Monday, February 29, 2016

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi **** Directed by Jafar Panahi. Panahi is banned from making movies by the Iranian government. So he masquerades as a Tehran taxi driver and, as he shuttles a procession of idiosyncratic fares across the bustling city, a dashboard camera captures their candid conversations. A film of quiet but profound outrage, laughing on the surface, but howling in anger just beneath. It’s an act of defiance that’s also a sublime piece of cinema, and it ranks among the director’s finest work.

Room ***½ Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. After being abducted, raped and imprisoned in a small windowless room, a young woman (Brie Larson) gives birth and is forced to raise her son, Jack (Jacob Trembly), in the same improvised space. But after five years, Jack’s mother begins planning their escape. The film, never sensational or saccharine, is a tough but tender tribute to the creative power of maternal love — a terrific movie, one that has two outstanding performances, confident direction and a story line that is both harrowing and moving.

Creed ***½ Directed by Ryan Coogler. The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed. This is no Raging Bull — it’s a little too long and throws in an unnecessary disease to gin up the emotional content of the third act — but it’s surprising proof that iconic franchises that started in the 1970s can be revived in all the right ways.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry ***½ Directed by Mary Dore. A documentary that resurrects the buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern women’s movement from 1966 to 1971. The updating of the story is thin; some dramatizations, though short, are distracting, but the over-all impression, of a time of constant meetings and conversations that gave voice to stifled frustrations and united untapped energies, remains visionary and heroic.

Sunshine Superman *** Directed by Marah Strauch. A documentary portrait of Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement, whose early passion for skydiving led him to ever more spectacular and dangerous feats of foot-launched human flight. This might seem like a niche story, with its focus on stunts that most people wouldn’t dream of actually doing, but the documentary feels universal. It’s simply an examination of how one man fully embraced life while charting his own path.

The Danish Girl **½ Directed by Tom Hooper. In 1930, Danish painter Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) elects to have gender-reassignment surgery to become Lili Elbe, with the blessing of his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander). The subject is fascinating, the talent is undeniable, but the humanity that made Lili Elbe so memorable gets lost along the way.

Youth **½ Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. A retired orchestra conductor (Michael Caine) is on holiday with his daughter (Rachel (Weisz) and his film director best friend (Harvey Keitel) in the Alps when he receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday. The film — its melancholy and splendor too often at odds — never rises above feeling like a pretty, meandering gallery show.

Miss You Already **½ Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. The friendship between two life-long girlfriends is put to the test when one (Drew Barrymore) starts a family and the other (Toni Collette) falls ill. It’s a sad, emotive, important subject but it deserves a more detailed, heartfelt film than this.

Life **½ Directed by Anton Corbijn. A photographer (Robert Pattinson) for Life magazine is assigned to shoot pictures of James Dean (Dane DeHaan). It’s not a terrible film, and succeeds in giving us a play by play of an alleged dynamic between two individuals, but as a whole feels like a missed opportunity.

The Night Before **½ Directed by Jonathan Levine. On Christmas eve, three lifelong friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, Anthony Mackie) spend the night in New York City looking for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties. It’s enjoyable, but it’s also trite.

Legend ** Directed by Brian Helgeland. Tells the story of the identical twin gangsters Reggie (Tom Hardy) and Ronnie (Hardy) Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organized crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s. It’s worth the price of a rental just to see Hardy’s Reggie performance, which is up among his best work. Still, the story could have perhaps used a more inspired hand at the helm.

The BoyDirected by William Brent Bell. An American nanny (Lauren Cohan) is shocked that her new English family’s boy is actually a life-sized doll. The movie’s overriding concern is telegraphed enough in advance that fans of Gothic suspense will almost certainly have guessed it 45 minutes in.

Don VerdeanDirected by Jared Hess. A self-professed biblical archaeologist (Sam Rockwell) who has fallen on hard times starts to bend the truth in order to continue inspiring the faithful. I kept thinking one thing during most of this film: What would Christopher Guest do with his company of ace ad-libbers with such material? And the answer suddenly came to me — toss it in the trash and start all over again.

The IntrudersDirected by Adam Schindler. Anna (Beth Riesgraf) suffers from agoraphobia so crippling that when a trio of criminals break into her house, she cannot bring herself to flee. Riesgraf, who at times recalls the young Teri Garr, is gutsy and committed, but not even Meryl Streep could make this hokum credible.

Narcopolis * Directed by Justin Trefgame. Frank Grieves (Elliot Cowan) is a narcotics officer in a future where recreational drugs are legal as long as they’re distributed by pharmaceutical companies. When a banned substance turns up in a corpse, Frank suspects corruption. Boasting the canny use of suitably atmospheric, futuristic-looking locations, Narcopolis is far more impressive visually than narratively, with its tangled film noir plot making Raymond Chandler seem straightforward by comparison.

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