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DVDs/Home Viewing

15 Mar 2013
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Wreck-It Ralph left me a little cold. A lot of folks predicted it would win the big Oscar prize for animation, but I correctly predicted that Brave (a better movie) would be the victor. There’s a lot of potential in this arcade throwback about a giant video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who yearns for a better life as a “good guy,” and abandons his “bad guy” game post. There are some cool retro-game sight gags (but not nearly enough!) and some clever twists, but this one falls substantially short of greatness. I did enjoy Sarah Silverman giving voice to a little-girl character who wants to be a racecar driver, and Reilly voices his character with charm. I just the film a little tiresome as it wore on, and I grew tired of it in the repetitive second half. There were some major laughs in the group-therapy sessions (I…
12 Mar 2013
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Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated as best director for the movie that eventually went on to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. We all know this by now. However, surprisingly few people have made a big stink about Affleck’s failure to receive a nomination for best actor in Argo. He is the one who spends the most time, by far, onscreen, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that he should’ve been nominated for his performance? That performance was the driving force behind the best picture, right? I don’t think Argo should’ve been nominated in any of the major categories, including picture, director and actor. It’s a fine film, and Affleck continues to make very good movies, but this wasn’t the year’s best picture. Heck, it didn’t even make my personal Top 20. The movie has a nice retro feel, and features great work from Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston…
06 Mar 2013
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Twenty-six directors each get a death-related word corresponding to a letter in the alphabet, and they go to town—often in disgusting fashion, and the result is The ABCs of Death. Some of the shorts are truly classic, while others are bizarre beyond comprehension, and others are just bad. Standouts include “D” for “Dogfight,” in which some dog-fighting gamblers get their comeuppance. I also liked “F” for “Fart,” and I’m not even going to try to explain what happens in this segment. Many of the segments go way, way overboard with the violence and will surely turn off viewers of all kinds. Consider yourself warned that the movie goes beyond an R-rating (it is actually unrated) when it comes to the yucky stuff; for example, you will see a knife shooting out of a large penis. Some of the directors include Ti West (The Innkeepers) and Angela Bettis (star of the…
05 Mar 2013
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Marlon Brando took home the first of his two Oscars for playing washed-up palooka and longshoreman Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, his third pairing with director Elia Kazan after A Streetcar Named Desire and Viva Zapata! Funny eye makeup aside, it’s easy to see why Brando got the Oscar (which was also somewhat of a consolation prize after getting nominated but not winning for Streetcar and Zapata!). He’s brilliant here, making Terry a highly sympathetic character, even if Malloy does lure fellow employees to their deaths on occasion. The “Coulda been a contender!” speech will always be a classic, perhaps the most-iconic moment of Brando’s career. Karl Malden is dynamite as a priest who will punch you in the face if you mess with him, and Eva Marie Saint is terrific in her debut big-screen role. The film was based on real-life situations involving extortion on New York’s waterfront,…
27 Feb 2013
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I was certain that How to Survive a Plague was going to take home the big documentary Oscar prize this year. Alas, Searching for Sugar Man (a very good movie) took home the award. There were other great documentaries last year, including West of Memphis, about the West Memphis Three, and Paul Williams Still Alive (the title says it all). However, this one packed the biggest wallop. It chronicles the struggles AIDS activists went through to get the condition into the public conversation, and push for medications to keep themselves alive. Viewing this movie promotes a parade of emotions, from pure heartbreak, to anger, and ultimately to jubilation. It starts in the ’80s, with a band of activists including Peter Staley, Larry Kramer, Mark Harrington, Ray Navarro and Bob Rafsky. Rafsky famously challenged Bill Clinton during a campaign speech, resulting in Clinton’s “I feel your pain!” retort. Bill … I…
19 Feb 2013
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I count director Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and Magnolia as two of my all-time-favorite films. The Daniel Day-Lewis performance in Blood currently stands as my favorite performance by anybody, in any movie, ever. What I’m saying is that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest directors to ever set foot on the planet. I suppose as a critic, I’m supposed to avoid such grandiose remarks, but screw it: I feel confident my declaration will stand until my dying days. That said, The Master—out Feb. 26 on DVD and Blu-ray—is my least-favorite of his movies. However, on a grading scale, I’d still give it a “B,” which is a good grade, and lord knows I’m a tough grader. The pre-release scuttlebutt about the film declared that it was Anderson’s take on the advent of Scientology—but it isn’t. Instead, it’s about a stressed-out World War II Navy sailor…
13 Feb 2013
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Dave Grohl directs Sound City, a tribute to the infamous Los Angeles recording studio that gave birth to Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes … and the list goes on. Much of the movie deals with the studio’s history leading up to its recent shutdown. Grohl actually purchased the legendary soundboard and put it in his own studio, where he recorded a forthcoming album featuring Paul McCartney, his surviving Nirvana band mates, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield and others. The film features footage of that album’s recording, most notably with McCartney, who puts forth a scorching, "Helter Skelter"-like number with Grohl and the remaining Nirvana members. This is a great, solid piece of rock-history filmmaking. Grohl’s love for the subject permeates the entire undertaking. It’s currently available online (via iTunes, soundcitymovie.com, Hulu and all sorts of other sources), and on demand via cable (including Time Warner). It’s…
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…