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Out This Week (In The US): Snowden, American Honey, Dog Eat Dog and more


Snowden – Joseph Gordon Levitt and Shailene Woodley star in Oliver Stone’s biopic of the American whistleblower who earned the ire of the American Government after leaking classified secrets that he thought the world should be privy to. Now, I’m not the biggest Oliver Stone fan I the world, but he does know how to make good movie son occasion. And while he has still never reached the heights of Wall Street since then, Snowden is a pretty good flick overall. The acting is excellent and the supporting (Zachary Quinto, Timothy Olyphant, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, and Nicolas Cage) add a lot to it. The Snowden story is a pretty interesting one, and watching it through Stone’s filter may not be documentary-level realism, but it makes for an engaging film experience.

American Honey – When was the last time you remember seeing Shia LeBeouf in a film that got actual critical acclaim? It’s been a while, right? Well, here he stars in American Honey, a film which has gotten pretty good marks from critics all over. So, the question is, is the film actually good, or is it one of those movies that critics like but everyone else hates? Well… yes. Honestly, it’s a little bit of both. Newcomer Sasha Lane shines in the lead role, while Shia Lebeouf reminds us that he is actually a good actor when he wants to be. They play two young people in a free-living group of young people traveling around the country and selling magazine subscriptions. It’s a treatise on youth, freedom, class, sex, and friendship, and it’s an effective film. It’s also long, at almost three hours, and frankly, it’s too long. The film has some beautiful moments but an equal amount of slow moments, and I can see where people can fall in love with it and also where people would be bored to tears with it. I like the film, but I wish it was a tighter, more cohesive experience on the whole.

Dog Eat Dog – Paul Schrader was once a revered filmmaker in American cinema, having written Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and American Gigolo, among other films. Now he makes movies like Dog Eat Dog, a loud, noxious black comedy that’s heavy on irreverence and light on laughs. In fact, there’s very little to laugh about in this film at all, which sees Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe as hapless criminals who kidnap a baby for their boss only to see everything go wrong. It’s a been there-done that formula, which would be excusable if the film was any good. But it’s not. Paul Schrader, what happened to you?)

The Dressmaker – For being such a huge movie star, Kate Winslet sure stars in a lot of movies I’ve never heard of. Her latest entry in this genre is The Dressmaker, a black comedy/drama/mystery-of-sorts about a fashion icon who returns to her small hometown and tries to remember a crime that causes people to dislike her. It’s a tonally odd film, moving from comedy to drama to character study to mystery/suspense film, and that’s the only thing that works against it. There are times when it feels like it’s not 100% sure what kind of movie it wants to be. That said, though, once you decide to go along for the ride, it’s a pretty enjoyable film. Kate Winslet is terrific as always (no surprise there) and Hugo Weaving is a welcome sight as well. This one is worth checking out if you like movies that are a little off the beaten path.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Close to the Enemy – Written by the same writer as last year’s excellent Dancing on the Edge miniseries, Closer to the Enemy is a seven-episode miniseries starring Jim Sturgess (who I’m a big fan of) and Freddie Highmore. Set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the show tracks a British officer and a German scientist who come to have an uneasy relationship. Dramatic, suspenseful at times, complex, and engaging, Close to the Enemy is a terrific show that lives up to the quality of writer Stephen Polakoff’s previous effort, Dancing on the Edge. Check it out if you like complex character studies with an edge.
  • Jericho of Scotland Yard – Robert Lindsay and David Troughton star in this classic-feeling British crime drama about a near-obsessively-driven detective tackling crimes in 1950s London. The four episodes in this collection give us your typical crime-solving drama, albeit one with excellent lead performances. Each one sees Jericho tackle a different case (spoiler: they’re murders) and solve them by the end. But the show never feels too neat or too pat, largely due to the weight of Jericho’s past, which haunts him and informs every scene. Top notch stuff for fans of the murder mystery genre.
  • The Story of Cats – Cats! On the internet! Well, okay, maybe not. This documentary is less about Keyboard Cat or Grumpy Cat and more about the big cats that populate Africa, and the evolution that turned them into the creatures they are today. As with most of PBS’ Nature programs, this one is interesting and informative, filled with impressive imagery and scientific insight. Even if you just love to post memes of cats on Facebook, you’ll likely enjoy this documentary special.
  • A Man Called Ove – Based on the worldwide bestselling book (which admittedly I’d never heard of until this movie crossed my desk), A Man Called Ove is one of those movies that does everything you’ve seen before, yet is still hugely enjoyable. The basic story is that this man called Ove is your typical curmudgeonly old widower, living on his own and generally happy being miserable. Cue scrappy younger family moving in next door and eventually winning him over. Been there, done that, right? Well, this Swedish film manages to take a formulaic plot and turn it into something quite fun and endearing, thanks to wonderful performances and sharp writing. Worth a look, especially if you like foreign films.
  • NOVA: Great Human Odyssey – As with most NOVA programs, this one takes a scientific look at a simple subject: mankind. More specifically, it tracks humanity’s journey from inception to existence; in other words, how did we evolve as a species and learn to make and use tools, migrate, and generally survive? Typically, I can find NOVA specials to be hit or miss, and while this one didn’t strike me as one I’d be overly into, it actually was more interesting than I expected. Humans are inherently fascinating, and this look at our earliest journeys features some insights that might surprise you.

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