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DVDs/Home Viewing

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.
10 Jan 2014
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A brother and sister go up a rocky hill to explore a cave while their parents do some nasty things in the car. The kids go missing, and the parents panic—until their children reappear. But … these aren’t the children that went up the hill, are they? Oooooooh! Writer-director Adrián Garcia Bogliano delivers some decent creeps with this stylish mixture of sexual terror and devil-speak. The kids are genuinely spooky, while the parents (Francisco Barreiro and Laura Caro) do a great job of acting completely confused and messed up. Bogliano draws some interesting parallels between strange sexual proclivities and indiscretions with Satan. Is Satan really messing with these folks, or are we seeing crazy people behaving badly? Either way, it’s a genuinely scary time, and Bogliano is a horror force to be reckoned with. Here Comes the Devil is now available at online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com
07 Jan 2014
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in Don Jon, a frank comedy about a sex addict who thinks porn is better than true romance. Levitt is excellent and consistently funny as the title character, a Jersey boy who is quite the stud—yet he finds himself jerking off to Internet porn within mere minutes of having sex with a live woman. His problem comes to the forefront when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the first real love of his life—a woman with high standards who doesn’t approve of the porn thing. Gordon-Levitt has given us something akin to a funnier Saturday Night Fever, with porn replacing disco. Yes, the movie is full of porn clips, so don’t see it with kids or a first date, unless you and that first date have some sort of naughty understanding. Julianne Moore is her usual excellent self in a supporting role, and the shock…
06 Jan 2014
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For a good part of its running time, Prisoners seems as if it could be one of 2013’s best pictures. It has a good premise and a shocking middle. Alas, the film falls apart a bit at the end, with a finale as stupid as the rest of the film is gripping. Hugh Jackman delivers a fierce performance as Keller Dover, a survivalist who goes into vigilante mode after his daughter and her friend are kidnapped. When a semi-irritable detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) apprehends a mentally challenged suspect (Paul Dano), Dover and the detective go head-to-head on how to deal with him. When the suspect is set free, Dover captures and tortures him. These parts of the film are solid, showing the lengths a parent could go to in order to find a missing child. As for the film’s mystery element: That’s where things fall apart. It strains so hard to…
23 Dec 2013
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Rest in peace, Paul Walker. I didn’t like a lot of your movies, but you were pretty damned good in many of them, including these silly fast-car movies. I really liked you in Eight Below, Pleasantville and especially Joy Ride. The first film in the Fast and Furious franchise was a blast, but it now feels like a million years ago. This franchise could’ve ended with that first film, and that would’ve been fine by me. Vin Diesel mumbles his way through another installment—although I must admit that Fast and Furious 6 features some fine driving stunts. The plot involves nonsense about Vin and his crew (including Walker) going after some bad-guy driver who is threatening the world. He also has Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) working for him, even though she was blown up in a previous movie. Actually, I’m OK that she inexplicably survived: Rodriguez is one of the franchise’s…
27 Dec 2013
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What happens in Sightseers caught me completely off-guard. This is a dark, twisted road comedy that boasts Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) as one of its executive producers. Steve Oram and Alice Lowe star as Chris and Tina, a couple going on their first holiday together. They pack up a trailer—much to the chagrin of Alice’s attention-starved mom—and head out on a tour of England. What follows, I will not divulge; I will just say the movie offers a cool surprise. Oram and Lowe are excellent in this movie, giving us the two best RV-traveling characters since Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty in Lost in America. There’s a great mix of darkness and funny here, and it’s refreshing to see something this unpredictable. It’s a deranged delight—well worth your time. Director Ben Wheatley is a bit of a nut. He also delivered a segment of the…
20 Dec 2013
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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in The World’s End as members of an old gang of friends getting back together to finish a hometown pub crawl they failed to complete 20 years earlier. Pegg plays King, the group’s leader, a slightly disturbed man-child; Frost plays Andy, the group pessimist who is still recovering from a partying incident years before. They start drinking pints—only to discover that robots have overrun their old town. So in addition to completing the crawl, they must save the world. This is the third film from Pegg and director Edgar Wright after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and it is a worthy conclusion to their “Cornetto” trilogy (named for a brand of ice cream that appears in all three films). It delivers a lot of laughs, great action and even a significant emotional punch. It’s the second great apocalypse comedy of 2013; This…