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    Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 18th, 2017

    Reboots are all the rage in Hollywood, in case you haven’t heard. Even a relatively low-key property like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Cinematic Universe series isn’t immune. Based on the wildly popular books by author Jeff Kinney, the first three movies featured the same core group of likable actors and become rock solid hits made on modest budgets. So you can understand why Fox would want to keep the series going, even if original star Zachary Gordon became too old to play the perpetually put-upon Greg Heffley. This new offering features an all-new cast, but too much of the same cringeworthy and juvenile humor; it’ll make you wish someone had hidden the reset button from this franchise.
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    Justice League Dark (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 7th, 2017

    To put things mildly, Warner Bros. still has a bit of a ways to go before its stable of DC Comics superheroes catches up to Disney’s dominant Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, Warner and DC have long had the upper hand on both the small screen (Smallville, Arrow, The Flash) and with their animated, direct-to-video offerings. The latest in that latter category is Justice League Dark, which mostly sidelines DC’s best-known heroes in favor of a team of mystical outcasts led by a charming, abrasive rogue.


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    Shrek: Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on July 7th, 2016

    Oh…you were expecting Prince Charming?”

    Shrek really did pick the absolute perfect time to emerge from his swamp. The 2001 computer animated sensation from Dreamworks arrived just as rival studio Disney was winding down its decade-long hot streak of hand-drawn new classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. In other words, it was the ideal moment for someone to come along and take shots at cartoon musicals and fairy tales that end with “Happily Ever After.” (Shrek‘s biggest target, however, was probably the Mouse House itself.) But how does the movie play 15 years later? Fortunately, Fox and Dreamworks have released a new Anniversary Edition to help us figure out the answer.
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    Sisters (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 23rd, 2016

    Between their stints on Saturday Night Live and their subsequent sitcom hits, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are two of the most successful comedic voices of the new millennium. (I happen to think Fey’s 30 Rock and Poehler’s Parks and Recreation are both among the five best comedies to debut in the last 10 years.) The longtime friends — dating back to their Chicago improv days in the early ‘90s — have also proven to be funny together, most notably during their well-received gigs hosting the Golden Globes. I’m telling you all of that to tell you this…I can’t believe how bad their new movie is.
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    The Big Short (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 14th, 2016

    I’m guessing most of you still don’t really know what happened.”

    There is absolutely nothing funny about the financial crisis of 2008. Besides the fact that the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble led to the failure of countless businesses and a disastrous decline in consumer wealth, the crisis involved key phrases like “credit default swap” and “collateralized debt obligation.” Those terms are much more likely to make your eyes glaze over in boredom or confusion than they are to inspire laughs. The Big Short cannily recognizes this challenge and crafts a farcical, incisive narrative about a small group of outcasts who saw the whole thing coming.
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    Black Mass (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 17th, 2016

    Before we start, I want you to know something…I’m not a rat.”

    I could get into *a lot* of trouble if anybody found out I was talking to you. After all, there is absolutely, positively nothing worse than a rat, a point that is made crystal clear in Black Mass. But I’m putting my neck on the line here because I figured you’d want to know this fact-based crime drama marks the welcome return of Johnny Depp, who has spent the better part of the past decade in the Magic Kingdom loony wilderness.
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    The Visit (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 4th, 2016

    At this point, the most shocking M. Night Shyamalan-related twist would be for the director to make a movie that people actually enjoyed. (The “M.” stands for “maligned,” right?) Hopes weren’t exactly high when it was announced Shyamalan — who was once fated to become either “the next Hitchcock” or “the next Spielberg” — would be dabbling in the fading found footage genre. So imagine my surprise to find that The Visit — a broad, nutty mix of comedy and horror — is the director’s loosest, most playful effort since Signs. It’s also his first (subjectively) non-terrible flick in about a decade.
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    Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 14th, 2015

    This may very well be our last mission, Ethan…make it count.”

    You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but Tom Cruise is now 53 years old. So it’s only natural to wonder how many more Missions the indomitable superstar has left in him. Well if Rogue Nation is any indication, the above quote is meant to be more winking than prophetic. Just like its tireless star, the fifth installment of the 19-year-old Mission: Impossible film franchise is sprier, tighter, and more energetic than its age might suggest.
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    American Ultra (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 30th, 2015

    Why are people trying to stab you?”

    People in action movies aren’t usually inclined to stop and ask that question out loud. In American Ultra, a small army of CIA operatives repeatedly try to stab, shoot, gas, and blow up an underachieving slacker and his girlfriend. Seems like a lot of trouble for a panic attack-prone convenience store clerk who sketches a goofy graphic novel about an adventurous ape on his downtime. American Ultra is funny, violent, and tonally-jarring at times. However, it’s also a fun subversion of the action genre and (more specifically) “supersoldier” movies.
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    My Fair Lady: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 30th, 2015

    “She’s quite a common girl, very common indeed.”

    Of course, we don’t need 50 years of hindsight — or more than 100 years, if you want to go all the way back to the original 1913 staging of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” — to know that there’s nothing common about cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. And there’s nothing ordinary about 1964’s My Fair Lady, the beloved Oscar-winning musical that now gets an uncommonly (but appropriately) lavish 50th anniversary Blu-ray update courtesy of Paramount.
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    Cinderella (2015) (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 21st, 2015

    “Have courage and be kind.”

    Those words — repeated many times in this newest version of Cinderella — serve as both the title character’s mantra and the film’s unofficial tagline. The message is elegant in its simplicity in a way that mirrors this refreshingly old-fashioned adaptation, which resists the prevailing urge to modernize and/or revise a classic story.
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    Lego DC Comics Superheroes: Justice League — Attack of the Legion of Doom! (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 25th, 2015

    DC Comics buffs have been obsessively analyzing every frame of the latest Batman v. Superman trailer for clues that nod to a live-action appearance by their favorite hero. But for fans of Lego’s “DC Comics Superheroes” brand — which includes various movies, TV shows and videogames — the idea of a superpowered team-up is old hat. In fact, Lego is so far ahead of the curve that its newest offering — Attack of the Legion of Doom! — explores what happens when the bad guys form their own all-star team.
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    Hot Pursuit (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 11th, 2015

    I realized Hot Pursuit was in big trouble during the sequence when intensely by-the-book Officer Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) accidentally ingests cocaine. The joke is supposed to be that the drug sends Cooper into a comically manic, frenzied state; the problem is the way Witherspoon behaves during this sequence isn’t all that different from the way she’s played Cooper up to that point. And that’s the problem with Hot Pursuit: it’s the movie equivalent of someone who types in ALL CAPS all the time. Even worse, it’s an unholy (and unfunny) mash-up of Midnight Run and Thelma & Louise that shines a blazing spotlight on its leading ladies’ worst qualities.
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    Merchants of Doubt (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on July 8th, 2015

    “I’m not a scientist, although I do play one on TV occasionally. Ok…hell, more than occasionally.”

    The “I’m not a _____, but I play one on TV” catchphrase transcended its humble origins to become the go-to, jokey line for anybody who feels empowered to speak outside their area of expertise. Merchants of Doubt, however, isn’t concerned with soap opera actors trying to sell Vicks on television. Instead, this flashy, funny, well-researched documentary examines the select group of people who present themselves as scientific authorities to the public. It also argues that they purposefully create confusion with the goal of maintaining a very lucrative status quo.
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    The DUFF (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 11th, 2015

    “That’s your job as The DUFF…Designated Ugly Fat Friend.”

    Let’s just get this out of the way right at the top. The idea that Mae Whitman — or any other actress cast as the lead in a mainstream Hollywood movie — is “Ugly” and “Fat” is absurd. (Not to mention entirely subjective.) So it’s tempting to dismiss The DUFF as the latest bit of evidence that there’s no truth in advertising. But then you’d be missing out on a charming teen comedy that grabs the snarky underdog baton previously held by the likes of Mean Girls and Easy A.
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    Focus (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 2nd, 2015

    “That’s what you get when you hire a con man.”

    As much fun as it is to watch clever, cagey characters try to outsmart one another on screen, the real appeal of movies about con artists is watching filmmakers try to pull the wool over the audience’s eye. It’s an especially tricky proposition when you consider that — thanks to the Internet — moviegoers might be more sophisticated than ever in terms of knowing how movies are supposed to work. (Or at least *thinking* they know how movies are supposed to work.)
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    The Cobbler (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 14th, 2015

    “To truly know a man, you must walk in his shoes.”

    On the lone special feature of any substance included on this Blu-ray, director/co-writer Thomas McCarthy admits The Cobbler was inspired by the well-known idiom listed above. I’m all for getting as many original ideas on the big screen as possible. But even if you don’t think basing a feature film on a popular saying is a shaky proposition, The Cobbler severely underwhelms because it totally fails to capitalize on its high-concept premise in an intriguing way.
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    The Identical (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 19th, 2015

    What if Elvis Presley had an identical twin brother no one ever knew about? (It would certainly help explain all those Elvis sightings years after the King’s death.) That’s the kooky conceit at the center of The Identical. Unfortunately, rather than embracing the absurdity of its premise, the movie is an amateurish, uninspiring combination of “by-the-numbers musical biopic” and “painfully-earnest family drama.”
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    This Is Where I Leave You (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 18th, 2014

    Everybody’s sad or angry or lying or cheating.”

    That seems to be the state of the four adult Altman children even before they are thrust back together following the death of the family patriarch. This Is Where I Leave You has all the makings of a great dysfunctional dramedy. It has a terrific cast and is based on the very popular book by Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the screenplay. Yet the movie comes up well short of delivering on its promise. Despite some strong acting, a handful of funny beats, and a passing similarity to another ensemble movie where characters who were formerly close are brought back together by a funeral, this movie is less Big Chill and more “Big Shrill.”
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    The Expendables 3 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 24th, 2014

    Welcome to the 21st century!”

    Sylvester Stallone has dedicated the better part of the last decade to giving moviegoers what they wanted 20 years ago. It started with 2006’s Rocky Balboa, which closed out Stallone’s signature franchise in the satisfying manner fans have been craving since 1990’s Rocky V debacle. We’ve also gotten another Rambo sequel, as well as long-awaited team ups with icons both real (Schwarzenegger in Escape Plan) and cinematic (Grudge Match was “Rocky vs. Raging Bull”). But Stallone’s biggest recent success is the veritable fantasy team of action stars he’s assembled for the Expendables films.
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    Into the Storm (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 21st, 2014

    Breaking news: anyone who goes to see movie called Into the Storm is probably more interested in “the Storm than they are in any of the people running away from it. The good news is the film understands this, to an extent, and clocks in at a slender 89 minutes. Of course, the titular Storm doesn’t appear for every one of those 89 minutes. This is very bad news because Into the Storm is populated with characters and storylines that are both forgettable and irritating. It’s basically Twister with somewhat better effects, but much less interesting people.
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    “31 Nights of Terror” A Letter to Momo (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 29th, 2014

    As the spookiest holiday of the year draws closer, we’re all probably a little more sensitive to anything that goes bump in the night. Almost every creature associated with Halloween is meant to terrify us, but what if some of those horrific-looking monsters were actually tasked with watching over us? In the Japanese animated drama A Letter to Momo, a young girl encounters a trio of mischievous spirits that only she can see and hear. The monster shenanigans, however, were merely one aspect in what turned out to be one of the more affecting family films I’ve seen this year.
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    Blended (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 27th, 2014

    Adam Sandler took a bit of a beating with Blended. His previous, non-Grown Ups outing (That’s My Boy) was Sandler’s first comedy in a while to severely underperform at the box office, suggesting audiences might be tiring of the comic’s (critic-proof) brand of humor. Then came Sandler’s pre-release admission that he makes movies based on where he’d like to get paid to vacation. Blended went on to underwhelm at the box office, at least by the reliable standards of Sandler comedies. (It brought in $123 million worldwide on a reported $40 million budget, though only $46 million of that came from the U.S.) Maybe it was the lowered expectations, but I kinda liked Blended.
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    Muppets Most Wanted (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 11th, 2014

    The Muppets debuted in 1955, and the late great Jim Henson’s creations have been delighting audiences (and fellow entertainers) of all ages ever since. They’ve made their mark on the small screen — most notably with The Muppet Show (1976-81) — and at the movies, starring in eight feature films across four different decades. However, 2011’s The Muppets was their first big-screen outing in a dozen years, and the movie spent most of its time wondering if the Muppets’ old-fashioned, irreverent charm still had a place in a more jaded pop culture landscape.
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    Noah (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on July 30th, 2014

    No matter how far removed you may be from Sunday school — or even if you never attended in the first place — chances are you know that God spoke to Noah. You also know He told him to build an ark in anticipation of a catastrophic flood meant to wipe out mankind. What you may not have realized (or remembered) is that, in the Bible, Noah himself doesn’t speak at all until well after that rain starts. So in adapting the famous Book of Genesis story to the screen, any filmmaker is going to have to take a certain amount of liberties. And when that filmmaker is Darren Aronofsky, the result is a strange, uncommonly thoughtful blockbuster that is as flawed as the hero it presents.
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