Monday, April 14, 2014

This Week’s DVD Releases

The Invisible Woman **** Directed by Ralph Fiennes. At the height of his career, Charles Dickens (Fiennes) meets a younger woman (Felicity Jones) who becomes his secret lover until his death.Gives us a plausible image of the great man in the fullness of his celebrity, and an affecting portrait of the woman who lived much of her life in his shadow. With Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander.

Philomena ***½ Directed by Stephen Frears. A world-weary political journalist (Steve Coogan) picks up the story of a woman’s (Judi Dench) search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. Turns out to be a subtly told tale of tragedy and redemption with much of the sentimental payoff you’re expecting but several intriguing plot twists along the way. Compelling, poignant and gently funny.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty *** Directed by Ben Stiller. A day-dreamer (Stiller) escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance and action. This is a film about acting out our dreams, but Stiller never quite shows us the soul of his dreamer.

Date and Switch **½ Directed by Chris Nelson. Two guys (Nicholas Braun, Hunter Cope) who make a pact to lose their virginity before prom find their friendship tested when one of them comes out of the closet. A plucky step in the right direction for diversity in teen comedies, but it lacks the extra oomph to stand on its own merits. With Dakota Johnson, Zach Cregger.

Great Expectations **½ Directed by Mike Newell. A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor. Contains enough characters and subplots for three movies. The novel has almost been suffocated by Newell and screenwriter David Nicholls in an effort to get everything in. With Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Holliday Grainger.

Black Nativity ** Directed by Kasi Lemmons. A street-wise teen from Baltimore who has been raised by a single mother travels to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives. Many of the transitions between narrative and music are rough. The temptations of the street, all too real in the real world, feel forced. Confrontations become clichés. The substance of human motivation is missing. And thus the heart never beats as it should. With Forrest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyree Gibson, Jacob Latimore, Mary J. Blige, Naser Jones, Jennifer Hudson.

Better Living Through Chemistry ** Directed by Geoff Moore, David Posamentier. A strait-laced pharmacist’s uneventful life spirals out of control when he starts an affair with a trophy-wife customer who takes him on a joyride involving sex, drugs and possibly murder. The unexpected chemistry between Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde helps balance this sour noir comedy. With Michelle Monaghan, Ray Liotta, Jane Fonda.

Ride Along ** Directed by Tim Story. Fast-talking security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) joins his cop brother-in-law James (Ice Cube) on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela (Tiksa Sumpter), James’ sister. This rote buddy-cop action comedy is instantly forgettable. We’ve seen it all before, and worse than that, we’ve seen it done far better in films ranging from last year’s The Heat to 80s classics such as Midnight Run and Lethal Weapon.

The Nut Job Directed by Peter Lepeniotes. An incorrigibly self-serving exiled squirrel finds himself helping his former park brethren raid a nut store to survive. This dead-on-arrival ‘toon is some of the worst p.r. for rodents since bubonic plague hit medieval Europe.

Copperhead * Directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. An upstate New York family is torn apart during the American Civil War. Maxwell’s film, from beginning to end, exudes all the excitement of a textbook history lesson.

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