April 2011 Archives

Sweetie (1989) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Wonderful, Symbolic-Laden Story

Jane Campion, future director of "The Piano", shows her roots in directorial debut.
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I recently was able to sit down and review White Material (2009) - a film directed by a female director twenty years into her directorial career. Reviewing a film by an artist like that is easy because one can summon themes from a number of previous films to support criticism of the most current film. With a director who mainly deals with artistic subjects, it's interesting to connect the dots and follow the growth from 1988 to 2009. The Criterion Collection is best known for their releases of classic films as well as important contemporary films. Their latest release, Sweetie

3 Idiots DVD Review: Not Idiotic

You'd be an idiot to miss it.
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Despite its unfortunate title and cover art, 3 Idiots is a refreshingly original and accomplished film. That's thanks in no small part to its concept, but the factor that really elevates it above the norm is the lead performance by veteran Bollywood star Aamir Khan. He's had some exposure to U.S. theatrical audiences in the past as the lead in the Oscar-nominated epic Lagaan a decade ago, but here he proves to be even more charismatic and impressive in his role, fully supporting his wide regard as India 's finest actor. Khan plays an unusual engineering student named Rancho who

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Movie Review

Donnie Yen makes a welcome return to the character.
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Even if you don't know that Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a continuation of the 1995 Hong Kong television series Fist of Fury, which was based on the 1972 film of the same name starring Bruce Lee, it is an entertaining martial-arts movie. The prologue opens in 1917 France with Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen, who also served as action choreographer) as one of 150,000 workers sent to France to fight and assist the allies against the Germans. Zhen is called upon to save a group of his Chinese compatriots through a captivating action sequence when

The Incredibles Blu-ray Review: An Incredible High Def Experience

An engaging drama about a man struggling to balance career and family set in a superhero world.
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The Incredibles is an imaginative story that makes the most of being an animated film, as evidenced by the stunning action sequences, but its real strength is built on the believable characters. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film is an engaging drama about a man struggling to balance career and family set in a superhero world. An action-packed prologue introduces Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) as he fights crime and helps people, but lawsuits by the ungrateful result in legislation requiring superheroes to give up using their powers. Fifteen years later, Mr. Incredible is now known as Bob

How I Won The War DVD Review: A Fine British Satire

John Lennon appears in his only non-Beatles film.
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After the success of A Hard Day's Night and Help!, director Richard Lester tried his hand at making an anti-war film. He enlisted the aid of John Lennon -- which was sure to attract viewers -- and a young, pre-Phantom Of The Opera Michael Crawford for his 1967 release, How I Won The War. Panned by critics and fans at the time that may have been expecting more madcap Beatles adventures with Lennon and oft misunderstood, the film lampoons the whole notion of war and the class divide between the British officers and enlisted men. Set in the northern Africa

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader DVD Review: Adventure Abounds

Another quality film set in this fantasy world.
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The Pevensie family has returned for another exciting adventure in the land of Narnia. But this time only Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are invited because Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are now too old. Along with the two siblings, their obnoxious cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) is also along for the ride. Three years have passed in the land of Narnia since their last visit. Caspian (Ben Barnes) is now the ruler and all the land is finally at peace. After rescuing the three from the ocean, he informs them that he is in search of

Fiddler on the Roof 40th Anniversary Blu-ray Review

The musical about tradition debuts in a new format.
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Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof has been released on Blu-ray in time for its 40th anniversary. The winner of three Academy Awards was adapted from the 1964 musical of the same name, which won nine Tonys and was based on Tevye and His Daughters by Sholem Aleichem. The story is set in 1905 in the small town of Anatevka, Russia, comprised of an Orthodox Jewish community and an Orthodox Christian community, all living under the rule of the Czar. Tevye (Topol) serves as the narrator and main character. He is a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters, three of

The Cure Trilogy Blu-ray Review

A wonderfully draining experience.
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Recorded live on November 11th and 12th in 2002 at the Tempodrom Berlin, The Cure played a concert that had Cure fans, usually associated with the color black, turn green with envy with the announcement the band would perform in their entirety the albums Pornography, Disintegration, and Bloodflowers, which as Robert Smith says, "are inextricably linked in so many ways." Intentionally or not, the performance commemorates Pornography's 20th anniversary and the Blu-ray release commemorates Disintegration's. It was previously available as a DVD in 2003. The band's line-up for this concert is a quintet whose members have different levels of familiarity

The Who Live at The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 DVD Review: Absolutely Brilliant

Who's the greatest rock and roll band of all time? This DVD may make the case.
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Throughout the ages, humanity has struggled to find the answers to great philosophical questions in the hopes of making sense of the universe. Although there are no absolute truths, many take a firm position in their beliefs to create order and meaning in the universe, which serves a dual purpose of providing comfort and keeping the abyss at bay. Responses to three of the most important define who a person is. They are: What is the meaning of life? Is there a supreme being? Who's the greatest rock and roll band of all time? This DVD may make a case

Ladies & Gentlemen...The Rolling Stones DVD Review: A Great Introduction to the Band

The Stones at their absolute live zenith.
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The year 1972 was a pivotal one for The Rolling Stones. They spent the summer as tax exiles in France, emerging from their drug-fueled haze to release arguably their greatest album, Exile on Main Street, and the resulting tour is considered one of their best. While on tour in America that year, the band filmed four nights in Texas for the theatrical release Ladies & Gentlemen...The Rolling Stones. Largely unseen since the mid 1970s, the film finally made its official DVD debut in 2010 and is essential viewing not only for fans of the band, but fans of the genre

Elvis On Tour DVD Review: Presley Goes out on a High Note in his Final Film

The King's final film looks at life on the road in 1972.
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In 1972, Elvis Presley was still riding high from the commercial and critical rebirth that started with the '68 Comeback Special and continued with his return to live performances the following year. His previous documentary, Elvis: That's The Way It Is was a success, showing the King at the height of his physical and vocal ability. Hoping to recapture some of that magic, directors Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge followed Presley on his 15 cities in 15 nights 1972 tour, the results of which became Presley's 33rd and final film, Elvis On Tour. Long out of print on VHS, it

Elvis: That's The Way It Is (Special Edition) DVD Review: It's Good to be the King

The King reclaims his throne on the concert stage.
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Elvis Presley was riding a major wave of success in 1970. Free of his movie obligations of the 1960s, Presley had delivered the '68 Comeback Special and subsequent return to live performances in 1969. He had also released his strongest album in years with From Elvis in Memphis and had what would be his last number-one single in the U.S. with "Suspicious Minds." It was good to be the King and the time was ripe for a documentary of this rebirth. Filmed over several shows in August 1970, Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition is a brilliant

U2 3D Movie Review: Almost Better Than the Real Thing

U2 gives viewers something they can nearly feel, fee-ee-eel.
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U2 3D raised the bar for concert films to a whole new level. Captured during U2's Vertigo tour of 2005/'06 in support of their album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the viewer is immersed in the closest recreation of the concert-going experience through the combination of "the first digital 3-D, multi-camera production of a live-action event" and a 5.1 Surround soundtrack. Even people who aren't fans of the band will be hard pressed to deny the power that the technology is able to deliver.As the band opens with "Vertigo," the film jumps around the stadium, showing the band from

Shine A Light DVD Review: The Rolling Stones and Martin Scorsese Deliver Satisfaction

These legends prove they still got it with this concert filmed in 2006.
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Longevity in the arts can be a double-edge sword. Artists no doubt appreciate having long careers in the endeavors they love, but it must be aggravating when they inevitably and unfairly have new material judged in comparison to the best works of their careers rather than on its own merits. This certainly happens to The Rolling Stones and director Martin Scorsese, two legends in their respective fields, who haven't come close to the consistent creative heights they previously achieved. It's a tough position for anyone to argue anything they have released since the former's Some Girls (1978) and the latter's

The Snob Seven: Concert Films

When movies and music come together, it can be a marvelous thing.
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With the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival marking the beginning of the Summer Concert Season in the United States on April 15th, the Sentries and some friends have gathered together to reflect on their favorite concert films. Monterey Pop (1968) by Glen Boyd There are a multitude of reasons why, nearly fifty years later, the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival maintains its secure place in history as one of the greatest music festivals of all time. From the star making performances of The Who, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix, to the bittersweet way it captures this milestone cultural and musical

White Material Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Presages Current Events

The despair of a dying country is portrayed in this powerful film.
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Claire Denis makes movies that almost seem commissioned by The Criterion Collection. The French filmmaker shoots in long, beautiful, quiet takes that allow the viewer to learn by seeing. And yet while taking place within often violent settings, her films are ultimately about the characters and how they interact with each other. They would be classified as "Art Films" under most definitions of the term and yet they have a heart that the term just doesn't convey. Her latest film White Material (2009) has recently received the Blu-ray treatment from The Criterion Collection. I first encountered the work of Denis

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music (Director's Cut) Blu-ray Review: The Beginning of the End of the '60s

The 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition is quite a trip.
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The Woodstock Festival of 1969 was much more than a concert, unintentionally becoming the symbol of the decade's youth/hippie movement shortly before it came to an end. The potential those "3 [August] Days of Peace & Music" offered was so appealing at that time in the United States it spoke to hundreds of thousands of people, inspiring them to descend on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York, to take part in the festivities. The event lives on through Michael Wadleigh's excellent Academy Award-winning film, which documented the experience as well as the medium could allow. Wadleigh and his team

Farewell DVD Review: Cold War Espionage Based On A True Story

Espionage thriller contains the deeper story of a father's love of family and country.
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Although it's being marketed as an espionage thriller and has its fair share of tension-filled moments, Farewell also explores the motivation of its Russian traitor, painting a sympathetic portrayal of a man more interested in creating a better nation for his son than protecting his own life. In 1981, an aging KGB colonel named Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) crosses paths with a lowly French engineer working in Russia named Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), passing him top-secret documents that name Soviet agents deployed in the U.S. and in the process hastening the end of the Cold War. Gregoriev doesn't act out

Yogi Bear DVD Review: This Movie is No Picnic

Not a bad for the very young, but the classic cartoon would be a better choice.
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For Dan Aykroyd to be the worst part of any movie, the rest of the film must be pretty good. It would be easy for someone to think that. Unfortunately though adding Aykroyd to any menu should yield fulfillment, Yogi Bear is no picnic. The new Yogi adventure from Warner Brothers, which hit store shelves on March 22nd in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, actually does generate some laughs, but it is simply lacking too many key components to be a success. One key element to a movie with the title Yogi Bear, would be Yogi! Unfortunately we get far too

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Marvelous Time Capsule

The set includes the films: Monterey Pop, Jimi Plays Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey.
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During the Summer of Love, the weekend of June 16-18, 1967 to be specific, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival was held. Thankfully for all those of us unable to attend director D.A. Pennebaker led a team of cameramen to record it, and an equal amount of gratitude goes to The Criterion Collection for releasing The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, consisting of the films Monterey Pop, Jimi Plays Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey. Although surprisingly short in length considering three days of music is encapsulated into 79 minutes, Monterey Pop is a solid film. It opens with scenes of

Seven Samurai Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Cinematic Masterpiece of Epic Proportions

A landmark in the history of film whose influence is still felt.
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The premise of Seven Samurai is a simple one: a group of farmers hire seven samurai to deal with bandits harassing them. What develops from that is a cinematic masterpiece of epic proportions due to the talents of the cast and crew led by Akira Kurosawa. Set during 16th century Japan, a group of farmers can no longer take having their harvests being stolen. It is determined that they need protection in the form of samurai, but some protest bringing the warriors to their village. A few men go to the city looking for help but with only food to

Le Cercle Rouge Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Short on Plot, Long on Mise en Scene

A rewarding experience in the hands of this master director.
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At first glance, Le Cercle Rouge seems like a fairly conventional crime drama, a perception that is upheld by the statements of its director and assistant director in Criterion's enlightening bonus features. However, famed French director Jean-Pierre Melville somehow synthesizes cinematic magic out of his simple tale, displaying a mastery of mise en scéne that leaves the film's carefully composed images burned in memory long after the story fades. That story focuses on a dapper master thief named Corey (Alain Delon), recently paroled from prison and on the prowl for some new criminal activity. When he crosses paths with escaped

Joyeux Noel Movie Review: Demonstrating People Are More Alike Than Different

It walks a fine line between comedy and drama and excels at both without compromising either.
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Winter 1914 on the front lines of WWI in German-occupied France. The Germans are fighting against the French and the Scots, who are allied together. It is a continual struggle of trench warfare with assistance from rear artillery. The soldiers are all within close proximity to each other as they battle over this scrap of land. Huddled in their trenches on a cold Christmas Eve, the men try to make the best of the time. It is all quiet along this western front, when the voice of a German tenor breaks the silence. The Scots answer back on bagpipes. Enemies

IMAX: Hubble DVD Review: Nothing Short of Spectacular

A 3D IMAX trip on the final Hubble mission.
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After seeing IMAX: Hubble, I am kicking myself for not having ventured to the local theatre to see it in all its glory. If ever there was a use for IMAX, it is the way it was put to work chronicling the last ever visit to the orbiting Hubble telescope. The shots are truly magnificent. Thankfully, a lot of this glory is available to us via DVD now though, with the recent release of IMAX: Hubble. Narrator Leonardo DiCaprio does an outstanding job of explaining the Hubble and its origins in the opening minutes of the documentary. The Hubble was

Love & Other Drugs DVD Review: A Refreshing Exploration of Commitment

A funny, sexy and fresh take on the romantic comedy...with lots of nudity.
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It is so pleasant to watch too good-looking people fall in love. In their world everyone is beautiful and things just seem to flawlessly work out. While most current romantic comedies would stop here, Love & Other Drugs comes at relationships from a different angle that still makes it easy to watch, with two good-looking people, but tackles difficult subject matter that makes it far more meaningful. As only his second comedic picture, director Edward Zwick has created such a slick and sensible world that takes from real life and translates universally on screen. Based on the non-fiction book Hard

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