Video Minefield: DVD & Blu-Ray releases for May 1

Video Minefield: New on DVD & Blu-RayNew selections available for home viewing this week:

Haywire is Steven Soderbergh’s star-studded experiment in genre filmmaking, a modest action film that struggles with its own low aim. It’s a curious exercise seeing a prolific auteur approach a task that he likely thinks is beneath him, resulting in a work that’s appealing and exciting at times, yet constructed in such a way as to almost be deliberately off-putting to those who normally enjoy these sorts of films. It’s thus fitting that Gina Carano, the real-life MMA fighter who here plays our heroine, a double-crossed spy, rocks the screen during her action scenes, but appears stiff and a little uncomfortable when delivering her dialogue. The plot is of the Ten Dollar Plot variety, which is to say that if anyone could coherently explain it after one viewing, I’ll reward them with a ten dollar bill. Soderbergh’s style, traditionally a bit naturalistic, easygoing, and detached, imbues Haywire with an interesting vibe not normally seen in these sort of films. But whether that means Soderbergh did something interesting or just squandered his chance to make a cool action film will depend on the viewer. For this critic, it’s mostly the former, a bit of the later. B-   -James Frazier   (Buy on Amazon)

Joyful NoiseJoyful Noise isn’t an unendurable sit, but it’s a major disappointment coming from Todd Graff, the actor-turned-director who helmed Bandslam, that special stick of bubblegum that transcended the limits of its genre to become a human portrait of what it’s like to be an American teen. This new effort, which replaces the earlier film’s garage band with a competitive church choir, opts instead for soap opera hokum better suited for the Lifetime network. The material is quite a bit thinner, but more significantly, the leads (Keke Palmer, all grown up from her breakthrough in Akeelah and the Bee, and Jeremy Jordan) can’t carry the movie; they are nowhere near Bandslam’s Aly Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, and Gaelan Connell in terms of charisma and likability. Including Dolly Parton, queen of all things cheap, didn’t help matters, either. It is, however, mildly interesting to see choirs perform pop hits like Usher’s “Yeah” — who knew that was a thing? C-   –Danny Baldwin   (Buy on Amazon)

New Year's EveNew Year’s Eve was roundly dismissed by critics as one of the worst films of 2011 when it hit theaters last December, which made me wonder: did they all forget about Valentine’s Day? This second holiday-themed collage from director Garry Marshall, while nothing to write home about, is actually watchable — an adjective that did not apply to its predecessor. In fact, if you enjoy the occasional episode of TMZ, you’ll probably like this, too — it’s a bunch of likable Hollywood stars doing very little of substance as the camera rolls. Sure, this a nightmare for the more erudite viewer, but for most of us celeb-obsessed commoners, it’s a good time. To liven things up, there are even a couple downright weird story-threads — a subtle romance between Zac Efron and the decades-older Michelle Pfeiffer, an inexplicable segment in which a illness-stricken Robert DeNiro holds out for one last Times Square ball drop before kicking the bucket. There is no reason to rent New Year’s Eve now, but come December, there are a lot of worse choices for present-wrapping background noise. C+   -DB   (Buy on Amazon)

W.E.W.E., written and directed by Madonna, is also better than most critics gave it credit for. It’s about a modern Manhattanite (a terrific Abbie Cornish) who becomes obsessed with Wallace Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the Duchess of Winchester in the late 1930s — a story that serves as a template for Madonna to examine the ways in which fans project themselves onto celebrities. This would seem a fitting subject for the Queen of Pop, but she chooses to explore the construct from the fan’s perspective, which is at odds with her rich personal experience. The result is a film that strikes a lot of interesting chords, but struggles to make anything out of such extensive interpellation. It looks great and the period segments, which have a stunningly different feel from The King’s Speech despite covering much of the same material, are gorgeously rendered, but what Madonna actually has to say is never clear. Provoking more than one creates has long been a mistake of inexperienced filmmakers — hopefully, this one will grow in her next outing. That W.E. manages to be interesting in its failure is a sign that Madonna has potential in this medium. C+   -DB   (Buy on Amazon)