New in DVD: ‘Seven Psychopaths’

7psychopaths-dvd1The latest Martin McDonagh movie, Seven Psychopaths, comes out today on DVD and Blu-ray. It starts promisingly, with a cast ranging from a murderous Woody Harrelson to a bunny-stroking Tom Waits, not to mention plenty of McDonagh’s patented acerbic sarcasm. Unfortunately, it’s no In Bruges.

You can read my review at PopMatters:

At one of the quieter moments in Seven Psychopaths, Hans (Christopher Walken) tells his friend Marty (Colin Farrell) that the female characters in his screenplays are horrendous. Each gets only a few minutes of terrible dialogue before ending up dead. “It’s a tough world for women,” Marty stammers.

This is a multifaceted joke for Seven Psychopaths’ screenwriter and director, Martin McDonagh, who indeed makes sure that none of his female characters speaks an intelligent line or escapes suffering grievous bodily harm. One could argue that purposeful clichés are only worth citing if they help to unpack some of the prejudices or lazy thinking that gave rise to those clichés. Otherwise, it’s just the same old garbage with a smirk…

You can watch the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Django Unchained’

django-unchained-poster1

Opening Christmas Day (because, well, why not?) is the newest tongue-in-cheek Tarantino genre-stew:

With his bloodily entertaining but tonally sloppy Django Unchained, the always fastidious Quentin Tarantino may finally be loosening up. This development could help broaden his appeal in the short run, his newest film being the kind of straightforward blend of humor and self-aware ultra-violence that plays pretty well to many different audiences these days. (In other words, expect few of the tricky narrative gambits that have defined his work in the past; this one’s more about doing maximum damage with six-shooters.) Unfortunately, a less formally inhibited Tarantino may turn out to be a less entertaining filmmaker…

My full review is at Film Journal International.

You can see the trailer here:

 

Bonus holiday fun—check out the trailer for the 1966 original Django, which Tarantino lifted the theme music from (but, sadly, not the Gatling gun in the coffin):

New on DVD: ‘Sleepwalk with Me’

sleepwalk-with-me-dvd-cover-98Mike Birbiglia’s funny, heart-tweaking film Sleepwalk with Me, one of the more refreshing comedies of the year, hits DVD and Blu-ray today. It’s an odd choice for Blu-ray (you could really see the crumbs when he was chowing on that pound cake…) but to each his own.

I reviewed the film when it came out in theaters earlier this year for PopMatters:

Based on his one-man show, Birbiglia’s film is a not-even-veiled account of his struggles as a standup comic who’s also battling fears of commitment and the possibly life-threatening sleepwalking that seems to get worse as his career gets better. Changing his character’s last name to Pandamiglio (a nod to the many mangled mispronunciations his real name receives from emcees) and little else, Birbiglia does a solid job of translating the downbeat, confessional humor of his show to the screen…

Here’s the trailer:

 

New in Theaters: “Bones Brigade: An Autobiography”

The best sports-as-life documentary of the year, and a great story to boot, Stacey Peralta’s Bones Brigade: An Autobiography is playing now in pretty limited release. It should come to DVD and cable soon and is well worth seeking out.

My review is at PopMatters:

Stacey Peralta’s bright and curiously lovely new film takes up not longer after Dogtown and Z-Boys ends, with the dissolution of the Z-Boys. This time, the filmmaker puts himself front-and-center in the interviews that provide a spine for a stream of old VHS skate footage and faded photographs. As he tells it, Peralta refashioned himself as the ringleader for a new crew of bright young skateboarders. After co-forming the skate equipment company Powell-Peralta, which would serve as munitions factory for the sport’s underground resurgence in the 1980s, Peralta put together a squad of improbably talented and driven pre-teens he could mold into stars. Given that the roster included guys like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, and Lance Mountain, the feat that Peralta accomplished is something akin to discovering the entire Dream Team before they had even entered high school…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Anna Karenina’

Having detoured from tasteful literary adaptations like Pride & Prejudice into techno-scored mayhem with last year’s killer Hanna, Joe Wright is now back in the classics biz, with a Tom Stoppard-scripted take on Anna Karenina, which opens Friday.

My review is at Film Journal International:

All the world’s a stage in this highly self-aware yet free-flowing take on Tolstoy’s great novel of doomed romance and the thorny collision of ideals with the world of real humans. Joe Wright’s exciting take will divide audiences, but for those who go along for the ride, they’ll thrill at how it blows their hair back. Instead of moving from one stately mansion to the next, Wright sets most of his scenes inside the same grand but vaguely decrepit theatre, with obvious backdrops and stage props, adding music and elaborate choreography to further stylize the action. It can be read as a statement on the highly artificial world that the Russian aristocracy had entrapped itself in, circa 1874, or a device heightening the novel’s already potent melodrama…

You can see the trailer here:

DVD Tuesday: ‘Brave’

The newest Pixar film doesn’t have much in the way of cute animals, toys, or Randy Newman songs, but it does feature witches and some fancy archery, so that’s something. My review of Brave is at Film Journal International:

With a sterling roll call of British Isles vocal talent and some of the most lush and limpid animation to be found on screens this year, Pixar’s Brave is a feast for the eyes and ears, if not always the mind. Aimed more squarely at the younger set than many of their more adventurous fantasy outings like Wall-E, it’s a just-clever-enough take on an age-old and very classically Disney setup about a child and parent’s estrangement and rapprochement…

Brave is available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

You can see the trailer here:

 

New in Books: ‘The Story of America’

Those truisms quoted today from Ben Franklin? Not meant to be taken seriously. Voting anonymously with paper ballots at polling places free of violence? Unheard of in America until 1890. This and more discussed in Jill Lepore’s new book The Story of America:

When in doubt about your thesis, cover the spread and present everything as a variegated tapestry of humanity. Sometimes this can serve as a neat dodge for a potentially failed project, better than trying to shoehorn everything into an explanation that doesn’t quite hold water. Depending on the richness of your material, this can be either a rag-and-bone shop of leavings (usually subtitled “sketches” or “impressions”), or a rich panoply of story that rattles and bursts with humanity. Even though it should fall in the former category, being mostly a collection of New Yorker articles, Jill Lepore’s wonderful The Story of America fits snugly into the latter…

The Story of America is on sale now at finer (and not so fine) bookstores everywhere; my review is at PopMatters.

New in Theaters: ‘A Late Quartet’

Sneaking into theaters in a surprisingly clandestine manner—for a film starring the likes of Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, and Philip Seymour Hoffman—is the quiet melodrama A Late Quartet:

[The film] looks like one of those November films that speak to audiences interested in the finer things. Set on the Upper West Side in the deep chill of winter, it offers a seeming checklist of somber elements, from a teacher reading T.S. Eliot to his students to the onset of a dread disease. It even includes an initially odd bit of unexpected casting in Christopher Walken as a quiet paterfamilias. But the checklist turns into an outline for the film that could have been, an echo of class, taste, and meaningful art instead of the real thing…

A Late Quartet opened Friday in limited release, and features some superb acting, if not much in the way of a thoughtful script. My full review is at PopMatters.

You can watch the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Holy Motors’

There is some wild cinema playing in the theaters right now, from the big-star, big-money extravaganza that is Cloud Atlas (Tom Hanks! Halle Berry!) to the no-money, odd-star meta-film weirdness (Kylie Minogue?) that is Holy Motors:

Are the movies life or is a life a movie? There are few more tedious questions a film night ask. Still, Léos Carax’s new movie asks it in a way that leaves open a range of answers, its focus on the how the question might be posed and whom it might address. Holy Motors may even be proposing that the line between life and movies has dissolved to the point of being academic. And it may be saying the life has become such a production—such a staged production—that it might as well be a movie…

Holy Motors is playing now in very limited release; make sure to check it out. My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘First Position’

Some months it feels like every third documentary out there is a chronicle of some kind of contest or another—call it the Survivor/Dancing with the Stars Syndrome. While certainly dramatic and pleasing to dance fans, Bess Kargman’s First Position over-indulges in that kind of competitive mindset.

My full review is at AMC Movie Database:

Like any good competition documentarian, Kargman first shows viewers her contestants and then gives an idea of the stakes involved in the run-up to the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix. The half-dozen or so young dancers that Kargman follows are the tiniest fraction of the 5,000 or so children competing around the world. Just about every one of Kargman’s stars seems to have the makings of a famous ballet dancer–the problem is that pretty much every other dancer captured by the camera seems as good or better. There’s a cliff-like ratio here in that the surplus of young talent dwarfs the precious few jobs and scholarships out there…

Final Position is being released on DVD today.

You can see the trailer here: