Monday, April 18, 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.
The Revenant ***½ Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. A frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Iñárritu’s savage endurance test of a film almost works better as a series of stunning images and surreal sequences than as an emotionally satisfying story. There’s a sense that the whole doesn’t quite equal the sum of the parts, no matter how spectacular some of them are.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon ***½ Directed by Douglas Tirola. A look at the history of the American comedy publication and production company from its beginning in the 1970s to 2010, featuring rare and never-before-seen footage. Tirola threads his way through a minefield of egos and grudges in his interviews and does some interesting stuff with animation in his presentation of some of the magazine pieces. Ultimately, what makes this documentary valuable is the sense it provides of how savage and uncompromising the National Lampoon was in its heyday.

The Lady in the Van ***½ Directed by Nicholas Hytner. A man (Alex Jennings) forms an unexpected bond with a transient woman (Maggie Smith) living in her van that's parked in his driveway. This is about a talented young writer still wrestling with how to draw upon his own experiences without exploiting others and it’s about the boundless talents of Smith, sometimes chewing up the screen, sometimes saying volumes simply by sitting very, very still, with a perfectly perfect expression on her face.

Sembene! *** Directed by Jason Silverman, Samba Gadjigo. A documentary that profiles one of Africa's most influential authors and filmmakers, Ousmane Sembène, who made his first film in 1963 and was a tireless advocate for the dispossessed in his native Senegal and throughout the continent. Sembène was an inspiration; thiis film is something less than that, petering out as it goes on, but at least offering a fair-minded tribute to a master.

Ip Man 3 **½ Directed by Wilson Yip. Ip Man (Donnie Yen) squares off against an unscrupulous property developer (Mike Tyson) and his gang of vicious thugs when they attempt to take over the city. Less offensively nationalistic than the second installment but falling short of the glowing humanity, genial Cantonese humor and visual flair of the first, the film is somewhat tarnished by its pedestrian plot and limp characterization.

All Mistakes Buried **½ Directed by Tim McCann. A struggling addict (Sam Trammell) takes on a dangerous underground criminal ring in his small Southern town to retrieve a stolen pendant he believes will save his marriage. Trammell’s drug-induced stammers and tics don’t by themselves add up to a compelling portrayal, nor is this drama of the down and out all that gripping.

Fifty Shades of Black * Directed by Michael Tiddes. An inexperienced college student meets a wealthy businessman whose sexual practices put a strain on their relationship. The funniest bit in the entire movie involves a particularly sadistic brand of torture inflicted on the heroine who quite rightly screams in protest, as should anyone forced to watch this DVD.

Misconduct * Directed by Shintaro Simosawa. When an ambitious young lawyer (Josh Duhamel) takes on a big case against a powerful and ruthless executive (Anthony Hopkins) of a large pharmaceutical company, he soon finds himself involved in a case of blackmail and corruption. Some handsome location shooting in New Orleans doesn’t make up for Hopkins’s relentless hamming and a plot that twists way beyond credibility.

Norm of the North * Directed by Trevor Wall. Accompanied by his three lemming friends, a playful polar bear named Norm sets off on a journey from the Arctic to New York City in an attempt to save his homeland from a greedy land developer. This is a bland, nearly incompetent animated movie. My 10-year-old granddaughter could craft a richer, more exciting polar bear adventure using nothing but Klondike bar wrappers and the power of her imagination.

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