Monday, June 3, 2013

This week’s DVD releases


A Good Day To Die Hard * Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Directed by John Moore. John McClane travels to Russia to help out his seemingly wayward son, Jack, only to discover that Jack is a CIA operative working to prevent a nuclear-weapons heist, causing the father and son to team up against underworld forces. Everything that made the first film memorable — the nuances of character, the political subtext, the cowboy wit — has been dumbed down or scrubbed away entirely. Moore has directed the action sequences in a way that makes the incidents look so far-fetched and essentially unsurvivable that you can only laugh.


Warm Bodies *** Nicholas Hault, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, John Malkovich. Directed by Jonathan Levine. After eating a young man's brains and absorbing the memories within, a freshly dead zombie falls in love with his victim's girlfriend. I don't know if the first zombie date flick is a step forward or backward for civilization as a whole, but I can say that Warm Bodies pulls off a pretty impressive trick: It has its Twilight and goofs on it too. It flouts convention in a number of ways in service of its genre-mash-up agenda while still contributing something original to the tradition of the zombie film.


Identity Thief **½ Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau, Robert Patrick, John Cho. Directed by Seth Gordon. Mild-mannered businessman Sandy Patterson travels from Denver to Miami to confront the deceptively harmless-looking woman who has been living it up after stealing Sandy's identity. As is the case with other unsatisfactory diversions, it is entirely possible to ignore the worst parts of this movie, to drift along during the lulls, slide over the half-baked jokes and just wait for McCarthy and Bateman to do their things.


Escape From Planet Earth **½ Voices of Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Alba. Directed by Callan Brunker. Astronaut Scorch Supernova finds himself caught in a trap when he responds to an SOS from a notoriously dangerous alien planet. The picture has enough entertainment value to tickle its target audience and even offers a few chuckles for the adults on the couch as well. A strong cast and bright -- if uninspired — animation help to offset a thin story.


Mental * Liev Schreiber, Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia, Rebecca Gibney, Lily Sullivan, Bethany Whitmore. Directed by P.J. Hogan. After his wife has a breakdown, a smarmy politician hires a "nanny" he finds on the side of the road, to care for his daughters. Hogan may have based this film on an actual incident from his childhood, but the crazy quilt of a movie that resulted feels anything but real.


It’s a Disaster **½ Julia Stiles, David Cross, America Ferrera, Erinn Hayes, Jeff Grace, Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brennan, Blaise Miller. Directed by Todd Berger. Four couples meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they are stuck in a house together as the world may be about to end. Berger’s got some clever ideas, but he does not push far in exploring them. And aside from Cross, there is virtually no one to like among these self-involved suburbanites. After an hour alone with them, we can’t help wishing The End would just arrive.


Brooklyn Castle ***½ Directed by Katie Schultz. A documentary that tells the stories of five members of the chess team at a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school facing budget cuts that has won more national championships than any other in the country. It's a wonderful look at an astonishingly successful public-school chess program that manages to be more moving and heartening than you expect. Which is saying a lot. It honestly makes no difference if you don't even know the rules of chess and have never visited New York; this is a story about human potential and the lingering possibilities of the American dream.


The Last Ride **½ Henry Thomas, Jesse James, Fred Dalton Thompson, Kaley Cuoco. Directed by Harry Thomason. A young college student agrees to drive volatile country music star Hank Williams to a concert, never guessing he'll be the last one to see him alive. Thomas offers particularly fine work, but the underwritten script, which relies too much on sentimentality, gives him little to do.

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