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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

DVDs/Home Viewing

17 Jan 2017
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Neil Patrick Harris triumphs as the evil Count Olaf in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, the latest adaptation of the darkly comic children’s books (previously made into a movie starring Jim Carrey in the Olaf role). The film was good, but this show is better, with the first two episodes directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, former cameraman for the Coen brothers and director of Men in Black and The Addams Family. The TV version is far more twisted, and Harris’ Olaf is a dastardly villain. He’s also really, really funny. The plot involves the truly sad and depressing story of orphaned children forced to live with Olaf as he tries to steal their inheritance. Patrick Warburton is a deadpan delight as Lemony Snicket, alleged writer of the “true” story and the narrator. The kids, led by Malina Weissman as Violet and Louis Hynes as Klaus, are perfect. Baby Sunny, played…
10 Jan 2017
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Tower, a documentary about the 1966 tower shooting at the University of Texas, takes a unique approach by using rotoscope-type animation and performers, combined with archival footage and interviews. The words said by the performers are actual words taken from interviews with real survivors—who are also featured in the movie, non-animated. It’s a fascinating approach by director Keith Maitland, and it’s very effective. The lone Texas gunman took the lives of 16 people (plus an unborn child), while injuring many others. The film goes into great detail about the events of that day, as well as the aftermath. Unfortunately, this horrible incident at the University of Texas proved to be just the start of a horrible, continuing trend: In the 50 years since this happened, many more mass shootings have occurred on American campuses. The movie is one of the 2016’s best documentaries. Tower is available via online sources including…
02 Jan 2017
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Barry is the second film released in 2016 to depict a young Barack Obama—and it’s not nearly as good as the first (Southside With You). Devon Terrell makes his screen debut as Barry (Barack) Obama, a young man introducing himself to New York City and Columbia University back in 1981. Director Vikram Gandhi shows the young Barry smoking a lot, drinking bad beer and sharing his weed. (We don’t actually see him smoking weed, although a friend takes one of his joints out of an ashtray.) The movie establishes Barry as a normal college kid trying to fit in. One of the film’s main subplots is his romance with a fellow student named Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy). All this subplot does is make young Barry look like a total douchebag, as he leads on a perfectly nice girl who loved him, and leaves her stranded at a family wedding. It would…
27 Dec 2016
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Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch make up a strong acting combo in The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a creepy horror film from director Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter). Down in their basement mortuary on a stormy night, father-and-son coroners (Cox and Hirsch) are going through their routine. A local policeman rolls in a new corpse, a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly, doing some impressive dead body acting). The body was found, incredibly preserved, under strange circumstances, with other dead bodies in the vicinity. The coroners know little about the situation; they simply get to work, searching for the cause of death. Shortly after they begin the autopsy, bad things start to happen, including the resurrection of other corpses in the morgue. Jane Doe clearly has some big secrets, and the coroners are going to find out what they are—whether they want to or not. Ovredal takes the chance to make a haunted-mortuary movie…
19 Dec 2016
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Andrea Arnold, director of the excellent Fish Tank back in 2009, delivers her best effort yet with American Honey, the story of Star (Sasha Lane), a teenage girl who leaves her home to join a young tribe of traveling salesmen. The crew is led by Krystal (Riley Keough) and her lead sales weapon, Jake (Shia LaBeouf). They travel to cities in a van full of runaways and vagabonds, coaxing people in parking lots, truck stops and homes into buying magazine subscriptions. Star pairs off with Jake, who shows her the ropes. At nearly three hours, the film might be a bit long, but it’s still an engaging enterprise thanks to Lane and LaBeouf, who deliver powerful, and largely improvised, performances. Arnold makes excellent soundtrack choices (Bruce Springsteen, Lady Antebellum, Mazzy Star) that contribute to the film’s convincing road-trip vibe. The film is filled with unknown faces—in fact, this is Lane’s…
12 Dec 2016
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I’m a big fan of the original Pete’s Dragon, a mix of animation and live action that was a technical marvel when it was released in the late 1970s. My father took my siblings and me to see it after our dog got hit by a car. We were still mighty bummed out, but the movie cheered us up for a couple of hours. I bristled a bit when I heard they were remaking it as a live-action film with a CGI Elliott the Dragon. I got annoyed when I heard they were dumping the music—in the original, the music was pretty goofy, yet quite charming. Director David Lowery changed the whole thing from a comedy into a rather dour family drama about a young kid who is orphaned after a car accident in the first scene. Oakes Fegley plays Pete, who turns into a little Tarzan who howls like…
07 Dec 2016
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Ever wondered what would happen to your kid if you raised her in the middle of nowhere with no friends—and showed her how to perform surgery on decapitated cow heads? Well, writer-director Nicolas Pesce has. Heck, he’s made a whole damned movie about it, The Eyes of My Mother. After a really strange guy (Will Brill) visits her farm home, and a series of really bad things happen, Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) is left alone with nobody to talk to. Actually, she has a pet, but we won’t go into that right now. Francisca has had very little social interaction over the years, other than with that pet, and she ventures out to see what the outside world is like. As it turns out, it would’ve been much better for some had she chosen to just stay home and watch TV. Shot in black-and-white and blessed with an effectively eerie score,…
29 Nov 2016
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From the makers of ParaNorman and Coraline comes Kubo and the Two Strings, another stop-motion wonder that’s a fantastically fun combination of puppetry and CGI. It’s the best animated film I’ve seen so far this year. The title character is a young boy (an amazingly expressive creation voiced by Art Parkinson) who must go on a quest to deal with a nasty family war that has claimed the lives of his parents. He searches for a suit of armor needed to combat his evil granddad (Ralph Fiennes … of course). He’s assisted on his quest by a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle (Matthew McConaughey, in his first animated film). The visuals are constantly breathtaking; the writing is often very clever and funny; and the message is sweet and enduring. As with some of the Laika studio’s past creations, some sequences might be too much for the young ones, but…
24 Nov 2016
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In the vast catalogue of Woody Allen films, Café Society falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. While it’s definitely one of his better-looking movies, a slight casting mistake leads to the movie being a little underwhelming at times. Kristen Stewart is often great (see her in this year’s Certain Women for an example of just how damned great she can be), but if you put her in the wrong role, you can really see her working and straining. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Woody Allen Jr.—uh, I mean Bobby, a young kid looking to find work in old-timey Hollywood under the tutelage of his studio big-shot uncle, Phil (Steve Carell, kicking mortal ass). Phil asks one of his assistants, Vonnie (Stewart), to show Bobby around—and, of course, they fall in love. Café Society has all of the Allen tropes: a bumbling protagonist, a smart-but-not-that-smart love interest, old-timey jazz music…
15 Nov 2016
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The Monster is a minimalist horror film that mixes elements of Cujo, Alien and Ghostbusters—the latter because the title monster looks a lot like a greasier version of the demon dog Rick Moranis transformed into in the comedy classic. There’s nothing funny about the terrible road trip for Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and daughter Lizzy (Ella Balletine). They have a blowout on a rainy night in the middle of nowhere. Their car hits a wolf—a bloody wolf—and Lizzy makes the keen observation that something must’ve driven it to run in front of their car. Well, she’s very right: There’s a monster in the woods, and it wants to not only eat them, but anybody who tries to help them. Writer-director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) has made a decent creature feature here, one that is as much of a mother-daughter drama (there are plenty of flashbacks showing their troubled times) as it…
07 Nov 2016
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Sarah Jessica Parker returns to TV (well, HBO) with this nasty-funny take on a drawn-out divorce co-starring Thomas Haden Church and Molly Shannon. Parker plays Frances, who is sick of her husband, Robert (Church), and having an affair with Julian (a sleazy Jemaine Clement). She asks Robert for a divorce, and things quickly fall apart for her from that point on. The show is five episodes in, and I have to say this is one of the TV season’s better new series. It’s often ugly, but considering the subject matter, ugly makes sense. It’s also very funny, with Shannon and Church both scoring good laughs. (Shannon plays a family friend who almost shoots Robert during a drunken rant.) Church does a great job of playing a douche who has moments of sweetness that leave you conflicted over whether he’s a good guy. It’ll be interesting to see if this one…
01 Nov 2016
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Chicken People is a charming documentary about people who raise chickens for competition—and the people in this movie take their craft seriously. There’s the mom who got over a drinking problem by focusing on her chickens, resulting in a sense of career purpose and a few awards. There’s the singer with a gig in Branson, Mo., who longs to be home with his family, taking care of his chickens and attending the major competitions. Then there’s the engineer who designs race-car and tractor-pull engines, but works obsessively on the side with chickens for show. The movie also conveys a lot of information about chickens themselves, including the many breeds, and their kind-of-adorable mannerisms. Let it be said: Some of the chickens the folks raise in this movie are pretty impressive! Director Nicole Lucas Haimes has made a fun movie that leads up to a final competition where all of those…