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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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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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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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Trailers for April 18, 2014

TRANSCENDENCE



Otherwise known as: SkyNet – the Movie! I mean, I’ll see it, but how many times do we need to travel the same well-worn territory? Oh no! We created a supermachine and now it can boss us around! The horror!

BEARS



It’s Earth Day again and time for another kids’ documentary about cute animals. While you’re watching Bears, don’t forget to remind your littleuns that if they ever catch a whiff of the fishy garbage-heap-in-the-sun smell of a real bear, under no circumstances should they attempt to approach and/or pat the cute bears, as they will totally rip your face off.

HAUNTED HOUSE 2



Sometimes I like deliberately dumb spoofs, but this one is just bad. That trailer didn’t even make me smile once.

FACE OF LOVE



While I’m not opposed to the notion of a woman falling in love with a guy who looks like her dead husband (okay, I find it a LITTLE creepy), this looks like one of those slow, quiet (read: boring) movies that make me want to hit fast forward just to make something happen.

TRAILER PARK BOYS: DON’T LEGALIZE IT



I despise Trailer Park Boys, but I know a lot of people don’t, so here’s the trailer. Me: out.

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Trailer Reviews for March 14, 2014

NEED FOR SPEED

)

No. Nope. Nuh uh. If I want to oogle expensive cars, I’ll watch Top Gear. At least those guys are funny. What I will not do is watch another terrible video game adaptation starring a guy who has that same dopey look as Deputy Dewey from Scream. Also, that stunt with the helicopter was a whole lot more hilarious in my head, where the chains just ripped off the car bumper and those two idiots plunged to the bottom of the canyon in a big dumb fireball.

ENEMY

)

Directed by the Prisoners guy or not, this looks slow and boring. I’m only mildly curious about why there are two guys who look the same and I feel like the answer to the puzzle is some kind of spaced-out metaphor that would just piss me off anyway. So no way.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

)

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Wes Anderson films. I love The Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox but I hated The Darjeeling Limited (too depressing, not funny enough). This one looks to be more on the goofy side of things, so I’ll see it.

VERONICA MARS

)

Ah yes, the Kickstarter movie the Veronica Mars fans funded when they couldn’t accept the cancellation of their beloved show. I never watched the TV show and I don’t live in one of the select cities this film will be playing in, but if you are/do, I hope you get your money’s worth out of it. I think it looks like Nancy Drew as written by Joss Whedon.

TYLER PERRY’S SINGLE MOM’S CLUB

)

Tyler Perry invents babysitting?

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DVDs for March 11, 2014

book thief

The Book Thief

A lot of people have flipped their lids over this movie and the book it’s based on. It’s a Nazi era story narrated by Death which follows an illiterate girl who steals books and shares them with the Jew her foster parents are hiding in the basement. As a ‘kid in the Nazi era/Holocaust’ movie, it’s decent. I’ve definitely seen better (Life is Beautiful, Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Devil’s Arithmetic, etc.) But as a film adaptation it can’t help but be miles better than the source material, given how sparse and confusing the writing was.

Buy The Book Thief on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

out of the furnace

Out of the Furnace

As I mentioned during my trailer review, Out of the Furnace can best be described as Winter’s Bone starring Christian Bale in the Jennifer Lawrence role. A desperate person (Bale) ventures into rural crime gang territory looking for a missing family member (in this case, a brother). It necessarily takes more of a turn into revenge thriller territory though, because we don’t have the dramatic angle of the searcher being a young dependent about to be turned out on her ear. There’s nothing new or particularly enthralling here.

Buy Out of the Furnace on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

homefront

Homefront

If you’re looking for a crime thriller with more shooting in it, skip Out of the Furnace and rent Homefront. It’s a paint-by-numbers action film starring Jason Statham as a burned out DEA agent who retires to a small town with his daughter to recover from an incident involving a tragic death. But guess what? Drug dealers in this small town want to cause another tragic death (of his daughter this time) over a bullying incident at school (yes really). Commence shotguns, explosions, and hero redemption.

Buy Homefront on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

inside llewyn davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

I like Garrett Hedlund, but if he keeps choosing bit parts in meandering period films about the messed up lifestyles of struggling artists, I’m going to have to jump ship to save my sanity. It’s not that the acting is bad. The movie is full of famous people looking to expand their range as actors. The problem is that they’re playing characters I can’t care about who wander through a story where nothing seems to be connected to anything else. If you like glacier-paced, introspective indie dramas, this will appeal to you. As you can probably tell, it didn’t appeal to me.

Buy Inside Llewyn Davis on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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DVDs for March 4, 2014

catching fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Between accidental revolution/totalitarian government mind-f**ckery and harrowing teenage death-match game show action, Catching Fire was the third best movie of 2013… not that the Academy agrees with me, but when do they ever? I would also rate this movie better than the first Hunger Games, simply because they did away with the shaky-cam and gave Gale (the non-annoying point on the love triangle) more screen time. Read my full review for more or just go ahead and watch it right now.

Buy Catching Fire on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

12 years a slave

12 Years a Slave

Films that win best picture Oscars (like 12 Years a Slave just did) are almost always depressing. Frequently they’re boring and/or pretentious too, at least from the viewpoint of normal people. Thankfully 12 Years a Slave is actually good. It’s a true story based on the life of a free-born African American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s. As the title suggests, the poor guy spends the next 12 years trying to get back to his family. The subject matter is depressing, but at least it has a relatively happy ending. Check it out.

Buy 12 Years a Slave on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

hours

Hours

Not to be confused with The Hours (a 2002 film about women and suicide), Hours is the story of a distraught father who has just lost his wife and is abandoned at a New Orleans hospital to keep his premature daughter alive on manual life support during Hurricane Katrina. It’s not based on a true story and it’s not particularly well written or made (about average for a B movie), but it is one of the last films Paul Walker had a chance to do before his accident, so if you’re a fan you’ll want to put it on your list.

Buy Hours on DVD.

girl rising

Girl Rising

I was having trouble finding another movie worth talking about on the release list for this week until I came across Girl Rising. It’s a documentary made to support the cause of making sure girls and women in developing countries are safe, educated, and able to direct their own futures. My Girl Guides and I learned about the Girl Effect (giving aid money to women/girls as a way of making sure it actually helps communities) a few years ago and I can tell you that the stories these girls have to tell are very compelling. So check out this movie.

Buy Girl Rising on DVD.

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Non-Stop Review

poster from the Universal Pictures film Non-Stop

It was another underwhelming week for movies. There was only a generic looking thriller (Non-Stop) or a rehashed literal interpretation of the bible (Son of God) to choose from. And while I did promise to see more bad movies this year, I have to draw the line at the smirking Jesus movie. So I ended up at yet another Liam Neeson throat-chopping extravaganza.


It’s up to a lone air marshal to stop a hijacker who has threatened to kill someone every 20 minutes on a transatlantic flight.

Once again it was Liam Neeson vs the World, but because it was a contained space thriller with a (relatively) limited cast, there was a lot more texting than throat chopping. Which is a shame, because the only reason to go to these movies is to watch a (somehow still hot) Liam Neeson beat the snot out of bad guys.

Read More

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Trailer Reviews for February 28, 2014

NON-STOP



I tend to view Liam Neeson’s more recent movies as faintly ridiculous. I blame Taken. And The Grey. And Taken 2 (you get the idea). My first impulse was to brush this one off too, but then I realized: Non-Stop is a contained-space thriller that (in the trailer version, anyway) actually manages to preserve some mystery. Sort of like the thing I want to try to do at some point. So obviously I want to see how it all pans out. If it turns out to be dumb, oh well. Expectations met. But it could surprise me. I think I’ll give it a chance.

SON OF GOD



I don’t necessarily have a problem with a movie about Jesus. I mean, it could be interesting from a historical perspective… supposing anyone ever did any research beyond reading the bible. What I do have a problem with is the blatant moneygrubbery inherent in slapping together some scenes from a previously produced (and sold! And played on TV!) miniseries and calling it a movie. On a more hilarious note, is it just me, or does Diogo Morgado’s Jesus remind you a little of Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox?

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DVDs for February 25, 2014

Whoops! It seems I accidentally did the DVDs for this week on February 4… which makes me wonder what actually DID come out February 4? Anyway here are those releases again, and this time it’s not a lie!

gravity

Gravity

The #2 best movie of 2013 (according to me) is now available to own! If you’ve seen it, you’re probably already pre-ordered your copy. If you haven’t see it – buy one now. It’s the thrillingest thriller I’ve seen in… possibly ever. Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut with a tragic past who struggles to stay alive in space after her shuttle is destroyed by debris. There are some science problems if you think about it too hard, but that doesn’t matter, because the rest of it is so awesome. Read my full review for more.

Buy Gravity on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

thor 2

Thor: The Dark World

Coincidentally, the #4 best movie of 2013 (according to me) is also available to own today. Thor himself may not be my favorite superhero (or even my favorite Avenger) but his movies are full of fun, action, witty jokes, and science. Fun science, not real science. In this one, Thor teams up with his (girl)fan-favorite brother Loki and portal-hop-battles an evil elf who wants to take over the universe with dark matter. Awesome! You can read my review for more or just go buy it already.

Buy Thor: The Dark World on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

nebraska

Nebraska

The quote on the DVD box, from the LA Times reviewer, says: “one of those movies I’ll watch for the rest of my life.” “Because it seems like it goes on forever,” my brain finished for him. This is one of those movies you either love or hate. If you’re into indie art house American slice-of-life drama, then you’ll think it’s the bees knees. If, however, you don’t, the prospect of a crotchety geezer trekking across a dreary black and white landscape to collect a scam lottery prize, occasionally stopping to argue with other local caricatures, will probably seem boring and pretentious.

Buy Nebraska on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

twice born

Twice Born

In Twice Born, Penelope Cruz plays a single mother who takes her teenaged son to Sarajevo so she can tell him all about his dad (Emile Hirsch), who died in the Bosnian war. Normally I’m all for depressing stories about Bosnia. I liked The Whistleblower, Welcome to Saeajevo, and Savior. But I think they would have done better to focus the depressingness on the conflict and the people caught up in it rather than trying to shoehorn in the same adultery/betrayal/marriage on the rocks drama that we’ve seen a million times. I recommend one of the other three movies I mentioned instead.

Buy Twice Born on DVD.

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