Monday, February 3, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

Cutie and the Boxer ****½ Directed by Heinzerling. A candid New York love story that explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own. Heinzerling's beautifully shot, painfully intimate documentary look at this aging couple's struggle to survive amid personal and financial strain is heartbreaking. This is a story about creative desire so strong it hurts. It gathers force slowly, but with such wisdom and calm mastery that I found myself stunned, toward the end, by the beautiful vastness of it all.

Mother of George ****½ Directed by Andrew Dosunmu. Nigerian-Americans Ayodele (Isaach de Bankolé) and Adenike (Danai Gurira) marry and perform a traditional ceremony in which Adenike confirms the name of the son she will one day bear. But the stress of adjusting to life in America and the pressure to conceive soon take their toll. This is not a fable of assimilation or alienation, but rather the keenly observed story of two people seeking guidance in painful and complicated circumstances. Gurira is wonderful: Her face is equally radiant whether she's channeling anguish or joy, and she captures the ways in which this woman, so old-country dutiful, also longs to join the modern world.

Dallas Buyers Club **** Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease. Thanks to the superb screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and the brilliant, brave performances by the cast, Dallas Buyers Club gets just about everything right, save for a few over-the-top scenes that hammer home points that have already been made. McConaughey's performance isn't just about weight loss. It's about gaining compassion, even wisdom, and it's awesome.

The Inevitable Defeat of Pete and Mister *** Directed by George Tillman Jr. A coming-of-age story about two inner city boys who are left to fend for themselves over the summer after their mothers are taken away by the authorities. Tillman is clumsy in his handling of a few scenes, and considering what these kids are up against — junkie moms, drug-dealing pimp neighbors — the ending might be a little too implausibly upbeat. But Tillman seems to know that we need to turn off the DVD player feeling hope for Mister and Pete, who, it turns out, aren't so easily defeated.

Escape Plan **½ Directed by Mikael Håfström. Framed and thrown into an escape-proof prison that he designed himself, structural security expert Ray (Sylvester Stallone) must use all his know-how to break out. Ray and a fellow inmate (Arnold Schwazenegger) dodge the jail's corrupt warden (Jim Caviezel) and guard (Vinnie Jones) to track down who's behind the setup. A display of old-school muscle-buddy connivance that’s as flatly preposterous as it is shamelessly entertaining. Stupid, but fun.

Romeo and Juliet ** Directed by Carlo Carlei. Romeo (Douglas Booth) and Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) secretly wed despite the sworn contempt their families hold for each another. It has a sort of soapy reliability, but compare it to the blazing passion of Baz Luhrmann's modern-day version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in gangland Los Angeles and it looks pretty feeble. Plus, the liberties taken with the text mean that it might not even be all that suitable for school showings.

Free Birds ** Directed by Jimmy Hayward. Two turkeys — Reggie (voice of Owen Wilson) and Jake (voice of Woody Harrelson) — from opposite sides of the tracks must put aside their differences and team up to travel back in time to change the course of history and get turkey off the holiday menu for good. The folks behind this film are trying to entertain us, but they rarely succeed.

Baggage Claim Directed by David E. Talbert. Pledging to keep herself from being the oldest and the only woman in her entire family never to wed, Montana (Paula Patton) embarks on a 30-day, 30,000-mile expedition to charm a potential suitor (Boris Kodjoe) into becoming her fiancé. "You don’t need a man to define you!" Very true, and so much for feminism. The rest of the film takes a long, convoluted, predictable, and mostly unfunny route to prove that the opposite is the case.

A Case of You Directed by Kat Coiro. A young writer (Justin Long) tries to impress a girl (Evan Rachel Wood) he meets online with an embellished profile, but he finds himself in a real mess when she falls for him and he has to keep up the act. There’s some interesting ideas floating around about identity, manhood, and what it means to connect with someone in an over-connected world, but this movie (named for a Joni Mitchell song that’s not actually in the film) never actively explores them. Instead, it delves into generic rom-com and ropey cliché to little comic effect.

About Time * Directed by Richard Curtis. At the age of 21, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time and change what happens and has happened in his own life. His decision to make his world a better place by getting a girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) turns out not to be as easy he thought it would be. What McAdams is doing in this nonsense is anyone's guess, but she must realize that the long journey from Mean Girls to the character she plays in this movie, with her mousy bangs and her timid pleas counts as a serious descent.

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