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DVDs/Home Viewing

14 Feb 2013
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Peter Pan, newly out on Blu-ray, is not one of the truly great Disney animated films, but it's still a good watch—even if Peter Pan is kind of a jerk. Walt Disney had been trying to make an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s story of a boy who never grows old for years, but World War II got in the way. It finally hit screens in 1953, and while it wasn’t as visually charming as past Disney efforts, it still had some artistic heft, and was the last feature that Disney’s “Nine Old Men” animators worked on together as a whole. I remember the story line confused me a bit when I was a kid, because Wendy and her brothers always talked of having seen Peter Pan before the events in this movie. That used to baffle me. And I always hated how they left Nana the dog floating like a…
11 Feb 2013
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Without a doubt, Seven Psychopaths is one of the best releases of 2012, and it further establishes writer-director Martin McDonagh as a creative force to be reckoned with. McDonagh assembled a stellar cast, including Colin Farrell (who also starred in McDonagh’s brilliant In Bruges), Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson. Farrell plays Marty (a character McDonagh undoubtedly modeled upon himself), a screenwriter struggling through his latest project. His movie within the movie involves seven psychopaths, and the characters might—just might—be based upon people he actually knows. McDonagh writes some of the funniest and most shocking dialogue out there, and he gets masterful performances from everybody involved, especially Walken and Rockwell. Walken is allowed to be as strange and eccentric as ever, while Rockwell gets his best role in years, allowing him to show off that funny, nasty charm that makes him unique. A subplot involves Rockwell and Walken kidnapping…
07 Feb 2013
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I had no idea who Sixto Rodriguez was before I popped this documentary into my player. He was a Detroit musician who released a couple of albums in the early '70s and then disappeared. Some said he committed suicide onstage by setting himself on fire, or by shooting himself in the head. (Spoiler alert: Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know the big secrets in Searching for Sugar Man.) As it turns out, Rodriguez didn’t kill himself. He just left the music biz and led a normal, secluded life. I’ve listened to his albums, and he is very good. The other big surprise: Rodriguez was, and is still, a major sensation in South Africa—and he had no idea he had achieved fame elsewhere in the world. After his albums bombed stateside, he went back to being a construction worker. The makers of the movie seek him out,…
29 Jan 2013
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Part two of The Dark Knight Returns, the adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, has lots of Joker and Superman. For fans of the novel, this makes for a fine interpretation of Miller’s work, even if it isn’t the live-action adaptation many fans (myself included) wanted. Because the film, being released on DVD and Blu-Ray today (Jan. 29), is rated PG-13, it isn’t nearly as dark and nasty as the novel. But the David Endocrine massacre does happen (sadly, Endocrine doesn’t sound or look like David Letterman, as he did in the novel), and Superman’s battle with a nuclear missile is very well-done. The two animated movies serving Miller’s classic opus are faithful, but not total copies. The Joker’s end is brutally depicted in this one, and it’s the moment that best captures that Miller vibe. Special Features: Some behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a look at the upcoming Superman: Unbound, …
05 Feb 2013
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Paul Williams was one of the entertainment heroes of my youth (along with Ernest Borgnine). The little singer-songwriter was everywhere: awards shows, The Love Boat, The Muppet Movie, Bugsy Malone, etc. And then, one day, the dude mostly disappeared. I’d see him get a songwriting credit here and there, but for the most part, he seemed to have gone away. It makes sense that director Stephen Kessler, also a Williams fan, would think he was dead. Upon finding out that Paul Williams was still alive, he set out to meet him, and eventually made this highly enjoyable film, Paul Williams Still Alive. (It's being released on DVD today, Feb. 5.) It turns out Paul was fighting some chemical-dependency demons. Also, with the death of variety shows and weekly television shows relying on guest stars (The Love Boat, Fantasy Island), there just weren’t many places for Williams to show his face…
22 Jan 2013
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This riveting cop thriller, released on DVD and Blu-Ray today (Tuesday, Jan. 22), features strong work from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as Los Angeles cops who get themselves in a lot of trouble with a drug cartel. End of Watch was written and directed by David Ayer, who is no stranger to cop dramas. He wrote Training Day and directed Street Kings, another film about the LAPD. He also directed Christian Bale—quite well, I might add—in Harsh Times. End of Watch proves to be his greatest achievement to date. I was a little worried this was going to be a found-footage film (a genre I have come to hate) when Gyllenhaal’s character started filming stuff for a project. A little bit of his footage works its way into the film, but this is mostly a straightforward narrative without that particular gimmick. The supporting cast includes Anna Kendrick as Janet,…
17 Jan 2013
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Tim Burton directs Frankenweenie, an enjoyable black-and-white stop-motion-animation film about a family dog being resurrected ... FRANKENSTEIN STYLE. (It’s based on a short film Burton did 28 years ago.) While the story isn’t especially electric, the art direction is superb, and there are enough good laughs to make it worthwhile. Also worth noting: Winona Ryder voices a young-girl character who looks suspiciously like Lydia, her character in Burton’s Beetlejuice. Other voices include Burton alumni such as Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau, once again utilizing his Bela Lugosi voice from Ed Wood. A finale sequence involving a giant, Gamera-like turtle and rabid sea monkeys gives the film a nice retro-horror feel. The year 2012 was fun for stop-motion animation, with this film and ParaNorman. I would have to give a slight edge to ParaNorman, because that one felt so fresh and new. This one has Burton up to his old tricks.…
07 Jan 2013
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With Zero Dark Thirty (to be reviewed later this week) opening locally on Jan. 11, the controversial SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden—which aired on the National Geographic channel during the elections—comes to home video. This film takes more of an action-movie approach, utilizing fictional interviews with Team 6 members and CIA operatives to tell its story. For a TV movie, it isn’t half bad. Compared to Zero Dark Thirty, it doesn’t stack up dramatically or technically—but it did manage to keep me engaged. I watched both films on the same day, and I can tell you that the major difference that occurs during the Osama raid is that one film has Osama armed, while the other just has him running around in a robe. A “gung-ho” feeling pervades this film. As for the political controversy, it does have real shots of Obama and his cabinet watching…
01 Jan 2013
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If you missed this one in theaters, you missed one of the year’s best big-screen experiences. Director Rian Johnson’s time-travel thriller is startlingly good-looking film. It’s also a great brain-twister, featuring a bravura performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a hired assassin killing people sent back from the future the instant they pop up in front of him. Things get a little kooky when the person sent back to be offed is actually an older version of himself (a strong Bruce Willis). Gordon-Levitt wears makeup to achieve a look more akin to Willis, but it’s the smirk and airy voice that really nail it down. Gordon-Levitt had a blockbuster year with this and The Dark Knight Rises, with this being the best screen work he has done to date. A supporting cast including Paul Dano, Noah Segan and Jeff Daniels is top-notch. Dano is especially good as a fellow assassin…
23 Dec 2012
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Jeremy Renner replaces Matt Damon at the center of the Bourne franchise, and the studio should've just left well enough alone.The events of The Bourne Legacy take place at the same time as Damon's last Bourne outing, The Bourne Ultimatum. We know this because Matt Damon's character is mentioned on occasion, and his image shows up during TV news telecasts. It's just a reminder of how much more fun the franchise was with Damon starring. Renner plays Aaron Cross, who, like Damon's Bourne, is part of a superagent experiment. He's a superstrong, supersmart agent thanks to some magic drugs and outlandish writing. Renner is a decent enough actor, but he's no Matt Damon. Consequently, Aaron Cross is no Jason Bourne. Edward Norton is new to the series as a suspicious retired colonel, and Rachel Weisz is cast as well. Both barely register. Yes, the Bourne movies made a lot of…
12 Dec 2012
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It's the holidays, a time for giving people movies, because you love movies, and you want them to love movies, too. You are bullish and pushy by nature, and this needs to stop. This guide assembles some of the best releases from the past year. Let it assist you in the art of handing over a film to a friend to cherish and enjoy, rather than having him use it as a coaster or squirrel-decapitator. And if you have a friend who would indeed ferociously fling a Blu-ray at a squirrel with the intent of taking the poor thing's head off ... perhaps you should reconsider this friendship. The prices listed are for Blu-ray, unless otherwise noted. These were <Amazon.com prices at press time, and they change frequently. There are bargains all over right now, so shop carefully. SPIELBERG!!! Oh ... the Spielberg fans had a good Blu-ray year. Oh,…
23 Nov 2012
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I consider The Amazing Spider-Man to be one of the year's bigger disappointments—not only because we got this instead of a fourth film directed by Sam Raimi (he quit when the producers tried to force a villain for the pic on him, as they did with Venom in Spider-Man 3), but also because I dislike the goofiness director Marc Webb brought to the universe. He apparently thinks everything needs to be explained. He must show us Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) making mechanical web devices to show how smart Peter is, for example. Well, I don't need all of the physics of Spider-Man explained. And I certainly don't need another Spidey origin story so soon after Raimi's version. It's also a little weird to watch a man in his late 20s playing a high school student. What is this, Grease? The villain this time out, the Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans,…