Reviews

The DVD Wrapup: Marseille Trilogy, Life, Bird With Crystal Plumage, Lawnmower Man, Car Wash and more

Way back in the Pleistocene Age, when all film students and cineastes had to rely on for evidence of a film’s virtues were barely-watchable 16mm prints of vintage movies, it was sometimes difficult to appreciate what differentiated true classics from run-of-the-mill entertainments. Poorly maintained projectors occasionally caused the film stock to melt, while scratches and other defects turned dialogue into garble. That all changed with laserdiscs, DVDs and the concerted efforts of preservationists, who benefitted mightily from advanced digital technology. In his introduction to the Criterion Collection release of Marcel Pagnol’s “The Marseille Trilogy,” Bertrand Tavernier (‘Round Midnight) describes how his opinions about Marius (1931), Fanny (1932) and César (1936) changed after watching the 2015 restoration, conducted by Compagnie Méditerranénne de Film and the Cinémathèque Française. In short, the experience was revelatory.

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The DVD Wrapup: John Wick 2, 3 Generations, Frantz, Three Sisters, South Park 20 and more

Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad make it ridiculously easy for Wick to be found and even more ridiculously easy for the battle-hardened assassin to eliminate his pursuers using “gun fu,” a hybrid fighting style that combines martial arts and close-up gun play. That’s pretty much the whole story here. How John Wick differs from almost every other ultra-violent franchise extant, including the straight-to-video flicks of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris, is the attention paid to detail, nonstop action and imaginative death blows. Reaves, who, like Tom Cruise, performs most of his own stunts, is an attentive student of the martial arts.

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The DVD Wrapup: The Assignment, Beauty/Bambi, Land of Mine, Sense of an Ending, The Ticket, Gene Kelly, Heath Ledger and more

While you can’t say the story told in Walter Hill’s latest, The Assignment, was ripped from today’s headlines – Denis Hamill’s original screenplay is nearly forty years old, after all – the fact that a protagonist undergoes gender reassignment, however involuntary, is reasonably topical.

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The DVD Wrapup: World Cinema Project 2, Obsession, Pelle the Conqueror, Jacques Rivette, Dark Angel and more

It would be difficult for most of us to sustain the level of affection and enthusiasm Martin Scorsese displays in his introductions to the half-dozen films collected in World Cinema Project: No. 2. They are his godchildren. Scorsese has always been a key player in the film preservation movement and this is the second batch of movies the World Cinema Project has rescued for future generations to enjoy. Established in 2007 under the auspices of the Film Foundation, which, in 1990, Scorsese founded and now chairs, the project has thus far restored 30 marginalized, infrequently screened films from 21 regions generally unequipped to preserve their own cinema history. They have been made available for exhibition on various platforms. For its part, the foundation has helped restore more than 750 films, accessible to the public through programming at festivals, museums and educational i.nstitutions around the world. It easily qualifies as God’s work and Scorsese has a right to be expect a few plenary indulgences.

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The DVD Wrapup: Space Between Us, xXx, Starlight, Operation Mekong, Serial Mom, Brain Damage and more

There are exteriors in the largely Mars-based The Space Between Us that look as if they might have been ported over from The Martian. Its lack of success commercially and critically, however, probably can be traced to issues unrelated to space fatigue. Absent any of the bells and whistles that helped launch other recent sci-fi extravaganzas — 3D, IMAX, 3D IMAX — even The Martian faced an uphill climb. Neither were its chances enhanced by three release-date changes and a marketing campaign hobbled by mixed messages.

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The DVD Wrapup: Fifty Shades Darker, Things to Come, Chef’s Wife, Alena, Kiju Yoshida, Streets of Fire, Beaches and more

In less time than it takes for most folks to decide between fake butter and plain popcorn, they reconnect and he’s agreed to Anastasia’s list of demands. In another blink of the eye, she’s peeling off her britches in elevators and restaurants, and submitting to the tortuous pleasure of inserting beads into her hoohah for a night out on the town.

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The DVD Wrapup: Salesman, Gold, Red Turtle, Rings, Tunnel, Age of Shadows, Saving Banksy, Saturday Night Fever and more

It can be argued, I suppose, that Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of Iran and six other predominately Muslim countries gave Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman an edge in the voting for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

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The DVD Wrapup: Girl With All the Gifts, Girl From Brothel, Underworld V, Detour, Catfight, We Are X, Borowczyk, Three Brothers and more

The more I learn about the business of distributing DVDs, Blu-ray and VOD, the less sense key business decisions make. Take, for example, Colm McCarthy and writer Mike Carey’s very representative horror flick The Girl With All the Gifts. Apart from being extremely well made and unusually thought-provoking, it features a performance by Glenn Close that almost has to be seen to be believed. Looking a bit like her cross-dressing butler Albert Nobbs – for which she won an Obie and received an Oscar nominated – but with an authoritative bearing not unlike her Nova Prime, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Close plays Dr. Caroline Caldwell, a no-nonsense biologist determined to find a vaccine for a zombie plague. The novelty of such casting, alone, would appear to be sufficient cause for an arthouse release. After debuting at last year’s Locarno, Stuttgart Fantasy Film and Toronto festivals – where it received excellent reviews — The Girl With All the Gifts was accorded little more than an Internet premiere, in January. Then, apparently, no one could figure out what to do with the darn thing,

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The DVD Wrapup: Founder, Punching Henry, Paris 05:59, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, Woman of the Year, Tampopo, Handmaid’s Tale and more

As McDonald’s struggles once again to figure out how it wants to be perceived in markets in the U.S. and around the world, The Founder reminds of us of what made the concept so revolutionary in the first place. There’s a scene in John Lee Hancock’s appealing biographical drama in which Ray Kroc visits an early franchisee, where the operator has chosen to change the menu’s emphasis on hamburgers, fries and shakes and garishly promote its chicken entrees. The look on Kroc’s face made me think that he might take a cue from the New Testament and banish the blasphemers from his golden-arched temple, turning over tables and upending trash cans. Heaven only knows what he’d do if he returned to Earth, today, and visited my local McDonald’s, My guess is that he’d prefer spinning in his grave than sampling an Angus Mushroom & Swiss on a “premium bakery style bun.”

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The DVD Wrapup: Lion, Toni Erdmann, Worlds Apart, Daughters of the Dust, Ludwig, Cathy’s Curse and more

Films made about children appropriated by authorities and handed over to politically connected or wealthy families as orphans aren’t all that unusual. Lion’s happy ending is what sets it apart from other stories.

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The DVD Wrapup: Rogue One, Office Party, Three, Story of Sin, Actor Martinez and more

The first things longtime fans will notice is the absence of a crawl, as well as an overture by a composer not named John Williams, although his aural fingerprints can be heard throughout the score. Buffs probably were already aware of the absence of Jedi in the cast of characters and the difference in narrative tone from the other episodes. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and co-writers Chris Weitz (Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity) have emphasized that “Rogue One” was conceived as a war story with a sometimes ambiguous moral code.

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The DVD Wrapup: 20th Century Women, Silence, Just a Sigh, Art Bastard, Blow-Up, MST3K and more

Because she doesn’t feel confident in her ability to raise a teenage son in such an environment, Dorothea entrusts the finer points to Abbie and Julie. Jamie probably would be better served if he apprenticed under William, but Dorothea sees him as someone who can’t be completely trusted around women. (Mills says he was raised in much the same way by his sister and other women in his mom’s orbit.) Neither has she shaken off the residue of growing into adulthood during the Eisenhower era, when parents were expected to be arbiters of their kids’ behavior. With the age of it-takes-a-village parenthood looming on the horizon, Dorothea needs as much help as Jamie. Although his expository narration occasionally eliminates the element of surprise, watching Bening negotiate the shoals of Dorothea’s life can be thrilling.

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The DVD Wrapup: Julieta, Sing, Kind of Murder, Nightless City, Multiple Maniacs, Cinema Paradiso, 45RPM, Ali & Nino, American Princesses, Split and more

While any new movie by Pedro Almodóvar is cause for celebration, Julieta stands out for several reasons. Upon its screening at Cannes, critics were quick to point out that it not only marked a return to the women-centric dramas for which he’s been associated for the entirety of his 40-year, 20-feature career. It’s also one of only a very few titles that he’s adapted from a literary source or shared a writing credit. Based on three stories by Canadian writer Alice Munro — “Chance,” “Soon” and “Silence,” from her 2004 collection “Runaway” – Almodóvar originally planned to adapt them as his first English-language screenplay, possibly starring Meryl Streep. He didn’t feel comfortable pursuing that,  and re-set the film for locations in Spain. If reviewers missed the director’s outrageous comedy and other trademark touches, loyalists savored his insider riffs on Spanish telenovelas, Hitchcockian tropes and film noir, as well as Julieta’s distinct visual style and complementary color palette.

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The DVD Wrapup: Fences, Elle, Passengers, Solace, Film/Not Film, Robert Flaherty, Drunk History and more

A few eyebrows were raised when playwright-screenwriter Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) was hired to build on a draft written by Wilson before his death in 2005. Finally, though, Wilson was given sole authorship of the adapted screenplay, as well as an Academy Award nomination, while Kushner is credited as co-producer. It explains why Fences sometimes feels as if it were transplanted directly from the stage and the establishing exteriors are limited to a few shots of Troy and Bono working in the streets of Pittsburgh, his visit to downtown headquarters to be promoted to driver and a shot of kids playing stickball. The movie never feels stagebound or contrived, however. Wilson’s genius for turning conversations into poetry is as evident as ever.

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The DVD Wrapup: Moana, Brand New Testament, Weissensee Saga, 100 Streets, and more

Disney recruited a variety of experts on Polynesian history and culture to ensure authenticity and pre-empt what had become almost pro-forma accusations of cultural insensitivity in earlier features. Throughout the production process, revisions to everything from language and characterizations, to hair styles,, tattoos and ancillary products, were suggested and made. The result is a wonderfully entertaining family movie whose Oceania influences are reflected in the color palate, music, dance, dress, physical backdrops and customs.

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The DVD Wrapup: Moonlight, Doctor Strange, Arrival, Before Trilogy, Chronic and more

Moonlight is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s semi-autobiographical text, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” written in 2003 to cope with his own mother’s death from AIDS. Never produced, it was ten years before Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) – who grew up only a few blocks from McCraney, in Miami’s poverty- and crime-wracked Liberty City projects – was pushed to begin work on a second film. The characters are informed by people who influenced both men at various times in their lives. If Moonlight feels hyperreal, it’s because McCraney and Jenkins endured many of the same powerful forces as Chiron and Kevin.

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The DVD Wrapup: Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester, Arrival, Bad Santa 2, Tharlo, Chabrol X 3 and more

When a Hollywood movie is said to have been based on a true story, it’s safe to assume that the actions of the protagonist were embellished to make the character more heroic or saintly. In his multiple Oscar candidate, Hacksaw Ridge, director Mel Gibson was faced with the opposite problem. The real-life story of U.S. Army medic Desmond Doss — the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor – was too good to be true, even for the movies. If anything, the truth behind Doss’ actions during the Battle of Okinawa, in World War II, had to be scaled back, so that viewers wouldn’t think they were pumped up for dramatic effect. In Gibson’s first directorial effort since 2006’s Apocalypto – or, to be more precise, since he disgraced himself after being stopped in Malibu on suspicion of driving while drunk – the number of men Doss saved or rescued was limited to 75, when it probably was much higher.

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The DVD Wrapup: Edge of 17, Gimme Danger, Cameraperson, Tree Of Wooden Clogs, London Town, Coffin Joe, King Cobra and more

When Stevie Nicks wrote the song after which Kelly Fremon Craig’s coming-of-age comedy-drama was named, she was addressing the grief that resulted from the death of her beloved uncle, Jonathan, and the murder of John Lennon, during the same week of December, 1980. It probably didn’t have much to do with the angst, optimism and anxiety that comes with entering the final year of one’s childhood or experiencing the first genuine pangs of love or pain as young adult, as most of us assumed.

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The DVD Wrapup: Loving, American Pastoral, Eagle Huntress, Come What May, Blush, Leonard Cohen and more

The horrifying story told in Loving may have been revelatory to many viewers, whose only knowledge of this footnote in history derived from feature articles and reviews that accompanied its Cannes debut and release last November. For others, such reminders of American apartheid are as fresh as yesterday’s news.

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The DVD Wrapup: Queen of Katwe, Jack Reacher, Tyler Perry, Killbillies, Victoria and more

That Queen of Katwe is set almost entirely in Uganda, with a side trip to Russia, shouldn’t matter a whit to anyone looking for an escape from the bad news relayed by the talking heads on cable news. The unlikely story of 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi, who rose from poverty in the slums of Kampala to excel in the cutthroat world of international chess competition, fits neatly alongside such compelling David-vs.-Goliath, Cinderella and fish-out-of-water dramas as Stand and Deliver, The Blind Side, The Perfect GameThe Great Debaters and Music of the Heart, as well as uplifting chess-specific titles as The Dark Horse, Life of a King and Brooklyn Castle.

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Reviews

Fernando on: The DVD Wrapup: King George, Cars 3, Overdrive, Afterimage, Glass Castle, Whisky Galore, The Journey, Into the Night, Sissi, Stay Hungry and more

Woody on: The DVD Wrapup: ET, Vietnam, Big Sick, Glory, Certain Women, The Hero, Hana-Bi, By the Time It Gets Dark, The Prison, The Flesh, Moderns … More

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Ray Pride on: The DVD Wrapup: Founder, Punching Henry, Paris 05:59, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, Woman of the Year, Tampopo, Handmaid’s Tale and more

RAY WEIKEL on: The DVD Wrapup: Founder, Punching Henry, Paris 05:59, Apocalypse Child, Donnie Darko, Woman of the Year, Tampopo, Handmaid’s Tale and more

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

estes1963 on: The DVD Wrapup: Drive Angry, Once Upon a Time in the West, Adua & Her Friends, A Clockwork Orange, Undertow, The Joke, Passion Play, Kaboom, Harvest ...

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form.”
~ Lindy West