It’s a busy week for this week in home video, with a host of new and classic releases. On the new front, there’s a Guy Ritchie spy comedy, an EDM-themed musical drama, and a fantasy trilogy from the mind of Peter Jackson. On the classic front, we have a box set collecting the works of a legendary director in animation, a Criterion release of a landmark in world cinema, and a Blu-ray from a silent film master.
Let’s kick things off with Guy Ritchie’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Based on the ’60s MGM television series of the same name, the film follows a CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and a KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) as they teem up with Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) to stop Nazi sympathizers from using Gaby’s father to help build a nuclear weapon. Featuring charismatic turns from all the principal actors and fun set pieces, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” impresses with its comic charm and shadows the uneven narrative and its style-over-substance M.O. Though some critics found it to be dull and formulaic, others found it to be a delightful throwback that fit well at the end of the summer movie season.
Other new releases this week include Max Joseph’s “We Are Your Friends,” starring Zac Efron as Cole Carter, an aspiring EDM DJ who wants to become a major record producer, a dream which gets complicated after Cole starts seeing Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), the girlfriend of his mentor James (Wes Bentley). After that, there’s the Blu-ray extended cut release of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit Trilogy,” which finally completes the “Lord of the Rings” saga. Then, there’s Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” a dramatization of the 1971 psychological study of the same name in which students play the role of prisoner or guard to illustrate the psychology of imprisonment. Finally, there’s Ken Loach’s final feature film “Jimmy’s Hall” (or maybe not) about Jimmy Gralton, an Irish communist leader and the only Irishman to ever be deported from Ireland.
On the classic front, Walt Disney Studios has collected all 11 of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, including “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and “Spirited Away,” into one giant Blu-ray box set entitled “The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki.” The box set is essential to anyone unfamiliar with Miyazaki’s work and those who care about important voices in animation. Next, Shout! Factory has “Troll” and its unrelated cult film sequel “Troll 2” on Blu-ray, along with “Best Worst Movie,” a documentary about the production and legacy of “Troll 2.” Then, Criterion has two essential Blu-rays: The first is Satyajit Ray’s “The Apu Trilogy,” a world cinema masterpiece that follows the childhood and early life of Apu, a free-spirited child who grows up in a village and becomes an aspiring writer; the second is Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” After that, Kino Lorber has three new Blu-ray releases this week: The first is silent master F.W. Murnau’s 1921 “Faust,” Andre de Toth’s film noir “Pitfall” starring Dick Powell, and “Lost Lost Lost & Walden: Two Diary Films by Jonas Mekas,” an avant-garde exploration into life in New York City and the immigrant experience in the 1960s. Sony Pictures has the 20th anniversary edition of “The City of Lost Children” about a demented scientists who steals kids’ dreams because he’s incapable of making his own. Finally, Oscilloscope Studios has “Stations of the Elevated,” a 1981 documentary film about graffiti culture in 1970’s New York, and Flicker Alley has “Chaplin’s Essanay Comedies,” which collects the 14 films Charlie Chaplin made with the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company and represents the final installment in the Chaplin Project, which sought to restore all of the performer’s output from 1914-1917.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
Criticwire Average: B-
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
At times “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” works better as a fashion show than a movie, with a wardrobe — Mary Quant-like minis, form-fitting bespoke suits, a caftan that Jean Shrimpton could have worn (a few years later) for a Vogue shoot — that expresses more about the era than anything in the script. (The costume designer is Joanna Johnston.) Mr. Ritchie tends to flaunt his wares like a store clerk, fawning over the clothes, chairs and cars, and his usual rabbity pace slows to a tortoiselike crawl whenever the actors deliver a lot of words, which gratefully isn’t often. His talent, as he proves repeatedly, is making bodies and cars crash through space, and there’s a long, divertingly twisty and wordless chase near the end that suggests he would have just killed in Mack Sennett’s studio. Read more.
“We Are Your Friends”
Criticwire Average: C+
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
Efron is his blank-faced self for most of the film. In previous movies, that placid, angel-eyed expression has been either his great failing or his great asset. Emotions, when he tries to express them in his roles, tend to come off as insincere. This lent “That Awkward Moment” an extra level of creepiness that felt wrong for a romantic comedy; but it worked extremely well in “Neighbors,” playing off against Seth Rogen’s accelerating agitation. Here, it feels at first like a mistake: There’s actually a brief animated sequence at one point, when Cole is tripping on PCP, and the animated Zac Efron seems to have more range than the real Zac Efron. But it turns out that’s part of the plan — or at least, it appears to be. Cole has to do a lot of reflecting and reacting in the film, as he absorbs both James’s lessons and the missteps of his own life. By the end, when our hero finally cuts loose, the whole movie comes together. I couldn’t help but smile. Read more.
“The Stanford Prison Experiment”
Criticwire Average: B+
Matt Prigge, Metro
The closest it comes to saying something dramatic is its portrayal of Zimbardo, repeatedly shown staring quietly at fuzzy black-and-white video of unspeakable horrors, too enraptured to interfere. (He did intervene twice, removing prisoners who had clearly suffered a mental break.) It’s a passive-aggressive take, strongly implying that the real villain is Zimbardo without actually saying that. But for the most part it holds back, allowing ideas to be teased out by viewers, who will debate it after. They won’t be debating the filmmaking or the presentation; they’ll simply be debating what has been debated since the experiment’s actions were made public. Apart from admiring some performances (Miller, Angarano and Crudup all stand out), it’s little more than an audio-visual version of one of the incident’s numerous non-fiction accounts. It’s a meat-and-potatoes approach that gets the job done but stops well short of burrowing into one’s skull. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
In a reflection of what Robert Christgau has called “the tragicomedy of leftist sectarianism,” certain politically minded commentators have noted that this based-on-true-events film soft-sells the fact that the real Jimmy Gralton was, besides being a community organizer, an unapologetic Stalinist. Oh well. This movie, as it happens, smooths out quite a bit of material in order to make its story points and moods conform to that of a relatively conventional Inspiring Narrative. Jimmy is given a lost-then-refound love whom his innate sense of nobility inhibits him from reclaiming, for example. The conventionality, in fact, every now and then flirts with the trite, and the movie is bereft of the rough edges and surprises that were still evident in “Barley.” On the other hand, the proceedings are conducted with both intelligence and compassion prominently placed, and the acting all around, particularly from Norton, is first-rate. So while it may not represent entirely accurate history, it depicts a set of values and actions the filmmaker clearly holds dear, and does so with commendable engagement. Enough that a viewer might wish for Loach to change his mind with respect to his semi-retirement. Read more.