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*** PICK OF THE WEEK !!! *** 

American Sniper (Blu-ray)


Maybe this strikes you as an odd choice for my pick of the week, maybe not. It would be understandable if it did. This is probably the most misunderstood movie of the decade so far. Dummies on the left interpreted the movie as a bloodthirsty, simplistic, imperialistic screed, and dummies on the right loved it for that same reason. They’re all way off the mark. Having seen nearly all of Clint Eastwood’s films to date as director and star (just a few more to go), I can assure you that his politics and his films are not as simple as the mindsets of the talking heads on either side of the divide. My sense is that Clint loves to tweak the lefties, who can get way too serious and self-important, and he also likes to Trojan-horse some complicated ideas into the uncomplicated worldviews of the righties. And that’s what AMERICAN SNIPER is, a thought grenade tossed into a messy briar patch of monomaniacal rhetoric.

If Clint had wanted to tell a straight-up pro-war pro-gun go-America-go tale, there would be plenty of easier roads into that story. Chris Kyle, a talented killer who tallied up an unprecedented amount of enemy kills overseas only to be shot dead on American soil by a fellow veteran, represents a more complicated figure than, say, the inarguable white knights of 2006’s FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. Kyle’s autobiography was a best-seller, largely among those Americans who are predisposed to calling him a hero, which makes its adaptation the perfect Trojan horse with which to sneak in some crucial concepts. For all the talk about how the film supposedly favors Kyle’s gung-ho disposition, his enthusiasm for sniping, I don’t think I’ve seen another mainstream star-fronted feature since 2009’s BROTHERS as interested in the effect of the war on veterans, both physically and psychically. American soldiers have been fighting and risking their lives in military operations in the Middle East for over a decade, which means many are starting to come home, and so there can be no more pressing issue than tending to the needs of our veterans. Whatever flaws AMERICAN SNIPER may have, it does convey this most pressing message at a time it needs to be conveyed.

But AMERICAN SNIPER doesn’t have as many flaws as some would argue. Aside from the obviously fake baby in some of the domestic scenes, which is an indefensible choice, Eastwood’s filmmaking ability is on peak display here. Even as a committed devotee, I can admit when some of Clint’s movies are slack on the pacing — this one is not. Both in its storytelling choices and in its editing decisions, AMERICAN SNIPER moves at a clip most modern movies would do well to study. The efficiency of the many quick early scenes, sketching out the life of its protagonist, let alone the striking sandstorm siege late in the film, are so clearly composed and briskly deployed that I almost wondered if they could possibly be the work of an eighty-something-year-old man. But Clint did make this movie, and so I’d invite the more vocal critics to take another look and reconsider, if not for thematic reasons than at least for virtue of craft.


Billy Madison / Happy Gilmore (Blu-ray)



Haven’t revisited either of these in ten years or more, but I’ve seen them both a lot of times. This is where Adam Sandler and his stable of collaborators first came up with the formula they’ve been using for two decades now, to varying degrees of success and more often failure. I’m more of a Sandler apologist than most big-brains, but some of his movies are a lot harder to vouch for than these two, which at the very least work hard to entertain and are filled with jokes.


Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)



Never seen it, never had enough time, really want to catch up. Maybe now that it’s all over and boxed up in this collected set, I’ll be able to. Is Jeffrey Wright in this for long? He’s one of the best actors around, bar none.


Peter Benchley's Creature (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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Well that looks to me like Craig T. Nelson fighting a half-shark-half-man, which is more than enough enticement for this easy mark.


Cymbeline (Blu-ray)


Ed Harris in anything is worthwhile. That said, watching KNIGHTRIDERS for the hundredth time supercedes watching this for the first time.


Evil Eye (Blu-ray)

EVIL EYE (1963)


Young John Saxon! Who knew he was ever young?




Extremities (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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A revenge thriller starring Farrah Fawcett, who I almost always liked much better than the stuff she was stuck acting in. Not holding out too much hope, but there’s at least an alternate universe where Farrah was headlining cool, tough, violent revenge-thrillers.




Flawless (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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At the time, I didn’t bother with this Joel Schumacher-directed movie because it came too soon after BATMAN & ROBIN and I was just too traumatized. But now I’d be willing to give it a try, if only to see these two actors together.


The Flying Deuces (Blu-ray)


Haven’t seen this one specifically, but Laurel & Hardy are one of the great joys of early film comedy. I prefer them to Chaplin and maybe even Keaton, although I love the Stooges the most so maybe nobody should listen to me so closely. Just watch Laurel & Hardy and decide for yourself.



Girlhood (Blu-ray)


Heard so many good things about this movie that I’m not even going to make a dumb joke about how quickly they turned around a sequel to BOYHOOD. Unless I just did. Crap.



Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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When this movie was released, both of these guys were at “the end” of their careers. It’s funny to think how if it came out today, we’d be much more excited about it. I would, anyway. Since I never saw it way back when, I’m looking forward to seeing it now.



Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Blu-ray)


They make these things because somebody wants them. If that’s you, then here it is.



It! The Terror From Beyond Space (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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Most alien monsters of the 1950s only scooped up women, so the fact that this one scoops up men and women is fairly progressive, I think.


Leviathan (Blu-ray)


No relation to the one with Peter Weller from 1989, or to the documentary from 2012. But there is a giant whale skeleton in it, and if that doesn’t get you to watch a Russian art film, it sure does me.



Limelight (Blu-ray)


He looks sad. Maybe it’s because I picked Laurel & Hardy over him? It’s not that I don’t like Chaplin. How could you not? LIMELIGHT isn’t the place to start, since this is a late-period film in Chaplin’s career, and more than halfway a drama. But this movie is interesting for many reasons, a big one being because Buster Keaton plays Chaplin’s clowning partner.



Meet the Parents: The Whole Focker Collection (Blu-ray)



The good thing about this collection is that if you like all the jokes from the first movie, instead of watching it two more times you can watch the second movie and the third movie.



Orange Is the New Black: Season Two (Blu-ray)



Haven’t gotten to Season Two yet, but here’s what I wrote about Season One:

This show is every bit as good as you may have heard. The milieu of women’s prisons has really only been dealt with in popular culture via exploitation films. This is different. And it’s different than OZ, the HBO serial which shared a prison setting but was really m0stly a soap opera for men. This isn’t a soap opera.

Structurally it’s more like LOST, in that each episode has a present tense interspersed with flashbacks that fill the audience in on the characters’ histories before they arrived in prison. Each episode focuses loosely around one of the many vibrant characters in the ensemble. Like LOST,ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK manages to take characters you initially disliked and spin them into your favorites. The most clear case of this virtue, for me, is Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), the harsh and even mean cellmate of Piper, the show’s central character. By the time her episode is done, your heart is with her entirely.

Otherwise — if you’re interested — my favorite characters are generally easier to like from the jump: First and foremost there’s Sophia, played by Laverne Cox in a genuinely pioneering role that beautifully depicts a transgender character as more than a caricature and more than a tragic stereotype. She’s just an individualistic, generally agreeable, occasionally moody person who you could easily know and love in your own life.

I also love Aleida, Daya’s mother, just because Elizabeth Rodriguez (from 2006’s MIAMI VICE) is a boss, and I love the relentlessly upbeat Poussey (the much-needed Samira Wiley), and the temperamental runner Watson (the one who looks like rad rapper Jean Grae), and of course Nicky — Natasha Lyonne’s character — is always great too. You’ll find a new favorite every episode. Just about the only character I consistently don’t like is Larry, Piper’s dipshit fiancee, and not only because he’s played by Jason Biggs. The series overall treats its male characters with a kind of bemused benevolence; its focus is on the panoply of feminity that it conjures within (and without) the prison walls.

Most movies and TV shows struggle to come up with even one well-developed and vaguely original female character — ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK has something like fifty. I guess the final point of comparison would be THE WIRE — both shows feature a steadily advancing narrative that spins out individual character moments like moons orbiting a planet as it cycles around the sun. You can be made and unmade to love or hate a character as the story progresses, and back and again, but you will for sure see them portrayed with perfectly imbalanced humanity in the writing and seriocomic nuance in the performance. That may be high praise after only thirteen episodes, and if I turn out to be wrong you can make me take it back later.


The Osterman Weekend (Blu-ray)


Peckinpah’s final movie. One I’ve not seen. Something I need to fix.


Poltergeist II: The Other Side (Blu-ray)



Poltergeist III (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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In anticipation of the remake this weekend, here are new Blu-Ray editions of the two sequels to the original. You can get the individual versions or else get the collected one, which only has II and III. The original has been out on Blu-Ray for a few years now.


Poltergeist II: The Other Side / Poltergeist III (Blu-ray)



The Rose (Blu-ray)

THE ROSE (1979)

Great song. Never seen the movie. Criterion eliminates excuses.


Ski School (Blu-ray)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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May not have seen half the movies on this list, but I have seen SKI SCHOOL about forty times. That is what you call an absolutely unmarketable skill.



Stigmata (Blu-ray)


Just another movie that could easily have starred Nia Long and didn’t. I’ll never really forgive this country for not making Nia Long a bigger movie star. She’s great. What’s the problem? No offense to Patricia Arquette or Gabriel Byrne, the nominal stars of this movie, but NIA LONG. Nia Long. Instead of giving her a movie of her own, we’ve got her doing mom commercials for Fandango. How did we let this happen?


Not from STIGMATA.

Not from STIGMATA.



Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Thank Your Lucky Stars (Blu-ray)


This is an intriguing novelty, a musical comedy that features dozens of stars of the era, all as a benefit for the World War II effort. That’s the plot of the movie and it’s also what the movie itself was. It’s kind of like “We Are The World” but a movie and everybody’s salaries went to building bombs.


Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (Blu-ray)



There were six TRANCERS movies, all but one starring former stand-up Tim Thomerson, the first three starring a pre-fame Helen Hunt. This one co-stars the super-cute Megan Ward and also RE-ANIMATOR‘s Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. The filmography of mega-prolific director Charles Band, head honcho of Full Moon Features, is definitely a mixed bag, but to maniacs like me they’re always worth checking out, because you just never know.


— JON ABRAMS (@jonnyabomb).


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