The penultimate pre-Avengers Marvel franchise hit like a thunderbolt! Well, a severe summer shower at least. Chris Hemsworth (Papa Kirk from Abrams’ Star Trek) plays the titular Thunder God, an impetuous and brash young warrior eager to earn the respect of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, he reignites a war with his people’s ancient enemies the Frost Giants, and finds himself exiled, penitent and powerless, to Earth. There’s a rushed romance with a sexy scientist (Natalie Portman); a fun but sadly bloodless battle to reclaim his birthright Mjolnir, the literal hammer of the gods; and a final showdown with his half-brother, the once and future God of Mischief. But the real highlights of the film aren’t the action set pieces: Hemsworth is a joy, with the muscles and the cocky but charming smirk; Hopkins chews the scenery appropriately, adding to the Shakespearean vibe director Kenneth Branagh was aiming for; and Tom Hiddleston as Loki steals the show with his wounded-little-boy-in-the-body-of-a-god routine. My earlier review was perhaps a bit glowing for what is probably just a good-not-great summer popcorn film…but then perhaps not. I look forward to watching it again and seeing if the ol’ Asgardian magic can still enchant me like it did before. – Paul Smith
BETTER OFF DEAD (Blu-ray)
”I want my $2!!”
One of the least recognized but cult favorite chapters in the “How To Be A Quirky Lovestruck Heartthrob” library of John Cusack, this 1985 classic cheese finally brings its cereal-prize spaceships, Howard Cosell-obsessed Japanese drag racers, singing hamburgers, and psychotic paperboys to Blu-ray. Lane Meyer (Cusack) would rather set himself on fire than watch his ex-girlfriend date his ski slope rival, or eat one more of his vapid mother’s slithering, gelatinous dinners. But fortunately, he’s in an 80′s teen comedy, so the love of his neighbors’ French foreign exchange student can save him. – Paul Smith
How come TV actors so rarely get a break on the big screen? The general consensus seems to be that we’ve moved beyond the age of the Movie Star–just look at how little anyone cared about Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts’ Larry Crowne–so why is it still so hard for TV actors to make great movies? Take a look at Peep World. You’ve got Michael C. Hall, who’s given stunning performances on Six Feet Under and Dexter; this man should be working with A-list directors, but instead he makes stuff like Gamer. You’ve got the trifecta of Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer, and Sarah Silverman, all of whom have done very funny work on television. The closest any of them get to cinematic greatness is Wilson’s bit part in Juno. TV’s time-consuming, I know. But when you look at a mess like Peep World, you wonder how so many talented TV people got thrown into such a bad movie. In a way, it reminds me of The Great New Wonderful, an awful movie that inexplicably starred Edie Falco, Will Arnett, Jim Gaffigan, Tony Shalhoub, and Stephen Colbert. Peep World isn’t nearly as bad, but its story of an oh so dysfunctional family feels like an unpleasant tenth-generation copy of The Royal Tenenbaums. It has no style, little wit, and the narrative is all a-shambles. With this many talented actors involved, there are bound to be some effective moments, and there are. But if a filmmaker with respect for and knowledge of the medium had been given the same budget and the same cast, something special could have happened. Extras include deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.
The latest in the trend of computer-animated talking animal movies was the first for the studio (Paramount) and the director (Gore Verbinski), and still manages to rank as perhaps the best of the genre. What on paper sounds like just another cliché-ridden cartoon for big kids turns out to be incredibly original, quirky, and thoughtful, with a wonderful voice cast (led by Johnny Depp as the titular pet chameleon lost in the “Wild West” of the Mojave desert), and what is conceivably the most stunning, eye-wateringly beautiful animated vistas and landscapes ever. Paying homage to everything from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Chinatown, and featuring hands down the coolest freaking cameo you’re likely to see in a long, long time, Rango is a must-own. My highest recommendation! DVD and Blu-ray special features include an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a featurette on the film’s creatures, and commentary from the filmmakers. Blu-ray extras include the ability to watch the storyboards alongside the movie picture-in-picture, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interactive trip to the town of Dirt, and more. – Paul Smith
(Originally reviewed by both Paul and myself in “Secret Origins.”)
Hobo with a Shotgun is the feature-length adaptation of a contest-winning faux trailer shown with some Canadian prints of 2007′s Grindhouse; I haven’t seen the trailer, but maybe this stuff was amusing at two-and-a-half minutes. At 86 minutes, it is grim, nasty, and joyless. In aping the sleazoid vigilante flicks of the 70′s, I’m sure that was the intent of director/co-writer Jason Eisener. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Look, Planet Terror is great because it’s a well-crafted, old school adrenaline-pumper; Death Proof is great because it subverts grindhouse tropes while still managing to celebrate them. Both of them have moments of shocking violence, but they’re both clearly heartfelt love letters to the movies of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s childhoods. Hobo with a Shotgun feels like their obnoxious little shit of a brother who’s trying to outdo them at every turn, in effect making himself look all the more pathetic. There’s not much fun here. What there is, is a lot of sadism and stupidity. If that’s your thing, by all means, but I’ll be slowly backing away now. Extras on the Collector’s Edition (because apparently making less than $1 million at the box office warranted such a thing) include a making-of doc; a behind-the-scenes interactive mode; an alternate ending; deleted scenes; vlogs; an HDNet featurette; the original trailer; TV spots; theatrical trailers; commentary with Eisener and star Rutger Hauer; and another commentary with Eisener, producer Rob Cotteril, co-writer John Davies, and original hobo David Brunt.
(Originally reviewed by me in “Wow.”)
Yep, here it is. This is the film that either destroyed any remnants of geek cred I may ever have had, or proved what a brilliant film viewer I really am. Why, you ask? Because, damn it, I liked this Zack Snyder joint. Ostensibly the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning), an abused young woman put into an institution by her father and scheduled for a lobotomy, who travels to deeper and deeper levels of consciousness on an anime/video game/comic book-inspired quest to free herself and her fellow inmates. Pretty young things in barely-there clothing battling giant robot samurai, fire-breathing dragons, and steam-powered zombie Nazis. Given only that premise, and taking into account Snyder’s penchant for phantasmagoric, speed-ramped action sequences, this could have been a beautiful but vapid piece of hormone and adrenaline-fueled cinematic trash. But, as I infamously explained here, I believe there is much more to it than that. The Extended Cut features an additional 18 minutes of footage, a picture-in-picture commentary with director Snyder, and has been rated R, up from the theatrical PG-13. - Paul Smith
(Originally reviewed by Paul, and much less favorably by myself, in “Ladylike.”)
Taken from a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau has a great premise: there is a bureaucratic agency governing every decision you make, and if you stray from The Plan, they will step in and adjust your life. What could have been a Truman Show or an Eternal Sunshine instead becomes a mediocre time-waster, as the adjusters’ arbitrary rules and the silly chase scenes get in the way of real chemistry between forbidden lovers Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. It’s a shame to see Anthony Mackie, who was good in The Hurt Locker, turn in a stupefyingly dull performance, but it’s worse to see Richard Slattery, who unloads at least two dozen savagely memorable remarks on each episode of Mad Men, reduced to shouting things like, “Can’t I get a break in this case?!” Under the anonymous, visionless direction of George Nolfi, the film is a cosmic farce as a bunch of old white dudes attempt to cock-block Damon on an epic scale. The spark between Damon and Blunt makes things mildly entertaining. Extras include audio commentary from Nolfi, deleted and extended scenes, and three featurettes.
(Originally reviewed by me, and much more favorably by Paul, in “Secret Origins.”)
When I reviewed Kill the Irishman for this blog, I described it as “sturdy” and “reliable,” and indeed it is. It’s a gangster movie in the classic sense of the term: no razzle-dazzle, no flashy set pieces, just a bunch of guys doing amoral things for their territory. Ray Stevenson has a nice, hulking quality as real-life Cleveland mobster Danny Greene, and it’s nice to see Vincent D’Onofrio, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, and The Sopranos‘ Steve Schirripa getting decent parts. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but if you like this kind of thing–as I do–then you should find yourself satisfied. Extras include the documentary Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman and a theatrical trailer.
Breaking Bad‘s terrific second season was tightly plotted ahead of time, with ample foreshadowing throughout. For the show’s third season, however, creator Vince Gilligan and his writers turned into expert jazz players, improvising every note, changing rhythm, and exploring all sorts of new grooves. Gilligan and Co. repeatedly force science-teacher-turned-methmaker Walt and his junkie partner Jesse into corners there’s seemingly no way they’ll get out of; and the creative team had no idea if they could either, until they started writing the next episode. An approach like this could easily have been disastrous, but instead makes for one of the all-time great seasons of television. The jagged, frayed chemistry between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul makes for the best duo on TV, both giving fierce performances. Stand-out episodes in a stand-out season include “One Minute,” with an intense set piece for the ages; “Fly,” which takes place entirely in the lab, examining Walt and Jesse’s relationship; and “Full Measure,” the epic season finale. Extras include commentaries by Gilligan and the cast; and a number of featurettes.
Biutiful is the most recent offering from Alejandro González Iñárritu, he of Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, all of which rank among my favorite films. Javier Bardem scored an Oscar nod as Uxbal, who, uh…actually, the synopses of this movie make it really hard to figure out what his deal is, though he’s described as a “tragic hero” and “a single father who struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, spirituality, crime, guilt and mortality amid the dangerous underworld of modern Barcelona.” So there’s that. I meant to catch this in theaters, but in any case, I’m really looking forward to this one. Extras include a making-of doc and a theatrical trailer.