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This Week in Home Video: ‘Birdman,’ ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya,’ ‘Life Itself’ and More

This Week in Home Video: 'Birdman,' 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya,' 'Life Itself' and More

Oscar hopefuls and omissions are the big story this week in home video. “Birdman,” the also-ran turned apparent front-runner for Best Picture, is now available in all of its brow-furrowing glory. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film isn’t the paradigm-shifting masterpiece it’s so clearly striving to be, and its ideas about theater, film, actors and critics are all shopworn at this point, but it’s successful as an immersion into the insecurities of a man (be that man Michael Keaton’s washed-up actor or González Iñárritu himself) and as a performance piece, with Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone all earning richly-deserved acting nominations. Keaton’s biggest challenge for Best Actor also arrives on Blu-Ray this week: Eddie Redmayne has won a Golden Globe and the SAG Award for his work as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” a by-the-numbers biopic that’s more interested in hitting uplifting genius biopic beats than actually demonstrating Hawking’s genius. Redmayne and co-star Felicity Jones are both fine in the film, but neither are given enough rope to make the material their own and give performances that stand out from what any other capable actor would do with the given roles.

Other films arriving: Isao Takahata’s lovely Best Animated Film nominee “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya;” the surprise Best Documentary omission “Life Itself,” a moving portrait of the late Roger Ebert; the Tommy Lee Jones-directed western “The Homesman,” which some thought would earn Hilary Swank a Best Actress nod (it did not); “St. Vincent,” which inexplicably got Naomi Watts a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the Screen Actors Guild; and “Dumb and Dumber To,” which inexplicably did not get an honorary award for Greatest Scene Ever for Jim Carrey eating a hotdog like no man has ever eaten a hotdog. Also on Blu-Ray is Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s “The Interview,” the funny but uneven and ultimately inconsequential comedy that caused all that hullaballoo back in December. LionsGate is releasing Paul Schrader’s “Dying of the Light,” but Paul Schrader probably doesn’t want people to see it, given that it’s been released in a compromised cut.

Coming to Blu-Ray on the classic front is Criterion’s latest edition of “An Autumn Afternoon,” the final film of the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu; a number of releases from Olive Films, from the biker movie “The Wild Angels” to “Muscle Beach Party” to “Kiss Me, Stupid,” an underrated farce from Billy Wilder. Kino Lorber, meanwhile, has a new release of Jacques Rivette’s “Le Pont du Nord.”

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Criticwire Average: A-

A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club

For Michael Keaton, “Birdman” is some kind of gift from the movie gods, a license to have his cake and messily devour it too. It’s the casting coup of the year: aging former movie star who once played a winged superhero returns as an aging former movie star who once played a winged superhero. The role, custom-fitted to Keaton’s true Hollywood story, allows him to toy with his own faded celebrity and to step back (however briefly) into the vulcanized rubber of a crime-fighting getup. Read more.

“The Interview”
Criticwire Average: B-

Jason Bailey, Flavorwire

“The Interview” isn’t quite a great comedy — some of the jokes are cheap (even for this kind of movie), you can’t buy it a female character worth a damn, and poor Lizzy Caplan disappears for so long in the second half, I forgot she was even in it. But it’s funny and strange, with an admirably gonzo sensibility, and it approaches the job of mocking Kim with the appropriate degree of joy-buzzer delight. Read more.

“Life Itself”
Criticwire Average: A-

Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune

James, who previously triumphed with “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters,” among others, could have settled for well-meaning hagiography or a feature-length pitch for sainthood. Many of Ebert’s far-flung fans and admirers, along with the thousands of Chicagoans who called him friend even if they didn’t know him, may have preferred it that way. It’s a relief to report “Life Itself” is better than that. It’s a clear-eyed portrait of a complicated, Falstaffian figure. Read more.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”
Criticwire Average: A-

Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

Even if you have trouble hooking into the scenario’s cultural idiosyncrasies—the concerns of this movie, while not “Japanese” in and of themselves, are addressed in a very specifically Japanese way—every frame of “Princess Kaguya” is astonishingly beautiful. What looks rather rudimentary at the film’s opening is revealed to have a depth that never stops yielding beauty. Read more.

“The Theory of Everything”
Criticwire Average: B

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club

Director James Marsh—best known for the Errol Morris Lite documentaries “Man On Wire” and “Project Nim”—has usually shown a knack for organizing information, as well as an aptitude for understated suspense, having directed the IRA thriller “Shadow Dancer” and the middle entry of the “Red Riding” trilogy. “The Theory Of Everything,” however, is a messy muddle, equally over-stuffed and under-realized, a collection of generically flat two-shots spiced up with the occasional useless flourish. Read more.

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