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DVDs for May 13, 2014

her

Her

The idea behind this movie is great. A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) buys the latest technology gimmick (an AI operating system that designs its own personality to suit you) and ends up falling in love with it. The movie explores their relationship as well as its societal implications and just how different a computer-based life form would be from us. Unfortunately, when this great idea was executed, it turned into an awkward, boring film. If you don’t mind that sort of thing, check it out.

Buy Her on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

i frankenstein

I, Frankenstein

Even though it’s terrible, I was actually planning to see this in theaters. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I was thwarted by a broken projector. If you read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and thought: who cares about morality, ethics, science, and the nature of life? Frankenstein’s monster would be way more interesting if he was involved in a giant war between magical ugly things, then this movie is for you. This movie does for classic literature what Legion did for Christian mythology (i.e. made it stupid). Skip it.

Buy I, Frankenstein on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

that awkward moment

That Awkward Moment

This movie is sort of a romantic comedy told from the guys’ perspective – three guys (a womanizer, a nerd, and a married guy) all become single at the same time and decide to make a pact to stay that way – except that all three end up romantically involved with women. It differs from traditional romantic comedies in that it’s got a lot more dick jokes and the characters all act like overgrown frat boys. Some people will find it okay, but most will be put off by the fact that the women could do a lot better than these three.

Buy That Awkward Moment on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

stalingrad

Stalingrad

This is a big-budget Russian film about a vicious urban hellhole of a battle between the Soviets and the Germans in World War II. It looks pretty good, especially for a non-Hollywood movie, and aims for a Band of Brothers feel, with the narrative following a handful of soldiers protecting a local girl. They even give some non-evil screentime to the Germans. Unfortunately, some of the heroism borders on silliness, it doesn’t always make sense, and it glosses over some of the ways Soviet leadership was not awesome to its soldiers. Give it a try though if you liked Enemy at the Gates.

Buy Stalingrad on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Neighbors Review

poster from the Universal Pictures film Neighbors

My choices this week were as follows: 3 movies I’ve already seen, 2 religion movies, 1 documentary for little kids, and 3 movies that looked even worse than this one. My hands were tied, in other words. If I hadn’t promised to see more bad movies this year, I would have stayed home. But I did promise, so I went to the frat boy movie.

A pair of former partiers who now have jobs and a baby decide to run the new frat house out of their nice quiet neighborhood.

I didn’t expect much from Neighbors (Bad Neighbours in Britain) but I got even less than I expected. I got awkwardness instead of comedy, a mess instead of a plot, and an entire cast of thoroughly unlikeable characters. I think I just saw my first really solid contender for Worst Movie of 2014.

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DVDs for May 6, 2014

veronica mars

Veronica Mars

Otherwise known as “The Kickstarter Movie.” In a move reminiscent of Firefly, fans of the Nancy-Drew-esque high school murder mystery show Veronica Mars got together and handed series creator Rob Thomas (not the one from Matchbox 20) enough money to make a movie. They got an extra-long mystery featuring grown up Veronica investigating a case that catches her up with all the people she used to know as a teen. This is pretty much a fans-only movie, so try the TV show first.

Buy Veronica Mars on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

art of the steal

The Art of the Steal

There’s an art to making heist movies that aren’t just the same old cliches trotted out all over again, and this movie doesn’t have it. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a reformed thief bands together with his former colleagues to pull off one more heist before they retire, but divisions among the group screw up the plan. The only real difference is that the lead character played by Kurt Russell is (for some reason) an Evel Knievel knockoff. If you mass-consume heist movies, you’ll probably get to it eventually.

Buy The Art of the Steal on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

burn

Burn

I was first introduced to Detroit’s arson problem through Charlie LeDuff’s book Detroit: An American Autopsy. Overworked, underpaid firefighters in run down equipment risk their lives to fight huge numbers of arson fires in abandoned houses before they burn the handful of remaining people out of their homes (Detroit is where arsonists go on vacation). It’s hard hitting stuff, even more so in documentary form. They got some pretty amazing footage, so definitely check it out (especially you, fellow Chicago Fire fans).

Buy Burn on DVD.

generation war

Generation War

In North America, we call our World War II soldiers “The Greatest Generation.” We make endless movies about how they heroically put down those dastardly Nazis, but what if you’re German? What do you call the ’40s generation then? I always preferred the war movies/books that contained at least a single three dimensional Axis character rather than a hoard of cardboard psychopaths, so this miniseries, which follows five young Germans in different wartime roles, seemed like exactly what I’ve been looking for all this time. This is something we should all watch.

Buy Generation War on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

poster from the Sony Pictures film Amazing Spider-man 2

Spider-man and I have a weird relationship. I’ve read some of the comics, watched the cartoon, and I even own two of the movies. I think Spider-man is cool… as long as he doesn’t open his mouth. When he starts wisecracking I mostly just want to slap him. This latest incarnation is the mouthiest of all, but I keep going to see the movies anyway.


Spider-man struggles with his girlfriend’s decision to move away and his old friend’s need for his blood as a new electricity-based supervillain threatens the city.

There’s so much going on in Amazing Spider-man 2 (not all of it necessarily relevant) that it’s hard to boil it down to a coherent logline. Despite the logjam of subplots it all seems to work together somehow, so in the end the movie is about as good as a Spider-man movie could be.

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Sniper’s Honor Review

It’s Random Friday again and I’m still trying to clear my backlog of free Goodreads First Reads books, so today we’ll be talking about Sniper’s Honor, a military/historical thriller by Stephen Hunter. It’s releasing this month from Simon and Schuster.

snipers honor cover

A retired sniper and a newspaper reporter attract deadly notice when they start digging into the history of a female sniper who disappeared from the Ukraine in the closing days of World War II.

I requested Sniper’s Honor because I loved one of Hunter’s other thrillers. When it opened with a quote from The Terminator, I knew we would get along like a house on fire.

I love Sniper’s Honor for a lot of reasons. It’s part World War II novel, part modern-day thriller. The plotting is tight and the prose is clever. The two timelines trade the narrative back and forth as each set of characters discovers clues and encounters setbacks, ensuring that there’s no good place to stop reading. Everything clicks together perfectly, but even though I usually figure thrillers out in a few chapters, I had no idea how Sniper’s Honor was going to end until all the pieces fell into place.

The World War II timeline doesn’t just re-hash the same old American/British victories. It delves into the action on the often ignored Eastern Front, touching on the battles we’ve heard of (Stalingrad, Kursk, the siege of Leningrad) but focusing on the forgotten partisans who fought SS death squads and battle-hardened paratroopers in the remote Ukrainian mountains. The hero of the story is not only a sniper but a female Russian sniper, which I was thrilled about, even if her beauty is the only reason anyone’s interested in her.

I also love that Sniper’s Honor doesn’t fall into the propaganda-movie trap of ‘all Allies good, all Axis bad,’ as there are heroes and villains on both sides. There’s a fair amount of graphic violence, but it didn’t bother me. Violence is necessary to convey the horror and confusion of war and when some of the truly monstrous characters meet their ends, I would even call it satisfying.

In the ‘present day’ timeline, the heroes are a reporter who has grandchildren, a retired sniper with a bad hip, and (in an interlude) a desk jockey who spends all day crunching numbers. None of the three are typical action heroes, which is why it’s such a pleasure to see them stick it to the cocky young guns in the intelligence and organized crime communities who are trying to keep their dark secrets buried.

My only real complaint is that prose was a little technical for me at times. I’m not a firearms expert, and with so many weapons being identified by number-letter combinations, I needed to have Google images near at hand in order to visualize the action. During the wrap-up, I was also a bit confused about what happened to a few of the bit players, but the neat bow tied around the principals more than made up for it.

I would recommend Sniper’s Honor to any history or thriller buff who’s tired of the same old thing (extra points if you’re both). I award it the coveted rating of:

category 5

Before you go, here’s your Sniper’s Honor-related cartoon:
girl sniper meme

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Trailers for May 2, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2



Spider-Man has never been one of my favorite superheros. Most of the time I feel like angsty teenage Peter Parker and his smarmy alter ego need a good hard smack upside the head. And I really don’t feel like they needed to remake all these movies again as a 3D special effects bonanza just so Sony doesn’t have to give the rights back to Marvel. However, even if I didn’t have a blog to write, I’d still be going to this movie, since my friend is a huge (and I mean HUGE) Spider-man nerd, and the Wolf Pack rolls together, yo.

JOE



While I like the idea of an ex-con rescuing a boy’s family from an abusive dad, this movie doesn’t grab me. Maybe it’s just because I don’t like Nicholas Cage, but I would want a story like that to be more uplifting and less mired in revenge and violence.

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DVDs for April 29, 2014

labor day

Labor Day

Normally I hate movies where the main character is a criminal, but Labor Day broke my rule. Josh Brolin plays a man in prison for murder who escapes and forces a woman (Kate Winslet) and her thirteen-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith) to hide him at their house for the long weekend. The grown-ups fall in love and the kid gets a better father figure than his mom’s remarried ex, so it’s sweet rather than scary. Check it out if you like romantic dramas, or read my review for more.

Buy Labor Day on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

devils due

Devil’s Due

In this low-budget found footage horror movie, Zach Gilford and Allison Miller find themselves in a Rosemary’s Baby meets The Exorcist situation when some cultists kidnap them on their honeymoon and impregnate them (well, her) with a demon baby. Mom’s role in the story is to be creepy, while Dad’s role is to be weirded out and make videotapes of everything. The story’s a bit ridiculous but the acting’s good, so if you’re looking for a new horror movie to watch, try this or read my review for more.

Buy Devil’s Due on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

hercules

Legend of Hercules

There is a Hercules movie starring Dwayne Johnson that’s releasing this summer. This is not that movie. This is a lower (not low) budget version starring Kellan Lutz (best known for being one of the secondary vampires in Twilight). It’s kind of a cross between 300 and Gladiator, with poor misunderstood Hercules getting sold into slavery because he fell in love with the wrong girl. Watch it if you really want to see Kellan Lutz with his shirt off, but if you want to learn the myths, read a book.

Buy Legend of Hercules on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

gimmie shelter

Gimme Shelter

Apparently Vanessa Hudgens is really serious about breaking away from the cutesy good-girl image that’s been following her ever since she starred in High School Musical. First Spring Breakers, now this: a gritty/inspiring drama based on a true story. Hudgens plays a pregnant teen who escapes from her abusive, drug addicted mother, is rejected by her rich absentee father, and finally winds up accepting help from a shelter run by Catholics. If you can stomach the faith aspects, it’s a pretty strong showing.

Buy Gimme Shelter on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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The Other Woman Review

poster from the Twentieth Century Fox film The Other Woman

Many moons ago, I saw a movie called John Tucker Must Die. It was about a group of high school girls who had a secret plan to make the guy who cheated on them miserable. It was funny, so when The Other Woman came along, I was inclined to give it a shot, even though it was similar both John Tucker and First Wives Club.

A woman discovers her boyfriend is married and teams up with his wife and his other girlfriend to get revenge.

I was expecting more diabolical revenge schemes and less getting drunk and falling down, but I laughed a lot, so I wouldn’t say The Other Woman is a waste of time. I would, however, change the title to The Other Women. It’s more accurate and it would set the movie apart from that Natalie Portman drama from five years ago.

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Trailer Reviews for April 25, 2014

THE OTHER WOMAN



There are three of them. Shouldn’t it be called The Other Women? The trailer reminds me a lot of John Tucker Must Die and The First Wives Club, but those were funny movies. I don’t think I would mind watching another movie that was like them. Also, that was Taylor Kinney.

THE QUIET ONES



“If we cure one patient, we cure all mankind.” I’m not sure science works that way, dude. Also, yet another thin justification for found footage. Who went and edited it all together in the scariest possible way after you were all sucked into the sky by the ghost/demon/whatever?

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE



“You being so reclusive and everything is probably only going to make people more interested in your music…” and also, you look like Tom Hiddleston and you rarely wear a shirt. That’ll do it every time. It looks pretty funny, but also reeeeeally slow. I’m not sure I’d have the patience.

BRICK MANSIONS



Ugh, and here I’d been thinking parkour looked cool. Way to ruin it, movie.

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DVDs for April 22, 2014

There’s not much coming out this week apart from old, B-list, and straight-to-DVD movies and TV shows. I don’t feel like mentioning any of them except for:

forest ranger

The Legend of the Psychotic Forest Ranger

This movie was made by and stars people from my town. It’s a horror/comedy/spoof thing based on the 80s horror movie formula. A group of teenagers who aren’t really teenagers get stuck in an area of the woods haunted by a pissed-off ex-forest ranger, who dismembers them one by one until the movie is over. It’s a pretty good for a shoestring-budget movie (they only had about $50,000 to spend). The deliberately cheesy/insane forest ranger steals the show. Check it out or read my review for more.

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