Movies Without Pity

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, January 7, 2014

by Ethan Alter January 7, 2014 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ben Affleck is a rebel rebel in Runner Runner

Runner Runner
Fresh off his Argo Oscar win, Ben Affleck took a victory lap by reviving his Boiler Room persona of the slick smooth operator of highly questionable morals. In this case, he's Ivan Block, the proprietor of a Costa Rica-based online gambling website that ensnares college kid Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake). In an effort to recover his lost funds, Richie tracks Ivan down to his lavish home and willingly becomes part of his operation… at least until he realizes that he's in too deep. Written by Rounders scribes Brian Koppelman and David Levien, Runner Runner probably won't become a poker movie classic like that 1998 favorite; the story is too familiar and all of the actors (besides the scenery-chewing Affleck) too bland for that to happen. On the other hand, it's got better card-sharp action than, say, Lucky You and works just fine as a rental or a pit stop on a late-night round of channel surfing.
Extras: Deleted scenes and a featurette.
Click here to read our original review

Thanks for Sharing
For his directorial debut, screenwriter Stuart Blumberg (who co-penned The Kids Are All Right and The Girl Next Door among others) serves up a sunny, upbeat comedy about… sex addicts? Tim Robbins plays the veteran recovering addict, who serves as the sponsor for Mark Ruffalo -- an environmentalist celebrating his five-year mark -- who in turn serves as the sponsor for newbie Josh Gad, an ER doc let go from his job after rigging a camera to peer up his boss's skirt. While Robbins confronts family troubles in the form of his adult son's drug habit, Ruffalo starts dating a cancer survivor (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Gad strikes up an unlikely friendship with a girl that's way too cool for him (Alecia "P!nk" Moore, more or less playing herself, minus the sex addiction part). Blumberg wants the audience to understand that these guys are people too, but the way the movie plays their pathology for laughs feels disingenuous at best and creepy at worst. Thanks for Sharing feels like a movie for people who thought Steve McQueen's Shame was too intense… even though its lightweight treatment of sex addiction is ultimately far more disturbing.
Extras: A commentary track with Blumberg, a making-of featurette, deleted and extended scenes and a gag reel.

Big Ass Spider!
In the grand tradition of Roger Corman creature features, direct-to-Syfy films and no-budget schlockfests from Troma (whose founder, Lloyd Kaufman, has a cameo) here comes Big Ass Spider!, a cheekily cheesy grassroots horror picture that pits Greg Grunberg against… well, a big-ass spider. J.J. Abrams's favorite character actor plays a fast-talking exterminator who happens to be at an L.A. hospital the same day a genetically-engineered spider that the military -- in their infinite wisdom -- has shot up with alien DNA gets loose and swells to disturbing proportions. He's aided in his efforts by an overeager security guard (Lombardo Boyar) and a gun-toting soldier (Clare Kramer a.k.a. Glory from Season 5 of Buffy), not to mention lots of bargain-basement CGI. It's those shoddy digital effects that keep Big Ass Spider! from surpassing Arachnophobia (which relied mainly on creepily convincing animatronic spiders) as the best spider-themed horror movie ever made. On the other hand, the substitution of the always-appealing Grunberg for the always-irritating David Arquette easily makes this the winner in a Big Ass Spider!/Eight Legged Freaks death match.
Extras: A featurette from the film's premiere at last year's SXSW, interviews with the cast and trailers.

The Act of Killing
One of the year's most acclaimed documentaries and the heavyweight contender to win the Best Documentary Feature Oscar in March, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing embeds viewers with a crew of retired Indonesian death squad foot soldiers several years removed from their killing days. Rather than be ashamed of their pasts, the men celebrate it, even going so far as to restage some of their most memorable executions for Oppenheimer's camera. But despite their boasting, this process resurrects some old ghosts that -- in a remarkable final scene -- may continue to haunt them until the end of their days. Though a bit jumbled at times in its assembly, The Act of Killing is an utterly unique and transporting viewing experience. Compared to Oppenheimer's formal invention, the sports doc Linsanity but can't help but look routine. A highlights reel of basketballer Jeremy Lin's difficult rise through the NBA's ranks until his breakout run with the New York Knicks, Evan Leong's profile mixes talking head interviews with on-court footage and upbeat narration provided by Daniel Dae Kim. Pitched squarely as an inspirational tale (with a strong faith-based storyline), Linsanity never seriously grapples with some of the questionable recruiting practices of the NBA, as well as Lin's post-Knicks career with the Houston Rockets, where he hasn't quite become the transformative on-court player many hoped. If nothing else, Leong's film does serve as an effective recap of those heady days of February 2012 when Linsanity took the Big Apple by storm.
Extras: The Act of Killing offers a commentary track with Oppenheimer and mentor Werner Herzog, deleted scenes, featurettes and an essay by Errol Morris. Linsanity is extras-free.

The Killing Fields
Roland Joffé's acclaimed 1984 film celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new Blu-ray release bound in one of Warner Bros.'s handsome booklet editions. Sam Waterston stars as a war correspondent covering Cambodia in the mid-'70s during the uprising of the Khmer Rouge. And while Waterston eventually escapes the conflict-ravaged country, his Cambodian partner in the field (Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who won the Best Supporting Oscar statue for his performance) becomes a prisoner of war and the second half of the film chronicles the horrific conditions he faced during his internment and afterwards during an escape through the jungle to the Thai border. Part war picture and part survival story, The Killing Fields is Joffé's best film next to The Mission.
Extras: A commentary track by Joffé and the film's trailer.

Also on DVD:
With the listless airplane farce I'm So Excited, renowned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar did something many assumed he'd never be able to do: make a terrible movie. The best thing about the bland British thriller Closed Circuit is its title, which promises intrigue that the film itself never delivers. Economics wizard Robert Reich gets his Michael Moore on in the latest "(Sorry) State of our Union" documentary Inequality for All. Akira Kurosawa's masterful Macbeth adaptation Throne of Blood is given the Criterion Blu-ray treatment. Also premiering in high-def are two '80s hits, Gorillas in the Mist in which Sigourney Weaver plays zoologist Dian Fossey and Tequila Sunrise where Michelle Pfeiffer has to choose between drug dealer Mel Gibson and cop Kurt Russell. No contest -- go Russell.




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