Toni Servillo in THE GREAT BEAUTY

Criterion

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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

The Great Beauty blurayThe Great Beauty (Criterion)

Paolo Sorrentino’s almost plotless portrait of the glamorous nightlife of contemporary Rome may seem on the surface to be an obvious choice for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. After all, it quite deliberately follows the footsteps of La Dolce Vita as an ode not only to Rome’s vast history, but its history of cinematic glitz. Yet there’s a great deal going on below The Great Beauty’s exquisitely realized surface. Rather than a simple 21st century upgrade of Fellini’s Rome, The Great Beauty is an existential travelogue, a decadent and detailed portrayal of a place uncertain about how to realize its future as a definitive global city in the culture so content to rest its champagne-soaked laurels on its extensive reputation.

We see Rome through the eyes of Toni Servillo’s Jep Gambardella, whose failure to produce a second novel after a monumental first success sets the stage for his engrossing tour of Rome’s beguiling but hollow surfaces. While it made nary an appearance on op-ed trendpieces on the topic, Sorrentino’s film belongs directly alongside 2013’s many portrayals of excess for an era of economic uncertainty. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautifully shot and edited exegesis on the sweet life. – Landon Palmer

[Blu-ray/DVD extras:  Interviews with the director, lead actor, and screenwriter; deleted scenes; trailer; an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by Philip Lapote]

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Little House on the Prairie 1 blurayLittle House on the Prairie: Season One

Pitch: Like a fun version of The Waltons…

Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon) takes his family and heads west to start a new life in the vast American frontier. He, his wife, and their daughters Mary, Laura, and the little one no one remembers, all settle into a series of adventures involving new people, new races, and the worst that nature can throw at them. Through it all they have each other, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Look, I’m old and I have two sisters, so this was required viewing in our house when I was a little kid. I haven’t watched it since then, but revisiting it now left me appreciating new and different aspects of it. The God stuff is overdone, but there’s a real joy and strength to the family unit here that simply isn’t present in today’s shows. The morality is refreshing, and it’s not nearly as stuffy or uppity as I feared. Instead the characters display real humanity, a sense of humor, and heart that occasionally manages to get dust in my eyes. It’s a forty year old show that you can still enjoy with your family, and that’s pretty impressive.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Screen tests, documentary]

Ms 45 blurayMs. 45

Pitch: You won’t like her when she’s angry…

A mute factory worker (Zoë Lund) is assaulted twice on the same day and soon sets out for revenge. She’s understandably distressed though, and those thoughts of vengeance quickly lead to a bloodthirsty plan.

Abel Ferrara‘s 1981 classic isn’t quite the revenge thriller it’s usually been made up to be, but that’s actually for the best. Instead of hitting all the expected notes, the film takes a 180 degree turn after the initial setup. The film offers up a violent descent into madness that gives birth to a still mute and even more socially awkward serial killer. It’s unexpected, and while it’s over thirty years old it still packs a morally perverted punch that will challenge expectations as to exactly what kind of thrills the film should be providing.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, short films, trailer, booklet]

The Wolf of Wall Street blurayThe Wolf of Wall Street

Pitch: But seriously, where can I find those ludes…

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a stock broker whose first day on the job coincides with 1987′s market crash, so he begins a life pushing penny stocks that leads him to crime, debauchery, and millions of dollars. It’s the American dream! His true strength is as a motivator and he quickly builds a company around him, but what goes up must come down leading to a federal investigation and trouble at home.

Martin Scorsese‘s latest is as audacious and energetic a piece of cinema as we’ve seen all year, and it’s a lot of fun. DiCaprio is fantastic and unleashed here, Jonah Hill is hilarious, and the only thing more frequent than the naked ladies are the F-bombs. For all of that though, the movie is easily 30-40 minutes too long. The movie says nothing in 179 minutes that it couldn’t have said in 120, and repeat viewings make the repetitive drag even more obvious. While I don’t believe it purely glorifies the real Belfort’s actions, 160 minutes of depraved joy lessens the impact of ten minutes of consequences. Still, it’s an incredible accomplishment and a searing indictment of the people on both sides of the financial divide.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]

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Beneath

A group of teens rows out to the middle of a small lake and proceeds to lose their oars, their decency, and their common sense when an over-sized carp targets them for lunch. Director Larry Fessenden has made very good movies, but this unfortunately laughable flick is not one of them. The film wants you to believe it’s intentionally bad as part of its charm and point, but it’s just poorly written, even worse on the acting front, and at no point scary or thrilling. Skip it and watch Jaws 2 instead.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, trailer]

Californication: The Sixth Season

Hank Moody (David Duchovny) has finally ended up in rehab, but rather than take it seriously and learn from his past mistakes he hooks up with a fellow addict (Maggie Grace) and burns even more bridges along the way. There’s still some fun to be had with the character and the show, but six seasons in the repetitive frustration is wearing incredibly thin. His family needs to move on permanently.

[DVD extras: Previews]

Chinese Zodiac

Asian Hawk (Jackie Chan) is back for a third adventure and hired to find bronze heads that once were part of an ancient Chinese collection. Armour of God and Operation Condor are Chan’s other Asian Hawk films, a mix of his antics and an Indiana Jones-style adventure, are fun and exciting flicks, but this doesn’t quite live up to their achievements. The action is highly edited, CGI-filled, and continuously wire-assisted, and the humor fails to hit its mark. But it’s Chan so there’s still some fun to be had.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]

Continuum: Season Two

Officer Keira Cameron (Rachel Nichols) is a cop in 2077, but a misbehaving time travel device sends her and members of a terrorist group back to 2012. Now she’s forced to fit in, fight the bad guys, and search for a way back to the future and her family. This Syfy series has a pretty great premise and setup, but good god I wish Cameron was a better cop. Because she’s a terrible one. Still, there’s solid action, writing, and fun to be had here.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes]

Delivery Man

David (Vince Vaughn) donated sperm two decades ago, and he’s just discovered he’s a father. Unfortunately it’s to 533 children. Hilarity ensues! Please note, there’s not actually any hilarity ensuing here. Chris Pratt manages a chuckle or two, but the comedy and subplots are contrived and unnecessary (in that order). Skip it and watch Loverboy instead.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, bloopers, deleted scene]

Dragons: Defenders of Berk – Part 1

Adventures with kids and dragons! All your favorites from Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon return in series form, and the first ten episodes are here. Fans of the film will find more to enjoy here than others as the comedy and action are pretty generic.

[DVD extras: Featurettes]

Machine Head

A group of twenty-somethings head to inland California to celebrate spring break, but a killer is crashing the party. Bad script, bad acting, and a denouement that screams “look at how tricky we are!” Skip it and watch Deathproof instead.

[DVD extras: None]

Odd Thomas

Odd (Anton Yelchin) is a fry cook in a small Southwestern town, and he also sees dead people. He uses his gift to solve crimes, but when someone plans a mass murder his life is threatened in new and devastating ways. Dean Koontz‘s novel is a fantastic read, but this adaptation fails to capture the magic. Instead it focuses too much on Koontz’s biggest weakness, his sappy, cheesy, and highly unrealistic dialogue.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

The Truth About Emanuel

A teen (Kaya Scodelario) befriends her odd neighbor (Jessica Biel), but their issues exacerbate each other leading to a dramatic confrontation. This indie flick is an engaging-enough drama, but its real strength is in the two lead performances.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, deleted scenes, outtakes, trailer]

Veep: The Complete Second Season

Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) continues her unhappy and consistently frustrating term where nothing seems to go her way. This is still a very funny show, but season two lacks the consistency of season one, and too much of the frustration spills over to viewers as Selina became a bit too obnoxious. But again, it’s still a very funny show.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes]

Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie

Patchi the dinosaur  has to grow up fast if he wants to help his family and friends, so he does. Those old CGI-filled docs under the Walking with Dinosaurs banner were cutting edge once upon a time, but the turn to narrative features hasn’t come with that great of a visual upgrade. Still, the animation is okay and the story, slight as it is, may find some appeal with young children.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]

Welcome to the Jungle

A group of office workers head to a remote location for a corporate retreat, but the weekend goes awry thanks in part to the wild man (Jean-Claude Van Damme) in charge. There are some laughs here, mostly from Van Damme and others in the cast including Adam Brody, Rob Huebel, Megan Boone, and others.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Behind the scenes, deleted scene]

Discs Section: Also

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:

Alpha and Omega 3
Angels in Stardust
The Appearing
The Conspiracy
Crave
Key and Peele: Season 1 & 2
Monster High: Frights Camera Action
The Past
The Punk Singer
Winx Club: The Complete Season One


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