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DVDs/Home Viewing

06 Apr 2014
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This was my pick for the best picture of 2013, and Leonardo DiCaprio should’ve won an Oscar for playing likable scumbag Jordan Belfort. In fact, DiCaprio should have at least three Oscars on his mantle by now, but, alas, he has none. Martin Scorsese’s latest explodes like a mortar full of deranged bliss. DiCaprio plays slimeball stockbroker and convicted felon Belfort, a real-life jackass who made millions selling penny stocks at a Long Island, N.Y., brokerage. The movie, based on Belfort’s own autobiography, takes people doing bad, bad things to such an extreme level that the film doesn’t just stand as one of the best of 2013; it’s one of the best and most deranged comedies ever. As Ray Liotta did in Goodfellas, DiCaprio talks to the camera on occasion, often during highly elaborate tracking shots that have become a Scorsese mainstay. It’s in these moments, and during Belfort’s drug…
04 Apr 2014
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Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are charming as Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in this obviously whitewashed look at Disney’s attempt to get the movie rights to her book. We all know that Disney succeeded, but many don’t know that Travers was quite the holdout. The movie splits time between the Disney/Travers business and Travers’ childhood, where we find out that much of Mary Poppins was based on her troubled father (Colin Farrell) and actual nanny. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are wonderful as the Sherman brothers, who made Mary a musical, much to the chagrin of Travers. The movie takes a lot of artistic license with the situation; even though Travers is depicted as difficult, she was far more adversarial in real life, and never approved of the movie. (Those animated penguins!) Still, the film is much fun to watch, with Hanks and Thompson making it…
02 Apr 2014
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A down-on-his-luck dude (Pat Healy) and an old friend (Ethan Embry) meet up in a bar, and soon find themselves in an escalating dare game with a weird, rich couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton). Dares go from slapping a stripper’s ass to chopping off appendages—so, yes, as the stakes get higher, the blood starts to spurt. Director E.L. Katz has made a twisted and funny film out of a relatively simple premise, and the movie is bolstered by the fine work of all the actors involved, especially Healy and Embry. Koechner (The “Whammy!” guy from Anchorman) makes for a great, wicked master of ceremonies, while Paxton, who has a pretty good horror pedigree (The Innkeepers, The Last House on the Left) provides a nice sense of mystery as the quiet but menacing wife. This is a crazy-silly movie that loses its way a bit, but it has enough laughs…
25 Mar 2014
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Director David O. Russell continues his impressive roll with American Hustle, a semi-comedic look at the notorious 1970s Abscam scandal. Russell is shooting for Scorsese-style glory here, and while the style of the movie seems copied at times, there’s no denying the power of the ensemble cast. Bradley Cooper scores laughs as a pathetic FBI agent looking to make a name for himself, and Christian Bale looks great with a comb-over as the conman forced into an alliance with the law. Amy Adams gets one of the strangest roles of 2013 as a con artist pretending to be British; she pulls it off quite nicely. Jennifer Lawrence steals every scene she’s in as a seemingly dim Long Island housewife, a role for which I thought she deserved an Oscar. The film scored nominations for Lawrence, Cooper, Bale and Adams among 10 total nominations—yet it didn’t take home a single award.…
21 Mar 2014
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Thanks to a legendary Kickstarter campaign, fans of the Veronica Mars TV show now get to see their hero, the title character played by Kristen Bell, back in action. The resulting movie doesn’t feel like a movie at all: It looks, smells and tastes like a TV show, with a hokey and half-baked plot to go with it. Veronica has moved to New York and is about to get a job at a law firm when old boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) gets into trouble. He’s the focus of a murder investigation, so Veronica puts her private-investigator cap back on, leaves her boyfriend behind, and comes to Logan’s rescue back home—while also attending her high school reunion. It’s all pretty lame, but Bell is on her game. While the murder-mystery is a dud, the cameos (James Franco, Dax Shepard, Justin Long) are fun, and it’s great to see the old cast…
18 Mar 2014
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It was an asinine, ridiculous, energy-wasting, moronic idea to remake Chan-wook Park’s certifiably insane 2003 revenge-film classic. I’m fairly open-minded about the idea of remakes, but some films should never be touched again. Heck, it’s amazing that the original Oldboy—a shocking tale of captivity, octopus-eating and incest—actually made it to the big screen in the first place. Spike Lee landed the job of Americanizing Park’s film (after Steven Spielberg flirted with the idea), and he actually does a decent job in the first half. Josh Brolin plays a drunken louse who gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a strange hotel room for 20 years while somebody frames him for the murder of his wife. He is then released—whereupon he starts seeking revenge. The captivity scenes are the best parts of this movie, with Brolin doing a good job of losing his mind. However, the movie falls apart when he gets out,…
11 Mar 2014
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Elijah Wood (also known as Frodo and one of the movie stars who Tazered Andy Samberg in the anus in the “Threw it On the Ground” video) stars in Grand Piano as Tom Selznick, a pianist who is making his grand return to concert performing five years after botching a rendition of his mentor’s “most unplayable piece.” While standing offstage, ready to go, a mild-mannered security guard (played by Alex Winter of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) hands him his sheet music (which he had forgotten) and disappears. Tom glances at the sheets—and sees that somebody has written some strange notes in red on the pages. Those red notes are the setup for a rather clever gimmick: Tom needs to play some extremely difficult piano pieces while somebody alternately aims a rifle at him and his wife (who is sitting in the balcony). The notes in red warn that if…
11 Mar 2014
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Adèle Exarchopoulos delivers one of last year’s breakout performances in Blue Is the Warmest Color, a shocking and beautiful movie about a young woman discovering her sexuality. Exarchopoulos gives a performance that feels honest at every turn, with an expressive face that belongs on the big screen. Léa Seydoux (the assassin from the last Mission: Impossible film) is also powerful as Emma, the blue-haired woman upon whom Adele sets her sights. The two are wonderful together and provide real soul in a tremendously affecting love story. Director Abdellatif Kechiche overdoes it a tad with some of the most explicit and overlong sex scenes ever displayed on a commercial movie screen. I’m not surprised that the actresses were a little pissed at their director in the aftermath. The scenes could stand a little trimming. Still, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux kept me riveted for nearly three hours. It’s a shame this was never…
10 Mar 2014
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Steve Coogan delivers one of his best screen performances in Alan Partridge, the long-rumored big-screen debut of the character who has been part of Coogan’s repertoire on TV and radio for years. The film depicts Partridge as a radio host working for a company being bought out by an unfeeling corporation. When Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), one of Alan’s radio co-workers, gets the boot, Pat comes back with a shotgun and takes everybody hostage. Alan winds up as an intermediary between the police and Pat; he’s trying to negotiate his a way out of a crisis and keep his job at the same time. Coogan is always funny in this film. Sure, he got a lot of press for last year’s Philomena, and film-lovers dug him in 24 Hour Party People and Tropic Thunder, but this movie is a true showcase of his sharp comic talents. He has a way…
04 Mar 2014
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I can’t deny the amazing acting work in this Best Picture nominee from the likes of Bruce Dern (an Oscar nominee), Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk and especially June Squibb (also an Oscar nominee). These performances are all wonderful. What I can bemoan is the stupid, stupid story that propels that acting. Dern plays an old codger who becomes convinced that he’s won a million dollars because of a magazine subscription letter saying he’s a winner. So he starts walking from Montana to Nebraska; his son (Forte) eventually helps him on his quest with an automobile. It’s a dumb idea, and the premise is too improbable for a serious comedy movie. Still, it does lay the groundwork for a decent father-son dynamic between Dern and Forte; Odenkirk shows up as another son and knocks his part out of the park. The film nabbed six Oscar nominations, and Squibb was the most…
03 Mar 2014
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The picture that took home Best Picture honors at this year’s Academy Awards is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery before the Civil War. The film, fresh off its win of three Oscars, is being released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, March 4. This effort from director Steve McQueen is a towering achievement, one of last year’s bravest and most uncompromising films. Chiwetel Ejiofor got a much-deserved Oscar nomination for playing Northup, a man who was forced to work on cotton plantations—one of them run by the despicable Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender (also an Oscar nominee) in a vicious and brilliant performance. McQueen shows slavery as the horror it was, and Ejiofor puts a character on the screen who you will never forget. If you were one of the…
02 Mar 2014
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I’m always down for a good apocalyptic movie. Zombies, alien invasions and biblical raptures have made for some great film—yet no one has made a good, horrific nuclear-war movie in the modern era. After the Dark takes an interesting premise—and botches the job. A philosophy professor (James D’Arcy) makes his students do an experiment on the last day of class: The kids must determine which 10 of them will be picked to continue the human race in the event of a nuclear holocaust. When the kids run the scenarios, we see them as though the scenarios are actually happening. They run through multiple possibilities—but emotions and dirty tricks keep leading to fatal results. So, yeah, this movie has a lot of mushroom clouds and radiation-poisoning. It also has terrible acting, especially in the case of Sophie Lowe, as the class leader. She delivers every line in a drawn-out fashion, as…