7/23/13: Starbuck, Wild Bill, Orphan Black S1, Welcome to the Punch, Twixt

Starbuck (R, 2011, Entertainment One)
“If you can live with his countless shortcomings, you’re in for plenty of beautiful surprises as well.” Those words, courtesy of the father (Igor Ovadis) of a man (Patrick Huard as David) who himself has fathered 533 children, pretty perfectly summarize every wonderful thing “Starbuck” ventures to say and do — which, given how many wonderful things this movie actually says and does, is no small feat. For years, David, whose incompetence touches everything from his delivery job to his relationships and attempts to resolve unpaid debts, deposited an ungodly number of donations (under the pseudonym of “Starbuck”) to the nearby fertility clinic. Because incompetence is apparently contagious, if not necessarily genetic, the clinic accidentally used Starbuck’s samples almost exclusively for a period of time, and a couple decades later, roughly one fifth of Starbuck’s children want to know who their biological father is. Were “Starbuck’s” heart in a different place, what follows next might have been a sloppy drama about the legal ramifications of a clueless donor’s right to anonymity being challenged. Or perhaps it would have just been a crazy comedy about a man having to raise 533 grown children even though he barely can take care of himself. But when a moment of weakness compels David to peek at a dossier of one of the children who want to meet him, his curiosity consumes him and elevates his story into something grander and more exciting than the humble opening act implied was ahead. What that actually entails is best left unspoiled. But what “Starbuck” finds when it launches skyward is a considerably funnier comedy than a typical comedy and an exponentially more wondrous story than any straight-faced drama could have ventured to tell. If you don’t mind the subtitles, this may be the most uplifting movie you see all year, and it may not even be close. In French with English subtitles.
Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews, bloopers, music video.

Wild Bill (NR, 2012, Flatiron Film Company)
Out on parole after eight years, Wild Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) just wants to go home and sleep. But what’s home anymore? His 11-year-old son Jimmy (Sammy Williams) doesn’t even remember him in the first place, and his 15-year-old son Dean (Will Poulter) resents him so bitterly that he probably envies Jimmy’s ignorance. As for the mother of his children? She’s skipped town, leaving Dean to secretly care for Jimmy until Bill barrels back into society, inadvertently lets the authorities in on the secret, and is forced to assert his guardianship to keep the boys out of the foster care system. Meanwhile, the allure of profitable crime beckons, and not necessarily just for Bill. Wait until you see what the angel-faced Jimmy is up to — and yes, it’s sort of OK to laugh when you find out. “Wild Bill” is a coming-of-age movie for its adults as well as its children, and set amid a backdrop of abandonment, resentment and debts unpaid to dangerous people, it’s an unarguably grim one. But when your grim story features a man who clearly means well in spite of his multiple levels of incompetence, a teenager whose awkwardness and honor are as pronounced as his anger, and a kid whose sweetness so wildly belies his bad decisions, it’s hard not to see the dark humor in it all. “Bill” realizes it, its characters realize it, and while it’s hardly the stuff from which uproarious comedies are made, the genuinely sharp and sweet laughs that punctuate and puncture all that grimness are what ultimately endure as the most striking and likable aspect of a movie with very few flaws as is.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Orphan Black: Season One (NR, 2013, BBC)
What would you do if you unexpectedly ran into someone who looked exactly like you? If she ever pondered it, Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) didn’t have any time to do anything about it, as the shock of meeting her exact double was almost immediately followed by the shock of watching that double throw herself in front of a moving train. So who was that, anyway? A bag left on the platform provides the only clue, and when Sarah finds out where that clue leads, it’s a coin toss as to whether this chance encounter was the blessing or curse of a lifetime. And that’s before Sarah discovers the double on the train platform isn’t the only one out there. Say this for “Orphan Black:” It wastes very little time getting going, and it has absolutely no qualms about getting increasingly entangled as Sarah goes from toe-deep to neck-deep in this mystery with similar dauntlessness. Not every one of those twists hits, not every supporting character gets utilized in a way that doesn’t pigeonhole him or her, and the tone of the presentation occasionally falls a bit on the overdramatic side. But these weaknesses amount mostly to nitpicks amid all — from Maslany’s multi-character acrobatics to the subplots that precede and occasionally color the story from the background — this first season does extremely well. Frankly, the mystery at the center of it all is crazily engrossing enough that “Black” could have squandered half of what it does right and still come away as a show worth seeing. Many sci-fi serials have come and gone in recent years, and most have gone quickly due to a lack of confidence in the mystery they’re building. “Black” has no such issue, it makes that clear from the start, and that confidence makes for a show that’s hard to stop watching once you start.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus five behind-the-scenes features and a Maslany interview.

Welcome to the Punch (R, 2013, IFC Films)
A cop (James McAvoy as Max) wants payback against the criminal (Mark Strong as Jacob) who put him on the shelf and nearly killed him before escaping and disappearing. When Jacob’s son becomes embroiled in a heist gone very wrong and forces him to return to London, a freshly-reactivated and long-angry Max gets his shot … until, as often seems to happen, both realize the situation that rebinds them is considerably murkier than it originally seemed. It’s a setup that’s both classically fun and completely stale, and like a movie that understands the fine line between those two fates and grows self-conscious instead of emboldened by the challenge of toeing it, “Welcome to the Punch” finds a murky way to avoid embracing either path. For all the pieces it puts on the table, “Punch” takes its perilously sweet time really leaning into its characters’ angst and the suddenly confusing terms under which they must work around each other. Some form of payoff eventually avails itself as the second act gives way to the third, and that provides enough time and space for an imperfect but reasonably entertaining finish. You get the feeling it could have been so much better than this, but “Punch” seems to operate under the premise that it also could have been so much worse, so competent but compromised entertainment will have to do this time.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, interviews.

Twixt (R, 2011, Fox)
When the local sheriff moseys up to fading horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) during a barren book signing and asks, “How does it feel to be the bargain basement Stephen King?” without a hint of irony, it’s good for a chuckle. But that was then, this is now, and once you’ve entered the heart of “Twixt,” you might find yourself wishing that accidental crack was way more self-aware than it probably actually was. “Twixt” follows an increasingly common premise — see “Castle” and “The Raven’s” twist on Edgar Allen Poe’s life for two examples — wherein Hall, with a nudge from the sheriff (Bruce Dern), investigates a local murder mystery in hopes of turning it into the story that sparks his next book (and, in this particular instance, revives his career), only to become dangerously embroiled in the mystery. Rather inconveniently, most of the insights into the mystery come to Hall via dreams while he sleeps. There, he meets a dead girl (Elle Fanning) who seeks to avenge her own death. And speaking of Poe, he’s here too for some reason. Lots of “Twixt,” in fact, falls under the “for some reason” justification. When balled together, it’s enough to turn a somewhat pedestrian murder mystery into a complete mess that, sadly, isn’t so messy and crazy as to morph into something entertaining in spite of itself. Despite some stabs at dark humor, “Twixt” ultimately feels like a straight-faced mystery that itself is a bargain basement attempt at a premise that’s received better treatment in recent years. If that’s the joke, the movie itself doesn’t demonstrate any notion that it’s in on it with us.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

7/16/13: 42, Letters From Jackie, Rick Springfield: An Affair of the Heart, Damages S5, Regular Show S1&2, Bullet to the Head, Evil Dead

42 (PG-13, 2013, Warner Bros.)
“42’s” biggest problem might be the perception that the story of Jackie Robinson, arguably history’s most celebrated baseball player, has already been told, retold and ingrained. But most of those stories focus on Robinson’s hustle and bravery, stopping short for whatever reason when it comes to illustrating the bullheaded bravado that made him great and established him as the perfect force of nature to blow the doors off baseball’s color barrier. “42,” to its credit, does not. In fact, it gets down to the business of Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) belly fire straight away, it does so with bravado of its own, and then does it again roughly one scene later. With an opener like that, the stage is set for a biopic that lays its heart on the table and strives, first and foremost, to thrill — which, to its debatable detriment, is what happens. “42” celebrates not only the ballplayer who changed the game, but the wonderfully crotchety owner (Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey) who took a chance on him and the teammates who eventually fought for him when the virtues of winning baseball put the tradition of prejudice to shame. But “42” also smooths over the considerable ugliness of the era and ignores the fights for integration that preceded Rickey’s move and followed Robinson’s debut. (Larry Doby, who debuted for the Indians three months after Robinson’s debut, is invisible.) This version of Robinson’s story stops short in its own slightly Disneyfied way, settling down as a gorgeously shot, terrifically entertaining starter story that hopefully will galvanize some to seek out the rest of saga. Those other details would have sapped this film of its purity as a feel-good summertime sports movie, but that doesn’t make them any less essential to their place in history.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes features.
Also: “Letters From Jackie: The Private Thoughts of Jackie Robinson” (NR, 2011, MLB): “Letters From Jackie” strives to document not only Robinson’s playing career, but also his life after baseball, and it uses Robinson’s own words — via letters written both to his wife and a young fan he befriended and corresponded with across both eras — as its narrative backbone. But the 45-minute runtime provides little room for “Letters” to explore either period in truly fascinating detail even when some surprising developments make it clear those details are out there. No extras.

Rick Springfield: An Affair of the Heart (NR, 2012, Breaking Glass Pictures)
After charting 17 hit singles by the end of the 1980s, Rick Springfield dropped off the face of the musical earth for more than a decade. Then, with a newfound mission to connect with the fans who connected with his music, he reemerged and embarked on a second act that’s smaller in profile but more extraordinary by perhaps every other metric. “An Affair of the Heart” is the still-in-progress story of that second act, and while Springfield obviously is the star of it, his reemergence is such a communal experience that this is nowhere near his story alone. “Heart” finds some of those fans who found Rick at the height of his fame and found him all over again when he returned, and it doesn’t have to look hard, because where he goes, they often go as well. If that sounds like stalking, it’s worth noting that it’s stalking of the sanctioned variety — part of an improbable two-way relationship between a star and his fans, but often also the culmination of some incredible life stories that beautifully bridge the gap between fame and humanity. The details of that connection make “Heart” considerably more gratifying than your typical music documentary. But if you’re here for something more than gratification alone, worry not. Between the jealous husband/wannabe rock star awkwardly voicing his jealousy to his groupie wife and the Springfield-themed cruise that shares its voyage with more than a thousand passengers who aren’t there for Rick and think his fanbase is slightly insane, “Heart” isn’t afraid to crash its own feel-good story with some delightfully wince-worthy entertainment.
Extras: Extended scenes, bonus interviews, footage from the film’s premiere.

Damages: The Final Season (NR, 2012, Sony Pictures)
By way of a custody battle over her granddaughter, attorney Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) finally gets her inevitable day in court against the prodigy (Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons) she once groomed to be the next her. And as highly as it values twists and misdirection as the cornerstones of its design, “Damages” has provided little doubt that it could end any other way than this. Perhaps predictably, season five quickly postpones the custody battle in favor of a case that not only is customarily topical — classified information, the hackers (Ryan Phillippe) who leak it, the public that celebrates and condemns the leakers, and the casualties their actions leave behind — but also gives Patty and Ellen a chance to face off as attorneys instead of witness and defendant. The logistics that set the stage for that showdown are a little implausible, and the mind games that immediately follow have a familiar, borderline fatigued feel to them that suggests this saga is wrapping up at about the right time. But it’s about then that “Damages” plays its calling card, wherein it spoils major events from the finale but does so just cloudily enough to keep their full meaning a mystery. Seasoned viewers might see this season’s reveal coming, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bombshell (it is) or that witnessing the domino fall that takes us from here to there isn’t totally gratifying (it is), albeit polarizing with regard to where it ends up (probably). Even with her methods showing some age, Patty is such a potent mix of terrifying and refined that it’s hard to stop watching — primarily because it’s enthralling entertainment, but also because bad things tend to happen to those who take their eyes off of her. “Damages” is the world made in her image, and the bang that ends her world is, while bittersweet, entirely appropriate.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus deleted scenes and outtakes.

Regular Show: The Complete First & Second Seasons (NR, 2010, Cartoon Network)
The name is so mundane as to be funny in its own right, but “Regular Show” has a point: If Mordecai wasn’t a blue jay and Rigby wasn’t a raccoon — and if their neighbors and co-workers didn’t include a yeti, a Frankenstein’s monster and a short-tempered anthropomorphic gumball machine — this would be just another show about two lazy 23-year-old groundskeepers who hold onto their jobs despite constantly abandoning them to embark on crazy adventures. Yep. Past the fact that those adventures take the gang to the moon, into the multiverse, on the back of a flying duck and inside a 1980s cell phone, it’s just another show about slackers getting by. “Regular Show” is, like its Cartoon Network sibling “Adventure Time,” wonderfully good at finding and mining the vast middle ground between a cartoon suitable for Saturday mornings and the unscrupulous ball of terror only Adult Swim can safely contain. Traces of stoner comedies are everywhere, but the exterior is so charming and the adventures so grade school juvenile that “Show” (which, it should be noted, is also legitimately funny) is that rare show that has true all-ages appeal.
Contents: 40 episodes (all with commentary), plus the unaired pilot, student short “The Naive Man from Lolliland,” creator interview, mystery karaoke, music video, animatics/pencil tests/CG tests and promotional material.

Bullet to the Head (R, 2013, Warner Bros.)
It’s a long and messy story, but the upshot is that a hit man with a ridiculously itchy trigger finger (Sylvester Stallone as James) and a cop who wants to arrest him but can’t (Sung Kang as Taylor) are accidental partners on a job that finds kingpins and clients alike hunting both of them down. Albeit clumsily, and with the help of a brooding Stallone narration track that may as well be a Vin Diesel narration parody everyone just decided to treat seriously, “Bullet to the Head” does passably explain what turns James and Taylor into bedfellows. What it cannot convey, though, is why anyone should possibly care. “Head” ostensibly is a callback to the leaner days of 1980s action movies, prioritizing no-nonsense action and stripping away the cheap stunts and effects only expensive computers make possible. But what’s the excuse for stripping away personality as well? James has next to none, Taylor is never even given a chance to demonstrate if he has one, and outside of a sparingly-used cartoon character (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the bad guys are every bit as bland. With combatants like this, it’s hard to care about what they’re fighting over, and if “Head’s” storytelling is just an elaborate excuse to get to the action, that action — mostly consisting of James killing people with almost unintentionally funny disregard for consequence — doesn’t exactly justify the stalling.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Evil Dead (R, 2013, Sony Pictures)
This, this right here, is it. For anyone positing an argument about how technology alone doesn’t make movies better and sometimes just makes them worse, “Evil Dead” is the new Exhibit A. The new “Dead” follows the same general plot of the 1983 original, and Director Fede Alvarez has proudly proclaimed that no CG was used to simulate the film’s gore. But while that may be true, and while that is technically impressive, it doesn’t make that gore — and there is a ton of it, and yes, that seems to be the draw — any less out of step with the crazy B-movie stop-motion effects that made the original “Dead” such an special blend of charming and dark. Nothing about this “Dead’s” dull cast of characters is charming, nor does its darkness conjure any sensations that dozens of other horror movies haven’t already run into the ground in the last few years alone. And the gore? It’s gross, sure, but it also looks bored — an almost obligatory reach from yet another movie with lots of blood to shed but no concept of how to turn that into actual scares instead of momentary groans and winces to prop up the lifeless storytelling that’s patching it all together. The gore is, by process of elimination, the only fathomable reason why someone had to take a cult classic and remake it in modern horror’s calculated image. But its only real contribution goes toward the validation of the written word’s ability to frighten audiences in ways a bunch of aimless blood and guts cannot even fathom.
Extras: Cast/filmmaker commentary, five behind-the-scenes features.

7/9/13: Boy, Would You Rather, The Power of Few, Admission, Spring Breakers

Boy (NR, 2010, Kino Lorber)
Boy (James Rolleston) — that’s what he calls himself — is a daydreamer, an exasperated older brother, a huge Michael Jackson fan, perpetually confused by girls and a believer in every tall tale his dad ever told him. All of which, in the mid-1980s, makes him like millions of other boys. His little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) idolizes superheroes and is convinced he has powers that have accidentally been used for ill. And when their dad (Taika Waititi as Alamein) returns from who knows where to retrieve a bag of money (“treasure”) he’d previously buried in a nearby field, it’s abundantly clear where both boys got their appetite for imagination. Though questionable as a parent, Alamein — wannabe gang leader, wannabe samurai, wannabe everything but a responsible adult — has infectious personality to spare. So does Rocky, so does Boy, and so especially does “Boy,” which may be the most jubilantly silly piece of nostalgic 1980s Americana you see all year — except it was filmed, is set in and is very proudly a product of Waihau Bay, New Zealand, pet goat and all. How’s that for bridging cultural gaps? If “Boy” must be classified, it could make a safe landing in the coming-of-age category. But “Boy,” which is as comfortable telling its story through animated Rocky drawings and imitation Michael Jackson videos as it is through tried-and-true methods, is every bit as much a staying-of-age story — a very funny, very clever, incredibly sweet and occasionally heartbreaking tribute to the magic of imagination and the fight to protect it at all costs when real life wants to take it away. It took three years for this gem to arrive on these shores in an accessible format, but the wait is beyond worthwhile.
Extras: Short film “Two Cars, One Night,” Kickstarter update videos, interviews, B-roll footage.

Would You Rather (NR, 2012, IFC Midnight)
Would You Rather has traditionally been a hypothetical game of “what if,” but if that method ever thrilled Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), it’s long since lost the ability to do so. Instead, Shepard prefers to recruit a handful of strangers in financial need and promise them a shot at life-changing wealth under the condition that they win his version of Would You Rather. That, of course, means that the choices are neither hypothetical nor easily made. And by the time our contestants discover just how difficult those choices are, the option to decline playing has been rescinded. “Would You Rather” follows a story premise that’s grown so prevalent in recent years as to become a genre unto itself, and it cannot escape some of the predictable elements that somehow ensnare every movie of this sort no matter how hard they fight it. But “Rather” also scores by not playing games with its mastermind’s identity. Who could be so cruel as to play with people’s needs and lives like this? Shepard Lambrick can, that’s who, and he’s all too happy to explain why. That kind of malevolent charisma can do wonders for a staling formula, and while “Rather” makes the misstep of giving one contestant more narrative weight than the rest, it is unarguably Shepard — and, by extension, the genuinely unnerving game that unfolds in his design — that drives this movie forward. Brittany Snow, Jonny Coyne, Eddie Steeples and Lawrence Gilliard Jr., among others, also star. No extras.

The Power of Few (R, 2013, Vivendi)
Be it joy, anger, sadness, boredom or something in between, every movie elicits a response. And so long as acute, paralyzing bafflement at least technically counts as a response, “The Power of Few” is no different. “Few” is one of those movies that tells multiple separate stories that eventually intersect due to place, time and circumstance, but the handful it rounds up — touching on but not limited to a bomb threat, a sick baby, a couple would-be thefts and multiple occasions for gun violence — are so cumulatively dire as to border on cartoonish. When “Few” compounds that by flashing a weird sense of humor and utilizing Christopher Walken and Jordan Prentice as a bizarro-world Jay and Silent Bob, all bets are off on whatever message all these crisscrossing stories are supposed to convey. And yet, none of this holds a weirdness candle to what happens after “Few” reveals the actual meaning of its title. Too much talent turns in too much good work to let “Few” descend into bad movie territory, but the entire premise and execution is way too jumbled to lift the movie to the great heights it presumably has eyes on from the start. Sometimes an entertaining and well-meaning mess is the best one can hope for, and for all its missteps, “Few” at least is never dull. And that, given how disastrously this could have gone in less talented hands, will do.
Extras: Deleted scene, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature,

Admission (PG-13, 2013, Focus Features)
Dozens of thousands of very smart and very hopeful high schoolers apply annually for a Princeton education, and elevens of thousands of them get rejected. Along with a select group of others, admissions officer Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) is the face of that rejection. And given what a personal mess she appears to be as her story begins, it’s enough to qualify “Admission” as a horror film for any 17-year-old who sees it amid the terror show that is college admissions season. For the rest of us, “Admission” technically is a comedy. But with an opening third that’s narratively productive but exceptionally comedically lukewarm, it’s a comedy that needs more benefit of the doubt than a college application with three misspellings in the opening paragraph of the cover letter. It’s around the bridge to the second act, by way of one of those hopeful students (Nat Wolff) and the teacher (Paul Rudd) lobbying for his acceptance, where “Admission” drops its big narrative bombshell. And it’s around that same period where the movie’s shaky comedic approach starts making sense, if not necessarily scoring with everyone who came into a Fey/Rudd with considerably different expectations. “Admission” gives Fey a chance to switch gears and try some sappy heart-on-sleeve earnestness on for size, and yes, it’s jarring. And no, it won’t be to every Fey fan’s taste — a few laughs aside, the comedy never develops any kind of real edge. With all that said, though, it merits saying also that at no point does “Admission” ring hollow or find its cast laughably out of their league. The clumsy gameplan manifests itself in the uneven presentation, but the conviction and talent from all involved is every bit as prominent, and that doesn’t count for nothing.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

Spring Breakers (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
It’s a joke, right? It has to be a joke. How else to describe “Spring Breakers,” which practically dares you to stop watching with an explosive opening montage of scenes that mixes aggressively bad dubstep, inane stock party footage and gloriously vapid inner and outer monologuing from the characters with whom we’re presumably stuck for the 75 or so minutes that remain? “Breakers” has its parable in the form of four naive girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) who sneak out and scam their way into a spring break trip, only to get arrested and subsequently bailed out by an opportunistic full-time spring breaker (James Franco) who drags them into a dangerous world of drugs, guns and people with very bad intentions. By the halfway point, a dark cloud has formed around “Breakers” that is both credibly unsettling and strangely pleasantly surprising given how unreachable such dramatic heights seemed only a few scenes earlier. But a mere few scenes later, “Breakers” is back to thrashing its arms in a truly bizarre attempt to reconcile a dark, deep and brooding mood with a sequence of events that’s a cross between a 13-year-old’s power fantasy short story and a music video that was conceived, written and shot in a couple hours. As a parody with self-awareness to spare, “Breakers” is mildly entertaining, if a bit overlong with the joke. But one suspects “Breakers” isn’t really in on its own joke, but instead is simply a roundly, wonderfully awful movie that reaches for profoundness, misses and takes a tone-deaf tumble for the ages down a staircase that ends only when the credits come to the rescue. Viewed on that level, and preferably not alone, “Breakers” is an absolute blast to witness. It just isn’t the blast it probably had in mind.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted scene, five behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.

7/2/13: The House I Live in, Tower Block, Inescapable, The Girl, Blood Runs Cold

The House I Live in (NR, 2012, Virgil Films)
There is no shortage of bow-wrapping lines to be found in “The House I Live in,” but in a documentary about the war on drugs, nothing takes the cake quite like John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor David Kennedy when he remarks that “over time, I have discovered that everybody involved hates what’s going on.” Kennedy’s remark also neatly symbolizes what, amid a decades-long sea of indictments that poke holes into the United States government’s drug-fighting tactics, makes this particular poke worth watching. Finding even a square inch of common ground in a situation as misguided and messy as this one is next to impossible with so many pieces — from the poor to the politically ambitious to the profit-driven to those who genuinely mean well — in play. But in completely democratizing blame by addressing every party’s role in the problem, “House” effectively takes blame off the table. What remains is a statistical, personal and visceral realization that what we’re doing now is working for nearly no one — and that includes law enforcement and the population this war is designed to protect with all these arrests and convictions. “House” is full of interesting and dispiriting revelations — did you know, for instance, that Richard Nixon launched the original war on drugs with rehabilitative intentions until reelection campaign obligations rebranded it as a campaign of punishment? — but it’s the cops, criminals, judges and journalists speaking from their own respective experiences that leaves a truly damning impression.
Extras: Five short additional segments.

Tower Block (NR, 2012, Shout Factory)
Once a desirable place to live because of their views and affordable prices, London’s apartment tower blocks have since become a haven for crime and, gradually, government-ordered eviction and demolition. In the case of Tower Block 31, the only signs of life left are the defiant tenants who live on the top floor and refuse, despite the condition of the building and a general lack of security and neighborly love in and around it, to leave. Maybe that explains what happens next, or maybe it’s the fatal crime one of the tenants (Sheridan Smith) witnessed but failed to stop several months prior. Once the first wave of sniper fire takes out multiple tenants and the ones left alive find themselves under siege, there really isn’t a good time to ask why. Without spoiling too much, it’s worth noting that, eventually, “Tower Block” will answer some of these questions. But it’s equally worth noting that the trip from here to there isn’t just a mindlessly rote wait for those answers to materialize. A large ensemble of tenants means “Block” has to work quickly to make characters out of most of them, but it has not only the high energy needed to do so (and have some fun doing it), but also enough creativity to elevate most of those characters past archetype status. All the same, “Block” isn’t afraid to lay waste to some of those people, and because it doesn’t simply take out the easy targets, the anticipation of answers is far from the only tension that turns up. Jack O’Connell, Russell Tovey and Ralph Brown, among others, also star.
Extras: Commentary, interviews.

Inescapable (R, 2013, IFC Films)
If you were one of the folks who dismissed “Taken” as too stupid to exist, a new movie about a powerful father (Alexander Siddig as Adib ) hopping continents to rescue his missing daughter is here to call your bluff. In Adib’s case, his daughter is missing somewhere in Syria — a country whose political temperature needs no introduction to anyone paying any attention the news, but also a country, in this fiction, that Adib disappeared from seemingly overnight en route to starting a new life in Canada. “Inescapable” finds him returning to face all he abandoned, including some powerful old friends and a former fiancé (Marisa Tomei) who assumed he’d eventually reappear or at least send for her. And if all of this sounds like a lot for a movie to chew on while a woman goes missing, guess what? It is, and “Inescapable” chews to its plodding detriment during a first half that, following the near-immediate revelation of Adib’s daughter’s plight, is almost entirely expository and often clumsily so. But the surprising byproduct of that clumsiness, if not necessarily the exposition, is the freedom it affords “Inescapable” to be unpredictable once the pieces are laid out and it’s time to press ahead. Neither the stumbling delivery nor the sometimes-languid pace ever completely disappear, but their (possibly accidental, let’s be clear) transformation from detriments to assets is remarkable as “Inescapable” digs deeper and gets its hands dirtier. “Taken” has it beat in terms of polish, character, thrills and memorable lines, but “Inescapable’s” intelligence indeed gives it the edge in terms of genuine late-game surprises. Oded Fehr and Joshua Jackson also star.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, Q&A.

The Girl (PG-13, 2012, Virgil Films)
There’s something to be said for unabashed sincerity. But there’s something as well to be said for levity. And it certainly wouldn’t have hurt “The Girl” to sprinkle just a little bit of the latter into this story about a single Texas mom (Abbie Cornish as Ashley) whose desperation to raise money to reclaim custody of her son compels her to engineer a smuggling of Mexican immigrants into Texas that goes considerably wrong. The fallout leaves Ashley stranded with a young girl (Maritza Santiago Hernandez as Rosa) in her charge, and now Ashley must find a way to reunite Rosa with her mom while addressing a few of her own issues and misgivings along the way. There are a number of ways to approach a story like this, and none of them necessarily exist in the realm of the lighthearted. But from its opening two scenes, wherein a crestfallen Ashley loses her job and then delivers a disheartened speech about the unfairness of her situation while her son watches, “The Girl” starts heavy and never really comes up for air. Cornish and Hernandez come to perform, but “The Girl’s” stage is so oppressively gloomy that its heart struggles to soar above the dark clouds even though it’s very clearly there and very obviously beating. Can entertainment be a secondary objective for a movie with something to say? Of course it can. But “The Girl,” for all its talent and good intentions, appears to have left it off the to-do list entirely, and that message’s power suffers as result.
Extra: Making-of feature.

Blood Runs Cold (NR, 2011, Vivendi Entertainment)
The people who spent less than $5,000 to make “Blood Runs Cold” are outwardly and rightfully proud of that fact, and it’s enough to hope their next film is a documentary about how to make a feature film on shoestring budget. Truthfully, it’d likely be the more fascinating of the two movies, because “Cold” isn’t as creative with its storytelling as it must have been with regard to the process of bringing it to life. Have you seen the movie about the pretty people who stay in a run-down house in the middle of nowhere and get gradually decimated by a killer lurking outside? Here’s your chance to see it again. But in “Cold’s” defense, and whether it’s a byproduct of the budgetary process or the creative process, it at least tells this tired story efficiently, streamlining through the inevitable decimation and making a beeline to the last-victim-standing confrontation everyone already knows is coming. The acting from some characters could be better and the special effects certainly aren’t state of the art. But “Cold’s” decision to dedicate nearly half the movie to that last showdown gives it plenty of room to be unnerving even while looking familiar and low-rent, and it takes advantage to satisfying effect.
Extras: Nine minutes of behind-the-scenes footage (which isn’t very instructive but, at least for now, will have to do).