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New and Coming Releases: February 8, 2011.

     

A veritable Valentine's gift box full of tasty confections are this week's DVD releases, from a charming British comedy to a lovely Japanese instant classic, a new one from Film Movement, horror, drama and more. See these and some of the titles coming out soon, in this heart-shaped box.

Continue Reading New and Coming Releases: February 8, 2011.

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What's the Matter With Kansas?

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

The question "What’s the matter with Kansas?" should immediately bring to mind Thomas Frank’s best-seller on the subject. That’s good, since the documentary film of the same name is based on Frank's book. I have read only selections from this book, which uses the state of Kansas to make clear how the Republican Party, in tandem with the evangelical Christian movement, has boondoggled Americans into believing that it today represents the common man. I'll let Frank's own words speak for themselves here:

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Night Catches Us

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****

Tanya Hamilton makes her feature writing and directing debut with the exceptional character study Night Catches Us; it veers perilously close to message mongering and smugness, but mostly does well to focus on some surprising character traits and fine period detail.

Anthony Mackie plays Marcus Washington, who suddenly returns home to 1976 Philadelphia after some mysterious time away, for his father's funeral. It's a rough-and-tumble time, with the remains of the Black Panther movement still evident in the streets. Marcus tries to fix up the family home in exchange for a place to sleep, but his brother wants nothing to do with him. Instead he ends up staying with an old flame, Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington), a do-gooder with the habit of taking in stray souls.

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Nowhere Boy

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Want to know how to tell if your bio-pic is firing on all cylinders? Remove the famous person whose bio it is from the equation. Would the movie work if, instead of being about the celebrity, it were simply the story of Joe Schmo? Would the tale hold you? Would the events on view matter much? Using that criteria, Nowhere Boy, the John Lennon-as-a-teenager movie directed by Sam Taylor Wood and written by Matt Greenhalgh (from the memoir by Julia Baird) rates especially high marks. The fact that it's Lennon's story will of course draw most fans to the film, but they'll stay because the events and characters on screen are presented with strength, intelligence, feeling -- and life. This is one very vivid movie.

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New and Coming Releases: January 25, 2011.

   

A ton of great titles out today, seriously. From a surprise Oscar-nominee for Foreign film to an underseen Hollywood movie with two great actors, a fun action romp, a mindf---/trip, the third Millennium film, the Spitzer doc, a film about a horse, and a lot more. All this and more coming soon!

Continue Reading New and Coming Releases: January 25, 2011.

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Cronos

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****½

Guillermo Del Toro has become one of the most interesting of the new auteurs. Over the course of just seven films in 18 years, he has established a definite, fluid, rich visual style and specific pet themes, not to mention a singular fascination and enthusiasm for a certain kind of genre film. He also manages the nearly impossible feat of juxtaposing personal comic book movies (Blade II, Hellboy) in Hollywood and more ambitious works of art (The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth) elsewhere.

I had seen his debut feature Cronos some time back, and I liked it, but it did not resonate with me, and I was glad for the chance to see it again now that I have become more familiar with Del Toro's work as a whole, now that the Criterion Collection has released it on a spectacular new DVD.

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Heartbreaker

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

The reputation the French have for creating romantic comedy non pareil is well-deserved. In the last few years alone, we've had sophisticated charmers from Shall We Kiss to Priceless to Après vous. Now comes yet another, sporting a knock-out premise that is so original that it almost makes it impossible for the movie to live up to its nifty/nasty concept. That it finally does is due as much to the mysterious workings of chemistry between actors (Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis) and the talent of new director Pascal Chaumeil (pronounced Show-MAY), as to the film's very funny and unusual script. 

I’ll not give away, plot-wise, even that very smart premise -- and, yes, it is tempting to talk about. Instead, be content with knowing that Heartbreaker (L'arnacoeur) involves a dashing and sexy young man (Duris), his nifty sister (Julie Ferrier) and her slightly demented boyfriend (François Damiens), a lovely woman about to be married (Paradis) and her father (Jacques Frantz), who for some reason is not particularly keen on the marriage. Out of this mix, Chaumeil and his script-writing team (Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner and Yohan Gromb) have spun their sometimes flaky flax into something approaching gold.

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Jack Goes Boating

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of our great living actors, and has proven himself over the years in a number of supporting roles, ranging from sweaty and snarky to snaky and charming, to both funny and heartbreaking. Even his lead roles, such as Capote and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, have managed to use his skills well. He's always pushing and allowing himself to be pushed, looking for fresh angles and daring ideas. Unfortunately, Hoffman does not bring much of this energy to his directorial debut, Jack Goes Boating, which is based upon a 2007 play by Bob Glaudini, but it's worth a watch.

Hoffman stars and recreates his stage role, and perhaps not surprisingly, the result is more character-based than it is flashy or visually astute. It would almost come across as a fairly routine Indie/Sundance-type movie, were it not for the superior acting and subtle characterization.

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Bitter Feast

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): **

 

What a collection of talent is gathered here: writer/directorJoe Maggio, who gave us the wonderful Virgil Bliss (2001) and the interesting Paper Covers Rock (2008); a cast of indie pros like James Le Gros, who’s coming up on a 30-year career of mostly independent film and TV, in which he’s always good and often charismatic; Joshua Leonard, so different here from his work in last year’s Humpday; the lovely Amy Seimetz, currently on a roll, after Alexander the Last, Tiny Furniture and Open Five; and producer/co-starLarry Fessenden, who’s always fun to watch ( I Sell the DeadWendy and Lucy) and whose production company Glass Eye Pix has given us some wonderful little “scare” movies of late. The result of all this talent blended into a chef-gets-revenge-on-food-critic thriller (in which even Mario Batali makes an appearance) is the disappointing Bitter Feast.

 

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Straight to Hell Returns

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Alex Cox's Straight to Hell Returns, which showed in some theaters in 2010, is along the same lines as Apocalypse Now Redux, but on a different scale. It's the same as Straight to Hell (1987), but Cox did a little editing and added some more blood. When the movie opened in 1987, viewers may have expected something along the lines of Cox's previous original but more straightforward features, Repo Man (1984) and Sid and Nancy (1986). Instead they were treated with a deliberately weird, nonsensical modern-day Western; most people turned up their noses, or ignored it altogether.

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