It’s a very busy week for this week in home video with a diverse slate of new and classic releases. On the new front, we have a hip-hop biopic, a Nancy Meyers comedy, one of the most acclaimed debut features of the year, a mountain survival film, and Gaspar Noe’s explicit new film. On the classic front, we have one of the best films of the 2010’s, one of the best Golden Age film noirs, two Hal Ashby films, and more.
Let’s kick things off F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton,” a biopic about the rise and fall of rap group N.W.A., and how they revolutionized music for the future by using the collective anger of the disenfranchised. Starring O’Shea Jackson as Ice Cube, “Straight Outta Compton” follows the group from its unlikely beginnings, to their early success and their troubles with the FBI, and their eventual disbandment. A classic rise-and-fall tale, “Straight Outta Compton” was a commercial hit making $200 million from their $28 million budget (the all-time highest grossing film from a black director), and garnered critical acclaim as well, especially for its pacing and energy. The film has since been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Other new releases this week include Marielle Heller’s widely acclaimed debut film “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” about the burgeoning sexuality of a teenage artist (Bel Powley) in the 1970’s as she enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend (Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard). Next, there’s Nancy Meyers’ “The Intern,” about a 70-year-old retiree (Robert DeNiro) who joins a young upstart fashion site as a senior intern under the guidance of a young CEO (Anne Hathaway). After that, we have the mountain survival film “Everest” about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Then there’s Gaspar Noe’s explicit, divisive “Love,” about a boy, a girl, another girl, sex, drugs, and more sex. Broad Green Pictures has a few releases this week: Mia Hansen-Løve’s melancholic “Eden,” Isabel Coixet’s culture-clash comedy “Learning to Drive,” and Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s immigration dramedy “Samba.” Finally, two small films: “Jem and the Holograms,” loosely based on the 80s animated show “Jem,” and Colin Hanks’ documentary “All Things Must Past: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records.”
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On the classic front, Criterion has the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” one of the best films of the decade, about the stagnant life of a struggling folk singer (Oscar Isaac), and Charles Vidor’s “Gilda,” starring Rita Hayworth as the classic femme fatale who has to be watched by an old flame after her husband hires him. Twilight Time has a host of new releases: Two Hal Ashby films, “The Last Detail,” which was a Criticwire Classic of the Week, and “Bound for Glory,” featuring work from late cinematographer Haskell Wexler, George Roy Hill’s “Hawaii,” which was partially written by Dalton Trumbo, “From The Terrace,” and “The Happy Ending.” Olive Films has the long-awaited “Let There Be Light,” a collection of John Huston’s wartime documentaries, a restored version of Michael Curtiz’s silent film “The Undesirable,” and Gary Sinise’s “Of Mice and Men.” Finally, Warner Bros. has Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo,” and Shout Factory has William Friedkin’s “The Guardian.”
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
“Straight Outta Compton”
Criticwire Average: B+
Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Yet the essence of the story isn’t music, it’s racism and police violence, the first sign of which turns up in the first scene, when a tank-like battering-ram of a vehicle is used to aid the authorities in a military-style raid on a drug house. Police violence is seen throughout, in unjustified and brutal stops of black men guilty of nothing — essentially, charged with standing while black — when the police, without arresting them, proceed to handcuff them, beat them, insult them with racist epithets, intimidate them, and assert dominion over them. These tactics have nothing to do with law enforcement and everything to do with power relations, with asserting authority and demanding subordination. And the conflict that plays into the group’s business troubles has its origins not only in Jerry Heller’s own conduct but in the very issue that connects Jerry to Eazy-E’s record label — unquestioned, unchallenged daily boardroom racism. What Jerry promises Eazy-E is indicative of a far greater societal sickness: he promises him the ability to get through “doors,” to get business meetings with powerful people who, presumably, would be unwilling to meet directly with a young black artist from Compton. Jerry may have experience that Eazy-E doesn’t, and he says as much — but what he mainly has is social capital that comes as much from being the right color and from the right background. Read more.
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Criticwire Average: A-
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
It would be easy to call Minnie a victim, and Monroe the villain, even if that’s not at all how it plays out in the movie. Monroe may not be exactly the light of Minnie’s life, but for much of the story, he is the fire of her loins, to borrow and bend some opening words from Nabokov’s “Lolita.” In the preface to a later edition of her novel, Ms. Gloeckner writes that, in many ways, it is about her, but that it’s also about the reader. “Although I am the source of Minnie, she cannot be me — for the book to have real meaning, she must be all girls, anyone.” It’s a familiar universal appeal and also insistently political. The novel is life-specific, but what makes Minnie — on the page and now on the screen — greater than any one girl is how she tells her own story in her own soaringly alive voice. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
The adages of “The Intern” are delivered in a comedy package that, for the most part, is sane, sweet, and smart, and a lot of the time, actually funny. A budding romance between Ben and the company’s in-house masseuse (Rene Russo) is fodder for two groan-inducing visual gags. But a silly set piece in which Ben enlists some of the younger goofballs of About The Fit on a housebreaking mission, replete with latter-day “Ocean’s Eleven” references, is actually a tolerable bit of rompage. And everyone in the cast, including Hathaway, who, for the record, I have never not liked, is extremely appealing. “What have you done with my husband?” my wife asked me the other night when I came home and told her I’d had a genuinely good time watching a Nancy Meyers movie. What could I say? You’re never too old to keep an open mind. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B-
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture (New York Magazine)
Kormákur has a tough task here, juggling an impressive number of characters at different stages of the climb. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the film has to struggle with the elements almost as much as the people onscreen: It’s often hard to see the climbers’ faces, and we have to make out who is who based on the color of their outfits. Kormákur shot in authentic locations — both in and around Everest, as well as the Italian Alps and Iceland — dragging his actors and crew to some of the most remote places on Earth. But he hasn’t turned that search for authenticity into a fetish: The setting bears down on the performers and the characters, and when the director shows us a vast expanse, or a deadly cliff, or an eerily approaching storm, he always does it in context, making sure to keep the actors in the frame. In his hands, “Everest” becomes a film of intimate menace. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C+
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club
“Love” handles sex unimaginatively, with the kind of solemnly static compositions and classical music that let viewers know it’s art. But its use of 3-D to visualize the energy and movement of cosmopolitan nightlife (also a strong point in the opening stretch of “Enter The Void”) is sometimes dazzling: Laser lights and strobes confuse the visual planes of a nightclub scene; dim apartment interiors recede into the background like illusionistic trompe-l’œil frescoes; and an argument staged in the back of a cab, with Murphy and Electra silhouetted against the moving backdrop of the city street, throbs with claustrophobic immediacy. Ironic that a movie that’s so explicitly about intimacy should only feel intimate when it gets its characters to leave the house. Read more.