Monday, November 30, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Amy ***½ Directed by Asif Kapadia. The story of Amy Winehouse in her own words, featuring unseen archival footage and unheard tracks. Both biography and autopsy, an exhaustive chronicle of her rise to the top of the charts and a bare-knuckled indictment of the vulturish men who took advantage of the emotionally vulnerable singer.

Goodnight Mommy ***½ Directed by Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz. After plastic surgery, a mother returns home to her 10-year-old identical twin sons with her face swathed in bandages. But as she recovers, her increasingly odd behavior fuels the boys’ fears about the identity of the woman behind the gauze. This elegantly nasty little potboiler should satisfy those brave enough to brave it. They might see the big reveal coming, but that won’t help them unsee the horrors leading up to it.

The Hunting Ground *** Directed by Kirby Dick. An exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the toll they take on students and their families. This is an emotionally devastating piece of advocacy journalism, as it should be. It should also be mandatory viewing for both college-age teens and their parents.

Mississippi Grind *** Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Deeply in debt because of his compulsive gambling, 44-year-old Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) hopes to change his luck by teaming with a slick young poker ace (Ryan Reynolds) and heading to New Orleans to buy into a renowned high-stakes poker game. So long as the film focuses on spiky rapport, and on the authentic, lived-in textures of the American Midwest, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the grittiness and weary pathos ultimately gives way to a disappointingly pat finale, undermining everything that came before.

Mistress America *** Directed by Noah Baumbach. A lonely college freshman’s (Lola Kirke) life is turned upside down by her impetuous, adventurous soon-to-be stepsister (Greta Gerwig). Doesn’t quite achieve the magic of Frances Ha. But it’s a fresh take on the comic possibilities of friendship among the young.

Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans **½ Directed by Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna. Steve McQueen was already an accomplished road racer when he agreed to star in the racing drama Le Mans. This documentary recounts the creative differences and a flood of personal issues that nearly doomed the project. It doesn’t really succeed in conveying McQueen’s great passion for auto racing. In truth, it mostly makes him seem like a jerk — but cinephiles might enjoy it as a case study of moviemaking gone wrong.

Yakuza Apocalypse **½ Directed by Takashi Miike. Yakuza boss Genyo Kamiura is the most feared man in the criminal underground, but few know that he’s also a vampire. Just before being killed, he passes on his undead powers by biting his faithful underling — who’s bent on avenging Kamiura’s murder. For those fans who don’t mind enduring some tedium and confusion, this at least offers something memorably bizarre.

Tokyo Tribe **½ Directed by Shion Sono. In this saga of Tokyo’s violent criminal underworld, two of the city’s biggest gangs are the Wu-Ronz and the Musashino Saru. After a Wu-Ronz leader mistakenly kills the wrong victims, a city-wide battle begins. This is so insistently over-the-top from the start that the results are just fairly amusing when they ought to be exhilarating.

The Immortalists ** Directed by David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg. A documentary about two eccentric scientists (Bill Andrews, Aubrey de Grey) who struggle to create eternal youth in a world they call "blind to the tragedy of old age." Would that the film encouraged some deeper thought on the matter instead of inviting viewers to gawk at the subjects as if they were freak-show attractions.

Cooties ** Directed by Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion. Students at an elementary school fall prey to a virus that transforms them into bloodthirsty, cannibalistic mutants. Though the movie has a reasonable amount of laughs and frights, and though real teachers may find it an apt allegory for the zombielike charges in their classrooms, it’s not really funny enough to achieve grown-up cachet, and it’s too ugly and violent for younger viewers.

Desert Dancer ** Directed by Richard Raymond. Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Ritchie) defies the government’s prohibition against dancing in modern Iran and starts an underground dance company. Ghaffarian’s story plays out within such a generic framework, and with such self-importance, that it’s all too easy to remain untouched by the onscreen events.

Lost in the SunDirected by Trey Nelson. After crossing paths with recently orphaned teen Louis (Josh Wiggins), two-bit crook John (Josh Duhamel) forces the youngster to accompany him on a road trip that turns into a robbery spree. By the time you’re meant to learn just what the tie is between John and Louis, you’ve stopped caring. But, thanks to the excellent if a little on the obviously-pictorial-side cinematography by Robert Barocci, you’ve seen some lovely vistas on the way to indifference.

90 Minutes in Heaven * Directed by Michael Polish. A man (Hayden Christensen) involved in a horrific car crash is pronounced dead, only to come back to life an hour and a half later, claiming to have seen Heaven. It’s certainly a moving tale. Unfortunately, the film tells the story in the most prosaic fashion imaginable, missing nary a single faith-based film cliché with its one-dimensional noble characters, banal dialogue and requisite sermonizing.

Grace of Monaco ½* Directed by Olivier Dahan. Six years after Grace Kelly’s (Nicole Kidman) storybook life led her to become the Princess of Monaco, the actress weighs an offer to resume her career in Hollywood while helping her country in a dispute with France. The film isn’t just bad — it’s awful — ineptly directed, terribly written and bafflingly acted by an assortment of miscast faces.

Momentum ½* Directed by Stephen S. Campanelli. Intending to retire from a successful career as a master thief, Alex (Olga Kurylenko) makes the dangerous mistake of revealing her identity during her final heist. A spectacularly generic action-thriller that, despite its sleekly shot and edited mayhem, lands with a giant thud.

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