By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD -- A taut thriller and an easy way to learn tidbits of history are the DVDs in this week's review columns.
The Coen brothers are among my favorite filmmakers. Although they don't always hit home runs, even their failures are interesting. They have proven to have a singular creative vision and that's why I was initially suspicious of the new Australian film "The Square."
You see, the film was being marketed as a Coen-esque film from down under. This kind of hype puts me off, but in this case, the description was accurate. What makes the comparison to the Coens even more appropriate is that two brothers, Joel and Nash Edgerton, are the creative team behind this film.
"The Square" is the type of adult thriller that leads the viewer down a route with an apparent destination I say "apparent" because "The Square" is full of surprises.
David Roberts plays Ray, a builder in a dead marriage who is having an affair with Carla, a woman half his age, played by Claire Van Der Boom. Carla is married to a full-time mechanic, part-time thug.
Ray and Carla dream of leaving their spouses, but must get a bunch of cash to do so. Ray is arranging for kickbacks at his construction job, while Carla has discovered a bag of cash her husband has hidden. The couple decides to steal the cash and cover up the theft with a fire.
I'll stop there and will only say the fire starts a chain of events that complicates the couple's road to happiness.
Although rated R, the moments of violence are few and are used in a way to truly jolt the audience.
The performances are understated and have the ring of reality, which lends weight to the turn of events. Nash Edgerton has a very visual style and the photography and the editing of the film are both impressive.
The DVD has the usual making-of feature and Edgerton's short film "The Spider."
Pawn Stars: Season Two
"Pawn Stars" is simply one of my favorite television shows and this four-disc set features its second season.
If you've not caught it as yet, the premise is to take "Antiques Roadshow" and put in one location: a pawnshop in Las Vegas. Through the doors comes a dizzying collection of artifacts people wish to sell.
Presiding over this parade of treasure and junk are three generations of the Harrison family: "the Old Man," Rick, and his son, "Big Hoss." When they are not trying to figure out whether or not to buy something offered to them, they are bickering among themselves.
Adding to the family drama is Big Hoss' friend "Chumlee," who comes across most times as a complete moron .
A great example of the family drama is when Big Hoss makes the decision to spend $38,000 on a hot air balloon rig, believing they have an opportunity to make some big money. His father didn't agree.
For me, the family relationships come second to the items themselves, such as a key that doubles as a pistol, a collection of Pez dispensers and a rare motorcycle from Belgium.
Mostly though, the show is about the items themselves. The Harrison family has a network of experts who weigh on the authenticity and value of the items.
Information about each item is presented in such a way that one does come away learning little chunks of history.
The lessons one can readily learn from the show are the Harrisons routinely buy things at half their appraised value -- they have to make a profit -- and many people buy items they believe are valuable, but are actually fake.
I love watching the show and will make a point of visiting their shop the next time my wife and I go to Las Vegas.
The only extra on the DVD is additional footage of transactions not seen on the episodes.
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