Monday, February 10, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

All Is Lost ***** Directed by J.C. Chandor. After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor (Robert Redford) finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. Chandor’s attention to detail, and the expressiveness and utter believability with which Redford goes about the anything-but-mundane business of surviving, make All Is Lost a technically dazzling, emotionally absorbing, often unexpectedly beautiful experience. A genuine nail-biter, scrupulously made and fully involving, elemental in its simplicity.

Wadjda **** Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour. An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school’s Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest. Not only is this a deftly crafted and superbly acted film, but Wadjda sheds a powerful light on what women face, starting in childhood, in an oppressive regime.

The Armstrong Lie ***½ Directed by Alex Gibney. A documentary chronicling sports legend Lance Armstrong’s improbable rise and ultimate fall from grace. To call Armstrong’s story a tragedy is probably an overblown notion. But it does involve sadness, not just with its depiction of a fallen idol, but with the necessary acknowledgment that some of our own hopes and dreams fell alongside him. What will take your breath away, however, is how viciously Armstrong crushed and humiliated anyone who dared to make allegations against him, and that includes former teammates he’d doped with.

The Counselor *** Directed by Ridley Scott. A lawyer (Michael Fassbinder) finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking. This one has a lot in common with Scott’s Thelma & Louise in the memorable way it escalates, inevitably but also unexpectedly, into a spin through wilder country, and a meditation on bigger themes.

How I Live Now *** Directed by Kevin Macdonald. While on vacation in rural England, American teen Daisy (Saiorse Ronan) slowly comes to appreciate the people around her and soon falls in love with local boy Eddie (George MacKay). But her summer idyll comes to an abrupt end when rumors of World War III become a reality. Macdonald’s unique direction and Ronan’s jittery performance makes the DVD a worthy rental.

The Best Man Holiday *** Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. When college friends reunite after 15 years over the Christmas holidays, they discover just how easy it is for long-forgotten rivalries and romances to be reignited. This is an inelegant movie, but its cast is so damn likable that I’m still willing to follow them — even when they’re not going anywhere.

The Summit *** Directed by Nick Ryan. The story of the deadliest day on the world’s most dangerous mountain, when 11 climbers mysteriously perished on K2. The proceedings somewhat sidestep the issues of risk and responsibility — including the raised, but never fully tackled, question of whether others should have gone back to try to save their fellow, trapped compatriots — that seem most in need of investigation.

Austenland **½ Directed by Jerusha Hess. Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) is so taken with Jane Austen’s novels that she decides to splurge on a trip to an English resort that caters to Austen fans. But when the authentic period romance Jane was promised proves unacceptable, she acts to alter her fate. Russell remains one of our most adorable, underused actors, although this role lacks the emotional and comedic breadth of her turn in 2007's Waitress.

Diana **½ Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. During the last two years of her life, Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) embarks on a final rite of passage: a secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). Flawed yet intimate, Diana respects its subject’s hopes, strengths, weaknesses and legacy and, in the extraordinary Watts, boasts a formidably empathetic advocate.

Life of a King **½ Directed by Jake Goldberger. Ex-felon, Eugene Brown (Cuba Gooding Jr.) establishes a Chess Club for inner city teenagers in Washington, D.C. Brown’s story is a good one and solid performances — especially from Gooding — elevate the film slightly above the familiar trappings of its genre.

Ender’s Game ** Directed by Gavin Hood. Young Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is recruited by the International Military to lead the fight against the Formics, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race in a previous invasion. Most Ender’s fans will consider the film adaptation a long-awaited victory in itself. Those fresh to the tale — or at least expecting something fresh from it — may wonder what the fuss is about.

Haunter Directed by Vincenzo Natali. The ghost of a teenager who died years ago (Abigail Breslin) reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate. This awful, badly directed rehash reeks of stale, recycled ideas.

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