Monday, January 18, 2016

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Diary of a Teenage Girl ***½ Directed by Marielle Heller. A teen artist (Bel Powley) living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother's (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). This is the rare movie that presents the subject of the loss of virginity from the female perspective. Not only is the film unique in this regard, but also in its frankness, humor, and artistry. An honest and personal and unblurred examination (even through that druggy blur) of a tricky voyage into womanhood.

Eden ***½ Directed by Mia Hansen-Love. A teenager (Felix de Givry) in the underground scene of early-‘90s Paris, forms a DJ collective with his friends and together they plunge into the nightlife of sex, drugs, and endless music. Restrained but never tentative, remote yet enormously affecting, the movie’s evocation of artistic compulsion is accomplished with confidence and verve. No matter what is going on, Hansen-Love's talent for bringing us inside a specific world makes this an experience we all can connect to.

All Things Must Pass *** Directed by Colin Hanks. A documentary that explores the rise and fall of Tower Records. Supplementing interviews with well-chosen archival material, Hanks assembles a capsule history of the music business and youth culture. It makes you appreciate anew the one-on-one social dimension lost in the music industry’s headlong switch to digital downloads.

Straight Outta Compton *** Directed by F. Gary Gray. The group NWA emerges from the mean streets of Compton in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and revolutionizes Hip Hop culture with their music and tales about life in the hood. The performances are terrific, and when it’s on its game, which is often, it’s an explosive look at the creation of a message that had to be delivered by the only people who could deliver it, a message that is, unfortunately, as timely now as when we first heard it.

Everest **½ Directed by Baltasar Kormakur. A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm. Though there is heroism as well as love here, because it involves the deaths of people we have come to care about, this is finally a sad story, though not always a dramatically involving one. A valiant effort that never quite scales the dizzy emotional heights required, running out of oxygen in the final act. Visually, though, it’s stunning.

Learning to Drive **½ Directed by Isabel Coixet. As her marriage dissolves, a Manhattan writer (Patricia Clarkson) takes driving lessons from a Sikh instructor (Ben Kingsley) with marriage troubles of his own. What spares this movie is an awful lot of comedic talent and artistic good will. Clarkson and Kingsley imbue average material with easy charm and wit, clicking onscreen with the smooth platonic chemistry of old friends.

Woodlawn **½ Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin. A gifted high school football player (Caleb Castille) must learn to embrace his talent and his faith as he battles racial tensions on and off the field. This overly long yet consistently involving period drama could be described, accurately, as equal parts Remember the Titans and revivalist tent meeting. But until the balance tips rather too blatantly toward the latter during the final minutes, the overall narrative mix of history lesson, gridiron action and spiritual uplift is effectively and satisfyingly sustained.

The Cut **½ Directed by Fatih Aikin. In 1915 a man (Tahar Rahim) survives the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, but loses his family, speech and faith. One night he learns that his twin daughters may be alive, and goes on a quest to find them. It’s a big, ambitious, continent-spanning piece of work, concerned to show the Armenian horror was absorbed into the bloodstream of immigrant-descended population in the United States, but it is a little simplistic emotionally.

A Girl Like Her ** Directed by Amy S. Weber. A high school student (Lexi Ainsworth) enlists the help of her best friend (Jimmy Bennett) in order to document the relentless harassment she's received from her former friend (Hunter King), one of the school's most popular students. A mix of found-footage thriller, mock-documentary realism and public service announcement that rings true almost as often as it rings false.

Samba ** Directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. Living in Paris illegally for nearly a decade, a Senegalese refugee (Omar Sy) suddenly finds himself in a detention center and on the verge of deportation when an immigration caseworker (Charlotte Gainsbourg) steps in to help. The film is loosely plotted and is at least 20 minutes too long. It seems ready to end half a dozen times before it finally does, with ironic payoffs for its two leading characters that are too glib to be satisfying.

Jem and the HologramsDirected by Jon M. Chu. Much to her surprise, a teen rocker (Audrey Peebles) becomes an overnight star via the social networking universe. There are a few sweet moments early in the film, but then the movie’s lumbering, overstuffed, unfocused plot shows up, and whatever high hopes we might have had for this latest exploitation of 1980s nostalgia are slowly ground away.

Stonewall * Directed by Roland Emmerich. A young man's (Jeremy Irvine) political awakening and coming of age during the days and weeks leading up to the Stonewall Riots. A well-intentioned, profoundly silly and borderline insulting movie.

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