“2016 Oscar Nominated Films — Live Action”: Keeping things short and not sweet


“2016 Oscar Nominated Films — Live Action” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:30, three stars out of four. I’ll be doing a post-show chat after the 7:15 p.m. Tuesday show.

The five nominees contending for an Oscar for Best Live-Action Short are usually a dour lot. Searing but hopeful drama about a child caught in a war zone? Check. Quietly comic tale featuring hesitant cooperation between two sides in a protracted, seemingly impossible conflict? Miserablist European drama about a family in crisis? Check.

Which is not to say the films are bad. Some of this year’s offerings, which opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas, are quite good. But when so many inventive short films are being made and distributed, it’s a little tiring to see the same familiar storylines, the same conventional narratives, repeating themselves.

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“Inside Llewyn Davis: The Criterion Collection” is a double-dip worth diving into


If the original DVD release of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” is like the bare-bones “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits” on CD, the new Criterion edition is like a copy of the “Biograph” boxed set. On vinyl.

The 2014 DVD release of “Davis” was just fine, but if, like me, you think the Coen Brothers’ wry and gently sad tale of an acerbic folk singer trying to make his way in 1961 Greenwich Village is one of their best films (my original review is here), the Criterion Collection edition is a cornucopia of wonders.

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Gone in an Instant: “The Terminator” and four other great movies leaving Netflix at the end of January


Netflix giveth, and Netflix taketh away. The start of a new month means a whole new batch of movies and TV shows arriving on the streaming site — and it means a whole bunch are leaving as well. Each month, I try to give you a heads-up on a few great movies you need to stream before they disappear.

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“Mojave”: Oscar Isaac’s winning streak deserts him


“Mojave” opens Friday at AMC Johnson Creek. R, 1:37, two stars out of four.

You know how, sometimes, an actor will be on some kind of golden streak, with one great performance and one great film after another, until you think that there’s no physical way they will ever make a bad movie ever again?

Oh, hi, Oscar Isaac in “Mojave.”

Isaac has had an incredible run lately, from “Inside Llewyn Davis” to “Ex Machina” to, of course, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But that run comes to a screeching halt with “Mojave,” a limp and pretentious thriller that plays like the “Entourage” guys tried to make a Hitchcock movie: The Brah Who Knew Too Much.

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When it comes to bonus features on the “Uncle John” DVD, Mother knows best


It’s a standard bonus feature on a DVD. The director or the screenwriter gets interviewed about the making of the film. Sometimes it’s in the context of a polished featurette, other times it just seems like raw Q&A footage from the set. The interviewer is usually unseen and often unheard.

But the makers of “Uncle John” (my review is here) tried something a little different for the DVD release of their rural thriller, out this month from Kino Lorber Films. They turned interviewing duties over to their moms.

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Instant Gratification: “The Overnight” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix and Hulu


Pick of the week: “The Overnight” (Netflix)My full review is here. New couple on the block (Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott) have a dinner party with some cool new friends (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche) that turns into something much, much more in Patrick Brice’s raunchy and brisk comedy that’s sweeter and wiser than you’d expect from a movie with this many prosthetic penises.

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“Lamb”: Beautiful and unsettling indie drama is a wolf in sheep’s clothing


“Lamb” opens Friday at the AMC Desert Star in Baraboo. Not rated, 1:37, three stars out of four.

A few years back, I went up to Door County to write a story on the filming of a movie there, “Feed the Fish.” Although Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub was the big name on the film, the stars were two affable actors I had never heard of before, Katie Aselton and Ross Partridge. They seemed like nice, affable people, suited to a fun lightweight romantic comedy.

But Aselton went on to write and direct the dark thriller “Black Rock,” while Partridge has now written, directed and stars in the beautiful and unsettling new drama “Lamb.” Don’t judge a book by its affable cover, I guess.

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No movies? No problem for the Missed Madison Film Festival


For a city its size, Madison does pretty well when it comes to getting movies on the big screen. Between Sundance Cinemas, the Wisconsin Film Festival, WUD Film, the UW-Cinematheque, the MMOCA Spotlight Cinema series, Micro-Wave Cinema and more, we get to see films theatrically that the big boys in Milwaukee and Minneapolis have to wait to see on DVD or Netflix.

But with hundreds of movies being released every year, many of them getting the barest theatrical runs in New York and L.A. before heading straight to video-on-demand, we can’t get everything. That’s where the Missed Madison Film Festival comes in.

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Instant Gratification: “Goodnight Mommy” and four other good movies to watch on Amazon Prime and Netflix


Pick of the week: “Goodnight Mommy (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Creepy twin boys. A mysteriously bandaged mother. A remote country house. These are the elements for a terrifically creepy Austrian horror film, which deliberately plays against genre conventions by working without creepy music, in broad daylight. Along with the descent into a nasty third act, the film never loses sight of its emotional underpinnings, its exploration into how family bonds can warp under stress.

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Sundance Screening Room Calendar returns in 2016 with “Mustang,” “Viva” and “A Perfect Day”


The purchase of the Sundance Cinemas chain by Carmike Theaters in October doesn’t seem to have had much of a visible effect on the Madison theater. Which is a good thing for fans who have been flocking to the Hilldale Mall theater during this very busy winter movie season.

And now comes word that another favorite Sundance tradition will survive the change-over — the Sundance Screening Room calendar returns on January 29 with a new slate of foreign, documentary and independent films. The calendar locks in some terrific films on the schedule through mid-March, and I’m planning to return to do some post-show chats after some of the films. Stay tuned.

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