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DVDs/Home Viewing

04 May 2014
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James McAvoy delivers his best performance yet in this morally vacant take on the sick novel by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting). McAvoy stars as Bruce Robertson, a Scottish cop strung out on drugs who is hearing voices in his head, hallucinating and behaving very badly. At the center of the film is a murder mystery that provides a final twist which cements the movie’s nutball pedigree. McAvoy essentially gets to do his own riff on the Bad Lieutenant (a role that served both Nicolas Cage and Harvey Keitel well); he is able to go completely gonzo. What makes his turn different is that the movie allows him to have some truly genuine, emotional moments mixed in with the mayhem. This results in a surprisingly balanced, well-modulated performance despite the subject matter. The supporting cast includes Jamie Bell as a fellow cop with a small member, and Eddie Marsan as Bladesey, a…
03 May 2014
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Tom Berninger joins his brother, Matt Berninger (lead singer of The National), on tour as a roadie and records the proceedings for this offbeat and genuinely charming movie. Tom fails as a roadie—and he nearly fails as a filmmaker—but he perseveres to make a documentary that pays more attention to Tom and his struggles than the actual music. Fans of The National might walk away a little perturbed that the film contains minimal concert footage, but, hey, you have albums and concerts to fill that gap. What this movie ends up being is an endearing account of two very different brothers coming together in a strange circumstance and making everything work for the better in the end. Mistaken for Strangers shows that Matt’s faith in his little weird brother, who drew far better pictures than him when they were kids, has paid off. The little pest knows his way behind…
29 Apr 2014
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After nearly a decade away from movie screens, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), the world’s greatest newscaster, has returned. This time, it’s the 1980s, and a new media craze called “24-hour news” has Ron and the boys (Paul Rudd’s Brian Fantana, Steve Carell’s Brick Tamland and David Koechner’s Champ Kind) working the late-night shift in New York. The plot is just a place-setter for weird, random humor involving bats, sharks, shadows, scorpions in RVs and hair. Ferrell and crew manage to sell the dumbest of things, and they make so much of it funny. Even the stuff that’s simply strange has its own humorous appeal. Carell goes super-dopey with Brick as he finds a love interest (Kristen Wiig); Champ still loves Ron in a dangerous way; and Brian has a new condom cabinet. I laughed my face off; this is a sequel that continues the comedic legacy of the brilliant original,…
14 Apr 2014
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Nicolas Cage dons a decent hairpiece as the title character in Joe, the latest drama from director David Gordon Green. Cage’s Joe is a strange sort, showing a maximum amount of restraint and responsibility while on the job with his tree-killing company. He is not only an in-control boss; he’s a friendly, seemingly stable man. Off the job, it’s a different story. He drinks heavily, frequents whorehouses, taunts the police and does overnighters in jail. In one of the film’s more-amusing sequences, he gets fed up with a hooker’s dog, and decides to allow her dog to meet his dog. Cage’s acting in this very scene is his best since going nuts in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans. Joe winds up hiring Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenage boy, and his troublesome father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Gary is a good worker, and he and Joe strike up a friendship.…
12 Apr 2014
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Talk about your blown cinematic opportunities. Man, this should’ve been fun: Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, riffing on their iconic boxing characters Rocky Balboa and Jake LaMotta, have one last boxing match. It sounds to me like the setup for something great, nostalgic and even funny. Instead, director Peter Segal managed to make this undertaking a morose, unfunny slog. Stallone plays an unhappy character, while De Niro plays a total jackass. Their characters wind up in a scenario that gets their almost 70-year-old bodies into the ring for a rematch 30 years after their last fight. Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart are wasted in supporting roles. The fight itself is OK, with both men looking fit for their age. However, everything leading up to that fight is oddly paced, and sometimes painful to watch, especially when Kim Basinger is on screen as a confused love interest. Stallone and De…
11 Apr 2014
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Tracy Letts’ play came to the big screen with a big cast featuring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper and others. After a family tragedy, a group of sisters and their husbands/boyfriends return home to Texas and their dying mother (the Oscar-nominated Streep). Mom was mean when they were growing up, and she remains mean in her dying days, much to the annoyance of daughter Barbara (Roberts, also Oscar-nominated); she is doing her best not to follow in mom’s footsteps. The cast is strong, with most of them turning in great work, including Juliette Lewis, who does her first truly good acting in a long while. The lone exception would be Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the slow sibling. He’s just all wrong for the part. Sam Shepard makes a brief but memorable appearance as the family patriarch. While his screen time is short, his character plays a large…
08 Apr 2014
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I’ve had it up to here with found-footage horror films, but directors/writers/stars Derek Lee and Clif Prowse are on to something with Afflicted, a double-edged nail-biter that energizes both the found-footage genre and another horror genre I won’t give away. Lee and Prowse, playing versions of themselves, are psyched to be taking a worldwide trip together; they plan on documenting it on film. Derek has been diagnosed with some sort of brain problem, but the two soldier on anyway. At one point, they’re determined to get Derek hooked up with a woman in a strange European club. He strikes gold, it seems, and brings a pretty woman home for a night of troublemaking. However, Clif later busts into Derek’s room to discover him beaten and bloody—with no woman in sight. The two shrug off the incident, but Derek develops some strange, viral symptoms in the coming days that not only…
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…