This is DVD (and basketball) season

By Gary Clift

Late winter is probably a decent time to stay home in the evening and watch movies recently released on home viewing media. That is, unless there’s basketball going on.

Among the titles appearing on the new DVD shelf last month were a couple of romantic comedies made with African-American casts. “Baggage Claim,” which is probably the more amusing of the two, was a star vehicle for Paula Patton, a former cinematic gym rat who had earlier made a decent contribution to “2 Guns,” the most recent Denzel Washington movie.

The other, “Best Man Holiday,” is a sequel to the 1999 movie “Best Man.” The cast again includes Terrance Howard, who ought to have something better to do, and again follows old college friends, one a novelist and one a professional athlete, and so on. Last time the trouble was infidelity. This time its an illness.

With Ridley “Blade Runner” Scott for a director, Cormac “No Country for Old Men” McCarthy for a writer, and a cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Cameron Diaz, “The Counselor” looked as if it was going to be a much more entertaining film than it turned out to be. All it manages is to tell a story about perfidy in drug smuggling, throwing in some Peckinpaw-like punishments for the featured characters.

The March list of new video releases is stronger, or at least longer. “12 Years a Slave” is based on a well-known nineteenth century book about a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into deep south slavery. The movie has some memorable characters, most notably one played by Fassbender. But it is mostly just harrowing and doesn’t seem to mean anything more than it is.

The latest Hunger Games film, “Catching Fire,” is for most of its time on the screen a case of “second verse, same as the first.” Until the last reel the primary difference between this movie and its predecessor is that the government is having trouble suppressing a silent protest movement. Oh, and Jena Malone steals every scene in which she appears, particularly the one where she strips in an elevator. Remember, this is a movie series made for young teen-aged girls.

One admires rather than likes “Out of the Furnace,” writer and director Scott Cooper’s follow-up to “Crazy Heart.” The new movie is about people trapped in Allegheny hickdom, and in particular about two brothers, one in trouble with the law and the other in trouble with a bare-knuckles fight promoter.

I admired the acting in a sort of routine Jason Statham action picture that Sylvester Stallone wrote, “Homefront.” James Franco may be even better here, as the failed boat-carpenter turned drug-maker, than he was in “The Spring Breakers.” And Wynona Ryder and Kate Bosworth are nearly as much fun to watch in their secondary parts.

All the fun in “Saving Mr. Banks” is in watching the supporting cast, as well. The story, about Walt Disney’s management of author P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, is a dud, and not even Colin Ferrell can save the weird and Freudian backstory which is intercut with the main action. But Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, and, as the song-composing Sherman brothers, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are all terrific.

It may be that “American Hustle” is the best Hollywood did last year, though I think arguments that the whole movie is intended as a comedy are silly. Those arguments do explain the wigs, I suppose. Decolletage-exposing Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and the great Jeremy Renner play characters involved in an investigation that ran alongside the 80s political kickback sting called “Abscam.”

It may be that “Delivery Man” was the worst Hollywood movie of last November. Vince Vaughn plays a man whose sperm has been mistakenly used to produce 522 children who are now coming into adulthood and are seeking their biological father. There is not a laugh in this dreadful comedy.

There is some fun in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a movie about an investments salesman who becomes a target for prosecution—the movie is vague about what he does at work that is illegal. Off work, though, is all the fun. He and his large crew of sellers use some of their wild profits to run drug and hooker parties which the movie manages to make look like “Animal House” on overdrive. What an odd product.

At any rate, there are plenty of new DVD versions of recent and notable films out there. I hope you find something to fill those hours not already committed to enjoying the end of the college basketball season.

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