DVDs bring the funny this week with Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain's stand-up routines and The Heat's fun pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. If you liked Captain Phillips, aptly titled Danish film A Hijacking provides another acclaimed depiction of a Somali pirate encounter.
In Theaters: 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen's 12 Years is a brutally honest portrayal of one of American history's darkest times. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of his most challenging performances as a free man kidnapped and forced into slavery. Numerous well-known supporting stars—including Benedict Cumberbatch, McQueen-regular Michael Fassbender and Paul Giamatti—bring their characters to life without feeling like empty cameos. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o stands alongside them in her role as a slave trapped within a complicated relationship dynamic with her owners. Lovely cinematography starkly contrasts with the disturbing events and Hans Zimmer's slightly overwhelming score intensifies a constant sense of foreboding.
On DVD: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
This offbeat film centers on a young New York artist's anticipation of an evening with a love interest and the disappointment that follows its nonoccurrence That event is the foundation of his obsessively introspective examination of the many emotions that accompany attraction. It feels like a too ambitious, rambling art project; it's busy and somewhat disjointed with its merger of a documentary-like short film and original footage, the layering of nearly constant narration, the story's nonlinear ordering and the frequent use of several animation styles. However, the soothing narrators, low-key Flying Lotus soundtrack, attractive visuals and emotional exploration may provide a pleasant, poetic experience that may remind you of your own relationships. (PS - Try using the Redbox code 9MXW2LPC at the kiosk for a free one night rental).
Streaming (Netflix): Dressed to Kill
Brian De Palma's 1980 thriller revolves around a prostitute who witnesses a gruesome murder. It stars Michael Caine and De Palma's frequent collaborator and former wife Nancy Allen. A few erotic moments may be off-putting and some have derided it as a macabre Hitchcock knockoff, but Dressed should please with its stylish direction and heightened sense of tension. (Perhaps like my enjoyment of Femme Fatale's stylish opening scene heist despite a lack of interest in the rest of the film.) The score plays a large part, often keeping the mood calm before hitting you with loud, jarring sounds. I believe this is the unrated version which features about thirty seconds of footage that was cut following the MPAA's initial X rating.
Streaming (Netflix): Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Long before Michael Rooker became known for playing The Walking Dead's unlikable redneck Merle, he made his film debut as the title character of this controversial 1986 film (which wasn't widely released until 1990 due to MPAA disputes and marketing concerns). Loosely based on real killer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry follows the man and a companion as they chillingly select and murder unsuspecting Chicago residents. This low-budget indie was acclaimed for its chilling realism, especially in contrast to the increasingly silly slashers that flourished in the eighties. I hear it's one of several films that pushed the MPAA to create the NC-17 rating in order to separate mature films from X-rated pornographic ones.
*In Theaters: Mother of George*Haven't seen this, but DC-area moviegoers might like to know that this acclaimed film begins a one-week engagement at Landmark E Street today. A newly married African woman living in Brooklyn faces enormous pressure from her traditional husband and mother-in-law to become pregnant. The clash between her difficulties and their cultural expectations is emotionally complex.