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DVDs/Home Viewing

12 Dec 2016
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I’m a big fan of the original Pete’s Dragon, a mix of animation and live action that was a technical marvel when it was released in the late 1970s. My father took my siblings and me to see it after our dog got hit by a car. We were still mighty bummed out, but the movie cheered us up for a couple of hours. I bristled a bit when I heard they were remaking it as a live-action film with a CGI Elliott the Dragon. I got annoyed when I heard they were dumping the music—in the original, the music was pretty goofy, yet quite charming. Director David Lowery changed the whole thing from a comedy into a rather dour family drama about a young kid who is orphaned after a car accident in the first scene. Oakes Fegley plays Pete, who turns into a little Tarzan who howls like…
07 Dec 2016
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Ever wondered what would happen to your kid if you raised her in the middle of nowhere with no friends—and showed her how to perform surgery on decapitated cow heads? Well, writer-director Nicolas Pesce has. Heck, he’s made a whole damned movie about it, The Eyes of My Mother. After a really strange guy (Will Brill) visits her farm home, and a series of really bad things happen, Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) is left alone with nobody to talk to. Actually, she has a pet, but we won’t go into that right now. Francisca has had very little social interaction over the years, other than with that pet, and she ventures out to see what the outside world is like. As it turns out, it would’ve been much better for some had she chosen to just stay home and watch TV. Shot in black-and-white and blessed with an effectively eerie score,…
29 Nov 2016
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From the makers of ParaNorman and Coraline comes Kubo and the Two Strings, another stop-motion wonder that’s a fantastically fun combination of puppetry and CGI. It’s the best animated film I’ve seen so far this year. The title character is a young boy (an amazingly expressive creation voiced by Art Parkinson) who must go on a quest to deal with a nasty family war that has claimed the lives of his parents. He searches for a suit of armor needed to combat his evil granddad (Ralph Fiennes … of course). He’s assisted on his quest by a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle (Matthew McConaughey, in his first animated film). The visuals are constantly breathtaking; the writing is often very clever and funny; and the message is sweet and enduring. As with some of the Laika studio’s past creations, some sequences might be too much for the young ones, but…
24 Nov 2016
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In the vast catalogue of Woody Allen films, Café Society falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. While it’s definitely one of his better-looking movies, a slight casting mistake leads to the movie being a little underwhelming at times. Kristen Stewart is often great (see her in this year’s Certain Women for an example of just how damned great she can be), but if you put her in the wrong role, you can really see her working and straining. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Woody Allen Jr.—uh, I mean Bobby, a young kid looking to find work in old-timey Hollywood under the tutelage of his studio big-shot uncle, Phil (Steve Carell, kicking mortal ass). Phil asks one of his assistants, Vonnie (Stewart), to show Bobby around—and, of course, they fall in love. Café Society has all of the Allen tropes: a bumbling protagonist, a smart-but-not-that-smart love interest, old-timey jazz music…
15 Nov 2016
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The Monster is a minimalist horror film that mixes elements of Cujo, Alien and Ghostbusters—the latter because the title monster looks a lot like a greasier version of the demon dog Rick Moranis transformed into in the comedy classic. There’s nothing funny about the terrible road trip for Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and daughter Lizzy (Ella Balletine). They have a blowout on a rainy night in the middle of nowhere. Their car hits a wolf—a bloody wolf—and Lizzy makes the keen observation that something must’ve driven it to run in front of their car. Well, she’s very right: There’s a monster in the woods, and it wants to not only eat them, but anybody who tries to help them. Writer-director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) has made a decent creature feature here, one that is as much of a mother-daughter drama (there are plenty of flashbacks showing their troubled times) as it…
07 Nov 2016
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Sarah Jessica Parker returns to TV (well, HBO) with this nasty-funny take on a drawn-out divorce co-starring Thomas Haden Church and Molly Shannon. Parker plays Frances, who is sick of her husband, Robert (Church), and having an affair with Julian (a sleazy Jemaine Clement). She asks Robert for a divorce, and things quickly fall apart for her from that point on. The show is five episodes in, and I have to say this is one of the TV season’s better new series. It’s often ugly, but considering the subject matter, ugly makes sense. It’s also very funny, with Shannon and Church both scoring good laughs. (Shannon plays a family friend who almost shoots Robert during a drunken rant.) Church does a great job of playing a douche who has moments of sweetness that leave you conflicted over whether he’s a good guy. It’ll be interesting to see if this one…
01 Nov 2016
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Chicken People is a charming documentary about people who raise chickens for competition—and the people in this movie take their craft seriously. There’s the mom who got over a drinking problem by focusing on her chickens, resulting in a sense of career purpose and a few awards. There’s the singer with a gig in Branson, Mo., who longs to be home with his family, taking care of his chickens and attending the major competitions. Then there’s the engineer who designs race-car and tractor-pull engines, but works obsessively on the side with chickens for show. The movie also conveys a lot of information about chickens themselves, including the many breeds, and their kind-of-adorable mannerisms. Let it be said: Some of the chickens the folks raise in this movie are pretty impressive! Director Nicole Lucas Haimes has made a fun movie that leads up to a final competition where all of those…
17 Oct 2016
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Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Director Christopher Guest, who hadn’t made a movie in nearly a decade, returns with Mascots, which is easily his worst. His usual acting corps (minus Eugene Levy) takes a crack at the world of mascots—and I can’t think of a dumber subject for a comedy. Much of the movie involves performers in full mascot suits doing competition routines that have nothing to them—other than eating up the running time. There’s a laugh every now and then, but there are far more groans; the subject matter just doesn’t call for a full movie. Parker Posey has the film’s biggest laugh after eating bad sushi. It’s not a very big laugh, so that’s not saying much. In a truly desperate move, Guest makes a cameo as his Waiting for Guffman character, Corky. That persona simply reminds us that this once very funny guy is now straining…
10 Oct 2016
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The Greasy Strangler is a totally bonkers film that plays out like something that would result when David Lynch meets John Waters. Grouchy old man Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels, who once played a security guard on Diff’rent Strokes) and his weird son (Sky Elobar) conduct disco tours in which they lie to tourists about where the Bee Gees wrote their music. In the evenings, however, the grouchy old man just might be the Greasy Strangler, a dude covered in grease (in part due to the food he eats) who strangles people. Things become complicated when Big Ronnie takes a liking to his son’s girlfriend, resulting in a lot of full frontal nudity from all members of the cast. First-time director Jim Hosking traffics in a sort of absurdist humor that won’t be appreciated by everyone. But for those who like their movies weird, he’s serving up a smorgasbord. It’s…
06 Oct 2016
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Holy hell, is this film a boring mess. In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Tim Burton directs a leaden Asa Butterfield in an adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ novel. The movie is sloppy, as if the effects weren’t completed. The story is convoluted, as if the filmmakers thought hiring a big-time art director and costuming department were a fair swap for a good script. The narrative involves some nonsense regarding mutant children in a house in the 1940s that is stuck in a time loop. The house is led by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green, the only good thing about the movie), and visited by young Jake (Butterfield), who heard about the place from his late grandfather (Terence Stamp). The kids all have “peculiarities” but no personality; they are X-Men with no sense of purpose. Butterfield, a normally reliable young actor, decimates nearly every line he utters in this film. It’s…
03 Oct 2016
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In Netflix documentary Amanda Knox, directors Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn investigate the horror show that was the Meredith Kercher murder and the many injustices that rained down upon American exchange student Knox and her boyfriend of one week, Raffaele Sollecito, in Perugia, Italy. Both were convicted by an Italian court, as was a third suspect, of stabbing Knox’s roommate Kercher to death, and both served time as their cases went through a series of appeals. The two, now free, sit down for interviews and speak of the confusion that was their interrogation, their whereabouts on the night of the murder, and the hell they endured in prison. The film mostly skips over the trials, concentrating more on Knox and Sollecito’s recollections about the night of the murder and the aftermath. The subject probably requires an entire series, and not one 90-minute documentary, but the story is covered pretty well,…
26 Sep 2016
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Writer-director Hong-jin Na has put together The Wailing, an epic, rather-long South Korean horror film that keeps messing with one’s head—to the point where it becomes hard to take. A strange old man (Jun Kunimura) shows up in visions, and then is discovered in the flesh, in a small village where Jong-Goo, a hapless cop (Do Won Kwak), lives with his young daughter. Village residents start killing each other off and occasionally acting like zombies while covered with strange boils. Then, Jong-Goo’s daughter starts exhibiting symptoms of possession—setting Jon-Goo on a crazed mission to find the root of the evil pestilence destroying his town and his family. Na makes things frightening without resorting to jolt scares or quick edits. The movie unfolds, sometimes slowly, in a way that maintains a high level of tension and creepiness. He mixes in some humor, even during some of the more grisly scenes. The…