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DVDs/Home Viewing

15 May 2014
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Atom Egoyan, an inconsistent but sometimes brilliant director (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), delivers his very worst film with Devil’s Knot. The film is a dramatic representation of the child murders that were the subject of four documentaries (the Paradise Lost films and the Peter Jackson-produced West of Memphis). Egoyan casts Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in major roles, yet everybody seems lost in a film that feels truncated with no sense of direction. The story of the three little boys murdered in Arkansas, and the resulting witch-hunt that resulted in the wrongful incarceration of three teenagers for two decades, is powerful. Even though the story has been told in the documentaries, it could be the subject of an amazing film. However, what Egoyan delivers is a standard courtroom drama, featuring a stilted, confused performance from Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, mother of one of the murdered boys. Witherspoon’s approach…
13 May 2014
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Director Spike Jonze gives us a beautiful yet odd love story about a man smitten with his computer’s operating system (voiced by a lovely Scarlett Johansson). Johansson does mesmerizing voice work as Samantha, a Siri-like voice operating system that is so charming, her new owner (Joaquin Phoenix) finds her far more interesting than actual humans. She makes you believe a man could fall in love with his computer. That’s a sad reality, perhaps, and Jonze (who won a screenwriting Oscar here) does a good job of dealing with the awkward circumstance. Jonze has made a movie that looks and feels realistic, creating a future land in which it’s perfectly OK to date your computer. He approaches the topic seriously—and somehow manages to make it all work. While the premise sounds nutty, the approach is purely dramatic. There are few directors who could make a film like this come together. The…
12 May 2014
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Director Jeremy Saulnier has fun with revenge-thriller clichés and creates a few twists of his own with Blue Ruin, a darkly funny and sometimes disturbing showcase for actor Macon Blair. Blair plays Dwight, a homeless man who we first see living a meager life in Delaware. He takes baths in other people’s houses, gets his meals from trash bags, and lives in his car. In its opening moments, Blue Ruin seems as if it will just be an interesting case study of a dude trying to survive on soda bottles and discarded hamburgers. Then, about five minutes into the movie, a policewoman knocks on Dwight’s car window. No, Dwight isn’t getting hauled in for vagrancy. The cop is informing him that the man who allegedly killed his parents is being released early from prison. This sets into motion a revenge story like no other, in which a hairy homeless guy…
06 May 2014
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Enemy features an awesome performance from a great actor playing somebody who might be a little sick in the head. Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a college-history professor who reeks of insecurity and has a guilty vibe about him. He has a beautiful girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) with whom he seems to be having a few sexual problems. He’s having bad dreams in which the arachnids show up, and he seems depressed most of his waking hours. When Adam watches a movie in an effort to cheer up, he spies what appears to be himself playing a bellboy. Weird. A little research reveals that the bellboy is Anthony (also played by Gyllenhaal), a bit-part actor who is Adam’s doppelganger. Anthony is married to Helen (Sarah Gadon), and while full details aren’t given, it seems as if Anthony has been unfaithful in the past. Unlike the confused and sad Adam, Anthony is very regimental…
04 May 2014
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James McAvoy delivers his best performance yet in this morally vacant take on the sick novel by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting). McAvoy stars as Bruce Robertson, a Scottish cop strung out on drugs who is hearing voices in his head, hallucinating and behaving very badly. At the center of the film is a murder mystery that provides a final twist which cements the movie’s nutball pedigree. McAvoy essentially gets to do his own riff on the Bad Lieutenant (a role that served both Nicolas Cage and Harvey Keitel well); he is able to go completely gonzo. What makes his turn different is that the movie allows him to have some truly genuine, emotional moments mixed in with the mayhem. This results in a surprisingly balanced, well-modulated performance despite the subject matter. The supporting cast includes Jamie Bell as a fellow cop with a small member, and Eddie Marsan as Bladesey, a…
03 May 2014
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Tom Berninger joins his brother, Matt Berninger (lead singer of The National), on tour as a roadie and records the proceedings for this offbeat and genuinely charming movie. Tom fails as a roadie—and he nearly fails as a filmmaker—but he perseveres to make a documentary that pays more attention to Tom and his struggles than the actual music. Fans of The National might walk away a little perturbed that the film contains minimal concert footage, but, hey, you have albums and concerts to fill that gap. What this movie ends up being is an endearing account of two very different brothers coming together in a strange circumstance and making everything work for the better in the end. Mistaken for Strangers shows that Matt’s faith in his little weird brother, who drew far better pictures than him when they were kids, has paid off. The little pest knows his way behind…
29 Apr 2014
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After nearly a decade away from movie screens, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), the world’s greatest newscaster, has returned. This time, it’s the 1980s, and a new media craze called “24-hour news” has Ron and the boys (Paul Rudd’s Brian Fantana, Steve Carell’s Brick Tamland and David Koechner’s Champ Kind) working the late-night shift in New York. The plot is just a place-setter for weird, random humor involving bats, sharks, shadows, scorpions in RVs and hair. Ferrell and crew manage to sell the dumbest of things, and they make so much of it funny. Even the stuff that’s simply strange has its own humorous appeal. Carell goes super-dopey with Brick as he finds a love interest (Kristen Wiig); Champ still loves Ron in a dangerous way; and Brian has a new condom cabinet. I laughed my face off; this is a sequel that continues the comedic legacy of the brilliant original,…
14 Apr 2014
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Nicolas Cage dons a decent hairpiece as the title character in Joe, the latest drama from director David Gordon Green. Cage’s Joe is a strange sort, showing a maximum amount of restraint and responsibility while on the job with his tree-killing company. He is not only an in-control boss; he’s a friendly, seemingly stable man. Off the job, it’s a different story. He drinks heavily, frequents whorehouses, taunts the police and does overnighters in jail. In one of the film’s more-amusing sequences, he gets fed up with a hooker’s dog, and decides to allow her dog to meet his dog. Cage’s acting in this very scene is his best since going nuts in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans. Joe winds up hiring Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenage boy, and his troublesome father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Gary is a good worker, and he and Joe strike up a friendship.…
12 Apr 2014
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Talk about your blown cinematic opportunities. Man, this should’ve been fun: Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, riffing on their iconic boxing characters Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, have one last boxing match. It sounds to me like the setup for something great, nostalgic and even funny. Instead, director Peter Segal managed to make this undertaking a morose, unfunny slog. Stallone plays an unhappy character, while De Niro plays a total jackass. Their characters wind up in a scenario that gets their almost 70-year-old bodies into the ring for a rematch 30 years after their last fight. Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart are wasted in supporting roles. The fight itself is OK, with both men looking fit for their age. However, everything leading up to that fight is oddly paced, and sometimes painful to watch, especially when Kim Basinger is on screen as a confused love interest. Stallone and De…
11 Apr 2014
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Tracy Letts’ play came to the big screen with a big cast featuring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and others. After a family tragedy, a group of sisters and their husbands/boyfriends return home to Texas and their dying mother (the Oscar-nominated Streep). Mom was mean when they were growing up, and she remains mean in her dying days, much to the annoyance of daughter Barbara (Roberts, also Oscar-nominated); she is doing her best not to follow in mom’s footsteps. The cast is strong, with most of them turning in great work, including Juliette Lewis, who does her first truly good acting in a long while. The lone exception would be Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the slow sibling. He’s just all wrong for the part. Sam Shepard makes a brief but memorable appearance as the family patriarch. While his screen time is short, his character plays a large…
08 Apr 2014
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I’ve had it up to here with found-footage horror films, but directors/writers/stars Derek Lee and Clif Prowse are on to something with Afflicted, a double-edged nail-biter that energizes both the found-footage genre and another horror genre I won’t give away. Lee and Prowse, playing versions of themselves, are psyched to be taking a worldwide trip together; they plan on documenting it on film. Derek has been diagnosed with some sort of brain problem, but the two soldier on anyway. At one point, they’re determined to get Derek hooked up with a woman in a strange European club. He strikes gold, it seems, and brings a pretty woman home for a night of troublemaking. However, Clif later busts into Derek’s room to discover him beaten and bloody—with no woman in sight. The two shrug off the incident, but Derek develops some strange, viral symptoms in the coming days that not only…
06 Apr 2014
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This was my pick for the best picture of 2013, and Leonardo DiCaprio should’ve won an Oscar for playing likable scumbag Jordan Belfort. In fact, DiCaprio should have at least three Oscars on his mantle by now, but, alas, he has none. Martin Scorsese’s latest explodes like a mortar full of deranged bliss. DiCaprio plays slimeball stockbroker and convicted felon Belfort, a real-life jackass who made millions selling penny stocks at a Long Island, N.Y., brokerage. The movie, based on Belfort’s own autobiography, takes people doing bad, bad things to such an extreme level that the film doesn’t just stand as one of the best of 2013; it’s one of the best and most deranged comedies ever. As Ray Liotta did in Goodfellas, DiCaprio talks to the camera on occasion, often during highly elaborate tracking shots that have become a Scorsese mainstay. It’s in these moments, and during Belfort’s drug…