Monday, December 14, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Top Spin ***½ Directed by Sara Newens, Mina T. Son. Documentary that follows a trio of determined teen athletes as they undergo the rigors of training for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic table tennis team. With sleek and informative onscreen graphics and thrilling slow-motion demonstrations of game technique, Top Spin packs a lot of information into its 80-minute running time, arguing that a great table tennis player is one part boxer, one part chess master.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation *** Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Ethan (Tom Cruise) and team take on the mission of eradicating the Syndicate — an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are that’s committed to destroying the IMF. Ultimately, as inconsequential as it all is, Rogue Nation is not pretending to be anything it isn’t. And as a sensory escapist experience with laughs, pleasures, and excitement, it will likely be a most satisfying mission viewers will choose to accept repeatedly.

Time Out of Mind *** Directed by Oren Moverman. Homeless and struggling to survive on the streets of New York City, George Hammond (Richard Gere) admits himself to Bellevue Hospital as a last resort. Before long, he finds a sympathetic soul named Dixon (Ben Vereen), who encourages George to try to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone). The film’s not entirely effective as drama. The pacing and sparse plot keep it from being truly immersive, and it’s not exactly a film designed to spur social change, either. Instead, it’s worth watching for Gere’s most uncompromising three-dimensional performance in 20 years.

He Named Me Malala **½ Directed by Davis Guggenheim. A documentary that looks at the events leading up to the Taliban’s attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls’ education followed by the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations. Guggenheim largely dodges lodging her story within a greater political context; a choice, but a shame, for when he does, the movie gains tension.

Wolf Totem **½ Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. During China’s Cultural Revolution, a young urban student (Shaofeng Feng) is sent to live with Mongolian herders, where he adopts a wolf cub. It sets out to take the viewer on a journey, but ends up giving them little more than a pleasantly diverting sight-seeing tour. There are worse ways to spend two hours. Better ones, too.

Slow Learners ** Directed by Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce. When platonic pals and co-workers Jeff (Adam Pally) and Anne (Sarah Burns) fail to ignite sparks in their romantic lives, they make a pact to improve themselves, launching a makeover campaign they’re certain will leave them confident and lucky in love. Even if this movie isn’t fresh, it’s often amusing.

Ted 2 ** Directed by Seth McFarlane. Newlywed couple Ted, a stuffed bear, and Tami-Lynn want to have a baby, but in order to qualify to be a parent, Ted will have to prove he’s a person in a court of law. Feels like far too many other sequels: born of box office expectations more than a bona fide reason to return to the characters we loved the first time around.

Maze Runner: The Scorch TrialsDirected by Wes Ball. After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. Ball’s film is a mad dash from one place to the next, with little time in between for rest, recuperation or plot development.

The Strongest ManDirected by Kenny Riches. Angst-ridden Beef (Robert Lorie), who fancies himself as the strongest man in the world, and his hapless best buddy, Conan (Paul Chamberlain) embark on a quest to reclaim Beef’s most cherished possession: a gold BMX bike that’s been stolen. Thinly amusing, The Strongest Man stretches a short’s worth of potentially funny ideas to feature length, where they slowly and surely lead nowhere in particular.

Fantastic Four * Directed by Josh Trank. A team of scientists who suddenly acquire superhuman abilities are soon obliged to put them to use when a powerful nemesis with malevolent plans threatens Earth. So bereft of all the things we expect from a superhero movie — humor, excitement, adventure, awe — that it plays like a drawn-out pilot episode for an upcoming TV series no one would ever watch again.

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