Before I Disappear DVD Review

     Actors: Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Emmy Rossum
  • Director: Shawn Christensen
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • DVD Release Date: May 19, 2015
  • Run Time: 98 minutes



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              Watching Before I Disappear, I was reminded of the ideology at the center of Whiplash, which says that sometimes the worst thing for an artist is praise and success. Filmmaker Shawn Christensen won an Academy Award for his short film, Curfew, and lazily returned to the same material in feature-length form for Before I Disappear. What started as a clever short has now become a bloated exercise in ego and over-indulgent stylization attempting to make up for the shortage of actual content. I don’t doubt that Christensen has talent, but success may have been the worst possible thing for the quality of his art. 

     

    The Blue Room DVD Review

         Actors: Mathieu Amalric, Serge Bozon, Laurent Poitrenaux
  • Director: Mathieu Amalric
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: French
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • DVD Release Date: May 19, 2015
  • Run Time: 75 minutes



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              There is little to The Blue Room, at least in terms of plot, which is probably why the film is a concise 75-minute length. Based on the novel by Georges Simenon, I can’t imagine what the approach he used to make this material work as a novel, especially since I am left remembering the images of Mathieu Amalric’s adaptation. These striking shots matched by the non-linear storytelling make The Blue Room far more compelling than I would have expected from the material. I suppose this a testament to the fact that Amalric is as talented a director as he is an actor, perhaps even better with the right project.  

     

    Still Alice Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish
  • Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Run Time: 101 minutes



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              There is an irritating trend occurring at the Academy Awards each year; the films that earn Best Actor/Actress nominations and wins have the tendency to walk away with no other awards. One less cynical than I am may assume that this is the Academy’s way of spreading out the accolades, but I see it as the film industry’s way of pandering to the award season with films that are singularly performance pieces. These tend to be indulgent roles which focus on little other than showcasing the star’s acting abilities, particularly if they gain/lose weight, drastically change their appearance in another way, or play some type of mental/physical disability. As spectacular as Julianne Moore’s performance in Still Alice may be, not to mention deserving of the Best Actress Oscar she received, the film surrounding her feels incomplete. Other characters get lost in the shuffle and the male characters are as horribly underwritten as is typically the case of female ones in Hollywood. Does the feminist backlash in cinema have to come at the cost of properly developed male roles? Can’t we have both in one film?

    Leviathan Blu-ray Review

         Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, AC-3, Dolby, Widescreen
  • Language: Russian
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • Release Date: May 19, 2015




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              Leviathan is not a simple film. The plot is easily described and the approach is fairly direct, but there are layers upon layers of meaning and significance to be garnered from Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film. This is a movie that begs to be analyzed rather than reviewed, leaving me struggling to find the appropriate words for those who have not yet experienced it. While wholly Russian in tone and style, Leviathan is also universally accessible in dealing with issues of pain and suffering. Though there is plenty of political injustice spearheading this struggle, the movie is more interested in the human reaction to the unfairness of life, essentially playing out a modern-day parable from the Book of Job.

     

    Jamaica Inn Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Anamorphic, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Cohen Media Group
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Run Time: 98 minutes


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              Jamaica Inn is one of those films remembered for all of the wrong reason, famous for giving Alfred Hitchcock such an unpleasant experience that it was his last film directed in England before beginning his illustrious career in Hollywood. The casting of Charles Laughton meant that Hitchcock lost much of his beloved freedom, and the film lacks his signature style. He does not even offer himself a cameo. And yet, even at his unhappiest there is still talent to be seen in some of Hitchcock’s climactic moments of suspense. He was the master, indeed. This paired with a typically theatrical performance from Laughton makes Jamaica Inn worth remembering, and occasionally revisiting.

     

    Limelight Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Charlie Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Buster Keaton
  • Director: Charles Chaplin
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
  • Release Date: May 19, 2015
  • Run Time: 137 minutes



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              My little sisters knew who Charlie Chaplin was at 8. I made sure of it. I force every one of my classes to sit through at least one scene from his films every semester that I work as a film professor. I have reviewed each of the previous Chaplin releases on Criterion (The GoldRush, Modern Times, City Lights, The Great Dictator and MonsieurVerdoux) with increased admiration and endless gushing. At the same time, I am aware that there are still many who are unfamiliar with the breadth of his work, in particular the significance of Limelight. The only comparison that I can think to make is to Birdman. Both films are about aging actors taking their last chance at lasting fame in the arena of theater, and both starred actors who seemed to be playing characters who increase in significance the more familiar you are with their previous filmography. Michael Keaton’s prior performance as Batman adds a layer of relevance to his performance in Birdman, as does Chaplin’s iconic role as The Tramp to his performance in Limelight.

     

    Make Way for Tomorrow Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter
  • Director: Leo McCarey
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Run Time: 92 minutes



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              Leo McCarey’s familial melodrama, Make Way for Tomorrow, is deceptively simplistic in story and screenplay. The narrative, however, contains much more than plot; we are exposed to every expression, every reaction shot, with a precision in filmmaking that McCarey carried over from his years of experience in early comedic cinema. Famous for having made the reaction shot a commonplace element in the slapstick of Our Gang and Laurel & Hardy shorts, McCarey achieves just as much success with pathos in the close-ups and deliberate framing of his drama. McCarey understands that body language and subtle expressions are universally helpful in the language of cinema, affecting the audience’s emotional response with both laughter and tears. Make Way for Tomorrow has both, but neither feels contrived; the audience is brought into the story by the demand to participate in the reading of facial expressions, so that the emotional investment is our own. This is the sincerest form of filmmaking, as McCarey trusts his audiences enough to allow them their own personal involvement in the unfolding of the narrative.  

     

    These Final Hours Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Sarah Snook, Nathan Phillips, Daniel Henshall, David Field
  • Director: Zak Hilditch
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Run Time: 87 minutes



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              These Final Hours is a small Australian pre-apocalyptic thriller with a plot that sounds similar to dozens of movies with much higher budgets. Just reading the film’s description made me feel as though I had already watched it, and anticipated no surprises in its viewing. While I was correct in assuming that the plot would be fairly predictable, the surprise came in how engaged I became with this slightly derivative narrative, mostly due to the strengths in its leading performers and a capable director.

     

    Magical Universe DVD Review

         Actors: Al Carbee
  • Director: Jeremy Workman
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: MPI Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Run Time: 77 minutes



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              Artists tend to be inherently eccentric, which is why documentaries and biopics about their lives are often as engaging as the art itself. While this certainly holds true of Al Carbee, whose bizarre art involving a menagerie of discarded Barbie dolls is matched only by the quirky personality of the artist himself, filmmaker Jeremy Workman seems to be constructing a biography which is mostly rooted in his own personal relationships with the man. Though there is some value in Carbee’s friendship with Workman, specifically because he doesn’t appear to have many other loyal friends in his life, this alone is not quite enough content to fill up a feature film. Even within the first five minutes of the documentary, Workman (who edited Magical Universe, as well as producing and directing) re-uses the same footage twice, which is an instant red flag that the content has been stretched too thin.  

     

    The Sleepwalker DVD Review

         Actors: Christopher Abbott, Gitte Witt
  • Director: Mona Fastvold
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • DVD Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Run Time: 91 minutes



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              A lot of independent films are born out of a singularly unique good idea, but fail in the management of the execution. This can happen with poor performances from amateur actors, technical inadequacy in the form of bad cinematography and poor sound, or a screenplay with dialogue that is heavily in need of a rewrite. Surprisingly, all of these elements are effectively carried out within the narrative of The Sleepwalker; all of the leads give consistently solid performances, the film looks and sounds great, and little of the dialogue made me cringe. The problem doesn’t come from the execution, but instead what feels like an incomplete concept for the film itself. Whatever point or end result that filmmaker Mona Fastvold may have been hoping the audience would be left with somehow gets lost. The Sleepwalker is excellently executed but ends up feeling like an empty shell. With all of the effort to crack this nut, it will likely leave audiences feeling frustratingly unnourished. 

     

    The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) Review

     

     
     

              The Human Centipede was shocking in concept alone, not to mention filmmaker Tom Six’s unflinching approach to the actual acts. It arrived at the tail end of an era of torture porn horror films, including the final entry of the Saw franchise a mere six months later, but took the genre in a new direction with the inclusion of a mad-scientist angle. Dieter Laser chewed the scenery as Dr. Heiter, carrying out an experiment that Six still insists to be 100% medically accurate.

     

    Fifty Shades of Grey Blu-ray Review

          Actors: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Rita Ora, Marcia Gay Harden
  • Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
  • Format: Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, Widescreen
  • Language: 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: French, Spanish, English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Rated: R
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • Release Date: May 8, 2015
  • Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 2, 2016



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              I am neither sexually frustrated nor artistically ignorant enough to ever find reason to read the pathetically popular fan-fiction book franchise written by E.L. James on her blackberry. Having already endured all four of the Twilight books, I understand the appeal of poorly written soap opera drama (though the reading of those books ensured my disinterest in their film adaptations), and approached the viewing of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey with a harsh bias and eagerness to write a ruthlessly unfavorable review. While the story itself is as unsatisfactory as I had expected, the characters poorly developed, the situations contrived and unbelievable, the dialogue comically stupid, and the chemistry more forced than a film with Robert Pattinson as the lead, Fifty Shades of Grey is far from the worst film I have seen this year. It wasn’t even the worst film I watched this week.  

     

    The Drownsman Blu-ray Review

         Actors: Caroline Palmer, Clare Bastable, Gemma Bird Matheson, Michelle Mylett, Ry Barrett
  • Director: Chad Archibald
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Run Time: 86 minutes


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              For an entertaining horror film, you need a clever concept and creative execution. While The Drownsman seems born out of a unique idea, the way in which the plot unfolds is never convincing due to the filmmaker’s inability to think through the various elements. The end result feels like an uneven collection of contrived moments borrowed from better films, along with generic performances from the bevy of attractive and unconvincing co-ed cast members. All of this would make little difference if the horror aspects of the film worked, but rules change from scene to scene and the film is as void of logic as it is decent supporting cast members.

     

    Black or White Blu-ray Review

          Actors: Bill Burr, Kevin Costner, Anthony Mackie
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: May 5, 2015
  • Run Time: 122 minutes


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              Though never horrendous enough to destroy the film’s excellent qualities, there are enough flaws within Black and White to make the film feel manufactured and insincere. Despite some great performances by the adult leads, the screenplay backs the conflict into a corner so that only an unbelievable bit of melodrama can neatly tie up the ending for resolution. While this is somewhat forgivable, what is most upsetting is how the larger issues of race are glossed over in favor of the Lifetime-movie domestic clichés that involve alcoholism, drug abuse, and a near drowning to provide the antagonist a moment of contrived redemption.

     

    The Pyramid Blu-ray Review

         Actors: James Buckley, Denis O'Hare, Philip Shelley
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: May 5, 2015
  • Run Time: 89 minutes



  •           Unnecessary as another found footage horror film may be, this is far from the worst of what The Pyramid has to offer. As ridiculous as the plot involving aliens and an ancient Egyptian pyramid is, it comes nowhere close to being as absurd as the characters and the dialogue which the audience is forced to endure within the scenario. Even with some of the sloppiest CGI effects used to create it, the creature ends up being the best actor within this bunch, possibly because it never has to weather the atrocious dialogue written by Daniel Meersand & Nick Simon for the human characters.

     

    Mr. Turner Blu-ray Review

        Actors: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson
  • Director: Mike Leigh
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Anamorphic, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: SONY PICTURES
  • Release Date: May 5, 2015
  • Run Time: 150 minutes



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              Throughout the two-and-a-half hour running-time of Mr. Turner, I don’t believe I ever fully grasped the point of Mike Leigh’s biography, though I found myself captivated by each individual sequence. All of the individual elements are something to marvel, from the magnificent cinematography to Timothy Spall’s incredibly dedicated performance, despite coherence in theme and direction missing from the overall experience. If a realistic period film about a reclusive artist was all Leigh was attempting to achieve, he was extremely successful, though part of me longed to understand the title character rather than just experience him.

     

    The Last Five Years Blu-ray Review

         Director: Richard LaGravenese
  • Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: May 5, 2015
  • Run Time: 94 minutes


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              Theater actors, especially those of the musical variety, are taught to play to the back of the room. When these performances are captured on film, the result often has me feeling as though I were given front-row seats to one of these performances. Watching Richard LaGravenese’s film version of The Last Five Years, I was able to imagine the appeal of its theatrical show, while desperately wishing I could move to the back of a non-existent theater. Some things are unattractive so close, and however effective these two stars may have been onstage, I couldn’t help but be distracted by all of the nose flairs and big mannerisms that came with close-up shots of actors as they belt out lyrics.

     

    [Rec] 4: Apocalypse DVD Review

         Actors: Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Héctor Colomé
  • Director: Jaume Balagueró
  • Producers: Julio Fernández
  • Format: NTSC
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: SPE
  • DVD Release Date: April 14, 2015
  • Run Time: 95 minutes


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              The [Rec] franchise from Spain easily rivals any Hollywood horror franchise of the last decade (including the one based on the original film), and this also may be why [Rec] 4: Apocalypse is such a letdown. While it is only slightly less impressive than the first two, it also has the unfortunate task of following up the most comedically over-the-top installments of the series. Although it is definitely the black sheep of the franchise, I actually enjoyed the graphic gore and dismissal of the found-footage structure in the third installment. Even without the found footage element, [Rec] 4 returns to the style of the first two in a way that feels somewhat dated and unnecessary.

     

    Tiny Giants 3D Blu-ray Review

         Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Full Screen, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: April 7, 2015
  • Run Time: 50 minutes



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              The popularity of the nature program skyrocketed with the success of “Planet Earth” and there have been many visually stunning imitators since its release. Advances in film technology has only made programs like this more predominant, so it should come as no surprise that BBC has begun to dip into the world of 3D visuals. Unfortunately, the release of the 44-minute short documentary film, Tiny Giants, also marks another trend: the repurposing of previously used material. Although the 3D disc is a new addition to the footage, there is no new content within the film. Just as Disneynature re-cut the footage of “Planet Earth” to make their family-friendly theatrical release, Earth, Tiny Giants is made up of footage from the three-hour BBC miniseries from 2014, “Hidden Kingdoms.” Also being released is Wings, a re-release of the Best Buy exclusive film, Winged Planet 3D.

    Wings Blu-ray 3D Review

         Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: April 7, 2015
  • Run Time: 90 minutes



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    Advances in film technology has increased the popularity (and subsequent output) of nature programming, so it should come as no surprise that BBC has begun to dip into the world of 3D visuals. Unfortunately, the release of this feature-length documentary film about our feathered friends also marks another trend: the repurposing of previously used material. Wings 3D is merely a re-release of the 2014 Best Buy exclusive film, Winged Planet 3D, which was simply a truncated film version of the BBC series from 2011, “Earthflight.” This same footage has been passed around plenty of times, although this does not detract from the visual spectacle these subjects provide the 3D format. Also being released is Tiny Giants 3D, which is made up of footage from the three-hour BBC miniseries from 2014, “Hidden Kingdoms.”