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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

DVDs/Home Viewing

11 Feb 2014
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Quentin Tarantino called Big Bad Wolves the best film of 2013. While I wouldn’t go that far, I will declare it last year’s best horror film—and a tremendous filmmaking feat from directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. They figured out how to wring laughter out of a movie that features child abductions and murders, extreme torture and police beatings. When a girl goes missing and is eventually murdered, a cop turned vigilante, Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), and the girl’s father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), wind up taking matters into their own hands with a suspect, Dror (Rotem Keinan). The three partake in a grueling session of psychological and physical torture aimed at revealing the murderer of Gidi’s daughter and other children. Dror, Gidi and Micki all become good, classic suspects in the child murders. Dror, a nebbish type with a young daughter of his own, seems too innocuous to be innocent. Gidi,…
07 Feb 2014
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At long last, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up for a movie together in which they both play big parts. Yes, they have been in The Expendables films together, but Arnie has only done guest spots. Escape Plan has Sly playing a security expert who escapes from prisons for a living. Things go bad when he gets buried in a maximum-security prison—and the folks who put him there plan to keep him locked up. Arnie plays a prisoner who befriends Sly on the inside, and they together look for a way to get out of a seemingly inescapable place. Stallone is good here, and I haven’t enjoyed Arnie this much since well before he became governor. Arnold has one scene in which he raves to the warden about God in German. It turns out the warden is played by Jim Caviezel, who did, in fact, play Jesus for Mel…
04 Feb 2014
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In All Is Lost, a movie that features almost no dialogue, Robert Redford delivers some of his best work ever as a man trying to survive a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean. While sleeping in his yacht, Redford’s character (simply called “Our Man” in the credits) is abruptly awakened by a floating cargo bin crashing into his boat’s side. What follows is more than 100 minutes of Redford’s character solving problems and fighting to stay alive. Much credit goes to the legendary actor, as well as relative newbie writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), for making this compelling from start to finish. You’ll be surprised by how gripping the sight of a man simply trying to repair his boat can be. Redford looks like he put himself through the ringer, and the results are well worth it. His character gets no real back-story; other than one loud expletive, a couple of…
01 Feb 2014
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There was a time when Woody Allen was consistently making the best movies in the business. Blue Jasmine is that return to form that some of us former Allen fans have been seeking, thanks in large part to a phenomenal central performance by the Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett. Blanchett plays Jasmine, the wife of a Bernie Madoff-type financier (Alec Baldwin) who must relocate from New York to San Francisco after she is bankrupted and emotionally destroyed. She gulps martinis, criticizes her helpful sister (Sally Hawkins, also an Oscar nominee) and, quite frighteningly, is prone to bouts of talking to herself. Allen finds the dark humor in the story, and employs a supporting cast that includes comedians Louis C.K. and, most astonishingly, Andrew Dice Clay—who, doggone it, delivers an amazing performance as Ginger’s financially destroyed ex-husband, Augie. Above and beyond the humor, though, Allen makes his film a parable about how some…
31 Jan 2014
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Brie Larson and Short Term 12 got some Oscar buzz (but were ultimately denied a nomination) for her role as Grace, a supervisor at a foster-care building full of angry and depressed teens. Larson is quite good, as is co-star John Gallagher Jr. as Mason, her boyfriend and fellow supervisor. The film plays like a sort of juvenile One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, except that Grace is a helluva lot nicer than Nurse Ratched, and none of the teens really have the exuberance of Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy. In fact, Grace is compassionate to an extreme, which leads to some conflicts of interest when dealing with one particular girl (Kaitlyn Dever). The girl has similar problems to those suffered by Grace during her youth, so Grace gets a little too proactive—and jeopardizes her standing at the foster home. Some of the kids are interesting, especially Keith Stanfield as Marcus, a…
21 Jan 2014
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I can honestly say I’ve never seen a movie like Old Goats before. Three elderly men (Bob Burkholder, Britton Crosley and David Vander Wal) play versions of themselves in Taylor Guterson’s honest and funny look at getting older. The film was released today, Tuesday, Jan. 21, on DVD. Britt lives on his little boat and embarks on Internet dating. Bob is writing a book of his memoirs, called Skirting the Edge (a book Burkholder actually wrote), while leading the local Oatmeal Club and juggling girlfriends. David is a rich man gently forced into retirement by his former company. The three cope with aging by being generally cranky and funny. Guterson captures some genuinely funny and heartwarming moments. I thought the movie was a documentary when it started, but I slowly began to realize it was mostly fiction. I doubt these three guys will become movie stars—but they certainly are movie…
18 Jan 2014
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Director Lee Daniels—prominently mentioned in The Butler’s title (officially Lee Daniels’ The Butler) after a much publicized lawsuit—delivers a fine emotional wallop with this historical epic loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a butler at the White House for 34 years. The character based on Allen is renamed Cecil (played by Forest Whitaker), and the character is given a fictional older son in order to depict a family conflict regarding the Civil Rights Movement. In other words: This film, which shows the butler interacting with presidents from Eisenhower (Robin Williams) through Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), is mostly made up. That doesn’t hurt the film’s dramatic significance; it’s an ultimately moving experience. What does hurt the film a bit is the horrible makeup, especially a goofy fake nose for John Cusack as Richard Nixon. The makeup is so bad that the film turns into unintentional comedy when some characters…
17 Jan 2014
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The big critical support that You’re Next—to me, a routine horror flick—received last year was a real head-scratcher. This one is a little bit better than The Purge, 2013’s other big home-invasion horror film … but only a little. A rich family goes out to their vacation home in the countryside and gathers for a feast—only to have unseen visitors start picking them off with a crossbow. Those unseen visitors eventually show themselves as dudes wearing various white animal masks; they are a little on the creepy side. The standard, worn-out territory is sporadically tolerable thanks to director Adam Wingard’s ability to turn in the occasional unique scare. However, a seasoned mystery/horror watcher will see the big twists coming a mile away. Sharni Vinson is pretty kick-ass as the girlfriend with a surprising ability to survive; the movie is a showcase for her talents. As 2013 horror films go, this…
14 Jan 2014
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Miles Teller delivers his breakout performance in The Spectacular Now as Sutter, a partying high school senior who everybody loves, but nobody takes seriously—until well-balanced Aimee (Shailene Woodley) comes along. They start a complicated relationship that is ill-advised at both ends—although sometimes, that can be the best way to start a relationship. Teller is a marvel here, turning Sutter into something far from your average high school screw-up. Woodley, so good in The Descendants, is proving to be one of cinema’s great young actresses. The film is one of the more unique and intelligent takes on growing up that you are likely to see. This is directed by James Ponsoldt, who about a year ago piloted Smashed, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears here as Sutter’s sister. Ponsoldt is officially a force to be reckoned with, having made two of the best films of the last two years. Others in…
12 Jan 2014
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Writer-director Quentin Dupieux makes some very weird movies. His film Rubber, about a killer tire that makes people explode, is as absurd as moviemaking gets. And now comes Wrong Cops, about some sloppy and unorthodox cops—and it is damn strange in its own right. Mark Burnham plays Duke, a dirty cop who sells weed stuffed into dead rats. He picks up street children (one played by an unrecognizable Marilyn Manson) and makes them very uncomfortable. He shoots people and sticks their dying bodies in the trunk while they beg for music. (Yes: They beg for music to give them something to focus on during their last, dying breaths.) The film has no real plot; it’s just a setup for strange behavior. I found myself laughing a lot, especially when Eric Wareheim’s perverted cop was onscreen. Wareheim, from Tim and Eric Awesome Show: Great Job!, is no stranger to the bizarre;…
12 Jan 2014
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It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to Bikini Kill or Le Tigre. This documentary from Sini Anderson takes a look at the career of Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of both those bands (and the currently formed The Julie Ruin) and her gloriously feminist roots. There’s a lot I didn’t know about Hanna. She’s married to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys (who features prominently in the film); she had to go on a performing hiatus in 2008 due to a Lyme-disease diagnosis; and she’s far more charming and introspective than her Bikini Kill vocals imply. Through interviews with Hanna, Horovitz, Joan Jett and various band associates, Anderson gives Hanna the sort of spotlight she truly deserves. I love movies like this—films that reintroduce you to great personalities and great music. After watching this (or perhaps before), check out Hanna’s latest album with The Julie Ruin called Run Fast.…
11 Jan 2014
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Relative unknown Anna Margaret Hollyman shines in this offbeat and somewhat uneven dark comedy as Suzanne, a real estate agent who is falling upon truly hard times. After learning that her weatherman husband (Nathan Williams) will be moving her to Hawaii, she goes to buy a Christmas tree and have some cocoa, in an effort to enjoy her last Christmas in Virginia. She then returns home to a tragedy that will turn her life upside down and send her on an Internet shopping spree. Writer-director Zach Clark dances with the sort of grotesquely dark comedy that laces the films of Todd Solondz (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse)—but not with the same, consistent success. Still, Hollyman is great, and Joe Swanberg is quite good as a home-purchaser with big plans for a new sex swing. White Reindeer is now available at online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.