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DVDs/Home Viewing

11 Jan 2014
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Relative unknown Anna Margaret Hollyman shines in this offbeat and somewhat uneven dark comedy as Suzanne, a real estate agent who is falling upon truly hard times. After learning that her weatherman husband (Nathan Williams) will be moving her to Hawaii, she goes to buy a Christmas tree and have some cocoa, in an effort to enjoy her last Christmas in Virginia. She then returns home to a tragedy that will turn her life upside down and send her on an Internet shopping spree. Writer-director Zach Clark dances with the sort of grotesquely dark comedy that laces the films of Todd Solondz (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse)—but not with the same, consistent success. Still, Hollyman is great, and Joe Swanberg is quite good as a home-purchaser with big plans for a new sex swing. White Reindeer is now available at online sources including iTunes and
10 Jan 2014
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A brother and sister go up a rocky hill to explore a cave while their parents do some nasty things in the car. The kids go missing, and the parents panic—until their children reappear. But … these aren’t the children that went up the hill, are they? Oooooooh! Writer-director Adrián Garcia Bogliano delivers some decent creeps with this stylish mixture of sexual terror and devil-speak. The kids are genuinely spooky, while the parents (Francisco Barreiro and Laura Caro) do a great job of acting completely confused and messed up. Bogliano draws some interesting parallels between strange sexual proclivities and indiscretions with Satan. Is Satan really messing with these folks, or are we seeing crazy people behaving badly? Either way, it’s a genuinely scary time, and Bogliano is a horror force to be reckoned with. Here Comes the Devil is now available at online sources including iTunes and
07 Jan 2014
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in Don Jon, a frank comedy about a sex addict who thinks porn is better than true romance. Levitt is excellent and consistently funny as the title character, a Jersey boy who is quite the stud—yet he finds himself jerking off to Internet porn within mere minutes of having sex with a live woman. His problem comes to the forefront when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the first real love of his life—a woman with high standards who doesn’t approve of the porn thing. Gordon-Levitt has given us something akin to a funnier Saturday Night Fever, with porn replacing disco. Yes, the movie is full of porn clips, so don’t see it with kids or a first date, unless you and that first date have some sort of naughty understanding. Julianne Moore is her usual excellent self in a supporting role, and the shock…
05 Jan 2014
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For a good part of its running time, Prisoners seems as if it could be one of 2013’s best pictures. It has a good premise and a shocking middle. Alas, the film falls apart a bit at the end, with a finale as stupid as the rest of the film is gripping. Hugh Jackman delivers a fierce performance as Keller Dover, a survivalist who goes into vigilante mode after his daughter and her friend are kidnapped. When a semi-irritable detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) apprehends a mentally challenged suspect (Paul Dano), Dover and the detective go head-to-head on how to deal with him. When the suspect is set free, Dover captures and tortures him. These parts of the film are solid, showing the lengths a parent could go to in order to find a missing child. As for the film’s mystery element: That’s where things fall apart. It strains so hard to…
23 Dec 2013
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Rest in peace, Paul Walker. I didn’t like a lot of your movies, but you were pretty damned good in many of them, including these silly fast-car movies. I really liked you in Eight Below, Pleasantville and especially Joy Ride. The first film in the Fast and Furious franchise was a blast, but it now feels like a million years ago. This franchise could’ve ended with that first film, and that would’ve been fine by me. Vin Diesel mumbles his way through another installment—although I must admit that Fast and Furious 6 features some fine driving stunts. The plot involves nonsense about Vin and his crew (including Walker) going after some bad-guy driver who is threatening the world. He also has Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) working for him, even though she was blown up in a previous movie. Actually, I’m OK that she inexplicably survived: Rodriguez is one of the franchise’s…
27 Dec 2013
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What happens in Sightseers caught me completely off-guard. This is a dark, twisted road comedy that boasts Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) as one of its executive producers. Steve Oram and Alice Lowe star as Chris and Tina, a couple going on their first holiday together. They pack up a trailer—much to the chagrin of Alice’s attention-starved mom—and head out on a tour of England. What follows, I will not divulge; I will just say the movie offers a cool surprise. Oram and Lowe are excellent in this movie, giving us the two best RV-traveling characters since Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty in Lost in America. There’s a great mix of darkness and funny here, and it’s refreshing to see something this unpredictable. It’s a deranged delight—well worth your time. Director Ben Wheatley is a bit of a nut. He also delivered a segment of the…
20 Dec 2013
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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in The World’s End as members of an old gang of friends getting back together to finish a hometown pub crawl they failed to complete 20 years earlier. Pegg plays King, the group’s leader, a slightly disturbed man-child; Frost plays Andy, the group pessimist who is still recovering from a partying incident years before. They start drinking pints—only to discover that robots have overrun their old town. So in addition to completing the crawl, they must save the world. This is the third film from Pegg and director Edgar Wright after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and it is a worthy conclusion to their “Cornetto” trilogy (named for a brand of ice cream that appears in all three films). It delivers a lot of laughs, great action and even a significant emotional punch. It’s the second great apocalypse comedy of 2013; This…
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…