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DVDs/Home Viewing

16 May 2016
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Critics got all excited about The Witch, focusing on a New England family leaving a 17th century settlement to live in the woods on their own. We tend to perk up when movies are nearly perfect. As for mass audiences, not only did they stay away; I saw some pissed-off, freaked-out people walking out during screenings. Now that The Witch is out on Blu-ray and available to stream, you’ll get a new chance to be spooked by strange goats, creepy kids, way-too-religious parents and baby-mulching ghosts. In what stands as the performance of the year thus far, Anya Taylor-Joy is terrific as Thomasin, the eldest daughter of William and Katherine (Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie). She and her four siblings—eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), a pair of boy and girl twins, and a toddler boy—are making do in their new surroundings. Not even 10 minutes into the movie, Thomasin loses…
09 May 2016
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Director Ben Wheatley, who made a couple of weird films with A Field in England and the brilliant horror-comedy Sightseers, gets even weirder with High-Rise, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel about class warfare inside a high-rise building. Tom Hiddleston is Robert, a doctor who moves into the building to get a new start on life. He has an affair with the beautiful woman downstairs (Sienna Miller), makes himself some new friends, and even gets to know the building’s eccentric architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons). Things are going relatively well, other than a couple of control panels and elevators breaking in the building, when an occupant falls to his death. That sets off a chain reaction during which the tenants fall into an anarchic state. They rape; they pillage; and they paint their own apartments with no authority to do so. Wheatley’s movie has echoes of Gilliam and Kubrick, although…
03 May 2016
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Tale of Tales is one oddball movie. Imagine if David Lynch had made The Princess Bride instead of Rob Reiner. Italian director Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah, Reality) adapts three fairy tales and sort of mixes them together, creating one semi-consistent and relatively cohesive narrative. In one of the stories, John C. Reilly plays a king (he actually looks like the Burger King) who must stalk a sea monster and get its heart so that his queen (Salma Hayek) can devour it and become pregnant. In another, Toby Jones plays another king who becomes fascinated with a flea, feeding it blood and steak until it grows to the size of a large sow. In yet another, Vincent Cassel is a king who falls in love with the voice of what he thinks is a fair maiden, but it turns out to be an old lady. All of these characters share the same…
28 Apr 2016
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The Revenant didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, but it damn well should have. Leonardo DiCaprio won a much-deserved Oscar for playing the legendary Hugh Glass, a real man who actually survived a bear attack and sought revenge from the men who left him to die. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu (winner of the Best Director Oscar two years in a row) made a film that doesn’t stick to Glass’s actual storyline all that much. (The real life guy was actually too tired to do anything to the guys when he eventually found them.) His script works in a Native American son (Forrest Goodluck) and a deranged trapper (Tom Hardy, also nominated) along with Glass’ insatiable revenge lust. DiCaprio doesn’t say much with his mouth in the movie, but he says an awful lot with those eyes. His performance is a masterwork. Equally good is Hardy, who portrays John Fitzgerald as…
18 Apr 2016
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Yes, Mr. Right is yet another one of those hit-man comedies—but this one is pretty good, largely because it has Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick in it. Actually, it’s good only because it has Rockwell and Kendrick in it. Kendrick plays a woman who just broke up with her boyfriend after catching him cheating. (She has a drunk-closet scene that is very funny.) Rockwell plays a hit-man who wears a clown nose, likes to dance when he kills, and usually kills those who hire him—because killing is wrong. Of course, the two meet in a store and start an unorthodox relationship. They like the same sort of things, and both have the ability to catch knives thrown at their faces. She eventually finds out he kills people, and that sort of complicates things—yet they still give it a go. The film covers stupid, well-worn territory, but the leads are good,…
11 Apr 2016
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Dinner parties tend to suck, don’t they? You bring a stupid bottle of wine that nobody will like. You have no small-talk topics for others other than the weather and your stinky-feet problem. And in the case of the dinner party in The Invitation—a film which freaked out the Independent’s Brian Blueskye when it was part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival back in January—the hosts may or may not be trying to kill you. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is visiting his ex-wife, Gina (Michelle Krusiec), at a dinner party. Gina has been away for some time, and she’s gotten all smiley in the wake of a tragedy through which she and Will suffered. Her new boyfriend, David (Michiel Huisman), is a bit of a weirdo—happy and perhaps a bit too pleasant, especially since he shows the party a video of a woman, surrounded by members of some cult, dying…
05 Apr 2016
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What an amazing treat Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens has been. It provided a nice afterglow at the end of 2015, and now you have the pleasure of watching it at home in 2016. The Blu-ray version and the digital download are both stunners, providing the best in video quality and sound—sure to stretch the limits of your home-entertainment system. It was a blast in theaters, and it’s equally fun on the home front. Newcomer Daisy Ridley gave the best dramatic performance not only in this film, but in all of the Star Wars films thus far. She should’ve been an Oscar contender. It was no small feat to become the star of history’s biggest movie franchise—and she rocked it. For great acting, look no further than her interrogation scene with the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). She more than holds her own with Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher,…
28 Mar 2016
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The horror genre has been getting a nice boost over the last couple years. Baskin is yet another fine entry into the genre—and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Baskin is for those original Hellraiser-loving, Dario Argento-following horror fans who want their scares as dismal, dirty and creepy as they can get. Turkish writer-director Can Evrenol goes for a total bloody freak-out and succeeds as a group of cops respond to a call, get in a strange car crash, and wind up going through the doorway to hell after entering an abandoned building. While on their way to hell, they are disemboweled, blinded, forced to do things with masked monsters and generally not treated well. I can only recommend this movie to the most hard-core horror fans. It’s as blood-soaked and nightmarish as these things get, and will screw with your mind and your sense of well-being. It will…
21 Mar 2016
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It’s been 28 years since Pee-wee Herman last had his own movie (1988’s Big Top Pee-wee)—and the world’s happiest man child has not lost a step. In Netflix’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, Paul Reubens effortlessly becomes his alter ego Pee-wee, even though he’s getting deep into his 60s. That’s right: Pee Wee Herman is almost 64 years old. Nonetheless, he’s as nimble, joyous and fun as he was when he made his big-screen headliner debut in Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure 31 years ago. The new film, produced by Judd Apatow and directed by John Lee, doesn’t quite have the visual exuberance to match Pee-wee’s bravado, but the story (written by Reubens and Paul Rust) breezes right along. Pee-wee meets a big screen movie star (Joe Manganiello of True Blood, playing himself) while working in a diner in his all-American town. The two hit it off, and Joe invites him to…
15 Mar 2016
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Musician Laurie Anderson directs Heart of a Dog, a moving eulogy for her dog Lolabelle—a film which also works as a loving tribute to her late husband, Lou Reed, and a sad meditation on the death of her mother. Shot on small cameras and iPhones, the film is scored and narrated by Anderson; it has similarities to some of her great spoken-word singing from past albums. She explores the life and death of her dog, a true member of her family, and the virtues of feeling sad without being sad in a time of loss. There’s a soothing quality to the movie; in a sense, it offers coaching for the future death of loved ones, and sound advice for coping with deaths in the recent past. Anderson ruminates on the existence of ghosts, and even shares footage of her dog, who had gone blind, performing a piano concert for an…
01 Mar 2016
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You hear a lot about the first landing on the moon with Neil Armstrong—but surprisingly little about Apollo 17, the last manned flight to the moon, and Gene Cernan, the last man to set foot on the lunar surface. This is the documentary the man deserves, thanks in part to his total cooperation. Cernan sits down for extensive interviews, taking you through his entire experience, from the NASA training program through that legendary walk. There’s plenty of amazing footage and photos, including Cernan’s failed spacewalk before Apollo 17, and him driving the lunar lander on the moonscape. It’s incredible stuff. Well before we had our smart phones and Internet, there was a guy up there, scratching his daughter’s initials into the moon’s surface. This film touches upon plenty of topics beyond the moon landing, including Cernan’s marital woes and personal struggles, and how they were a product of the space…
15 Feb 2016
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Last year was a banner year for the horror genre (It Follows, Bone Tomahawk, We Are Still Here), and 2016 is off to a good and creepy start with anthology offering Southbound. From the producers of the uneven V/H/S series, Southbound consists of four short films tied together with themes of guilt and dread. It’s remarkable how well the work of four different directors come together in one dread-inducing piece. The film starts with two blood-covered men driving in the desert as they notice floating death skeletons observing their actions. This segment ends badly; things get stranger and nastier as the film progresses to a story about a female rock band whose members ingest strange meat served by a weird guy (Dana Gould) who is more than likely a Satanist. This is followed by a dude looking for his sister in an eerie town; it’s the stuff of nightmares. (Oh,…