Monday, January 19, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz *** Directed by Brian Kanppenberger. The story of the programming prodigy and information activist who took his own life at the age of 26. Delivers a touching, morally outraged portrait that, in memory of Swartz, may inspire people to ask hard questions about how the new world is being shaped away from view, behind closed doors.

The Drop *** Directed by Michael R. Roskam. Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini. An ex-con resolves to start a new life away from crime, but his bartending job at a local tavern pulls him back toward trouble when the load of cash that gangsters are laundering through the bar mysteriously disappears. The movie’s unpredictability is organic rather than sensationalistic. The movie doesn’t pull surprises out of thin air for the sole purpose of shocking the viewer — it lets them develop naturally.

The Green Prince *** Directed by Nadav Schirman. The son of a top leader in Palestine’s militant Hamas movement, spends a decade working as a mole for Israeli intelligence. A narrative documentary thriller that effectively employs many elements of a John le Carré spy novel: international intrigue, arresting twists and turns, and characters with complicated motivations.

Coherence **½ Directed by James Ward Byrkit. When a passing comet causes a neighborhood to lose power, four couples gathered for a dinner party discover a nearby house whose lights are still on. But the friends’ decision to investigate sparks encounters with bizarre phenomena. Byrkit and his actors successfully build a sense of tension, and then dread, from what appears to be an extremely limited budget. Indeed, the movie was shot primarily in his own living room.

Lucy **½ Directed by Luc Besson. Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman. A young woman forced to become a drug mule for the mob develops superhuman abilities when the narcotics she’s carrying in her stomach accidentally leak into her system. Besson’s script may let Johansson and Freeman down in the third act, but the 89 minute long Lucy is so brisk it’ll give you whiplash. Even marginal thrillers benefit from a director and star who have a sense of urgency and are as hellbent as this on not overstaying their welcome.

The Boxtrolls **½ Directed by Graham Annabelle, Anthony Stacchi. A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator. This animate feature stands reasonably well on its own, as a cool steampunk fairy-tale that serves as yet another testament to the artistry of the folks at Laika.

May in the Summer **½ Directed by Cherien Dabis. May (Dabis) travels to Jordan for her wedding to Ziad (Alexander Siddig), a fellow Arab American, but faces the disapproval of her mother, a converted evangelical Christian who doesn’t want her daughter marrying a Muslim man. It’s diverting to watch and has moments of brilliance, but even with all its refreshing female characters, the film doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

Life’s a Breeze ** Directed by Lance Daly. In the process of making over an aging matriarch’s ratty apartment, a cash-strapped Irish clan inadvertently discards her mattress that’s stuffed with nearly one million euros. From a filmmaking standpoint, is something of a jumble. There’s a whimsical score that sounds like a Mumford & Sons bridge on repeat that underlines the quirky tone in rather annoying ways.

Rudderless ** Directed by William H. Macy. Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, Selena Gomez, Laurence Fisburne. Devastated over his son’s death, former ad exec Sam (Crudup) removes himself from society to drink away his grief. When he summons the will to perform his son’s songs at a local bar, the music gains popularity and Sam claims to have written the tunes himself. This, despite a few stellar moments, is a not-quite-tragic-enough meditation on mourning and self-healing, crossed with a not-quite-gritty-enough portrait of indie rockers trying to break big.

The Zero Theorem ** Directed by Terry Gilliam. Living in isolation in a burnt-out church, Qohen (Christoph Waltz), an eccentric and reclusive computer genius plagued with existential angst, is obsessively working on a mysterious project personally delegated to him by Management (Matt Damon) aimed at discovering the meaning of life, or the complete lack of one, once and for all. Orwellian paranoia doesn’t die, it just gets fresh trimmings, and while The Zero Theorem is as messy and overstuffed as Fibber McGilliam’s closet (OK, I’m dating myself here), its sorrow and anger and demented humor strike just enough fresh sparks to keep his career alive.

White Bird in a Blizzard ** Directed by Gregg Araki. Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Chrisdtopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane, Angela Bassett. A teenage girl’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother disappears. An odd little concoction, a coming-of-age story that, only in passing, is also a mystery.

Annabelle Directed by John R. Leonetti. A couple begins to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists. Sadly, Annabelle, a cheap, sleazy, low-budget prequel meant to explain the origins of that particular doll, is as undistinguished, uninteresting, and unscary as the worst of the Chucky films.

Wolves Directed by David Hayter. Lucas Till, Stephen McHattie, Merritt Patterson, Jason Momoa. A boy trying to find out about his family history stumbles upon a town of lycans. If you’re in the bag for werewolves (or have a thing for hairy dudes smoking distinctive pipes), Wolves is a beckoning howl in the night. As an action movie, however, it’s surprisingly tame.

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