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DVDs/Home Viewing

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…
16 May 2014
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Hateship Loveship is a strange movie. It’s just a hair away from being terrible due to its crazy subject matter, yet thanks to some great performances and solid direction by Liza Johnson, the people behind this one pull off an impressive high-wire act. In one of her best performances to date, Kristen Wiig plays Johanna Parry, a lonely caregiver who winds up working for Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte), an older gentleman taking care of his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) after her mother has died. Sabitha doesn’t like having Johanna around, so she and a friend (Sami Gayle) tease her in a very peculiar way: They pretend to be Sabitha’s addict father, Ken (Guy Pearce), and write love letters to a completely convinced Johanna. In fact, Johanna is so convinced that she moves into Ken’s abandoned hotel without him even knowing. This incredibly awkward situation is handled so well that Hateship…
15 May 2014
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Atom Egoyan, an inconsistent but sometimes brilliant director (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), delivers his very worst film with Devil’s Knot. The film is a dramatic representation of the child murders that were the subject of four documentaries (the Paradise Lost films and the Peter Jackson-produced West of Memphis). Egoyan casts Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in major roles, yet everybody seems lost in a film that feels truncated with no sense of direction. The story of the three little boys murdered in Arkansas, and the resulting witch-hunt that resulted in the wrongful incarceration of three teenagers for two decades, is powerful. Even though the story has been told in the documentaries, it could be the subject of an amazing film. However, what Egoyan delivers is a standard courtroom drama, featuring a stilted, confused performance from Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, mother of one of the murdered boys. Witherspoon’s approach…
13 May 2014
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Director Spike Jonze gives us a beautiful yet odd love story about a man smitten with his computer’s operating system (voiced by a lovely Scarlett Johansson). Johansson does mesmerizing voice work as Samantha, a Siri-like voice operating system that is so charming, her new owner (Joaquin Phoenix) finds her far more interesting than actual humans. She makes you believe a man could fall in love with his computer. That’s a sad reality, perhaps, and Jonze (who won a screenwriting Oscar here) does a good job of dealing with the awkward circumstance. Jonze has made a movie that looks and feels realistic, creating a future land in which it’s perfectly OK to date your computer. He approaches the topic seriously—and somehow manages to make it all work. While the premise sounds nutty, the approach is purely dramatic. There are few directors who could make a film like this come together. The…
12 May 2014
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Director Jeremy Saulnier has fun with revenge-thriller clichés and creates a few twists of his own with Blue Ruin, a darkly funny and sometimes disturbing showcase for actor Macon Blair. Blair plays Dwight, a homeless man who we first see living a meager life in Delaware. He takes baths in other people’s houses, gets his meals from trash bags, and lives in his car. In its opening moments, Blue Ruin seems as if it will just be an interesting case study of a dude trying to survive on soda bottles and discarded hamburgers. Then, about five minutes into the movie, a policewoman knocks on Dwight’s car window. No, Dwight isn’t getting hauled in for vagrancy. The cop is informing him that the man who allegedly killed his parents is being released early from prison. This sets into motion a revenge story like no other, in which a hairy homeless guy…