Paul’s DVD Reviews

“I hope your kids have bad influences and develop bad personalities. I wish this with all my heart.” — Christos Stergioglou as The Father in Dogtooth

Unstoppable (2010)

Unstoppable is not unlike the runaway freight train it features: it crashes right through every objection you might have to it. Dirt simple, all action, one cliffhanger situation after another, a white-knuckle ride all the way. My heart is still racing … this was more fun than almost any action movie I’ve seen in the past several years. I particularly liked director Tony Scott’s attention to the details of railroad operations; the insider scenes and lingo give you a deeper appreciation of what’s going on. I would watch this again.
OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009)

The French James Bond. Of course it’s a spoof, but a more subtle one than our own Maxwell Smart or the old Casino Royale movie with Peter Sellers as 007. Knowing how much the French like Jerry Lewis movies, I initially resisted watching the OSS 117 films (there are two out now), but I’m glad I broke down. The stories take place in the jet set age of the late 1960s, and the period detail is just right: cool bachelor pads, free-form Danish modern, miniskirts … even the color in the film has a 1960s look … you’ll want to play some Mondo Exotica music in the background while you watch. Jean Dujardin, as OSS 117, isn’t exactly oafish; he’s more a self-involved Hugh Hefner sort, blissfully unaware of changing times. Watching OSS 117: Lost in Rio will not turn you into a Frenchman, it won’t make you long for Jerry Lewis, and you might actually have a laugh or two.
Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

A solid documentary about political corruption in the USA. Not for the faint of heart — the details are so damning you’ll want to run off to live in the woods. Nothing is staged; the movie uses TV & newsreel footage spliced with interviews, but this raw material is so strong it’s as if you’re seeing it all for the first time. I was particularly shocked at two examples of Jack Abramoff’s many crooked operations: the Saipan sweatshops, where our country encouraged Chinese sweatshops to exploit indentured servants in the production of cheap clothing with “made in the USA” labels; the American Indian tribal casino industry, where Abramoff & evangelist Ralph Reed played one tribe against another for ever-higher retainers, supported by influential and powerful politicians.
Carriers (2010)

Well-filmed sci-fi/horror movie about the end of humanity and the adventures of a four young survivors in the now almost-deserted American southwest. The kids haven’t yet succumbed to the global killer virus, but as the movie progresses, it seeks them out one by one, and those left show their true colors. The characters and plot are stock post-apocalyptic sci-fi; what sets this movie apart are gorgeous landscapes and total lack of hope. Usually at the end of one of these, they throw in a faint ray of sunshine. Imagine that at the end of The Road the man and the boy both starve to death. Although at the end of Carriers two survivors remain, you know they’ll start showing the rash soon. If you’re up for a well-filmed but gloomy movie, this one’s for you.
Dogtooth (2009)

Wow. I won’t forget Dogtooth any time soon. People who home school their kids, and kids who are home schooled, give me the creeps anyway, so this movie really freaked me out. If there’s a better metaphor for what hate radio and Fox News are doing to culturally shut-in Americans, please tell me about it, because otherwise Dogtooth is my new metaphor for the right.

You’d think this would be a funny movie but it’s not, even though the very idea of an insane father and mother being able to isolate their children to the extent depicted in Dogtooth is risible. Perhaps because the story is presented in such a deadpan way, with no directorial snark or mood-setting soundtrack, you gradually start taking it at face value and believing the premise. At that point the story becomes horrific and suspenseful, and you’re hooked, waiting to see what happens next.

Word of warning: several scenes are excruciatingly embarrassing, including but not limited to explicit depictions of awkward sex.

Let Me In (2010)

The American version of the Swedish cult vampire movie, Let the Right One In (my review here). First of all, whether or not you’ve seen the excellent Swedish film, you should read the book the movies are based on (also titled Let the Right One In), then watch both versions. The book is the real masterpiece, but it contains too much to squeeze into a movie of any reasonable length. Both the Swedish and American films leave out or barely touch some of the book’s subplots; interestingly, each director chooses to cut different ones. In neither case do the cuts lessen the impact of the movie: both versions are scary as hell, both are terrific. My only quibble with this, the American version, is an overly dramatic background score … I think it would have been even scarier without it.
Get Low (2009)

Get Low is a long drink of lukewarm water. The only thing that keeps it from being a long drink of lukewarm spit is the presence of Bill Murray. I felt like I was watching one of those Academy Awards tribute videos — did Robert Duvall die or something? The only suspense is waiting for Duvall’s character to reveal his deep dirty secret, and when he finally does it’s part of a long and boring speech. Ayn Rand was a screenwriter too? Who knew?
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

You don’t expect lame when you sit down to watch an Oliver Stone movie, but that’s what you get with this one. I thought it was cheesy and Hollywoodish, filled with cliches and unlikely dialog (especially the motorcycling banter between Josh Brolin and Shia LeBeouf — I’ve been riding since the age of 18 and have never heard such boastful twaddle). I expected the politically-astute Stone to dig into the reasons for the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, but he just glossed over the whole mess, using it as the backdrop to a standard love story. The happy-happy ending was a letdown as well. Why the hell did Stone make this movie? To cash in on the popularity of the original? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Animal Kingdom (2010)

Wow. I have to learn to read those Netflix blurbs more closely. Animal Kingdom isn’t at all what I thought it would be, but what it turned out to be was great. This is an Australian crime story, one that rang so true I assumed it must have been based on a true story. A young man, shielded by his mother from the rest of their criminal family, turns to the family after his mother dies of an overdose. And what a family it is … you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, as they say. The moral of the story, as the young man slowly learns, is that once you’re in the family, there’s no way out … and you can’t trust anyone, least of all the police. Damn this was a good movie!
Shattered (2007)

The reviews of Shattered, at least the ones I read, were generally favorable, but the movie left me feeling cheated. It’s the story of a bad man getting a particularly surprising and nasty comeuppance … the stuff of urban legends. It’s revenge porn. I look for something worth remembering in a movie, good or bad. This one left me indifferent. There’s nothing worth remembering here.

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