Monday, September 9, 2013

This week’s DVD releases

The Black Water of Echo’s Pond ** Danielle Harris, Robert Patrick. Directed by Gabriel Bologna. Nine friends take a holiday at a Victorian home on a private island and uncover a game that when played brings out the worst in each of them. Watching people play a board game ain’t ever going to be scary, and that’s essentially what we have here.

Blood Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham, Brian Cox. Directed by Nick Murphy. Two cop brothers, smothered by the shadow of their former police chief father, must investigate a crime they committed. The landscape cinematography is often eye-pleasing, but the script is labored, filled with clichés and never allows for character development.

Chasing Ice ***½ Directed by Jeff Orlowski. In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on the tricky assignment for National Geographic to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. The before and after imagery of Balog’s project speaks for itself, with the power and strange beauty of the evolving landscape strong evidence that something is indeed happening, now and fast.

Frankenstein’s Army **½ Directed by Richard Raaphorst. Toward the end of World War II, Russian soldiers pushing into eastern Germany stumble across a secret Nazi lab that has begun experimenting with the journal of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Narrative depth may be in short supply, but the energy, invention and humor are bracing.

Love Is All You Need **½ Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm. Directed by Susanne Bier. A hairdresser who has recently recovered from cancer finds out her husband is having an affair. But while she’s on her way to Italy for her daughter’s wedding, she meets a widower who also happens to be the father of the groom. At times it seems as if Bier set out to create some kind of absurdist comedy, but lost her nerve somewhere along the way. As the film ties up its loose ends, it settles into a rom-com formula with a predictable, upbeat ending. It feels good, sort of.

Peeples **½ Craig Robinson, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, S. Epatha Merkerson. Directed by Tina Gordon Chism. Sparks fly when Wade Walker crashes the preppy Peeples’ annual reunion in the Hamptons to ask for their precious daughter Grace’s hand in marriage. The movie saves itself from a complete belly flop, by the barest of margins, by leaning heavily on its initial strength of good-natured charm.

Star Trek Into Darkness **½ Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana. Directed by J.J. Abrams. After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. After impressing well enough in his previous big screen directorial outings, Abrams works in a narrower, less imaginative mode here; there’s little sense of style, no grace notes or flights of imagination. One feels the dedication of a young musician at a recital determined not to make any mistakes, but there’s no hint of creative interpretation, personal feelings or the spreading of artistic wings.

War Witch **** Directed by Kim Nguyen. Komona is only 12 years old when she is kidnapped by rebel soldiers and enslaved to a life of guerrilla warfare in the African jungle. Nguyen reportedly worked on this movie for a decade, and it shows in both the immediacy and authenticity of his tale, and the meticulous craft with which it’s told. It is most effective not when we are looking in on Komona but when we are inside her head. When she says that, in order to survive in the rebel camp, she "had to learn to make the tears go inside my eyes," our identification with her is total.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks **½ Directed by Alex Gibney. Award-winning documentary director Gibney turns his camera on WikiLeaks, its founder, Julian Assange, and the global debate over access to information. Gibney, a prolific and skilled documentarian, marshals and organizes a raft of information as deftly as anyone could wish. But his conclusions are murkier than they might be.

Wish You Were Here **½ Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, Anthony Starr. Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith. Four friends lose themselves in a carefree South East Asian holiday, but only three return. From the opening montage alone, it’s clear that Australian director Darcy-Smith plans to play his cards close to the vest in this maddeningly underwritten thriller/domestic-drama hybrid. After the painstaking buildup, the revelations are disappointingly predictable.

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