Category Archives: Now on DVD

New to Home Video – “Silver Linings Playbook”

silver liningsNew to home video is Oscar winner (Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence) “Silver Linings Playbook.” The film is a comedy with serious undertones about mental illness, obsession, family dynamics, football and dancing.  It stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.  It has been directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter” 2010, “Three Kings” 1999).

Cooper plays Pat, a man emerging from a mental institution who comes home to live with his parents, but who refuses to take his medication.  Needless to say complications follow.  Pat soon meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a woman dealing with her own emotional traumas.   The push and pull of their relationship forms the core of the story and both Cooper and Lawrence are quite engaging.

The supporting cast is quite good, De Niro in particular.  It is not often, lately, that this great actor chooses to be in good movies.  It is nice to see De Niro get off of his “Meet the Fockers” kick and play an interesting character in a good script.  As Pat Senior, Pat’s football obsessed father, De Niro provides strong clues to his son’s problems.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is an intelligent, observant and funny movie that respects its characters.  Based on the cookie cutter, over the top  comedies, featuring the same actors, with which we are often deluged, this is a refreshing break.

Use the search box, on the right, to look up my full length critique of “Silver Linings Playbook” when it was originally released.

 

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New to Home Video – “Django Unchained”

django unchainedTwo time Oscar winner “Django Unchained” comes to home video. The film won for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, Christoph Waltz.

In any good film you need a character, or characters, who want something and want it very badly. Then there have to be road blocks put in their way.  This creates conflict, which moves the story along while, hopefully, holding audience attention.

In “Django Unchained” writer/director Quentin Tarantino sort of does this, but not to the extent that he could have, at least not to the point of keeping interest for a movie that is two hours and 45 minutes in length.  Yes, the main characters, Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), do have an objective toward which they are striving.  My issue is that there seemed to be a rather simple way to achieve this goal.  However, the characters did not take the obvious route.  Granted, every story is a contrivance. The key though is to not make the story look contrived.  There needs to be logical, believable reasons as to why characters are making, or not making, certain choices.  When I found myself, during “Django,” wondering why the characters are not doing what, to me, seems obvious, I was ahead of the story and, as a result, bought out of what was happening on the screen.

The character, Django, has been the subject of many an Italian Western, in which Django was frequently played by actor Franco Nero.  In Tarantino’s vision, Django has been transported to the antebellum south and turned into a slave, nicely played by Foxx.  So perhaps “Django” should be more accurately called a “southern” rather than a western.  “Django Unchained” has a stellar cast which, in addition to Foxx and Waltz, also includes Leonardo Di Caprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson (of TV’s “Miami Vice” fame) and Russ Tamblyn (yes, Riff from “West Side Story!”).

Be warned, “Django Unchained” is rather talky in parts, but, rest assured, Tarantino does reward our patience with bloodier than bloody shoot outs.

Use the search box, on the right, to look up my complete review of “Django Unchained” when it first was released.

Land of the Giants

The cast of "Land of the Giants"

The cast of “Land of the Giants”

I recently re-connected with the TV show “Land of the Giants” through Netflix.  “Land of the Giants” was a science fiction series which ran on ABC from 1968 – 1970, which means I watched it when I was between the ages of six and eight years old, and really enjoyed it.  When I heard that “Land of the Giants” was going to be coming out on DVD, I could not wait to see it again.

Viewing “Land of the Giants” now, as an adult, not to mention a film critic, I am happy to report that it has stood the test of time.  It is still a good series if perhaps a “guilty pleasure.”  Its effects are rather homemade looking by today’s standards but, for me, that contributes to the show’s charm. Read the rest of this entry

“This is Not a Film” – new to home video

this is not a filmJafar Panahi, an acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, has received a six-year prison sentence in addition to a twenty-year ban on making any films.  The reason: he supported the opposition party in Iran’s 2009 election.  He is accused of making propaganda against the state.  “This is Not a Film,” Panahi’s 2011 documentary about his situation, has just come out on home video.

I currently teach a college course, “Mass Communication and Popular Culture.”  One of the issues covered is that a totalitarian regime tells its people what to do, while a democracy will use the media to persuade the populace.  There are also cases in which a totalitarian regime will suppress media with which it does not agree.  This can also happen, with more subtlety, in a democracy.  I would be hard pressed to find a better demonstration of the tension between totalitarianism and mass media than “This Is Not a Film.” Read the rest of this entry

Compliance

Dreama Walker in "Compliance"

Dreama Walker in “Compliance”

Over the past week I had two conversations about the current state of both movie going and watching movies on home video.  In the first, a friend said he was tired of movies lately as there were no good new mainstream movies that he wanted to see.  In another conversation I was asked how a person might go about seeing a movie newly released on DVD?  After all, the person reasoned, video rental stores, with some notable exceptions, are gone.   The conversation about no good movies, is something that ebbs and flows throughout the year.  As for the home video related question, there is the public library and there are subscription services.  I tend to favor Netflix.

As a way to satisfy both conversations, I went on line to Netflix.  Perhaps because of my taste preferences (which can sometimes veer tend toward the controversial), Netflix suggested that I might like the movie “Compliance,” which I  could watch right away, on line.  It is a little scary how on target Netflix can be about knowing my movie preferences, but there it was.  Oddly enough, a while back I had seen the trailer for “Compliance,” in a movie theatre, and thought it looked interesting.  I had filed “Compliance” somewhere in the back of my mind, along with the many other titles that will probably take me two more life times to see.  Now the Netflix computer was reminding me.  Read the rest of this entry

Searching for Sugar Man

A missing musician is the subject of "Searching for Sugar Man"

A missing musician is the subject of “Searching for Sugar Man”

“Searching for Sugar Man” is a fascinating documentary about a great American singer of whom you have most likely never heard, unless, of course, you have seen this movie.  It is one of the best documentaries of 2012.

While the film was just released on home video, and is available as a DVD by mail from Netflix, it continues its run at City Cinemas Village East Cinema, at 181 Second Avenue, where it has been for at least the past few months.  Although it is playing on one of the theatre’s small, downstairs auditoriums, on a small screen, “Searching for Sugar Man” proved to be a revelation for me and the fewer than 10 other patrons who showed up for the first show this past Saturday. Read the rest of this entry

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution on Blu-ray and DVD

(left to right) Alan Arkin, Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall in "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution"

(left to right) Alan Arkin, Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall in “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution”

“The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” the 1976 Oscar nominated, Nicholas Meyer scripted, Sherlock Holmes tale will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 22. The film is not based on any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (referred to as “the canon” by my late father, a Holmes enthusiast).  Despite this, Meyer, who wrote the screenplay based on his novel of the same title, has created a ripping yarn in the best tradition of Conan Doyle, seamlessly weaving together fact and fiction (although my father would never admit that Holmes was a fictional character).    Read the rest of this entry

New to Blu-ray and DVD “Fear and Desire” and “Magic Mike” (release date, October 23, 2012)

Director Stanley Kubrick, age 24, shooting “Fear and Desire.”

“Fear and Desire” (1953) directed, produced and edited by a then barely known talent, a 24 year-old filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick, comes to Blu-ray and DVD this week.  Kubrick, of course, would go on to direct such films as “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), “Barry Lyndon” (1975), “The Shining” (1980), and others.

Kubrick, then an unproven commodity, did not have a large budget for “Fear and Desire.”  He smartly chose a story that would conform well to his low budget aesthetic. The story of “Fear and Desire” involves a group of American soldiers, one of whom is played by a very young Paul Mazursky (director and actor), trapped behind enemy lines during World War II.  All that was needed were some actors in uniform out in the woods and minimal indoor sets.  Read the rest of this entry

“Safe House” Arrives on Home Video

Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington in “Safe House,” now on DVD.

“Safe House,” starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, will begin clogging the home video pipelines starting today, June 5, 2012.  My main concern with this unimpressive and disorienting film is the director’s (Daniel Espinosa) complete and total inability and/or refusal to tell the story coherently.  More and more it seems multiplex type fare consists of movies that do not make sense…and then they come to home video.  The makers of these films seem to think that as long as their movies are busy enough there is no need to convey a clear narrative .  “Safe House” is a case in point. Read the rest of this entry

New to DVD – “Tower Heist,” “J. Edgar,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller in "Tower Heist"

Tower Heist

The real disappointment in “Tower Heist” is that this movie has sold out its audience.  Those who do not know better will think they are seeing a good heist film.  For the cost of some zinging dialogue and a CGI (computer graphics imaging) created set piece, director Brett Ratner (the “Rush Hour” movies) and his team of no less than five writers, have bought their audience cheap.  No less at fault is the cast, which includes Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick.

To begin with “Tower Heist” has next to no suspense.  The premise is that a group of former, and some current, employees of an exclusive high-rise security tower decide to burgle one of the building’s apartments.  What follows is a “paint by numbers,” shamelessly contrived, logic defying heist, which goes according to the story’s most extreme convenience.

Eddie Murphy, plays, well, Eddie Murphy in the form of a character named Slide.  Slide is the cool, loud, street smart, trash talking, experienced African American criminal who teaches the, largely white, “nebbishy” gang of would be criminals how to be crooks.  While Murphy is certainly perfect for the role, he does not break new ground.  Considering how infrequently this talented actor and comedian appears in films, it is a missed opportunity.

My advice.  Your “Tower Heist” transportation and ticket money will be better spent going to your Netflix account, or library, to see the following well done, heist movies:  “The Anderson Tapes” (1971), “The Taking of Pelham 123” (1974), “The Killing” (1956), and “Who’s Minding the Mint” (1967), for starters.

J. Edgar

Director Clint Eastwood’s “bio-pic” of famed FBI director J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, uses the past to comment on the present while presenting an interesting issue of truth in media.   In Hoover’s day, as now, terrorism was a concern.  While there was no 9/11, there were Bolshevik revolutionaries setting off bombs in America. The film depicts Hoover as an uptight, “spit and polish” martinet who pioneered criminal science at a time when it was not taken seriously.  Hoover felt that the average American feared for his safety and, according to this telling, went too far, trampling on civil liberties in the process. The issue is raised about due process of law verses neutralizing a threat to our country.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.

DiCaprio is quite good, playing Hoover as a young man, and also, under tons of make up, as an older man.  The film cuts back and forth between past and present. Granted the make up, at points, strains credibility, but I am hard pressed to think of a film where the age make up is completely successful.

“J. Edgar” depicts Hoover as a complex individual, who, while committed to doing good, fell victim to the old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Martha Marcy May Marlene

The new movie “Martha Marcy May Marlene” desperately wants indie street cred.  Everything, from its nearly impossible to remember title, to its rural settings and interminable long takes, makes the film play like a spoof of an independent film.  If only it was.

Martha, the titular character, has escaped from a cult in upstate New York.  Think Manson Family light, led by standard issue tall, skinny leader complete with tiny, devilish beard and bad skin.  Martha moves in with her, well off, sympathetic sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and unsympathetic brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their summer home on a lake in Connecticut. Not the greatest house guest, Martha proves herself to be alternately unbalanced and unsympathetic.

“M4” is slowly paced and features unlikable characters, about whom it is difficult to care.  Many of the film’s scenes play out in endless, single shots.  I had the impression that not enough coverage (alternate angles, close-ups, etc.) was shot for many of the scenes. Why else are so many of them long and lifeless?  My guess is that there was nothing else to cut to, to speed up the proceedings.  I can think of no greater proof than the fact that an audience member, at the showing I attended, fell asleep twice and began to snore each time.  The incident elicited knowing laughs from fellow audience members, clearly sympathetic to the man’s plight.