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DVD Review: ‘Gate of Hell’ Gets Extra-Free Criterion Release

Gate of Hell DVD

CHICAGO – Beneath every honorable warrior is a cold-hearted opportunist hell-bent on dominating his victimized prey at all costs. That’s a theory indelibly illustrated by Teinosuke Kinugasa’s revered 1953 classic, “Gate of Hell,” a melodrama populated by such frustrating characters that it nearly loses the viewer’s interest before its admittedly splendid finale, when the tale takes on grand dimensions of Greek tragedy.

DVD Review: Second Season of FOX Comedy ‘Mad TV’

Mad TV S2

CHICAGO – Will “Mad TV” get a cultural comeback? Once positioned as the first show that could really compete with “Saturday Night Live,” it never quite fulfilled its potential but I think it’s the kind of thing that audiences could find and respect in the future. It’s too bad that none of the “Mad” players became huge stars — movie fame helped propel the respect for those early days of “SNL” — but there were some undeniably talented players here and the show holds up better than you might expect. There’s a part of me that wishes it was still on, especially during this truly horrendous season of “SNL.” Lorne Michaels could use some competition.

DVD Review: ‘Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance’

20 Film Collection: Romance

CHICAGO – With Mother’s Day around the corner, Warner Bros. has released another one of their stellar DVD box sets built around their 100th anniversary — “Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance.” It may not be the best gift set for everyone but it does offer a strong package for those who like a little emotional manipulation with their popcorn. There are some undeniable classics in this set (along with some questionable choices) but it’s the sheer “something for everyone” quality of the release that makes it memorable.

DVD Review: Kathryn Bigelow’s Incredible ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Deserves More

Zero Dark Thirty

CHICAGO – At one point in awards season, right after it won five Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, including Best Picture, Actress, Screenplay, and Director, it really looked like Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” was going to be the most award-winning film of 2012. When all was said and done, it only won a single Oscar for Sound Editing and Bigelow wasn’t even nominated.

DVD Review: Great Performances Anchor Smart Drama of ‘Smashed’

Smashed

CHICAGO – I’m upset I didn’t see “Smashed” in time to produce my year-end lists for 2012 (Sony Pictures Classics inexplicably never sent a screener and I missed it in theaters). Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s stellar lead performance and Aaron Paul’s pitch-perfect support would have been included in both of my performance pieces. They’re so good here, balancing the truth of youthful addiction in ways that we rarely see in film.

DVD Review: ‘In Their Skin’ Rips Off Michael Haneke, Tacks on Sentimental Finale

In Their Skin DVD

CHICAGO – I may never know how “In Their Skin” came into being, but I have a pretty good theory. Screenwriter/star Josh Close was so appalled by the unapologetic bleakness of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” that he took it upon himself to make the exact same movie, more or less, but with a much happier ending. It’s a noble effort but every bit as pointless as Rod Lurie’s proudly non-misogynistic remake of “Straw Dogs.”

DVD Review: Tedium Overtakes Journey of ‘The Loneliest Planet’

The Loneliest Planet

CHICAGO – “The Loneliest Planet,” recently released on DVD, will try even the most patient and adoring of art movie lovers as its deliberate, plodding pace pushes out all possibilities of character involvement. To be blunt, by the time I felt like I was asked to care, it was too late. There’s some stunning cinematography and Gael Garcia Bernal is simply one of the most interesting actors of his generation but this effort is dull to the nth degree.

DVD Review: ‘How to Survive a Plague’ Makes Old Fight Feel Current

How to Survive a Plague

CHICAGO – Few films have more notably put viewers in the middle of a health crisis than David France’s Oscar-nominated “How to Survive a Plague,” recently released on DVD. With a ton of archival footage of the battle to increase the speed and severity of the drug trials that would help battle AIDS, France’s film captures something important about the war against one of the deadliest diseases of the last century. How do you survive? You fight.

DVD Review: John Cusack Fans Should Steer Clear of ‘The Factory’

The Factory DVD

CHICAGO – John Cusack is in a very bad mood. Not even a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner can melt his icily grim disposition, as he speeds through traffic, shouts expletives at random extras and takes part in several terse phone conversations (hopefully with his agent). Of course, if I was an A-grade actor trapped in Z-grade dreck, I’d be peeved too.

DVD Review: Strong Acting Bolsters Meandering ‘28 Hotel Rooms’

28 Hotel Rooms DVD

CHICAGO – It’s taken quite a few movies for me to warm up to Chris Messina. Perhaps it wasn’t his fault that he kept getting typecast as oafish, self-absorbed jerks. In my review of Dana Adam Shapiro’s flawed Oscilloscope release, “Monogamy,” I confessed that every time Messina’s face showed up onscreen, I was “suddenly filled with the intense desire to punch it.”

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TV, DVD, BLU-RAY & THEATER REVIEWS

  • Speech & Debate (stage play)

    CHICAGO – “Speech & Debate,” the latest production from the mighty Brown Paper Box Company, continues their tradition of thinking outside that “box” in presenting storefront theater that makes a statement and a difference. “Speech” goes inside America by showcasing the outsiders… those who create art because they can’t get it right in real life. This non-equity Chicago stage play premiere is finely tuned and wonderfully acted, and runs through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.

  • We're Gonna Be Okay

    CHICAGO – The 1960s were a time of historical social transition. The movements – civil rights, feminist, gay rights – all had roots in that tumultuous decade. The Chicago premiere of Basil Kreimendahl’s “We’re Gonna Be Okay” echoes all of those movements in its characters, and collides them against the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The show has a Thursday-Sunday run at the American Theater Company through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.

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