Wednesday, 6 April 2011

This week's major DVD releases, aka "Oooh! Shiny!"

I woke up this morning tired, irritable, and full of self-loathing. The cavernous gray day was approaching.

Shower. Shave. Food. Flush. Drive. Work. Eat. Work. Drive. Home. Comfy pants. Remote. Video on demand. And...

...this week's DVD choices vomited onto my TV screen, seeming to mock my pathetic eagerness to be whisked away from the pathetic assembly-line tedium of my life and drawn, however briefly, into a cinematic fantasy. Did this week's releases keep me from swallowing Liquid Drano for one more day?

Tron: Legacy (2011, 125 min.)  Oooooh! Shiny! Yes, it's the muchly (and nerdly) anticipated sequel to the 8-bit original film from 1982. Honestly, it's the best 30-minute short film you've ever seen. Unfortunately, it's over two hours long. By the mid-way point, when Jeff Bridges' character starts laconically and endlessly preaching his views on the balance of nature and the symmetry of the universe, you start wishing he really was a computer program and you could click the little red X button on his head and close him down. This film is beautiful to look at but its attempt to force-feed me its Big Ideas left me feeling empty.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010, 113 min)  Michael Apted. Heard the name before? He's an acclaimed director who used to tell stories about remarkable women in films such as "Coal Miner's Daughter", "Gorillas in the Mist" and "Nell". Now, however, he's got his hand up a digital lion's furry butt making him babble Christian-ish twaddle in Liam Neeson's voice. This flick is a double-masted schooner sailing in the Ocean of Meh.

Little Fockers (2010, 98 min.)  Imagine that you're Robert DeNiro's and Dustin Hoffman's agent, leaning back in your office chair, staring at posters for "Raging Bull" and "The Graduate" on the wall while your tears of shame fall onto the script for "Little Fockers" that lays across your lap.


Focker Focker Focker Focker Focker Focker Focker.

<glug> <glug> <glug>  Y'know, Drano isn't half bad once you get used to it.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

This week's deep cuts: out-of-the-mainstream DVD releases

There were five major movies released on DVD this week: "Black Swan", "Tangled", "Fair Game", "Made in Dagenham" and "All Good Things". But you're smart - everyone says so - so you probably already knew that.

What you might not know is that there were actually 45 other DVDs and DVD box sets released this week as well. Most are trash. The bad kind, not the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" kind. But some are actually very play-worthy, quietly sneaking onto the rental shelf with little fanfare. So let's give them some fanfare. Everyone needs some fanfare. 

Some notable DVD releases from this week are:

Charlton Heston presents The Bible: “The best stories there ever were ,” Charlton Heston says about these Biblical accounts. And righty-o he is. This set didn't just bring a tear to my eye, it brought a veritable eye-tsunami that--

--What? You thought I was serious?

Ken Burns: The Civil War - Commemorative Edition (660 minutes): Yes, that's right - I said 660 minutes. That's 11 hours of hot, raw American-on-American action. Seriously, Ken Burns is a master documentarian whose previous efforts, covering topics like baseball, jazz, Mark Twain and others, are truly fascinating. Worth watching... if you've got the time. <cough> unemployed <cough>

Mad Men: Season Four (611 minutes): Why aren't you watching this yet? This 3-time Emmy winner for Outstanding Drama Series and winner of 3 consecutive Golden Globes is one of the best things on television right now. It's worth watching if for no other reason that to see a mom, pregnant and smoking, discipline her kid for running around with a dry cleaning bag over his head, not because he could suffocate, but because he allowed his dad's suit to get wrinkled. Watch. This. Series. Now.

One Week (2008, 94 min.): Here's this week's underrated gem. Joshua Jackson, currently appearing in TV's best sci-fi show "Fringe", plays a man who, when confronted with his mortality after a terminal diagnosis, buys a vintage motorcycle and sets off on a cross-Canada road trip from Toronto to Vancouver. Granted, being Canadian, I'm a little biased, but this well-reviewed indie flick tells a simple, moving story in the foreground with the majestic Canadian scenery in the background. You won't regret the rental.

Commenters, ahoy! Have you seen any of these also-ran DVD releases? Sound off!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

This week's DVD releases, aka "The Towering Crapferno"

Yes, it's Tuesday once again, which means that Hollywood is opening it's tickle trunk and pulling out lots of shiny goodies for us girls and boys! Wheeee!

Or, more realistically, they're using toilet plungers to shove a bunch of over-hyped mass-marketed DVDs down our gullets and they're hoping we swallow a few.

DVD rentals are a crapshoot. Trailers and DVD covers - complete with dubious printed quotes like "Most awesome film since Citizen Kane!" from Bob Shill at the Clusterfart Journal in Albequerque, New Mexico - can make a stinker look like a winner. So how do you pick?

Don't worry. I got your back.

Here are this week's DVD and Blu-ray releases along with my picks of the best of the bunch. First, the major releases (and a pithy one-line review):
  • Black Swan: Come for the ballet pirouettes, stay for the Natalie Portman/Mila Kunis lesbian sex scene!
  • Tangled: Cartoon hair, maiden's fair, hearts laid bare, don't really care.
  • Fair Game: Bush-era political drama with Sean Penn not just chewing up the scenery but actually trying to digest the Washington Monument.
  • Made in Dagenham: The fight for equal rights for working women in 1960's Britain is less Austin Powers and more, uh, some other groovy movie.
Your best pick this week: Black Swan. It's a creepy, did-that-actually-happen movie that'll totally mess with your head, brought to you by the seriously disturbed director of such cheery happy-go-lucky films as The Wrestler, The Fountain, and the film where a guy injects drugs with a dirty needle so often his arm becomes infected and needs to be (very graphically) amputated, Requiem for a Dream. His movies are unique and always worth a watch, and Black Swan is no exception.

And as mentioned, it delivers a healthy serving of this:
Nothing wrong with that, either.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Hidden sci-fi gem better than 'The Matrix'?

For those of you who have seen The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions, the local Health Authority has asked me to inform you that you must administer an important health self-test. Ready? Okay: close your eyes, and gently shake your head from side to side. Do you hear an annoying, echoing clatter in your skull, like dirty cutlery in a kitchen sink? Sadly, you’re suffering from KeanuSpeechitis, caused by the careless use of tedious, brain-numbing dialogue in the two sequels to the 1999 blockbuster sci-fi movie The Matrix. Don’t worry - those huge, indigestible words jangling around in your cerebellum will go away. Just take two Adam Sandler movies and call me in the morning.

Don’t get me wrong – the two Matrix sequels are chock full of great eye-candy, but they certainly didn’t live up to the promise of the original film, which is a genuinely unique movie joyride that delivers a tremendous “Did you see that?!” experience. But, maybe “unique” is the wrong word. Let’s go into the vault and dust off Dark City.

Watching this exceptional sci-fi thriller, you’d might think it ripped off several themes and ideas from The Matrix… except that Dark City was released in 1998, a full year before Neo and company ever went kung-fu fighting. Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale) stars as John Murdock who awakens in a bathtub in a strange hotel room with a fragmented memory. The phone rings and a breathless man, Dr. Shreber (Kiefer Sutherland), warns him to run, and quickly, because the dark men are coming for him. Bewildered and afraid, he does, just as three ominous Strangers close in on him. Murdoch stumbles into the streets of the city, a place where it is always night, where darkened railcars rumble by on elevated tracks above shadowy slums, and where he assembles the pieces of a life the Strangers have designed and built for him. He discovers he has a wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly), and that he’s wanted for multiple murders. Is he guilty? He can’t remember. While trying to find out, Murdoch gradually discovers the nature of the Strangers and the city they’ve built in which to perform their mysterious experiments on its human population. He also discovers that he might have the same special abilities the Strangers have – can he set everyone free? Is he… the One?

Dark City is visually spectacular, imaginatively and intelligently written, uses jaw-dropping effects that are an integral part of the story, and it’s a thrill to watch. It’s a great blend of lost romance, intriguing mystery, and exhilarating action scenes. The writer/director, Alex Proyas, is an Aussie with a penchant for ambitious sci-fi productions, as is seen in his earlier movie The Crow and the Will Smith film I, Robot. Dark City is by far the best of the bunch.

Despite being one of the best science fiction movies of the 1990s, Dark City bombed at the box office and was shuffled onto the dusty shelves of video stores because the studio didn’t know how to market it. Check out what moviegoers missed in 1998. The whole movie buzzes with a level of energy that is completely absent from large sections of The Matrix: Reloaded. Besides which, Dark City actually features actors who can, you know, act, unlike Keanu Reeves, whose thespian ability could be compared to a 10-foot length of construction-grade 2X4. Except that, well, it’s not nice to insult defenseless lumber.

My advice: wait ‘till dark, turn out the lights, watch Dark City, and you’ll give a pleased, Keanu-sized “Whoa!”, guaranteed.