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The sadly ridiculous details of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s election and recall fight are just part of the backdrop for this documentary about the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizen United” ruling and the rise of the Tea Party. At the center of it all are the billionaire Koch brothers (and other immensely rich donors), who having been empowered by the court’s decision unleash a tidal wave of legal support for political agendas.
To be clear, this is not an impartial doc looking at two sides of a story. That may sound improper, but some things that look politically slanted are actually straightforward facts. Both sides of the aisle have seen their fair share if disgusting behavior, and this doc looks at the actions on the right that led to a heavy loss for the idea of a democracy of the people. The film spends a bit too much time with ex-governor/Congressman Buddy Roemer, but the core message and theme rings true elsewhere as the power of the people is blatantly replaced by the power of the dollar. You could argue that the people of Wisconsin got what they deserved (via the majority vote) as Walker proceeded to dismantle the state’s unions ‐ and you’d be right ‐ but that doesn’t make the damage and nationwide fallout any less distressing or unfortunate for America’s future.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, Michael Moore conversation, featurette, trailer]
Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly’s (Amy Poehler) story about how they met and fell gloriously in love has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood romantic comedy. They hate each other at first, they have wacky friends, there are numerous misunderstandings and New York City is almost like another character in this very special love story.
Director David Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter still haven’t recaptured the near perfection of their feature debut, Wet Hot American Summer, but they’ve delivered a film that offers far more laughs, giggles and delayed guffaws than most “Hollywood” comedies. Part of their secret is in casting a roster of very funny people including Rudd, Poehler, Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Ed Helms, Michael Ian Black, Cobie Smulders, Ken Marino and others. Not all of the many, many gags land ‐ the Judge Judy one and the “pole up his ass” bit stand out as major groaners ‐ but there are more winners than losers for lovers of comedy both subtle and broad.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, SF Sketchfest table read, trailer, deleted scenes]
The elite protective detail, the Jinyiwei, are the best of the best which makes their team leader, Qinglong (Donnie Yen), the best of the best of the best. Which is pretty damn good. As leader of the guard, his weapons of choice are the fourteen titular blades he wears on his back. The team answers to no one but the emperor himself until an evil eunuch (can you blame the guy?) secretly takes control of the court. Qinglong soon stands as the only member of the Jinyiwei remaining loyal to the emperor, and in an effort to restore him to power Qinglong will have to fight his way through the evil eunuch (seriously, can you blame him?), an outside prince (Sammo Hung) hoping to take the throne and the most feared fighters in the kingdom… the other members of the Jinyiwei. The Weinsteins have finally released this 2010 film, and while it’s worth the wait simply on the merits of Yen alone it’s not one of his best. Solid fights, often marred by wire work and dimly lit settings, make it worth a watch for fans.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A young couple expecting twins is saddened by a complicated delivery that leaves them with only one living child. They deal with the simultaneous joy and grief the best they can, but soon a new concern rears its ugly doll head. Their new home came with a seemingly forgotten doll, and it quickly becomes the focus of her obsession and his nightmares. This Hong Kong flick manages a few creepy moments ‐ it’s a freaky-looking doll ‐ but an abundance of CGI ruins the mood too frequently leaving a flat horror experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A small outbreak of a nasty flesh-eating virus has left a single survivor, and now the scientists responsible for it all have turned Porter (Sean Astin) into a human lab rat. Having watched his only son melt in his arms, Porter’s far from a willing participant in the experimentation and instead just wants to return to his wife. Elsewhere on the island four friends have arrived for an impromptu bachelor party. This is one “pancake boy” away from being the best of the franchise so far, but it remains far more interested in bloody effects than in creating worthwhile characters or an interesting story to place them in. Happily, while those effects would be even better if they weren’t constantly hidden in dimly lit hallways and shadows, they’re still pretty damn great. And wet. And sloppy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Firehouse 51 has faced its fair share of danger out in the field, but their greatest battle may be the fight to keep the station open against ever-growing budget cuts. Luckily there are still fires to fight too, because honestly, budget issues aren’t all that exciting. Creator/producer Dick Wolf’s foray away from the police and into a somewhat different sector of public service offers some thrills along the way, but the cast of characters have yet to really stand out as all that memorable.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, digital series, bonus episodes]
Sergeant Hank Voight runs his intelligence unit with an intense desire to serve and protect, and while he gets the job done he’s not above crossing lines of conduct ‐ ethical, legal, etc ‐ in the process. That setup and character-type is no stranger to film and television, but at times it feels like that main selling point may just be the show’s only point. It’s once again a Dick Wolf production, so you pretty much know what you’re getting here. One unexpected bonus though is that its presence alongside Chicago Fire offers the possibility of crossover episodes… one of which is included here!
[DVD extras: Bonus episodes]
Blackbeard (John Malkovich) and his men are planning a grand attack against Her Majesty’s Royal Navy in pursuit of a very special device, but when a spy (Richard Coyle) interrupts the assault the two men enter a game of wits against a backdrop of pirates, cannons and bodice-ripping. I cut my cable cord over a year ago, but I still feel like I should have heard of this series that apparently ran on NBC earlier this year. Malkovich is good fun, as expected, but while the production values make for an attractive show it still ultimately feels limited in its scope and character.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
It’s NFL draft time, and the Cleveland Browns’ general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) is in a tight spot. The pressure is on from the public, the team’s owner (Frank Langella), the coach (Denis Leary) and the rest of the organization to build the best team possible. He manages the unthinkable early on and gets his team the first pick, but it was a panicked move that actually does more harm than good. Now he’s on the clock and running out of time ‐ it’s the ninth inning, he’s in the end zone, and there’s blood on the ice ‐ oh, and his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) just told him that she’s pregnant. This the best thing Ivan Reitman’s directed since Dave, and that came out in 1993. Still, no one contemplates in earnest like Costner, and that alone makes this a movie worth seeing (at some point, possibly on a plane.) Plus, you know, lots and lots of split screens!
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette, commentary, deleted scenes, trailer]
British artist Ralph Steadman’s work has graced the pages of Rolling Stone and Playboy, but it’s most associated with the writings of Hunter S. Thompson. The point is, you’ve seen his art whether you recognize his name or not. This documentary spends time with the man, often with Johnny Depp as our guide, looking back over his career and life. Fans of the talents involved (which also includes Terry Gilliam and Richard E. Grant) will appreciate this fast-moving doc.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, short film, deleted scenes, interviews, Q&A]
The “Heavenly Sword” is a weapon of tremendous power with an equally devastating side effect in that it drains its wielder of their very life. When a brutal king sets out to dominate the world in his pursuit of the sword a young woman must risk her own life to fight his armies by holding the sword herself. This animated adventure is based on a Playstation game, but if you didn’t know that already you’d know it by the animation style that resembles nothing more than one long videogame cinematic. Fans of the game will enjoy it, but it never feels as natural or fluid as more traditional animated flicks.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
Swedish House Mafia is a three-man band (?) who perform (?) electronic music to great acclaim, but just as the biggest hit of their career is climbing up the charts worldwide they decide to end the group. The decision is followed with one final tour ‐ a tour that sees one million tickets sold in a week ‐ and the film follows the three guys through the fifty different shows as they deal with the stress and success. This is not my kind of music ‐ all the music in the film sounds like the same one or two songs to me ‐ and I honestly don’t recall having heard the band’s name before this film. That said, there’s an energy in the music and the visuals of the various concerts that keeps the film moving and electric. There’s an oddly unspoken conflict between the guys that builds toward a revelation that never comes, but the specifics of it aren’t necessary. And if nothing else the film makes it clear that there are some very attractive young ladies who love Swedish House Mafia.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Allyson wants just one thing from her life at the moment, and that’s a break from her motherly and wifely duties in the form of a night out with her friends. Unfortunately for her though, the universe doesn’t seem to be in an obliging mood. (That’s funny see because this is actually a Christian film.) The movie plays out like an unfunny, not-so-smart riff on Adventures in Babysitting as Allyson and her pals encounter all manner of troublesome adventures and characters along the way.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Bloopers, deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
A trio of environmental activists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard) plan and execute a dam bombing, but the fallout threatens more damage to their relationships than to their intended target. We get it writer/director Kelly Reichardt… you don’t like endings. That in itself is not a bad thing ‐ witness the excellent Meek’s Crossing ‐ but it feels like Reichardt just grew tired of her own creation. It’s a shame too as the performances are strong and the setup/setting is an unusual one. Still worth a watch though.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Mikaelson brothers helped build New Orleans, but after being run out of town over a century ago they’ve finally decided it’s time to return home. This spin-off of The Vampire Diaries fits the mold of the network’s dramas with its cast of young adults, young love and fashionable monsters. That may be a plus for some folks, but it’s not enough on its own to make a show compelling or eminently watchable. The series is like a YA True Blood in its roster of PG13-rated vampires, werewolves, witches and such, but the characters lack any real appeal or depth.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Techno-wizard billionaire Harold Finch continues his fight alongside ex-CIA agent John Reese against all manner of crime in New York City, but his use of “The Machine” continues to draw the attention of those who would like to see his mission (and life) ended. This CBS procedural surpasses most of the network’s others on its premise alone ‐ probably not surprising as it was created by Jonathan Nolan ‐ but it backs it up with some interesting stories. The over-arching narrative is an equally engaging look into government surveillance, agencies and actions in the face of threats, and while the cast is solid the highlight of the season is the occasional presence of Amy Acker.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, Comic-Con panel, digital comics, commentary, gag reel]
Max is no stranger to pursuing scary things ‐ his dream girl Cammy is a redhead after all ‐ but when an evil ghost puts a plan in motion that endangers the world Max is forced to confront the dastardly specter to save everything he holds dear. Good thing he has a couple ghosts in his corner too. Stine’s probably still best known for the “Goosebumps” series, but the eight books (so far) in the “Mostly Ghostly” series have found their own popularity. This Disney flick (along with its ’08 precursor, Who Let the Ghosts Out?) is a fun-enough little adventure for preteens, but the rest of us will want to pass.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) is a small-town ice plow driver in rural Quebec who has a bit too much to drink one night, heads out for a plow and accidentally hits and kills a man in the middle of the road. Panicked, and still more than a little drunk, he hides the body off the side of a road and heads into the woods in an effort to elude the police and the consequences they bring with them. He awakes the next morning in a plow almost out of gas and nearly buried in snow. Staying out of jail soon takes second place on his list of priorities right behind staying alive. The film survives more on its lead actor and tone than it does on its story, but they all work together to create a fun and simple tale of crime gone wrong. Bruce is a victim of his own poor judgement as exacerbated by his state of mind, and Church makes him a remarkably compelling sad sack and engaging and warm company for ninety minutes spent out in the cold.
[DVD extras: None]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Bonanza: Season 7
Duck Dynasty: Quack or Treat
Horses of God
New Girl: The Complete Season Three
Richard Lewis: Bundle of Nerves
Transformers ‐ Beast Machines: The Complete Series