Stand By Me

Adventure-drama; rated R for language, violence, sexuality and some thematic material; Blu-ray only

The Gist: Four Oregon kids (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell) venture into the woods to to investigate the rumor of a dead body. Each boy is emotionally damaged in his own way, but their adventure bonds them and points the way forward.

The Lowdown: Among the few successful cinematic Stephen King film adaptations, Director Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me” has long held its position in the pantheon of great coming-of-age movies.

This 25th anniversary edition repackages the original film with some nice extras, and it’s a good chance to get reacquainted with its eerie, funny and heartfelt rhythms.

Reiner does something special here, getting strong performances out of his young actors, and managing to retain the original story’s dark alchemy of childhood nostalgia and macabre imagination. Grown-ups might assume that kids don’t think about death, but they do – they just think about it in a different, maybe even scarier way.

Especially young Gordie (Wheaton), whose beloved older brother (John Cusack) was recently killed in an accident. Watching this 25 years later, the tragedy of River Phoenix’s death adds another layer of resonance.

“Stand By Me” was rated R in 1986. The rating comes partly from the dark material, but mostly for excessive language, I would guess. But the language is excessive because that’s how young teens and tweens talk when amongst themselves. I wouldn’t worry about it – this is a good movie for mature kids, and there’s nothing here they haven’t heard before.

The Extras: Director’s audio commentary track; a new retrospective featurette with King and Reiner; picture-in-picture commentary with King, Reiner, Wheaton and Feldman.

The Bottom Line: A surprisingly moving trip down the darker alleys off memory lane.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: “Stand By Me” is among three film adaptations made from King’s novella collection “Different Seasons,” along with “Apt Pupil” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Pick of the Week

Inside Job

Documentary; rated PG-13 for some drug and sex-related material; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: A brilliantly assembled, high-energy crash course in the causes and effects of the recent global financial crisis.

The Lowdown: Enraging and fascinating, “Inside Job” won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and is the latest in an unprecedented string of must-see docs over the last couple of years.

Directed by renaissance man Charles Ferguson – author, scholar, tech mogul and filmmaker – “Inside Job” is a smartly executed frontal assault on an insanely complex topic. Deploying all the tricks of the documentary film trade, Ferguson drills into the root causes of the Great Recession with admirable clarity.

His conclusion? The global financial crisis is a direct result of 30 years of gradual deregulation of the financial services industry, which spawned aggressive corruption on Wall Street and pretty much every other adjacent institution. Simply put, the crisis was precipitated by institutional and individual acts of criminal fraud. It was entirely avoidable, too, the film insists. Unfortunately, our government watchdogs were at best negligent, and at worst complicit.

Interviews with dozens of industry insiders and public officials are interspersed with textual and graphical elements that effectively parse all the complex jargon. Narrator Matt Damon keeps it all flowing, and reportedly was actively involved in shaping the film’s narrative structure.

Like all docs, of course, “Inside Job” has a deliberate point of view and a definite agenda. The film regularly indulges in righteous indignation, but that’s an indulgence we’re all entitled to, I think. As Ferguson pointed out in his Oscars acceptance speech, “Three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong,”

The Extras: Commentary track by Ferguson and producer Audrey Marrs; a short making-of doc; some deleted scenes – Blu-ray adds another hour of outtakes

The Bottom Line: “Inside Job” won the documentary Oscar for a reason – this wasn’t the most artful doc of the year, but it was surely the most important.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Get ready for more great docs – Durham’s Full Frame documentary film festival is coming up April 14-17. Scheduling will be announced next week – check fullframefest.org for details.

Read the rest of this entry »