It’s a fairly sparse week for this week in home video, with a few critically mixed new releases and some bonafide classics on deck. We have a gangster narrative, a loquacious triptych, a terrible classical Hollywood excursion, two HBO releases, a silent film masterpiece, a surreal Japanese New Wave film, and more.
Let’s start with Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” about Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and how his stronghold over organized crime in South Boston is threatened by a rival gang and John Connelly (Joel Edgerton), a major figure in the FBI and someone who grew up with Bulger. Though the film has an engaged all-star cast and some skillful direction, “Black Mass” garnered mostly mixed reviews from critics for its unoriginality, its overly dour tone, and its generally impersonal attitude. Many critics argued that the same story was told better by Scorsese with “The Departed.” But for those to whom it appeals, it’s a film with a compelling Depp performance and some cut-rate procedural action.
Other new releases this week include Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” a biopic of sorts about the tech giant told through back-stage squabbles at three major product launches. Written by Aaron Sorkin, “Steve Jobs” functions as a filmed play wherein heightened emotions and witty exchanges take the place of anything remotely resembling subtlety, but for those who lock into its wavelength, it’s a fun movie featuring some stellar acting and some nice Sorkinisms. Then, we have Jay Roach’s “Trumbo” starring Bryan Cranston as the blacklisted screenwriter in a thoroughly heavy-handed, indecisive look at 1950’s Hollywood. Finally, HBO has Blu-ray releases of the fourth season of “Girls” and the first season of “Togetherness,” both of which are set to return this Sunday.
On the classic front, Criterion has two new releases this week: First, Nagisa Oshima’s “Death by Hanging,” a satire about a Korean man sentenced to death but miraculously survives the execution, sending the authorities into a panic; and then, Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length feature “The Kid,” starring Chaplin as the lovable Tramp as he raises an orphan rescued from the streets. Then, the Warner Archive Collection has Hitchcock’s “I Confess” starring Montgomery Clift as a devout Catholic priest who becomes a murder suspect after the seal of confession prohibits him from helping the police. Finally, Twilight Time has a host of interesting releases: Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat” and Otto Preminger’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” two classic film noirs; and Delmer Daves’ “Cowboy,” and Burt Kennedy’s “Support Your Local Sheriff!” and its companion “Support Your Local Gunfighter!”, three westerns.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: B-
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
It’s not that Mr. Cooper necessarily set out to portray Mr. Bulger as a charismatic antihero whose actions are both appalling and exciting. (The screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth is based on the book by the reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill of The Boston Globe.) His protagonist, played by Johnny Depp and called Jimmy by most of his friends and associates, does terrible, unforgivable things, nearly all of which the real Mr. Bulger actually did. But the conventions of popular culture, conventions to which Mr. Cooper hews with slavish or perhaps unthinking devotion, treat those things with a certain reverence. This guy is evil, but you have to admit he’s also kind of cool. I’m not really raising a moral objection here. I have seen “Goodfellas” and the “Godfather” movies more times than I can count, and I’m as susceptible as any other deskbound, conflict-averse fantasist to the visceral appeal of a good gangster movie. But “Black Mass” isn’t one. Mr. Cooper’s direction is skillful, if overly reliant on borrowed Scorseseisms (especially when it comes to music), and the cast is first-rate, but the film is a muddle of secondhand attitudes and half-baked ideas. It feels more like a costume party than a costume drama. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
Justin Chang, Variety
For those who subscribe to the generally held view that the late co-founder of Apple was both an iconic visionary and a monster with a silicon chip where his heart should be, rest assured that writer Aaron Sorkin, director Danny Boyle and star Michael Fassbender have given their subject the brilliant, maddening, ingeniously designed and monstrously self-aggrandizing movie he deserves. Blowing away traditional storytelling conventions with the same withering contempt that seems to motivate its characters’ every interaction, “Steve Jobs” is a bravura backstage farce, a wildly creative fantasia in three acts in which every scene plays out as a real-time volley of insults and ideas — insisting, with sometimes gratingly repetitive sound and fury, that Jobs’ gift for innovation was perhaps inextricable from his capacity for cruelty. Straining like mad to be the “Citizen Kane” (or at least the “Birdman”) of larger-than-life techno-prophet biopics, this is a film of brash, swaggering artifice and monumental ego, a terrific actors’ showcase and an incorrigibly entertaining ride that looks set to be one of the fall’s early must-see attractions. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B
Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine (Vulture)
“Trumbo” is a film that at times can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. At its worst, it’s musty and awkward; at its best, it’s irreverent and funny. Unfortunately, it settles for the former more than the latter: Arriving with all the attendant baggage of Oscar bait, it’s an Important movie, about an Important subject, and real Important historical events. But you wish its goofy spirit would shine through more often. Read more.