Monday, February 22, 2016

This week's DVD releases


Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Spotlight **** Directed by Thomas McCarthy. Revealing a string of cover-ups stretching back decades, a team of Boston Globe reporters exposes the Catholic Archdiocese’s history of keeping reports about child molestation and other priest-initiated abuse under wraps. Inspiring stuff, the stuff of Hollywood all the way back to Frank Capra and before: a story of scrappy underdogs, determined to get to the truth, and toppling the mighty in the process. A snapshot of what happened at a particular time and place that doesn’t try to glamorize its subjects or make any larger points about what it all means. By refusing to do so, by celebrating the process over the outcome and the work over the reward, it becomes a special experience, a movie that matters. A gripping detective story and a superlative newsroom drama, a solid procedural that tries to confront evil without sensationalism.

Brooklyn ***½ Directed by John Crowley. After emigrating from Ireland, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) readily adapts to the vastly different New York City, where she falls for a young Italian. But when tragedy pulls her back to her hometown, she finds her loyalties divided between two nations and two men. Endows its characters with desires and aspirations, but not with foresight, and it examines the past with open-minded curiosity rather than with sentimentality or easy judgment. It grabs us, holds us and moves us on its own. Emotionally it’s a killer.

Racing Extinction ***½ Directed by Louie Psihoyos. In the face of accelerating species extinctions worldwide, a diverse team of activists, scientists and inventors work together to come up with technologies and regulations that could forestall this seemingly unstoppable global tragedy. It’s the film’s sounds that will tug at your emotions. If you’ve ever wondered what a breaking heart sounds like, it’s right here in the futile warble of the last male of a species of songbird, singing for a mate that will never come.

Becoming Bulletproof ***½ Directed by Michael Burnett. A diverse group of disabled people from across the United States take on leading roles in a costume drama Western, filmed on vintage Hollywood locations. As a piece of filmmaking, this documentary is haphazard and overloaded with talking heads. But as a window into the lives of some of these disabled actors, it’s often moving.

The Girl in the Book *** Directed by Marya Cohn. Set in the world of New York publishing, a young book editor (Emily VanCamp) is forced to confront a troubling chapter from her past when a bestselling author (Michael Nyqvist) re-enters her life. Cohn displays deep sympathy with her protagonist’s intersecting emotional crises, scripting a narrative that’s intensely perceptive without becoming mired in mawkishness.

The Good Dinosaur **½ Directed by Peter Sohn. Visualizing an Earth where the great dinosaur extinction never occurred, this animated saga follows an Apatosaurus named Arlo as he makes his way through harsh terrain. During the course of his journey, he’s befriended by a human boy. The film is amiable, pretty, and charming in all the right ways — even if it ultimately settles for a fairly typical tale of a late bloomer finding his way.

Entertainment **½ Directed by Rick Alverson. En route to meet his estranged daughter and attempting to revive his dwindling career, a broken, middle-aged comedian plays a string of dead-end shows in the Mojave desert. The on-stage moments in this film are revelatory but, unfortunately, some of the in-between meat of the film doesn’t quite connect.

The Summer of Sangaile **½ Directed by Alante Kavaite. Though 17-year-old Sangaile (Julija Steponaityte) is fascinated by the feats of aerobatic pilots, her fear of heights prevents her from taking wing until her relationship with the audacious young Auste (Aiste Dirziute) inspires the boldness that Sangaile needs. Distractingly lovely to look at, the film can’t make Sangaile’s struggles or triumphs matter. Its soaring conclusion feels anticlimactic, the story drifting off into air.

I Smile Back **½ Directed by Adam Salky. Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman) does bad things. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt at redemption. This is a case of good acting saving a movie from its own poor choices.

Yosemite **½ Directed by Gabrielle Demeestere. Set in 1985 California, this drama follows three suburban fifth-graders as they navigate shifting friendships, grapple with death for the first time in their young lives and encounter danger after a mountain lion is spotted in town. Although evocative and nicely observed, this coming-of-age drama ultimately proves too low-key and elliptical to make much of an impression.

Secret in Their Eyes ** Directed by Billy Ray. Thirteen years after a colleague’s (Julia Roberts) daughter is savagely murdered, a former FBI investigator (Chiwetel Ejiofor) remains haunted by the unsolved case. Ejiofor, one of our top-tier film actors right now, is on good form throughout, and the others act their hearts out, too. But they are somewhat left out to dry in a production that feels more like syndicated television than a feature film.

MoonwalkersDirected by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet. After failing to locate the legendary Stanley Kubrick, an unstable CIA agent (Ron Perlman) must instead team up with a seedy rock band manager (Rupert Grint) to develop the biggest con of all time — faking the moon landing. Takes a brilliant idea and runs it to the ground thanks to a confused and illogical screenplay, an atonal execution, and a bizarre addiction to Tarantino-level gleeful ultra-violence awkwardly crammed into what was obviously supposed to be a biting satire.

DiabloDirected by Lawrence Roeck. A young civil war veteran (Scott Eastwood) is forced on a desperate journey to save his kidnapped wife. A violent and grimly obvious frontier thriller that Clint Eastwood might have made during his Spaghetti Days.

My All-AmericanDirected by Angelo Pizzo. Chronicles the true story of Texas Longhorns safety Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock), who, days after his team became national champions in 1969. was diagnosed with a malignancy that cost him his leg. Strict adherence to the playbook may work in sports, but this movie shows the pitfalls of that approach with movies.

Extraction * Directed by Steven C. Miller. A former CIA operative (Bruce Willis) is kidnapped by a group of terrorists. When his son (Kellan Lutz) learns there is no plan for his father to be saved, he launches his own rescue operation. Miller, working off a script by Max Adams and Umair Aleem, keeps things moving at a breakneck pace in an attempt, it seems, to help mask the film’s convoluted plotting, one-note performances and bad dialogue.

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