Monday, May 13, 2013

This week's DVD releases

Cloud Atlas **½ Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant. Directed by Andy Wachowski. Six seemingly disparate stories take viewers from a South Pacific Island in the 19th century to 1970s America to a dystopian future, exploring the complicated links that humans share through the generations. This would-be epic is beautifully photographed, elegantly crafted and adventurously cast. Unfortunately, though, it plays like a gargantuan trailer for a movie still to be made. It’s ambitious in nature, epic in scope and, ultimately, a big, overstuffed mess.

Texas Chainsaw 3D **½ Directed by John Luessenhop. The Leatherface saga continues where the 1974 horror classic left off. When a young woman travels to Texas to collect her inheritance, she discovers that the brutal chainsaw-yielding madman is part of the bequest. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre left audiences feeling hollowed out, dispirited and dissolute. Texas Chainsaw 3D is simply a bummer for being a big nothing. Its climax is a bit more interesting and unpredictable than the usual horror-movie third act. But it feels like it's bred more out of desperation than anything organic; you can sense the gears turning in the screenwriters' heads as they try to figure out a way to breathe some fresh life into this franchise.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III ** Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartsman, Bill Murray, Kathryn Winnick. Directed by Roman Coppola. Successful graphic designer Charles Swan seems to have it all — until his girlfriend suddenly walks out and leaves him an absolute wreck. Turning to his friends for guidance, a soul-searching Charles sets out to discover where he went wrong. All this eye candy is ultimately only about as engaging as watching kids at play, which is what Sheen and Schwartzman seem to be doing. I can’t argue that this isn’t an accurate glimpse inside some man’s mind — perhaps Austin Powers? With neither the moral bite of satire nor a voluptuary surrender that really basks in shallowness, this is a vague, unsatisfying work.

Back to 1942 ** Directed by Xiaogang Fenh. At the height of World War II, millions of rural Chinese refugees embark on a desperate journey to escape a widespread provincial famine. Fraught with danger, their trek soon begins to erode the invisible lines separating cultures and classes. In painting a large-scale tableaux of the Henan disaster, Xiaogang has inevitably been forced to sacrifice the specificity and focus on individual characterizations that are generally so important for allowing the viewer a point of entry into such an important piece of history. The problem is it catalogs agony without making you feel it.

If I Were You ½* Marcia Gay Harden, Leonor Watling, Aidan Quinn. Directed by Joan Car-Wiggin. In a bungled plot to pay back her husband's infidelity, a jilted wife finds herself forced to star as King Lear in a spectacularly terrible production, with her husband's younger lover playing the role of the king's fool. A comedy that is so scatterbrained and long-winded that much of it feels invented on the spot. (It’s also a half-hour too long.) This is Nancy Meyers territory, but leaden with passé observations about lovelorn women...and hardly ebullient as either oddball-pair comedy or housewife-revenge fantasy.

Beware of Mr. Baker *** Directed by Jay Bulger. Legendary and indestructible rock drummer Ginger Baker is the focus of this documentary, which recaps his turbulent history and many influences. Interviews include a slew of stars who've played with Baker, including Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana. Bulger's seemingly erratic documentary formally channels Baker's almost defiant refusal to lead a life that adheres to a linear narrative. This is warts and all, with the emphasis on the warts.

Leonie Emily Mortimer, Christina Hendricks, Jan Milligan, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kelly Vitz, Mieko Harada, Nichole Hiltz, Shido Nakamura, Takashi Kashiwabara. Directed by Hisako Matsui. This biopic celebrates the life of Leonie Gilmour, an accomplished editor and educator and the mother of sculptor Isamu Noguchi. After her affair with a renowned Japanese poet leads to pregnancy, Leonie flees New York to raise her son alone. Gilmour was almost certainly unusual and unusually self-reliant. Too bad that the film that bears her name ultimately reduces her to the mother of her child.

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