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DVDs/Home Viewing

29 Jun 2015
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As far as “found footage” films go, this is of the better ones. That’s because Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed, The One I Love) and director/co-star Patrick Brice seem to be acknowledging that this particular way of movie-making is a little ridiculous. Per usual, characters in great peril continue to film the perilous goings-on when it would be much better to just drop the camera and run. Duplass and Brice make this scenario kind of funny, even if they are telling a horror story, of sorts. Brice plays Aaron, a cameraman who answers a personal ad asking for somebody to come film him for a day. When he arrives at the home of Josef (Duplass), he finds out the guy is dying and wants to film a day in his life for his future child, just like Michael Keaton in My Life. Josef takes Aaron on a long hike, where…
23 Jun 2015
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Criterion Collection—the cream of the crop when it comes to home-video releases—has done a bang-up job with Five Easy Pieces, the Jack Nicholson classic from director Bob Rafelson. Nicholson plays Bobby, a former pianist and son of a rich man who has left his family behind to work on an oil rig in Southern California. When he discovers his father is sick, he takes his girlfriend (Karen Black) on a road trip where he finds himself wrestling with his past and confusion about his love life. This is one of the quintessential Nicholson roles, featuring that forever-awesome confrontation with a diner waitress over the preparation of a sandwich. It came out in 1970, kicking off a decade of American filmmaking that remains unparalleled. Five Easy Pieces is an essential film for lovers of classic American cinema. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Special…
16 Jun 2015
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Kingsman: The Secret Service evaded me when it played theaters—and it’s a humdinger of a movie, that’s for sure. In this film based on a comic-book series, Colin Firth plays Harry, a member of a secret order of agents that saves the world from all kinds of bad guys. When a fellow agent dies (the agents are named after the Knights of the Round Table), Harry recruits Lee (Jonno Davies), the young son of a former agent and friend, to be the replacement. Unlike James Bond movies, this one isn’t afraid of bad words and gory violence. One scene in which Harry executes an entire church full of hateful rednecks (set to the tune of “Free Bird”) has more gore than three average R-rated movies combined. Firth is great here, as are Mark Strong and Michael Caine as fellow agents. Mark Hamill shows up briefly in a pivotal role, and…
08 Jun 2015
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We Are Still Here is a haunted-house story that plays like a film made many years ago. That’s due in part to a cast that includes Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), Larry Fessenden (Session 9) and Monte Markham (The Love Boat). It’s also due in part to the fact that writer-director Ted Geoghegan did an exemplary job of putting a movie together that has a look and feel of something that would have played as a double-feature with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre back in the day. Crampton plays a woman who moves into an old house with her husband (Andrew Sensenig) after the death of their son. Soon, Crampton’s character notices a “presence” that she thinks is the spirit of her boy—but a visit from a mysterious old man (Markham) reveals the house has a violent history. Then things get really, really awful and bloody. The ghosts in this movie are…
18 May 2015
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Michael Fassbender remains on a fantastic roll with Slow West, a gritty, appropriately downbeat Western from writer-director John Maclean. Fassbender plays Silas, a cynical, grouchy rider on the American frontier in the 19th century who comes across Jay (Kodi-Smit McPhee), a Scottish boy who is travelling alone in search of Rose (Caren Pistorius), a girl he loves. She had to flee to America with her father after an accident, and now they have a bounty on their heads. Silas knows about the bounty—but he doesn’t tell Jay. After coming across a group of bandits led by Payne (the ever-reliable Ben Mendelsohn), Silas must decide who he’s going to back—the boy or the bandits. Slow West is a great ride, with a vivid depiction of the old West unlike any I’ve seen before. By the time the action reaches Rose’s farm—a single house out in the middle of nowhere—you get a…
12 May 2015
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Ryan Gosling makes a wacky, strange directorial debut with Lost River, using his own bizarre script. He’s clearly influenced by David Lynch and, most notably, frequent collaborator Nicolas Winding Refn. Unfortunately, his movie has more in common with the awful Only God Forgives than the awesome Drive. The story involves a woman named Billy (Christina Hendricks, a co-star of Gosling’s in Drive) who is trying to protect and raise her family in a fictional city that’s falling apart. Her oldest son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), scavenges old houses for copper, and finds himself in direct conflict with an area thug. Billy takes a job in a club straight out of a David Lynch film, where the likes of Cat (Eva Mendes, Gosling’s girlfriend) stage bloody murders onstage. The club owner is Dave (Ben Mendelsohn, the best thing in the movie), who has some evil intentions with his new hire. Various…
05 May 2015
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I missed the latest Mark Wahlberg extravaganza—a remake of the 1970s James Caan movie The Gambler (NOT the Kenny Rogers TV movie)—when it ran in theaters early this year. Wahlberg lost a lot of weight to play Jim Bennett, an author-turned-college professor who hates life, for some reason. The film never really delves into why Jim is so miserable, and why he has developed such a nasty gambling problem. His problem is so bad that he can’t resist gambling even when his rich mom (a strong Jessica Lange) takes out a large loan to bail him out with criminal types. He just takes the loan and gambles some more, spiraling further downward. John Goodman has a couple of good scenes as a loan shark who has no tolerance for weakness. Brie Larson gives a strong performance as the student who inevitably pulls Jim into a relationship, and George Kennedy makes…
28 Apr 2015
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While Black Sea is a submarine movie that’s not quite on par with Crimson Tide, Yellow Submarine and Das Boot, it is a decent thriller—and it’s a helluva lot better than Operation Petticoat and Down Periscope. Jude Law, using a distracting Scottish accent, plays Robinson, a disgraced submarine captain who has just lost his job. A chain of events leads him into commanding a band of men in a broken-down submarine heading for a downed sub that contains millions in gold meant for Hitler during World War II. The men, of course, deal with a lot of trouble along the way, especially when the gold winds up on their boat. Lucky for us, the cast includes Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, two great character actors. They are each given roles that play to their best acting attributes (McNairy plays a paranoiac; Mendelsohn is a psycho), and they are always fun…
24 Apr 2015
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A mean rich guy (Michael Douglas) pays a young, innocent guide (Jeremy Irvine) to take him hunting for big-horn sheep in the Mojave Desert in Beyond the Reach. Once they get out there, rich guy gets an itchy trigger finger and actually shoots an old guy who just happens to live out in the middle of nowhere. Then, the rich guy gets even meaner. Also, the movie gets dumber and dumber. Douglas is usually fun to watch, even when he is in a bad movie. Well, this one is really bad. When his evil rich guy gets the idea to have the guide take off his clothes and wander around the desert until he dies, it makes absolutely no sense. The rich guy wants to eliminate the evidence that he committed a murder by making the guide die of exposure—but then he just tries to shoot him anyway. Huh? It…
14 Apr 2015
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Ryan Reynolds goes full-on insane for The Voices, a funny, gory and bizarre offering from director Marjane Satrapi, who directed the animated film Persepolis. Let it be said that The Voices is about as far away from Persepolis as cinematically possible—this is what I would call a major departure. Reynolds plays Jerry, a factory worker with a sad past involving his mom and sock puppets. Jerry has voices in his head—well, sort of: He hears them coming out of the mouths of his cat and dog. Jerry, after some time in an institution, is trying to assimilate back into society with the help of a kind therapist (Jacki Weaver). He starts by trying to ask out Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a girl at the office. Things don’t go so well—and Fiona’s body parts wind up in some Tupperware, with her head residing in his refrigerator. That head has frequent conversations with…
10 Apr 2015
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Upon revisiting Interstellar on Blu-ray, I would like to make the following observation: Matt Damon kicks mortal ass in this movie. Yes, I know, most of the hubbub involving this film focuses on the Matthew McConaughey performance, and whether or not the science ideas hold up. For me, the most startling aspect of this flick is when Damon shows up deep in the picture and fucks things up, old-school. I didn’t necessarily buy what director Christopher Nolan and his cronies were trying to postulate about wormholes and space travel. However, I did thoroughly enjoy Interstellar thanks to the work of the special-effects crew, the performances and, yes, Matt Damon playing a total douchebag. I had completely forgotten Damon was in Interstellar when I watched it the first time, so when he showed up as a scientist who was waking up from what he thought would be his final nap, I…
03 Apr 2015
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Of all animal-attack movies—films in which sharks, birds, insects, Mickey Rourke and tigers attack and eat people—bear-attack movies freak me out the most. Granted, Jaws is still the granddaddy of all animal-attack films, but there’s just something so freaky and depressing about bears mauling humans in movies. Well, Backcountry goes into the Bear Attack Hall of Fame with Grizzly (1976), The Edge and the documentary Grizzly Man. Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop play Jenn and Alex, a troubled couple looking to have a good time while and canoeing lakes. Things take a minorly bad turn when a mysterious stranger (Eric Balfour) has a fairly intimidating fish dinner with them by a campfire. Things take a majorly bad turn when Alex loses his way and gets the couple lost. Things then become absolutely catastrophic when a black bear smells Alex’s bloody socks, finds their tent and decides to have itself some…