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DVDs/Home Viewing

13 Aug 2013
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If you are not familiar with the case of the West Memphis Three, Amy Berg’s thorough documentary, West of Memphis (produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh), will get you up to speed. Three young boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, were found dead in a ditch in West Memphis, Ark., in May 1993. The circumstances of their deaths seemed to suggest some sort of satanic ritual—or so authorities thought. They arrested three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., and eventually put them behind bars for more than 18 years. The film presents much of the information shared in the three prior Paradise Lost documentaries, with a new emphasis on another stepfather and his possible involvement in the murders. If I have a bone to pick with these documentaries, it’s that they point fingers at other suspects, yet present little to no evidence to back…
07 Aug 2013
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Derek Cianfrance follows up his brilliant Blue Valentine with The Place Beyond the Pines, a film bigger in scope that also stars Ryan Gosling. Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt guy who finds out he has a kid. Problem is, the kid is the product of a one-night stand, and the mom (Eva Mendes) has moved on. Luke resorts to robbing banks, which culminates in a meeting with a rookie cop, Avery, played by Bradley Cooper. The film then focuses on Cooper’s character for a segment before dealing with the kids of Luke and Avery (played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen) when they are teens. The two young actors match their adult counterparts with strong performances. The movie is long but never boring, and it crackles most when Gosling is onscreen. This is all about the sins of the fathers, and Cianfrance presents the story in a way that…
06 Aug 2013
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It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, is a writer/director who stands among the best of the current crop. Matthew McConaughey plays the title character in this amazing film, Mud. He’s a chipped-toothed, wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi. Two kids, Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan, of The Tree of Life, and Jacob Lofland) stumble upon him and become a part of his strange and dangerous world. McConaughey is catching wave after wave of success lately, and this role is his best one yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees. The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard. All of them are equally great. A lot of us wrote off McConaughey a…
30 Jul 2013
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When watching Lord of the Flies—the 1963 Peter Brook adaptation of William Golding’s classic book about British school kids going savage after being marooned on an island—you have to be a bit forgiving. Brooks shot the film for $150,000 and had all sorts of audio problems. Virtually none of the audio shot on-set was used; most of what appears in the film needed to be looped in afterward. The production took a long time, so the young actors grew into puberty during filming, and their voices changed. Ralph (James Aubrey) has about four different voices throughout the film. Despite this movie’s shortcomings, I love it. Hugh Edwards as Piggy has to be one of the all-time-best castings of an iconic literary character. He is Piggy … it’s a perfect choice. This book and the movie were required reading and viewing when I was a kid. I think it resulted in…
24 Jul 2013
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Director Neil Jordan makes Byzantium a vampire film that is actually worth watching. Now available via IFC On Demand, this is the first decent vampire film since the undead started sparkling and moping in the Twilight films. Saoirse Ronan stars as Eleanor, a vampire permanently stuck at the age of 16 for more than 200 years. She roams the Earth with her prostitute vampire mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton). Eleanor likes to write her stories down and then throw them away, as a means of keeping her secrets. She meets an interesting and ill boy (Caleb Landry Jones) and starts thinking that her vampire life is kind of boring. It’s nice to see a vampire story with a majestic scope that goes beyond mere camp. Jordan literally uses waterfalls of blood in his movie, and brings his true sense of style to the proceedings. Ronan and Arterton keep things interesting, even…
23 Jul 2013
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I suspect that a lot of the critics who are raving about Orange Is the New Black, Netflix’s new original series, failed to watch past the first few episodes. This drama about women behind bars starts off gangbusters, with touches of brilliance and great humor. But by the time I was watching the 13th episode, I was a few hours past over it. This one loses steam fast and becomes quite a letdown. The show degenerates from an introspective look at a woman’s stint in prison to a parade of clichés. At first, the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)—who goes up the river for a felony she committed 10 years before—is nothing short of awesome. The show also boasts the best performance from Jason Biggs in a long time, as her beleaguered boyfriend. (There’s even a great American Pie joke.) However, as Piper settles in to prison life, we…
17 Jul 2013
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Like Schwarzenegger did in The Last Stand, Sylvester Stallone gives his all in service to Bullet to the Head and its undistinguished script. The results? Neither this nor Arnie’s offering is worth your time. Not surprisingly, both of these lame films flopped at the box office. Director Walter Hill (48 Hrs.) makes action/buddy films that all tend to feel the same. Unfortunately, this one has more in common with his Another 48 Hrs., in which the formula had already gotten tired. Stallone plays a tattooed thug named James Bonomo; his buddy is South Korean Taylor Kwon (played by Sung Kang), which leads to more than a few uncomfortable race jokes. The plot involves the usual crap: a double cross, a partner getting killed, somebody getting kidnapped, ax fights, etc. Stallone looks great and delivers his stupid lines with much aplomb. Kang is just there for the ride, offering little in…
16 Jul 2013
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Spike Lee tried for many years to get a movie about American sports hero Jackie Robinson, starring Denzel Washington, off the ground. However, he couldn’t make it happen. That’s too bad; I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special. Instead, we got 42, from director Brian Helgeland (Payback). While it’s really good at times, it gets awfully hokey at other times, and as a result, the film is just OK. Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black to play Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford also delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors. Christopher Meloni leaves the movie too soon as Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman, who looks a lot like Robinson, shines even when the…
09 Jul 2013
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The Fab Four wisely reunited with Richard Lester, the director of their first film effort (A Hard Day’s Night), for Help!, an equally good and much-zanier movie. Ringo winds up with some sort of ring on his finger that he can’t take off—and this ring is essential in some crazy guy’s human-sacrifice ritual. So Ringo, Paul, George and John get chased all over the globe, including the Alps and the Bahamas (essentially because the boys wanted to get vacations there). The resulting film is the funniest British humor this side of Monty Python. I love John Lennon here, still sporting his mop-top and seemingly enjoying his part in Beatlemania. Lester pioneered music videos in a way with this movie; I love the sequence for “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” with Lennon strumming away happily on an acoustic guitar. And what’s cooler than the house in which the four…
08 Jul 2013
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If you have seen any of director Chan-wook Park’s films (Oldboy, Thirst), you know he is one creative and tremendously sick bastard. Stoker is his English-language debut, and it’s just as deranged and disturbing as his prior offerings. Mopey-faced Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl just turned 18 who has lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious accident. Her mother (an excellent Nicole Kidman) invites India’s strange uncle (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house—and it slowly becomes apparent that he has a few “problems.” The filmmaking is visually impeccable (some of the dissolves are mind-blowing), and the performances are solid. The story is a little too sleepy at times for me to rank this among Park’s best works, but this twisty film still has many memorable moments; here’s hoping Park has many more films to come. Kidman reminds us why she’s an Oscar-winning actress with her work here.…
03 Jul 2013
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Elijah Wood seeks an image change in Maniac, a sickeningly brutal and slightly irritating remake of the 1980 psycho-slasher flick. Shot almost entirely from a killer’s point of view, Maniac rubs me the wrong way. I suppose it should rub me the wrong way. It is about a dude with major mommy issues (mommas, don’t let your kids watch you having three-ways!) killing and scalping women, after all. For me, Maniac gets slotted with the likes of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as being a little too successful in achieving a high level of depravity. Still, I’ve never been one to shy away from horror films. In many ways, this is a well-made movie; for gore hounds, it features some first-rate bloody effects. However, the POV gimmick does the movie in, and takes things into snuff-film territory. Wood remains mostly unseen, because we are seeing the film through his…
02 Jul 2013
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Tina Fey is quirky. You can’t put her in a romantic comedy unless it is quirky and different. And she needs a quirky male counterpart—and who is quirkier than Paul Rudd, right? Fey also needs a quirky, different movie job (hmm … Princeton admissions administrator … that’s new!), and her character needs a quirky name (Portia!) and a quirky situation. In the case of Admission, Portia finds out that a kid who may be the son she gave up for adoption—a student of Rudd’s character—is applying to Princeton. He’s not a lock, and the quirky Rudd character asks her to consider the quirky kid for the school. This puts her in the quirky, precarious position of trying to push a kid through admissions who may or may not be her son. There’s also her quirky mom, played by the Queen of Quirk, Lily Tomlin, who conceived Portia in the quirkiest…