Monday, February 1, 2016

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Bridge of Spies ***½ Directed by Steven Spielberg. During the Cold War, an American lawyer (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Hanks could do this kind of role in his sleep; luckily he doesn’t. Like Spielberg, we probably take him and his gifts for granted. Between the two of them, they make this film a movie that works as a period piece and a timely commentary on how we live now. If that sounds like faint praise, it shouldn’t. Because it’s not.

Breathe ***½ Directed by Melanie Laurent. When the worldly and charismatic Sarah (Lou de Laage) enrolls at Charlie’s (Josephine Japy) high school, they soon become the best of friends until a holiday at the beach leads to emotional complications. Conveys an uncanny insight into the psychology of late adolescence, when lingering childhood fantasies can combust with burgeoning adult sexuality in a swirl of uncontrollable feelings.

He Never Died *** Directed by Jason Krawczyk. Cursed with immortality and a hunger for human flesh, Jack (Henry Rollins) lives a cloistered life, feeding his appetite by purchasing blood from a hospital intern. But Jack’s life is upended when some gangland thugs and his long-lost daughter enter the picture. Isn’t as fleshed out as it could be, but what the film lacks in vivid supporting characters and rich plotting it gets back from Rollins, whose innate charisma carries the film.

Man Up *** Directed by Ben Palmer. A single woman (Lake Bell) takes the place of a stranger’s blind date, which leads to her finding the perfect boyfriend (Simon Pegg). This destined-for-romance story in the spirit of You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle has just enough edge to distinguish it from a Lifetime movie. It also has Bell and Pegg, versatile and likable actors who help the mild story considerably.

Suffragette *** Directed by Sarah Gavron. Dreaming of the right to vote, working-class Maud (Carey Mulligan) eagerly joins the early feminist movement. But when the peaceful protests of the suffragettes accomplish nothing, they’re driven to more radical methods of effecting change. The most startling aspect of this film, which for better or worse is a standard-issue historical drama, well constructed but not especially capacious or original, is its depiction of how far female activists were willing to go in order to prove that they could stand alongside men.

Meadowland *** Directed by Reed Morano. Anguished by their son’s disappearance, Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and Phil (Luke Wilson) struggle to keep their bearings. But as months pass without word of their child, Sarah’s desperate search for answers drives her to take increasingly greater risks. What saves this film from being an exercise in masochism is the acting. Wilson and Wilde have a light touch that makes them perfect for the comedies they often make. Here, Morano leads them to much darker places, and they plunge right in.

Truth **½ Directed by James Vanderbilt. Newsroom drama detailing the 2004 60 Minutes report investigating then-President George W. Bush’s military service, and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) their careers. As high-class cheese goes, this film slips down fine. It’s a noisy, one-note rally for the converted that gets your pulse racing even if you’re rolling your eyes.

Kahlil Gilbran’s The Prophet **½ This animated treasury of tales combines the work of various artists and directors to relate the story of dissident writer Mustafa (voice of Liam Neeson) and 8-year-old Almitra (voice of Quvenzhane Wallis), whose paths cross the day Mustafa is released from confinement. A hit-and-miss affair, easy on the eyes but nothing to write home — or a term paper — about.

Extraordinary Tales **½ Directed by Raul Garcia. An animated anthology of five stories adapted from Edgar Allan Poe. Offers a CliffsNotes encapsulation of Poe’s most enduring works for viewers unacquainted with them.

The Keeping Room **½ Directed by Daniel Barber. Left without men in the dying days of the American Civil War, three Southern women — two sisters (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld) and one African-American slave (Muna Otaru) — must fight to defend their home and themselves from two rogue soldiers (Sam Worthington, Kyle Soller) who have broken off from the fast-approaching Union Army. Attempts a blend of sexual curiosity, home invasion horror and elegiac drama, that doesn’t quite work, but whose ambitions are nonetheless compelling.

The World of Kanako ** Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. As former detective Akikazu (Koji Fujishima) searches for his missing daughter, Kanako (Nana Fujishima), he soon learns she has a mysterious secret life. While there’s something compelling about an antihero whose obsession is poised on the razor’s edge between love and hate, this film buries it in grinding, agitated repetition.

A Ballerina’s Tale ** Directed by Nelson George. A documentary on African-American ballerina Misty Copeland that examines her prodigious rise, her potentially career ending injury alongside themes of race and body image in the elite ballet world. It’s a complicated story that requires digging deep into uncomfortable questions about ballet’s rigid aesthetic standards and the economics and availability of training. George doesn’t give it the depth or analysis it requires.

Effie Gray ** Directed by Richard Laxton. A look at the love triangle involving Victorian art critic John Ruskin (Greg Wise), his teenage bride Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning), and Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge). Slow, dreary, clumsily staged, and lacks a compelling lead.

Our Brand Is Crisis ** Directed by David Gordon Green. A battle-hardened American political consultant (Sandra Bullock) is sent to help re-elect a controversial president in Bolivia, where she must compete with a long-term rival (Billy Bob Thornton) working for another candidate. The attempt is to create a reality wide enough to accommodate the extremes of absurdity and hard political truth, but the pieces never cohere, and so we end up with a rattling bag of disparate elements.

Freeheld ** Directed by Peter Sollett, A New Jersey police lieutenant (Julianne Moore) and her registered domestic partner (Ellen Page) battle to secure the lieutenant’s pension benefits when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Good intentions can only take you so far. So it is with this, a well-meaning movie whose sterling intentions, timely and provocative subject and terrific cast are muted to near oblivion by uninspired storytelling and direction.

ShelterDirected by Paul Bettany. A heroin junkie (Jennifer Connelly) and a Nigerian immigrant (Anthony Mackie) fall in love while homeless on the streets of New York. A well-intentioned film that edges into misery porn.

American HeroDirected by Nick Love. Melvin (Stephen Dorff), a reluctant superhero, lives only for crime, women and drugs until he realizes that the only way he will ever get to see his estranged son is to go straight and fulfill his potential as a crime fighter. Starts off seeming as if it is going to be a fresh take on superheroes, but Love, who wrote as well as directed, turns out to have nowhere to go with his intriguing premise.

Big Stone GapDirected by Adriana Trigiani. In a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, a self-proclaimed spinster (Ashley Judd) finds her life shaken up and forever changed after learning a long-buried family secret. As thin as a picture postcard.

The Last Witch HunterDirected by Breck Eisner. Bent on destroying humankind, a powerful coven aims to unleash a devastating plague on New York City and it’s up to an immortal witch hunter (Vin Diesel), a priest and a good-hearted young witch to thwart the lethal plan. Like its star, the film is big, overblown and frequently incomprehensible.

HellionsDirected by Bruce McDonald. Home alone on Halloween night, a pregnant teen (Chloe Rose) ends up fighting for her life when a band of masked, demonic trick-or-treaters shows up. A jumbled third act and an indifferent ending ultimately make this film disappointing. But there’s a bit of fun to be had in its opening frights, and in trying to figure out what these costumed little monsters really want.

Rock the Kasbah * Directed by Barry Levinson. A down-on-his-luck music manager (Bill Murray) discovers a teenage girl (Leem Lubany) with an extraordinary voice while on a music tour in Afghanistan and takes her to Kabul to compete on a popular television show. The cast of old pros (including Bruce Willis as a soldier of fortune) amble through amiably enough, but a few laughs here and there aren’t enough to make this movie come together in a satisfying way.

Martyrs ½* Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz. A woman (Troian Bellisario) and her childhood friend (Bailey Noble) seek revenge on those who victimized and abused them. The movie feels like a thin excuse to show image after image of women being abused. It has the bones of its predecessor, but it’s been bled dry.

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