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DVDs/Home Viewing

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…
12 Aug 2014
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The 2011 return of the Muppets, while not the greatest of movies, did boast an enthusiastic Jason Segel and Amy Adams. The music was fun, and most of the movie felt original, with a sense of purpose. The Muppets Most Wanted, which I missed in theaters and finally managed to catch on Blu-ray (packaged as The Muppets Most Wanted: The Unnecessarily Extended Edition), is a dud. The franchise lost a lot of steam during its initial heyday, and the same already seems to be happening with the comeback. As with 22 Jump Street, this is a sequel in which the big joke is how useless and unoriginal a sequel can be. Director James Bobin, who directed the 2011 film, contributes to the script that uses the evil doppelganger gimmick for few laughs. The movie picks up directly after The Muppets (it even has Segel and Adams stand-ins viewed from the…
05 Aug 2014
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At long last, the entire Twin Peaks series is out on Blu-ray—along with the inferior but still interesting prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The complete series—with both the American and European pilots—and the film come in a nifty collector’s box with a ton of special features. Director/creator David Lynch oversaw many aspects of the Blu-ray’s production (it’s titled Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery), and the transfer is visually stunning. The show itself—a mystery about a murdered young girl named Laura Palmer, and the supernatural forces that took her—remains one of the most innovative and scary TV productions ever. Something like Twin Peaks would never make it to ABC, NBC or CBS these days; this is the sort of stuff reserved for HBO, AMC and FX. The show was actually very funny at times, anchored by the quirky performance of Kyle MacLachlan as special agent Dale Cooper. The…
29 Jul 2014
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Writer-director Joe Swanberg has followed up his terrific Drinking Buddies with Happy Christmas, a fun vehicle for Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey. Kendrick plays Jenny, a woman who has recently broken up with her boyfriend and goes to live with her brother and his wife (played by Swanberg and Lynskey) in Chicago. Once there, she commences partying with her pal (Lena Dunham of TV’s Girls) and disrupting her brother’s household, which includes the nephew she is supposed to be baby-sitting. The movie feels as if it has been largely improvised, especially when the amazingly funny toddler is on screen. The stars handle the freewheeling nature of the film well. Kendrick and Lynskey shine in their scenes together, while Mark Webber is decent as Jenny’s new love interest. Swanberg is an interesting director, for sure. Many of the stars in this film, as well as Sam Rockwell, Ron Livingston and Rosemarie…
22 Jul 2014
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Scarlett Johansson stars in Under the Skin as an alien driving around Scotland in a hot Scarlett Johansson body. The alien is using that body to pick up men—and do very, very strange things to them. Director Jonathan Glazer uses minimal dialogue and real unsuspecting men (some of the men Johansson talks to have no idea they are being filmed) for a chilling effect that will haunt you long after you leave the theater. This is the sort of intelligent science fiction and horror that was so prevalent during the heydays of Stanley Kubrick and William Friedkin. It’s brilliant exploration of alienation, victimization and the shallowness of obsession with outward appearances. While I can compare the work done here to the likes of Kubrick or Gaspar Noé, this is really unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s nightmare fuel. Under the Skin is one of the more unique and more wonderfully…