Tuesday, June 25, 2013

This week’s DVD releases

Upside Down ** Kirsten Dunst, Jim Sturgess, Timothy Spall. Directed by Juan Solanas. Adam and Eden fell in love as teens despite the fact that they live on twinned worlds with gravities that pull in opposite directions. Ten years after a forced separation, Adam sets out on a dangerous quest to reconnect with his love. A dystopic sci-fi romance about inverted planets that will have audiences wondering which way is up, but not really caring much or for very long. Solanas comes up with arresting images; it’s in telling the story that he stumbles, getting so tripped up in the allegorical details of his invented universe that his characters suffer. Its compelling conceit is immediately weighed down by leaden execution.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone **½ Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, James Gandolfini, Jay Mohr. Directed by Dn Scardino. When a street magician’s stunts begins to make their show look stale, superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton look to salvage on their act — and their friendship — by staging their own daring stunt. Overall the film never finds its footing, with its awkward shifts in tone accentuating the unease. There’s something a little off, and it’s Carell. I want to like him in comedies. It’s a big part of what’s made him a star. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone never really gives me the chance.

The Call **½ Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut. Directed by Brad Anderson. When a veteran 911 operator takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life. A pastiche of classic plot devices scrounged from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The Conversation, Blue Velvet, and dozens of other movies, the story often feels familiar, but director Anderson (The Machinist) has a such a flair for suspense that even the most jaded viewers will find themselves in a sweat.

No ****½ Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Néstor Cantillana, Luis Gnecco. Directed by Pablo Larrain. An advertising executive comes up with a campaign to defeat military dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum. Even if No is not the whole truth — and no film is — its pungent dialogue and involving characters tell a delicious and very pertinent tale. And the messages it delivers, its thoughts on the workings of democracy and the intricacies of personality, are just as valuable and entertaining — maybe even more so. A troubling, exhilarating and ingeniously realized film that’s part stirring political drama and part devilish media satire. And it’s that rare political satire that can sound the depths of irony as No does and still end on a note of ambivalent hope.

A Place at the Table *** Jeff Bridges, Mariano Chilton, Tom Colicchio, Ken Cook. Directed by Ktisti Jacobson, Lori Silverbush. A documentary that investigates incidents of hunger experienced by millions of Americans, and proposed solutions to the problem. In addition to the dismaying facts and figures is a fuller sense of what hunger can look like, and feel like, among the millions of Americans classified as "food-insecure" — those who may not know, for themselves or their children, where the next meal will come from. A useful, engaging and enraging movie that will enlist supporters for its cause.

In the Family ****½ Sebastian Banes, Patrick Wang, Trevor St. John. Directed by Patrick Wang. When his domestic partner dies in a car accident, a man learns that their son has been willed to his partner’s sister. Deliberate and marked by uncommon grace, In The Family manages to feel politically and culturally acute without ever resorting to melodrama, or having to wave banners for issues or causes, except perhaps in its quiet way for a renewed humanism in movies and a return to stories about everyday lives.

The Rambler Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, Natasha Lyonne. Directed by Calvin Reeder. Freshly released from prison, a man sets off on a surreal journey through the back roads of America to reconnect with his estranged brother. Along the way, he encounters horrific supernatural hallucinations, grisly violence and other depravities. The narrative is haphazard, and by the middle of the film, it’s apparent that Reeder isn’t even trying to make sense. Unconventional storytelling can be entertaining, too, but The Rambler just seems weird for its own sake and in love with cheap shock value.

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