Performances better than plots in new crop of DVDs

By Gary Clift

I’ve been working on my annual list of the worst movies I saw the previous year. In the process,  I’ve revisited some of movies that will be available for the first time this month on home viewing media. Some of the films, all of which I saw in local theaters, aren’t great.

Among the general release films soon to be out on DVD are “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” “Bad Grandpa,” and “Captain Phillips,” one of Tom Hanks 2013 attempts to get audiences to forgive him for the 2012 disaster “Cloud Atlas.”

Also on the new shelves will be a quiet thriller called “Closed Circuit,” all about a British terrorism trial and the famous security camera system in London. The details about our cousins’ odd court system will baffle some viewers, but the film’s cast is first rate—Eric Bana, Peter Hall’s daughter Rebecca, Ciran Hinds, Jim Broadbent, and Julia Stiles, who seems to be in a lot of thrillers these days.

“The Butler,” despite Forest Whitaker’s exertions, is a tiresome review of presidential posing through the mid-twentieth century’s Civil Rights movement. Think what PBS would do with Forest Gump and you’ll have a clear picture of what this is like.

One can probably get some pleasure out of a viewing of “Riddick,” last year’s sequel to 2004’s “Chronicles of Riddick.” But the best way to make use of the DVD might be to skip the film’s first half hour. Eventually it turns into something worthy that director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel might have made as a sequel to the effective 2000 film, “Pitch Black.”

The re-make of “Carrie” is notable mostly because of what Julianne Moore does with the mother part, the one played by Piper Laurie in the original movie version of this Stephen King story. Moore is another familiar actor who had a big 2013, both in this film and in “Don John.”

“Fruitvale Station” is an indy film about how a likeable but purposeless young man was shot and killed by a security guard on a San Francisco mass transit platform one recent New Year’s Eve. Eventually this fatalistic movie seems to complain of racism without having shown that the tragedy was directly related to race. And golly but this is a depressing film.

I liked the mindless “Machete Kills” better. It is a send-up of the movies “In Like Flint” and “Our Man Flint,” sixties send-ups of the Bond films, which were new at the time. But while the James Coburn movies were about fake suavity, genius director Robert Rodrieguez’s two Machete films feature characters at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum.

And talk about directors, Woody Allen’s 2013 movie, “Blue Jasmine,” turned out to be a tour de force by Cate Blanchet. Its story is also about the American class system, as Jasmine, who has lived her life as an ornament to her suddenly-dead con-man husband, tries to right herself while living with her down-scale sister.

“Last Vegas” was one of last year’s movies which brought back aging stars to enact a sort of Baby Boomer ghost dance. In this case the actors are Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and, thankfully, Kevin Kline. They’re in cheap sin city for the perhaps ill-advised wedding of one of them to a much younger woman. Forced hilarity ensues.

Which leaves us with “Rush,” a movie which may make my list of failed 2013 offerings. It does star Chris Hemsworth, who is a talented and attractive actor. But then it has at least three major things against it: it is about car racing, it is “based on a true story,” and it was directed by Ron Howard. Ironically the skiing accident ex-racer Michael Schumacher recently suffered has again recalled the on-track accident on which this movie is based.

Just as 2013 was probably a better year for movie-goers who like acting than those who like stories, the month’s new video releases have much better performances than they do plots. Thankfully, the acting is pretty doggone good. Good enough to make some of these cinematic dogs bark a little.

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