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Nymphomaniac (Directors Cut) (Blu-Ray) - Dec 27, 2014
Director: Lars Von Trier

Main Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Christian Slater

Rating: 3.5 out 5 Part 1
  2 out 5 Part 2

On his way home Seligman (Skarsgard) finds a beat up woman (Gainsbourg) lying on the ground. He helps her up and takes her to his place. She tells him her name is Joe, that she is evil and a Nymphomaniac. He doubts that she is truly evil and so she decides to tell him her story to see if he still thinks that after hearing it. Lars Von Trier is nothing if not purposefully confrontational (just watch his interview that got him banned from the Cannes Film Festival). I’ve only seen two of his other films, although I still plan on seeing the well regarded Dancer In the Dark soon. Antichrist was a flawed, head trip of a film, but with out a doubt visually beautiful. In Melancholia he combined that visual flair with a story that resonated with me - he had created the perfect film. But it seems with his latest that he has become a victim to his own sense of genius. Split into two separate movies with the directors cut running over 5 hours of mostly dialog, exhausting is the world that comes to mind. The first one ends abruptly when Joe discovers she can no longer feel anything sexually. While that’s the so called ‘cliffhanger’ setup for Part 2, I guess most people will have tuned out by then. Part 1 actually isn’t bad. It explores her childhood and growing up with her Nymphomania and her relationship with her family, mostly her father played by Christian Slater. Stacy Martin who plays the younger Joe is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. Part 2 is mostly about Joe increasingly desperate to regain sexual satisfaction. After trying everything from sleeping with up to 10 men a night, and engaging in group sex she finally achieves orgasm while having the flesh ripped from her rear end while receiving 40 lashes from a sadomasochist she had turned to for help. As for the sex, yes, it received the most attention in the media, and yes you see everything and anything at least in the Director’s cut. However you soon become numb to it all and watch everything with a cool sense of detachment. My guess is that was the directors intended effect, mirroring what the main character was going through. But despite it’s artistic overindulgence what truly ruined it for me was the ending. You have the character of Seligman, essentially the opposite of Joe as he is literary well versed and still a virgin. He listens throughout the night to her story and while at times revolted is mostly sympathetic drawing parallels from her experiences to everything from religion, to classical music, to mathematical equations. Then just before the credits he does something completely at odds to his character. It as if the director is giving his audience that just finished enduring this marathon the finger. Right back at ya. Not recommended.

Rear Window (Blu-Ray) - Dec 8, 2014
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Main Stars: Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter

Rating: 5 out 5

Confined to a wheelchair by an accident, LB Jeffries (Stewart) spends his time being lectured by both his nurse and his fiancée (Kelly) as to whether he'll give up his career as a photographer which frequently takes him overseas and into dangerous situations and settle down instead. With not much else to do he spends his days looking out his apartment window and observing his neighbors across the courtyard. One couple in particular captures his interest - an odd man and his invalid wife. When the wife disappears one day his suspicions are aroused and he fears the worst. To my generation, Hitchcock is best known for Psycho. But that is just one movie in a storied body of work. Personally, my favorite film of his is Vertigo, but this one also ranks amongst his best. It has also been the inspiration of countless other movies - most notably Brian Depalma's Body Double. And it holds up remarkably well after over 60 years. The fact that he can hold my interest simply observing Stewart in his wheelchair in his apartment - all in the same room no less - over a 2 hour runtime, speaks volumes as to how good this is. And when the moment of truth comes I literally found myself on the edge of my seat. Finally, while it's very obvious on Blu-ray that all of this was filmed on a set, it just makes you appreciate it even more. Today, everything would have just been CGI'd. Blu-ray also enables us to fully appreciate the mesmerizing beauty of Grace Kelly. Highly recommended.

The Andromeda Strain (DVD) - Oct 24, 2014
Director: Robert Wise

Main Stars: Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid, Paula Kelly, Eric Christmas

Rating: 4.5 out 5

A sleepy town in New Mexico becomes ground zero for an alien virus when a top secret satellite crashes back to earth. A crack team of scientists are rushed to a bio-hazard facility where they must analyze the virus and try and stop it before everything is sanitized in a nuclear explosion. With recent events in the news, I decided to spin this up which I've had in my collection for awhile. While the author Michael Crichton is perhaps better known for the Jurassic Park series, his first film adaptation is perhaps the most powerful. Although there is a preamble to the film that all of this is based on actual protocols and facilities, I'm not sure how much of that is true. But it was real enough to totally enthrall me and keep my attention where the antagonist is nothing more than a collection of alien cells at the molecular level. For the most part you simply observe the characters going through methodical scientific protocols in an attempt to identify and understand what they are dealing with. While that may not sound as exciting as say lightsabers and Death Stars it makes for terrific science fiction, real science fiction. Sadly, the likes of which are a rarity these days. Although released in 1971 the film and sets still look terrific. It is also notable in featuring the first use of computer rendering. Finally, by all accounts the film stays fairly close to the source novel which is always a good thing.

Under The Skin (Blu-Ray) - Aug 27, 2014
Director: Jonathan Glazer

Main Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay

Rating: 4 out 5

A mysterious woman drives around Glasgow chatting up men and inviting them back to her place for sex. However once there a different fate awaits them. I really can't say much more than that without ruining things. Movies that tend to end up delighting me the most are those that I go into without any knowledge of what I'm about to see. With this one all I knew was that it had good buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and that it starred the ridiculously gorgeous Johansson. This is definitely not a movie for most people. Admittedly, it starts off pretty slow. And unlike most films, the audience is left to fend for themselves and figure out what's going on without being guided along the way. Dreamlike is the best way to describe the viewing experience. Dialog is sparse and beautiful Scottish scenery abounds. There is one particular scene however that in all my years of watching horror films transcends all else. It is Lovecraftian in it's presentation. The stuff of nightmares. Visceral horror at it's best. And when the final act comes to an end you're left with even more questions than answers. But that is entirely appropriate. Director Glazer has done two other films - Birth and Sexy Beast. Having seen Birth which was a heavy, brooding, and unsettling film I can safely say that this director is on his way to becoming one of my favourites.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Blu-Ray) - Jul 7, 2014
Director: Wes Anderson

Main Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Tony Revolori, Jude Law

Rating: 4.5 out 5

The Grand Budapest Hotel has had a long and proud history. Unfortunately it has since fallen on hard times and now in the mid-1980's is but a shell of its former glory. While in the lobby, a writer (Law) happens to come across the elderly owner and over dinner implores him to share his story. Director Wes Anderson is best described as 'quirky'. And for me, his movies either work (Rushmore) or they don't (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). In this case I thoroughly enjoyed it and consider it his most accomplished film. While he employs his usual collection of actors, they are mostly relegated to supporting parts. The story focuses instead on the hotel concierge (Fiennes) and the lobby boy (Revolori) and both are brilliant in their roles. They offer the human element and help ground the viewer in what might otherwise come off as ridiculous. Visually, the movie is quintessential Anderson. That said, he employs a technique of switching the aspect ratio from widescreen to full screen whenever portraying events in the past. While not a big deal in a theatre, at home it was frustrating watching the TV trying to figure it out (I had to stop the movie and tell the TV to not stretch the image automatically). Personally, I would have kept the ratio the same and conveyed the past through the use of Black & White instead. Despite that technical quibble, anyone who appreciates the director will adore this latest effort.

Seven Psychopaths (VOD) - Jun 7, 2014
Director: Martin McDonagh

Main Stars: Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson

Rating: 3 out 5

Marty (Farrell) is a struggling Hollywood writer who spends more time drinking then writing. His next brilliant screenplay is about a group of seven psychopaths but so far all he has written down is the title. In an effort to help him out his friend Billy (Rockwell) puts a classified ad in the paper asking for unhinged individuals to share their stories. When I stumbled across the preview for this a couple years ago I nearly jumped out of my seat. The list of actors involved was pure awesomeness. Add in small roles by Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Waits and it's like are you freakin kidding me? By the end I was left somewhat disappointed however. This is one of those movies Hollywood insiders like making which celebrate movies themselves - with lots of self awareness and self deprecating humour. But I found the tone to be wildly uneven. Full of black humour one moment and in your face violence the next, with neither really resonating because all along there's a feeling of they're just having fun making a movie that's really for them and not the audience. But the actors clearly are having a blast and that helps make it worth the watch. The scenes with Tom Waits are standout and a scene set in a hospital is heartbreaking to watch. But again it feels out of place as things quickly swing back to making fun of themselves and the film industry. I just wish they had spent as much time banging out a consistent story as they did assembling such a stellar cast.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Blu-Ray) - Apr 27, 2014
Director: Peter Jackson

Main Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch

Rating: 4 out 5

In my previous review of The Hobbit I was pretty harsh. So I wasn't really expecting things to be any different as I sat down to watch the second entry in the manufactured trilogy. However I found myself really enjoying it. This time we find ourselves further along in the Dwarves quest to reclaim their homeland in the Lonely Mountain. In addition to be pursued by hordes of Orcs they must also overcome the distrust of Elves and the treachery of Man. Almost all my criticisms from before had been addressed. I found the pacing to be better, the tone of the movie to be more consistent, and the visual FX to be improved. I didn't even mind Jackson's meddling in the story as much. In fact this time I rather liked the new scenes which were created to tie into the third entry. And after being teased for almost three hours previously, you finally get to see the star of the series - namely the big, bad, dragon. I thought Cumberbatch did a great job as the voice with just the right balance of amusement and evil intent. Of course Jackson had to inject a love interest into things and while I actually thought it improved the story in LOTR, here it seemed more out of place (although Evangeline Lilly does make a cute looking elf). While I ponder the coming finale, tentatively titled 'The Battle of the Five Armies', I am once again worried however. This time most of the story will purely be Jackson's envisioning of a few footnotes from Tolkien. It will be interesting to see if he can pull it off.

Ender's Game (Blu-Ray) - Apr 3, 2014
Director: Gavin Hood

Main Stars: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld

Rating: 3 out 5

In the future, children are chosen to fight wars due to their superior reaction times and ability to learn and absorb tactics at a faster pace than adults. And so we meet Ender (Butterfield) a promising new cadet that the head of recruiting (Ford) has pinned his hopes on to lead the charge and destroy an alien insect race called the Formics. A race that previously threatened the Earth with extinction years ago and is now once again preparing to attack. Ok, so I haven't read the book which by all accounts is top notch science fiction - so although purists likely were incensed at various changes or omissions I didn't have any of that prejudicing me. Speaking of prejudice, I also don't really care what the author's opinions are about homosexuality. I went into this film strictly judging it on it's own merits. Visually, I loved the look. The movie had a significant and always present blue tinge to everything - think Underworld or Tron Legacy. Likewise I also thought the CGI effects were fairly decent as was the sound. In fact one room rattling scene early on in the film brought a smile to my face. The star of the movie of course is the kid playing Ender who gave a top notch performance along with a strong supporting cast. So it was maddening beyond all belief when it fell off the rails at the final scene. After the abrupt ending I actually said aloud 'Seriously? That's it?'. And thus something that had great potential was neutered likely by some pinhead studio exec's demand to keep the runtime under 2 hours.

Battleship (TV) - Feb 22, 2014
Director: Peter Berg

Main Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano

Rating: 3.5 out 5

Alex Hopper (Kitsch) is a screw up and always in the shadow of his brother - a decorated naval officer. Forced into the navy after a brush with the law he ends up falling for a hot blond. Just one problem, she's the Admiral's daughter and the Admiral can't stand him. But he gets his chance to prove himself when a deep space signal from the Hawaiian islands is answered in force by alien invaders and it's all hands on deck! Sometimes you need a break from deep, insightful movies and just need to immerse yourself in dumb, mindless, entertainment. Battleship nicely fits the bill. Flipping through channels I came across the beginning of it and much to my surprise found myself enjoying it and not turning the channel. It's your typical by the numbers the US military saves the world from the bad aliens, but the naval element is a nice break from the norm. While the movie's namesake doesn't make an appearance until near the end, there's still lots of ship combat to be had and the screen is filled with pretty decent effects accompanied by a booming soundtrack of machinery and explosions. And although I rolled my eyes when I saw that Rihanna was in this, she was actually alright in her role looking tough (but still pretty). There's also a short but pivotal nod to Navy veterans that I thought was a nice touch. Critics dumped all over it, but what were they expecting? As popcorn flick it does what it was meant to do - keep you entertained for the duration of it's runtime - even if it's quickly forgotten once the credits finish rolling.

Assault on Precinct 13 (Blu-Ray) - Jan 5, 2014
Director: John Carpenter

Main Stars: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers

Rating: 4 out 5

Ethan Bishop (Stoker) is a Lieutenant given the thankless task of presiding over the last night of Precinct 13, a derelict police station which is scheduled to be permanently shut down the following day. The monotony endured by the handful of remaining staff is soon broken when a crazed man stumbles into the station claiming that a bunch of people are after him. Soon, prisoner and cop are forced to work together with no hope of help from the outside world as they must fight off wave after wave of marauding gang members. Although not as well known as his other films such as Halloween and Escape From New York, this ranks as one of the director's finest. Although I saw the more recent remake and thought it was decent enough, the original more than holds it's own. Originally intended to be a Western, because of budget constraints the setting was set in LA instead. I think that works in the film's favour as it has that urban grittiness that was such a staple of the time. Backed by Carpenter's signature synth score, the tension builds and builds until the final credits roll. Although not overly graphic compared to more recent films, it was originally rated X due to a shocking scene which you simply would not see today. A signature slice of 70's filmmaking by one of the era's best directors.