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DVDs/Home Viewing

12 Aug 2014
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The 2011 return of the Muppets, while not the greatest of movies, did boast an enthusiastic Jason Segel and Amy Adams. The music was fun, and most of the movie felt original, with a sense of purpose. The Muppets Most Wanted, which I missed in theaters and finally managed to catch on Blu-ray (packaged as The Muppets Most Wanted: The Unnecessarily Extended Edition), is a dud. The franchise lost a lot of steam during its initial heyday, and the same already seems to be happening with the comeback. As with 22 Jump Street, this is a sequel in which the big joke is how useless and unoriginal a sequel can be. Director James Bobin, who directed the 2011 film, contributes to the script that uses the evil doppelganger gimmick for few laughs. The movie picks up directly after The Muppets (it even has Segel and Adams stand-ins viewed from the…
05 Aug 2014
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At long last, the entire Twin Peaks series is out on Blu-ray—along with the inferior but still interesting prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The complete series—with both the American and European pilots—and the film come in a nifty collector’s box with a ton of special features. Director/creator David Lynch oversaw many aspects of the Blu-ray’s production (it’s titled Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery), and the transfer is visually stunning. The show itself—a mystery about a murdered young girl named Laura Palmer, and the supernatural forces that took her—remains one of the most innovative and scary TV productions ever. Something like Twin Peaks would never make it to ABC, NBC or CBS these days; this is the sort of stuff reserved for HBO, AMC and FX. The show was actually very funny at times, anchored by the quirky performance of Kyle MacLachlan as special agent Dale Cooper. The…
29 Jul 2014
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Writer-director Joe Swanberg has followed up his terrific Drinking Buddies with Happy Christmas, a fun vehicle for Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey. Kendrick plays Jenny, a woman who has recently broken up with her boyfriend and goes to live with her brother and his wife (played by Swanberg and Lynskey) in Chicago. Once there, she commences partying with her pal (Lena Dunham of TV’s Girls) and disrupting her brother’s household, which includes the nephew she is supposed to be baby-sitting. The movie feels as if it has been largely improvised, especially when the amazingly funny toddler is on screen. The stars handle the freewheeling nature of the film well. Kendrick and Lynskey shine in their scenes together, while Mark Webber is decent as Jenny’s new love interest. Swanberg is an interesting director, for sure. Many of the stars in this film, as well as Sam Rockwell, Ron Livingston and Rosemarie…
22 Jul 2014
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Scarlett Johansson stars in Under the Skin as an alien driving around Scotland in a hot Scarlett Johansson body. The alien is using that body to pick up men—and do very, very strange things to them. Director Jonathan Glazer uses minimal dialogue and real unsuspecting men (some of the men Johansson talks to have no idea they are being filmed) for a chilling effect that will haunt you long after you leave the theater. This is the sort of intelligent science fiction and horror that was so prevalent during the heydays of Stanley Kubrick and William Friedkin. It’s brilliant exploration of alienation, victimization and the shallowness of obsession with outward appearances. While I can compare the work done here to the likes of Kubrick or Gaspar Noé, this is really unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s nightmare fuel. Under the Skin is one of the more unique and more wonderfully…
08 Jul 2014
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Jason Bateman makes a decent directorial debut with Bad Words, a nasty little movie about a man on a vengeful path to win a spelling bee for reasons unknown. Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a man with amazing spelling capabilities who enters a children’s spelling bee upon noticing an eligibility loophole. Guy is super-pissed for some reason, and he refuses to step aside when parents and organizers beg him to be mature and let the kids spell. The film takes on a bit of a Bad Santa vibe when the vulgar Guy winds up palling around with one of the kids (Rohan Chand). Shenanigans ensue involving hookers and booze; and Bateman does a decent job pushing the boundaries of bad taste while keeping things entertaining and relatively good-natured. The big reveal—the motive behind Guy’s mission—isn’t all that surprising, and is even a bit anticlimactic. No matter; Bateman and Chand provide enough…
03 Jul 2014
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The Sacrament is a sloppy, “found footage” riff on the Jonestown Massacre. No, it’s not a total retelling of the 1978 Jim Jones/Jonestown horror, in which more than 900 people died after drinking a poisoned fruit drink in an act of mass suicide. It’s a film “inspired” by those true events, and placed in a modern setting. As for the quality of the movie, it’s somewhere in the middle of the found-footage movie pack. It’s not terrible … but it’s pretty bad. The setup has a news team heading for a remote, unknown location after Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets an invite from his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz), who lives at the compound. (Hey, that’s why they will be carrying cameras at all times!) The team also includes head reporter Sam (AJ Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg). As soon as they approach the gates of the kooky compound, called Eden,…
23 Jun 2014
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Writer-director Wes Anderson does it again with The Grand Budapest Hotel, another unique, beautiful and quirky movie that could’ve only been made by him. The man has never made a bad movie—and this one stands as one of his best. In a performance that must be remembered come awards time, Ralph Fiennes is magically hilarious as M. Gustave, the concierge at the fictional hotel named in the film’s title. Gustave has a penchant for older women—much older women—and his life takes a drastic turn when he is suspected in the murder of an elderly lover (Tilda Swinton in heavy makeup). Stolen art, scary train rides and a high-speed chase on skis ensue, with Anderson even employing stop-motion animation at times, as he did with Fantastic Mr. Fox. The movie is often laugh-out-loud funny, largely thanks to Fiennes, who nails every piece of dialogue. His is the best performance by any…
13 Jun 2014
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Louis C.K. took a year off from his groundbreaking, innovative TV show to make a couple of movies. One of those films was the Oscar-nominated American Hustle, in which he played an FBI agent getting bullied by Bradley Cooper's character. The other was Woody Allen’s Oscar-nominated Blue Jasmine, in which he played a scumbag. He played both roles amazingly well. It looks like some of those dramatic leanings have worn off on C.K. The shows of his fourth season now feel like something from the Woody Allen of old—down to the white letters on black background credits that start each episode. (There’s no more “Louie” song!). While this year’s installments are perhaps a little less funny than in prior years, they are still mind-blowingly good. FX has chosen to air the shows in two-episode, one-hour blocks, and while this means the new episodes will end sooner on the calendar, it’s…
06 Jun 2014
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About Last Night is definitely not just another unnecessary remake of an ’80s film: Kevin Hart and company have made the latest adaptation of David Mamet’s play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a wildly entertaining endeavor. Hart lights up any film—even when they stink. Here, he plays Bernie, a player who finds himself in a relationship with the fiery Joan (Regina Hall). While Bernie and Joan experience a wild rollercoaster ride of sex and spats, Bernie’s best bud, Danny (Michael Ealy), winds up dating Joan’s best friend, Debbie (Joy Bryant). The two have a one-night stand that turns into a long-term relationship—replete with all the problems of a relationship that heated up too quickly. The main reason to see the film is the pairing of Hart and Hall, who are a crack-up under the direction of Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine). However, Ealy and Bryant also make an appealing and…
03 Jun 2014
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Director George Clooney’s war epic about historians racing to save art from the Nazis looks and feels like it was taken out of a time capsule buried in 1958. The Monuments Men is quite breezy for a war movie, and is peppered with laughs provided by a strong cast, including Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and John Goodman, as men trying to thwart Hitler’s plan for a giant museum. The film has one of those whistle-infused soundtracks, and it doesn’t hurt that Clooney and Dujardin remind of Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly. The movie moves briskly—in fact, it may be a bit too weightless for a movie with such heavy subject matter. It also has a useless subplot involving characters played by Damon and Cate Blanchett that was deserving of the cutting-room floor. When they are alone on screen, the film comes to a dead stop.…
27 May 2014
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Well … shucks. Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld deliver truly good performances as a father and daughter in 3 Days to Kill. Costner is somebody for whom I’m always rooting (even though I hate that stupid band he wastes his time with), and I love Steinfeld. Alas, this one comes up short. Costner plays a Secret Service agent who finds out he’s dying of cancer, and he wants to make his last days on Earth count. So he reconnects with his daughter (Steinfeld) and his ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) in Paris while taking one last assignment. That last assignment is giving him a lot of money—and an experimental drug that could extend his life. Costner is on his game here, and Steinfeld holds her own in the scenes they share. Unfortunately, the movie is all over the place tonally: Sometimes, it’s a thriller; sometimes, it’s a comedy; and so on. Amber…
20 May 2014
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Director Richard Ayoade pays nice visual homage to the likes of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam with The Double, an adaptation of the 1846 novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon, an employee at a bleak office (that reminds of Gilliam’s Brazil) where he is unnoticed by co-workers, and hapless in his pursuit of Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who works in the copy room. When his exact double—a new employee named James—shows up, he’s everything Simon wants to be: brash, confident and great with the ladies. James mentors Simon for a while, but things go bad quickly. Eisenberg is given the task of creating two genuinely different personalities that look exactly alike, even down to their bland choice of tan clothing. He isn’t even given the benefit of a pencil mustache or a top hat for the evil twin. However, he accomplishes the feat, mainly in the cadence of his…