Category Archives: DVD

Red Lights (2012)


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Red Lights

Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.

I know D picked this off the shelf because of the stellar cast; Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver (generally reliable in everything they do), Cillian Murphy (I’ve been a fan since 28 Days Later…), Toby Jones (you may not recognize the name, but you’ll know his face), and the adorable Elizabeth Olsen (Younger sister of the Olsen twins, cuter, better actress. She’s been making a splash lately. That’s her->)

The Seattle Times seems to appreciate that cast, too:

Weaver is forbiddingly grim and focused as Matheson, and Murphy is the personification of haunted unease as her colleague. De Niro, in one of his most effective performances in years, is at once diabolical and silken in manner as Silver. His character may be blind, but he gives the impression of being able to see into the souls of his adversaries.

I was not blown away by De Niro’s performance but, considering some of the roles he has tackled lately, it may well be “one of his most effective performances in years

There has been a glut of movies celebrating paranormal activity recently, whether to scare us or enlighten us. What sets this film apart is the skeptical focus it puts on psychics and faith healers, pulling back the curtain on their “gifts”.

Perhaps this viewpoint held extra intrigue for me, a longtime fan of The Amazing Randi and his skeptics shows. As much as I enjoy as good magician, and prefer not to know their tricks, I appreciate being reminded that it doesn’t hurt to maintain a healthy skepticism in life.

I wish they had given us a bit more along that line but, once they set the debunking premise, I suppose we didn’t need more. They also give us enough of Simon Silver to know he is creepy, and could be dangerous – at least to our heroes. Though the reason for the ‘danger’ is merely glossed over.

One of the highlights early in the movie is Eugenio Mira doing an over-the-top, cabaret impression of Robert De Niro in a flashback scene of the young Simon Silver. It’s as if director Rodrigo Cortés wanted to give us a bit of fun so found a nightclub impressionist and turned him loose. I found it an amusing nod to his star’s stature.

Red Lights manages to entertain and hold your attention to nearly the end, when it all goes horribly wrong.

The ending, alas, erases much of what was good in the movie. In attempting to pull off a clever twist, they expose the flaws & weakness in the story. To steal a quote, “The only way to pull a rabbit out of a hat is to put it there first.

Spoilers may be in the rest of my review, so don’t scroll if you don’t want to know…

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 29%; Audience 36%

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The Snowtown Murders (2011)


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The Snowtown Murders

Based on true events, 16 year-old Jamie falls in with his mother’s new boyfriend and his crowd of self-appointed neighborhood watchmen, a relationship that leads to a spree of torture and murder.

Daniel Henshall
Yet another based-on-a-true-story horror flick. Hard to believe, but the actual events are even more horrific* than this movie reveals. What the movie reveals is graphic enough – and difficult to watch.

The movie is slow, especially compared to the standard American thriller. The pace dulls the sense of growing menace a bit, but the cast does a fair job keeping us on edge.

Particularly good is Daniel Henshall as John Bunting. We meet him as an amiable suitor to young Jamie’s mother, and he seems a welcome, stable addition to the family. Bunting presents as a caring protector, though we see his darkness simmering just below the surface. His emerging psychopathy is chillingly portrayed by this talented actor.

If this were a work of fiction, I would have criticized it for having a “lazy script”, merely throwing in bits of blood & gore to shock the audience. Knowing the true story, however, I find I am grateful for the director’s restraint in merely showing bits of blood & gore to convey what was much, much greater horror.

This is not an enjoyable film. It is not one I would ever watch again. From a critical standpoint, however, it was well done and accomplished what a movie should – it told the story. It also left me especially disturbed in the knowledge that Bunting was able to infect those around him with his evil; ultimately 6 people were directly involved in the murders and many more knew but didn’t report them. One violent psychopath is scary, a pack of them is terrifying. Whether they were charmed by him into participation, or intimidated into it, I don’t know – either way, my skin will be crawling at the thought for a long time.

In my circle, this isn’t the type of story that is well received, so only 2 on the scale. You can see by the Rotten Tomatoes numbers below how well reviewed it was by critics & audience alike.

* The documentary on YouTube was made prior to the release of many sealed documents. Therefore, it is possible some info made it into the movie that was not referenced in the documentary.

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 86%; Audience 70%

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Machine Gun Preacher (2011)


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Machine Gun Preacher

Sam Childers is a former drug-dealing biker tough guy who found God and became a crusader for hundreds of Sudanese children who’ve been forced to become soldiers.

Another movie “based on true events”; this is a more vivid, higher budget “Kony 2012” The final product is sub-par, but still conveys what is a gruesome, horrifying situation in Sudan.

The main failing is that the film tries to tell us too much of the tale. The narratives get a bit disjointed as we follow Childers’ come to Jesus, crisis of faith, family tension, business success, business failings, friendships gained, friendships lost, battles fought, children saved, ups & downs… An inability to focus the story, rather than sending us in several directions, dampens the ability to fully invest in any part of it.

I understand (and appreciate) that it was important to reveal our hero’s flaws, but he comes across as simplistic. As does much in the movie.

It’s actiony. It’s tragic. It’s well cast. It just didn’t quite succeed. Some will enjoy it, but not many in my circle.

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 29%; Audience 64%

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Brake (2012)


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A Secret Service Agent is held captive in the trunk of a car and endures mental and physical torture as terrorists attempt to extract information for their plot against the President of the United States.

It is never a good sign when you are pretty sure you have the ending figured out in the first three minutes. Even worse when you are hoping you are wrong because the ending you’ve pictured would just be a bit too lame. Unfortunately, we had it figured out – and we weren’t wrong.

That’s not to say the movie is a bust; the acting works well enough (though Dorff seems an odd casting choice), the pace is fast enough (though the countdown timers are an unused distraction), the final twist will give you a small bit of satisfaction (though…predictable).

Rated “R” for mental torture, violent themes, and a great deal of profanity. This movie will have a limited appeal, and even less limited appeal in my circle, so only 2 on the Word of Mouth scale.

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 46%, Audience 48%

The Women (1939)


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The Women

Oh, l’amour, l’amour, how it can let you down. Hmm. How it can pick you up again.

You’re passing up a swell chance, honey. Where I spit no grass grows ever.

No, dear, a man has only one escape from his old self – to see a different self in the mirror of some woman’s eyes.

The first man who can explain how he can be in love with his wife – and another woman – is gonna win that prize they’re always giving out in Sweden.

One of the earliest examples I remember of the full range of female archetypes was this great film with an all-star, all-female cast. It intrigued me to see something so bold as an entire movie without any men, though the influence of husbands, lovers and others is certainly felt.

Among the women we meet are:

  • Sweet, happily wedded Mary Haines (Norma Shearer)
  • Conniving man-eater Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford)
  • Catty scandalmonger Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell)
  • Hopeless romantic, unlucky in love Countess De Lave (Mary Boland)
  • Middle-class housewife and mother Edith Potter (Phyllis Povah)
  • Wealthy in her own right, naive Peggy Day (Joan Fontaine)
  • and more – in all, there are 130 speaking roles all filled by women

Though slightly melodramatic (weren’t they all back then?) a witty script and snappy dialogue survive well the test of time. The ending of this movie had me believing in love and cheering for the power of real girlfriends, especially when you really need them.

Loses a star because it probably wouldn’t appeal to the men in my circle – and it will be a bit too melodramatic for some of the girls 😉

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 90%; Audience 89%

Another favorite I will review on it’s own, The Opposite Sex. An adaptation that not only becomes a musical – but includes men in the cast.

An updated remake, The Women (2008) – with a horrific cast and general lack of cattiness. Why bother? Haven’t seen this one, doubt I will. UPDATE: Saw it, hated it

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Bernie (2011)


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Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, well-loved assistant funeral director in a small Texas town. Shirley MacLaine plays Marjorie Nugent, wealthy, cranky, unpopular widow. The way their paths cross is the meat of Bernie, a dark comedy based on a true story. The movie seems far-fetched, but, according to Marjorie’s nephew, the outlandish details were “ripped from the headlines“.

There are little things in “Bernie” that aren’t exactly true, bits of dialogue, a changed name here and there. But the big things, the weirdest things, the things you’d assume would have to be made up, happened exactly as the movie says they did.

Black gives one of his best performances to date, showing us the melancholy and heart in a man somehow driven to murder. MacLaine is an ideal choice as the cranky, crazy old codger fated to be folded into a freezer. The one weak link in casting is Matthew McConaughey playing a Texas lawyer (shocker, McConaughey cast as a lawyer!) set with the unpopular task of prosecuting the town’s favorite resident.

Interspersed throughout the movie, we get bits of local residents (some of them actual residents who knew the real Tiede & Nugent) talking about the couple and the case. It’s a device that can be cheesy if poorly executed, but it works quite well here.

Despite the subject matter, this movie will appeal to just about everyone in my circle. Even those who you wouldn’t expect to get a chuckle from a murder.

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Audience 76%

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Safe (2012)


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Full disclosure: I like my action movies with a lot of action. I like a high body count with minimal gratuitous blood. I like clever fight choreography that respects the laws of physics rather than relying on wires and/or CGI. I like Jason Statham as a good, but flawed, man who is willing to do what it takes to save the day – or the girl. Safe delivers on all those criteria. (note that a quality script doesn’t really factor – though it helps)

The story here finds Statham, a mediocre cage-fighter with big secrets in his past, suddenly thrust into a three way turf war that threatens to end the life of a young girl. Russians, Chinese, Police – all the ingredients for “a body count that rivals classic John Woo.

One of the bad reviews claims the movie is

…little more than an excuse for Statham to do what Statham does better than anyone else: look stern while punishing bad guys.

Don’t see how that is a bad thing. In fact, the reviewer claims ‘Safe’ is “everything that is wrong with action movies“, clearly missing the point of action movies.

A reviewer with a clearer understanding of the genre writes:

[Jason] Statham blasts his way through his biggest body count in this satisfying, one-note action film designed very specifically for Statham fans who know his acting limits as well as he does.


Because of the high body count, despite the relative lack of blood & gore, there are still several of my friends who would give this a pass – so only three on the WOM scale. However, if shoot ’em up action flicks float your boat, this one should satisfy.

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 57%, Audience 62%

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