Media | A2Q Archives | Blog | Twitter | A2Q #35: April 15, 2008: Welcome to this week's highlighted home video releases, focused entirely on the American market. Sorry, rest of the world.

Roundup by VsRobot | Posted April 15, 2008

Pick Of the Week

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy Hansen, a payroll officer at a large financial institution with a trophy wife he can't keep happy, a nasty drug habit beyond his means, and a desperate need to get away from his current life to make a clean break and a fresh start.

Ethan Hawke plays Hank Hansen, his brother, working much lower on the totem pole at the same institution: A deadbeat dad who can barely stand to look his daughter in the eye. He is perpetually disheveled, and you can literally see the stress eating him alive from the inside each time his ex-wife (a shrewish Amy Ryan) reminds him of his very late child-support obligations.

Both brothers have their own reasons, their own increasing desperation, their own seemingly insurmountable problems that can only be solved by a quick cash infusion. Andy has the perfect solution: a victimless crime, an easy robbery of a small, family-run jewelry store in a quiet part of town, a way to make some money that will just be replaced by the insurance companies anyway. No harm done. He makes it sound so easy, so simple, that it would be foolish not to do it.

To say the robbery goes wrong is to put it mildly. The robbery is the focal event of the film, an event whose side effects spread out like ripples on a pond, a spider web that ensnares both brothers in a cycle of increasing desperation and violence in which their struggles only tighten the bonds in which they're ensnared.

The film is directed by Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Network) who was 83 at the time he filmed it. Nevertheless, he demonstrates far more energy and ideas than most men half his age.

When I said in the plot summary that the film revolves around the focal point of the robbery, I meant it literally: The film's style is one of a divergent points-of-view. We see the events leading up to, during, and after the robbery from many different points-of-view, and each time we add a different character's narrative to our understanding of the events it changes how we feel about what we thought we knew about what happened. Seemingly innocuous events from one POV become devastating seen in a different light. Small decisions along the path have horrible consequences.

You might have noticed the frequent use of worlds like "devastating" and "horrible" in this review, which is no accident. The film is a nasty piece of work. It has edges so sharp they'll cut you, bitterness so deep you could drown. You could call it a fall from grace, if there were any grace to be had. The protagonists aren't evil; in fact, it's almost precisely the opposite: They're strictly ordinary. Their problems are commonplace, their sins routine. Their crime is so low-rent that the spectacular consequences approach the level of Greek Tragedy.

I love the style of the film. I love the acting. Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman both do fantastic work. As the vice that is closing around them squeezes tighter and tighter, you see it in their faces, their vocal intonations, their body language. The stress of trying to get away with what they've done is unimaginable, but their acting is so dynamic that you feel it along with them.

I would beg that anyone who has even the slightest interest in the film avoid reading anything more about the film until after they've seen it. This is a film where the discovery is half of the journey, and knowing even basic plot points is doing yourself a great disservice. I went into the film knowing next-to-nothing about the film, and I was floored. I could not wait for the video release because I wanted so desperately to tell the world about it. If you have even the slightest interest in movies about crime and its consequences, and you don't mind not having a hero to root for, I strongly urge you to seek this out. Lumet, at 83, has made a film that stands up with the very best of his output. You owe it to yourself to watch it.

Shame of the Week!

In The Name of The King
Gee, do you guys think that maybe the fact that Uwe Boll has been all over the "blogosphere" lately might have something to do with the fact that one of his horrible movies is coming to home video? First, there was the news that Uwe would stop making movies if a million people signed a petition asking him to. Then he made a vitriolic YouTube video in response where he called out two actual, real directors (Michael Bay and Eli Roth) calling them "fucking retards". Net result: a shitload of publicity for Boll. Of course, none of that will make a damn bit of difference. Clueless Wal-Mart shoppers will see Jason Statham on the cover, remember how "awesome" (*shudder*) Crank was and throw in their cart next to the Double-Stuf Oreos and off-brand Coke clones. Everyone else -- that is, those of us who don't park our double-wide asses in a double-wide trailer home each night -- will stay far, far away.

Also Out

Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem
Hollywood has taken two shots at the can't-miss proposition of making a film where Predators and Aliens fight each other to the death and still haven't been able to hit the proverbial lobbed ball out of the park. Though the second swing is very slightly better than its terrible predecessor, it makes the days of Alien 3 -- hell, of Alien Resurrection -- look like the golden era of Hollywood.

I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With
I can't decide if Sarah Silverman is really funny, really annoying, or some combination of the two. Still, this isn't her movie. Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development vet Jeff Garlin writes and directs this comedy about a man unlucky in his career and his relationships, and who uses food to help him cope. Seems like a pleasant enough way to kill a few hours.

Quirky girls. Sigh. I was a little shocked by the anger some people had at this film's portrayal of the title character. "No real teenager talks or acts like that!" they cried out in their terrible angst. Putting aside the question of whether movies should reflect real life exactly, or if making a movie gives you license to take liberties with how things are to make a more compelling screen experience -- movie magic, as it were -- I can't believe that no one went to school with weird girls. Did no one else's schools have drama departments? Or even shy, artsy girls who dressed strangely and talked in a jargon of poetry and music references that only they understood? Maybe there were girls like Juno all around you, but you were too interested in the empty-headed, mall obsessed "popular chicks" to notice.

Of course, none of this discussion has any bearing on if the movie is worth watching. In one word, yes, it is. Oh, sorry, that's three. To elaborate, Juno is the story of an independent, headstrong young woman put into a situation beyond her years. She uses her acerbic sense of humor to distance herself from her situation, and it makes for an enjoyable film because Juno herself is genuinely funny and likable. The acting is all around fantastic, and I want to give special mention to the performances of Juno's parents, who are unlike any parents in the history of the teen-in-trouble genre in that they are cast as understanding and supportive.

Don't go into the movie expecting schlock on the level of Napoleon Dynamite. This is a smart, funny film that fans of Rushmore or Harold and Maude should find greatly appealing.

Lars and the Real Girl
Lars is painfully shy and reclusive. One day someone at his office job shows him a sex doll you can have ordered to your exacting specifications. A few weeks later, she arrives. For Lars, she is as real as anyone else in his life, except she offers unconditional love, and can't criticize him or touch him. The people in life, amazed that he is even trying to break out of his shell, treat the doll with the same respect he does. The film isn't prurient -- he isn't using the doll in the usual utilitarian ways -- but is instead a portrait of a completely closed-off person making an attempt to break free.

Mannequin | Mannequin 2
Here's another move (well, pair of movies, but let's pretend Mannequin 2 never happened) about a man in love with an inanimate woman. Except when you combine that premise with the '80s, the mannequin woman is possessed with the spirit of an Egyptian from 2500bc and helps you design the ass-kickingest department store window displays in town, much to the dismay of your rival store window display, uh, makers. What do you call those guys? Regardless, it's complete cheese, but I saw it about a hundred times when I was around 9 or 10 years old. So I think it's awesome! Your mileage may vary.

Blu Reyes

The Governator in the highest of definitions! SWEET.

Expanded Content

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Cover art courtesy of Amazon. That's very interesting, Harold, and I think, very illuminating. There seems to be a definite pattern emerging. And, of course, this pattern, once isolated, can be coped with. Recognize the problem, and you are halfway on the road to its, uh, its solution. Uh, tell me, Harold, what do you do for fun? What activity gives you a different sense of enjoyment from the others? Uh, what do you find fulfilling? What gives you that... special satisfaction? Harold: I go to funerals. You can best contact me by leaving a comment on my geek culture Blog or following me on Twitter. You can also now e-mail me at vsrobot [dot] blog [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for reading!