Strange brew

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IFC Films
Lindsay Lohan and James Deen star in “The Canyons,” an erotic thriller directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis.
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California dreaming, French philosophy top new releases

DVD REVIEWS

This week, we begin in Los Angeles:

The Canyons

2.5 stars

R-rated and unrated versions, 99 minutes.

Available now in DVD, Blu-ray and digital download formats.

Notoriety engulfs many of the participants in this lurid, low-budget tale about Hollywood deceit and sexual recklessness — but in a good way.

Dear Lindsay Lohan stars as Tara, girlfriend and sexual plaything to budding film financier Christian (adult film star James Deen). Christian’s producer Gina (Amanda Brooks) convinces him to cast her struggling actor-boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk) as a leading man.

From there, bad-boy novelist Bret Easton Ellis’ script kicks in for sensationalistic director Paul Schrader (Hardcore, American Gigolo) to orchestrate various sexual liaisons while emphasizing industry sleaze. Strange movie.

The disc offers a six-part “making of” featurette.

*

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (2.5 stars) Ninety-one-year-old French directing icon Alain Resnais has taken material from two Jean Anouilh plays for this hybrid feature resulting in what can only be loosely called a filmed play.

A playwright (Denis Podalydes) dies, but extends a post-mortem invitation to some of the best-known French actors of the last half century. All play themselves as they gather at the late writer’s house for the reading of the will. There, a screen plays his best-known work, Eurydice, while the assembled guests deliver lines they have come to know by heart, which makes for an interesting but disjointed movie.

With Sabine Azema, Lambert Wilson, Michel Piccoli, Mathieu Amalric, Anny Duperey and other luminaries. Not rated, 114 minutes.

*

Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (1.5 stars) This pointless indulgence follows a group of young men in Chile who seem to be inexplicably led by a shallow American, Jamie (Michael Cera). They attend parties, entertain prostitutes and then decide to take a road trip to a barren locale in which they will partake of the hallucinatory properties of the magical cactus.

They are joined by the self-named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman), a flighty American who draws Jamie’s ridicule and scorn. Eventually, they obtain a cactus and indulge, a process that is supposed to bring some sort of great self-enlightenment. But not in this movie.

Not rated, 99 minutes. The DVD includes a five-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette.

*

Bridegroom (2.5 stars) This heartbreaking yet often inspiring true story centers on Shane Bitney Crone after he lost his longtime partner, Tom Bridegroom, in an accident. Tom’s family disapproved of the relationship and shut off Shane from the funeral and any survivor benefits.

Shane then recorded a tribute and posted it on YouTube, where it went viral, bringing attention to his loss and the absence of partners’ rights.

Not rated, 82 minutes. The disc holds a public service announcement from GLAAD.

*

American Bomber (2.5 stars) This unsettling drama begins as a faux documentary, with interviews of people who have known John Hidell (Michael C. Freeland). From there, writer-director Eric Trenkamp shifts focus to the recently dishonorably discharged soldier. The disillusioned and depressed Hidell makes it to Brooklyn, always toting his ominous backpack. Swayed by some vague ideology, Hidell plans a suicide bombing.

When sidetracked by a friendly bartender (Rebekah Nelson), his eventual path veers but not before a twist ending. Trenkamp’s film is engaging, but the attempt to probe inside the mind of a suicide bomber never fully materializes.

Not rated, 90 minutes. The DVD includes commentary, a 22-minute short film that served as the basis for this movie, an 11-minute question-and-answer session with the cast and crew, three minutes of outtakes, and more.

*

Casting Me … (2.5 stars) This no-budget South African comedy has its moments with its cast of pretentious young slackers and lovable misfits. But writer-director Quinton Lavery cannot quite sustain his story about Paul (Paul Snodgrass), a casting director setting out to make his own film.

Paul keeps running into his ex-girlfriend Chloe (Roxanne Prentice) as well as other friends and roommates too close to trust or discipline. His project understandably veers off course.

Not rated, 97 minutes. The DVD includes commentary, teasers, diaries, a 12-minute “making of” featurette and more.

*

George Washington Slept Here (3 stars) and The Horn Blows at Midnight (3 stars) After starring in vaudeville, radio and onstage, Jack Benny eventually made it to movies. But his deadpan movie comedies never gained the success he found elsewhere, a triumph he also achieved later on television.

These two titles — debuting on DVD through the Warner Archive Collection’s manufactured-on-demand discs — demonstrate why his precious humor is still beloved by many.

Renowned writing team George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart penned the play that’s the source material of George Washington Slept Here (1942), the archetypal “money pit” movie.

Benny and Denton native Ann Sheridan play Manhattanites who buy an old home in the country and then try and fix it up. Problems continuously arise: no water, livestock in the kitchen, floors collapsing, and a severe worker shortage made apparent by the estate’s inept caretaker (Percy Kilbride).

Benny remains in a near-apoplectic state, giving even greater effect to his deadpan commentary. Unrated, 91 minutes.

Noted action master Raoul Walsh shows a deft hand for comedy in The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945). Framed in a hoary narrative device, Benny plays Athanael, an angel sent to earth to blow his trumpet at midnight, which will then destroy the planet. But he detours because of two fallen angels and a fallen earthly woman.

Athanael’s plight gives Benny enough material to turn small moments into comedy treasure. Unrated, 78 minutes.

*

And, finally, for kids this week:

Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United Disney has joined two of favorite Marvel Comics characters for combat in this animated feature. The Hulk and Iron Man team up against Zzzax, a monster who feeds on Earth’s energy while also wanting to destroy it.

Rated PG, 71 minutes. The DVD, in all formats, downloads and combo packs, includes Marvel’s “Inter-missions” feature, which allows viewers to pause for surprises, and a “team-up,” a “mash-up” and more.

*

Merry Christmas, Splat … and More Winter Stories Scholastic Storybook Treasures has assembled four animated Christmas-themed treats based on well-known stories from select children’s authors, including Rob Scotton, Julia Rawlinson, Jane Yolen and Jacqueline Briggs Martin. With narration by Sean Astin, John Keating and others.

Not rated, 37 minutes. The disc also contains a read-along function and a “behind-the-scenes” featurette.

*

Lost and Found Author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers’ praised children’s book arrives now as a computer-animated film, with narration by the great Jim Broadbent.

The colorful short movie tells the story of a boy who finds a penguin on his doorstep and must accompany the lost creature back to the South Pole. But once there, the boy discovers that the penguin was not really lost but had other motives all along.

Not rated, 24 minutes. The DVD contains a “making of” featurette, with interviews with Jeffers and other cast and crew.

*

Also available Tuesday on DVD: Drinking Buddies, Saturn 3, The Smurfs 2, The Wolverine.


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