Monday, January 4, 2016

This Week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Experimenter ***½ Directed by Michael Almereyda. In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) conducted a series of radical behavior experiments that tested ordinary humans willingness to obey authority. Technically puckish where appropriate but grounded by strong performances from Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder. The film is not awards bait but makes some Big Thinker biographies that are look staid.

The Walk *** Directed by Robert Zemeckis. In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk between the World Trade Center towers. Harnessing the wizardry of special effects to magnify the sheer transporting wonder, the you-are-there thrill of the experience, the film’s payoff more than compensates for a lumbering setup, laden with cloying voiceover narration and strained whimsy.

A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story *** Directed by Sara Hirsh Bordo. Traces the inspiring journey of Lizzie Velasquez, who was born with a medical condition that left her with distorted facial features. The filmmakers leave a few too many questions unanswered, but their subject’s immense optimism steamrolls through the documentary’s shortcomings. Indeed, there seems to be little this woman can’t vanquish.

Infinitely Polar Bear **½ Directed by Maya Forbes. A manic-depressive mess of a father (Mark Ruffalo) tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters. Forbes has created a warm family portrait, even though it sugarcoats the specter that mental illness casts on this group’s well-being.

Sleeping with Other People **½ Directed by Leslye Headland. A good-natured womanizer (Jason Sudekis) and a serial cheater (Alison Brie) form a platonic relationship. The script makes the characters a little too witty and spot-on with cultural references, but what makes it work, to the extent that it does, is the innate liability of Sudeikis and Brie.

Northern Soul **½ Directed by Elaine Constantine. Set in 1974, a tale of two friends whose horizons are opened by the discovery of black American soul music. This feisty, frequently amusing chronicle of one young man’s journey through the dancehalls of Lancashire nails its time and place. A pity, then, that the story is so tiresomely familiar.

The Visit ** Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. A single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents. While Shyamalan competently scares us from time to time and makes us laugh uncomfortably at the odd actions — aren’t we snickering at mental illness? — he has nowhere interesting to take this simple tale.

Love ** Directed by Gaspar Noe. An American living in Paris enters into a highly sexually and emotionally charged relationship with an unstable woman. When the movie works, Noé achieves a lulling, melancholic frenzy about sex and memory, but the foundation isn’t strong enough to make his movie ever seem more than a stereoscopic fermata: one envelope-pushing note held way too long.

Ashby ** Directed by Tony McNamara. A high-school student (Nat Wolff) enters into a friendship with his neighbor (Mickey Rourke), a retired CIA assassin who only has a few months left to live. Rourke and Wolff certainly have chemistry, and Sarah Silverman (as the student’s concerned single mom) and Emma Roberts (as his potential girlfriend) provide solid support on the edges. But the humor never feels aimed in any particular direction.

The Green InfernoDirected by Guillermo Amoedo, Eli Roth. Determined to save an Amazon tribe being squeezed by logging, a group of students finds nothing but trouble when their plane crashes in the jungle. Unfortunately, the unbridled shock value isn’t matched by a similar investment in other ingredients that might have made this low rent B-movie worthwhile.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse * Directed by Christopher Landon. Looking forward to their last campout together as Boy Scouts, three high school friends face a surprise when they realize their town has come under attack by zombies. The gags are mostly puerile and uninspired — like the film was dreamed up by a bunch of tired, wired 13-year-olds; it has their insistence but little of their invention.

Condemned ½* Directed by Eli Morgan Gesner. While living in a crumbling and squalid abandoned building in New York City, a group of youngsters falls prey to a virulent disease that turns all of them into maniacal killers. One of the most egregiously awful horror films in recent memory.

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