Monday, March 10, 2014

This Week's DVD Releases

Inside Llewyn Davis ****½ Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. A week in the life of a young singer (Oscar Isaac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. The Coen brothers are on top sardonic form with a winning tale of an incorrigible loser. Hits the right note on every level, from period vibe to performance (human and feline). As flawless as any film of 2013 and rock-solid confirmation that the brothers are the greatest filmmakers working in America (and perhaps anywhere else) today. This is a gorgeously made character study leavened with surrealistic dimensions both comic and dark, an unsparing look at a young man who, unlike some of his contemporaries, can’t transcend his abundant character flaws and remake himself as someone else. With Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake

The Broken Circle Breakdown ***½ Directed by Felix Van Groeningen. Elise (Veerlee Baetens) is a tattoo artist and religiously devout, while Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) is an atheist banjo player in a bluegrass band, but the two fall instantly in love. Years later, when their daughter becomes ill, the crisis brings new challenges to their relationship. The film’s many charms drown somewhat under crushingly sad events. Still, there is redemption in the chemistry between the two lead characters, their passions and complexity, as well as in the grace of the music as it is performed and how it is used.

The Patience Stone *** Directed by Atiq Rahimi. Rahimi adapts his award-winning novel into an arresting allegorical tale about the trials of a modern-day Muslim woman (Golshifteh Farahani) living in an unspecified Middle Eastern nation, whose very existence is awash in conflict. For much of The Patience Stone, Farahani is the movie, and as she shifts from fear to despair to anger to emotions she’d never previously considered, her magnetic presence goes a long way toward putting a human face on the film, more successfully than the material around her.

Out of the Furnace *** Directed by Scott Cooper. When Rodney Baze (Casey Affleck) mysteriously disappears and law enforcement doesn't follow through fast enough, his older brother, Russell (Christian Bale), takes matters into his own hands to find justice. A defiantly old-fashioned, well-crafted piece of storytelling whose power lies in its unadorned simplicity. With Woody Harrelson, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard.

Easy Money: Hard to Kill **½ Directed by Babak Najafi. While serving time, business student-turned-coke smuggler JW (Joel Kinnaman) plans to go straight when he gets out, but his past refuses to go away. Too many characters contribute to a dulling of the cross-cultural spark found in the original (and in the better-known A Prophet). Kinnaman doesn’t have as much to play with this time — without his double life, he’s just an unsmooth criminal.

The Book Thief **½ Directed by Brian Percival. Young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) steals books to teach herself to read, giving her refuge from the horrors of Nazi Germany and her cold foster parents. When not reading, she forms a bond with the Jewish man her adoptive family is hiding in their home. Some good performances, impeccable craft and good intentions can’t compensate for a lack of dramatic urgency and emotional heft. The Book Thief is effective, but not effective enough. With Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson.

Enemies Closer ** Directed by Peter Hyams. Deep within a forest on the U.S.-Canadian border, two sworn enemies (Tom Everett Scott, Orlando Jones) must work together to escape a ruthless drug cartel hell-bent on retrieving a drug shipment which went missing there. With a manic performance by Jean-Claude Van Damme as the cartel leader and an improbable but intriguing plot variation, Enemies Closer is an improvement over most hunt-or-be-hunted fare. A small improvement, but still.

HomefrontDirected by Gary Fleder. A former DEA agent (Jason Statham) moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord (James Franco). A thoroughly boilerplate bayou actioner, with one notable feature. It’s got good villains — nasty, delirious, stupid villains, among them and Winona Ryder — and for that it’s almost worth seeing. Almost. With Kate Bosworth

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