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DVD & Blue Ray

The DVD Wrapup: Blood Simple, Cat People, Shallows, Neon Demon, Sirk X 2, Warcraft, Kamikaze ’89 and more

Before Blood Simple hit the festival circuit in September, 1984, at Deauville and Toronto, it’s safe to say that Joel and Ethan Coen couldn’t get arrested in this town. On the advice of Sam Raimi, they knocked on doors in Los Angeles, New York, the Twin Cities and Austin, hats in hand, trying to interest someone, anyone in checking out their two-minute teaser for the film. It’s what filmmakers did in the days before Kickstarter. Any money they raised went straight to their headquarters in Texas, where a cinema community was in its infancy and a few dollars went a long way.

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The DVD Wrapup: Free State of Jones, Beauty & Beast, Bettie Page, Pele and more

At 139 minutes, Gary Ross’s frequently exhilarating, sometimes grueling Free State of Jones dramatizes one of the most unlikely and virtually unknown – outside Mississippi, anyway – chapters in Civil War history. Unlike Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave and the recent re-adaptation of “Roots,” viewers averse to sadistic violence and racial epithets weren’t required to gird their loins for what was to come.

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The DVD Weekend: Popstar, Civil War, Bigger Splash, King Jack, Standing Tall, Marguerite, Marauders, Tower Records, Vaxxed, Raising Cain and more

It’s possible that Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer — collectively known as Lonely Island – wrote their occasionally very funny music mockumentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, thinking it could re-create the commercial, critical and pop-cultural success accorded This Is Spinal Tap. If so, they probably should have set their sights on someone less prone to self-parody than the ever-ridiculous Justin Bieber, who is more worthy of a three-minute sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” The great thing about Rob Reiner’s 1984 comedy was that viewers couldn’t always be sure when the band was making fun of heavy metal music, the musicians themselves, their fans or the industry. They still can’t. It isn’t unusual to hear a cut from Spinal Tap’s fictional “Smell the Glove” album on SiriusXM’s Underground Garage channel, played alongside the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, the Ramones and Patti Smith. Any memory of the songs on the Popstar soundtrack vaporizes within minutes of hearing them.

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The DVD Wrapup: Now You See Me, Bodyguard, Tale of Tales, Equals, Genius, Hockney, Lamb, Night Manager, South Park and more

An audience’s communal willingness to suspend disbelief while watching an illusionist perform live is a far more entertaining exercise than suspending disbelief in the service of a large-budget, effects-dependent movie, if only because a trick might occasionally go haywire or a normally docile tiger could unexpectedly attack its handler. We exist at a time in cinematic history when blunders and missteps are freely shown during the closing credits of a feature or as part of a DVD’s bonus package. The industry’s dependency on green screen and CGI technology, to achieve economic and creative goals, has become so commonplace that it’s possible to long for the days when stuntmen made us believe that A-list stars routinely risked everything to make us laugh, cry or tingle with excitement. The conceit behind Now You See Me and Now You See Me 2 requires us to accept the unlikely, if thoroughly appealing premise that a quartet of superstar magicians could combines their individual talents to play Robin Hood or save the world from powerful forces beyond our control.

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DVD Geek: A Taste of Honey, Miles Ahead, Love & Mercy, The Comeback, Miss Sadie Thompson 3D

Between the appeal of listening to the problems of a troubled friend, and creating a captivating replication of real dialogue and emotions in condensed dramatic form, The Taste Of Honey is consistently engrossing.

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DVD Geek: Only Angels Have Wings

A classic production from the greatest year of movies, 1939, the action scenes are terrific, not only because of realistic special effects, but because the editing is precise in its suspense, and the dramatic sequences are equally dazzling, with Hawks’ legendary overlapping dialog and complex yet organic character blocking.

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DVD Geek: Vacation

Only one test is necessary to judge a comedy—does it make you laugh?—and by the conditions of that test, the Warner Home Video release, Vacation, is a total success.

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The DVD Wrapup: Everybody Wants Some!!, Allegiant, Belladonna, Van Gogh, Mecanix, Green Room, With Child, Dark Horse and more

That so many of us recognize ourselves in Linklater’s characters and depictions of the coming-of-age process – mostly told from a young white male point of view — speaks to the commonality of experience in a nation homogenized by stimuli provided by the mass media. The stoners and slackers in Austin, circa May 1976, were then and still are interchangeable with those in Madison or Spokane, while Mason’s boyhood journey resonated with anyone who grew up outside major cities at a time when divorce was commonplace and adults couldn’t be counted upon to serve as role models.

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The DVD Wrapup: Knight of Cups, Greek Wedding 2, Wondrous Boccaccio, Anesthesia and more

Knight of Cups couldn’t have been made by anyone less contemplative or obsessed with the dialectics of beauty than Malick. Before capturing the attention of the film world with the visually stunning and deeply moving Badlands and Days of Heaven, he apprenticed under some of the industry’s savviest professionals. His stellar education in the humanities would only come to the fore, however, after three individual hiatuses, totaling 32 years.

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The DVD Wrapup: 45 Years, 10 Cloverfield Lane, London Has Fallen, Wenders/Franco, La chienne and more

Once upon a time in Hollywood, movies that featured elderly characters played by venerable stars could be counted on to attract a decent-sized slice of the box-office pie and command the attention of awards voters.

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DVD Wrapup: Zootopia, Hail Caesar, 13 Hours, Anomalisa, The Confirmation, Touched With Fire, One More Time, Tom Waits and more

The messages in Disney’s new animated gem, Zootopia, are so overtly liberal, I’m surprised none of the Republican candidates for president didn’t it condemn it during their debates for being subversive. Of course, there’s still time for Donald Trump to propose constructing a wall around the Burbank studios, lest undocumented-alien bunnies, sheep and foxes attempt to enter the country illegally. On that count, anyway, politicians who choke on words like inclusivity, empowerment, diversity and co-existence are several days late and at least a billion dollars short.

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The DVD Wrapup: Zoolander 2, Finest Hours, A Married Woman, Manhunter, The Damned and more

With approximately 100 minutes to go, co-writer-director-star Ben Stiller will be required to recycle gags from the original, coordinate the many cameo appearances of well-known stars and fashionistas, preen in character for the camera and hope that viewers have forgotten that Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter did a far better job skewering the industry seven years before Z1 was unleashed in 2001.

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The DVD Wrapup: Theeb, Naked Island, Witch, Maurice Pialat, Cop Rock and more

There are times when Naji Abu Nowar’s terrific World War I adventure, Theeb, feels very much like Lawrence of Arabia writ small. Less than half as long, it tells a similarly exciting story from the point of view of Bedouin tribesmen who attach themselves to a British Army officer assigned to blow up an Ottoman railroad in the heart of the desert. Because Theeb is essentially a coming-of-age story, it betrays no secrets to reveal that the officer rather quickly becomes a non-factor in the drama, leaving only what he left behind to drive the narrative

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The DVD Wrapup: Mustang, Where to Invade Next, Patty Duke, In a Lonely Place and more

Nominated for a 2015 Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film category, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s and co-screenwriter Alice Winocour’s heart-breaking coming-of-age drama, Mustang, describes what happens in a country, Turkey, where the dreams and hopes of too many girls are crushed at the onset of puberty.

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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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DVD & Blue Ray

Quote Unquotesee all »

“To be a critic is to be a workaholic. Workaholism is socially conditioned: viewed favourably by exploiters, it’s generally ruinous to a worker’s mental health. When T.S. Eliot said criticism was as inevitable as breathing, he failed to mention that, respiratory problems notwithstanding, breathing is easy. Criticism is reflexive before reflective: to formalise/industrialise an involuntary instinct requires time, effort and discipline. The reason we seek remuneration, as opposed to the self-hatred of being a scab, is because all labour should be waged…

“Criticism, so the cliché by now goes, is dying. None of the panel discussions on its death agony, however—including those in which I’ve formally participated—come at it from the wider perspective that the problem surely needs. They defend the ways in which criticism functions in relation to the industry and to the public, but they fail to contextualise these relationships as defined by ultimately rotten and self-harming imperatives.

“Criticism was a noble profession so long as only a few could practice it for money; when the field expands, as it has with a so-called ‘democratisation’ of our practice, those few lose their political power. Competition grows and markets are undercut: publications are naturally going to start paying less. Precarity is both cause and effect of a surplus workforce: the reason you’re only as good as your last article is because there are plenty of other folks who can write the next one in your place. The daily grind is: pitch, or perish.

B”ut criticism, so a counter-cliché goes, is not dying. An irony: this is an elite sport that is no longer elite in terms of who is able to practice it, but in economic terms it’s clutching to a perverse and outmoded hierarchical structure. It’s more meritocratic than ever, now: which is to say it isn’t meritocratic at all. That’s a paradox in bad need of a resolution…”

~ Michael Pattison Manifestoes Film Criticism

“It’s easy to forget when you’re reading a critic every single week or multiple times a week, that most of us who do this job, and have been doing it for a long time, understand that this is basically a parasitic profession. I don’t mean in the sense that we’re evil bloodsucking creatures, but we couldn’t exist if we didn’t have something to analyze. And I’m always conscious of that. So whether I like or don’t like a particular thing you do, my point of view is always that of an appreciator. I just like to be in the world that you create.”
~ Matt Zoller Seitz To Sam Esmail

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