The triumphant return of HomeMovies to the website: Branded, Detropia, I Am Bruce Lee, The Other Dream Team, The Possession, and Taken 2

January 15, 2013

Some of you may have noticed the absence of the HomeMovies column from this space for the past few weeks. There were a couple of reasons for the hiatus.

First of all, Karen Martin — a close friend of your monkey — has taken over writing the DVD column that runs in the newspaper. So the coverage didn’t stop, it just shifted. (And remember, this column always ran in the newspaper when there was room. I anticipate there will come a time when Karen’s column will get squeezed out of the newspaper and wind up on this here blog, but that day hasn’t arrived yet.)

Secondly, there simply aren’t many DVDs released during the holidays. The reasons behind this elude me, other than I guess you don’t want to release your home video product mere days before or just after Christmas. Anyway, there aren’t many releases.

Thirdly, though it has always been my intention to augment our home video coverage with this blog, I’ve been a little busy lately. With my day job.

And fourthly, I’ve been experiencing some hardware problems, which I hope have now been alleviated by the purchase of a new toy.

But now we’re back, with a new slate of capsule DVD reviews. I will try to keep up from here on out.

Branded (R, 106 minutes) — While there is something very promising in this deranged Russian-American co-production’s not terribly original premise (which is that advertising is a malignant and all-pervasive force, and that we are all zombies for its love), indifferent acting from paycheck collectors Leelee Sobieski, Ed Stoppard and Max von Sydow and animated sequences that look like something out of the original Ghostbusters make this one for only the archest of camp cultists. Put it another way — if Roky Erickson ever wrote a rock opera, it might look like this (though it would sound a whole lot better.) Grade: 68

Detropia (Not Rated) — Sad and tough, Detropia is an impressionistic val;entines to the surviors of the benighted city of Detroit — now America’s fastest shrinking city, with more than 100,000 empty homes. Writing about the film in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Gordon Young — author of the forthcoming book Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City and the curator of the Flint Expatriates blogsite ( — wrote:

“The filmmakers capture the haunting beauty of Detroit as it transitions from an industrial powerhouse to a demimonde where the rural and the urban intermingle. A pheasant crosses a snowy city street at night, illuminated by flickering streetlights. A rusting jungle gym is surrounded by a sea of grass gently swaying in a summer breeze. You can feel the silence that engulfs the once-bustling corners of the city. There’s an otherworldly quality to the film.

“ But while Detropia details the problems and captures the elusive look, feel and spirit of the city, it is less successful when exploring possible solutions. It touches only lightly on Mayor Dave Bing’s controversial plan to ‘downsize’ the sprawling, 139-square-mile city by demolishing abandoned houses and reconfiguring neighborhoods to create more density. It’s a logical approach for a cash-strapped city, but it has triggered profound emotional resistance from residents, who fear being forced out of their homes. It conjures up memories of failed urban renewal projects that destroyed black neighborhoods across the country, and it seems contrary to America’s can-do spirit …. Perhaps the difficult solutions are best left for another documentary. Detropia does succeed in establishing that the Motor City, for all its strangeness, may not be fundamentally different from other American cities in an age of decline. Detroit could be coming to a city near you” Grade: 88

I am Bruce Lee, (Not rated. 94 minutes) — July mark 40 years since Bruce Lee’s sudden death at 32, and this made-for-TV doc makes the case that, like Joe Hill, he never died at all. Chocked full of memories and testimonials, it works as a stylish celebration of a man who had an almost Elvisian impact on global culture. It obviously wasn’t hard to find people willing to talk about Lee’s influence — everyone from Lee’s widow and surviving family members to Mickey Rourke and Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill discuss Lee’s influence them. But the best moments belong to the charismatic Lee himself, who shows up in a 1965 Hollywood screen test and a 1971 appearance on The Pierre Berton Show. Grade: 89

The Other Dream Team, (Not rated, 91 minutes) — A deeply interesting, if conventionally structured and unflashy, documentary that’s about more than the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team that won an Olympic bronze medal. It’s really about the reassertion of national identity after generations of foreign oppression and the role of sport in nation building. Grade: 88

The Possession (PG-13 ) — Better than average horror film that relies less on gore than atmosphere. Ole Bornedal directs, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert produce. Grade: 86

Taken 2 (PG-13, 2012, Fox) — Your monkey has stood next to Liam Neeson and can report he’s only a physically imposing guy by the standards of Hollywood. Still, he’s goy an unmistakable, visceral onscreen prescence and even pushing 60 he registers as a credible threat. Taken 2 is relaly just profit-taking, more a do-over of Taken>/em> than an actual sequel, but its at least an honest harlot who delivers exactly what its customers’ want. Retired secret agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are vacationing in Istanbul — and even though Mills killed a buch of bad guys in Taken, he didn’t kille them all. Oops. Silly, self-aware and formulaic certainly, but not without a certain carny charm. Grade: 82

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