Monday, August 24, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on the title to see the film’s trailer

Two Days, One Night **** Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. This is a small, compassionate gem of a movie, one that’s rooted in details of people and place but that keeps opening up onto the universal.

Citizenfour ***½ Directed by Laura Poitras. A documentary that follows Poitras’s 2013 journey to Hong Kong to meet with whistleblower Edward Snowden as he was preparing to release a wealth of classified government documents. Finds its strength in both the story and the telling: The information about government spying is chilling, of course, but the movie also gives us the opportunity to get to know the elusive Snowden.

Iris ***½ Directed by Albert Maysles. A documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel. Maysles endearingly reveals Apfel’s blend of blind passion and keen practicality, her unflagging enthusiasm for transmitting her knowledge to young people, and her synoptic view of fashion as living history.

Animals *** Directed by Collin Schiffli. While living near a Chicago zoo in their wreck of an auto, a drug-addicted young couple (David Dastmalchian, Kim Shaw) supports their habit through petty theft and hustling. There are a couple of things that make this movie effective, the main one being the performances of the two leads and the symbiotic relationship they create.

Big Game ** Directed by Jalmari Helander. A teenager camping in the woods helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite. There are parts of Escape From New York, Air Force One, Cliffhanger and countless Luc Besson movies strewn about. Big Game doesn’t stomp on their memory, but like an overenthusiastic fan, it does smother them with amateurish zeal.

Boychoir ** Directed by François Girard. A troubled and angry 11-year-old orphan (Garrett Wareing) from a small Texas town ends up at a Boy Choir school back East after the death of his single mom. It's a wonderful idea with good crowd-pleasing potential and, had the story-telling been more credible, this could have been a major coup for all concerned.

October Gale ** Directed by Ruba Nadda. A doctor (Patricia Clarkson) takes in a mysterious man (Scott Speedman) who washes ashore at her remote cottage with a gunshot wound. The action unwinds with the mechanical artifice of a creaky play, though Nadda creates a few strikingly cinematic moments.

Lila & Eve ** Directed by Charles Stone III. Two distraught mothers (Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez), whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action. Davis (who was an executive producer on the film) gives a strong performance, as if she were acting in one of those many prestige projects lighting up her resume. It’s a noble try, but this dreck is beyond saving.

Where Hope GrowsDirected by Chris Dowling. A baseball player (Kristoffer Polaha) whose professional career was cut short due to his personal problems is suddenly awakened and invigorated by a young-man with Down syndrome who works at the local grocery store. Once the proselytizing takes over, so does the predictability.

AlohaDirected by Cameron Crowe. A celebrated military contractor (Bradley Cooper) returns to the site of his greatest career triumphs and reconnects with a long-ago love (Rachel McAdams) while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watch-dog (Emma Stone) assigned to him. The movie isn’t horrible, but it does have a pitiable odor about it, like a dog that’s sat too long on the beach. Crowe aspires to Golden Age of Hollywood repartee, but something feels off, just as it did in Elizabethtown (2005) and We Bought a Zoo (2011). Everyone just seems to be trying too hard.

The RunnerDirected by Austin Stark. In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, an idealistic but flawed politician (Nicolas Cage) is forced to confront his dysfunctional life after his career is destroyed in a sex scandal. New Orleans makes for a distinctive backdrop, but that's really all just window dressing, and it goes only so far in covering the fact that this film — from its moody, electric-guitar-driven score to its faintly 1990s, Grisham-flavored sensibilities — runs out of narrative inspiration before it crosses the finish line.

Skin TradeDirected by Ekachai Uekrongtham. When his quest to bring down a gangster (Ron Perlman) costs a New York City cop (Dolph Lundgren) the lives of his family, all that matters to him is revenge. For a film so seemingly interested in educating audiences about the evils of sex trafficking that it provides horrific statistics at the conclusion, it has no compunction about including copious doses of female nudity.

After the Ball Directed by Sean Garrity. After a young fashion designer (Portia Doubleday) runs afoul of her corrupt stepmother and stepsisters, she dons a disguise to help save the family business for her father. This basic-cable-quality farce is as unobjectionable as it is unmemorable.

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