DVD & Blue Ray

The DVD Wrapup: Stealing Cars, Dixieland, Great Hypnotist, The Forest, Dreams Rewired, Giallo, Zydeco, Alice’s Restaurant and more

If this affecting teen drama had been made in the 1930s, it might have starred Mickey Rooney as the most unrepentant juvenile delinquent in a reform school full of hard cases. Or, it could have provided the perfect ensemble vehicle for the Dead End Kids, with Leo Gorcey standing up to the brutal screws and finding redemption in the nifty car he’s assigned to wax for the warden. In Stealing Cars, Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines) plays the self-destructive Billy Wyatt, a too-smart-for-his-own-good wiseass whose criminal behavior lands him in the Bernville Camp for Boys. Seemingly without any concern for his own safety, Billy shoves his education in

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The DVD Wrapup: Agnes Varda, Macbeth, Coming Home, Finding Gaston and more

At 87, the much celebrated European filmmaker Agnès Varda doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Aligned with the French New Wave, her early work not only pre-dated the movement and but also influenced its more identifiable practitioners. If she isn’t as well-known as André Bazin, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette and her future husband, Jacques Demy, it’s because of her desire to make films that didn’t focus on established traditions or classical standards. So it took longer for American audiences to warm to her singular vision and experimentation. Being a woman in an industry dominated by men couldn’t have helped her chances for commercial success, either. Varda also has remained active as a creator of stylized documentaries, a judge at prestigious festivals and frequent recipient of honorary awards. Cinelicious Pics has done the arthouse crowd a huge favor by releasing a double feature of rarely seen films Varda made concurrently with Jane Birkin in the mid-1980s: Jane B. Par Agnès V. and Kung-Fu Master.

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The DVD Wrapup: Danish Girl, Boy, Intruders, Beautiful When Angry, Iron Sheik and more

The Danish Girl is an intelligent and absolutely gorgeous movie. If neither the book nor the movie bear much resemblance to the historical facts, the film’s interwar European settings, set design and period costumes are splendidly rendered and the lead characters’ paintings are very easy on the eyes.

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The DVD Wrapup: Spotlight, Good Dinosaur, Cannibal Women, Bees and more

Like All the President’s Men, Spotlight is a journalistic procedural and the target of the investigation is abuse of power. While terrible crimes are unraveled, the excitement comes from watching highly trained and unusually dedicated reporters work on all eight cylinders in pursuit of a single goal: the truth. 

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The DVD Wrapup: Black Mass, Trumbo, Death by Hanging, Taviani Trilogy, Iron Ministry, Paprika, Black Panthers and more

Unlike so many other Hollywood gangster movies, Black Mass doesn’t waste a lot of time attempting to humanize Bulger and his pals. Indeed, it can be argued that Johnny Depp’s decision to wear icy blue contact lens occasionally makes him look too demonic. At one point, the recently released ex-con orders his buddies to help an elderly woman with her groceries, but it’s a brief sequence, quickly overshadowed by violent crimes. Bulger’s pain over losing his 6-year-old son, Douglas, to Reyes disease, is feels genuine, if only because it heightens his resolve to stay out of jail. Otherwise, Depp’s portrayal honestly describes a sociopathic killer, who doesn’t feel as if societal rules apply to him.

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The DVD Wrapup: 99 Homes, Grandma, Crimson Peak, Jan Troell, Sheba Baby and more

One way to view Ramin Bahrani’s gut-churning drama, 99 Homes, is as a powerful indictment of the corrupt practices embraced by the real-estate industry in the still unresolved collapse of the American economy. Lenders profited from the misery of homeowners who lost their jobs and couldn’t keep up with the first and second mortgages they pursued to afford everything from necessary home improvements to such luxuries as swimming pools, vacation condos and sports cars. As long as the economy was firing on all eight cylinders, everything was jake. When it spit out the bit, however, vultures like the character played by Michael Shannon in 99 Homes swooped in to displace the suckers and enrich themselves.

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The DVD Wrapup: Bridge of Spies, Truth, Snow White, Breathe and more

There’s always a point in a Steven Spielberg movie where I want to pull out my cellphone – or hit the pause button on my remote – to check the validity of what’s just happened on the screen. Likewise, there are times in every performance by Tom Hanks when he appears to be channeling Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart, instead of remaining within the skin of his character. It doesn’t take me out of the picture for very long, just enough to remind me that the operative word in “based on a true story” is “based,” not “true.” Most fact-based movies made in Hollywood require a suspension of disbelief for the sake of telling a story. It comes with the price of a ticket. If any collaborative team is allowed more latitude than Spielberg and Hanks, however, I’d be hard-pressed to name it.

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The DVD Wrapup: Burnt, Assassin, New Girlfriend, Patels, Mr. Robot and more

As mouth-watering as Burnt is, I would discourage anyone from assuming that all foodie movies taste the same. The cranky-perfectionist conceit works better in Daniel Cohen’s Le Chef, Jon Favreau’s Chef, Lasse Hallström’s The Hundred-Foot Journey, Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s Big Night and Brittany Murphy’s largely undiscovered gem, The Ramen Girl. Also tempting are Mostly Martha and its Hollywood remake No Reservations, Woman on Top. Tampopo, Ratatouille, Julie and Julia and, of course, Babette’s Feast and Like Water for Chocolate.

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The DVD Wrapup: Straight Outta Compton, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Howl, I Am Thor and more

As difficult as it might be for fans of Straight Outta Compton to believe that it was nearly shut out of Oscar competition, it’s just that hard for me be to believe that enough voters in any category actually watched enough of the movie to endorse it. Unlike The Help and 12 Years a Slave, the story behind the rise and fall of the genre-shattering hip-hop group, N.W.A., had several things working against it from the get-go. Not all of them can be attributed to racial insensitivity and the lack of diversity in the academy, although they can’t be discounted out of hand. For example, I can’t imagine any voter over, say, 40, rewarding a movie whose acoustics required them to keep a tight grip on the remote control every time the explosive musical soundtrack kicked in on their state-of-the-art Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 system.

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The DVD Wrapup: The Walk, Irrational Man, Look of Silence, Bitter Rice, Last Horror Film and more

Absent any physical evidence of the edifice’s longtime mastery of the city’s skyline, Petit’s feat might just as well have been a scene from a movie.

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The DVD Wrapup: Sicario, Sleeping With Other People, Maneater, Cruel, Broad City and more

Stripped to its narrative framework, Sicario is a powerfully rendered procedural that, while chronicling a strike against a cartel kingpin, forces viewers to endorse or decry the extralegal tactics used in the elimination of so-called narco-terrorists. In the same way that Osama Bin Laden was denied the luxury of a trial by a Navy SEAL hit squad, the target of the CIA-led commando unit in Sicario isn’t likely to require the services of a lawyer, either. Do we care? No more than we sweated the details of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Villeneuve reserves those questions for Blunt’s ethically grounded FBI agent.

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The DVD Wrapup: War Room, Nasty Baby, Queen of Earth, Leonard Cohen and more

Queen of Earth, Elisabeth Moss portrays Catherine, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After the recent death of her father, a famous artist, and being dumped by her boyfriend, Catherine accepts an invitation from her best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) to recuperate at her lake house. Although her memories of the house include images of happy times spent with her then-boyfriend, Catherine anticipates spending quality time with Virginia. While it’s possible to anticipate the close friends partaking in some sexual healing, what happens next is far more disturbing. For a while, Catherine is able to hold her own in the increasingly nasty verbal exchanges. Moss’ facial expressions provide all the evidence we need to determine precisely when Catherine reaches her breaking point. Alex Ross Perry’s Bergman-esque approach to his story benefits from the pastoral setting.

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DVD Geek: Pan

An ‘origin’ story that does its darnedest to turn Peter Pan into Harry Potter.

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The DVD Wrapup: M:I, Ted 2, Burroughs, Time Out of Mind, Slow Learners and more

Everyone who’s fallen in love with the mythos of the Beat Generation has, at one time or another, wondered how William S. Burroughs fit into the bigger picture. Apart from being an extremely cool guy, an accomplished writer, avant-garde artist and intellectual outlaw, the grandson of the man who founded the Burroughs Adding Machine Company didn’t fit into any of the molds created by the media to explain the confederation of artists that most prominently included Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, Herbert Hunke, Neal Cassady, Gary Snyder and Gregory Corso. It’s almost impossible to imagine Burroughs hitchhiking across the country with Kerouac and Cassady, simply to “go,” and not be mistaken for a mortician or bible salesman. And, yet, go he did … to Mexico, Tangier, Paris, Rome, London and the Amazonian rain forest.

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The DVD Wrapup: Ant-Man, Minions, Blind, Girl King, Speedy, Lucky and more

Is anyone surprised to learn that Universal’s family-oriented Minions sailed right past the movies from which it was spawned, Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, on its way to an astonishing $1.157-billion worldwide box-office haul? I was.

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The DVD Wrapup: Momentum, Amorous, Secrets of War, Grace of Monaco, The Wall, The Square, Hunting Ground, MST3K and more

Last week, the dull thud of one of the worst box-office duds of all times reverberated from the U.K. to trade and gossip sites across the U.S. Momentum, a crime thriller that cost an estimated $20 million to make, returned a whopping $69 to its investors from its opening week’s run in 10 theaters. How is that even possible? Is Momentum really as bad as all that? Yes.

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The DVD Wrapup, Gift Guide II: Great American Dream Machine, McHale’s Navy, Brothers Quay, Shaun the Sheep, No Escape and more

At a time when public-broadcast stations were commonly referred to as “educational TV,” a show likened to an “intellectual ‘Laugh-In’” began production on New York City’s non-commercial WNET. “The Great American Dream Machine” was a weekly satirical variety television series. Its audience may have been miniscule compared to “Laugh-In,” but it was composed of hard-core liberals, media mavens and the next generation of opinion-makers. It didn’t take long for the show to bear fruit in the form of “The Groove Tube,” “Saturday Night Life,” “SCTV” and Kentucky Fried Movie. Watch the show today on DVD and you’ll recognize the forebears of Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Trevor Noah and John Oliver.

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The DVD Wrapup: Crumbs, Meru, Tenderness of Wolves, Living in Oblivion and more

As tiresome as most movies about our shared dystopian future have become, longtime fans of the increasingly predictable sub-genre shouldn’t give hope of finding something new and different until they’ve seen Crumbs, an instant classic from a place that looks as if it had already experienced the apocalypse and was left standing.

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The DVD Wrapup: Stations of the Cross, Code Unknown, Julien Duvivier, Eric Rohmer and more

Ida revealed truths about the deeply engrained anti-Semitism of many of the faithful. Stations of the Cross is Dietrich Brüggemann’s tragic depiction of religious fundamentalism at its most destructive and, as such, can be construed as serving as an indictment of one particularly conservative Catholic order. This one is based in southern Germany, an area not immune to fanaticism.

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The DVD Wrapup: Jurassic World, Back to Future, Inside Out, Toy Story, Benoit Jacquot and more

To paraphrase the Budweiser advertising jingle, “When you’ve collected $1.58 billion at the worldwide box office, you’ve said it all.”

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DVD & Blue Ray

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You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola

“Probably the most heralded movie I’ve ever been in was Forrest Gump. While I was sitting on the park bench, I asked Bob, ‘Is anyone going to care about this guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t know Tom. It’s a mine field. It’s a fucking mine field.’ So when it works, you just say, ‘We dodged all the mines.'”
~ Tom Hanks

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