Monday, June 10, 2013

This week’s DVD releases

Oz the Great and Powerful ** James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, Joey King, Tony Cox, Abigail Spencer, Martin Klebba, Bruce Campbell. Directed by Sam Raimi, A small-time magician is swept away to an enchanted land and is forced into a power struggle between three witches. A miscast Franco and a lack of charm and humor doom Raimi’s prequel to the 1939 Hollywood classic. Oz the Wimpy and Weak would be more like it.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters ½* Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stomare. Directed by Tommy Wirkola. Catching up with Hansel and Gretel 15 years after their incident involving a gingerbread house, the siblings have evolved into bounty hunters who hunt witches. This a film which is so demeaningly bad, so utterly without merit, that there is a kind of purity in its awfulness. There is a Zen mastery in producing a film which nullifies the concept of pleasure.

Snitch **½ Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams, Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, Rafi Gavron, David Harbour, Benjamin Bratt, Susan Sarandon, Directed by Reic Roman Waugh. A father goes undercover for the DEA in order to free his son who was imprisoned after being set up in drug deal. This is the sort of movie that Charles Bronson would have made back in the day, and indeed a shot of Johnson standing in a sporting goods store, contemplating a wall of shotguns as he gets ready to get busy, could have come from any Death Wish. All the talking would be fine, but the dialogue is preachy, the drama too earnest and the action kind of sluggish, though it’s hard not to get a jolt when Johnson jumps behind the wheel. It’s like watching an elephant on ice: inelegant, but you admire the effort.

Wrong Jack Plotnick, Eric Judor, Alexis Dziena, Steve Little, William Fichtner, Regan Burns, Arden Myrin. Directed by Quentin Dupieux. Dolph Springer wakes up one morning to realize he has lost the love of his life, his dog, Paul. During his quest to get Paul (and his life) back, Dolph radically changes the lives of others — risking his sanity all the while. The film lets most of its random gags and view-askew premises twist in the wind like hamhandedly wacky improv comedy, punctuated with synthesizer effects. The film’s misguided flatness is perhaps its fatal flaw, not so much deadpan or existential as just monotonous.

Knife Fight * Rob Lowe, Julie Bowen, Saffron Burrows, Jamie Chung, David Harbour, Eric McCormack, Jennifer Morrison, Carrie-Ann Moss, Richard Schiff. Directed by Bill Guttentag. A political strategist juggling three clients questions whether to take the high road as the ugly side of his work begins to haunt him. The tone of the movie is mean until the movie flips a switch and turns pious and mawkish as the lead character tries to make amends for past sins. Whether playing it sleazy or noble, Lowe brings little emotional weight to his role.

Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary **½ Mumia Abu-Jamal, Cornel West, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Rubin Carter, Giancarlo Esposito, Ruby Dee, Dick Gregory, Peter Coyote, Tariq Ali, Amy Goodman, Pam Africa. Directed by Stephen Vittoria. Chronicles the life and revolutionary times of death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The documentary is unapologetically one-sided, and spends more time canonizing Abu-Jamal than exploring the murder and trial themselves. Still it raises issues of racism in America (flashback to George Wallace) that are worthy of discussion.

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