Youth in Revolt
Michael Cera takes quite a bit of guff for constantly recycling the same character. And for good reason. He’s successfully carved out a niche for himself by playing extensions of Arrested Development‘s George Michael alongside other up and coming funnymen, the likes of Jonah Hill. In Youth in Revolt, it’s his show. And he makes the best of it playing that same character, but also playing his evil alter-ego. Bolstered by incredible source material (a book by C.D. Payne) and great on-screen chemistry with young Portia Doubleday, Cera pulls off one of his most charming and most impressive performances to date. It’s a shame that this film has been so overlooked. It really did play in theaters, I assure you. On Blu-ray its a near-bust, sporting some deleted scenes, some audition footage and a commentary track with Cera and director Miguel Arteta. Nothing but movieIQ (worthless) on the Blu-ray exclusive side. Do yourself a favor and at least give this one a rent. You can thank me later.
The White Ribbon
Like all of Michael Haneke’s good movies (just about everything except for the American remake of Funny Games), The White Ribbon is a challenging film to watch. The narrative lives in a state that many mainstream flicks do not, in the land of show instead of tell. What it shows is some absolutely breathtaking cinematography and a town full of characters that are simply interesting to watch. It’s not about answering questions — or even asking them — it’s about observing what is happening and drawing your own conclusions. Challenging, but certainly worth the risk. You may not want to sit down and watch this film more than once, but you certainly should give it at least one viewing. You’ll be a more well-rounded movie fan for it, for sure.
The Crazies (2010)
Like most of the internet, you might not be a fan of remakes. But you can trust in a remake done for the right reasons. And when director Breck Eisner set out to remake George Romero’s non-zombie paranoia film The Crazies, he did so with a few things in mind. One is that he wanted to say something new. He did so with a bit of social commentary wrapped into this tightly wound thriller. He also wanted to improve upon the original’s ability to build tension and deliver scares. And is it ever scary, this new version. Timothy Olyphant plays a small town sheriff whose jurisdiction is overrun by a mysterious outbreak, causing the town’s folk to start slaughtering each other. It’s an intense ride and one filled with innovated scenes, solid performances (especially from Olyphant and his deputy, played by Joe Anderson) and a few neat little twists thrown in for good measure. It honors Romero, but also brings with it a contemporary shine that should be much appreciated by audiences grown weary of Hollywood’s recycling bin. The Blu-ray is filled with extras, most of which can also be found on the DVD. If you’ve seen it and know that you dig it, buy the Blu-ray. Otherwise rent away.
Hot Tub Time Machine
It might not of made a splash like The Hangover did last year, but Hot Tub Time Machine sure did come out of nowhere to smack audiences in the face with hilarity. The combined talents of John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke and the always funny Craig Robinson make for a delightfully debauched humor cocktail. Combine them with a mostly smart script and a lack of the usual studio comedy pacing issues and you’ve got yourself a movie worth seeing. Other talented actors, including Chevy Chase, Lizzy Caplan and Crispin Glover add some flavor to the mix, but in the end it’s the chemistry of the four men on the DVD box that make it work. They are funny, some of the gags are deranged and Craig Robinson pulls off one of the best on-stage performances since Marty McFly rocked out to “Johnny Be Good” at Hill Valley High in ’55. The Blu-ray release (sadly) gets a rent because it’s loose on the special features. And by loose, I of course mean “strongly lacking.” Despite that, I think you should rent and see this movie. Especially if you’re in need of a good laugh at the expense of the 1980s.
Things that are usually not that good: movies about the Iraq war. Things I learned while watching Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, starring Matt Damon: Iraq war movies can be solid if they are treated as action movies and they avoid being heavy with the politics. That’s exactly what we have here, a decent action movie that gives a roundness to Matt Damon’s body of work under the helm of Paul Greengrass. At its heart, Green Zone is a detective story in combat boots. Most impressive is its pace and the almost inexplicable stillness of Paul Greengrass’ camera through most of it. I didn’t get motion sickness, I didn’t get politics sickness and I got to see some wicked urban gun warfare. It was a nice experience, overall. On Blu-ray it flattens out a bit with the standard issue supplements: commentary track with Greengrass and Damon, featurette about the troops, generic “making of” featurette and some deleted scenes. Nothing special, just a good movie and some other stuff.
The Last Station
If you’re into really long movies about the guy who wrote “War and Peace,” have I got a treat for you. This is the movie you’ve been waiting for. Alright fine, that’s not exactly the case. The movie is about Leo Tolstoy, but it isn’t very long, it just feels like it. In reality, it’s a nice character piece that explores the human condition and our need for love. It tells to concurrent love stories: one involving Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) and Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren) and another that involves Tolstoy’s assistant, played by James McAvoy. Like a day spent at The Actor’s Studio, it’s full of performances that leave a lasting impression. The only problem is that the movie itself is so plodding that it makes its own impression, one of overwhelming boredom. It makes the Blu-ray’s two commentary tracks seem like a monumental climb up a mountain twice the size of Mt. Everest and all of the other featurettes (three, to be exact) feel like the piling on of slowness. That said, there is a very wonderful tribute to Christopher Plummer on this disc that I enjoyed very much. The man’s a great actor, what can I say? Worth seeing, but certainly not worth owning.
Mary and Max
Since seeing this stop-motion animated tale at Sundance two years ago, I’ve been waiting for a chance to share it with fellow movie-lovers here in the States. It’s a darkly dramatic story about a lonely man in New York City (voiced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and an 8-year old girl in Australia (voiced by Toni Collette) who develop a strong friendship as pen pals. Their 20-year long relationship explores autism, taxidermy, alcoholism, where babies come from, kleptomania, sexual differences, trust, copulating dogs, religious differences, agoraphobia and more of life s big and little surprises. It’s a bit dark, but director Adam Elliot loads it with charm and creates a truly unique experience. Throw in some lovely stop-motion animation and you’ve got yourself one of the most creative films I’ve seen in a long time. A genuine one-of-a-kind tale. The Blu-ray is short on extras (very short), but the movie is too good to pass up. Rent and be rewarded.
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