Reviews

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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Review-ish: Ghostbusters (2016, non-spoiler)

Perhaps Ghostbusters won’t define your childhood. But I don’t think anyone on the team was after that. A good summer laugh at the movies? Absolutely.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Back in the 1970s, when the paradigms for shows like this were being set down — by Roger Corman and other ballsy independent producers — this kind of picture would have been a low- budget job, and it probably would have been better for it. If they were going to spend more money on The Purge: Election Year, they might at least have played around more with the idea of an entire nation plunged into chaos.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Shallows

The Shallows is a genuinely scary movie thriller that spooks you because, in a way, it seems so real — this tense, taut movie manage to get by without ghosts, monsters, supernatural maniacs or The Devil, indeed without almost anything that absolutely couldn’t happen (maybe) in the real world. Like Jaws, it’s the white-knuckle, full-throttle story of a battle between human vs. shark: a visually voluptuous thriller, set in a mostly deserted stretch of Australian coast, about a great white shark that traps a young surfer and medical student on an ocean-bound rock and buoy only about 200 yards from shore — a deserted beach near an ocean that is mostly empty except for that trapped girl and that toothy shark and one other creature we‘ll introduce later. (You’ll like him.)

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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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Wilmington on Movies: Central Intelligence

Central Intelligence surprises you — or surprised me, at any rate.

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Wilmington on Movies: Genius

Thomas Wolfe was an American literary phenomenon: a North Carolina-born novelist and prodigy who hoped to write books of Shakespearean verbal grandeur, of Tolstoyan dramatic scope and Dickensian humanity, and to live a life to fit those vast ambitions. He’s also an artist who tends to be ignored or underrated these days. A pity, because whenever you read one of his huge novels (especially “Look Homeward Angel” and “Of Time and the River”), his talent and his mixed but munificent literary gifts flame right off the page at you.

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Wilmington on Movies: The Conjuring 2

People who like scary ghost horror movies, from Frankenstein to The Haunting, probably are partial, at least a little, to that awesome, icky sensation of being plunged into sucking swamps of cinematic dread, then rescued (maybe spuriously, maybe not) at the very last possible millisecond—a sensation you may feel quite a few times in The Conjuring 2.

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Wilmington on Movies: Alice Through the Looking Glass

This new movie’s flaws seem to me less ruinous, its strengths less negligible, and its effect more enjoyable than naysayers have allowed. That doesn’t mean that you should rush out and see it, simply that the people involved did a better job than they have been credited.

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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: 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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Reviews

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“I was 15 when I first watched Sally Hardesty escape into the back of a pickup truck, covered in blood and cackling like a goddamn witch. All of her friends were dead. She had been kidnapped, tortured and even forced to feed her own blood to her cannibalistic captors’ impossibly shriveled patriarch. Being new to the horror genre, I was sure she was going to die. It had been a few months since I survived a violent sexual assault, where I subsequently ran from my assailant, tripped, fell and fought like hell. I crawled home with bloody knees, makeup-stained cheeks and a new void in both my mind and heart. My sense of safety, my ability to trust others, my willingness to form new relationships and my love of spending time with people I cared about were all taken from me. It wasn’t until I found the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that something clicked. It was Sally’s strength, and her resilience. It was watching her survive blows to the head from a hammer. It was watching her break free from her bonds and burst through a glass window. It was watching her get back up after she’d been stabbed. It was watching her crawl into the back of a truck, laughing as it drove away from Leatherface. She was the last one to confront the killer, and live. I remember sitting in front of the TV and thinking, There I am. That’s me.”
~ Lauren Milici On “The Final Girl”

“‘Thriller’ enforced its own reality principle; it was there, part of the every commute, a serenade to every errand, a referent to every purchase, a fact of every life. You didn’t have to like it, you only had to acknowledge it. By July 6, 1984, when the Jacksons played the first show of their ‘Victory’ tour, in Kansas City, Missouri, Jacksonism had produced a system of commodification so complete that whatever and whoever was admitted to it instantly became a new commodity. People were no longer comsuming commodities as such things are conventionally understood (records, videos, posters, books, magazines, key rings, earrings necklaces pins buttons wigs voice-altering devices Pepsis t-shirts underwear hats scarves gloves jackets – and why were there no jeans called Bille Jeans?); they were consuming their own gestures of consumption. That is, they were consuming not a Tayloristic Michael Jackson, or any licensed facsimile, but themselves. Riding a Mobius strip of pure capitalism, that was the transubstantiation.”
~ Greil Marcus On Michael Jackson