Monday, October 5, 2015

This week's DVD releases


Whew! A heavier than normal amount of releases this week. Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief ***½ Directed by Alex Gibney. An in-depth look at the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology. Gibney’s a bit like a kid in an exposé-candy store here, and you can sense him trying to cram as much as he can into the film. Good for him: Going Clear is jaw-dropping. You wouldn’t really want it any other way.

Little Hope Was Arson ***½ Directed by Theo Love. After arson fires destroy 10 East Texas churches in the space of a few weeks, the resulting police investigation fails to turn up any leads. Eventually, a citizen’s tip points detectives in the direction of two young locals. Love’s mesmerizing documentary is as evenhanded as it is unsettling.

Creep *** Directed by Patrick Brice. When a videographer answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day job in a remote mountain town, he finds his client is not at all what he initially seems. Knowing and funny without straining to be clever, the found-footage-style film works better than the Duplass Brothers’ 2008 Baghead, with which it has some elements in common.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl *** Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. High schooler Greg (Thomas Mann), who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl (RJ Cyler), finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate (Oliva Cooke) who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Treats a serious subject with wackadoodle humor that is endearingly contagious. It’s tender, clever, wise and highly recommended.

When Marnie Was There *** Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. A lonely city girl (Sara Takatsuki) with chronic asthma is sent to spend the summer with relatives in a seaside town where the air is clean. Before long, she makes friends with a mysterious girl (Kasumi Arimura) living in a deserted villa. The film may start off a bit awkwardly, but it’ll have you bathing in your own tears by the time it’s over.

Fresh Dressed *** Directed by Sacha Jenkins. A documentary that takes a look at a generation of fashion designers who turned the hip-hop youth culture into a billion-dollar business. Although it treads water for the final 15 or so minutes, the movie is brisk and engaging enough that it still doesn’t feel overlong.

People Places Things *** Directed by James C. Strouse. Will Henry (Jermaine Clement) is a newly single graphic novelist balancing parenting his young twin daughters and a classroom full of students while exploring and navigating the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman (Stephanie Allynne) who left him. Filled with arch wit, the film is sweet and sorrowful at the same time. Like many indies, it lacks much of a conclusion, though writer-director Strouse shows that simple ideas, ably executed, can make an endearing film.

We Are Still Here **½ Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Hoping to leave behind the trauma of their teenage son’s death, Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) relocate to a rustic house in a small New England town. But soon after they move in, Anne begins to sense her dead child’s ghostly presence in their new home. Has its pacing problems, and the special effects are strictly of the cheesy variety, but it provides enough genuine scares to make it thoroughly enjoyable, especially if seen with your main squeeze late at night.

Batkid Begins **½ Directed by Dana Nachman. On Nov.15, 2013, young leukemia patient Miles Scott got his wish to become Batman when San Francisco transformed itself into Gotham City to become Miles’s playground, a singular act of charity that became an Internet sensation. This film would be easier to swallow if it focused less on self-congratulation than on the epidemic of unselfishness that inspired the magic in the first place.

10,000 Saints **½ Directed by Shari Springer Bergman, Robert Pulcini. Set in the 1980s, a teenager (Asa Butterfield) from Vermont moves to New York City to live with his father (Ethan Hawke). Part teen romance, part awkward love triangle, part generational-clash portrait, and almost all powered by nostalgia, this warmly conceived dramedy will likely resonate strongest with audiences who have a direct connection to the story’s place and time.

Harmontown **½ Directed by Neil Berkeley. A documentary that follows Dan Harmon on tour for his podcast series after he was fired in 2012. The best elements of the film capture Harmon’s unique raw energy.

Magic Mike XXL **½ Directed by Gregory Jacobs. Three years after Mike (Channing Tatum) bowed out of the stripper life at the top of his game, he and the remaining Kings of Tampa hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last blow-out performance. To the film’s credit, it knows it’s ridiculous. It’s aiming for ridiculous, and it hits the mark as precisely as the strippers groove half-naked to their beats.

Mateo **½ Directed by Aaron I. Naar. Follows America’s most notorious gringo mariachi on his misadventures to Cuba. First-timer Naar fails to convince us of his subject’s musical genius and gives the impression he’s leaving out important details.

In the Courtyard **½ Directed by Pierre Salvadori. After abruptly ending his musical career, 40-year-old Antoine Le Gerrec (Gustave Kervern) has little idea of what to do with his life. But when he takes a job as caretaker of a rundown Parisian apartment block, he’s soon drawn into the lives of his eccentric tenants. A wry, oh-so-gentle dual character study saved from sleepiness by the unexpected star pairing of Catherine Deneuve and Kervern.

Manglehorn **½ Directed by David Gordon Greene. Living only with his cat, a brooding locksmith (Al Pacino) remains in a rut, penning endless letters to his idealized lost love. Pacino has finally started acting again, which is cause for celebration. It’ll be real cause for celebration if/when he also starts picking projects worthier than The Humbling, Danny Collins, and now Manglehorn, all of which see him struggling to find moments of truth within a contrived, borderline ludicrous scenario.

Escobar: Paradise Lost **½ Directed by Andrea Di Stefano. While visiting his brother on Colombia’s idyllic Pacific coast, a young surfer (Josh Hutcherson) falls in love with a woman (Claudia Traisac) only to discover that she’s the niece of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benecio Del Toro). An entertaining and suitably gruesome gangster thriller which nevertheless feels like a missed opportunity.

Awake: The Life of Yogananda ** Directed by Paola di Florio, Lisa Leeman. A documentary that chronicles the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, who played a key role in changing Western attitudes toward Asian spiritual traditions and expanding the popularity of yoga and meditation around the world. Those looking for further enlightenment might want to pass on this feel-good cinematic hagiography.

What We Did On Our Holiday ** Directed by Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin. During a visit to celebrate the 75th birthday of the family patriarch, who’s terminally ill, soon-to-be-divorced Doug (David Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike) try to maintain the pretense that they’re happy together. For a while the film broaches genuinely unexpected comedic and emotional territory, and while matters eventually return to the safe haven of pat formula, at least there’s been some vim and vigor added to the amiable observational humor and likeable performances.

Insidious: Chapter 3 ** Directed by Leigh Whannell. This prequel follows a psychic (Lin Shaye) who uses her skills to help a teen (Stefanie Scott) tormented by a threatening paranormal entity. You have a horror movie with two strong female leads – no small thing. The movie, however, has little else going for it.

Road Hard ** Directed by Adam Carolla, Kevin Hench. Following an expensive divorce and the cancellation of his TV show, a stand-up comic (Carolla) is forced to go back on the road to provide for his daughter. Though Carolla and co-filmmaker Hench devise some funny situations — particularly, the one in which a newly divorced woman insists on coming back to his room — the overall feeling that comes across is one of sadness, and that seems intentional.

Missionary ** Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. A struggling mother (Dawn Oliviera) trying to create a better life for her and her son meets a handsome Mormon missionary (Mitch Ryan) with a troubled past and they begin an incendiary love affair. There’s no reason the missionary-recruiter turned stalker idea couldn’t work. But this one doesn’t.

Tio PapiDirected by Fro Rojas. Wild bachelor Ray Ray Dominguez (Joey Dedio) dreams of nothing more than a carefree life of indulgence in Miami, but his plans are abruptly changed when he becomes the legal guardian of his sister’s six children. If it weren’t for the well-intentioned moments of pathos — a tear or two, here and there — this would be a complete waste of time.

Dark PlacesDirected by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. A quarter-century after Libby Day’s (Charlize Theron) mother and sisters were brutally murdered in a crime she believes her brother (Tye Sheridan) committed, a group of amateur sleuths begins casting doubt on his guilt. Inexpert execution, lazy attention to detail and a lackluster lead performance conspire to render a juicy mystery rather boring.

Air * Directed by Christian Cantamessa. When Earth’s air ceases to be breathable, two engineers (Norman Reedus, Djimon Hounsou) become caretakers of an underground bunker housing cryogenically preserved humans. Boredom has long since settled in by the time gunplay is involved.

Amnesiac * Directed by Michael Polish. A man (Wes Bentley) awakes in bed unable to recall who he is, the victim of a car accident and resulting coma, only to begin to suspect that his wife (Kate Bosworth) may not be his real wife. The plot develops confidently (if unsurprisingly), abetted by coincidence and shoddy police work, but it’s the tone that grates.

Lucky Stiff * Directed by Christopher Ashley. A bachelor (Dominic Marsh) travels to Monte Carlo to claim an inheritance from his late rich uncle. Bad movies are bad. Bad theater is worse. But bad movies resembling bad theater are perhaps worst of all.

The Stranger * Directed by Guillermo Amoedo. A mysterious man arrives in a small Canadian town seeking his wife, though his presence plunges the community into a bloodbath. While the movie is bad, the fact that it makes you wait and wait for its excessively dismal perspective to be justified by a measly little twist is even worse.

The Anomaly * Directed by Noel Clarke. Traumatised ex-soldier Ryan Reeve (Clarke) wakes up in the back of a moving van next to a young boy who is being held prisoner. He frees the boy and must work out what is happening in bursts of less than ten minutes, while his mind is switched repeatedly between two parallel existences. There’s infinitely more than one anomaly to be found in this film, a thoroughly nonsensical futuristic sci-fi thriller that makes a case for the perils of vanity projects.

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