Fresh off a trio of Oscar wins, “Whiplash” is now hitting Blu-Ray. The film rankled some who found its ideas about musical genius questionable, but the film is less a portrait of greatness born and more a look at one monster (J.K. Simmons, who won Best Supporting Actor) grooming another (Miles Teller, nearly as good). Above all else, it’s a gripping and wildly entertaining thriller. It’s joined by another recent Oscar-winner, “Big Hero 6,” which picked up Best Animated Film. Its plot falls in line with the superhero origin stories that play about two or three times a year, but there are plenty of charming things going on in the margins, and the kindly superhero robot Baymax is near-impossible to not love. Finally, the musical-drama “Beyond the Lights” (which was nominated for Best Original Song) sounds on paper like “The Bodyguard” redux (cop/pop singer fall in love), but it’s a sensitive romance that gets at the truths of exploitation in the modern music business.
On the classic front, Criterion has Blu-Rays both of Fellini’s wonderfully bacchanal “Satyricon” and the child-traumatizing animated adaptation of “Watership Down,” while Olive has early films from acclaimed directors: Ang Lee’s “Eat Drink Man Woman” and William Friedkin’s “The Night They Raided Minsky’s.” But Milestone has them both topped this week: after releasing a pair of the early indie director Shirley Clarke’s films in November (“Portrait of Jason”/”Ornette: Made in America”), they have another with the 1962 drug drama “The Connection.” Better still, they have a new Blu-Ray of “In the Land of the Head Hunters,” a 1914 quasi-documentary from photographer Edward S. Curtis that stands as the first film with an entirely Native American cast.
Keith Uhlich, The A.V. Club
How easy it would be for “Beyond The Lights” to turn fully bathetic, and how wonderful that it mostly maintains the promise of that opening section. Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) does a beautiful job sketching in both Noni and Kaz’s antithetical milieus: her stifling affluence—with its many sycophants, paparazzi, and exploiters of all stripes—versus his modest blue-collar existence. Read more.
Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune
While we’re on it: Many Disney (and Pixar) animated pictures succumb to this temptation of the protracted action climax. This is one of them. I dare Disney not to end their next three animated features this way. The more “Big Hero 6” avoids this stuff and devotes its time and attention to its biggest hero, the more charming the results. Read more.
Criticwire Average: A-
Peter Debruge, Variety
Miles Teller drums his heart out — and then some — in writer-director Damien Chazelle’s stellar career-starter, “Whiplash,” which demolishes the cliches of the musical-prodigy genre, investing the traditionally polite stages and rehearsal studios of a topnotch conservatory with all the psychological intensity of a battlefield or sports arena. Read more.