Monday, January 25, 2016

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

The Assassin ***½ Directed by Hsiao-Hsien Hou. An assassin (Qi Shu) accepts a dangerous mission to kill a political leader in seventh-century China. Conventional and easy-to-follow narratives can be found anywhere, but very few of them occur in films that are as visually ravishing and formally graceful as what Hou has cooked up here.

Chi-Raq *** Directed by Spike Lee. A modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. Lee’s carnival-esque filmmaking style, which can leave some of his joints in tatters, helps this one expand in sorrowful heart and indomitable wit. This is a vibrant community mural of a movie, and it stretches to the horizon.

The New Girlfriend *** Directed by Francois Ozon. A young woman (Anais Demoustier) makes a surprising discovery about the husband (Romain Duris) of her late best friend. Duris and Demoustier are excellent in a pair of exceedingly complex and emotionally fractious roles, and Ozon’s supremely confident directorial hand and clear affection for these characters transforms the film from a could’ve-been psycho-thriller into a smart, humanistic examination of identity reshaped in the shadow of grief.

In My Father’s House *** Directed by Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg. After rap artist Che "Rhymefest" Smith decides to raise his new family in his boyhood home on Chicago’s South Side, he learns that his estranged father is a homeless alcoholic living in the neighborhood and sets out to reestablish a connection. Filmmakers Stern and Sundberg bring a skilled and nuanced storytelling to the film, which never shies away from the harder moments.

Meet the Patels *** Directed by Geeta and Ravi Patel. An Indian-American man (Ravi Patel) who is about to turn 30 gets help from his parents and extended family to start looking for a wife in the traditional Indian way. A clever hybrid of documentary and romantic comedy.

A Brilliant Young Mind **½ Directed by Morgan Matthews. A socially awkward teenage math prodigy (Asa Butterfield) finds new confidence and new friendships when he lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad. The success here is mostly due to nuanced performances and an appreciation for what these kinds of films require.

Goosebumps **½ Directed by Rob Letterman. A teenager (Dylan Minnette) teams up with the daughter (Odeya Rush) of young adult horror author R. L. Stine (Jack Black) after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware. There’s a streak of old-fashioned B-movie spooky playfulness here, and when actual, motivated characters are on screen it’s delightful.

The Wannabe ** Directed by Nick Sandow. Hell-bent on becoming a big-shot gangster, Thomas (Vincent Piazza) will do anything to get in good with the Mafia. But when his inept efforts fall flat, he and his wife (Patricia Arquette) set out to rip off the mobsters Thomas was hoping to impress. Since Thomas’ character is incapable of change or variation, and the film’s only engaging supporting players occupy a small fraction of the running time, it falls squarely upon Arquette to carry the film.

BurntDirected by John Wells. A chef (Bradley Cooper), who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior, cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars. A tasteless concoction — one gay character is particularly misjudged — that’s instantly forgettable.

Brush With Danger ½* Directed by Livi Zheng. Two undocumented immigrants to America, a brother and sister, struggle to get by in an unfamiliar world until the girl’s paintings catch the eye of an art broker who wants to sell them. Although the characters repeatedly express their worship of "original art" in gilded frames, the script consists of singularly unoriginal dialogue.

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