The biggest home video release this week is a surprisingly satisfying action flick starring Keanu Reeves, but outside of that, most of the big releases received pretty poor reviews. That said, the smaller films on this week’s list are the real highlights, with three acclaimed Certified Fresh picks and another trio of highly rated films. Read on for details:



John Wick

86%

John Wick is about as pure a revenge flick as you’re going to get, and critics were quite pleased with that. The story is simple: Keanu Reeves plays the titular former mob hitman, who’s mourning the death of his wife when the son of a local kingpin breaks into his home, kills his new puppy, and steals his car. This is the last straw for Wick, and he unleashes a most brutal temper tantrum upon anyone foolish enough to stand between him and the puppy-killing car thief. Directed by longtime stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, John Wick is a stylish flurry of point blank shots to the face and brooding Keanu Reeves grimaces, and for most critics, the combination was a match made in heaven. Toss in a bit of the much talked-about “world-building” and a colorful cast of side characters, and you have the makings of an action franchise. At 83 percent on the Tomatometer, John Wick surprised a lot of folks and even took home the Golden Tomato Award in the Action/Adventure category.



Dracula Untold

25%

Though ostensibly not part of Universal’s plan to reboot all of their classic monsters in a shared universe (kind of like The Avengers of horror), Dracula Untold doesn’t bode well for the studio’s future efforts in the genre. Untold purports to tell the “origin story” of the famous literary bloodsucker, in which Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), the prince of Transylvania, enters into a blood pact with a vampire to receive the power necessary to turn back a Turkish invasion and save his son. Critics didn’t buy it, for the most part; while the visuals were sometimes impressive, they also tended toward bad video game imagery, and the narrative lacked both the edge and the necessary dramatic heft to justify its epic scope. At 22 percent on the Tomatometer, Dracula Untold is a poor attempt to put a fresh spin on a familiar tale.



Ouija

6%

As long as you’ve got a working knowledge of horror movie mechanics, a decent cinematographer, and a few million dollars to spare, you stand a chance at making a tidy profit, regardless of what the critics say. At least, that was the case for last year’s Ouija, which was produced for about $5 million and earned a mere 7 percent on the Tomatometer but went on to gross over $95 million at the box office. This PG-13 tale of terror revolves around a group of young friends who use a Ouija board to make contact with a malicious spirit; as the participants of the original séance begin dropping one by one, the remaining survivors struggle to identify the spectre and figure out a way to defeat it. Critics found the film egregiously derivative of better movies, filled with telegraphed jump scares and bland storytelling, even if it did sport a nice professional sheen. This is probably the kind of fluff that teen horror novices might eagerly devour and quickly forget, but more discerning adults will find little in the way of a real scare here.



The Best of Me

12%

Don’t look now, but they’ve gone and made another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, and following recent tradition, it did not perform well with critics. At all. This would-be tearjerker stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan as star-crossed teenage lovers Dawson and Amanda, who are reunited after 20 years apart when a mutual friend passes away. Between flashbacks to their past relationship, the pair rekindle their romance, only to discover it’s not so easy to shake off the past and move forward. By now, most folks know where they stand with Sparks’s weepy formula, and critics agree that if you’re a fan, you’re in for more of the same, and you’ll likely be pretty satisfied with the final product. If you’re anyone else, though, you probably already know you’re going to avoid this like a snotty handkerchief, so the 8 percent Tomatometer score is somewhat irrelevant.

Also available this week:

  • Nas: Time Is Illmatic (100 percent), a documentary about the prolific and influential hip-hop artist and the creation of his seminal debut album.
  • Starred Up (99 percent), starring Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn in a Certified Fresh drama about a violent 19-year-old inmate who is transferred to the same prison as his estranged father.
  • The Overnighters (98 percent), a Certified Fresh documentary focusing on the rush to find jobs during the North Dakota oil boom and the hardships experienced by prospective workers there.
  • Dear White People (92 percent), a Certified Fresh satire of race politics about a mixed-race writer and radio show host at a mostly white university who causes a stir when she becomes the head of the all black house on campus.
  • The Retrieval (34 percent), a Civil War-set drama about a 13-year-old boy working with white bounty hunters who unexpectedly finds himself on the run with a runaway slave after he’s been sent to lure him back to the South.
  • ABCs of Death 2 (75 percent), the follow-up omnibus film featuring 26 horror segments — one for each letter of the alphabet — helmed by 26 different directors.

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Ep. 065 – Movies, TV, and Yeah, Whassup Monolo?
When the boss is away, the team will play…lots of clips of Channing Tatum spouting catch phrases. They cover the usual movies in theaters, including Fury, The Book of Life, The Best of Me, Birdman, and Dear White People. New DVDs include X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Fargo. On television, Sarah discusses The Affair, The Walking Dead, Jane the Virgin, and Marry Me. Listen for Tim and Grae’s impromptu role play!

This week at the movies, we’ve got soldiers in a tank (Fury, starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf), a princess and her suitors (The Book of Life, with voice performances by Channing Tatum and Zoe Saldana), and star-crossed lovers (The Best of Me, starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden). What do the critics have to say?



Fury

76%

Take the star of Inglourious Basterds, mix him in with a ragtag band of soldiers reminiscent of the crew in Saving Private Ryan, and what have you got? Fury, a World War II drama that critics say is a powerful document of the horrors of war that doesn’t quite meet its grand ambitions but still packs a wallop. Pitt stars as tank commander who leads a diverse band of brothers on a deadly mission behind enemy lines to stymie a Nazi attack; along the way, our heroes come face-to-face with the grim realities of life on the battlefield. The pundits say Fury is a rock solid war film, with bracing battle scenes and a feeling of you-are-there authenticity. (Check out Pitt’s 10 best-reviewed films here.)



The Book of Life

83%

Right off the bat, The Book of Life has a couple big things going for it: it’s a visually stunning fantasy that’s rooted in Mexican cultural tradition. And critics say that’s mostly enough, even if the story is never up to brilliance of the animation. It’s the tale of two childhood friends who fall in love with a princess, one of which must make a perilous journey through the land of the dead in order to win her heart. The pundits say The Book of Life is energetic and vibrant, a rare example of style winning out over substance.



The Best of Me

12%

Nicholas Sparks knows the value of corn better than anybody, and the films adapted from his novels (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember ) can extract tears from even the sternest souls. But critics say The Best of Me is so preposterous and bland that it’s more likely to inspire incredulity or boredom than sniffles. Two high school sweethearts are reunited at a mutual friend’s funeral, and find that they still have feelings for each other, before forces beyond their control intervene. The pundits say the actors do what they can with the paper-thin characters and silly dialogue, but ultimately, The Best of Me is too schmaltzy and absurd to resonate.

Certified Fresh on TV this week:


The dubious premise of Jane the Virgin (100 percent) is part of its unlikely charm, which critics say shines thanks to sharp writing and a knockout performance by Gina Rodriguez.

Thanks to a liberal dose of propulsive, bloody action and enough compelling character moments to reward longtime fans, critics say The Walking Dead‘s fifth season (97 percent) continues to deliver top-notch entertainment.

Critics say The Affair (96 percent) is a somber, bewitching exploration of truth and desire, thanks to some smart, creative storytelling and spectacular performances from Dominic West and Ruth Wilson.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya, an animated folk tale about a girl who’s found inside a bamboo stalk, is at 100 percent.
  • Dear White People, a comedy about an African American college student whose no-holds-barred radio show shakes up the predominantly white campus, is at 97 percent.
  • Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in a comedy about an actor famous for playing a superhero who’s trying to mount a Broadway play, is Certified Fresh at 94 percent.
  • Housebound, a horror comedy about a woman sentenced to home confinement who discovers her house is occupied by a malevolent spirit, is at 94 percent.
  • Diplomacy, a historical drama about a plot to destroy Paris during World War II, is at 91 percent.
  • Listen Up Philip, starring Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss in a dramedy about a self-obsessed author burning bridges with the people around him, is at 87 percent.
  • Watchers of the Sky, a documentary about activists pushing for justice in the wake of mass atrocities, is at 87 percent.
  • Felony, starring Joel Edgerton and Tom Wilkinson in a thriller about three cops dealing with the potential fallout from a bust gone wrong, is at 79 percent.
  • Camp X-Ray, starring Kristen Stewart in a drama about a guard at Guantanamo Bay who develops a friendship with a detainee, is at 64 percent.
  • Rudderless, starring Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin in a drama about a man who copes with his son’s untimely death by playing music, is at 61 percent.
  • Summer of Blood, a horror comedy about a schlubby guy who becomes a lady-killing vampire, is at 60 percent.
  • Young Ones, starring Michael Shannon and Elle Fanning in a sci-fi drama about a farming family struggling to survive in the midst of a global water shortage, is at 50 percent.

Finally, props to Andrew LaPlant for coming the closest to guessing Addicted‘s eight percent Tomatometer.

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