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DVDs/Home Viewing

29 May 2013
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Writer-director Shane Carruth, who made the low-budget mind-bender Primer, does some mind-bending yet again with Upstream Color, his second feature. He gets a fine performance out of Amy Seimetz as Kris, a young woman who is kidnapped; her kidnapper puts some sort of organism in her; she is more or less possessed; and pigs eventually become involved. This is not a movie for those who like to be spoon-fed their narratives. This is a movie in the great tradition of David Lynch: It keeps you guessing while making you feel very weird as you watch it. I can’t say I’ve solved its riddles, but I had a good time trying. It’s definitely a movie that warrants two, or three, or 787 viewings before you can start figuring it out, or at least fool yourself into believing that you’ve figured it out. I can tell you that some sort of alien…
28 May 2013
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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to movies as a headliner not only bombed domestically; The Last Stand was a massive international bomb. It didn’t make back its relatively meager $45 million budget during its theatrical run—a big fall for the man who used to be the world’s biggest movie star. In truth, this is not the greatest of surprises, because the movie is not very good. Arnie plays a sheriff in a border town who finds himself squaring off with a drug-cartel baddie and his cronies. Johnny Knoxville shows up as the kooky sidekick (again), and Luis Guzman shows up and does his normal thing. Arnie is in good form; it’s the film that seems stale. It feels like 12 movies you’ve seen before cobbled together as a warm-up for a guy who has been out of the game for a few years. It’s too bad; Arnie should’ve made his comeback vehicle…
22 May 2013
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Horror maestro Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) produced, co-wrote and stars in Aftershock, a silly film about an earthquake hitting Chile while people are partying in a nightclub. Roth’s involvement had me hoping for some good, sick fun, but this is a crappy, cheap-looking movie. Plus, I like it better when Roth is behind the camera, or playing a small role, because he looks like Sarah Silverman, and he weirds me out. He’s basically the star here, so I just spent the movie confused. There’s a lot of gore, but most of it is pretty run-of-the-mill. One of the cool things about the film is that nobody in the cast, including Roth, is safe. Lots of people die unexpectedly, and in very bad ways. One dude has a large rock land on him, then somebody mean sits on the rock to apply pressure and pain; then somebody else, even meaner,…
21 May 2013
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Three directors and a game cast tell interconnecting stories over centuries in Cloud Atlas, a mightily ambitious project from Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana of The Matrix films). The likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess don heavy makeup to play multiple roles as the movie tries to show how lives and people interconnect through time. The experiment pays off enough to qualify this as a mostly enjoyable time, although some stories are weaker than others. Berry has a good one as a reporter in the 1970s dealing with crooked energy suppliers, and Hanks has a nice time playing both virtuous and murderous types. As for the bad guys Hanks plays, let’s just say it’s a long way from Forrest Gump or the sweetie pie douchebag who met up with Meg What’s-Her-Face on top of the Empire State Building.…
14 May 2013
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Writer-director David Chase, the man responsible for The Sopranos, virtually disappeared after that infamous, sudden black screen six years ago. He returns with Not Fade Away, about a bunch of kids trying to form a rock band in the ’60s—and while it’s far from awful, it’s a bit of a dud. Much of the blame for the plodding pace of this movie goes to John Magaro, who fails to ignite the screen as Douglas, a mediocre drummer who loves the Rolling Stones and doesn’t get along with his grumpy dad (James Gandolfini … of course). Magaro’s performance is a lesson in droning, and isn’t helped by an awful, distracting wig. He also does his own singing, and he’s no Mick Jagger. I don’t think Chase was trying to show the joys of the times and how music enriched lives; I’m guessing he was shooting for something a little darker and…
13 May 2013
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I’m sure it sounded good in the pitch meeting: Put Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in a car; send them across country; let the sparks fly. Rogen is always good with stream-of-consciousness humor, and Babs plays a good pain in the ass. Problem is, director Anne Fletcher and team totally stifle Rogen in The Guilt Trip, basically making his Andrew Brewster a dull, unlikable character. As for Babs, she’s more annoying than funny this time out. Even so, the movie isn’t all bad. The two manage a few winning moments within the tired formula. Rogen plays a scientist who has created an all-natural cleaning product that he is pitching; Babs, of course, is his mom. After learning that he is named after his mother’s first love, Rogen’s character inexplicably cares about this, and takes his suffocating mom along for the ride, even though his entire future depends upon the trip's…
07 May 2013
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I have read some reviews stating that the CGI monster in Mama—out today (Tuesday, May 7) on home video—isn’t effective. I politely disagree; the ghost in this thing is scary as all heck. She truly is a memorable monster. The ghost in question is a strange, protective apparition who looks over a couple of young girls (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) after a tragedy in the woods. Jessica Chastain stars as the girlfriend of the girls’ uncle, who finds herself having to take on parenting when she would rather be playing lousy music in her stupid band. The movie isn’t great, but it does pack in a couple of good scares while maintaining a decent eerie quality for part of its running time. Having Chastain on hand elevates it beyond below-average horror. Guillermo del Toro produced this, with Andrés Muschietti directing. My biggest gripe: Why make this a PG-13 film?…
06 May 2013
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Skip Tom Cruise’s latest offering in theaters, the so-so Oblivion, and watch him kick mortal ass as the title character in Jack Reacher, the adaptation of Lee Child’s popular novel One Shot. There was a lot of griping that Cruise didn’t fit the physical mold of the character of Jack Reacher, who is 6 1/2 feet tall in the novels. No problem; Cruise brings a sinister, evil edge to Reacher, a super-intelligent former armed forces cop who finds himself investigating a mass shooting in Pittsburgh. Hey, Cruise might be less than 6 feet tall, but he will most certainly kick your ass if provoked. (Well, he will in the movies, at least.) The ridiculously pretty Rosamund Pike is on hand as the lawyer who joins forces with Reacher in a search for THE TRUTH. She’s good here, as are Richard Jenkins as her district-attorney dad, Robert Duvall as a very…
01 May 2013
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Jennifer Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, which was released on Blu-Ray and DVD yesterday (April 30), but the best performances in this movie are delivered by Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. I don’t mean to knock Lawrence by saying this; she’s quite good in the film. It’s just that Cooper and De Niro (who were both Oscar-nominated) are a little better. Cooper plays a man recently released from a mental hospital who is looking to get back with his wife, despite the fact that she has a restraining order against him, and despite her complete lack of interest in his existence. De Niro is on hand as his dad, a superstitious gambler who wants his son to watch football with him, not because he wants genuine father/son time, but because he believes his son provides good luck. Enter Lawrence as a recently widowed woman…
30 Apr 2013
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I really hate Gangster Squad, even though it has some of my favorite actors in it. An all-star cast including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn and Josh Brolin play dress-up in this lame, fictional retelling of the Los Angeles war on organized crime in the late 1940s. Sean Penn plays criminal kingpin Mickey Cohen, who had a pretty crazy life—but you won’t see that life in this dopey movie. Here, Brolin’s cop enlists a group of lawmen to go underground and beat the criminals, and it's basically all made up. I’m OK with some artistic license, but this one goes a little too far. It wants to be new Untouchables, but it isn’t nearly as exciting or fascinating. And it boasts terrible performances from the normally reliable Gosling and Penn. They chew the scenery like it was made of their favorite chocolate, and the voice Gosling employs for his…
24 Apr 2013
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Naomi Watts got nominated for an Oscar for playing Maria in The Impossible (out this week on Blu-ray), based on a real woman who fought for her life in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. She should’ve taken home the gold. There aren’t too many performances that grab me like Watts’ performance does in this one. She is an acting force, as is Ewan McGregor as her husband, Henry, and Tom Holland as her oldest boy, Lucas. This is one of last year’s better ensembles. While vacationing in Thailand, Maria and Lucas are separated from the rest of the family when disaster hits. The tsunami scene is amazingly well-done; you get a true sense of its awesome, destructive power, and the dangers in those rushing waters. The wave was re-created on a soundstage, but it looks like an actual tsunami. The authenticity of the moment is bolstered…
15 Apr 2013
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In the cult classic Repo Man, Emilio Estevez plays Otto, a punk kid in Los Angeles who is fired from his supermarket job and thrown into the life of repossessing cars by the absolutely strange Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). They pursue a Chevy Malibu with a big bounty on its fender—unaware of the extraterrestrial cargo in the trunk. This is a very funny movie. (I especially love Otto’s response to his girl when asked about their relationship at film’s end.) This is the best thing Estevez has ever done, and Stanton was perfect casting. Director Alex Cox made Sid and Nancy after this one, but has not regained his form since. Still, when you have those two films on your directorial resume, that’s a pretty good career. Special Features: On this Criterion release (hitting stores on Tuesday, April 16) is a commentary with Cox and executive producer Michael Nesmith (!);…