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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Date Night

It’s a story that’s been told countless times before: a stuck-in-a-rut married couple decides to do something crazy to add some spice to their bland lives with disastrous results. So what makes Date Night so much better than most of the films that came before it? Two words: Screen chemistry. As Phil and Claire Foster, the New Jersey couple whose trip to the big city turns into a hair-raising adventure, Steve Carell and Tina Fey do a fantastic job breathing new life into the story by doing what they do best, being likable and being funny. And although being funny is crucial to the movie’s success, it’s the likable side of their personalities that draws you into the story. It keeps you from thinking how ridiculous the story gets to focus on thinking about how such ridiculous things are happening to such a nice couple.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pixies: Acoustic and Electric Live

Even if you don’t count yourself among the thousands of Pixie fans who already purchased these two shows separately, there’s a lot to like about this concert set. Sure, the music is great, but it’s the interaction of the band members as they play that makes the Pixies worth watching. Start with the Electric set and see them tear up The Paradise in front of a small audience of dedicated fans, then watch the same band play an Acoustic show at, of all things the Newport Folk Festival. The comparison is amazing, as is watching them in the bonus show shot at T. T. The Bears in 1982.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part 2

The Elrich brothers are back and their search for the sorcerer’s stone they need to reclaim their souls leads them on a series of adventures that are as addictive as anything you have ever seen. The art is top notch (especially on Blu-ray), but it is the intricate story line and excellent voice acting that keeps you hanging on every episode. Do yourself a favor, though, and rewatch Part 1 before you dive in to part 2; the experience is that much richer.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dorian Gray

The Oscar Wilde classic about a man whose sins are played out on an oil painting he keeps locked away in his attic gets a much needed update in this entertaining film by director Oliver Parker. Ben Barnes is terrific as Dorian, especially in the way he makes the transformation from innocent young man to devilish rogue come alive on the screen, and Colin Firth does a nice job playing the older, wiser man who starts him off down the road to ruin. The story wanders a bit too much towards the end, but the final confrontation between Dorian and his portrait is a killer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pawn Stars Season 2

There’s a reason this show has become one of the most popular series on TV today, and it’s not just because you get an insider’s view into the buying and selling of items that may –or may not – be more valuable than you can imagine. The series works because the guys that run the pawn shop – Richard, Rick and Corey Harrison and the ever lovable Chumley – are fascinating characters that bring drama and humor to every purchase they make. The stories they share with the audience are, unlike a lot of the stuff they talk about, priceless.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Instant Experts

At first glance, these History Channel DVDs may look like the visual equivalent of Cliff Notes, a way to learn about something for school without having to actually do any of the work. Well, look again. Better yet, pick up one of the shows from this entertaining and thought-provoking series and settle in for a real treat, even if you don’t have a report due on The Mayflower, Egypt or the French Revolution. Where Cliff Notes are designed as a shortcut to keep you from actually doing any work, these DVDs will inspire you to learn more about the world we live in. Individual DVDs include Egypt, The French Revolution, The Mayflower, Ben Franklin, Beowulf and the Story of Oil.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

City Island

City Island stars Andy Garcia as Vince Rizzo, a correctional facility officer who harbors a secret desire to be an actor. Julianna Margulies is his wife, a tough New York broad who rules over her house with an iron will to make sure the lives of her children turn out better than hers. Rounding out the cast are the two children, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) and Vince Jr (Ezra Miller), who each harbor secrets of their own, and there’s a surprise guest named Tony Nardella (Steven Strait) who Vince brings home from prison one day on a work-release program for reasons that will soon set the Rizzo household reeling. The lengths the family members go to to try and keep their secrets safe is pretty funny, but what makes it all work, though, is the heart each of the actors brings to the comedy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

44 Inch Chest

Ray Winstone stars as Colin Diamond, a hard working guy who comes home one day to the woman he loves (perhaps too much) to be told she’s found someone else and doesn’t love him anymore. His reaction is…well, you have to wait until the end of the movie for that. Meanwhile, Diamond’s friends have done the only thing real friends can do in such a situation: They kidnap the wife’s young lover so Diamond can do the right thing, which in their minds means kill the guy. Those of you who read that and think 44 Inch Chest is an action-packed revenge movie may be disappointed with the actual film. There is some action in the movie – and it’s brutally intense --- but the vast majority of the film is taken up with Diamond and his friends talking about what happened and what they are going to do about it. And it’s brilliant.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mother

When a mentally-challenged young man is arrested for the murder of a local school girl, his mother (Hye-ja Kim) starts a one-woman investigation to prove him innocent and bring the real killer to justice. At least that is the framework on which Korean director Joon-ho Bong hangs his latest movie, Mother, a stylish thriller that has more to say about the relationships between the characters than anything they actually do in the movie. As the mother who is willing to do anything to save her son, Hye-ja Kim gives an absolutely mesmerizing performance. The grief she shows when her son is arrested – and fooled into signing a confession – is palpable. So is the determination she shows as she travels around the neighborhood looking for the facts about what happened the night the girl was killed. Hye-ja Kim‘s performance, however, goes far beyond just being able to look convincingly sad and determined. Her face and body language reflect every twist the story takes, giving the audience a window into the soul of the woman as she unravels the mystery.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Losers

On the surface, it’s just another action movie. Stuff blows up, people get shot, the bad guy is trying to destroy the world and the good guys are trying to stop him. It’s the perfect popcorn movie. But take a closer look at The Losers and you’ll start to see that there’s more than just mindless entertainment going on here. It’s not trying to deliver a message, thank god, and it’s not an action movie with pretentions of being great art. But it’s smart, well written and well acted, and that separates it from the last 10 action movies you paid good money to sit in the dark and stare at. The cast of the film does a great job, embodying the quirks of their characters in a way that feels fresh and original. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Watchmen) is grizzled good fun as the leader of the group and Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four) is perfectly cast as the goofball. Zoe Saldana (Star Trek) is the big surprise of the film, combining smart, sexy and bad-ass enough to kick all the guys to the curb in one smoldering package. Good as everyone else is, though, it’s Jason Patric’s performance as the mysterious bad guy Max that steals the show. The secret to any good bad guy is for them to win the audience over so they like watching him no matter what he does, and it’s almost impossible not to fall for Patric’s charming performance, even as Max plots to destroy the world.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dead Man Running


While it certainly doesn’t break any new boundaries in terms of storytelling, there’s an easy sort of charm to this British crime flick that makes it worth watching, thanks to the lead performance of Tamer Hassan (Kick-Ass) as Nick, a lovable sort of bad guy who has to pay a loan shark 100,000 pounds in 24 hours or his mom will be killed. Nick’s mission takes him all around London as he and his sidekick Bing (Danny Dyer) try to raise the cash unaware that the loan shark (Curtis 50 Cent Jackson) is doing everything he can to thwart him.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Weird


It may share a similar title to the classic Clint Eastwood spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but this Korean action flick is good enough to stand on its own. It’s the story of three guys fighting each other – and hundreds of extras – to get hold of a mysterious treasure map. Director Ji-woon Kin (A Tale of Two Sisters) knows how to direct an action scene, especially when it is set on a speeding locomotive, but he also knows how to use humor and personality to give us believable characters that we can cheer for.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Temple Grandin


Why, you may ask yourself when wandering though your Netflix cue looking for something to watch, would you choose a movie about a woman with autism who discovers a better way to raise cattle? Well, for one thing, the actress playing the woman is Claire Danes and she gives a stellar performance in this terrific Emmy-nominated HBO movie. For another, even though the plot sounds like an awful Lifetime Channel weeper, Temple Grandin, directed by Mick Jackson (LA Story) avoids just about every cliché this kind of story is usually saddled with to present the people – and their problems – in a new and fascinating light. If for no other reason, Jackson’s use of bold stylistic imagery to make autism understandable to viewers makes Temple Grandin well worth watching.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Railroads: Tracks Across America

Sure, it’s probably a very select audience that would even pick up a box set like this, but for those who love trains there isn’t a better bargain to be found. Even if you aren’t someone who thinks of trains as anything more than the box you ride in to and from work, there so many diverse documentaries and other films packed into the set that you’re bound to find something fascinating and informative to watch.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Duplicity

Along with being an Oscar-winning actress, Julia Roberts is a cinematic force of nature that not too many leading man can go toe-to-toe with and survive. In her new movie, Duplicity, she might have finally met her match -- in a good way – with Clive Owen. In the movie, written and directed by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Roberts plays Claire Stenwick, an ex-CIA agent making her living doing security for a giant corporation and Owens plays Ray Koval, an ex-MI-6 agent doing the same job for her boss’ leading competitor. Duplicity definitely lives up to its name as Gilroy takes the audience on a wild ride that will have them on the edge of their seats, even if they spend a lot of time scratching their heads wondering what the hell is going on. But if you think you’ve lost track of who’s grifting who during the story, just stay with it because the ending makes it all worthwhile.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Super Friends: Season 1 Volume 2


Given the serious reverence that comic book heroes are showered with these days, it may be hard to appreciate this silly series from the 70s. Can you imagine Christian Bale’s Batman doing trick shots in a charity golf tournament? Of course, not, but the whole point of this series – at least when watching it close to 40 years after it was on television – is celebrating that very silliness. Yes, the two teenagers and their ‘super’ dog are annoying, but listening to Ted Knight’s delightful narration makes up for any shortfalls.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Triage

After starring – and mostly failing – in a series of big budget action films, Colin Farrell has been going through a bit of a career renaissance lately by foregoing the big bucks to act in independent films that give him something to do beyond look pretty and try to keep is American accent from faltering. This intense war film is a perfect example. In it, Ferrell plays a war photographer who cares nothing for his safety as long as he gets the shot. Something happens on his last assignment, though, something he can’t talk about because it’s buried too deep. Ferrell does a nice job of creating a character struggling with inner demons as they bubble to the surface. He also works well with the rest of the cast, particularly Christopher Lee as a man with his own secrets trying to get Ferrell’s character to open up. The ending is a bit too predictable, but Farrell still gives it heart.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Master of Martial Hearts: The Complete Box Set

At first this story of a female fight club where ladies are forced to battle against each other to win the ultimate prize – their heart’s desire – seems like a mindless bit of fluff. Viewers will be divided – probably between males and females – about the entertainment value of fights where punches and kicks don’t draw blood but do make the target’s clothes go flying off. It’s all harmless fun until episode 5 when the secrets behind all the mindless mayhem are revealed. Suddenly Master of Martial Hearts is a very dark and very twisted tale.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Thorn in the Heart

It takes a while for this film to pull you in. After all, it’s really just a series of home movies made by director Michael Gondry (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) about an aunt who was a teacher in some remote French villages. There’s an intricate spell being woven with the films, though, and it isn’t too long before you are totally captivated with the story and with Gondry’s extended family. You start to care about them so much, in fact, that you start to regret the director’s use of animated scenes and other distractions. All you want on the screen is the aunt telling another one of her stories.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Australia

Set just before the start of World War II, Australia tells the story of a rich English lady, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who goes halfway around the world to meet with her husband on their Outback cattle ranch. Problem is, when she gets there, he’s dead, killed by a spear that implicates he was murdered by a local Aboriginal shaman. Lady Ashley soon finds herself embroiled in a range war with cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown). Thank goodness her husband left behind a two-fisted stud (Hugh Jackman) to fight by her side. Part of the pleasure of watching Australia is the panoramic views of the Outback that fill the screen, even though there are times in the movie when it looks like some of the scenes were recreated on a studio back lot. If the characters were as large as the sets, Australia would have been a lot more compelling. But they are not. While it may qualify as an epic Australia just doesn’t have enough energy to make the long haul interesting from start to finish.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Crime Inc. - History's Famed Offenders


Martha Stewart and the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. The September 11 attacks and the Cricket Coach Mystery. What do they have in common? Nothing, really, except they are among the fascinating list of crimes profiled in this hugely entertaining box set. The pairings of the felonies in each episode make no sense at first glance, and the show never really tries to explain why, for example, Lizzie Borden is on the same program with Snoop Dogg, but it doesn’t matter because of the concise way each crime is presented.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Ghost Writer


When a writer gets hire to be the ghost writer of a former Prime Minister’s autobiography, he finds himself thrown into the deep end of a political tsunami. The slow pacing of this Roman Polanski thriller takes a while to get used to, but the performances are strong enough to keep you guessing what will happen next until you get sucked in. Ewan McGregor is fascinating as the writer who uses his talent to make other people shine, and Pierce Bronsnan is a perfect counterbalance as the retired world leader trying to shape his past to fit the image he wants history to remember him by.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes


What separates the Classic Album series from just about every other rocumentary is the way the people the story is about actively participate in the making of the film. It’s one thing to hear some critic pontificate about what made The Heartbreakers third CD such a work of art, but listening to the guys who made the music talk about the magic and mojo of catching lightning in a bottle is so much more satisfying. The added spice here is the way the film documents the struggle that Petty and the band went through with the record labels to get their music out to fans in the first place.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The New Adventures of Old Christine, Season 3

It took a while for this Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom to find its own unique voice (and forever bury any references to that other show she was on), but Season 3 shows the star and her talented cast mates really hitting their stride. There’s a relaxed comradery they share that makes the comedy flow, whether they’re talking about the trials a woman goes through to prepare herself for her first intimate night with a new boyfriend, or arguing over the battle that both men and women go through as they age, and how they fight against it in their own ways.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Dungeon Masters

Unless you are someone who actually plays Dungeons and Dragons, chances are you look upon those that do with scorn. This documentary will help you get over yourself and learn to look past the outer trappings of gamers -- the costumes, the nerdiness, and the obsessions with other worlds – to see the people who are no different than some slob painting his face with team colors before heading to the bleachers to watch the game. Director Keven McAlester concentrates on three game masters to tell his tale, and while each of their stories in interesting on its own, it’s the culmunitive nature of their tales that makes the movie work. It may not make you want to put on a cape, pick up a pair of dice and head off to a gamers’ convention, but it will give you back that sense of freedom you had when you played games as a kid.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Art of the Steal

After making his fortune in pharmaceuticals, Albert C. Barnes invested his money in his one true passion: art. When he died, he left a will stipulating specifically what he wanted done with his art, but with a collective price tag of more than $25 billion, and the cream of Philadelphia society salivating over the idea of possessing it, it wasn’t long before politicians and businessman started trying to find a way to make Barnes’ last wish his personal nightmare.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 5

There have been countless filmed versions of Ms. Christie’s most famous case, Murder on the Orient Express, but the one in this fine box set can be counted among the best. The performance of David Suchet, who has made something of a cottage industry out of playing the diminutive Belgian detective, is simply breathtaking, particularly in the way he shows how the case puts Poirot’s beliefs – in the laws of man and in the law of God – to the test. The two other mysteries in this box set – Appointment With Death and The Third Girl – are almost as good, too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Parting Ways: An Unauthorized Story on Life After The Beatles


Using tons of archival footage, this meticulously detailed documentary gives viewers an in depth look at what happened to John, Paul, George and Ringo after they broke up the world’s most influential pop band. While it may not contain anything new in terms of the filmed interviews it uses, the way the archival material is organized and, more importantly balanced, makes for one of the most complete Post-Beatle breakup investigations you will ever find. The lack of too many talking heads trying to explain what it all means to the audience is refreshing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hunter: The Complete Series

For seven years (1894-1991) Fred Dryer ruled the airwaves as this tough talking detective who looked and acted like he learned how to be a cop from watching too many Dirty Harry movies. With his female sidekick, Sgt. Dee Dee McCall (Stepfanie Kramer), Hunter solved crimes by any means necessary, which usually meant offending everybody around him by the end of each episode, but Dryer’s charm in the role makes it all work out in the end. The clothing styles may have changed to the point where it’s hard to watch some of the outfits in the series without laughing out loud, but the style of the characters is timeless.