Here's a smattering of things I've seen recently.  Some I'm lukewarm about, but overall I mostly liked these selections; just didn't have enough time for full-on write-ups.  Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, a new installation of my regular column, Blurbs:

This offshoot of the very funny FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL is the first big comedy of the year that I've wholeheartedly enjoyed, not that I didn't also find COP OUT and DATE NIGHT to be worthwhile diversions in an otherwise unimaginative summer schedule as well.  Maybe it's my affinity for Aldous Snow, the burnt-out, drug-crazed rock star played by Russell Brand, or maybe it's the face that I have yet to tire of the almighty "Apatow machine" branding.  Either way, I laughed a lot, and if the film has a small weakness, it's that its heart just didn't seem as big as the best of the crew's productions.  I really loved an extended stopover in Vegas that goes into really unexpected territory, as well as serves for the end-film gag of Infant Sorrow's new song: "Furry Walls".  Also of hilarious note is the fact that Snow's band, Infant Sorrow, have also released a real-world album (which also serves as the film's soundtrack).  Pick that up if you're at all interested - there are some real gems on that release.

Nowhere near as awful as I'd heard.  Watched this one lazy afternoon on HBO, and really kind of admired its oddball qualities.  Will Ferrell is reliably funny, and I love Danny McBride's constant "variations on an ignorant and clueless hick" routine enough to give him a pass, though I do wish he'd start branching out a bit.  It does toy around with (and in a few instances mock) the beloved TV show, but who cares?  I had zero expectations, and I was amused for a couple of hours.  That's good enough for me.  After all, I could've been watching yet another "___ Movie" movie.

I missed out on this Gary Oldman / Paddy Considine thriller when it came out, but man am I glad I finally got around to seeing it.  Part STRAW DOGS, part X-FILES episode "Home", and just a little bit of DELIVERANCE, THE BACKWOODS is pretty powerful revenge-thriller stuff.  You know, I've followed Considine ever since his performance in Michael Winterbottom's 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, and I really wish he worked more, and gained at least the reputation that Oldman has.  He thrives in these dark dramas, so maybe someone like Fincher could pick him up stateside for some work?  In any case, the usual Oldman rule applies here, too:  he's all badass, and then he dies.  Anyone familiar enough with his work knows this rule, so that's not really a surprise or a spoiler.  Anyway, this is riveting stuff, highly recommended.

Nicholas Ray's underseen masterpiece is a revelation.  A broad expose on the "Father Knows Best" era of the American nuclear family, the film hinges on an unbelievably riveting James Mason as Ed Avery, a school teacher with a possibly fatal affliction who becomes addicted to an experimental drug called cortisone.  The drug causes wild mood swings, and eventually begins changing his personality completely, transforming him from a loving father figure into a monstrous despot who starts to loathe his wife and see that there is no way his son will turn out better than he is now, so it would make better sense just to kill him.  Walter Matthau turns in some impressive side-character work as Ed's coworker who tries to help his family get their patriarch back on the right track.  It features breathtaking CinemaScope cinematography by Joe McDonald (PANIC IN THE STREETS, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET) that really utilizes his experience in Films Noir as well as the expansiveness of the CinemaScope format (the screenshot above is in proper aspect ratio).  If you've never heard of this film, seek it out.  It was recently issued on DVD and BluRay by Criterion, and it features some typically insightful special features as well as a gorgeous picture and sound transfer.  This is one to own - trust me.

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