Monday, April 4, 2016

This week's DVD releases

***** A classic. Should be a part of any serious film lover’s permanent library.
**** Excellent with only a few minor flaws.
*** Worthy of renting or streaming.
** Below average, but mght have limited appeal to some tastes.
* Should be avoided at all costs.
No stars All copies should be confiscated and destroyed for humanity’s sake.

Click on title to see the film’s trailer.
Of Men and War **** Directed by Laurent Becue-Renard. Documentary profiling a group of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as they struggle to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder. A work of astounding sensitivity and precision, it argues for emotional honesty as a moral and psychic imperative. The access that Bécue-Renard got, reportedly after five months of being there without a camera, is remarkable.

Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens **** Directed by J.J. Abrams. Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance. The action, from lightsaber duels to X-wing dogfights with TIE Fighters, is explosive and buoyed by John Williams’ exultant score. And the movie is also funny as hell. Abrams knows how to build a laugh and fill the emotional spaces between words. Abrams understands what George Lucas never quite figured out: that we’re less interested in the science fiction future than we are in revisiting the past. We don’t really want to see what happens next in that galaxy far, far away. We want to recapture what it felt like the first time we arrived, in 1977, with a movie called Star Wars. We want to go home. This film takes us there. The ending Abrams’s come up with feels so perfect it’s hard to imagine it any other way. In an age when we’ve all become binge watchers, we feel as if it’s become our right to immediately roll right into the next episode, the next sequel. And when this film ends, it’s bittersweet because you so badly want to head right into the next chapter.

How to Change the World ***½ Directed by Jerry Rothwell. Spanning the years 1971-79, this documentary chronicles the birth of Greenpeace, which quickly became a media-savvy organization that used the power of images as a mechanism for environmental change. Whatever you think of Greenpeace’s less well-considered antics over the years, this is a compelling story of one environmentalist’s remarkable combination of prescience, grit and timing.

The Hallow *** Directed by Corin Hardy. Soon after a London conservationist (Joseph Mawie) and his family arrive at their new home — a secluded millhouse in Ireland — he discovers that the land he’s been sent to survey is populated by demonic creatures who prey on children. In a departure from the sexually active teens of most slasher movies, this film plays on more grown-up fears: keeping your family safe and steering clear of a vengeful Mother Nature.

Bad Hurt *** Directed by Mark Kemble. With one son battling post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his combat experiences and a special-needs adult daughter to care for, beleaguered parents Elaine (Karen Allen)and Ed Kendall (Michael Harney) find themselves stretched to their emotional limits. Kemble takes great care to construct a tough Staten Island-raised, Irish-American history so each personal struggle depicted can be traced back and rendered authentic.

Tumbledown *** Directed by Sean Mewshaw. A young woman (Rebecca Hall) struggles to move on with her life after the death of her husband, an acclaimed folk singer. That it sort of works in spite of all its clichés is a testament to the gifts of its lead actors.

Dixieland ** Directed by Hank Bedford. Fresh out of jail, Kermit (Chris Zylka) returns home vowing to stay on the straight and narrow. But after falling for the pretty girl next door, Kermit finds himself agreeing to pull off one last job. Bedford delivers some tactile, human details. But the film is slow and often agonizingly predictable.

Prescription Thugs ** Directed by Chris Bell, Greg Young, Josh Alexander. Surveying the surge of prescription drug abuse in the United States, this documentary questions the motives and ethics of pharmaceutical manufacturers that earn huge profits from promoting dangerously addictive products. Even before a "do as I say, not as I do" twist costs all of its credibility, this is a not very good documentary about a very important subject.

#Horror ** Directed by Tara Subkoff. Follows a group of preteens as they become increasingly involved in an intriguing online game that leads them to a threshold of real-life horror. Viewers, given not an ounce of human warmth nor one person to care about, finally have no choice but to cheer for the anonymous cyberbully who wants them all dead.

Mojave ** Directed by William Monahan. A suicidal artist (Garrett Hedlund) goes into the desert, where he finds a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac). In a simpler form, the movie might have been a gripping if minor genre film. Instead, it’s undone by the sort of pretentious overwriting that might have seemed impressive in the ‘70s but now comes across as merely forced.

The Masked Saint * Directed by Warren P. Sonoda. Former professional wrestler Chris Samuels (Brett Granstaff) becomes a small-town Baptist pastor who, in addition to performing his ecclesiastical duties, doubles as a masked vigilante prepared to violently protect his flock from marauding criminals. Veering from broad small-town comedy to heavy-handed vigilante dramatics, and marbled with the sort of spiritual epiphanies typically mastered in Sunday school rather than seminary, this Canadian indie seems unlikely to galvanize the faithful.

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