Monday, August 26, 2013

This Week’s DVD Releases

33 Postcards **½ Guy Pearce. Directed by Pauline Chan. When Mei Mei, a teenage orphan, goes to Australia with her school choir, she sneaks off to find Dean Randall, her longtime sponsor whose treasured postcards have brightened her life. But she discovers that Dean isn’t quite what he seems. The main problem with this film is the criminal subplot, full of Aussie villains snarling "mate" at one another and landing bloodless punches on Dean. This is what happens when someone grafts a prison angle onto Pollyanna — the tough guys just get in the way.

The Great Gatsby *** Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor. The actors emote up a summer storm. Maguire’s otherworldly coolness suits the observer drawn into a story he might prefer only to watch. DiCaprio is persuasive as the little boy lost impersonating a tough guy, and Mulligan finds ways to express Daisy’s magnetism and weakness. You can find fault with virtually every scene — and yet in spite of all the wrong notes, Fitzgerald (and the excess he was writing about and living) comes through. The Deco extravagance of the big party scenes is enthralling. Luhrmann throws money at the screen in a way that is positively Gatsby-like, walloping you intentionally and un- with the theme of prodigal waste.

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp ** Directed by Jorge Hinojosa. Blending archival elements with recent interviews, this biographical portrait tells the tale of pimp-turned-author Iceberg Slim, whose gritty books based on his life became bona fide literature. Though directed with some flourishes, including a riveting use of music and attractive animated pulp art, the film is weighed down by the testimony of bespectacled professors from hip critical studies and English departments and a psychologist.

Koch **½ Directed by Neil Barsky. A documentary on Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989. Barsky is aware of how a great and terribly troubling person can reside in the same body, but his occasional eagerness to appoint himself as his subject’s latest press agent is dubious.

Kon-Tiki **½ Directed by Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg. The story of legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal’s epic 4,300 miles crossing of the Pacific on a balsa wood raft in 1947, in an effort prove it was possible for South Americans to settle in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. The movie lacks the fire and eccentricity that we want from our stories of adventurers driven by obsessions that could be seen as egotistical or just plain bonkers.

Pain & Gain **½ Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub. Directed by Michael Bay. A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong. When the story runs off the rails and crashes headfirst into a too-perfect ending, it’s because Bay was led astray by the same things that got the Sun Gym Gang into this mess in the first place: superficiality, ambition, and the belief that reality just isn’t good enough.

Pawn Shop Chronicles * Brendan Fraser, Elijah Wood, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas, Norman Reedus, Matt Dillon, Paul Walker. Directed by Wayne Kramer. A missing wedding ring leads to a wild-goose chase involving meth addicts, skinheads and an Elvis impersonator. Hee Haw meets Pulp Fiction at the meth lab: That describes the style of this film, a hillbilly grindhouse yawp of a movie that belches in your face and leaves a sour stink.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist **½ Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Keifer Sutherland, Om Puri. Directed by Mira Nair. A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family’s homeland. Nair has crafted a handsome but clubfooted film that lurches through predictable hot spots. It most disappoints as a thriller, the flashbacks and voiceovers and romantic entanglements so dominating the proceedings you forget that someone is bound and gagged in real time.

Stranded * Christian Slater. Directed by Roger Christian. Four isolated astronauts on board a bio-dome space craft, experience a ghostly intercession after a meteor storm. A no-budget Alien ripoff with little reason to exist beyond the few creature-effects shots its design team now can add to its reel. The movie might leave viewers yearning for the director’s Battlefield Earth — a film that, terrible though it was, at least couldn’t be accused of a lack of ambition.

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