Monday, January 11, 2016

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the movie’s trailer

The Look of Silence **** Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. A family that survives the genocide in Indonesia confronts the men who killed one of their brothers. A harrowing and important documentary. This film makes it clear that these monstrous humans are very much a part of our species. In a way, I wish I’d never seen The Look of Silence, because now I won’t be able to forget it. But that’s the point, and the film’s purpose — calling attention to the cost of staying silent, and willfully forgetful, in the face of implacable evil.

The Second Mother ***½ Directed by Anna Muylaert. When the estranged daughter of a hard-working live-in housekeeper suddenly appears, the unspoken class barriers that exist within the home are thrown into disarray. Touching, funny, perceptive and simple enough to carry large audiences, it is carried throughout by a hilarious, intelligent and soulful performance from veteran Brazilian actress, comedian and TV host Regina Case, surrounded by a solid supporting cast.

The Martian ***½ Directed by Ridley Scott. During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. The film is shot, designed, computer-generated, and scripted on a level that makes most films of its ilk look slipshod. Scott and writer Drew Goddard aren’t trying to make an "important" sci-fi movie like Interstellar. They aim lower but blow past their marks. And perhaps most importantly, not only does the film stress the importance of using math and physics and botany and chemistry to solve problems, but it also makes a plot based on scientific inquiry and audacity just as exciting and even more unpredictable as the movies’ usual brand of problem-solving, the kind that involves punching everyone and then blowing everything up.

In the Basement *** Directed by Ulrich Seidl. A documentary that reveals what its subjects do in their respective basements. Grabby and grubby in equal measure, this meticulously composed trawl through the contents of several middle-class Austrians’ cellars (a space, according to Seidl, that his countrymen traditionally give over to their most personal hobbies) yields more than a few startling discoveries.

This Changes Everything **½ Directed by Avi Lewis. A look at seven communities around the world with the proposition that we can seize the crisis of climate change to transform our failed economic system into something radically better. While the stories this documentary tells are lively and never uninteresting, they fail to ignite an emotional explosion. The reach is also too broad for a film.

Uncle John **½ Directed by Steven Piet. An urbanite (Alex Moffat) returns to his quiet hometown on an impromptu trip as his uncle (John Ashton), widely respected in town, struggles to evade suspicion of a murder. A fair amount of this film puts us behind the wheel or alongside Ashton as he drives, preoccupied with his misdeeds, along country roads lined with cornfields. No dialogue is needed; in these transitions, Ashton and his surroundings are enough.

Irrational Man ** Directed by Woody Allen. A tormented philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix) finds a will to live when he commits an existential act. Allen builds to a climax that is ridiculous and a comment on … I don’t know. Fate? Folly? There are plenty of both in this movie, but they’re not often a comfortable mix.

Hotel Transylvania 2Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. Dracula (Adam Sandler) and his friends try to bring out the monster in his half human, half vampire grandson (Asher Blinkoff) in order to keep Mavis (Selena Gomez) from leaving the hotel. By the end of this 89-minute film, I was absolutely on the edge of my seat. Not due to suspense, but due to my utter disdain for the infantile plotting.

Contracted: Phase IIDirected by Josh Forbes. Riley (Matt Mercer) searches for a cure to the virus that took over Samantha (Najarra Townsend) before it consumes him and the entire world. The virus is spreading, but the filmmakers don't appear fully committed to the idea of a zombie apocalypse, so no sense of dread (or suspense) ever takes hold.

Sinister 2 * Directed by Ciaran Foy. A young mother (Shannyn Sossamon) and her twin sons (Robert and Dartanian Sloan) move into a rural house that's marked for death. A retread of such brainless, shameless lameness that it’s hard to imagine anyone begging for another installment.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension * Directed by Gregory Plotkin. Using a special camera that can see spirits, a family must protect their daughter from an evil entity with a sinister plan. There may well be new and novel ways to spark audience shivers from not-so-bright homeowners inexplicably using their cameraphones to check out bumps in the night, but this series clearly has neither the patience nor the inclination to look for them anymore.

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