Enter The Void and Nowhere Boy
During the 1960s, certain films like 2001: A Space Odyssey earned a reputation as “head films.” Clued-in hippies would drop LSD at an appropriate moment to tune in, turn on and groove on the pretty colors. Some were plenty ridiculous—an inordinate amount of these head films featured the hero wearing knight’s armor while being chased down a beach by naked women and dwarves. Others, like Stanley Kubrick‘s 1968 sci-fi epic, became classics. Enter the Void is somewhere in-between. Opening with an epilepsy-inducing credit sequence that Quentin Tarantino hailed as one of the greatest in movie history, it attempts to recount the final hallucinogenic moments in the life of Oscar, a low-level drug dealer bleeding to death in a Tokyo bathroom stall. The Japanese city is transformed into a neon-drenched world of magenta and yellow, while a camera showing us Oscar’s point-of-view soars over the city, in and out of various bodily orifices, and across time. During Oscar’s last waltz, we discover the dying kid’s somewhat disturbing relationship with his stripper sister, played by Boardwalk Empire siren Paz de la Huerta. Like any trip, it’s sometimes thrilling, sometimes boring and very likely to occur as a flashback at opportune moments. If Black Swan is your idea of full-on cinematic craziness, then as one of Noe’s fellow hucksters once said, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Read more…
Ryan Reynolds wakes up in a box with just a cigarette lighter and a cell phone which isn’t his for company. Over the next hour-and-a-half, we watch his increasingly panicked efforts to get help. Complicating his efforts are his mysterious captors, a lack of oxygen and a few other terrifying surprises that it would be cruel to spoil. Thanks to the charismatic Reynolds (Definitely Maybe) and smart direction, this simple and spare premise turns out to be as riveting as a nail through the foot. Buried also manages to make a “call-waiting” announcement terrifying–even without the badly recorded muzak.
Extras: A behind the scenes featurette.
- By C. Bottomley
The Social Network
As just about everyone knows, the making of Facebook wasn’t exactly a friendly affair. This industrial epic looks at how hoodie-wearing Harvard outsider Mark Zuckerberg created the ultimate meet ‘n’ greet forum and in doing so, alienated just about everyone he knew. Anybody expecting to learn just why Foursquare updates and baby pictures are valued at $41 billion might be disappointed. This isn’t so much about online communities as it is an old-fashioned story of back-stabbing and wanting to be liked, set to a mile-a-minute script by The West Wing‘s Aaron Sorkin and given a modern sheen by director David Fincher. But Network boasts a core of great performances—including Zombieland‘s Jesse Eisenberg as the snarky Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as his trusted confidante and Justin Timberlake as an old-fashioned snake oil salesman thrilled by new media. At its best, this film also manages an impressive first: it actually makes staring into a screen and tapping a keyboard seem like heart-racing stuff.
Extras: A feature-length making of doc, a pair of commentary tracks—including one with Sorkin and cast members—and segments that include Trent Reznor talking about the movie’s crackling electronic score.
- By C. Bottomley
Machete & The Last Exorcism
The year begins with two smart twists on film genre. Machete grew out of a trailer in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez‘s tribute to ’70s exploitation Grindhouse. As a full-length feature, it’s a sugar-addicted ADD kid on the rampage, giddily lurching from one guilty pleasure to the next, whether it’s a man playing Tarzan with someone’s entrails or Jessica Alba in the shower. Danny Trejo, his pock-marked face familiar from a hundred straight-to-DVD slam-bangers, is the Mexican superhero who takes up blades against a trio of villains that includes Don Johnson‘s sh*tkicker and an anti-immigration senator mugged furiously by Robert De Niro. To say that Stephen Seagal gives the performance of a lifetime may sound like damning with faint praise, but like everything else in this five-alarm flick, it’s something to see.
The Last Exorcism would seem like a Blair Witch wannabe if it wasn’t so smart about character. A professional exorcist hopes to expose the theatre at the heart of his profession by ridding a bayou farm girl of her “demons.” What at first seems like a confrontation between two fakers haunted by worldlier spirits turns out to be much more. The mockumentary format serves the scares well, especially when the troubled girl drags the camera into the Satanic action, and Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell would deserve award notice if the world wasn’t so easily blinded by stuttering kings.
Extras: Machete has deleted scenes and an “audience reaction” track. Viewers will have to bring their own Tecate six-pack. The Last Exorcism includes a pair of commentary tracks, a making of featurette and an extended segment on real-life exorcisms.
- By C. Bottomley
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Gordon Gekko was originally meant to be a villain. But when he told an audience in 1987′s Wall Street that “Greed is good,” a generation of aspiring hedge fund operators took his words to heart. In this long-awaited sequel, it turns out that writer-director Oliver Stone has finally fallen for the old reprobate himself. Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, emerges from jail a changed man—his greasy locks replaced by a more granola-like mane. One person who isn’t buying the reformed act is daughter Carey Mulligan, who blames dad for her drug addict brother’s death. Her boyfriend Shia LaBoeuf, however, starts getting hints from Gekko on how to bring down the evil financier who destroyed his mentor. Does a humbled trader, though, ever really change his suspenders? There’s lots of tut-tutting over the causes and fall-out of our current financial crisis, but Stone’s film is essentially a bull-market melodrama. That means good-looking folks—Josh Brolin and Susan Sarandon are in there as well—getting emotional in big, expensive-looking rooms—no more so than when Douglas delivers a speech that has eerie parallels with the actor’s real-life relationship to his late son. Like the original film, this second trip down Wall Street is a guilty pleasure with just a little moral chastisement.
Extras: Stone provides his usual erudite commentary and there are interviews with director and cast.
- By C. Bottomley
The A-Team & The Other Guys
Call it the A-Team and the B-Team. Smokin’ Aces director Joe Carnahan‘s big-screen reboot of the ’80s action TV series has all the elements present and correct: cigar, that theme tune, “I love it when a plan comes together,” and knuckles tattooed with the words “pity” and “fool.” Beneath the effort to revive a past-it franchise is an action movie which aspires to be Mission: Impossible with a whoopee cushion. Liam Neeson utters every line with the robocall conviction he brought to Taken. As Face, Bradley Cooper takes his shirt off a lot. Some UFC brawler is Mr. T, and District 9‘s Sharlto Copley runs off with the movie by playing “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock as if he were one therapy session away from Hannibal Lecter. At its best, A-Team is choc-a-bloc with cracking action sequences that range from our heroes flying a tank to swiping a pair of money-printing plates from beneath the noses of the Fedayeen. Clocking in at two massive hours, the film outstays its welcome, but much of it is a fun ride.
The Other Guys also has a brilliantly original set-up, with nerdy Will Ferrell and hot-tempered Mark Wahlberg as stooges who clean up after NYPD supercops Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock. The premise literally takes a dive, and the rest of the movie is an excuse for a series of bizarro gags featuring pop culture ephemera like the Little River Band, Wahlberg executing passable ballet moves and Ferrell using his mother-in-law to talk dirty to hot wife Eva Mendes. As with every Ferrell flick, not everything works and everyone looks a little old in the tooth for this sort of madcap thing. In a weak year for comedy, however, The Other Guys brings a desperately needed pile o’ funny.
Extras: Both films feature extended, unrated cuts. A-Team has more deleted scenes and commentary from Carnahan. Guys boasts an advertisement featurette about Michael Keaton‘s character moonlighting at a certain home furnishing store.
- By C. Bottomley
How do you follow The Dark Knight? If you’re writer-director Christopher Nolan, with a cerebral hit about an A-Team of dream spies. Inception has been called both “adult” and “intelligent,” which means basically that its complicated universe is only explained once by the furiously expositing characters. After that, you’re on your own. Leonardo Di Caprio is the Hannibal leading his team of pros into neurotic industrialist Cillian Murphy‘s head. Newbies will quickly realize that the less one knows the better—part of Inception‘s rare thrill is wondering where it’s going. Vets will want to see it again to figure out what happened. Another possibility is just to sit back and enjoy having the movie tickle parts other so-called blockbusters don’t. For one, Nolan has assembled an ace cast that lets Ellen Page stretch, Joseph Gordon-Levitt establish his star credentials, and Tom Hardy (Rocknrolla) introduce himself. French knockout Marion Cotillard provides glamour as Di Caprio’s murderous wife. There’s also a brace of killer action scenes, including one that cuts between a floating Gordon-Levitt, a James Bond-style sequence in snowy mountains, and a slow-motion van accident, all amid in-jokes like an opening that washes up the star of Titanic on a faraway beach. Both thrilling and unaccountably romantic, Inception is a example of moviemaking at its very best.
Extras: The Bluray Combo pack includes a making of featurette, a documentary on dreams hosted by Gordon-Levitt, and an animated prologue that explains the movie’s cold open.
- By C. Bottomley
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
The third installment of the popular bloodsucking series kicks off with some explosive developments. Chaste Edward (dreamy Robert Pattinson) finally proposes to Bella (lip-biting Kristen Stewart). It looks like the toothsome teens are set to begin a life of undead bliss together, but the flame-haired Victoria still has a wooden stake to grind. She assembles an army of vampires to guarantee Bella sulks her last sulk. Reinforcements are called in, meaning Edward must team up with lovesick hairball Jacob (a Herculean Taylor Lautner). The film never rises above the artistic level of an episode of Seventh Heaven and the dialogue would shame a greeting card, but the three leads do their best to invest the material with a necessary heartbeat. When Bella asserts her right not to choose between her ying-yang twins, Twilight shows its real strength. It’s a definitive primer into the teen-male mentality, but with an intensely romantic worldview. Whether snuggling up to prevent hypothermia or giving blood to insure the dead live on, these kids really love each other. Eclipse finally makes The Notebook look like a Katherine Heigl comedy—and it boasts more shirtless dudes than a gay Tumblr feed. Get out your handkerchiefs.
Extras: Lovebirds Pattinson and Stewart contribute a commentary track, as does Twilight author Stephanie Meyer. There’s also a six-part making of doc, deleted scenes, and playback features tailored so Team Edward and Team Jacob can sigh at their heroes.
- By C. Bottomley
Eat Pray Love
When ordinary people do strange things for no reason, it’s a David Lynch movie. When Julia Roberts does strange things for no reason, it’s Eat Pray Love. In this travelogue/rom-com, she walks out on both handsome Billy Crudup and sexy James Franco to go through the title’s three steps. It’s a journey that takes her across the parts of Italy, India and Bali most often seen in postcards. Some viewers may wonder what happened to reality—especially when her lithe Swedish companion complains about carrying a non-existent “muffin top.” Most, however, will swoon at the gorgeous locations and Roberts’s affecting way of swallowing her emotions. For those looking for pure escapist fare, it’s a satisfying feast. The guys who watch with them will thank Shiva for both Richard Jenkins and Javier Bardem, who contribute fine supporting turns as the men trying to thaw Roberts’s sphinx-like cool. Viewers seeking for a bit more testosterone this Thanksgiving may enjoy The Winning Season, a smart comedy starring Sam Rockwell as a drunkard coaching a girls’ varsity basketball team. Rockwell is terrific as a soak truly in love with hoops, but mystified by anything in a skirt—including star player Emma Roberts (Julia’s niece). The action skillfully evades cliché to wrap up in an unexpected comic finale. Right down to the final buzzer and without shameless cheerleading, The Winning Season proves itself to be a great movie about both sports and girls.
Extras: EPL contains an extended cut and commentary from director/Glee creator Ryan Murphy.
- By C. Bottomley
Check out the DVD bonus clip above!
Disney’s A Christmas Carol
Robert Zemeckis is the genius director behind the techie entertainments Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump. For the last decade, however, he’s been obsessed with 3-D motion-capture animation, where animators create a computerized image around filmed actors. The results are often disconcerting, largely because of the meticulous accuracy with which physical movement is conveyed—but also because the eyes are glassy and the figures are kinda creepy. Dickens’ well-worn Yuletide fable wasn’t crying out for such treatment, but this is a success on several levels. For one, Carol is a properly thought-out 3-D experience, with different levels of action and every effect serving the story. This is especially true during a thrilling chase scene between Scrooge and a ghastly carriage that rivals anything seen in Inception. For another, the movie is held together by Jim Carrey. As well as playing a sniveling Scrooge, the comic also voices the three ghosts who scare some Xmas spirit into the old miser. Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is that the authentic Victorian atmosphere—all chimney sweeps and goose fat—is accompanied by a sense of real fear, both of the shadows gathering around Scrooge and of death lurking right behind the Christmas tree. Always a master manipulator, Zemeckis has turned A Christmas Carol into the horror movie it cries out to be. With Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins.
Extras: The Blu-Ray disc features a feature-length picture-in-picture explanation of motion capture and an interactive Advent calendar. Standard DVD includes a making-of featurette and deleted scenes. Viewers are recommended to seek out the 3-D Blu-Ray for the full experience.
- By C. Bottomley