One of the most cultishly adored action movies of the past several years makes its way to Blu-Ray this week. “John Wick,” the directorial debut of veteran stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, has earned comparisons to the work of Johnnie To and Michael Mann from its more passionate admirers. If nothing else, it’s an action film staged with clarity and precision by its directors, and it features two very strong performances from frequently misused actors: Keanu Reeves, who proves once again that he’s a superb physical actor; and Michael Nyqvist, more lively here than he’s been since Lukas Moodysson’s “Together.”
Other new films hitting shelves include “Dear White People,” Justin Simien’s uneven but whip-smart comedy about identity and race relations; the powerful documentary “The Overnighters;” the DVD of “Starred Up,” the acclaimed prison drama starring Jack O’Connell (no relation); and Ned Benson’s “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” which is available in a Blu-Ray package with all three cuts (“Her” is considered the best of the bunch).
This week’s classic releases are headlined by a trio of Studio Ghibli films, including Hayao Miyazaki’s adventure movie “Porco Rosso,” Isao Takahata’s (“Grave of the Fireflies,” “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”) environmental fable “Pom Poko,” and the gorgeous but uncharacteristically flat “Tales from Earthsea,” directed by Goro Miyazaki. Warner Bros., meanwhile, has Blu-Ray releases of Barry Levinson’s terrific debut “Diner” and Vincente Minnelli’s Vincent van Gogh biopic “Lust for Life,” featuring an Oscar-nominated turn from Kirk Douglas as van Gogh and an Oscar-winning performance from Anthony Quinn as Paul Gaugin.
Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger
To his immense credit, Simien lets no one off the hook. He mocks the clueless white classmates who awkwardly misappropriate parts of black culture. But he saves his sharpest barbs for the African-American students who either seem to be shunning their own community or embracing its most negative stereotypes. Read more.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”
Criticwire Average: B
Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
“Them” is a combination of two other, standalone films, and as lovely as it would be to ignore that fact, the knowledge that the picture was originally something else hangs over it like an albatross. It’s a very good film, but throughout it, its phantom limbs tingle, hinting that it was something much more special before its Frankenstein job. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club
Leitch and Stahelski’s staging of the movie’s action scenes converts this abstract cool into kinetic energy, combining point-blank gunfire with acrobatic dodges, rolls, and jabs. Like Reeves’ own directorial debut, the martial arts flick “Man Of Tai Chi,” Wick is in part a showcase for practical stunt work, albeit one made with a bit more flash. Silhouettes—a cop seen through a door, a goon through opaque glass—are a motif, transforming characters into backlit shapes. Read more.
Criticwire Average: A-
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
At first galvanizing in its depiction of survival amid dire circumstances, “The Overnighters” transforms into a devastating portrait of communal unrest. Jesse Moss’ verite documentary about the impact of the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota on the local job market, and the controversial priest supporting the lives of the newcomers it attracts, contains one of the most remarkable examples of layered non-fiction storytelling to come along in some time. Read more.
Criticwire Average: A-
Steve Greene, Criticwire
A majority of “Starred Up” reviews have noted that comparisons between the multifaceted physicality of O’Connell’s performance and Tom Hardy’s in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Bronson” are near inescapable. But where Refn’s film lent a biting air of theatricality to its star, Mackenzie manages to preserve that same volatility without any of the antics. Read more.