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DVDs/Home Viewing

17 Feb 2015
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Spike Lee partially funded Da Sweet Blood of Jesus through Kickstarter—and the results are a mixed bag. While his film about a wealthy researcher (Stephen Tyrone Williams) becoming addicted to blood (thanks to an ancient artifact) contains some of his most startling imagery in years, the film is a bit long in the tooth. Given the artistic freedom of a crowd-funded project, Lee doesn’t seem to check himself when it comes to pacing—resulting in a film that could benefit from 30 minutes being shaved off. Still, Williams is good as the secluded rich man who, after an associate (Elvis Nolasco) tries to kill him, finds himself resurrected and thirsting for blood. He preys upon prostitutes, and eventually takes a wife (a strong Zaraah Abrahams) who soon joins him in blood lust. This is not a traditional vampire movie, although it is quite bloody, featuring scenes of Williams and Abrahams’ characters…
10 Feb 2015
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Laggies is a so-so movie made watchable because of its stellar cast. The filmmakers should feel lucky that Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and a guy named Sam Rockwell got talked into gracing this one with their presence. Directed by Lynn Shelton and written by Andrea Seigel, the film tells the story of Megan (Knightley), a woman in her late 20s who is still spinning signs for her dad’s business. When her boyfriend (Mark Webber) proposes, and she sees her dad (Jeff Garlin) cheating on her mom shortly thereafter, it all proves to be a bit much for her—and she splits. After illegally buying alcohol for young Annika (Moretz), Megan winds up at Annika’s house, where Annika’s dad, Craig (Rockwell), is sulking after his wife left him high and dry. Predictably, Megan becomes a mother figure to Annika while falling in love with Craig. Rockwell could be star in a…
03 Feb 2015
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In Match, Tobi (Patrick Stewart), a dance professor at Julliard, agrees to do an interview with a married couple (Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard) about 1960s dance culture. After a few questions and answers, it becomes apparent that the two are up to something beyond a simple Q&A. It only takes a few minutes to figure out where the film is going; writer-director Stephen Belber’s play-turned-movie offers few surprises. The film suffers from that staginess that often plagues plays being adapted for the big screen, and at first, Stewart seems like he is acting for an audience rather than a camera; he overdoes it at times. Despite these flaws, the movie progresses into something that is mildly entertaining. Stewart’s character calms down a bit as the film plays out, and Lillard provides some truly moving work in the film’s final act. Gugino is decent in what is essentially a three-person…
27 Jan 2015
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Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes R100, an oddball creation from director and co-writer Hitoshi Matsumoto. Seemingly mild-mannered Takafumi (Nao Ômori) has a humdrum life as a furniture salesman. His wife is in a coma; her dad is living with him and his son. He needs to feel alive again—so he joins an elite S&M club that specializes in public humiliation. Things start innocently enough, with bondage girls kicking him in the head at restaurants and throwing him down large staircases near public fountains. But the club starts following him to work and, eventually, to his home, where he is tortured by the Queen of Saliva. (If you haven’t guessed, she spits on him while dancing to disco music.) There’s also the Queen of Gobbling, who eats Takafumi’s family members. Yes, the action goes well beyond your standard S&M. I’m not exactly sure what Matsumoto is…
20 Jan 2015
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The Boxtrolls, nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, is another weird film from the studio that also made Coraline and ParaNorman. As far as appearances go, this is the best film in this Oscar category, which also includes Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Most of the work is traditional stop-motion animation, with some fine digital animation included as well. The story follows a young boy named Eggs (the voice of Isaac Hempstead Wright), who is being raised by strange creatures who live below the streets of London. The creatures wear boxes for clothing, and Eggs gets his name because, quite simply, his box says “Eggs” on it. An evil exterminator looking for a higher station in society (Ben Kingsley) contracts to kill all of the boxtrolls, putting Eggs and his buddies in danger. The voice cast also features Elle Fanning, Jared Harris, Nick…
13 Jan 2015
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There’s already a pretty awesome movie on the boards in 2015: Predestination is an ingenious time-travel thriller that’s guaranteed to totally mess with your head. Ethan Hawke plays The Barkeep, a time-traveling law officer in search of a serial bomber who is destined to cause a lot of damage in 1975. Sarah Snook plays a character called The Unmarried Mother; to discuss her role any further would spoil a lot of the fun. I will say that both Hawke (who just gets better with age) and Snook are outstanding in this film. Snook, at times, is unrecognizable. She’s a relative newcomer, and this film could be the start of some great things for her—if people manage to see this film, that is. There have been a lot of good movies that have played with time travel and paradoxes in the last few years, but this one goes to inconceivable extremes.…
22 Dec 2014
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Here’s my list of some of the better DVD/Blu-Ray gift options for 2014. A warning: If you give one of these as a gift, and the person who gets it has actually read this article, he or she will know you cheated and aren’t at all original in your gift giving. But that’s OK … we all have our shortcomings. The prices listed here are from Amazon.com as of the time of this writing (and for some reason, Amazon.com prices change ALL THE TIME, so consider yourself warned). BLOCKBUSTER GOODNESS Guardians of the Galaxy (Blu-ray) $19.99: One of the year’s better blockbusters is out on Blu-ray just in time for stocking-stuffing. Giving this one also provides a nice excuse for you to make somebody a mix tape. Godzilla (Blu-ray) $14.99: At the beginning of the year, I said this was the film I most anxiously anticipated, and that if it…
16 Dec 2014
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Why Don’t You Play in Hell? will easily go down as one of 2014’s most insane movies. Shion Sono writes and directs this outrageous movie about a crazed film crew that finds itself filming real-life events in pursuit of a masterpiece. Those events mostly center around crime-boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) and his war with Ikegami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi). When Ikegami attacks Muto in the film’s opening moments, Muto’s wife, Junko (Megumi Kagurazaka), goes crazy with a knife, leaving the floor of her home flooded with blood. (It’s a surprisingly vivid—and beautiful—visual.) Muto’s young daughter, Mitsuko, a star of TV commercials, witnesses the aftermath, and grows up to be a rebellious actress (Fumi Nikaido), as we see 10 years later. The film-crew members get tired of making hackneyed Bruce Lee rip-offs over the decade and eventually find themselves in the thick of things, filming massacres as they are occurring; they’re delighted with…
02 Dec 2014
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Pulp—one of the most-underappreciated bands ever to grace any stage—called it quits back in 2002. It sucks not having them around. That all changed for a year when, in 2011, the band embarked on a reunion tour that took it to places like Coachella, and a final concert in the band’s hometown of Sheffield, England. I damn myself constantly for missing the Coachella concert, and damn myself for never having seen them. Seeing Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets fills the void a bit. Jarvis Cocker has always been one of the funnier, stranger guys in the entertainment business. I still consider him a hero for jumping up onstage and doing a strange, interpretive dance during a Michael Jackson awards-show performance in 1996. He’s terrific in this movie, sitting down for candid, droll interviews, and allowing himself to be filmed as he tries to change a tire on…
26 Nov 2014
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Horror-film lovers have been eating up a little franchise called V/H/S these last couple of years. V/H/S: Viral, the third offering in this anthology series featuring up-and-coming horror directors each helming segments, is now available. V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S/2 (2013) were “found footage” films that proved to be the exception to the rule: I usually hate the whole “found footage” novelty, yet it’s worked rather well within this franchise. When these directors were given a chance to experiment with the played-out gimmick, they managed to take the enterprise to terrifying levels. V/H/S: Viral jettisons the whole idea of viewing deranged videotapes found in a strange place in favor of a confounding, interconnecting plot involving a kidnapped girl, an ice-cream truck and some sort of Internet craze. I confess that the wraparound segments in this movie not only bored me, but confused me. It’s some sort of pointless, poorly written effort…
18 Nov 2014
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Hiccup (the voice of Jay Baruchel) and Toothless the lovable dragon return for another round of computer-animated magic—this time with a slightly darker tone. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great-looking, fun movie, and after watching it at home, I regret missing it on the big screen in 3-D. The film picks up five years after the initial film, with dragons and Vikings now living together in peace. That peace is threatened when Hiccup and Toothless stumble upon ruthless dragon-trappers who want Toothless as a prize for their villainous leader, Drago (the voice of Djimon Hounsou). Along the way, Hiccup is reunited with his long-lost mother, voiced by Cate Blanchett. The movie has some nasty moments involving Toothless that might freak your kids out—and might freak you out. Director and co-writer Dean DeBlois was apparently going for an Empire Strikes Back vibe, and he succeeds, in that the…
11 Nov 2014
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Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what turned out to be his last leading role, is typically brilliant in A Most Wanted Man, a thriller based on the novel by John le Carré. Directed by Anton Corbijn, the movie’s mystery remains intact until the final minutes of the film—or so was the case with me. I didn’t see the end coming. Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, an anti-terrorism agent based in Germany who has had a spotty recent record. When a mysterious Chechen Muslim (Grigoriy Dobrygin) comes to Germany, a scenario plays out that involves a well-meaning lawyer (Rachel McAdams), a confused banker (Willem Dafoe) and a mysterious businessman (Homayoun Ershadi). It’s hard to discern good and evil in this film, and Corbijn keeps things tense until the very end. Hoffman is so good it hurts—especially because we know we won’t see this sort of thing from him ever again. McAdams delivers what…