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DVDs/Home Viewing

17 Dec 2013
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I’m not a hater of X-Men Origins: Wolverine; I thought it was stupid fun. I am in the minority, though, so along came The Wolverine, a new attempt to take Hugh Jackman’s Logan into a freestanding franchise. Directed by James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma), The Wolverine goes in a darker, more-serious direction, although the film still includes some fine action scenes. (The opening scene in Nagasaki and a fight above a bullet train are both incredible.) Jackman, who has a lot more veins popping than he did last time, again has a blast in the title role. The plot involves an old friend of Logan looking for the key to eternal life—a key which Wolverine actually has, making him a mutant of extra purpose and value. Most of the action takes place in Japan, and Wolverine loses his powers for a stretch, so we get the odd sight of him…
10 Dec 2013
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My personal list of truly great TV shows is a bit short: Twin Peaks, Mr. Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Happy Days (the first two seasons), Lost and this, Vince Gilligan’s epic masterpiece. The conclusion of Breaking Bad was astoundingly, astonishingly good. Bryan Cranston’s final moments as chemistry teacher turned meth master Walter White count as one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen (along with Agent Cooper’s bloody face laughing into a cracked mirror on Twin Peaks). You get every season in this set, including the newly released final season. It starts where the prior season left off, with Dean Norris’ Hank finally figuring out what his brother-in-law was doing in his spare time. From the moment he confronts Walter, to the musical strains of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” in the last episode, the final season is a wild, wild ride. You know a show is great when you…
04 Dec 2013
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In We’re the Millers, Jason Sudeikis plays a small-time drug-dealer who gets in over his head and is forced by his boss (Ed Helms) to smuggle drugs into the U.S. from Mexico. Realizing that border agents seem to go easy on families, he hires a fake family to make the trip in an RV. The family includes a wife (a stripper played by Jennifer Aniston), a daughter (a homeless girl played by Emma Roberts) and a son (a hapless neighbor played by Will Poulter). The film has a Chevy Chase “Vacation” movie vibe; Sudeikis is charming in a way in which Chase was for a brief time in his career. Aniston plays a mighty-good stripper; she has another calling in case the whole acting thing doesn’t work out. Roberts gets perhaps her best role yet as Casey; she delivers some great eye-rolling moments. As for Poulter, he steals scenes nearly…
06 Dec 2013
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Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite puts together a compelling argument against keeping killer whales in captivity in Blackfish. The No. 1 argument: the death of head Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, killed during a non-show exercise by Tilikum, one of the amusement park’s star-attraction killer whales. Trainers and friends of Brancheau recall, in chilling detail, how Brancheau died—and the extent of her injuries are a shocker. She didn’t simply slip into the tank and get dragged under by her hair, as Sea World first claimed: She suffered many, horrible injuries in the mouth of the whale. Tilikum has been involved in three human deaths while in captivity, including one at another, smaller park. It’s sad to hear the stories about this majestic, sometimes-placid creature basically losing his mind in captivity. There’s also stunning footage of a 2006 incident in which a whale seemed determined to drown its trainer, taking him…
03 Dec 2013
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What a mess. Casey Wilson (Saturday Night Live) and June Diane Raphael (Burning Love) star in Ass Backwards as two best friends living in New York City. Their lives have hit dead ends, but things brighten up when they get an invitation to compete in a beauty pageant—a beauty pageant they once took part in as kids. So they set out across the country to be in the pageant and show up the now-famous former winner (Alicia Silverstone). The two main characters are extremely unlikable; much of the blame can go to Wilson and Raphael—because they also wrote the screenplay. They try to wring laughter out of scenarios involving the road trip and the beauty pageant; these scenarios have been done a million times before. Director Chris Nelson strains to make something of this mess, but he winds up with a poor man’s Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. It’s…
01 Dec 2013
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Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon make for a decent pairing in Sunlight Jr., about down-on-their-luck people simply trying to survive. They are quite convincing as a couple living below the poverty level, and trying hard to make ends meet. Watts is Melissa, a convenience-store worker who lives with Richie (Dillon), a strong-spirited, heavy-drinking man paralyzed from the waist down. When Melissa gets pregnant, things start happening that test their abilities to stay together and start a family. A sinister and appropriately annoying Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) co-stars as Melissa’s ex, a true dog of a man who tries to get in Richie’s way. Tess Harper is on hand as Melissa’s mother, a good woman who, like Richie, can’t help but drink lots of alcohol. Watts and Dillon are great—even when the movie feels a bit routine and stereotypical. They are performers capable of rising above a script. Writer-director Laurie…
30 Nov 2013
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Writer-director Maggie Carey has put together a shockingly naughty sex comedy set in the early ’90s and featuring female protagonists. In The To Do List, Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Safety Not Guaranteed) continues her cinematic wonder streak as Brandy, a class valedictorian and super-virgin. After some discussions with her best buds (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele), she decides she needs to make a sex “to-do” list to ready her for the rigors of college life. This results in a lot of awkward sex acts among high school grads, with some of them performed by best bud and secret admirer, Cameron (Johnny Simmons). Brandy gets a summer job as a lifeguard, where she pines for Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) and works for a deadbeat boss (the hilarious Bill Hader; he’s Carey’s real-life husband). Plaza proves that she is game for anything, including a fantastically crude play on the Caddyshack “doodie”…
22 Nov 2013
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There was no movie that I was anticipating more this year than this cinematic rebirth of Superman. I was so excited that I buried in my mind the fact that director Zack Snyder’s most-recent effort, Sucker Punch, was a pungent mess. Man of Steel could do no wrong. Right? Wrong. Snyder went and turned Supes (Henry Cavill) into a whiner with mommy issues. The director was going for something akin to Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, rather than the Richard Donner flicks that inspired Bryan Singer’s unjustly maligned Superman Returns. General Zod, as played by Michael Shannon, is close to perfect. Conversely, Amy Adams is a total miss as Lois Lane, and Laurence Fishburne is awful as her boss, Perry White. Passing grades go to Kevin Costner as Superman’s earthly dad, and Russell Crowe as the Kryptonian papa. Diane Lane is also good as his Earth mommy. This movie is absent…
19 Nov 2013
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The great Ken Marino (The State) stars in Bad Milo! as Duncan, a mild mannered accountant who finds out the stomach issues he’s been having aren’t related to stress. Instead, an alien-like creature that is the manifestation of all his bad thoughts is living up his ass. When those bad thoughts become overwhelming, the alien creature shoots out and starts killing people. Yes, I am telling you the truth: This movie is about some sort of dreaded ass monster that looks like a demented E.T. and sounds like Gizmo from Gremlins. The film is much better than anything with this subject matter deserves to be, thanks to a fully (and I do mean fully) committed performance from Marino, who manages to make a movie about an alien escaping from his anus both funny and, at times, oddly moving. The film has its share of gore, with one sequence involving the…
21 Nov 2013
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Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff play solemn brothers, quite convincingly, in The Motel Life, a solid adaptation of the critically praised novel by Willy Vlautin. Fans of the novel will notice some distinct changes, but the book’s themes of brotherly companionship and bad luck in life remain strongly intact. Frank Lee (Hirsch) is sleeping off his latest hangover in a seedy Reno hotel room when his half-naked brother, Jerry (Dorff), enters the room shivering and bawling: On a cold winter’s night, Jerry has accidentally run over and killed a boy, and he’s begging to get out of town. Frank hears the story, vomits and then agrees to take a drive. A string of bad decisions and actions follow, and a lesser film might’ve been too dark and depressing to take. Thankfully, directing brothers Alan and Gabe Polsky combine beautifully shot images with stellar performances to keep things rolling in a…
06 Nov 2013
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If you’re familiar with the Los Angeles music scene of the ‘80s, or you’ve ever watched an episode of Celebrity Rehab on VH1, you know who Bob Forrest is. The Thelonious Monster frontman is the subject of Bob and the Monster, a documentary just released on home video which details Forrest’s years as a drug-user, his recovery, and his transition to becoming a drug counselor. The documentary features interviews with an A-list of musicians including Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, Angelo Moore of Fishbone, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, and the members of Thelonious Monster, as well as a chat with Forrest’s Celebrity Rehab partner, Dr. Drew Pinsky. They all help tell the story of someone who has been to hell and back. The documentary starts off by examining Forrest’s childhood in Palm…
09 Nov 2013
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Birth of the Living Dead isn’t a typical horror documentary: It has George A. Romero as its subject, with his enthusiastic participation, and it examines the significance of his landmark zombie film, Night of the Living Dead. The movie focuses on the tumultuous period in which the film was made, its almost-accidental emergence as a civil rights film, the business people in Pittsburgh who put the movie together—and more. Romero offers so many new revelations about the movie that you’ll want to go back and watch Dead again for the hundredth time. Many of the actors in the movie, including the doomed brother at the film’s beginning, were also major parts of the film crew. I never knew the bug-eating zombie at film’s end was played by the same actress who also played the mother killed by her zombie daughter. After the credits, there’s a wonderful little 2007 interview with…