This week, no major theatrical releases made their way to home video. However, two limited-release films – both by important directors – are here to make up for that.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images and language.
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
No matter what genre director Danny Boyle tackles, he is capable of remarkable heights. With “Trance,” he moves from the reality drama of “127 Hours” and the underdog story of “Slumdog Millionaire” to a brazen thriller that keeps viewers guessing throughout its 101-minute run.
The movie starts with narration by Simon (James McAvoy), an art auctioneer who explains that the act of stealing a precious painting is no longer a simple, strong-arm job. Modern thieves, he says, hatch complicated plots, and auctioneers are trained to quickly secure the most expensive piece of art in the room. Viewers then watch as a group of thugs conduct just such a robbery, clubbing Simon over the head and stealing a satchel containing what they believe to be a precious Goya.
As the picture moves forward it becomes clear that Simon was in on the heist, but deviated from the initial plan, leaving the thugs with an empty satchel. What’s more, the clubbing he suffered leaves him with a case of amnesia that prevents him from telling the enraged thieves where the painting actually is. So, the ringleader of the group (Vincent Cassel) sends Simon to a hypnotist (Rosario Dawson) in hopes that she can unlock his scrambled mind.
Boyle gets great performances from his cast, which isn’t surprising considering the quality of the players. McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson are standouts in most every project, and the characters they create for “Trance” are believable despite possessing quirks that make them more appealing than typical thriller archetypes.
Boyle also does fine work behind the camera. The structure of the Joe Ahearne and John Hodge screenplay is complex, often leaving viewers to decide if they are watching actual events or things taking place only within a character’s mind. Boyle presents all such material in an easily digestible manner, yet he leaves sections open to interpretation. Because of this, viewers can develop multiple readings of the movie. Some may see this ambiguity as a flaw, but those who embrace it will probably see it as “Trance’s” biggest selling point.
Boyle has not only delivered a first-rate thriller, he has produced a film that should inspire healthy debate… both about its plotting and characters. In a world of disposable entertainment, it is a lasting piece of art.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a collection of making-of featurettes.
Ginger & Rosa
Rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking and for language.
Available on: DVD
Writer-director Sally Potter is well known for making challenging, arty films, and her body of work includes “Orlando,” “The Tango Lesson” and “Yes.” Her latest, “Ginger & Rosa,” is an intense, often painful portrait of a long-time friendship flailing under the pressure of young adulthood.
Despite being inseparable as children, Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) find themselves growing apart as they develop independent ideals. For Ginger, coming of age during the Cold War and its constant threat of nuclear destruction is nearly unbearable. She therefore spends her spare time attending meetings with activists who hope to end the nuclear threat. Rosa is less bothered by thoughts of destruction and spends most of her time dreaming about the opposite sex.
Although the girls are moving in different directions, they continue to interact, sharing both personal feelings and familial struggles. Among the latter is the separation of Ginger’s parents, Roland (Alessandro Nivola) and Natalie (Christina Hendricks).
Potter does a fine job capturing the uncertainty of youth as well as the upheaval present during the Cold War era. “Ginger & Rosa” also benefits from strong performances, most notably by Fanning and Englert, who are excellent despite the fact that both are under 20 years old.
As good as the movie is performance-wise, Potter allows the pacing to drag frequently, meaning viewers must be patient with “Ginger & Rosa.” Those who give the film time will likely get sucked into the world of these two girls, particularly that of Ginger, a kind soul who is struggling to find her way in a world that isn’t as compassionate as she is.
Unfortunately, Potter’s tempo problems make “Ginger & Rosa” feel uneven, and the slow moments are a drag on the overall quality. Is the film a total loss? Absolutely not. It’s just not as strong as one might hope, especially considering the excellent work Potter and her cast do with character development.
DVD extras include behind-the-scenes features, cast interviews, deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Potter.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Twixt”: If “Ginger & Rosa” encourages filmgoers to seek out more work from actress Elle Fanning, they can turn to this gothic horror movie from director Francis Ford Coppola. The picture centers on a writer (Val Kilmer) who encounters a ghost (Fanning) while conducting research for his latest book. Bruce Dern also stars.
“Babette’s Feast”: Fresh, high-definition restoration of director Gabriel Axel’s 1987 movie about a 19th century French housekeeper who prepares a stunning banquet for villagers in a small, Danish town. The movie won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1988, and this new Criterion Collection release is packed with extra features, including fresh interviews with Axel and star Stéphane Audran. Presented in Danish, French and Swedish with English subtitles.
“The Jack Benny Program – The Lost Episodes”: This three-DVD set features 18 episodes of “The Jack Benny Program,” none of which have been seen since they were originally broadcast. Benny, of course, was a huge radio and TV star from the 1930s to the 1960s, and this set should please both fans and TV historians.
“Robotech” – Two Movie Collection: Fans of the animated Robotech franchise should enjoy this DVD set, which packages the 2006 film “The Shadow Chronicles” with a brand new adventure titled “Love Live Alive.” The release also contains more than 90 minutes of special features.
“Mystery Science Theater 3000” – XXVII: Shout! Factory continues to roll out episodes of this now-classic TV show where comedian Joel Hodgson and pals poke fun at science-fiction and horror films. This collection includes “The Slime People,” “Village of the Giants,” “The Deadly Mantis” and “Rocket Attack U.S.A.”
“Superjail!” – Season Three: Ten most recent episodes of the animated series about a bizarre jail built in an active volcano. The adult-oriented show is noted for its extreme violence and language, and it airs with a TV-MA rating.
“Pieta”: Korean drama about a loan shark forced to reevaluate his violent lifestyle when a woman shows up claiming to be his long-missing mother. Written and directed by Ki-duk Kim. Presented in Korean with English subtitles.
“Kiss of the Damned”: Writer-director Xan Cassavetes presents the story of a beautiful vampire (Joséphine de La Baume) who falls in love with a human writer (Milo Ventimiglia).
“The Wedding Chapel”: Romantic drama about a recently single woman who visits her mother and becomes involved in efforts to restore a local church. Emmanuelle Vaugier, Mark Deklin and Shelley Long star.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.