Thursday, February 4, 2016

Flick Picks Febuary 1: Everest, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Straight Outta Compton

Appropriate to a "leap" February, bulging with an extra day, we begin the month with a DVD roundup that offers dispatches from all corners of the world and the human spirit.  And good,  distracting t.v. series and films - we have those too.  

Feature Films

The Wikipedia page for Everest describes it as a "biographical adventure-climate disaster survival thriller drama."   Ho-hum:  just another entry in the old biographical-adventure-climate-survival-thriller-drama-genre.  Or very possibly, the first.  More clear is that Everest, based on real events, bulges with action and dizzying cinemtography as much as it teems with an excellent cast that includes Josh Brolin, Robin Wright, Keira Knightly and Jake Gyllenhaal.  

Based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, Diary of a Teenage Girl is a frank, poignant and funny account of its heroine's coming of age, including a rather unconventional sexual awakening.  Maybe too frank for some, Diary of a Teenage Girl features a great performance by British newcomer Bel Powley as the story's heroine, Minnie Goetze.

One of the major film successes of 2015 both critically and financially (it became the highest-grossing music biopic of all time), Straight Outta Compton is the story of legendary hip hop group N.W.A.

Also new:  Spike Lee's latest, CHI-RAQ addresses violence in Chicago in a way that only Spike Lee can.  Bradley Cooper plays a troubled chef in BURNT.  Another coming-of-age story arrives, this time from Britain.  Asa Butterfield stars as a math prodigy who finds people much more mystifying than the most complex of equations in A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND.



Okay, Downton Abbey fans, this is it.  Even as it plays out on PBS, the sixth and final season of the enormously popular series has arrived in its entirety on DVD.  Will Lady Mary find love again?  For heaven's sake, will poor Lady Edith find a mate of her own who doesn't summarily get killed off?  Peace at last for Mr. and Mrs. Bates?  Reserve a copy today and find out.  

If you aren't familiar with the USA series Mr. Robot, it's high time you caught up.  Such was the quality of the filmed episodes that the second season was approved before any of the first season made it to the airwaves. Rami Malek stars as a somewhat troubled cybersecurity engineer recruited to join a group of hacktivists.  Dark, smart and quickly addictive, Mr. Robot is joining the ranks of the best series of the past decade.  


Based on the books by Camilla Lackberg, the Fjallbacka Murders is Swedish series whose main character moves to her hometown, which turns out to be more then the simple, picturesque village it appears to be a first glance.  Each set of Fjallbacka Murders sets consists of three 90-minute films.


Foreign Film

Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien won the Best Director award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for this beautifully-realized martial arts film.  


Directed by siblings Geeta and Ravi Patel, Meet the Patels has been a crowd favorite at film festivals. The documentary deals the expectations and impatience of Geeta and Ravi's parents at their slow progress to marriage.  The parents, first-generation immigrants, are the product of an arranged marriage.

"A Brave Heart," chronicles the life and experiences of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Velasquez, from getting bullied in school and later online, to her multi-million-viewed TED talk, her work as a motivational speaker and as a lobbyist for the first federal anti-bullying bill.

Also new:  Meanwhile, at the other end of the human spectrum...THE BRIGHT ONE makes use of previously unavailable letters, photos and diaries to examine the life and mind of the architect of the Nazi's "Final Solution," Heinrich Himmler.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Flick Picks January 20, 2016: The Martian, The Intern, Learning to Drive

This January roundup of Flick Picks offers you the world.  Multiple worlds in fact.  We have any Oscar favorite and at least a couple of Oscar snubs.  Patricia Clarkson wants to learn to drive.  Matt Damon just wants to get home.  Martin Freeman sports a funny mustache, while Mark Ruffalo really needs to stay on his meds.  Read on.

Feature Films

78-year-old Ridley Scott show no signs of slowing down.  The veteran director brings us another big story with The Martian.  Matt Damon plays an astronaut assumed dead on Mars and left behind by his crew.  And yet, emerging from the red dust is none other than botanist Mark Watney (Damon).  How can he survive until help arrives?  Watch and find out.  We have The Martian in regular DVD and Blu-ray.

Amid a number of Hollywood studio pictures comes this excellent independent film from 2015, starring John Ashton (best known as the gruff partner of Judge Reinhold in the Beverly Hills Cop films).  Ashton plays a well-respected carpenter in a small Wisconsin town who kills a local bully, covers up the crime and then tries to live with what he's done.  The latter is made more difficult by the menacing brother of the deceased, who suspects him.  Meanwhile, Ben, the nephew he raised, goes about his life in Chicago.  When Ben makes an unexpected visit with a female friend, all the the lives intersect in difficult to anticipate ways.  Uncle John is an example of smart, subtle and tense (and not without its moments of comedy) storytelling.  In a better world, the veteran Ashton might be up for Beast Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Also new:  Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway star in THE INTERN.  Patricia Clarkson is a recent divorcee trying to become more self-sufficient.  Ben Kingsley plays the Sikh driving instructor who gives her road and life lessons in LEARNING TO DRIVE.  Joaquin Phoenix is the latest stand-in for director Wood Allen in IRRATIONAL MAN.  Lastly, Mark Ruffalo plays a father trying to cope with his mental illness and raise two daughters in Boston while their mother works in New York.   INFINITELY POLAR BEAR is rather quirkier, even funnier at times than it sounds.



This special episode of the popular BBC/PBS series has Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Victorian London for the first time.  Hence, the funny hats and the veritable rodent of a mustache atop Watson's upper lip.  

The excellent Idris Elba (some would say overlooked by Oscar for his work in the film Beasts of No Nation) stars in the fourth season of this British crime series. 


This charming Comedy Central series stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as two twenty-somethings making their way in New York.  Look for lots of cameos from the likes of Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris and Fred Armisen.


Loosely based on the novel Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith (who initially rejected the film but was won over on second viewing), The American Friend finds director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) in noir mode.  Dennis Hopper plays career criminal Tom Ripley, who convinces terminally ill picture framer Bruno Ganz (later the star of Wings of Desire) to join him in his illegal enterprises.  A great mood film.  


This critically-acclaimed Brazilian drama concerns a maid for an affluent Sao Paulo family who had left her daughter behind years earlier to be raised by relatives.  When the daughter arrives to stay with her mother to take college entrance exams, thorny issues emerge.  The Second Mother mixes comedy and drama while addressing economic disparities between its rural and urban regions.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Flick Picks January 7, 2015: Sicario, The Walk, True Detective

The first wave of new releases for 2016 is highlighted by two excellent dramas from 2015 and the second season of HBO's True Detective.

Feature Films

Sadly, the canon of films on drug trafficking and its attendant (if ineffectual) law enforcement grows as the problem stretches across decades.  The good news is that Sicario is a good addition to this genre and a good film period.  The versatile Emily Blunt plays a tough but somewhat idealistic FBI agent, assigned to a mysterious task force headed by Josh Brolin.  As with Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, the always excellent Benicio Del Toro is also present.  

Robert Zemeckis' film about the amazing high wire demonstration of Phillippe Petit between the newly-completed towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 has received good reviews, especially for its dizzying special effects.  You might grab your armrest as the film gains momentum and Petit ventures forth on that wire.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the French aerialist.  

If you're interested in the story of Philippe Petit and have not yet seen James Marsh's documentary on the subject, you simply must do so.  MAN ON WIRE was a very justifiable winner of Best Documentary Feature at the 2009 Academy Awards. 

Experimenter is the second film of 2015, along with THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT, to deal with notorious experiments that involved supervised mistreatment of people.  Michael Almereyda's Experimenter, which takes a slightly more whimsical approach than its predecessor, deals with the 1961 Milgram experiment, in which electric shocks of increasing strength were delivered to helpless subjects by normal people, who virtually always, if reluctantly, inflicted the jolts of electricity when instructed to do so.  Fascinating as ever, Peter Sarsgaard stars as Yale social psychologist Stanley Milgram.  

Also new:  Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men) and Jason Sudeikis star in the sex comedy,  SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE.  Keanu Reeves portrays as a man whose decision to open his door to two strange women backfires in a major way in KNOCK KNOCK.  There's more dystopian fun to be had in MAZE RUNNER SCORCH TRIALS, the second installment of films based on the popular young adult books by James Dashner.  Lastly, THE VISIT takes us to a place of nearly unimaginable horror:  the grandparents' house.    



The popular HBO series True Detective continues into its second season.  Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn star.  


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Flick Picks 12/29/2015: Pawn Sacrifice, He Named Me Malala

Chess, anyone?  Need your faith in humanity restored?  Or perhaps as some truly wintry weather descends upon us (or attacks horizontally in the form of sleet - yikes!), all you want to do is hunker down with a good series and have yourself a marathon.  Whatever the case, we've got you covered.

Feature Films

It's hard to imagine the place that chess and one chess player held in the American imagination in the early 1970's.  Of course, the chess player was the enigmatic Bobby Fischer.  Fischer's 1972 defeat of Russian Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship in Iceland was followed in the United States with the interest usually reserved for a major sporting event.  Genius that he clearly was, Fischer was also a troubled man.  Tobey Maguire plays Bobby Fisher in Pawn Sacrifice, which focuses on the tempestuous world championship match.

There is also a fascinating nonfiction film on the singular, ultimately sad life of Bobby Fischer, available in our documentary collection:  BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD. 

Good or bad, Quentin Tarrantino's latest film continues an admirable trend on the part of the director in resuscitating careers that Hollywood has left for dead.  In the case of his current The Hateful Eight, there are rich roles for both Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  We won't have The Hateful Eight on DVD until the spring.  In the meantime, you can enjoy Kurt Russell in the dark, complex and very well-reviewed western Bone Tomahawk.  

Also new:  Robert Redford and Nick Nolte play two old friends hiking the Appalachian Trail in A WALK IN THE WOODS.


The always excellent William H. Macy stars as the frequently drunk single father who in no discernible way leads his family of six children in this Showtime series.  The kids generally have to fend for themselves in this dysfunctional family comedy set in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Canaryville.  

Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight star in another popular Showtime series about a law firm "fixer" (Schreiber), contending with all sorts of dubious characters, not the least of which is his ex-con father (Voight)

Documentary/Performing Arts

For those unfamiliar with the 18-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, Davis Guggenheim's documentary tells her better than fiction story.  An activist in her native Pakistan for the rights of girls, especially the right to education, Malala was hunted by the Taliban and shot three times, including one to her head.  As you'll find out, the attack only strengthened the resolve of the exceptional young woman.  He Named Me Malala is currently shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  

The renovation of the Netherlands national museum of arts and history, also known as The Rijksmuseum, was supposed to take five years, from 2003 to 2008.  Ten years and some $500 million dollars later, the museum enjoyed a triumphant reopening.  However, the previous decade saw a surprising amount of drama and even comedy as two museum directors battled detractors and adversaries on all sides.  


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Flick Picks 12/21/2015: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, Time Out of Mind, Goodnight Mommy

As we head into award season and enjoy the release of those serious films - some good, others not so much - that hope to contend for the big prizes, the recent releases on DVD reflect the rest of the cinematic spectrum.  This week we have a good collection of the sort of films that don't often get attention at award time, deserving or not.  For your consideration, we have thrills, we chills, a few laughs and even a little seriousness.  But not too much.  

Feature Films


Yes, he actually did this.  Tom Cruise catching a flight the hard
way in Mission Impossible:  Rogue Nation.
Along with Mad Max:  Fury Road, the latest entry in the Mission Impossible franchise sat at the head of the summer blockbuster class.  Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is the sort of action film towards which others should aspire.  A fairly lean plot, beautifully-filmed action sequences and even a little wit - what more could one ask?  Oh, it's fairly thrilling too.  Enjoy.  


Richard Gere as you have never seen him - as a homeless man, adrift on the streets of New York.  It might not be a Richard Gere for which audiences are clamoring, but the veteran actor gives a committed performance as homeless, mentally-ill man trying to reestablish contact with his daughter. 


Foreign Films


For those of you who enjoyed the excellent horror film  The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy provides a fine, creepy companion piece.  Goodnight Mommy might begin and end with handsome Austrians serenading us in traditional song, but we're a long, long way from The Sound of Music.  A mother recovering from plastic surgery finds herself in a battle of wills with her twin boys who don't believe their mother is the person who emerges from facial bandages.  Without spoiling the film's major twist or saying too much about the its most difficult scenes, suffice it to say you won't ever look at super glue in quite the same way....

Also new:  Jean Dujardin (The Artist) stars in The Connection, a crime thriller that is a European flipside to William Friedkin's The French Connection.  Dujardin stars as a Marseilles magistrate trying to dismantle a notorious drug smuggling operation.



Alex Kingston (formerly of ER) stars in this British crime series that follows the work of a missing persons unit.


In a very strange pandemic, animals are attacking human beings all over the world.  Who can blame them, really?  Nevertheless, a young team from various backgrounds is trying to solve the problem in this CBS series based on a novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge.   


The second and last season of this CBS series from executive producer Steven Spielberg follows the life of an astronaut (Halley Berry) who returns to her family inexplicably pregnant after spending 13 months in outer space.


Performing Arts


Concluding what we might call the year of Amy Schumer is this May 2015 performance recorded at the famed Apollo Theater in New York.



The Criterion Collection has issued a two-disc edition of this 1983 documentary of the inimitable William S. Burroughs.  A fascinating portrait of one of the 20th century's most confounding figures.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Flick Picks 12/14/2015: Ant-Man, Minions, Apu Trilogy

Never fear, Ant-Man is here!  Or perhaps this means nothing to you at all.  Perhaps all your fears are perfectly well-founded.  Flick Picks is not here to tell you how to feel.  We are here merely to report on new arrivals on DVD.  Joining the aforementioned Mr. Ant, we have the even more decidedly cartoonish figures of Minions.  Meanwhile, for the more serious film fan, the cineaste one might even say, there is the welcome arrival of Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy.  It's something to behold.      

Feature Films


Yes, Ant-Man is here, in the amiable form of Paul Rudd.  The latest Marvel Comics superhero makes it to the big screen in pretty good form, abetted by some solid writing and strong cast.  And lots of action, of course.    


A combination prequel and spin-off to the Despicable Me franchise, Minions little yellow single-cell creatures have existed since the beginning of time (as we all know), serving only the most nefarious of masters.  You might well recognize the voices of Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton and Sandra Bullock, among others.  We have multiple copies of Minions in regular DVD and Blu-ray.  

Also new:  The excellent David Oyelowo (who played Martin Luther King so memorably in Selma) is mesmerizing in the odd, slightly claustrophobic HBO film,  NIGHTINGALE.

Foreign Film


These three films by the Indian master Satyjit Ray star the same young actor (Kanu Banerjee) in a coming of age tale like no other in cinema history (sorry, Boyhood).  There is a great deal to appreciate here, including often shimmering cinematography and a wonderfully evocative score by Ravi Shankar.  The Apu Trilogy -  Panther Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959) - is often listed among the greatest achievements in film history.  Watch the new Criterion Collection Apu Trilogy set and see why.




Hooray for Harold Lloyd.  The too-often-overlooked silent film star and daredevil is up to his old tricks in Speedy (1928), his last silent film to be released in theaters.  In Speedy, Harold attempts to save the last horse-drawn streetcar in New York, the film contrasting the rush of contemporary urban life with the more genteel pace of yesteryear.  Look for Yankee slugger Babe Ruth as one of Harold's passengers.  



The seventh series of this popular British series is here.  Martin Clunes stars as general practitioner, ever amusingly at odds with his patients in the small, imagined Cornwall village of Portwenn.  


Scottish actor Peter Capaldi turns out to be a flamboyant natural as the 12th incarnation of Doctor Who, the title character of the beloved BBC series which has been running - off and on - since 1963.  


This is the third and final season of the CBS series based of the novel of the same title by Stephen in which the beleaguered residents of Chester's Mill struggle beneath a mysterious dome which has separated them from the rest of the world, cutting off most communication (including cell phone and Internet - the horror!).




2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra.  Perhaps you've heard of him?  Far, far more than the basic documentary that has been running on HBO, Sinatra:  All or Nothing At All is a four-disc bonanza for Sinatra fans that includes a 46-minute interview with Walter Cronkite and the singer's 1971 "retirement" concert.