Monday, May 20, 2013

This week’s DVD releases

The Last Stand **½ Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Eduardo Noriega,. Directed by Ji-woon Kim. Schwarzenegger plays a border town sheriff who's taken up his post after tragic events brought an end to his tenure with the LAPD. But his quiet life is interrupted when a drug boss escapes FBI custody and flees straight toward his town. The idea of Schwarzenegger as a small town sheriff is ludicrous, but then that's the whole point of his new movie: It's dumb fun, emphasis on the dumb. Kim doesn't sweat interweaving his story threads in any tightly controlled way. Just when the need-for-speed stuff really starts to gain traction, he'll shift for a surprisingly lengthy stretch to comic relief with the deputies and local wacko Knoxville.

Side Effects ****½ Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. A woman turns to prescription medication as a way of handling her anxiety concerning her husband's upcoming release from prison. This clever bag of tricks is made with so much cinematic skill it makes implausibility irrelevant. What happens on screen is unapologetically far-fetched, but it unfolds with enough panache to make turning away out of the question. While the plot may be predictable (and more than a little preposterous) in retrospect, Soderbergh handles it brilliantly, serving notice once again that he is a crackerjack genre technician. Ultimately, think of the movie as a puzzle box in which all the pieces fit together wonderfully well. Once you step back and take a look at how it’s all put together, you have to marvel at how cleverly constructed the whole thing is.

Parker **½ Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Nolte, Clifton Collins Jr. Directed by Taylor Hackford. Parker is a thief who lives by a personal code of ethics: Don't steal from people who can't afford it and don't hurt people who don't deserve it. But when his crew double crosses him and leaves him for dead, Parker teams up with an unlikely partner to take everyone down and even the score. The tight-lipped, give-no-quarter Statham is impeccable as the pitiless yet honorable Parker (though fans of the books will no doubt quibble, especially over the British accent). On the other hand, Lopez, that pleasant sex pot, hasn't a hope of producing the tragic desperation of her down-on-her-luck character. This is not a great movie, but it’s great fun. It is part of a welcome trend, or counter-trend, in action filmmaking, an effort to strip away the apocalyptic bloat and digital fakery that have overtaken the genre and return to its pulpy, nasty, mechanical roots. The action scenes are crisply directed, brutal, and invigorating.

Beautiful Creatures *** Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson. Directed by Richard LaGravenese. A supernatural drama that focuses on the romance between teenager Ethan and Lena, the enigmatic new girl in his Southern town. This film could have gone horribly wrong, but the characters and chemistry are strong, and as such Beautiful Creatures should be lauded for elegantly delivering a tale that at least feels fresh and vibrant. There’s something so delicious when Brits such as Thompson and Irons sink their fangs — sorry — into Deep South dialect. Thompson devours scenery, supporting players and dialogue with every "Bless your heart, shooo-gah" in the script, and Irons curls his non-existent mustache with every syrupy zinger.

Stand Up Guys **½ Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Marguiles. Directed by Fisher Stevens. A pair of aging con men try to get the old gang back together for one last hurrah before one of the guys takes his last assignment — to kill his comrade. While the action is brisk, the film never feels in a hurry. Walken and Pacino amble through their paces. Arkin ups the adrenaline any time he's around, and he is not around quite enough. Most of the modest pleasures are in the ways the men expertly play off one another and invest their shallow characters with more depth than any filmmaker could reasonably expect.

Struck By Lightning **½ Chris Colfer, Allison Janey, Dermot Mulroney, Christina Hendricks, Rebel Wilson, Polly Bergen. Directed by Brian Dannelly. High school senior Carson Phillips was destined for bigger things than his close-minded small town could ever offer. He was on a path to greatness, but destiny had a different plan when he was suddenly killed by a bolt of lightning in his school parking lot. This may appeal to fans of Colfer’s work on Glee, but as a film it’s utterly lacking in scope, depth or meaning beyond an immediate chuckle or two. Except for Janney's monstrous mother and an Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother (Bergen), the film gives its characters no dimension.

Neighboring Sounds ****½ Directed by Kleber Mendoca Filho. A history of violence and oppression threatens to engulf the residents of an affluent seaside community. With his sound designer, Pablo Lamar, Filho has created the aural landscape of a horror movie. And, for much of its running time, a thriller without a plot. Filho’s mastery of pacing, theme and stylistic eccentricity throughout is so assured as to be breathtaking.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters ****½ Directed by Ben Shapiro. This offbeat portrait of portrait artist Crewdson captures his oddly elaborate creative process while sharing details of his fascinating past. It is a rare thing to witness the creative process. But in this excellent documentary, Shapiro gives us fly-on-the-wall access over a 10-year period to an acclaimed artist as he envisions, designs and executes his surreal commentary on small-town American life in the form of an epic photo installation, Beneath the Roses. Crewdson and others (including Russell Banks and Laurie Simmons) speak eloquently about his project, but it's the on-set agonies — to achieve the fleeting expression here, dark kiss of light there, and the peculiar relief they bring our maestro — that fascinate.

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