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DVDs/Home Viewing

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…
06 May 2014
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Enemy features an awesome performance from a great actor playing somebody who might be a little sick in the head. Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a college-history professor who reeks of insecurity and has a guilty vibe about him. He has a beautiful girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) with whom he seems to be having a few sexual problems. He’s having bad dreams in which the arachnids show up, and he seems depressed most of his waking hours. When Adam watches a movie in an effort to cheer up, he spies what appears to be himself playing a bellboy. Weird. A little research reveals that the bellboy is Anthony (also played by Gyllenhaal), a bit-part actor who is Adam’s doppelganger. Anthony is married to Helen (Sarah Gadon), and while full details aren’t given, it seems as if Anthony has been unfaithful in the past. Unlike the confused and sad Adam, Anthony is very regimental…
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.…