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DVDs/Home Viewing

15 Feb 2016
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Last year was a banner year for the horror genre (It Follows, Bone Tomahawk, We Are Still Here), and 2016 is off to a good and creepy start with anthology offering Southbound. From the producers of the uneven V/H/S series, Southbound consists of four short films tied together with themes of guilt and dread. It’s remarkable how well the work of four different directors come together in one dread-inducing piece. The film starts with two blood-covered men driving in the desert as they notice floating death skeletons observing their actions. This segment ends badly; things get stranger and nastier as the film progresses to a story about a female rock band whose members ingest strange meat served by a weird guy (Dana Gould) who is more than likely a Satanist. This is followed by a dude looking for his sister in an eerie town; it’s the stuff of nightmares. (Oh,…
08 Feb 2016
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I never got around to seeing Goosebumps while it was in theaters. That’s probably a good thing; while I found the fantasy flick to be mostly enjoyable, it is not a film that needed my presence in a theater. In this fairly clever adaptation of the young-adult horror of R.L. Stine, Jack Black plays the author, a paranoid man living a hermitic life and keeping his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) in virtual imprisonment. When Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves in next door and befriends Hannah, they find themselves opening some books in Stine’s library—and unleashing the beasts within. Black is pretty good in this typically manic performance, and the kids are OK. Ryan Lee gets the typical nerd role, and he does decently with it, although his character does feel a little clichéd. The special effects are passable. They include a confused yeti, evil garden gnomes and the requisite evil ventriloquist’s…
02 Feb 2016
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Louis C.K., the Radiohead of standup comics, has dropped yet another surprise on his fans: On Saturday, Jan. 30, I—having been the purchaser of many C.K. nuggets before— received an e-mail from his website stating there was something new to watch, a show called Horace and Pete. Well, shit. I buy anything this guy turns out—and I mean anything. I went to the website, digitally plopped down my $5, and set about watching his new experiment. Horace and Pete, as it turns out, is a Web series staged not unlike an off-Broadway play. There are a couple of sets, and a bunch of actors seemingly going at it without the benefit of a lot of takes. There’s no studio audience, and no laugh track. It’s bare-bones—and it’s very good. C.K. writes, directs and stars as Horace, owner of a family bar alongside brother Pete (an often-unhinged Steve Buscemi). Horace has…
25 Jan 2016
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Woody Allen gets dark and ugly again with Irrational Man—something that seems to suit him better than his comedy efforts these days. Yes, Blue Jasmine was a comedy, but it was quite nasty. It was also Allen’s best film in years, and perhaps touched off a bit of a creative renaissance for the stupid jerkface. (I still think what he did to Mia Farrow’s family was despicable, and I’m not backing down on that one.) In Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix is a genuine creepfest as Abe, a philosophy professor who strikes up a friendship with Jill (Emma Stone), one of his students. Abe is in a rut; he’s drinking a lot, blathering morose philosophies, and even playing Russian roulette at a college party. He’s desperately in need of a pick-me-up. Well, Abe finds that pick-me-up—and it certainly is not a standard one. I won’t give it away, but it’s pretty…
18 Jan 2016
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Colin Hanks, son of Tom, directs All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records, a documentary about the death of not only Tower Records, but the institution of the record store. Yes, there was a day when we would collect music on physical, tangible things we could hold in our hands and display in our house. Tower Records was a social place where you could go and learn musical knowledge from its employees, expand your musical horizons, and even pick up some hard-to-find movies on DVD. Russ Solomon started it all in Sacramento, and his idea eventually went worldwide. Through interviews with Solomon and his cohorts, Hanks tells the story of how a good thing seemed to get a little ahead of itself, resulting in a collapse in the United States. (Tower does remain as an online store, and there are still some physical locations overseas.) Hanks…
11 Jan 2016
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A great premise gets lost in the murk of Moonwalkers, the feature-directing debut from Antoine Bardou-Jacquet. The film plays off the myth that we never landed on the moon, and that Stanley Kubrick was hired to direct the fake moon landing. Bardou-Jacquet aims for dark humor with clear nods to Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and other Kubrick classics. There are many clever moments in the movie, but they never come together as a cohesive piece—and one of the central performances drags down the film. While Rupert Grint is good as Jonny—manager of a lame ’60s rock band who is deep in debt—Ron Perlman is a muddled mess as Kidman, a Vietnam veteran suffering major posttraumatic-stress disorder and working for the CIA. When Col. Dickford (played by Jay Benedict with echoes of Sterling Hayden in Strangelove) comes to the conclusion that the real moon landing might…
07 Jan 2016
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Spike Lee presents what is easily his most-ambitious film in more than a decade with Chi-Raq, a wild adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata set in modern-day Chicago. Lee casts old pal Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator (of course) and utilizes a rhyming script and stellar cast to postulate what would happen with gang violence in Chicago if all the women withheld sex. The play was crazy—and the movie is crazy. While the tone is all over the place, the setup gives Lee a chance to do some of his funniest screen work since the humorous interludes in Do the Right Thing. There’s a scene in which Dave Chappelle (Yes, that Dave Chappelle!) plays a strip club owner that might be the funniest thing Lee has ever done. Chappelle needs to do some more acting, because he smokes his one scene. Teyonah Parris shines as Lysistrata, leader of the…
01 Jan 2016
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It was Christmas night, and my dog, Noomi, had eaten some table scraps earlier in the day. Mind you, it was only some turkey and ham given to her by our host, but us Boston terrier owners know that table scraps usually mean nighttime farts. I had just gotten to sleep when Noomi let out a sonic blast that woke me from a dead slumber. After trying to get back to sleep, I gave up and got on iTunes. I discovered that the touted Taylor Swift concert was now streaming for free. Thinking it might lull me to sleep, I started watching it. God dammit … Taylor Swift hooked me for the whole two hours. I admit: I’m a bit of a fan. I’m not that into the country stuff, but her foray into pop with 1989 was impressive. She writes melodies on par with ABBA and lighter-fare Paul McCartney.…
21 Dec 2015
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There’s a good premise here with He Never Died, but writer-director Jason Krawczyk can’t save this one from the junk heap. Henry Rollins plays Jack, a grumpy loner who hangs around in diners and plays bingo for a living. Jack has a big trunk in his apartment containing a bunch of money that keeps him from having to work. When his long lost-daughter (Jordan Todosey) comes knocking at the door, he’s required to socialize a little more than he cares to. That socializing includes talking to Cara (Kate Greenhouse), the sweet, caring waitress from the diner where he gets his hot tea. For whatever reason, Jack’s daughter is kidnapped, and he must swing into action. That swinging into action includes eating human flesh for reasons never fully explained. It turns out Jack is very old—Bible old—and I guess he needs to eat people to stay alive or something. Krawczyk’s script…
18 Dec 2015
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Director Anton Corbijn’s Control, about the final days of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, was one of the best biopics I’ve ever seen. Now Corbijn has turned his attentions to the great James Dean (Dane DeHaan) in Life, a sometimes-engaging account of the actor’s interactions with Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), photographer for Life magazine, shortly before Dean’s death. DeHaan plays a stripped-down, decidedly unglamorous version of the icon, with a performance that is perhaps a little too stifled and mumbling at times. Corbijn and company are shooting for a low-key portrayal here, and they succeed. The idea behind the film is good—a quiet look inside the back-story of James Dean. It’s fun to see some of Stock’s more famous stills of Dean come to life. The film suffers a bit due to DeHaan’s sometimes-frustrating line deliveries, although he does look like Dean at some angles. Much of the film…
15 Dec 2015
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It’s not a good thing when Vanilla Ice is the best thing in your movie. His Ice-ness shows up in The Ridiculous 6 as a hip-hop Mark Twain in Adam Sandler’s latest blunder—and Vanilla Ice squeezes a few laughs out of the moment. This Western pile of shit manages a few other giggles, most notably Harvey Keitel’s headless body shooting its own decapitated head, and a rattlesnake nibbling on Will Forte’s ear. Other than that, it’s quite the slog. Make that a two-hour slog. Director Frank Coraci, responsible for other Sandler abominations such as Blended, should’ve streamlined this sucker. The four-or-five-laugher would’ve felt more potent with a solid 30 minutes lopped off. As is, the jokes go on way too long—and too much crap that would’ve been edited out of even the worst Sandler films makes it into the final cut. Sandler plays Tommy, aka White Knife, an orphan boy…
07 Dec 2015
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Just in time for the holidays comes a Blu-ray release of The Beatles 1, a companion piece to the compilation album released 15 years ago. I’m sort of a Beatles fan in reverse: I never disliked them, and they were always in the mix when I was younger. Yet I was not a huge fan; I was more likely to listen to Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace back in the day than, say, “The White Album.” That all changed about 10 years ago, when I became somewhat obsessed with them. The Beatles Anthology TV and album series released in the 1990s took me to another level of fandom, and I went all-out nuts after the latest digital re-mastering of their catalogue. I’m convinced now: They are the greatest band that ever existed on this planet. They were much more than musical innovators. This wonderful collection shows how the Fab Four…