Blu Tuesday: Crazy Cults, Tower Heists and More

There are plenty of new Blu-rays on tap this week, and as usual, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I didn’t even bother writing entries for Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” and the “Shrek” spin-off “Puss in Boots” because the sooner we forget about both movies the better, while other noteworthy titles like Criterion’s “Anatomy of a Murder” and the first season of BBC’s “The Fades” weren’t available for review. Fans of Criterion’s previous releases can confidently blind-buy the former, however, knowing it will live up to their standards.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Sean Durkin’s directorial debut was a big hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and after finally seeing the movie myself during its theatrical release, it’s easy to understand why. A disturbing yet mesmerizing psychological thriller about a girl who runs away from a cult only to become increasingly paranoid that its members have tracked her down, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (so titled for the various names that its protagonist uses throughout the course of the film) is bone-chilling suspense at its best. Durkin’s cleverly edited transitions between past and present are so disorienting that you start to become as paranoid as Martha herself, while star-in-the-making Elizabeth Olsen delivers an incredible performance that should have netted her an Oscar nomination. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is one of those rare movies that stay with long after it’s over, sparking debate about its purposefully vague ending. It’s sure to enrage some, but most cinephiles will love every gripping minute.

Blu-ray Highlight: The list of included bonus material isn’t as impressive as it sounds, but fans of the movie will still no doubt be interested in director Sean Durkin’s short film “Mary Last Seen,” which serves as a companion piece to “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”

“Tower Heist”

Though a lot of people were quick to condemn “Tower Heist” before they even had a chance to see it, I was hopeful that Brett Ratner – who’s a better director than he gets credit for – would prove them wrong. After all, not only did the movie boast a promising setup and a great cast (including the potentially dynamic pairing of Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy), but the script was co-written by Ted Griffin, who penned the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake and co-created the excellent but short-lived FX drama “Terriers.” In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been so optimistic, because despite its timely subject matter and the aforementioned components, “Tower Heist” never really makes the most of its potential. There are a handful of humorous moments littered throughout, but for the most part, it’s a rather unmemorable heist movie that’s biggest disappointment is its mediocrity.

Blu-ray Highlight: Universal has provided a solid collection of bonus material for the two-disc release, but the audio commentary with director Brett Ratner, co-writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, and editor Mark Helfrich is the clear standout. In addition to revealing some interesting anecdotes about the long road from development to production (including Eddie Murphy’s original pitch for an all-black cast with guys like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Chris Tucker), the quartet also talks about working with the ensemble cast and the challenges of filming the movie’s various set pieces.

“The Son of No One”

Channing Tatum must have made a deal with the Devil earlier in his life, because it’s the only possible explanation as to why Hollywood is so obsessed with him. After seven years in the business, Tatum hasn’t delivered a single performance that’s convinced me he has any real talent as an actor, and yet he continues to get work in high-profile projects. Director Dito Montiel is perhaps the worst offender, having cast him in all of three of his films, including this laughable police drama that also stars Al Pacino, Ray Liotta and Katie Holmes. The only thing worse than watching Tatum bumble his way through yet another leading role is the dreadful script by Montiel, which lazily strings together a series of incredibly pointless events and moments of manufactured conflict that are so easily avoidable it can be viewed as nothing less than an insult to the audience’s integrity.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are only two extras on the disc, but the audio commentary with writer/director Dito Montiel and executive producer/editor Jake Pushinsky offers up some interesting nuggets about making the film despite the long stretches of silence.

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2011 Year-End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

Looking back at this year’s slate of films, it would be easy to label it a disappointment. But while 2011 may not have been very memorable, it wasn’t exactly forgettable either. In fact, the biggest problem I came across while compiling my year-end list was that while there were a lot of movies I really enjoyed, there weren’t very many that I loved. That might not be the most encouraging statement to make before announcing one’s Top 10, but it’s the honest truth, and it doesn’t make the movies listed below any less deserving of my praise, even if there are some films missing that you believe should have made the final cut. But that’s why critics love writing year-end reviews; each one is unique to their specific taste, and mine is nothing if not unique. Well, except for maybe my worst-of list, which is filled with movies that I think we can all agree sucked big time.

Check out David Medsker’s 2011 Year-End Movie Review as well for David’s picks.

Best Movies of 2011


Though I wasn’t that impressed by Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous films, they have an undeniable visual flair and originality that you don’t see very often. “Drive” took those qualities and applied them to a conventional Hollywood thriller, resulting in a movie that feels much more mainstream without abandoning Refn’s art house sensibilities. The film is as beautifully poetic as it is strikingly violent, while Ryan Gosling (who’s had a banner year between this, “The Ides of March” and “Crazy Stupid Love”) has never been better as the soft-spoken yet brutally intense protagonist. But for as much attention as the film’s graphic violence has received, it’s the opening sequence – an edge-of-your-seat car chase packed with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife – that is without a doubt the biggest highlight. And when a movie can start so brightly and continue to build on it like “Drive” does (thanks in part to fine supporting turns from Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks), it’s no wonder why so many people love this film.


It’s not every day that you get to see a film before the rest of the world, so I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that being among the lucky few in attendance at the SXSW premiere of Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block” played a part in my overall enjoyment of the movie. A genre hybrid film with influences ranging from “The Warriors” to “Critters,” Cornish’s directorial debut is a lean, mean sci-fi action thriller that, although it boasts a mostly unknown cast and was made for a fraction of the cost of the average Hollywood movie, is the most fun I’ve had at a theater all year. The young actors are great, the creature effects are even better, and the film is fueled by a relentless, infectious energy that keeps the action moving at a rapid clip. There might have been several alien invasion movies in theaters this year, but “Attack the Block” was the best of the bunch – a fun slice of nostalgic geek cinema that blended action, comedy, horror and sci-fi to create an instant cult classic.


It’s no secret that Diablo Cody has her share of critics, but “Young Adult” proves that she’s more than just a vending machine for the kind of quirky one-liners that initially earned her notice back in 2008 with “Juno.” Thematically darker and more mature than her first feature, the film also feels more personal in its examination of what it means to grow up, providing the perfect platform for Cody’s voice to shine. Blisteringly funny and surprisingly poignant at times, “Young Adult” is so daringly original that its somewhat contentious ending has even divided audiences. But while Cody deserves a lot of credit for taking these risks, it’s Charlize Theron’s performance that brings out the comedy and emotion of the situation, delivering some of her best work as the beautiful but bitchy Mavis. It’s not very easy to make a character like that sympathetic, but Theron pulls it off so effortlessly that it would be criminal to see her name absent from any award ballot.

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