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The Shelf: “Jack Reacher,” “Mama,” “Superman: Unbound”


This week, a loner solves mysteries and elbows people in the face, a creepy ghost mother lays claim on some kids, and a guy in a cape fights a robot. What a week!

Jack Reacher

Based on the wildly popular series of hard boiled crime books by Lee Child, Jack Reacher is a very intelligent detective story masquerading as an action movie. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the film concerns a former military policeman who has gone entirely off the grid (no possessions save a passport and travel toothbrush) who suddenly arrives back on the grid when a disgraced army sniper is accused of sniping five innocent people in Pittsburgh. Reacher does not like this guy and is sure he’s guilty, until the evidence that the man was set up becomes all too overwhelming and a conspiracy is uncovered.

The film stars Tom Cruise, who does a very good job of portraying the main character, despite his not being nearly the right size as Reacher in the books. He’s got the right intensity and swagger, though. Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, and David Oyelowo give very good performances as well, but the real stand out is German filmmaker and renowned insane person Werner Herzog as the film’s milky-eyed villain. The Blu-ray features an informative commentary by McQuarrie and Cruise, a making-of documentary, a look at the book series and the character of Jack Reacher.

Parts of the film get a little too jingoistic for me, but overall it’s a very good, surprisingly complex movie. Now, I mentioned that it was masquerading as an action movie. There aren’t that many action sequences, but the ones that exist are fantastic. Reacher has a very specific fighting style, and there’s a very awesome car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh. To learn more about the stunts of the film, check out my report and interview with some of the coordinators.


Part of what makes Guillermo del Toro great is that he’s willing to give new filmmakers a chance. He saw a 3-minute short film entitled Mama and gave its makers a chance to expand it into a feature film. Director Andy Muschetti’s full-length Mama is the creepy story of two girls raised in the woods by an overprotective and vengeful spectre who happens to be ridiculously skinny and have hair that flows in weird directions. It stars Jessica Chastain as the girlfriend of the uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) of the girls who is forced to become a mother figure after they are found. The ghost mother is not pleased by this and begins haunting the fledgling family in an attempt to regain her children.

There’s a whole lot of very creepy imagery and some genuine scares. Chastain, as always, is pretty fantastic as she goes from the put-upon girlfriend to a real parental figure. The backstory of the ghost is shown in an innovative and effective way and doesn’t spend too long on it. At 1 hour and 40 minutes, though, there is a bit of padding, especially concerning characters who are ultimately unimportant. If it had been 85-90 minutes, it would have been perfect. Still, it’s an amazing first film from a guy whose career I’ll definitely want to follow. Extras on the disc include a commentary, some behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the original short introduced by del Toro.

Superman: Unbound

Warner Bros. and DC Animation have a reputation of making comic book feature films of the highest quality in terms of voice acting and visual style. Even after making so many, they can still turn out an exceptionally awesome piece of work like Superman: Unbound. Based on Geoff John’s Action Comics arc from 2008, Unbound tells the story of Superman’s battle with Brainiac who, we learn, had shrunken Krypton’s capitol city of Kandor before the planet exploded and is keeping it in a glass jar. What a jerk, right? Helping Supes is his cousin Kara, aka Supergirl, with whom he’s also having some familial issues. Wouldn’t ya know it? Get yourself in the Superman frame of mind before The Man of Steel comes out this summer.

Our own Brian Walton has interviewed two of the principal cast members, Matt Bomer (Superman) and, today, Molly Quinn (Supergirl). And you can win a copy of Superman: Unbound on Blu-ray/DVD combo to keep for yourself: Just head to our contest page to enter, then go to our Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages for extra entries. Do it, now! Off like a speeding bullet with you!


Fringe: The Fifth and Final Season – Speaking of John Noble, the last season of Fox’s sci-fi dimension-skipping detective show comes to Blu-ray and DVD with a bevy of extras to keep you even further intrigued (and/or confused).

The Great Escape – John Sturges’ classic WWII film features a massive cast (including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasance, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn) as POWs attempting to pull off a massive escape from a German stalag. It’s great, you guys.

Upstream Color – From Shane Carruth, the writer/director/star of the trippy time travel movie Primer, comes this evocative and emotional journey of two people connected by something larger than they even know. It also includes mind control worms, vibratory hallucinations, and a pig farm. Worth checking out for another indie head-scratcher.

Film School Pick of the Week
Band of Outsiders – French New Wave godfather Jean-Luc Godard’s most accessible film is this crime drama/romantic comedy about two jewelry thieves who get caught up with a pretty girl. Incredibly influential film from the ’60s and gave Quentin Tarantino’s first production company its name. It’s out now on Criterion Blu-ray, and if you’ve never seen it, now would be a perfect time.

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