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    Sons of Anarchy: Season 7 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on March 3rd, 2015

    “Remember when our biggest problem was which Mayan to kill?”

    All good things come to an end, and all rides eventually reach their destination. It’s all come home for the gang at Sons of Anarchy, and you can believe that if anyone is left standing when it’s over, there will be scars. Kurt Sutter has taken the culture of the motorcycle club, don’t call them a gang, and made it accessible to a regular audience. He did that not by attempting to overwhelm us with the iconography of the genre.
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    Beyond the Lights (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 3rd, 2015

    The cop here thinks he’s The Bodyguard.”

    At first glance, Beyond the Lights could easily be dismissed as an updated, less starry version of the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston romantic blockbuster. Both feature a glamorous pop star falling in love with her strait-laced protector. But while The Bodyguard became a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, Beyond the Lights had a much less dazzling run in theaters, grossing just over $14 million. It’s a shame because the flawed newer film has some interesting ideas about celebrity, artistic integrity, and…black women’s hair.
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    The Homesman (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on February 25th, 2015

    “There’s been some trouble with the women hereabouts…it’s bad.” 

    What exactly is a Western? That’s the question that the cast and crew of The Homesman struggle with here. They appear to be divided on the subject, and the same sentiment will likely make this one a little harder to pigeonhole. That’s not necessarily important except when it comes to marketing a film. An audience wants some kind of an idea what they’re getting when they see it on the shelf of their local video store. Tommy Lee Jones wrote, directed and stared in this period piece, and he’d rather you not call it a Western. Others connected with the film are on board with the genre label.
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    Dying of the Light (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Brent Lorentson on February 23rd, 2015

    Sometimes in film the drama behind the scenes can be more interesting than the actual film we see up on the big screen. For writer/director Paul Schrader, having drama behind the scenes that effects the final project that we get to see is something he is more familiar with than he’d care to admit to.  The firestorm that occurred with the release of 2005’s Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist became so intense that the studio insisted upon a new director to come in and do extensive reshoots that subsequently led to the release of a separate film directed by Renny Harlin
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    Game of Thrones: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)

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

    “All men must die.”

    The official tagline for Season 4 of HBO’s Game of Thrones also doubles as a helpful reminder of author George R.R. Martin’s no-character-is-safe philosophy. But even plastering that quote all over posters, promos, and the cover of this exemplary-in-every-way Blu-ray set isn’t likely to prepare you for the most devastating and thrilling season of a show that specializes in “devastating and thrilling.”
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    Olive Kitteridge (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 16th, 2015

    Why are you so hateful, Olive?”

    Olive Kitteridge — Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel —has been adapted into a four-hour HBO miniseries. It’s probably the best possible outcome for Strout’s story, which deals with the legacy of depression, along with several other box office-unfriendly themes that would almost certainly prevent any proper Kitteridge adaptation from sniffing a multiplex. The miniseries is well-made, and the acting is top-notch. The problem for me was that, even with that four-hour running time, we don’t get a ton of insight into why the title character is so hateful.
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    Marie’s Mind for Murder

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

    I see the crime a bit differently.”

    American television hasn’t quite cornered the worldwide market on unconventional, endearingly quirky investigators. MHz Networks has just released a hearty helping of German cop drama in the form of Marie’s Mind for Murder. Despite the violent crimes being investigated, the show would’ve fit snugly alongside lighthearted whodunnits like USA Network’s Monk or Psych. You get to sample plenty of Murder with this DVD set, considering there are 10 episodes that each clock in at a shade under 90 minutes.
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    The Best of Me: Tears of Joy Edition (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 5th, 2015

    “You want me to fall back in love with you? How do I do that if I never stopped?”

    Or, in my case, how do I do that if I never started? Nicholas Sparks’ fans love the author as passionately and unabashedly as the lead characters in his best-selling books fawn over each other. But even though I think The Notebook is the ideal sappy romantic drama, I’ve never been part of that club. In fact, his stories — and the movie adaptations they spawn — seem to be getting worse. And yet I was somewhat intrigued by The Best of Me…at least until the movie’s monumentally dopey conclusion, which likely inspired the release of this “Tears of Joy” mea culpa Edition.
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    Maison Close: Season One (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 4th, 2015

    No woman dreams of entering this profession. But it is a real profession…”

    In fact, it’s commonly referred to as “the world’s oldest profession.” We’re talking, of course, about practice prostitution. The profession also happens to be the focus of the soapy, serialized Maison Close, which is set in a 19th century Parisian brothel. And thanks to Music Box Films, Season 1 of the French prostitution drama is now making its U.S. Blu-ray debut.
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    Open Windows (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on February 3rd, 2015

    “You like that stuff, but it’s kind of a tease.”

    Give Elijah credit for taking some interesting chances with his acting choices since his long and successful run with the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and his subsequent cameos in the Hobbit films as well. No one can accuse the actor of resting on his laurels. His roles have been outside the mainstream.
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    May in the Summer (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 29th, 2015

    Love is an endless act of forgiveness.”

    May Brennan is the best-selling author of a successful book centered around Arabic proverbs. She is played by Cherien Dabis, who is also the writer/director/producer of May in the Summer. Both Dabis and her fictional counterpart use short, pithy phrases like the one above as the basis for exploring familial and romantic relationships. But while May encounters rousing success with her (fictitious, unseen) book, Dabis’ picturesque, breezy, ultimately disposable film is a little bit more of a mixed bag.
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    The Judge (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 28th, 2015

    “Did that just happen?” 

    I have to confess that I entered The Judge expecting a different kind of film than I actually saw. After seeing the trailer, I was reminded of some of the classic courtroom dramas I’d seen over the years, from 12 Angry Men through …And Justice For All. On the ride to the screening I found my mind was swimming with the “closing arguments” Al Pacino delivered in …And Justice For All and was trying to image how Robert Downey, Jr. was going to try to top that.
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    Boardwalk Empire: Season 5 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 22nd, 2015

    “If we’re good today, we’ll be better tomorrow.”

    The final season of Boardwalk Empire breaks the mold of what the show has been for the first four years. The action jumps ahead several years to 1931. It’s a necessary plot point if we’re going to be ending the popular series in the fifth season. I understand the jump and why it works. I guess my only real question is: why are we jumping ahead to end what is one of the best shows on television?
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    Boyhood (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Paul O'Callaghan on January 20th, 2015

    Boyhood is all the rage right now. With all the hoopla surrounding the film, it should be noted that it is ordinary. It is just about people living their lives. One could even call it boring. One can say that because life is boring. It is not as exciting as it is in the movies. Life is about small moments that add up to memories and then it is over. Boyhood doesn’t make grand statements about boyhood, or about motherhood or fatherhood for that matter. It is just about a few people and what happens to them.
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    Viktor

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 20th, 2015

    We can blame thank Liam Neeson — or “Liam Neesons” — for this recent run of action movies about men of a certain age who tear their way through some part of Europe in the name of their missing or dead children. Viktor — a French/Russian production starring Gerard Depardieu and Elizabeth Hurley — is one of these latest Taken take-offs. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the more inert revenge films you’re likely to see.
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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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    Bad Turn Worse

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 15th, 2015

    There are 32 ways to tell a story, but there’s only ever one plot…that things are not what they seem.”

    Early on in Bad Turn Worse, a character mentions this maxim credited to writer Jim Thompson (“The Grifters”, “The Killer Inside Me”) apropos of almost nothing. It’s kind of a clunky, inauthentic interjection, but the message is clear and crafty: directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins know they’re not re-inventing the wheel in terms of plot, so where they really hope to grab your attention is in how they present their stylish, well-acted feature film debut.
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    Banshee: Season 2 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 14th, 2015

    “There will be casualties”

    Alan Ball got my attention in 2001 with HBO’s black comedy Six Feet Under. It was one of the most original shows I had ever seen, and to this day I find it hard to characterize the series when asked to do so. It was there that he also introduced me to Michael C. Hall, who continues to amaze me in the role of Dexter over at Showtime. When Six Feet Under left the airwaves, Ball didn’t waste very much time in bringing his quirky style back, this time to the horror genre
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    Tyrant: The Complete First Season

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 13th, 2015

    “Those who are feared make peace. Those who are kind get killed.”

    Both temperaments are well represented throughout the first season of Tyrant, FX’s Middle East-set family drama. I say “family drama” because even though the show features plenty of political power plays and double-crosses, Tyrant is at its best when it focuses on the rotting and crumbling of the central Al-Fayeed clan. Call it Godfather-lite.
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    Men, Women & Children (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Paul O'Callaghan on January 13th, 2015

    The internet is destroying everything. It seems crazy, but it’s true, and most people know it. I mean that so many businesses have been destroyed by the tremendous growth of the internet and its insidious and unchecked influence. The newspaper business, music business, broadcast business and probably the movie business have been fundamentally and permanently altered. Men, Women and Children addresses how it affects each and every one of us on a daily basis. We’re all aware of this. It’s our lives now, and it wasn’t 10 years ago.
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    Looking: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 6th, 2015

    The most remarkable thing about Looking might be how thoroughly unremarkable it is. This is a double-edged sword for HBO’s dramedy, which follows the love lives of three gay friends living in modern-day San Francisco. The series sidesteps the headline-grabbing sensationalism that accompanies many other shows that prominently feature gay characters. (Looking at you, Ryan Murphy.) On the other hand, Looking is often low-key to the point that it bypasses being funny or particularly entertaining. What the series does have on its side is a naturalistic tone that makes the show more engrossing and immersive as the first season progresses.
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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 Skeleton Twins (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 16th, 2014

    “You know what the sad thing is? We’re a good team.”

    Up until they teamed up to star in The Skeleton Twins, there was nothing sad about the team of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Regardless of how you feel about the quality of Saturday Night Live in recent years, Wiig (the only cast member to earn an Oscar nomination — for co-writing Bridesmaids — while still appearing on the show) and Hader (with “Stefon” and a laundry list of impressions that ranged from Alan Alda to Al Pacino) were clear standouts. So you’d expect their first post-SNL big-screen team up to be a laugh riot. That’s not exactly the case.
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    The Newsroom: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 7th, 2014

    “We don’t have the trust of the public anymore.”

    - “Get it back!”

    The Newsroom took a pretty decent beating during its first season. Sure, plenty of people praised the show’s exceptional acting and ambition, but too much of the conversation seemed to revolve around its flaws and its polarizing creator. In this Blu-ray set’s bonus material, Aaron Sorkin cops to being “overly earnest” and “aggressively uncool” in his work.
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    Step Up: All In (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 5th, 2014

    Does it always have to end up in a big giant dance battle?”

    If you’ve ever sat through a dance movie, then you know the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Dance flicks are a somewhat different beast than movie musicals; they are less whimsical and tend to take themselves more seriously, which invariably makes them seem even sillier. Some of the movies in this genre — Dirty Dancing and Footloose — are beloved guilty pleasures. (And many people who love them don’t even bother feeling guilty.) In recent years, the “dance flick” itch for moviegoers has been scratched by the Step Up franchise.
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