It’s a pretty slow week for home video releases this week, but there are a few good ones. We have the new Bond film, a profoundly underrated film from Guillermo Del Toro, a financial crisis drama, a small indie film starring Lily Tomlin, and more.
Let’s start with Sam Mendes’ “Spectre,” the latest James Bond film starring Daniel Craig as the super spy. The film pits Bond against the evil criminal organization SPECTRE led by the mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld played by Christoph Waltz (Waltz’s identity supposedly being a major twist that most people either knew figured out or didn’t care about). But like most other Bond films, the narrative is a perfunctory gesture compared to the various action set pieces and dazzling effects that the franchise has promised. Unfortunately, “Spectre” didn’t fare that well with critics, with many claiming that the film is patchy, filled with unsurprising big moments that don’t land as well as intended, and that Craig’s indifference to the role shines through in this particular installment. It’s a middle-of-the-road Bond film from a franchise filled with them.
Other new releases this week include Guillermo Del Toro’s gothic romance “Crimson Peak,” a film that was dismissed by many as a mediocre horror film but has been all but reclaimed as one of 2015’s best by many critics. Then, there’s Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes,” about a single father (Andrew Garfield) who struggles to get back his home after he, his mother (Laura Dern), and his son (Noah Lomax) are evicted by a corrupt real estate operator (Michael Shannon). Next, there’s Paul Weitz’s “Grandma” starring Lily Tomlin as the titular grandma who travels with her eighteen-year-old granddaughter (Julia Garner) to help get her an abortion. Finally, there’s “Welcome to Leith,” a documentary chronicling the attempted takeover of a small North Dakotan town by white supremacist Craig Cobb.
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On the classic front, there are a few notable releases. First, Criterion has Jan Troell’s “The Emigrants” and “The New Land,” the story of a Swedish farming family settling in America; over the course of two films, we follow Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson (Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann) as they face one challenge after another while they try to make a new home. Next, Warner Bros. has the Blu-ray release of Christopher Guest’s “A Mighty Wind,” a mockumentary about the reunion of fictional 1960’s folk groups to play one last tribute concert to a (fictional) music promoter. Then, Arrow Films has William Girdler’s blaxploitation film “Sheba, Baby” starring Pam Grier as a Chicago private eye who returns to her hometown in Louisville, Kentucky to help her father fight off mobsters who want his insurance business. Kino Lorber has two films this week: Jean Renoir’s “The Southerner,” about a cotton picker in search of a better future for his family, and J. Lee Thompson’s WWII film “The Passage” about a farmer (Anthony Quinn) who helps the French resistance smuggle a fleeing scientist (James Mason) and his family across the Pyrenees Mountains into neutral spain while a sadistic SS officer (Malcolm McDowell) is hot on their tail. Finally, Music Box Films has Joe Angio’s documentary “How to Eat Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)” about the life of renegade filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, director of “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.”
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: B-
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
There’s nothing surprising in “Spectre,” the 24th “official” title in the series, which is presumably as planned. Much as the perfect is the enemy of good, originality is often the enemy of the global box office. And so, for the fourth time, Mr. Craig has suited up to play the British spy who’s saving the world one kill at a time, with Sam Mendes occupying the director’s chair for a second turn. They’re a reasonable fit, although their joint seriousness has started to feel more reflexive than honest, especially because every Bond movie inevitably shakes off ambition to get down to the blockbuster business of hurling everything — bodies, bullets, fireballs, debris, money — at the screen. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B
Jake Cole, Slant Magazine
“Crimson Peak” may be the quintessential Guillermo del Toro film, as it compresses his fetishistic attention to detail into a single looming set where creaking floorboards, scores of dying moths, and the frequent intrusions of mutilated ghosts are just pieces in the giant dollhouse where the director merrily plays. The combination of gothic ghost story and harlequin romance doesn’t break new ground for either genre, but the intensity of Brandt Gordon’s art direction and Kate Hawley’s costume design reinforce the innate connection that period romance and horror share in how these genres so purely express their most profound ideas through ornate style. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
“99 Homes” wants to get the blood boiling, a task it accomplishes most effectively when simply depicting the hardships of foreclosure: Scenes of honest Americans booted off their properties, their possessions arranged in stacks on the front lawn, are powerfully upsetting, as are the glimpses of Florida rocket docket proceedings, wherein the suddenly destitute have a mere minute to argue their case in court. Why Bahrani felt the need to Trojan horse this subject matter to audiences in the form of a mainstream melodrama — complete with an armed showdown, sad-eyed moppet onlookers, and a bad guy that’s basically an effigy waiting to be burned — is anyone’s guess. All the edge-of-your-seat bombast just dilutes the power of the filmmaker’s well-researched, well-meaning lament for struggling homeowners. The smaller his movies get, the bigger his compassion looks. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B+
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
Is this a political movie? Well, in the United States, any movie in which abortion is treated as a standard medical procedure performed by trained and concerned medical professionals as opposed to Something Not Done, or a Traumatic Life Ruining Moment, is by definition a political movie. For that reason alone the movie will attract controversy; it approaches women’s self-determination without even the vaguest hint of apology. I don’t want to set the comments section on fire but I’ve got to say I’m entirely sympathetic to this perspective. But the politics — including the way the movie doesn’t just “pass” the “Bechdel Test” but gets 100 on it — are only a part of this really special movie. The other part is, yes, the humanity. The way the movie shows the toll taken by bonds sundered, and the healing made possible by bonds that are restored, however tentatively. And there’s also humor, and plenty of it. While brief in running time, “Grandma” is a small movie that doesn’t feel slight. Read more.