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DVDs/Home Viewing

23 Oct 2013
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The latest film from director Guillermo del Toro is a bit dopey and soapy in spots, but it definitely delivers the thrills when big robots clash with big monsters. In the near future, huge beasts have started coming out of the ocean, making it hard to get a morning latte at the corner shop. The world comes up with a giant robot plan that works for a while—but then multiple monsters start attacking. Things start going wrong, and bad dialogue ensues. Yes, the script is a bit weak, but the action is stellar—and one of the scenes, in which a woman recalls a monster attack from her youth, is one of the year’s best individual sequences. The film tanked domestically, but did OK internationally—raising hopes that more robot/monster action could follow. Del Toro has confirmed that work has begun on a part two, but the project hasn’t been officially given…
22 Oct 2013
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This dark, dark 1973 Western was Clint Eastwood’s second directorial effort (after Play Misty for Me)—and man, oh man, does it contain some nasty stuff. The film works as an ode to Eastwood’s Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns by taking the Man With No Name from those films, changing him into “The Stranger,” and giving his surroundings a more Americanized look. (Eastwood shot most of the film on a set constructed on the shores of Northern California’s Mono Lake.) Within minutes of rolling into the old Western town of Lago, The Stranger kills a bunch of men while getting a shave; he rapes a woman soon thereafter. In other words, he’s not trying to win any popularity contests. Eastwood ambiguously suggests that The Stranger could be the ghost of a man the townsfolk killed—or the devil personified. The Stranger, after displaying his powers with a gun, is coaxed into protecting the…
16 Oct 2013
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I just took a look at the new Blu-ray of John Carpenter’s Halloween, and now I am reviewing John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Hey, ’tis the season for John Carpenter films, right? Carpenter had a couple of disappointing studio-film experiences in the 1980s, so he made this 1987 film independently on a small budget. A priest (Donald Pleasence), a professor (Victor Wong) and some grad students head to an abandoned church. In its basement is a cylinder containing swirling green fluid that is somehow Satan himself. The cylinder starts squirting into people’s mouths and turning them into gory vessels for the devil. Carpenter hasn’t made a scarier film since this one. It’s horribly 1980s at times (Jameson Parker has an unfortunate hairdo and moustache), but Carpenter has a way with possessed humans that makes them scary and pathetic. This is his zombie movie, sort of. Chief among the film’s haunting…
15 Oct 2013
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I went to the San Diego Comic-Con this year (yes, I’m a geek), and Kevin Smith was going crazy about this movie from two young filmmakers that not only takes a different approach to the topic of high school bullying, but is also a new twist on the whole “found footage” phenomena. Big props to actor/director Matthew Johnson and his co-star, Owen Williams, for making a film that dares to be funny on its way to a completely dark finish. Johnson and Williams play Matt and Owen, two high school students and best friends who make movies together and try to get through a day without running into the high school bullies—the Dirties. We see Matt and Owen alternately playing around with different film genres, but their movie always takes a dark turn when the camera catches one of the Dirties assaulting them in the hallway or the cafeteria. Johnson…
11 Oct 2013
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The direct-to-video Curse of Chucky doesn’t quite get it right. The plot involves a Chucky doll being sent to the home of Nica (Fiona Dourif, the daughter of Chucky’s voice provider, Brad Dourif). Nica, confined to a wheelchair, becomes suspicious of the newly arrived doll when her mom and visiting family mysteriously die. Eventually, Chucky happily reveals he’s behind the bloodshed. This is mostly stupid, generic horror-movie crap. The doll looks pretty good, though, and Dourif delivers some fun vocal work. However, the best part of the movie comes after the credits and involves a quick cameo from a familiar Chucky-franchise face. It’s too little, too late. Special Features: A commentary with the director and stars, gag reels and multiple documentaries make this a good features package. You can also get the movie as part of the new Blu-ray package Chucky: The Complete Collection, which includes all of the Chucky…
08 Oct 2013
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Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, the final film from the famed British comedy troupe, is by far their nastiest. It was a shocking viewing experience 30 years ago, and it remains so today. After the successes of The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, the Pythons apparently struggled to come up with a narrative for another film. Therefore, they wound up making a film about “everything,” essentially giving them a platform to go back to their sketch-comedy roots. The result is a scattershot adventure, with much of it making very little sense—but most of it being very funny. Sketches about birth, religion and death abound, and the Pythons didn’t hold back when it came to visual and verbal obscenity. The liver-donor segment is still one of the goriest and most-disturbing sequences ever put into a comedy, and it somehow manages to be hilarious. Hats off to Terry Gilliam…
07 Oct 2013
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The third Iron Man film regained some magic after the enjoyable but inferior Iron Man 2. That’s thanks in large part to director Shane Black, a man who has great chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. Just watch their Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for proof. Things get dark this time around, with Downey’s Tony Stark suffering anxiety attacks after the events of The Avengers. The world is being terrorized by a strange sort called the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a cloaked psycho who uses television and the Internet to hold the world at ransom. After a battle that annihilates his California abode, Stark finds himself on the road and hiding out with a kid; this leads to some funny banter. Guy Pearce shows up as a potentially bad guy, and Gwyneth Paltrow gets a chance to put on a suit and kick some ass. As far as action goes, this film really…
06 Oct 2013
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Hey, it’s fall, so that means it’s time for yet another Blu-ray packaging of the John Carpenter classic Halloween. This umpteenth package commemorates the film’s 35th anniversary (a fact which will surely make a lot of us feel very old). After 3 1/2 decades, Michael Myers is still quintessential slasher villain. Yes, he’s had to endure some terrible sequels and some semi-crappy Rob Zombie remakes, but a viewing of the film that started it all shows that he was, and still is, cinema’s best psycho creeper. The film has aged well … for the most part. Oh, sure, P.J. Soles saying “Totally!” way too much grates on the nerves, and some of Jamie Lee Curtis’ dialogue sputters. (I always hated her line: “Well, kiddo … I thought you outgrew superstition.”) Still, Carpenter nailed the scares in this one. The shot in which Curtis’ Laurie Strode is sitting in the hallway…
23 Sep 2013
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J.J. Abrams continues the great thing he started with his 2009 reboot of this beloved franchise. In Star Trek Into Darkness, he gives us more familiar characters from Trek history—but thanks to that ingeniously created alternate timeline, the people aren’t quite the same. Benedict Cumberbatch is scary as a renegade Starfleet officer looking to kill as many commanders as possible while Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) chase him all over the universe. Peter Weller enters the fray as a power-hungry admiral, and Alice Eve is a welcome addition as his daughter, an Enterprise stowaway. There are moments when Abrams goes a little overboard with his homage (I hate that tribble!) but it’s not enough to damage another worthy chapter in the franchise. In a year when the summer movie blockbusters were pretty weak, this, alongside Iron Man 3, was king. For those of you who still don’t know…
24 Sep 2013
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In Drinking Buddies, Olivia Wilde plays Kate, a microbrewery employee in a relationship with an OK but perhaps mismatched guy (Ron Livingston). Luke (Jake Johnson) is her co-worker—and he’s the perfect guy for her, but he is in a relationship with a nice girl (Anna Kendrick) who also doesn’t seem to be a perfect match. Writer-director Joe Swanberg takes this well-worn premise and does something altogether wonderful, funny and original with it. Wilde is a revelation in the main role. She’s had a lot of showy Hollywood roles (TRON: Legacy, In Time), and this is by far her best movie effort to date. She’s sweet, funny and just a little messed up. Johnson, so good in Safety Not Guaranteed, is equally good here, making Luke a more complex character than he at first seems to be. Kendrick and Livingston are good in the less-showy but equally important supporting roles. This…
17 Sep 2013
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I missed Sharknado during its initial cable run. I found that a lot of people loved that it existed, but they didn’t necessarily sit down to watch the thing. Not only did I sit down to watch this … I paid for this! Am I glad I did it? I sure am. Let me make something perfectly clear: There isn’t a lot of actual sharknado action—i.e., action consisting of tornadoes full of sharks. The movie is more about standard shark attacks on the beach, shark attacks in your backyard, and shark attacks in the living room. You know, everyday shark-attack sort of stuff. It isn’t until near the finale that you get full-on sharknado action, with big twisters full of hammerheads and great whites that eat people as soon as they hit the ground. Whoever made this movie should’ve thrown a lot more money at it, because tornadoes full of…
13 Sep 2013
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Michael Cera stars in Crystal Fairy as Jamie, an American in Chile who is obsessed with the notion of drinking the juice of a hallucinogenic cactus. Along the way, he meets the strange title character (Gaby Hoffman), who joins Jamie and his group (which includes writer-director Sebastián Silva and his brothers). Cera is very good here, playing a selfish, misguided man whose streak of humor sometimes ranges toward the cruel. Former child star Hoffman literally lets it all hang out as a star-child type who is hiding some decidedly less-esoteric traits from the group. The movie is spacey, funny and a nice vehicle for Cera, who wound up having a great summer with this and his turns in This Is the End and the rebooted Arrested Development. The film gets him out of his comfort zone while playing up his fun quirks as an actor. As for Hoffman—so good in…