This is the rare sci-fi-lite vehicle that could’ve used more exposition. Scene after scene, I kept expecting someone – anyone – to sit star Bradley Cooper down and explain exactly what’s going on, to no avail. It’s not about dumbing it down; it’s about the audience’s subconscious expectation of orientation. Cooper plays a man who takes a pill that lets him access 100 percent of his brainpower for short bursts of time – the side effects of which are potentially disastrous. Cooper and director Neil Burger keep things moving at a brisk, affable pace, subverting cliché here and joyously bathing in the conceptual ludicrousness there. Still, there’s virtually no second act in the thing, a built-in disability that’s disappointing coming from the usually sturdy craftsmanship of screenwriter Leslie Dixon. (available now)
Special Features: Alternate ending, extended cut, featurettes
I thought I knew how this goes, having recently suffered through a Harry Nilsson doc that left me shrugging with indifference: ’60s folk singer flies high then crashes hard because the audience didn’t “get it,” and his talent was just too great to be foisted upon an unsuspecting world. This paean to Phil Ochs, a Dylan contemporary and protest singer/activist who garnered a lot of respect, but not much else, certainly begins that way. We follow the “pre-revolutionary clown”’s ascent from Greenwich Village politico to Carnegie Hall virtuoso, his (literally) ripped-from-the-headlines folk tales ringing true and brave to boomers everywhere until a generation of hippies burned out. But writer-director Kenneth Bowser (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) has other plans. Instead, Fortune becomes a somewhat critical take on unfulfilled ambition, mental illness, grandiose megalomania and a generation of dreamers brutalized into submission. (available now)
Special Features: None
In 2006, John Carney made Once, a poetic, heartbreaking work of music and love that ended up winning an Oscar and some of the year’s highest praise. For his follow-up, Carney made an ’80s-style sci-fi sex romp with a bad John Belushi knock-off in a spacesuit invading a family of kindly, horny Irish folk. Wait, what? I don’t get it, either, but I kind of dig it. There’s nothing offensively bad about Zonad – essentially an extended Benny Hill riff mixed with a little bit of Porky’s – while there’s quite a bit of good in it. Simon Delaney plays Zonad, a rehab escapee who poses as a crashed alien in order to grub food and sex from the Cassidys, a family as clueless as they are accommodating. It’s low-budget, low-standards fun that culminates in a jaunty bar song in place of the big “I lied and I’m sorry” scene that the film’s structure requires. What’s not to like about that? (available now)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, audio commentary, outtakes
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