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DVDs/Home Viewing

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…
25 Feb 2014
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Emma Roberts shines in Adult World as Amy, a wannabe poet who doesn’t want to accept the obvious: Her poetry is terrible. Instead, she chases down her poet hero, Rat Billings (a perfectly cast John Cusack), for mentorship, but gets mostly bemused scorn instead. When Roberts and Cusack are onscreen together, it’s magical. Unfortunately, the film features a gimmicky subplot involving Amy’s employment at an adult-video store—and in these scenes, the movie feels strikingly unoriginal and old. Evan Peters is OK as the store manager, but his character could have worked just fine without the porn gimmick. Still, Roberts and Cusack are on fire, especially during a scene in which Roberts smashes a guitar, and Cusack just slyly grins. There’s another great moment when Amy shows up drunk and demands to be deflowered, while Rat insists that such a thing won’t happen—even though it is pretty obvious he’s slept with…
21 Feb 2014
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Director Ben Wheatley follows up brilliant serial-killer comedy Sightseers with A Field in England, a low-budget, black-and-white hallucinogenic period piece set in the hedgerows of 17th-century England. It’s consistently weird, sometimes indecipherable, and always compelling, from a guy who doesn’t want to paint in between the lines. As the film begins, Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) emerges from tall grass during a battle, scared and begging for his life. Sent on a mission to find a manuscript thief—a mysterious Irishman named O’Neil (Michael Smiley)—Whitehead is coming up short, and his boss is losing patience. Whitehead soon meets up with three other deserters, including Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover). The four decide the war is not for them, and set out to find a place to grab a beer. The men wind up in the presence of the dreaded O’Neil. He has a human appearance, but might be some sort of…
18 Feb 2014
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I missed About Time in theaters last year. (Hey, I can’t see them all!) That’s a shame, because this film is deserving of high praise. Writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually) has made his best film yet, and finds a way to use time-travel that requires no special-effects budget. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), a slightly nebbish but somewhat cute and alluring Brit, finds out from his super-laid-back dad (a wonderful Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the gift of time travel: They just need to go to a dark place (preferably a wardrobe cabinet), clench their fists, and think of where they want to be in their own past. Then, boom—they are there, able to live that piece of life again, and make adjustments where necessary. However, this power comes with rules—and hazards. They can’t travel back beyond their own life, so there’s no killing Hitler. They can’t go…
14 Feb 2014
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Will Forte follows up his strong dramatic turn in Nebraska with an even better performance in a better movie, Run and Jump. Forte plays Ted, an American doctor in Ireland studying Conor (Edward MacLiam), a relatively young stroke patient returning to his family after being in a coma. The stroke has rendered Conor childlike; he has most of his motor skills, but little memory of the man he was before. Ted lives with him and his family, videotaping Conor in his interactions with his spirited wife, Vanetia, played winningly by Maxine Peake. Conor’s state has left him relatively useless as a father figure, husband and lover. His two kids are confused, while Vanetia does her best to remain upbeat and good-natured. Slowly, Ted begins to step in as a friend to Vanetia, and a father figure to the children. Much credit goes to director and co-writer Steph Green for making…
11 Feb 2014
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Quentin Tarantino called Big Bad Wolves the best film of 2013. While I wouldn’t go that far, I will declare it last year’s best horror film—and a tremendous filmmaking feat from directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. They figured out how to wring laughter out of a movie that features child abductions and murders, extreme torture and police beatings. When a girl goes missing and is eventually murdered, a cop turned vigilante, Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), and the girl’s father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), wind up taking matters into their own hands with a suspect, Dror (Rotem Keinan). The three partake in a grueling session of psychological and physical torture aimed at revealing the murderer of Gidi’s daughter and other children. Dror, Gidi and Micki all become good, classic suspects in the child murders. Dror, a nebbish type with a young daughter of his own, seems too innocuous to be innocent. Gidi,…
07 Feb 2014
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At long last, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up for a movie together in which they both play big parts. Yes, they have been in The Expendables films together, but Arnie has only done guest spots. Escape Plan has Sly playing a security expert who escapes from prisons for a living. Things go bad when he gets buried in a maximum-security prison—and the folks who put him there plan to keep him locked up. Arnie plays a prisoner who befriends Sly on the inside, and they together look for a way to get out of a seemingly inescapable place. Stallone is good here, and I haven’t enjoyed Arnie this much since well before he became governor. Arnold has one scene in which he raves to the warden about God in German. It turns out the warden is played by Jim Caviezel, who did, in fact, play Jesus for Mel…
04 Feb 2014
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In All Is Lost, a movie that features almost no dialogue, Robert Redford delivers some of his best work ever as a man trying to survive a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean. While sleeping in his yacht, Redford’s character (simply called “Our Man” in the credits) is abruptly awakened by a floating cargo bin crashing into his boat’s side. What follows is more than 100 minutes of Redford’s character solving problems and fighting to stay alive. Much credit goes to the legendary actor, as well as relative newbie writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), for making this compelling from start to finish. You’ll be surprised by how gripping the sight of a man simply trying to repair his boat can be. Redford looks like he put himself through the ringer, and the results are well worth it. His character gets no real back-story; other than one loud expletive, a couple of…
01 Feb 2014
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There was a time when Woody Allen was consistently making the best movies in the business. Blue Jasmine is that return to form that some of us former Allen fans have been seeking, thanks in large part to a phenomenal central performance by the Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett. Blanchett plays Jasmine, the wife of a Bernie Madoff-type financier (Alec Baldwin) who must relocate from New York to San Francisco after she is bankrupted and emotionally destroyed. She gulps martinis, criticizes her helpful sister (Sally Hawkins, also an Oscar nominee) and, quite frighteningly, is prone to bouts of talking to herself. Allen finds the dark humor in the story, and employs a supporting cast that includes comedians Louis C.K. and, most astonishingly, Andrew Dice Clay—who, doggone it, delivers an amazing performance as Ginger’s financially destroyed ex-husband, Augie. Above and beyond the humor, though, Allen makes his film a parable about how some…
31 Jan 2014
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Brie Larson and Short Term 12 got some Oscar buzz (but were ultimately denied a nomination) for her role as Grace, a supervisor at a foster-care building full of angry and depressed teens. Larson is quite good, as is co-star John Gallagher Jr. as Mason, her boyfriend and fellow supervisor. The film plays like a sort of juvenile One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, except that Grace is a helluva lot nicer than Nurse Ratched, and none of the teens really have the exuberance of Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy. In fact, Grace is compassionate to an extreme, which leads to some conflicts of interest when dealing with one particular girl (Kaitlyn Dever). The girl has similar problems to those suffered by Grace during her youth, so Grace gets a little too proactive—and jeopardizes her standing at the foster home. Some of the kids are interesting, especially Keith Stanfield as Marcus, a…
21 Jan 2014
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I can honestly say I’ve never seen a movie like Old Goats before. Three elderly men (Bob Burkholder, Britton Crosley and David Vander Wal) play versions of themselves in Taylor Guterson’s honest and funny look at getting older. The film was released today, Tuesday, Jan. 21, on DVD. Britt lives on his little boat and embarks on Internet dating. Bob is writing a book of his memoirs, called Skirting the Edge (a book Burkholder actually wrote), while leading the local Oatmeal Club and juggling girlfriends. David is a rich man gently forced into retirement by his former company. The three cope with aging by being generally cranky and funny. Guterson captures some genuinely funny and heartwarming moments. I thought the movie was a documentary when it started, but I slowly began to realize it was mostly fiction. I doubt these three guys will become movie stars—but they certainly are movie…
18 Jan 2014
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Director Lee Daniels—prominently mentioned in The Butler’s title (officially Lee Daniels’ The Butler) after a much publicized lawsuit—delivers a fine emotional wallop with this historical epic loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a butler at the White House for 34 years. The character based on Allen is renamed Cecil (played by Forest Whitaker), and the character is given a fictional older son in order to depict a family conflict regarding the Civil Rights Movement. In other words: This film, which shows the butler interacting with presidents from Eisenhower (Robin Williams) through Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), is mostly made up. That doesn’t hurt the film’s dramatic significance; it’s an ultimately moving experience. What does hurt the film a bit is the horrible makeup, especially a goofy fake nose for John Cusack as Richard Nixon. The makeup is so bad that the film turns into unintentional comedy when some characters…