Reviews

The DVD Wrapup: American Honey, Snowden, Man Called Ove, Orphan Killer and more

Even though American Honey was filmed on location in smallish towns throughout the Midwest – Walmart country, if you will — Arnold brought to the Cannes favorite a familiarity one might not have expected. That’s because, apart from hiring Shia LeBeouf and Riley Keogh for key roles, she committed herself to casting actors who she discovered on the street or virtual unknowns.

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The DVD Gift Guide 2: Da Cubs, Hellraiser, Downton Abbey, Bill & Ted; Bob Hope, Klown and more

.The nation’s longest-running soap opera ended this fall, after many generations of drama, romance, comedy, misplaced expectations, broken hearts, dismally small audiences and finally over-the-top ratings. It ran for more than a century, spanning the first isolated radio broadcast, in 1921, and the era of Internet streaming. Millions of fans lived and died without closure. It would come on a rainy early-November night in Cleveland, itself no stranger to heartbreaking losses, in an extra-inning baseball game fraught with tension and mixed emotions. Anyone who hasn’t already guessed that the subject of this review is the Chicago Cubs’ World Series championship – ending a 108-year drought — need never consider auditioning for “Jeopardy!” or any sports game show.

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The DVD Wrapup: Streep Sings, Obama’s Date, Seagal Kills, Noir Classics, Roma, Driller Killer and more

Florence Foster Jenkins: Blu-ray Anyone who watches Florence Foster Jenkins and opines, “That’s a role only Meryl Strep could play,” would only be half right. As terrific as Streep is, playing the most innocently delusional opera diva of the twentieth century, her characterization was equaled months earlier by perennial César Award candidate Catherine Frot, in Marguerite,…

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The DVD Wrapup: Secret Life of Pets, JT Leroy, Just Eat It, Howard’s End, Quiet Earth, Henry, Phantasm and more

Somehow, it took almost a quarter-century for an animation studio – in this case, Universal’s ambitious Illumination Entertainment division — to merge the core elements of “America’s Funniest Pets” and Pixar’s Toy Story franchise into a spanking-new entertainment franchise. Emboldened by the success of Despicable Me and Minions, IE wisely invested its financial resources in The Secret Life of Pets, a 3D computer-animated buddy/adventure/comedy about what happens when our pets are left to their own devices. The A-list cast of voice actors probably had something to do with the stunning box-office appeal as well.

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DVD Geek: Hail, Caesar!; House Of Cards; It Came From Outer Space; Independence Day: Resurgence

With Hail, Caesar!, Joel and Ethan Coen again prove that the Bros. do not make normal movies.

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The DVD Wrapup: BFG, Pete’s Dragon, Baked in Brooklyn, Weng Weng, T.A.M.I./T.N.T. and more

With great numbers already recorded for Disney’s Moana, it’s difficult to look back at the last two years and imagine studio executives not being completely thrilled about what they’ve accomplished. Several releases have exceeded or threatened to hit the billion-dollar barrier and critical response has generally been friendly, even for those titles with lower financial expectations.

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DVD Geek: Valley of the Dolls, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, Vamp

There is bad, and then there is really bad. Valley of the Dolls is a bad movie. The histrionics of the characters pass for drama, while simplified progressions of successes and failures, both in careers and in romance, pass for narrative. But the plot is coherent, and the acting, although pushing the edges of sensibility, is valid. Dolls is appealing as high camp, with its most indulgent performances and importune dialog being accepted after the fact as a comical alternative to the real world, especially because of its show business milieu.

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The DVD Wrapup and Gift Guide: One-Eyed Jacks, Hell or High Water, Kubo, Mia Madre, The Land, Holiday Horror, Poldark and much more

Brando delivers a performance so distinctively nuanced –it runs the gamut from bizarre to brilliant – that it’s been indelibly etched into the memories of everyone who’s seen it. Ditto, his delivery of the lines, “Get up you scum-sucking pig! I want you standing when I open you up,” “You may be a one-eyed jack around here, but I’ve seen the other side of your face” and “Get up, you big tub of guts!”

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The DVD Wrapup: Finding Dory, Jungle Book, Shirley Clarke 4, Better Call Saul, Christmas Stuff and more

The only critical knocks I’ve seen against Finding Dory were prompted by a perceived diminishment, however slight, in Pixar’s trademark gags and a story that bears too much resemblance to the original. Even so, the aggregate score on Metacritic.com stands at a lofty 77 and, last month, the worldwide box-office tally passed the billion-dollar barrier.

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The DVD Wrapup: Star Trek/Wars, Indignation, Private Property, Morris From America, Viktoria, Mes Aynak, Initiation and more

If these holiday-ready set demonstrate anything conclusively, it’s that distributors of DVD/Blu-ray/VOD titles are way ahead of consumers and equipment manufacturers on the technological curve, at least when it comes to promoting the visual and audio potential for home theaters. Unlike Ultra High Def and Blu-ray 3D units, technologically advanced pictures, like Star Trek Beyond and the upgraded edition of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, are priced to sell right now.

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The DVD Wrapup: Sea of Trees, Uncle Nick, Imperium, Men & Chicken, Judge Archer, IT Team and more

To be fair to Van Sant, dozens of inarguably worse movies have been released by Hollywood and indie distributors already this year, with some even finding their way to major international film festivals. In The Sea of Trees, an American man, Arthur Brennan (McConaughey), travels to the Suicide Forest to relieve himself of extreme guilt feelings related to his failing marriage to Joan (Watts) and her possibly terminal illness. After finding a suitable place to die, he encounters a disheveled Japanese man (Watanabe), who wants to kill himself as well, and both men begin a journey of self-reflection and survival. The movie’s biggest problem, I think, is that the grandeur of the setting frequently overwhelms the melodramatic handling of the Brennan’s marital woes.

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The DVD Wrapup: Hunt for Wilderpeople, Skiptrace, Nerve, Vampire Ecstasy, Gored, Dark Water, The Id, Norman Lear and more

I’ve complained before about the lack of attention given to uniquely entertaining indie movies by distributors, even after being greeted with near-unanimous approval by audiences and critics at festivals. Indulge me while I endorse another film that has broad audience appeal but could easily get lost in the VOD-DVD shuffle. Set in a supremely scenic corner of Peter Jackson’s backyard (a.k.a., New Zealand), Taika Waititi’s coming-of-age Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows a state-raised Maori boy who’s nearly run out of options when it comes to being taken in by foster families and non-penal shelters for abandoned kids. Rotund, lazy and belligerent, Ricky (Julian Dennison) is handed over to a middle-age couple living on the edge of the “bush” – a term not at all representative of the environmentally diverse Tongariro National Park – at the center of the country’s North Island. If Waititi’s name sounds familiar, it’s for his peculiarly Kiwi entertainments as Eagle vs. Shark, “Flight of the Conchords” and What We Do in the Shadows. He’ll get his shot in the Major Leagues with – surprise! – the next chapter in the comic-book epic, “Thor: Ragnarok.” Let’s hope he doesn’t lose sight of the little picture.

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The DVD Wrapup: Through the Looking Glass, Café Society, Our Kind of Terror, Buying Democracy and more

If, as was the case in the 1970-80s, such writers and directors as Paul Mazursky, Michael Ritchie, Neil Simon, Herbert Ross, Elaine May, Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, Francis Veber, and Larry Gelbart were still competing for the same adult audiences, Woody Allen wouldn’t stand so alone in the American filmmaking firmament. Neither would his detractors feel as if they have to make excuses for buying tickets to see his annual film.

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The DVD Wrapup: Infiltrator, Blood Father, Violent Cop, Sherpa, Les Cowboys, Hills Have Eyes and more

If it weren’t for the likelihood that American audiences already know as much about Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel as they’ll ever care to learn, Brad Furman’s compelling drug-war drama, The Infiltrator, might have managed to break even at the box office. Instead, fine performances by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) and Diane Kruger (“The Bridge”), as undercover U.S. Customs agents Robert Mazur and Kathy Ertz, will pretty much go for naught.

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The DVD Wrapup: Innocents, Swiss Army Man, Purge: Election Year, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Wailing, Homestretch and more

The silence and shame that accompanies the infant’s birth would suggest that the nun had been impregnated by the devil – or, perhaps, the Holy Ghost — and no word of it should leave the convent’s walls.

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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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Wilmington on DVD: Everybody Wants Some!!

Youth is wasted on the young. Maybe. But it definitely wasn‘t squandered on Richard Linklater, that wondrously humane American filmmaker (Austin, Texas-raised auteur of the “Before” Trilogy and Boyhood), who, in his best work, uses his own youth to potently amuse us and brilliantly illuminate the worlds we share.

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Reviews

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Feature films are suffering a kind of bad time right now, in my opinion, because the feature films that play in theaters are blockbusters. That seems to fill the theaters, but the art-house cinema is gone. If I made a feature film, it might play in L.A. and New York, a couple of other places, for a week in a little part of a cineplex, and then it would go who knows where. I built this to be on the big screen. It will be on a smaller screen, but it’s built for the big screen. You want a feature film to play on a big screen with big sound, and utilize all the best technology to make a world. It’s really tough after all that work to not get it in the theater. So I say that cable television is a new art house, and it’s good that it’s here.”
~ David Lynch

“The purpose of film isn’t to present the kindness of the world.”
~ Isabelle Huppert