Monday, July 8, 2013

This week’s DVD releases (best to worst)

The Gatekeepers ****½ Directed by Droh Moreh. A documentary featuring interviews with all surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency whose activities and membership are closely held state secrets. The interviewees have different personalities that suggest varying styles of leadership, but what’s remarkable about the film is how they speak in one voice about the moral complexities of their former jobs and their extreme pessimism about the future. A documentary potent enough to alter how you see the world.

Spring Breakers **** James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine. Directed by Harmony Korine. Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work. Korine wants to give us a portrait of our nation’s children — the girls, especially — as beautifully depraved sharks, pleasure-seeking killers oblivious to the comedy and horror of their existence. And damned if he doesn’t pull it off, or come close enough. A lurid, luminous teen-bender movie, as ludicrous as it is stylish, and Korine’s best film in years.

Boy *** James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Cohen. Directed by Taika Waititi. Set on the east coast of New Zealand in the year 1984, an 11-year-old boy and devout Michael Jackson fan gets a chance to know his father, who has returned to find a bag of money he buried years ago. Waititi’s comic vocabulary hasn’t changed much — there’s a lot of voice-over narration illustrated with ludicrous, cartoonish tableaux — yet the kids’ genuine longing for their no-good dad elevates this above simple deadpan humor.

Admission **½ Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Wallace Shawn, Gloria Reuben, Lily Tomlin. Directed by Paul Weitz. A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption. This is pleasant enough. Even when off a bit, the talent of the cast assures that. But it’s still a disappointment. You might say it, ahem, doesn’t make the grade.

The Host * Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, William Hurt, Frances Fisher. Directed by Andrew Niccol. A parasite soul is fused with a captured human in an attempt to locate the last pocket of surviving humans on Earth. Dopey, derivative and dull, this is a brazen combination of unoriginal science-fiction themes, young-adult pandering and bottom-line calculation. That sounds like it should work (really!), but it never does, largely because the story is as drained of energy as are its moony aliens.

Tyler Perry’s Temptation * Jumee Smollett, Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams. Directed by Tyler Perry. A marriage counselor’s personal and professional life becomes complicated after she enters into a relationship with one of her clients. This film is flat-out ludicrous from beginning to end. Perry’s ongoing disinterest in improving as a filmmaker is now seemingly part of his unshakable belief in himself, his insistence on doing his thing his way.

Would You Rather ½* Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Jonathan Coyne. Directed by David Guy Levy. Desperate to help her ailing brother, a young woman unknowingly agrees to compete in a deadly game, hosted by a sadistic aristocrat. By the midway point, viewers will be questioning whether they would rather keep watching this DVD or put their eyes out with a fork.

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