Monday, March 17, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases


American Hustle ****½ Directed by David O. Russell. A con man, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), along with his seductive partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and the mafia. Reveling in its ‘70s milieu and in the eternal abrasion of sexy women and covetous men, American Hustle is an urban eruption of flat-out fun — the sharpest, most exhilarating comedy in years. Anyone who says otherwise must be conning you. With Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner.

Frozen ***½ Directed by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) teams up with Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a snowman named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter. This animated comedy-adventure has a sweet and very modern message, plus strong characters. More important, the movie blends the music-minded mentality of yore with the more recent ambition (thank you, Pixar) of truly appealing to all ages.

Kill Your Darlings *** Directed by John Krokidas. A murder in 1944 draws together the great poets of the beat generation: Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). The saving grace of Kill Your Darlings is its sordid romantic angle, a narrative thread that pulls the film away from wink-wink allusions and into more serious emotional territory.

Saving Mr. Banks *** Directed by John Lee Hancock. When Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) sets his sights on obtaining the rights to the children’s classic Mary Poppins, he reaches out to the book’s author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), only to find that she proves a tough nut to crack. The movie does not strictly hew to the historical record where the eventual resolution of this conflict is concerned, but it is easy to accept this fictionalizing as part of the price to be paid for Thompson’s engaging performance. With Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom *** Directed by Justin Chadwick. A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s (Idris Elba) life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The intentions are noble, but the film’s eagerness to honor Mandela instead shortchanges him. Mandela was a man who broke the mold; Mandela is a film content to nestle very neatly into it.

Here Comes the Devil **½ Directed by Adrián García Bogliano. Grieving parents rejoice when their missing son and daughter return after disappearing on a family trip to Tijuana. But they’re not the same children they once knew, even though everything looks normal on the outside. A muddled supernatural thriller that fails to capitalize on either its horrific prologue or eerie location.

Contracted ** Directed by Eric England. A young girl (Najarra Townsend) has sex with a stranger at a party and contracts, what she thinks is, a sexually-transmitted disease, but is actually something much worse. The movie seems regressively punitive, to the point where it arguably qualifies as slut-shaming.

Swerve ** Directed by Craig Lahiff. Colin (David Lyons) happens upon a road accident where he finds a dead man, a beautiful woman (Emma Booth), and a suitcase full of money. After trying to do the right thing he soon finds himself caught up in a dangerous scheme. As it zigs and zags, its plot unravels rather than tightens, and its curveball of an ending is bound to leave viewers feeling as double-crossed as some of the characters.

The Jungle Book 2 Directed by Steve Trenbirth. Mowgli (voice of Haley Joel Osment), missing the jungle and his old friends, runs away from the man village unaware of the danger he’s in by going back to the wild. Thin and unsatisfying.

Reasonable Doubt ½* Directed by Peter Howitt. A District Attorney (Dominic Cooper) has his life turned upside down when he’s involved in a hit and run and another man is arrested for his crime and charged with murder. This utterly unmemorable, uninspired and unnecessary genre exercise should fade from view so fast they might just as soon have called it Without a Trace. With Samuel L. Jackson.

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