Monday, September 16, 2013

This week’s DVD releases

1st Night * Richard E. Grant, Sara Brightman, Mia Maestro. Directed by Christopher Menauf. A wealthy industrialist and frustrated singer attempts to add richness to his life by staging an opera inside his lavish country home. As part of the project, he recruits a beautiful female conductor he’s had his eye on. The depressingly predictable script — and tendency of everyone involved to jump to ridiculous conclusions — suggests a combination of Noises Off at best, and at worst, Three’s Company.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor * Bruce Greenwood, Parker Posey. Directed by Zack Bernbaum. An advertising CEO wakes up in the hospital speaking only in ad slogans. It’s a testament to Greenwood’s acting that his character never becomes entirely as insufferable as the words that come out of his mouth.

Augustine ****½ Soko, Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianna. Directed by Alice Winocour. A look at the relationship between pioneering 19th century French neurologist Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot and his star teenage patient, a kitchen maid who is left partially paralyzed after a seizure. Everything depends on the subtlety of the direction and the charisma of the performances. This film is intellectually satisfying partly because it communicates its ideas at the level of feeling, through the uncanny power of Soko’s face and body.

Bless Me, Ultima ***½ Directed by Carl Franklin. A drama set in New Mexico during World War II, centered on the relationship between a young man and an elderly medicine woman who helps him contend with the battle between good and evil that rages in his village. Writer-director Franklin offers up a tone of heightened reverence that weighs down the material, but there are small, lovely moments when the magic realism approaches the magical.

The Bling Ring **½ Directed by Sofia Coppola. Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes. Coppola’s attitude toward her subject seems equivocal, uncertain; there is perhaps a smidgen of social commentary, but she seems far too at home in the world she depicts to offer a rewarding critique of it.

Disconnect *** Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgard. Directed by Henry Alex Rubin. This drama about the thrills and perils of seeking fulfillment online focuses on a male escort, an outcast schoolboy and a married couple in trouble. As cautionary tales go, this is a pretty good one, but it’s not really a whole lot more than that.

Drift Xavier Samuel, Myles Pollard, Sam Worthington. Directed by Ben Nott, Morgan O’Neill. In the 1970s, the two Kelly brothers spend their youth searching for the perfect wave and launch a backyard surf business out of their van. When the movie sticks to the likable, gently humorous contours of occasionally fractious brotherly love, broken up by thrillingly shot surfing footage, it has plenty of charm, period flavor and breezy visual breadth. Where the movie routinely disappoints, though, is in pursuit of a perfect storm of conflict story lines.

The East **½ Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson. Directed by Zal Batmanglij. An operative for an elite private intelligence firm finds her priorities changing dramatically after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations. The movie never goes as deep undercover as it should.

Gimme the Loot ***½ Tashiana Washington, Ty Hickson, Zoe Lascaze, Meko. Directed by Adam Leon. Two talented graffiti artists from the Bronx are stung when a rival outfit covers their own illustration with a portrait of the Mets’ Home Run Apple. They turn their outrage into a daring plan to tag the real Home Run Apple at the Mets ballpark. Leon, 31, has slyly and reverentially crafted a perfect New York movie, including the class tensions, relentless hustling and spontaneous connections that best define the exuberant strain of the city. The soundtrack, filled with mostly soul oldies, somehow feels exactly right for the sweaty New York summer of this scrappy kid-venture.

Greetings from Tim Buckley **½ Penn Badgley, Imogen Poots, Norbert Leo Butz, Ben Rosenfield. Directed by Daniel Algrant. Young, troubled and unknown, singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley grapples with his own self-doubts in the days leading up to a tribute concert in honor of his famous father, Tim Buckley, who died of a drug overdose. There is no doubt the movie is respectful, and thanks to Badgley and Rosenfield, does justice to both singers. But the film never quite connects father and son as each sharing the common bond of extraordinary talent or even similar personal woes.

In the Fog ****½ Directed by Sergei Loznitsa. An innocent man accused of treason by Russian partisans fighting the German occupation is marked for death by two of his fellow countrymen. When the trio is ambushed, the man, eager to clear his name, faces a moral choice under immoral circumstances. Intimate in the telling, sweeping in the implications, Loznitsa has created an unusually incisive film. It explores the moralities of wartime with restraint and exacting execution.

Java HeatKellen Lutz, Mickey Rourke. Directed by Conor Allyn. A Muslim detective teams with an American posing as a graduate student to find the man behind a series of deadly terrorist bombings in Indonesia. The film is rarely more than a few minutes away from a gun battle or a tedious chase, and soon you cease to care who is shooting at, or running from, whom or why.

Scenic Route ** Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler. Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz. When car trouble strands two old friends in the California desert, friction surfaces as they try to deal with the situation, and a heated dialogue soon escalates into a violent struggle for survival. The first half of this movie is basically a filmed play, and not an insightful one. The more surreal second half takes on a moodier edge, but the switcheroo ending is cutesy to the point of annoying. Fogler impresses with some brooding edge, but neither he nor the location photography is enough to recommend you join him on this doomed trip.

Shanghai Calling **½ Daniel Henney, Eliza Coupe, Bill Paxton. Directed by Daniel Hsia. A New York attorney is sent to Shanghai on business, where he finds himself in a legal mess that threatens his career. With the help of a relocation specialist and her contacts, he soon learns to appreciate the wonders of Shanghai. The movie wants to say something significant about the excitement and alienation of life in a strange — which is to say, new — place. The film never gets there, but its aims are honorable, and the lovingly shot Shanghai scenery does enhance the trip.

Simon Killer ****½ Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Lila Salet, Solo, Michael Abiteboul. Directed by Antonio Campos. A recent college graduate flees to Paris after a break-up, where his involvement with a prostitute begins to reveal a potentially dark recent past. If the movie’s tragic drift is predictable, the seedy particulars still engross. And the storytelling is first-rate.

War of the Buttons Laetitia Casta, Guillaume Canet, Kad Merad, Gérard Jugnot. Directed by Christophe Barratier. The ongoing "war" between two rival groups of kids in neighboring French villages during the Nazi occupation mirrors the larger events of World War II. For a movie that aspires to be heartwarming, it sure does inspire a lot of eye rolling. The slick filmmaking — the movie has a glossy, Hollywood-ready feel that sometimes tips into the cutesy — works against its themes.

The We and the I ***½ Directed by Michel Gondry. A look at the lives of a group of teenagers who ride the same bus route, and how their relationships change and evolve on the last day of school. By the end of the ride, we’ll see glimpses of happiness, sadness, joy, heartbreak, maybe even tragedy, if cell phone-shot recollections are to be believed. All bases are covered, in other words, in one late-afternoon ride, a ride Gondry and his cast will make you want to take.

World War Z *** Brad Pitt. Directed by Marc Foster. A United Nations employee traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself. Emerges as a surprisingly smart, gripping and imaginative addition to the zombie-movie canon, owing as much to scientific disaster movies like The China Syndrome and Contagion as it does to undead texts like the collected works of George Romero.

1 comment:

Philip W. said...

So glad you liked World War Z. I thought it was smart and engaging, I also thought Pitt was good -- although, being producer, he had too many close-ups.