Light Rain


Brief reviews of new offerings at the video store

By Gary Clift

There are video sales and rentals after the death of the Christmas season, of course. But the new releases for January aren’t quite so splashy as the ones the studios wanted you to buy as gifts. So selecting something from the new d.v.d offerings this month requires a little study.

Danish director Ole Bornedal has directed a modestly attractive little supernatural thriller and has called it “The Possession.” In it a child buys a little wooden box at a garage sale where she goes with her father, who is trying to furnish his new digs. But inside the box is an evil spirit that inhabits the bodies of innocents—like the daughter. The parents are Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick and the exorcist is Matisyahu, so the casting alone adds interest to the film.

“Hit and Run” was comic actor Dax Shepard’s chance to be a star. He plays a guy in the witness protection program who is about to be found by the two former friends (one of them Bradley Cooper in dreadlocks) he is hiding from. The movie is also a treasure hunt and a road picture and a series of chases, all of them moderately successful.

It isn’t the first time that a movie based on the comic book has been attempted, but “Dredd” isn’t half bad as a futuristic shoot-‘em-up. If only its isolation in one large building didn’t make it recall “The Raid: Redemption” so strongly. The Indonesian movie is perhaps a little more entertaining, though viewers will like Karl “Bones” Urban as the armed judge.

The sequel isn’t usually as good as the original. And “Taken 2” really isn’t even in competition with the better-financed cinematic predecessor, although Liam “Release the Kraken” Neesome is back as the retired CIA man whose female relations just keep getting grabbed while overseas.

“House at the End of the Street” was my first real evidence that Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t playing a character in “Hunger Games.” In fact, she doesn’t seem to have been playing at all. Her wooden turn in this “Psycho”-influenced thriller makes one glad for the scenes in which Elizabeth Shue, playing her mother, appears. Shue can act.

So can Violet Davis, who appears as an idealistic public-school teacher in “Won’t Back Down,” a sort of “Rocky” movie about her character and a hippy-dippy parent (Maggie Gyllenhaal) organizing a drive to force the district into changing the neighborhood elementary into a “Charter School.” Probably the film does too little to suggest the new school will be continuingly better, but the fact that a topic movie with so little action can hold a theater audience’s attention for two hours is some sort of recommendation.

That’s more than we can say about “End of Watch,” a new cop movie in the tradition of “Training Day” but without its narrative drive. We follow two yammering L.A. policemen who arrest a man and then are targeted by his associates. That stuff takes minutes. The rest of the film gives us a peek at one of their weddings and such like. Dull.

So, ultimately, was “Paranormal Activity 4,” which is just like the other movies in the series in showing security camera footage of supernatural trouble inside a house. The problem here is that the movie goes on to show us who it is who has been grabbing and scaring people in the earlier films. And, as we know, the unknown is always more frightening.

Colin Ferrell’s rehabilitation as a star continues with “Seven Psychopaths,” a decent sort of indy version of a hard-boiled movie about murder and trouble caused by a Personal ad. The cast includes Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Harry Dean Stanton, Abbie Cornish, and Gibourey Sidibe (from “Precious”), but it is stolen by little Sam Rockwell.

For fans of animated horror-comedies, “Frankenweenie” and “Hotel Transylvania” will also be out on home viewing media this month. Avoid “Taken 2,” “House at the End of the Street,” and “Paranormal Activity 4,” and you can find some solid basic entertainment on the new shelves at the video store this week.

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