DVDs: Pirate Radio, or I should say The Boat That Rocked, since I watched the original (superior) British cut, is about an off-shore radio station bringing rock'n'roll to a repressive United Kingdom in the mid-60s. The lives and loves of the various disc jockeys in the free-wheeling 60s is the main focus, but a subplot about the politician trying to lose them down is particularly hilarious thanks to Kenneth Branagh's nasty little fascist. Some will say the film meanders, but loads of period music and plenty of character humor greases the wheels of this narrative that I think ably juggles many characters. It may be the Richard Curtis film that isn't actually a romcom, but it creates as large and yet small a world as Love, Actually. And it's quite cleverly edited as well, sometimes to give it a sense of fun, like an old Beatles movie, other times to punctuate and punch up the action. And what a cast!
I was trying to think about when the Die Hard franchise "lost it", and whether having John MacLane in it was enough to call it "Die Hard", or whether there were other necessary ingredients. I thought that would be the third film, but while I wouldn't call Die Hard 2: Die Harder a complete failure, I think it's already lost the things that made the first movie special. One of these is the villain as a protagonist. There's an attempt to make William Sadler's character an interesting foil for MacLane, but there's just not enough there, especially given he has a boss. But what breaks the world of the first film is an attempt to give us something "bigger", and in so doing, make MacLane into something of a superhero. I think one of the key elements of the first film's uniqueness was an Everyman hero who almost didn't make it out of the situation alive, and stumbled into the sunset wounded and tired. This guy here is more quippy, survives things no one should without harm, and is somehow considered an expert in terrorism even though his ONE tangle with such types was a heist, NOT terrorism. When the film succeeds, it's thanks to its interesting environment and central dilemma, but when it's all said and done, it could have starred just about any action hero. The DVD includes some period making ofs of different lengths - strictly promotional - director's commentary, some deleted scenes and storyboards, and visual effects breakdowns.
Netflix: The Art of the Steal is fun con man movie that lies to you as much as to any of the characters when it needs to, so it's up to you to figure out who the POV character actually is. But don't do that on your first run-through, it'll ruin the fun. Taking place almost entirely on the Canadian side (or America Lite, as they call it), the film assembles a great cast of actors from different countries - among them Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel and Terrence Stamp - in a crazy art theft story filled with fun directorial touches, quirky characters, witty dialogue, far-reaching plans, cruel double-dealing, and foils you want to see taken down a peg. The Interpol "baddie" is especially funny, a real poser, and I'd gladly revisit this homegrown flick again just to try and follow its twists and turns now that I know the ultimate destination. Great fun.
Eminem's semi-autobiographical 8 Mile adequately tells the story of a white rapper raised in a Detroit ghetto, where everyone is apparently a skilled rhyming demon. It's essentially the story told by the song "Lose Yourself", and I like how the audience isn't allowed more than the bed track or a few lyrics before the very end, as "Jimmy Rabbit" (in lieu of "Slim Shady") struggles to find his voice, compose his lyrics, and create a viable stage persona. While this could be seen as a big ol' commercial for Eminem records, the unapologetically white trash artist who started with nothing, there sheer lack of Eminem tunes means it's not quite as self-serving as, say, a Vanilla Ice movie. 8 Mile is instead a well-handled biopic-in-his-own-lifetime that plays like a boxing story and has, at its heart, the message that if you want to make it, you've got to work at it. And that's rather more ambitious than I thought it would get.
In Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister, Mark Duplass' best friend Emily Blunt sends him to a cabin in the woods to clear his head a year after the death of his brother (and her boyfriend), which he's really having a hard time getting over. When he arrives, her sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already there recovering from a break-up with her girlfriend. Then Blunt arrives, and he's far from being alone on this trip. Not giving anything away, but what unfolds is a sometimes touching tragi-comic tale with an improvisational style, about healing from emotional wounds not through solitude, but through community and family. As you might expect from a Duplass-driven film, there's plenty of happy-sad awkwardness, but each of the characters is interesting and has chemistry with the others. It leaves you with a smile and a tear.
Books: The Emoji Shakespeare collection has finally taken the plunge and gone outside of the Bard's scribblings with Scrooge #worstgiftever, originally written by @CharlesDickens, and adapted by Brett Wright. The perfect emoji book for the holiday season. Like the others, it was amusing, though I'm pretty sure you need to know the original source material to truly enjoy these (I wasn't too sure about the preview for @JaneAusten's Darcy Swipes Left, at the back, for example), but who doesn't know A Christmas Carol? On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is texted by three (well, four) ghosts and he spends the night clicking on pics that show him his past, present and future, you know the one. You will believe a man can get Likes when he's never gotten them before!