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DVDs/Home Viewing

18 Jun 2013
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Regular readers know that I am not a fan of the “found footage” movie, especially “found footage” horror films. I HATE it when somebody is being chased by a monster or an evil cat or whatnot, and they manage to keep the film rolling. That’s crap! They would either drop that camera or use it as a weapon. So I sat down to watch this one with a certain amount of dread—and not the sort of dread one is supposed to feel before a horror-film viewing. This is another found-footage thing, with two people playing creepy VHS tapes in a strange house. Lo and behold, we actually have a found-footage movie that works for a change. It’s more of an anthology, with four segments nicely handled by four sets of directors. Eduardo Sanchez, co-director of The Blair Witch Project (and, therefore, one of the people most responsible for the found-footage…
11 Jun 2013
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The first half of Side Effects, director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song, is excellent. Unfortunately, the second half is merely passable. Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug—with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk its running time. Then, it suddenly becomes mediocre, as the mysteries start getting solved. Good things happen before it unravels, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Unfortunately, there’s a subplot with Zeta-Jones that stops the movie in its tracks whenever it’s playing out. Soderbergh says this is it for him and feature films. (His excellent made-for-TV Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, is currently running on HBO, and he’s calling that his last film of any kind, period.) Hopefully,…
10 Jun 2013
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If you have never watched Breaking Bad, it is time to get cracking. It is unquestionably one of the greatest television shows ever produced, thanks in large part to stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul—and all previous seasons are now available for you to watch before the show’s final eight episodes air later this year. If you’ve never seen it, here’s a quick rundown: Walter White (Cranston), a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, finds out he is dying of cancer, and he’s concerned about his family’s future. He’s really good with chemistry, and he comes up with a formula for meth that becomes extremely popular on the streets. What starts as a way to put some money in his bank account before death comes a-knocking turns into a tragic thirst for power. What happens as a result of his choices has provided five seasons of incredible storytelling. Season 5 picks up after…
04 Jun 2013
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Director Steven Soderbergh has said Behind the Candelabra, based on the memoirs of Liberace’s former lover Scott Thorson, would be his last film. If so, he’s going out on a great note. (I find it hard to believe that Soderbergh will never direct again but, hey, you never know.) Michael Douglas plays the legendary pianist and will certainly be in contention for an Emmy after this, one of his best performances. He captures that funny, overly happy, flamboyant personality that many of us who lived through the 1970s remember so well. He gives one of show business’ greatest caricatures a soul. As Thorson, one of Liberace’s last boyfriends, Matt Damon is as good, if not better, than Douglas. The two—with Soderbergh’s help, of course—make Liberace and Thorson one of the more compelling screen couples this year. I was surprised at how funny the film is. Rob Lowe is terrific as…
03 Jun 2013
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Netflix subscribers who find the entertainment selection a little weak at times currently have access to one of the year’s greatest television surprises: An new 15-episode season of Arrested Development is currently available on the streaming service, and it’s as if one of TV history’s funniest and oddest families never left. Each episode generally focuses on one character, like Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth, with the other family members playing supporting roles. The episodes’ chronologies overlap, but the character focus changes. This amounts to a lot of fun. If you are a fan, you will not be disappointed. Will Arnett’s Gob still performs magic to the refrain of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” David Cross’ Tobias is still a “never nude.” Portia de Rossi’s Lindsay is still shopping-obsessed, and so on. The new shows also feature great cameos, including Ron Howard providing more than his voice, and a blessed reunion of Henry…
29 May 2013
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Writer-director Shane Carruth, who made the low-budget mind-bender Primer, does some mind-bending yet again with Upstream Color, his second feature. He gets a fine performance out of Amy Seimetz as Kris, a young woman who is kidnapped; her kidnapper puts some sort of organism in her; she is more or less possessed; and pigs eventually become involved. This is not a movie for those who like to be spoon-fed their narratives. This is a movie in the great tradition of David Lynch: It keeps you guessing while making you feel very weird as you watch it. I can’t say I’ve solved its riddles, but I had a good time trying. It’s definitely a movie that warrants two, or three, or 787 viewings before you can start figuring it out, or at least fool yourself into believing that you’ve figured it out. I can tell you that some sort of alien…
28 May 2013
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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to movies as a headliner not only bombed domestically; The Last Stand was a massive international bomb. It didn’t make back its relatively meager $45 million budget during its theatrical run—a big fall for the man who used to be the world’s biggest movie star. In truth, this is not the greatest of surprises, because the movie is not very good. Arnie plays a sheriff in a border town who finds himself squaring off with a drug-cartel baddie and his cronies. Johnny Knoxville shows up as the kooky sidekick (again), and Luis Guzman shows up and does his normal thing. Arnie is in good form; it’s the film that seems stale. It feels like 12 movies you’ve seen before cobbled together as a warm-up for a guy who has been out of the game for a few years. It’s too bad; Arnie should’ve made his comeback vehicle…
22 May 2013
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Horror maestro Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) produced, co-wrote and stars in Aftershock, a silly film about an earthquake hitting Chile while people are partying in a nightclub. Roth’s involvement had me hoping for some good, sick fun, but this is a crappy, cheap-looking movie. Plus, I like it better when Roth is behind the camera, or playing a small role, because he looks like Sarah Silverman, and he weirds me out. He’s basically the star here, so I just spent the movie confused. There’s a lot of gore, but most of it is pretty run-of-the-mill. One of the cool things about the film is that nobody in the cast, including Roth, is safe. Lots of people die unexpectedly, and in very bad ways. One dude has a large rock land on him, then somebody mean sits on the rock to apply pressure and pain; then somebody else, even meaner,…
21 May 2013
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Three directors and a game cast tell interconnecting stories over centuries in Cloud Atlas, a mightily ambitious project from Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana of The Matrix films). The likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess don heavy makeup to play multiple roles as the movie tries to show how lives and people interconnect through time. The experiment pays off enough to qualify this as a mostly enjoyable time, although some stories are weaker than others. Berry has a good one as a reporter in the 1970s dealing with crooked energy suppliers, and Hanks has a nice time playing both virtuous and murderous types. As for the bad guys Hanks plays, let’s just say it’s a long way from Forrest Gump or the sweetie pie douchebag who met up with Meg What’s-Her-Face on top of the Empire State Building.…
14 May 2013
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Writer-director David Chase, the man responsible for The Sopranos, virtually disappeared after that infamous, sudden black screen six years ago. He returns with Not Fade Away, about a bunch of kids trying to form a rock band in the ’60s—and while it’s far from awful, it’s a bit of a dud. Much of the blame for the plodding pace of this movie goes to John Magaro, who fails to ignite the screen as Douglas, a mediocre drummer who loves the Rolling Stones and doesn’t get along with his grumpy dad (James Gandolfini … of course). Magaro’s performance is a lesson in droning, and isn’t helped by an awful, distracting wig. He also does his own singing, and he’s no Mick Jagger. I don’t think Chase was trying to show the joys of the times and how music enriched lives; I’m guessing he was shooting for something a little darker and…
13 May 2013
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I’m sure it sounded good in the pitch meeting: Put Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in a car; send them across country; let the sparks fly. Rogen is always good with stream-of-consciousness humor, and Babs plays a good pain in the ass. Problem is, director Anne Fletcher and team totally stifle Rogen in The Guilt Trip, basically making his Andrew Brewster a dull, unlikable character. As for Babs, she’s more annoying than funny this time out. Even so, the movie isn’t all bad. The two manage a few winning moments within the tired formula. Rogen plays a scientist who has created an all-natural cleaning product that he is pitching; Babs, of course, is his mom. After learning that he is named after his mother’s first love, Rogen’s character inexplicably cares about this, and takes his suffocating mom along for the ride, even though his entire future depends upon the trip's…
07 May 2013
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I have read some reviews stating that the CGI monster in Mama—out today (Tuesday, May 7) on home video—isn’t effective. I politely disagree; the ghost in this thing is scary as all heck. She truly is a memorable monster. The ghost in question is a strange, protective apparition who looks over a couple of young girls (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) after a tragedy in the woods. Jessica Chastain stars as the girlfriend of the girls’ uncle, who finds herself having to take on parenting when she would rather be playing lousy music in her stupid band. The movie isn’t great, but it does pack in a couple of good scares while maintaining a decent eerie quality for part of its running time. Having Chastain on hand elevates it beyond below-average horror. Guillermo del Toro produced this, with Andrés Muschietti directing. My biggest gripe: Why make this a PG-13 film?…