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    Daughters of the Dust (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 12th, 2017

    “At the turn of the century, Sea Island Gullahs, descendants of African Captives, remained isolated from the mainland of South Carolina and Georgia. As a result of their isolation, the Gullah created and maintained a distinct, imaginative, and original African American culture.”

    Prior to watching Daughters of the Dust, I was completely unfamiliar with Sea Island Gullahs. To tell their story, the film (intentionally) deviates from the traditional narrative playbook, which doesn’t necessarily make for the most pleasurable movie-watching experience. However, the three key adjectives used in the opening text — “distinct,” “imaginative,” and “original” — absolutely apply here.
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    Come What May (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 10th, 2017

    Don’t call it a comeback, but World War II movies are having a bit of a renaissance. (Seriously, don’t call it a comeback…they’ve been here for years.) There are seemingly endless ways to approach a WWII story — Hacksaw Ridge and Allied were in theatres recently, while the next few months will bring The Zookeeper’s Wife and Dunkirk — but the majority of movies that actually get made skew toward the American/British perspective. That’s the main reason Come What May — a somewhat sappy, intensely personal film from France — stands out from the pack.
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    Howards End: 25th Anniversary (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 15th, 2016

    Word of advice: don’t take up a sentimental attitude over the poor.”

    That bit of wisdom is offered by Henry Wilcox, the scheming, obliviously shameless wealthy capitalist in Howards End. The 1992 Merchant-Ivory film — which gets a spiffy, 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release courtesy of Cohen Media Group — is based on an E.M. Forster novel that was published in 1910. However, Henry’s philosophy towards the less fortunate members of society strikes a chord more than 100 years since the character made his debut. And that’s just one reason Howards End is worth another look as we prepare to turn the calendar to 2017.
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    The Taviani Brothers Collection (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 1st, 2016

    Even though I like to think I’ve seen more movies than the average bear, I’ll admit to having somewhat of a blind spot when it comes to world cinema. So I’m a little ashamed to say I hadn’t even heard of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani — the Italian filmmaking brothers who have worked together all their lives and started making movies in the 1950s — before I picked up this handy three-pack from the Cohen Media Group. The Taviani Brothers Collection features three of the siblings’ most acclaimed work: Padre Padrone, The Night of the Shooting Stars, and Kaos.
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    Paulette (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 17th, 2016

    I earn money…I meet people…I can pay my debts…I can buy nice things for myself.”

    Taken at face value, all of those pursuits sound totally admirable, especially when you consider that the person earning that money, meeting those new people, and buying those nice things is a bitter old woman who slowly comes out of her caustic shell. I mean, the only minor hiccup here is that Paulette — the title character in this wacky, soufflé-light French comedy — turns her miserable life around by selling drugs.
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    The New Girlfriend (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 27th, 2016

    Being a woman’s hard work.”

    Femininity — the quality and essence of being a woman — is at the forefront of The New Girlfriend, a gender-bending and genre-bending offering from French director Francois Ozon. The film is a curious mix of farce, rom-com hijinks, frank sexuality, and serious drama about loss. The formula isn’t always cohesive, but it makes for an intriguing twist on the old “boy meets girl” story.
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    Two Men in Town (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 19th, 2015

    There’s the legal system…procedure…the almost-theatrical aspect of the law. And behind all that…”

    Those words are wearily spoken (in voiceover) by Germain Cazeneuve before we even realize the character is a social worker/passionate prisoner advocate. They also hang in the air until the conclusion of Two Men in Town/Deux Hommes dans la Ville, a blistering takedown of the French judicial system and capital punishment. (France used the guillotine to execute prisoners up until 1981, which is the year the country abolished the death penalty.)
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    The Benoit Jacquot Collection (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on October 29th, 2015

    Un, deux, trois! Cohen Media Group has given us an engrossing triple dose of French director Benoit Jacquot. The films —The Disenchanted, A Single Girl, and Keep It Quiet — span a decade and coincide with the moment when the post-New Wave filmmaker started gaining international acclaim. Each of the titles makes its HD debut with this release, and they all offer an intriguing look at Parisian life. The movies also feature some enchanting performances from their leading ladies.
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    Timbuktu (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 25th, 2015

    “Jihadists are people too!” That’s probably the big, blinking takeaway from Timbuktu, director Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated drama about the occupation of the titular city by extreme Islamists. But it’s also the most reductive possible interpretation of a film that doesn’t shy away from portraying some of the beauty in thoroughly ugly circumstances. More importantly, Timbuktu tells a volatile story with tremendous grace.
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    Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 1st, 2015

    One thing one can be sure of is that there wasn’t before him an Orson, and there’ll never be a second.”

    This year (May 6, to be exact) marks what would’ve been Orson Welles’ 100th birthday. To celebrate, filmmaker Chuck Workman has made a charming documentary with a title as grandiose as its subject. Magician: The Astonishing Life & Work of Orson Welles is a thoroughly entertaining — if somewhat superficial — survey of one of the 20th century’s greatest showmen.
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    May in the Summer (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 29th, 2015

    Love is an endless act of forgiveness.”

    May Brennan is the best-selling author of a successful book centered around Arabic proverbs. She is played by Cherien Dabis, who is also the writer/director/producer of May in the Summer. Both Dabis and her fictional counterpart use short, pithy phrases like the one above as the basis for exploring familial and romantic relationships. But while May encounters rousing success with her (fictitious, unseen) book, Dabis’ picturesque, breezy, ultimately disposable film is a little bit more of a mixed bag.
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    Amen. (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 13th, 2014

    “It is neither understandable nor excusable that a devout Christian such as himself did not do everything in his power to avoid being involved in such a criminal system.”

    In this case, the “criminal system” refers to the unfathomable killing of millions of Jews (and other groups) by the German military during World War II. We all know hindsight is 20/20, but you figure perfect vision shouldn’t be required for anyone to see what an atrocity the Holocaust was at the time, and put a stop to it. Amen. powerfully — and controversially— portrays why the solution wasn’t quite so clear.
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    Capital (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 12th, 2014

    “People believe money is a tool. Money is the master; the better you serve it, the better it treats you.”

    That mantra — spouted by a ruthless hedge fund manager in Capital — may not be as succinct or as elegant in its simplicity as “Greed is good,” but the message remains the same. Most people see money as a means to an end, but to the financial masters of the universe in this French financial thriller, money is the end.
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    The Color of Lies (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 28th, 2014

    On the surface, The Color of Lies resembles many other murder mysteries set in a close-knit community. The 1999 film, however, is a late-career effort from Claude Chabrol, the French New Wave director who first gained acclaim alongside contemporaries like Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut in the late 1950s. So it’s not surprising to learn The Color of Lies is really a subtle, stylish exploration of the various ways people deceive each other.
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    Swerve (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 17th, 2014

    “If something was to come your way, I mean something so irresistible that you just had to have it, do you think you could sacrifice everything for it and not regret it?”

    When it comes to down-on-their-luck men in movies, that “something” could be any number of things. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s pretty much always a woman or a large sum of money. In Swerve — a twisty Australian thriller that goes down a number of familiar roads — our hero is tempted by both.
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    You Will Be My Son (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 27th, 2014

    They say you can’t choose your family, but apparently that well-known phrase never made its way to France. At the very least, no one bothered to tell Paul de Marseul, the legacy-obsessed vineyard owner at the center of You Will Be My Son (Tu Seras Mon Fils.) Cohen Media Group gave this tasty 2011 French offering a theatrical release last year, and now the film — which alternates between being a picturesque delight, a tense family drama, and a thriller — arrives on Blu-ray.
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    The Prey (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 24th, 2014

    In the 1990s, the French action films of Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) and Euro-centric offerings like John Frankenheimer’s Ronin provided a sleeker, more exotic alternative to the outsize, muscle-bound exploits of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme. Besides movies with the words “Fast” or “Furious” in their title, American action flicks have mostly moved away from lo-fi, knucklehead thrills and turned to PG-13 heroes in CGI adventures. Meanwhile, European filmmakers have stayed in their stylish, car/foot-chase-loving lane. The result is entertaining yarns like The Prey/La Proie, which stands out thanks to its thuddingly simple action movie pleasures.
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