Monday, November 23, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Square ***½ Directed by Jehane Noujaim. A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience. An electrifying, at times heartbreaking documentary from the Egyptian-born, Harvard-educated documentarian Noujaim.

Shaun the Sheep Movie ***½ Directed by Mark Burton, Richard Starzak. Animated tale that follows roguish alpha-sheep Shaun, who schemes to take a day off by lulling the Farmer to sleep. Delivers exactly what it promises: The cutest, most innocuous entertainment this side of internet panda videos.

Twinsters ***½ Directed by Samantha Futerman, Ryan Miyamoto. Alerted to a You Tube video featuring a woman who bears an eerie resemblance to her, adoptee Anaïs Bordier makes contact with her lookalike via social media and the two discover they’re twins who were separated at birth. An enjoyable ride, made with vigorous love and creativity, which is more than enough reason to recommend it. Especially to siblings.

Sand Dollars ***½ Directed by Israel Cardenas, Laura Amelia Guzman. At a seaside Dominican resort, the long relationship between aging French lesbian Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) and her 21-year-old lover, Noelí (Yanet Mojica) — who’s paid for her services — begins to disintegrate when Noelí gets pregnant. Guzmán and Cárdenas present this tropical island as both Anne’s romantic refuge and Noelí’s exploitative landscape, a beautiful, enchanting — and realistic — Eden where snakes are merely snakes.

A Hard Day *** Directed by Seong-hoon Kim. After trying to cover up a car accident that left a man dead, a crooked homicide detective is stalked by a mysterious man claiming to have witnessed the event. Has a breakneck pace that allows one to easily dismiss the more ridiculous, downright nonsensical aspects of its plot. Only occasionally will the eyes roll. For the most part, it works.

1971 *** Directed by Johanna Hamilton. Eight antiwar activists broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office in 1971 and made off with a treasure trove of documents revealing a massive illegal surveillance program. Now, in Hamilton’s fiery truth-to-power documentary, those gray-haired agitators finally step out of the shadows to explain what they did and why they did it (with the help of some slightly hokey dramatic reenactments). Their message — namely, Who will watch the watchmen? — remains as important today as it was 44 years ago.

Ricki and the Flash ** Directed by Jonathan Demme. A musician (Meryl Streep) who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family. This is a sour movie masquerading as something more cheerful. In that attempted deception the film is both helped and hindered by an indispensable performance by Streep.

Cut Snake ** Directed by Tony Ayres. A pair of ex-cons hatch a scheme to burn down a nightclub in Brisbane. It’s in the accelerating spiral of crime that the weaknesses of the script and direction become hard to ignore.

American Ultra ** Directed by Nima Nourizadeh. Mike Howell’s (Jesse Eisenberg) indolent life as a small-town stoner is abruptly upended when he comes to realize that he’s a trained sleeper agent for a foreign foe and that U.S. government operatives have marked him for death. The movie is replete with bloody encounters, sly asides, and one-liners, but the tone is awkward and uneven. There are also some serious structural problems that we’re supposed to brush aside.

A Christmas Horror Story ** Directed by Grant Harvey, Steve Hoban, Brett Sullivan. Interweaves four horror-styled yuletide yarns including one where Santa Claus finds himself pitted against a horde of zombie elves, and another where a family inadvertently conjures a primordial Christmas demon. As horror movies go, this one’s not especially tense or scary. Instead, it’s eerie, provocative and at times ridiculously violent. The ending feels like a cop-out after so much creative mayhem.

No EscapeDirected by John Erick Dowdle. In their new overseas home, an American family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape from an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed. I won’t make a case for No Escape being a good film; the first half is pretty good and the second half ranges from pretty bad to truly awful. Nor will I deny having enjoyed quite a bit of it as a zombie film, never mind that it’s supposed to be an international thriller with contemporary political significance.

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