Tuesday, January 5, 2016

January '16 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
While writer-director Michael Almereyda relies too heavily on gimmickry like rear projection, direct camera address and (literally) an elephant in the room, he has made an intelligent biopic about psychologist Stanley Milgram and his controversial behavioral experiments. Peter Sarsgaard’s commandingly aloof and brooding Milgram, Winona Ryder’s welcome return as his faithful wife and nicely turned appearances by Jim Gaffigan, John Leguizamo, Anthony Edwards, Josh Hamilton and Taryn Manning greatly assist. The movie looks good on Blu; extras comprise featurettes and an interview with Milgram’s brother.

The Green Inferno 
As usual, director Eli Roth takes a workable premise—naively idealistic students take a trip to the rainforest to defend tribes from greedy developers—and turns the horrors they discover to the most ridiculous extremes. Fans of his movies may not squirm throughout the by-numbers plotting and extensively gory bloodlettings, but even they may shrug at Roth's final, tepid twist that places his heroine in an unflattering light. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; lone extra is a commentary.

Infinitely Polar Bear 
Mark Ruffalo gives a powerful and sympathetic portrayal of a husband and father whose bi-polar condition makes for fraught relationships with his loving daughters and wife in this sensitive but unsentimental drama based on writer-director Maya Forbes's own dad. Although his full-bodied performance is anything but an obvious star turn, Ruffalo is superbly complemented by the wonderful Zoe Saldana as his wife and two remarkable young actresses as his daughters: Ashley Aufderheide and the director's own daughter Imogene Wolodarsky, basically playing her own mother dealing with her own grandfather's difficulties. The Blu-ray transfer is exceptional; extras are a commentary, deleted scenes and Q&A.

The Visit 
After many years (and films) in the wilderness following his breakout The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan has thrown in the towel and jumped on the found-footage bandwagon with this lukewarm thriller pitting two kids against their grandparents, whom they discover to be nothing like how their mother remembered them while she was growing up. The problem, apart from this genre’s inherent silliness, is that the kids’ mom—who hadn’t seen her own parents since she left home years earlier—assumes that having them visit would have no complications: the movie proceeds to pile up implausibilities faster than you can spell Shyamalan. The film looks fine on Blu; extras are an alternate ending, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.

DVDs of the Week
Jenny's Wedding 
For a movie that was dumped onto DVD with little fanfare, Mary Agnes Donoghue’s dramedy about a successful young woman who decides to out herself to her family by announcing her marriage to her long-time girlfriend is serviceable entertainment. With a top cast—Tom Wilkinson and Linda Emond are unsurprisingly excellent as the parents, while Katherine Heigl gives a robust performance as Jenny—the movie passes by harmlessly, coming to a satisfying conclusion with minimal maudlin or sappiness. Lone extra is a making-of featurette.

Divide in Concord 
(First Run)
In 1971, director Johanna Hamilton chronicles the break-in of a Pennsylvania FBI office during the height of the Vietnam War: those responsible not only made public secret documents about illegal surveillance, but they eluded authorities for the next four-plus decades. Hamilton has caught up to them: her absorbing look at a politically fraught era features interviews with the men and women who did it, and raises still-pertinent questions about our own culture of paranoia and secrecy; the lone extra, an hour-long post-screening Q&A, features none other than Edward Snowden.

A microcosm of our society's widening societal gap, Kris Kaczor's Divide in Concord is a heartening documentary about Jean Hill, who in her ninth decade fights the good fight by spearheading a bill that bans water bottles from being sold in Concord, Mass: this plucky David goes up against many Goliaths, from local businesses and shrill activists to water bottle corporations themselves. 

Tokyo Fiancée 
(First Run)
Amelie arrives in Tokyo to teach French, fulfilling a cherished dream since she was young: and when she falls in love with her first (and seemingly only) student, it complicates many things both about their relationship and how she's decided to live her life. Director Stefan Liberski's fey romantic comedy is too often forced, and the heroine’s name is too obviously a nod toward the Audrey Tautou Amelie that's the blueprint for this kind of you-either-love-it-or-hate-it movie. Even though it moves into darker territory, weird whimsy predominates, centered on Pauline Etienne's boyish appeal.

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