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    The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Jeremy Butler on November 18th, 2015

    Its spy vs. spy in Man from U.N.C.L.E., or at least it starts out that way. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin respectively in this reimaging of the popular television series from the 60’s. Guy Ritchie is at the helm of the spy flick, which should give everyone high hopes that this will become the first film in a franchise. Though a bit dry at times, Man from U.N.C.L.E. proves to be a clever and engaging movie that stays true to the era it is set in.
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    A.D. The Bible Continues (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 16th, 2015

    In 2013 husband-and-wife production duo Mark Burnett and Roma Downey teamed up to bring The Bible to the History Channel. The 10 episode series gave as a whirlwind tour of the milestones from the Bible and brought about some critical acclaim along with solid ratings. It aired during Easter/Passover season. It was certainly an ambitious project and left the team feeling they could do more with the project. They managed to strike a deal this time with NBC to air a sequel of sorts to the mini-series. Enter AD The Bible, which takes an opposite approach to the first show.
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    Breaking Through

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

    Their channels have millions of subscribers. Their videos have billions of views. They are the future of dance.”

    The definition of “making it” as a dancer has shifted over the years. Movies have dramatized this struggle by having its hoofing heroes struggle to earn street cred, gain admission into some prestigious dance academy, or make noise on Broadway. But thanks to social media and websites like YouTube, wannabe dance sensations can take a more DIY approach to stardom. The best parts of Breaking Through brush up against that notion, but too much of the film gets drowned out by groan-worthy dance flick cliches.
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    Mr. Holmes (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 11th, 2015

    “Different, entirely.” 

    I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was a kid. Mixed amidst those Universal horror films I watched with my Pop on weekend chiller shows was an occasional Universal Holmes film with Basil Rathbone as the master of deduction. Soon followed the Doyle books, and a new world was opened for me forever. Since those days we have seen every kind of incarnation of the character possible, or so I thought. I’ve seen Holmes as a child in Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes. There have been several comedies and even a musical or two. Robert Downey Jr. has turned him into an action hero, and Benedict Cumberbatch has brought him into the modern world.
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    The End of the Tour (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Paul O'Callaghan on November 11th, 2015

    I don’t think there has ever really been a great film about a great writer. We naturally compare their lives to works of great fiction. Great fiction tends to distill the tedium and awkwardness out of real life. Real life can be exhausting in the day-to-day disappointments that can sometimes be wrapped in small victories. David Foster Wallace was a great writer. This is almost universally acknowledged. David Foster Wallace no longer is because he hung himself in 2008 at age 46.
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    Black Sails Season 2 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 6th, 2015

    “My father told me about these men, about their natures. All I knew were the stories I was told of monsters and the valiant men sworn to slay them. I fear the stories I’ve heard may have been clouded, the truth more than clouded. It would seem these monsters are men, sons, brothers, fathers. And it would seem these men face their own monsters…”

    Move over, Captain Jack Sparrow. There are some new pirates on the block, and they sail into our living rooms on a regular basis in the Starz sophomore series Black Sails. The high seas adventure series combines historical people and places with the fictional characters of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island.
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    The Benoit Jacquot Collection (Blu-ray)

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

    Un, deux, trois! Cohen Media Group has given us an engrossing triple dose of French director Benoit Jacquot. The films —The Disenchanted, A Single Girl, and Keep It Quiet — span a decade and coincide with the moment when the post-New Wave filmmaker started gaining international acclaim. Each of the titles makes its HD debut with this release, and they all offer an intriguing look at Parisian life. The movies also feature some enchanting performances from their leading ladies.
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    Vikings Season 3 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on October 27th, 2015

    When Vikings Season 1 first arrived a couple of years ago, I have to admit I was pretty excited. I was particularly eager to see footage from their very first game. Fran Tarkenton came off the bench, and the Vikings went on to become the first expansion team ever to win their very first game. OK, as Baby, our shepherd/chow mix dog film reviewer would say: I made that last part up. You’d have to have been living under a pretty isolated rock to have missed all of the buzz over the History Channel’s drama series Vikings. Now season 3 is out on Blu-ray, and it’s certainly a season to remember.
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    Z for Zachariah (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 27th, 2015

    Between Judgment Day, zombie apocalypses, and various other doomsday scenarios, we’ve gotten a pretty good look at what the end of the world is supposed to look like. One of the most striking things about Z for Zachariah — an otherwise straightforward and deliberate drama that takes its story from a 1974 novel of the same name by Robert C. O’Brien — is that, for the most part, the end of the world looks an awful lot like paradise.
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    Mad Men: The Final Season — Part 2 (Blu-ray)

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

    This is the beginning of something, not the end.”

    There weren’t any Lost-style mysteries to be resolved here. And unlike The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, this particular series never really hinged on whether the lead character lived or died. (Although a moment in Ep. 5/“Lost Horizon” seems to nod toward fan speculation that Don Draper would take a tumble similar to the silhouette from the show’s iconic opening credits.) Instead, the final season of Mad Men — more than any other all-time great show I can remember — is directly about the end of things.
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    “31 Nights Of Terror” Dark Places (Blu-ray)

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

    People have short attention spans. And there’s always another murder.”

    Barely a year after Gone Girl became a mid-range blockbuster, we’re already getting our second big-screen adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel. To be fair, both Gone Girl and Dark Places went into production around the same time in the fall of 2013. But that just means someone anticipated that a single shot of Flynn’s twisted brand of Midwest murder/mystery mayhem wouldn’t be enough to satisfy movie audiences.
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    Tut (Blu-ray)

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

    It wasn’t until I settled in to watch Spike TV’s three-part/six-hour miniseries based on the (relatively short) life of King Tut that I realized we hadn’t really seen his story depicted on screen before. I mean, it’s probably a bad sign that the most famous on-screen portrayal of the ancient Egyptian monarch comes courtesy of…Steve Martin. Given the liberties this miniseries takes with casting and storytelling, I reckon some historians would’ve preferred Martin as the famous pharaoh here. However, I still found this to be a suitably entertaining and attractive (if somewhat overstuffed) melodrama.
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    Reign: The Complete Second Season

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 12th, 2015

    It is upon us now…an old and faceless foe.”

    In the second season of Reign, that foreboding statement refers to the plague and ensuing famine that lay siege to the court of King Francis II, Mary Queen of Scots, and their subjects. But in real-life terms, the most dangerous “old and faceless foe” for a promising series entering its second season is the “sophomore slump.” That’s why I’m pleased to report the CW’s sumptuous period drama was able to maintain the shamelessly soapy momentum from its guilty pleasure first season.
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    Manglehorn (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 7th, 2015

    The last decade hasn’t been too kind to Al Pacino. The man is only one of our greatest living actors, but he’s mostly been stuck appearing in forgettable tripe (88 Minutes) or out-and-out atrocities (Jack and Jill) for the last 10 years. So it’s easy to overlook the fact that Pacino is quietly doing really good work again. I say “quietly” because the actor has recently eschewed the “hoo-ah!” tics that turned him into a caricature. This affecting, engaged, and more subdued version of Pacino can be seen in Danny Collins, and he is also front-and-center in Manglehorn, a whimsical, uneven drama that is grounded by its star’s strong work.
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    The Bear (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on October 6th, 2015

    Shout Factory digs into the archives for this one. It was back in 1988 that French director Jean-Jacques Annaud went into the wilds to bring us The Bear. Of course he’s best known for his take on primitive humans in the more successful Quest for Fire. Like that film, The Bear uses almost no dialog. While it appears to be a nature story akin to Disney’s recent Bears, these animals are trained and following a carefully-crafted script based on a novel written by fellow Frenchman Gerard Brach. There is also a small use of stop-action bears that were created by Jim Henson out of his Creature Shop.
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    Jane the Virgin: The Complete First Season

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 1st, 2015

    “Jane’s life was now the stuff of telenovelas.”

    As someone who grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, I have a love-hate relationship with telenovelas. Most of the time, I can appreciate — and heartily laugh at — their inspired, over-the-top campiness. But sometimes I honestly feel a little embarrassed that this broad, ridiculous junk easily represents the most visible outlet for stories featuring Hispanic actors/characters. I’m also insulted by the implication that Hispanic audiences don’t want more nuanced TV options. The great thing about The CW’s Jane the Virgin is that it works both as an outrageous nighttime soap and a sharp, good-hearted satire.
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    The Red Road: The Complete Second Season

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

    Season 2 of The Red Road, SundanceTV’s tense drama about warring communities, opens with a foreboding shot of blood being spilled on the ground. It’s a conspicuously symbolic image when you consider that the show follows the lives of the (seemingly all-white) residents of fictional Walpole, N.J. and their strained relationship with the Lenape tribe that resides in the neighboring Ramapo Mountains. (You don’t even have to squint to see several centuries’ worth of wounded feelings in this scenario.) It’s also no major spoiler to say that opening shot isn’t the last instance of bloodshed in this batch of episodes.
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    Homeland: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 17th, 2015

    “You need to promise…something goes wrong, you need to drop a bomb on this whole mess.”

    The biggest literal bang on Homeland came courtesy of the explosion that wiped out CIA headquarters in the season 2 finale. However, many fans and critics would argue the subsequent third season was an even bigger bomb. (I thought season 3 at least finished strong following that dismal start.) Nevertheless, season 4 of Showtime’s cracked, crackerjack spy drama represents a soft reboot for the show. It’s also a return to its Emmy-winning season 1 form.
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    Scorpion: Season 1 (Blu-ray)

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

    “My name is Walter O’Brien. I have the fourth highest IQ ever recorded: 197. Einstein’s was 160. When I was 11 the FBI arrested me for hacking into NASA to get their blueprints for my bedroom wall. Now I run a team of geniuses, tackling worldwide threats only we can solve…”

    By now you are used to the geeky technical expert that is a requisite part of many television crime-solving teams. It’s become such a stereotype that it’s more formula than character by this point. So what if you had an entire team of these super-intellects, and there was only one normal person in the line-up.
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    Nightingale (Blu-ray)

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

    “He is a confused and tortured young man…”

    The “he” in this case is Peter Snowden, a chatty, charismatic, and deeply troubled war veteran. “He” also happens to be the only character who appears on screen in Nightingale, a potentially-fascinating HBO Films experiment that doesn’t quite reach its potential. At least, “he” is played by Selma star David Oyelowo in what is a thoroughly mesmerizing performance.
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    American Heist (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 10th, 2015

    American Heist is an independent action flick that eventually nods to Michael Mann’s Heat and Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon. (Along with Ben Affleck’s The Town, if you’re interested in a 21st century doppelganger.) However, the movie’s action-packed finale can’t completely disguise the fact that this is actually a dour family tragedy masquerading as a heist film. But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, at least the makers of American Heist know who to rip off flatter.
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    Texas Rising (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on September 5th, 2015

    “1836, Republic of Texas. The Mexican territory is home to thousands of US settlers. Tensions rise as Comanche and Kawakawa fight to keep their lands. Outlaws roam free, and slaves are caught in the crossfire. Mexican General Santa Anna battles to reclaim the land. US President Andrew Jackson is hesitant to intervene, and Texas has no choice but to declare itself an independent nation… The Alamo in ashes, pioneers, Tejanos, Indians and soldiers have no choice: fight or die.”

    Houston, we have a problem.
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    The D Train (Blu-ray)

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

    The D Train was not what I expected…and thank goodness for that. The film boasts that it’s from the “comedic geniuses who brought you Nacho Libre and Wayne’s World,” although the only thing those two movies have in common is that they’re both comedies with, um, people in them. Meanwhile, the glossy poster makes it look like an inspirational drama, which doesn’t exactly mesh with the phallic-sounding title. In other words, there’s nothing about The D Train that hints at the intriguing dramedy lurking underneath.
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    Bessie (Blu-ray)

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

    You got the St. Louis blues, the Chicago blues, the gin house blues, the “my man done left me” blues…they all the same song, ain’t they?”

    By now, anyone who’s seen a musical biopic realizes these films also whistle a pretty similar-sounding tune. The bad news here is that Bessie is no exception, rushing from one familiar Troubled Artist Beat (hardscrabble childhood, rise to stardom, substance abuse, troubled marriage, etc.) to the next. The really good news is that this HBO biopic of “Empress of Blues” Bessie Smith is elevated by some truly powerhouse performances.
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    Welcome to New York (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 27th, 2015

    “This film was inspired by a court case, the public stages of which have been filmed, broadcast, reported and commented on throughout the media worldwide. Nonetheless, the characters portrayed in the film and all sequences depicting their private lives remain entirely fictional.”

    The disclaimer that appears at the top of Welcome to New York is only the first indication that this flawed, unflinching drama — based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair — seeks to blur the line between fact and fiction.
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