"THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Jon Foster as ART BECHSTEIN
    Peter Sarsgaard as CLEVELAND ARNING
    Sienna Miller as JANE BELLWETHER
    Nick Nolte as JOE BECHSTEIN
    Mena Suvari as PHLOX LOMBARDI

    Rated R
    Studio: Phase 4 Films
    Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

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“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” is the perfect example of what happens when a book that has a cult following gets made into a feature film: Nothing.

The story follows the aimless life of Art Bechstein (Jon Foster), a recent college grad who is loafing through his last summer of freedom. During the summer, he meets the beautiful Jane Bellwether (Sienna Miller) and her wild-child boyfriend Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard). The relationship among the three becomes fun and exciting, but also dangerous on an emotional and physical level. Art uses this chance to push away from his powerful gangster father and find his own path.

I’ve never been a huge fan of this kind of murky coming-of-age story. At its heart, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” is a chance for the characters to whine about their lives without really doing anything about them. It tries to be daring, featuring a sexually liberating theme and a budding homosexual relationship between Art and Cleveland. However, the film just makes itself boring and aimless.

Sure, Sienna Miller is easy on the eyes, but her character has no depth, and I felt nothing for her or Cleveland. And Art is simply a pain because he has the world at his fingertips but he sloughs off in his final summer. Maybe it’s the parent in me, but I just wanted to kick everyone in the ass and yell, “Get a job, you losers!”

Sure, the book may be a fan favorite, and the author may have won the Pulitzer, but the movie is a chore to sit through.

The DVD comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. There’s another featurette about author Michael Chabon’s original book. The original theatrical trailer rounds out the special features.



"THE POKER HOUSE"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: * (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Jennifer Lawrence as AGNES
    Bokeem Woodbine as DUVAL
    Sophia Bairley as BEE
    Chloe Grace Moretz as CAMMIE
    David Alan Grier as STYMIE
    Selma Blair as SARAH

    Rated R
    Studio: Phase 4 Films
    Directed by: Lori Petty

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After forcing myself to sit though the morose and woefully dark film “The Poker House,” I was slapped in the face with a title card announcing that this was the true story of actor and the film’s director Lori Petty’s life. And while that was supposed to tug at the heart strings and make me feel sympathy for her, it just made me angry.

“The Poker House” is a bleak film about a teenage girl named Agnes (Jennifer Lawrence), whose mother (Selma Blair) is a strung-out prostitute. She is raised in a household where she’s infatuated with her mom’s pimp (Bokeem Woodbine) while gamblers, thieves and johns come through a revolving door. Agnes is trying to survive and wants to find a better life for her younger sisters. It takes some life-changing events for her to take action.

My heart goes out to Lori Petty if her life was as awful as that of Agnes in this film. However, there’s something exploitative about plastering this horrid story on the screen. I understand the film trying to make the point that the kids were trapped, but I found little sympathy for Agnes because there are always places to get help, which she never took.

The movie seemed to point a finger at its own audience and scold it for its ignorance of this problem and apparent unwillingness to help. I know this sort thing does happen even in modern-day America. However, there’s something to be said for personal responsibility, and Agnes (and possibly Petty in her true-life story) should have reached out to the school, the police, the church or the community.

I was depressed and angered after seeing this film because it made me sit through an hour and a half of neglect, abuse, rape and drug trafficking and gave me a crappy resolution with kids singing to a car stereo.

The DVD comes with a photo gallery, the trailer and an audio commentary by Lori Petty.



"EXPLICIT ILLS"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Francisco Burgos as BABO
    Paul Dano as ROCCO
    Rosario Dawson as BABO’S MOM
    Naomie Harris as JILL
    Lou Taylor Pucci as JACOB
    Frankie Shaw as MICHELLE
    Tariq Trotter as KALEEF

    Rated R
    Studio: Phase 4 Films
    Directed by: Mark Webber

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I don’t like to be preached at, unless I’m sitting in church and know it’s coming. The problem with a film like “Explicit Ills” is that it does nothing but preach. It makes demands that poverty should be stamped out and everyone should have full access to medicine, but it offers no real solution.

The story follows several characters in North Philadelphia facing poverty, drugs and crime. The lynchpin of the film is a young boy named Babo (Francisco Burgos), whose family faces tragedy in their situation. The film attempts to be socially relevant and artistic, but it turns into a pale imitation of movies like “Traffic” (which I loved) and “Crash” (which I loathed).

“Explicit Ills” also suffers from a simultaneous affliction of overwriting and underwriting. The characters stumble through the non-plot, facing each other in what appears to be moments of improvisation. This sort of thing works for comedies and well-constructed outlines. However, this just seems to be lazy writing by a self-important auteur.

The dialogue is mumbled and mashed together. But amid the staggering speech is a pretentious message that comes through in every scene.

When the movie finally ends, we’re treated to a protest march that declares that poverty should be ended. Great idea, guys. We’ll get right on that. Thanks for offering a solution.

The DVD comes with the theatrical trailer and an advertisement for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign Outreach, which would be realistic if the rights they were demanding were actually affordable in a realistic society.



    

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