DVD Review by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
With the series “Luther,” the BBC proves that Americans do not hold the patent on excellent cop shows. The series has its second season available on DVD right now, and it’s proving to be one of the most daring police procedurals I’ve seen.
Idris Elba stars as John Luther, a London cop haunted by the murder of his wife and the betrayal of his partner. The only way to cope is to dive into the grisly cases facing his city. In the new Serious and Serial unit of the London police force, Luther builds a team to take a new look at major crimes. However, certain links to organized crime and his own conscience prove to be a problem for Luther as he tries to help people while interfering with the system.
Season two features the equivalent of two television movies, each running just short of two hours. They are presented as four episodes, similar to how “Sherlock” features just a couple long-form mysteries for a single season. In “Luther,” the crimes are chilling, and the adversaries are potent. In the first two-parter, Luther faces a theatrical serial killer who hides behind a mask. In the second two-parter, he faces some gamers who take their dice rolls to a murderous level.
Elba plays Luther softly, not going over the top or being too extreme. He’s a conflicted character, and there’s always something working in his head. Like other brilliant characters, he’s one step ahead of most people but always playing catch-up.
The crimes in these episodes are hard core, not necessarily what you’d see on American television. The killers are brutal and dangerous, but entirely plausible, and that’s what makes them so delicious... but uncomfortable at the same time.
Finally, the secondary story for the season is Luther’s attempt to save a girl from sexual slavery. While this tends to be too much of a diversion at times, it balances out the hard crime in the series and shows a little more humanity for Luther’s character.
“Luther” is going to sail completely under the radar of most Americans, but if you’re a fan of the police procedural, it’s definitely worth checking out.
The DVD comes with two discs covering the four episodes. No special features are included.
Blu-ray Review by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
I’ve been a big fan of David Lynch ever since I watched “Twin Peaks” in the 90s. Through the years, I’ve scattered through his films, rarely seeing them any time close to release. In many ways, I was too young to fully understand his heyday of the late 80s and early 90s. “Wild at Heart” was lost on my early twentysomething self, and I was completely confused by “Blue Velvet” when I watched it as a teenager.
ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART I
Fortunately, “Blue Velvet” is getting a hi-def release on Blu-ray now, and it’s a brilliant film to revisit. The story follows two young adults – Kyle MacLaughlin as college-aged Jeffrey and Laura Dern as the high school beauty Sandy – as they play amateur detectives in the idyllic small town of Lumberton. Jeffrey and Sandy travel to the other side of the tracks to investigate a severed ear he found in a field, only to discover the seedy underbelly of the town and a psychotic kidnapper and pervert named Frank who is coercing an aging lounge singer.
For as diverse as Lynch’s filmography is, “Blue Velvet” is quite possibly his masterwork. There’s a strange mix of comfort and beauty with terror and awfulness. Like his earlier surreal work, things don’t quite fit into our universe, but they pop out of the screen as real.
The cast is amazing, featuring the return of Dennis Hopper and the daring performance by Isabella Rossellini as the tortured victim. Lynch takes the audience along with him from the manicured lawns into the seedy world that Frank inhabits.
Lynch shows us a bizarre mix of culture, fashion and techniques. The viewer is never 100% aware of when this is happening. It could be the 80s. It could be the 50s. It could be in a parallel universe. But it’s a fantastic universe that sucks you in. The sexual depravity and violence in the film is relatively tame by today’s standards, but it’s exceedingly uncomfortable. Rather than being graphic, it’s strange. It’s perverse. It’s unique. And it makes you fear the dark side of this idyllic small town.
The movie looks gorgeous on Blu-ray, featuring a slick transfer and great sound. Having only seen it on pan-and-scan VHS in the 80s, it was like watching a whole new movie for the first time.
Special features on the Blu-ray include lost footage, the original TV review from Siskel & Ebert, behind-the-scenes vignettes, outtakes, trailers and TV spots. Of course, the best part of the Blu-ray is the feature-length documentary “Mysteries of Love,” which dissects the film and explains how it came to be.
by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
While I hold my own personal political beliefs, I rarely talk about them publicly. This is mainly because I feel people read my work not for a political opinion, but rather for an expert take on films and television. However, sometimes a movie comes along that necessitates dipping my toe into politics because it is a politically charged film.
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS
“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” is the first stab at bringing Ayn Rand’s magnum opus to life on the silver screen. it’s been through a torturous path, as the behind-the-scenes information on this Blu-ray will tell you. And while it looks good on such a small budget, it’s a bit of a failure.
Sure, the Tea Party movement is going to adore this film because it is an adaptation of the work of Rand, one of their heroes. I cannot say if it is a good adaptation or not because I’ve never read Rand’s novel, but I can’t imagine that it would have sold as many copies as it has if it were at the level of quality of this film.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” tells a story of corporate heads in an alternate future who have pinned the world’s transportation hopes on trains and railways. With oil prices skyrocketing and government control threatening to cripple the country’s businesses, Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) tries to build a new railroad segment with a miracle metal. Unfortunately, captains of industry start disappearing when they meet the mysterious John Galt, and she’s left to fight her way out of a quagmire of government interference and media speculation.
I cannot deny the passion behind the making of “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” and that might actually be part of its problem. In many ways, this film reminds me of the faith-based films that try to break through to the mainstream. Think of it as “The Omega Code” for corporations. There might be a good story in there if it weren’t trying too hard to make a political point.
The acting isn’t terrible, but the script definitely is. Featuring multiple conversations over desks, board room tables and in high-priced restaurants, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” plods along with lots of words that amount to very little. The dialogue comes to a woeful head with preaching about wage payment, the needs of workers and how a greedy work force can destroy an otherwise prosperous company.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” tries to drive home economic principles and how there needs to be corporate freedom in trying times, but that message is lost when everyone in your story is filthy rich. I can see why the Tea Party likes this film.
I might still pick up Rand’s book and read it to see what this is all about, but the film didn’t win a new fan in me. And considering it’s just a fraction of the story that suffered at the box office, I’m not sure the rest of the book will end up on screen anytime soon.
The Blu-ray has some nice features, including a commentary by the filmmakers and a behind-the-scenes video “Road to Atlas Shrugged.” There’s also a montage featuring the “John Galt Theme.” But these features are torn down by the narcissistic and self-important feature “I Am John Galt,” which consists of 35 minutes of dozens of people saying, “I am John Galt,” into the camera.
by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
When “Water for Elephants” came out earlier this summer, I was not in any hurry to see it. And the reason for this is that I really have no interest in Robert Pattinson. I didn’t think he was much of an actor in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” and when he dived into the “Twilight” movies, he showed how awful he can actually be. So seeing a serious headlining of a movie for him was not high on my list.
A BETTER LIFE
But in a strange way, I did enjoy “Water for Elephants” in spite of Pattinson’s Billy Idol sneer as he hacked through his lines. (To be honest, I think Pattinson’s problem is that he has to hide his accent in his big films, which contributes to a wooden delivery and his uncomfortable glower.)
The story is typical ripped-from-the-book-club fodder. A young Polish-American named Jakob (Pattinson) runs off to join the circus after his parents are killed in an accident and he is unable to finish his college degree. There, he falls in love with the beautiful feature act, Marlene (Reese Witherspoon), who is married to the overbearing ringmaster (Christoph Waltz).
The story is what you’d expect from a period drama romance. There’s a lot of unrequited love, stolen glances and jealousy in hard times. I wasn’t wild about the plot, considering it seemed rather rote, a tired version of the well-to-do girl who falls in love with the rustic charmer. But the acting (well, the acting that wasn’t perpetrated by Robert Pattinson) was pretty good. It was nice to see Reese Witherspoon return to the screen, and Christoph Waltz plays an excellent villain (something we already knew from “Inglourious Basterds”).
The real appeal of this movie is the epic backdrop of the 1930s-era train circus. This is where the special effects and costuming budget went. For the nostalgic view of the traveling circus, this film is quite epic. Additionally, the cinematography looks grand and is pretty amazing to watch on Blu-ray.
This opinion seems to be shared with the people who authored the Blu-ray, considering most of the features spotlighted the circus angle rather than the stars. There are several 20-minute featurettes on the recreation of the circus environment as well as an audio commentary. But don’t worry, Witherspoon and Pattinson each get their own behind-the-scenes spotlight as well.
by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
After bouncing around different genres – including the teen sex comedy, an epic fantasy and a vampire romance – Chris Weitz takes things down a notch and tells a more grounded film. “A Better Life” follows a Mexican immigrant worker named Carlos (Damian Bichir) who is trying to raise his son properly in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his son is getting mixed up with the wrong crowd at school.
Carlos believes that his problems will be solved if he buys a truck to enable him to do more work. However, when his truck is stolen, he goes on a mission to take back what is his. In a strange way, this mission brings him closer to his son while jeopardizing his life in America.
I can appreciate what Weitz is trying to do – and trying to say – with “A Better Life.” The movie does show the tenuous plight of the illegal immigrant worker in America. It also shines a spotlight on the dangers the children of these workers are in when left to some of the unsavory people in the public school. These are true points and important things to say. However, Weitz slouches through much of the first half with faux sympathy, allowing the characters to do things that are, quite frankly, stupid.
The film picks up in the second half when Carlos goes on a search for his truck. It is in this time that he and his son find bonding moments. Because the son wants to help Carlos, they both have a desire to be together, which seems to be a first in their relationship. It’s also tragic that only in a vigilante sense can Carlos prove to be a role model for his son.
These are sad, tough moments to watch, and they really set the stage for a dramatic punch. However, when that punch does come, it’s far too predictable and mundane to carry my interest through the rest of the film. Ultimately, “A Better Life” pitters out near the end and falls right back into the cliches it suffered from in the beginning.
The DVD comes with a commentary by director Chris Weitz as well as a slate of deleted scenes, which also feature Weitz’s commentary. Finally, there is also a music video “Jardinero” by Ozomati.
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