmography as a director has been predictably dominated by this visual aspect, with little to no regard for the narrative aspects of storytelling.

     

    Dumb and Dumber To Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle
  • Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, Color, Widescreen
  • Language: German (DTS 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: Spanish, French, German, English
  • Dubbed: Spanish, French, German
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG-13 
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • Release Date: February 17, 2015
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 2, 2016





  •         Dumb and Dumber was the first film from the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, and quickly established them as a force to be reckoned with in the world of comedy. As significant to 1990s gross-out comedy as National Lampoon was in the 1980s and Judd Apatow in the 2000s, the Farrelly brothers brought the raunch back to the genre. Although it may have helped their careers advance by not making a sequel to Dumb and Dumber at the height of its popularity, it does nothing to help the filmmakers who have been on a quick descent these past few years.