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DVDs/Home Viewing

26 Nov 2014
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Horror-film lovers have been eating up a little franchise called V/H/S these last couple of years. V/H/S: Viral, the third offering in this anthology series featuring up-and-coming horror directors each helming segments, is now available. V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S/2 (2013) were “found footage” films that proved to be the exception to the rule: I usually hate the whole “found footage” novelty, yet it’s worked rather well within this franchise. When these directors were given a chance to experiment with the played-out gimmick, they managed to take the enterprise to terrifying levels. V/H/S: Viral jettisons the whole idea of viewing deranged videotapes found in a strange place in favor of a confounding, interconnecting plot involving a kidnapped girl, an ice-cream truck and some sort of Internet craze. I confess that the wraparound segments in this movie not only bored me, but confused me. It’s some sort of pointless, poorly written effort…
18 Nov 2014
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Hiccup (the voice of Jay Baruchel) and Toothless the lovable dragon return for another round of computer-animated magic—this time with a slightly darker tone. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great-looking, fun movie, and after watching it at home, I regret missing it on the big screen in 3-D. The film picks up five years after the initial film, with dragons and Vikings now living together in peace. That peace is threatened when Hiccup and Toothless stumble upon ruthless dragon-trappers who want Toothless as a prize for their villainous leader, Drago (the voice of Djimon Hounsou). Along the way, Hiccup is reunited with his long-lost mother, voiced by Cate Blanchett. The movie has some nasty moments involving Toothless that might freak your kids out—and might freak you out. Director and co-writer Dean DeBlois was apparently going for an Empire Strikes Back vibe, and he succeeds, in that the…
11 Nov 2014
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Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what turned out to be his last leading role, is typically brilliant in A Most Wanted Man, a thriller based on the novel by John le Carré. Directed by Anton Corbijn, the movie’s mystery remains intact until the final minutes of the film—or so was the case with me. I didn’t see the end coming. Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, an anti-terrorism agent based in Germany who has had a spotty recent record. When a mysterious Chechen Muslim (Grigoriy Dobrygin) comes to Germany, a scenario plays out that involves a well-meaning lawyer (Rachel McAdams), a confused banker (Willem Dafoe) and a mysterious businessman (Homayoun Ershadi). It’s hard to discern good and evil in this film, and Corbijn keeps things tense until the very end. Hoffman is so good it hurts—especially because we know we won’t see this sort of thing from him ever again. McAdams delivers what…
04 Nov 2014
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Man … Terry Gilliam looks awfully frightening in drag these days. I mean, he was frightening in a dress back in the late 1960s when Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted, but he’s at an all-new level of scary in this show. You have to applaud the guy, and cohorts John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. They are all older than 70 now, but that didn’t stop them from doing one last round of shows at the O2 in London in July as a final gift to their fans; Monty Python Live (Mostly)—One Down and Five to Go is now available for home-viewing. The title of the show refers to the fact they have lost one member of their troupe to death, Graham Chapman, who makes some appearances via film in this fun stage production. Age has slowed some of them a bit; a few lines get flubbed,…
28 Oct 2014
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The second installment of the bizarre horror-anthology series ABCs of Death is a big improvement over the first. Twenty-six directors are each given a letter in the alphabet and a corresponding word. (For example, “X” is for “Xylophone.”) Each director then gets to make a short film involving that word or phrase. The film, like the first installment, is not rated—and this would be due to some heavy violence. Lots of necks get torn out; heads get chopped off; bodies are torn in half by mutated badgers. My favorite episode would be the one for “M,” and that’s all I am going to say about that. Most of the segments are in live-action color, but one is shot in a ’50s-style black and white; others are animated. The changes in format keep things from getting tedious. There were a lot of clunkers in the first one. It had some bigger-name…
21 Oct 2014
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Harry Potter goes over to the dark side in Horns, a nasty little movie from director Alexandre Aja, maker of Piranha 3D and the decent remake effort The Hills Have Eyes. Danielle Radcliffe plays Ig, who is accused of killing his girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple), after an ugly breakup. Not too long afterward, Ig starts sprouting horns out of his head, much to his chagrin. When people see these horns, they behave rather badly—and they have a hard time lying. Ig uses the horns to not only bring out the worst in people, but to start solving the mystery of his lover’s death. Radcliffe is great here, utilizing a strong American accent and taking advantage of a nice chance to let his nasty side come out. Temple is adorable as Merrin; her story is told in flashbacks, and she leaves no mystery as to why Ig is so messed up…
14 Oct 2014
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Lorne Michaels has a tendency to fire some great women after only one season of Saturday Night Live. He fired the promising Noël Wells after last season, and the funny Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson in recent years. Thankfully, both Watkins and Wilson have gone on to decent post-SNL careers. Of all of the female firings in recent years, none was more of an injustice than the letting-go of Jenny Slate. Slate, in her debut episode, dropped an F-bomb. It appears she was never really forgiven for the mistake, although she did make it through the season. Now Slate has come roaring back with Obvious Child, a funny and strikingly honest film about a woman seeking an abortion. Slate plays standup comic Donna Stern, a woman who will say anything onstage for a laugh. After a breakup, she meets the charming Max (Jake Lacy), and they have a one-night stand.…
30 Sep 2014
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It’s a sad state of cinematic affairs when the brilliant Edge of Tomorrow bombs domestically at the box office, while the latest Transformers debacle brings in the big bucks. Tom Cruise might be a kook, but he usually participates in good movies, and this twisted sci-fi experiment is easily one of his best. Edge of Tomorrow is the sort of spectacle best-suited for the big screen, but it looks like it will have to find fame via home viewing. I have a feeling it will—it’s that good. Cruise plays a military man handling public relations during an alien invasion. After a rather intense meeting with a commanding officer (Brendan Gleeson), he finds himself sent off to combat—and he quickly dies. However, he wakes up and finds himself living the same experience again—and again, and again. Yes, the movie has similarities to Groundhog Day, and it does use a sort of…
09 Sep 2014
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Life of Crime, a film based on the 1978 Elmore Leonard novel The Switch, has finally made it to the screen, nearly 30 years after producers first tried to make The Switch into a film. Unfortunately, the movie is rather drab. The film features a kidnapping plot that has a rich wife, Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), being taken hostage; however, her philandering husband, Frank (Tim Robbins), doesn’t really care. A plan to make the movie in the ’80s was scrapped when Ruthless People, a movie starring Danny DeVito and Bette Midler with a similar premise, went into production. In the interim, Quentin Tarantino adapted Leonard’s Rum Punch into Jackie Brown in ’97. Jackie Brown featured characters who also appear in Life of Crime: Kidnappers Ordell Robbie (Mos Def) and Louis Gara (John Hawkes) were played by Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro, respectively, in Jackie Brown. Isla Fisher also…
02 Sep 2014
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A husband and wife (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) struggling in their relationship visit a retreat on the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson)—and they make a startling discovery in one of the guest houses. That discovery in The One I Love is beautifully clever—and plays like something from a really cool Twilight Zone episode. Ethan and Sophie are bombing in therapy, and the therapist is not amused. He has the couple strike keys on a piano as a test of their compatibility. He asks them age-old questions, like, “Say, are you two having sex?” When it appears there’s nothing he can do to help, he hands the couple a pamphlet for a place that has worked wonders for some of his past patients. As a last-ditch effort, the two head for the resort, where they find immediate comfort. They’ve escaped their surroundings, and can crack open a bottle of…
26 Aug 2014
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Writer-director Jim Jarmusch has not only delivered his best film in years; with Only Lovers Left Alive, he’s delivered the best vampire movie in decades. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are astonishingly good as Eve and Adam, married vampires temporarily living apart in Tangier and Detroit. They live off purchased blood rather than killing people, and years pass for them like days pass for us mortals. After a long stretch apart, Eve comes to Detroit for a visit, and needs to search for room to sleep among Adam’s antiquated stereo equipment and guitars. He dabbles in music writing when not contemplating suicide. Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) unexpectedly shows up—and she brings trouble. Adam and Eve must hit the road, but their blood supply is dwindling—so they need to make big decisions about their next feed. Jarmusch has a lot of fun with the format, even casting John Hurt as…
22 Aug 2014
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Here is one the year’s most overrated movies. Critics have been loving Locke, starring Tom Hardy (aka Bane), but I thought it was a real snore. Nearly the entire film is set inside a car as Ivan Locke, a cement foreman, is driving to see his sort-of mistress. A one-night stand has resulted in a pregnancy, and the woman is giving birth under emergency circumstances. Ivan is also a family man with a wife and kid, and he is supposed to be home watching a soccer match. So, he calls them; they call him; the pregnant woman calls Ivan; Ivan’s boss calls while pissed ... you get the idea. Hardy does as much as he can with the scenario given to him by writer-director Steven Knight (who also wrote Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things). For me, the film offers little in the way of surprise or excitement. It’s just…