Monday, July 22, 2013

This Week’s DVD Releases (from best to worst)


Graceland ****½ Directed by Ron Morales. When a kidnapping goes wrong, a desperate father risks everything to save his daughter from the men who hold her captive. This is a tense, twisty cinematic artichoke brimming with moral complexity and intriguing shades of gray. Even while embracing the breathless beats of the crime thriller, the movie holds tight to its concern for exploited children. Morales’ spin on the old ransom plot is fresher and more gripping than most big-budget Hollywood products.

Pieta ****½ Directed by Ki-duk Kim. A loan shark is forced to reconsider his violent lifestyle after the arrival of a mysterious woman claiming to be his long-lost mother. Morally cunning and with a tone as black as pitch, Pieta is a deeply unnerving revenge movie in which redemption is dangled like a cat toy before a cougar. It is one of Kim’s most complex and mature efforts, melding violence and humor into dark entertainment.

The Silence **** Directed by Baran bo Odar. When a 13-year-old girl goes missing from the same spot where another girl was murdered 23 years earlier, a retired investigator teams up with a younger colleague to unravel the parallel mysteries. This is an exemplary German-language thriller, a complex and disturbing examination of guilt, violence and psychological torment that chills us to the core not once but two times over. What you’ll carry away is the film’s austere sympathy for the struggles of its benighted characters and its bleak conviction that justice and resolution mostly happen in movies.

Ginger & Rosa *** Elle Fanning, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Alice Englert, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Annette Bening, Jodhi May. Directed by Sally Potter. A look at the lives of two teenage girls — inseparable friends Ginger and Rosa — growing up in 1960s London as the Cuban Missile Crisis comes to redefine their relationship. With this film, Potter manages to avoid nearly every pratfall of such period pieces, focusing on extreme alienation rather than enlightenment, and wringing a powerful and jaundiced coming-of-age story from the decade’s less trod corners. It’s an adult look at the teenage years, an examination of how personal emotions inform political action, a noteworthy change of pace for writer-director Potter and, most of all, the showcase for a performance by Fanning as Ginger that is little short of phenomenal.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files *** Directed by Chris James Thompson. An experimental documentary film that uses archival footage, interviews, and fictionalized scenarios to tell the story of the people around Jeffrey Dahmer during the summer of his arrest in 1991. In the end, the filmmakers don’t reveal a lot of new insights into Dahmer’s character, or answer questions about how all these murders went unnoticed before Dahmer was apprehended. In some ways, we are left to fill in the blanks — and that can be a queasy experience.

The Bitter Buddha *** Directed by Steven Feinartz. This documentary follows unconventional comedian Eddie Pepitone as he prepares for a show in New York City, all the while struggling with self-doubt, sobriety and a challenging family history. The film closes with Pepitone pondering whether he’s wasted his life by focusing on comedy rather than family, but everything that’s come before suggests that decision has led to a life that’s a triumph rather than a tragedy. An amusing, freewheeling documentary.

Welcome to the Punch **½ Andrea Riseborough, James McAvoy, Mark Strong. Directed by Eran Creevy. Ex-criminal Jacob Sternwood is forced to return to London when his son is involved in a heist gone wrong. This gives his nemesis, detective Max Lewinsky, one last chance to catch the man he’s always been after. Writer-director Creevy shows himself to be well versed in the mythic sweep of Christopher Nolan’s and Michael Mann’s crime sagas, if not their intelligence with storytelling.

Trance **½ James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel. Directed by Danny Boyle. An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting. There’s a little too much happening in the film’s violent, frenetic conclusion, which involves the retrieval of fractured memories, the confession of betrayals and so many narrative loops within loops that the film’s big reveals never make perfect, deeply satisfying sense. Maybe they’re not supposed to.

Kiss of the Damned **½ Directed by Xan Cassavetes. The vampire Djuna resists the advances of Paolo, but soon gives in to their passion. When her trouble-making sister unexpectedly comes to visit, Djuna’s love is threatened, and the whole vampire community becomes endangered. Paying slavish homage to culty genre predecessors from the sixties, seventies and eighties, this steamy tale of a hunky screenwriter, his ethereal blood-sucking paramour and her bad-girl sister can’t quite decide whether to be seductively stylish or knowingly cheesy.

Hunky Dory **½ Minnie Driver. Directed by Mark Evans. In the heat of the summer of 1976, a drama teacher fights sweltering heat and general teenage apathy to put on an end-of-term musical version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s too broad in both its humor and its melodrama, and there are so many narrative threads that none of them aside from Driver’s really get their due.

Vehicle 19 **½ Paul Walker. Directed by Mukunda Michael Dewil. A foreign traveler unknowingly picks up a rental car that will tie him to a web of corrupt local police. The movie sets up a fascinating conceit for itself, and then loses interest in delivering on it. It just wants to get to the cool car chase, but by the time it does, we’ve stopped caring.

Starbuck ** Patrick Huard, Julie Lebreton, Antoine Bertrand. Directed by Ken Scott. A fortysomething slacker’s life is turned upside down when he learns that his many sperm donations have resulted in more than 500 children — 100 of whom are now suing to meet their father, who’s desperate to keep his identity a secret. Almost all the charm of the real story is lost through the contrivances and overacting.

Love and Honor ** Liam Hensworth, Austin Stowell, Teresa Palmer, Aimee Teegarden. Directed by Danny Mooney. When a young soldier in Vietnam gets dumped by his hometown girl, he and his best friend decide to go AWOL and return to the States to win her back. It’s a lightweight drama filled with heavyweight war-is-hell monologues, delivered by a cast that lacks the gravity to sell them.

1 comment:

Philip Wuntch said...

GRACELAND was a big hit at the Asian Film Festival last week. We saw it and loved it.