It’s a busy week for home video releases, with plenty of new and classic releases to add to your library. On deck for new releases, we have an Oscar-nominated journalism movie, the second season of a critically acclaimed TV drama, a Pixar film, a divisive indie drama; for classic, we have films by Mike Nichols, Howard Hawks, John Huston, Fritz Lang, and Eric Rohmer.
Let’s kick things off with Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” about the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up scandal of sexual abuse. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schreiber, “Spotlight” takes a meticulous, on-the-ground approach to the investigation, with long stretches of its journalist heroes on the beat, digging up leads, and interviewing people face-to-face. It’s both a celebration and a tribute to an old-school kind of journalism that hardly gets practiced anymore. Though many critics argue it’s visually bland, many others have taken to the procedural qualities of the film and argue it’s one of the best films of the year. Plus, it’s been nominated for a host of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and it could be a bigger winner this Sunday.
Other new releases this week include the second season of FX’s “Fargo,” heavily inspired by the Coen Brothers original (and the rest of their oeuvre), and one of the most critically acclaimed seasons of TV last year. Next, there’s Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur,” about a world in which dinosaurs never went extinct and a young Apatosaurus’s relationship with a human companion. Finally, there’s Rick Alverson’s “Entertainment” starring Gregg Turkington as an unnamed comedian (a riff on his Neil Hamburger) as he travels around the country to perform his comedy to indifferent and hostile audiences.
On the classic front, Criterion has Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” about an anxious young college graduate who begins an affair with a family friend but eventually falls in love with her daughter, and Antonio Pietrangeli’s “I Knew Her Well,” a character study of a liberated woman in 1960’s Rome as well as a biting critique of the era’s sexual politics. Warner Archive Collection has two film noirs this week: First, Howard Hawks’ film noir “The Big Sleep,” starring Humphrey Bogart as private eye Philip Marlowe, and second, John Huston’s “Key Largo” starring Bogart as well in his final collaboration with Lauren Bacall. Kino Lorber has Fritz Lang’s last two silent films, the espionage thrilled “Spies,” and the sci-fi classic “Woman in the Moon,” which presented the basics of rocket travel to a mass audience for the first time; plus, Eric Rohmer’s “Pauline at the Beach,” about a teenage girl’s romantic misadventures at her family’s vacation home on the northwestern coast of France. Finally, two horror films: Shout! Factory has Wes Craven’s “The Serpent and the Rainbow” and VCI has Bob Clark’s “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.”
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: A-
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
To use “Spotlight” as an occasion to wax nostalgic for the vanishing glory of print would be to miss the point. The movie celebrates a specific professional accomplishment and beautifully captures the professional ethos of journalism. It is also a defense of professionalism in a culture that increasingly holds it in contempt. Mr. McCarthy is a solid craftsman. The actors are disciplined and serious, forgoing the table-pounding and speechifying that might more readily win them prizes from their peers. Everything in this movie works, which is only fitting, since its vision of heroism involves showing up in the morning and — whether inspired by bosses or in spite of them — doing the job. Read more.
“The Good Dinosaur”
Criticwire Average: B-
Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine (Vulture)
The real attraction here is the gorgeously animated scenery – realistic, majestic mountain views and forests and prairies and hot springs and salt deposits, all evocative of a time when the world was new. In that sense, “The Good Dinosaur” makes for an interesting contrast with this year’s other Pixar release. “Inside Out” was a carnival of sci-fi and fantasy influences, in the service of a thoroughly internalized story. It immersed us in a world where emotions became tactile. “The Good Dinosaur” immerses us in one where a primordial vision of nature becomes tactile. That both were created inside computers is mind-blowing. However, the story in “The Good Dinosaur” never quite builds up the narrative head of steam one might expect from Pixar. Characters and episodes show up and are then dropped, with little of the interlocking sense of purpose one finds in similar survival-and-return films like “Finding Nemo,” or even “Inside Out” (where every new interaction revealed something new about how the mind functioned). Still, something tells me kids won’t care about that level of intricacy and involvement. From where they’re sitting, “The Good Dinosaur” will look like a fun, adorable, exciting movie with likable heroes that they’ll want to see over and over again. They’re not wrong. Read more.
Criticwire Average: B
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
“Entertainment” is hypnotic and distinctive enough to make you wish it had a few more tricks up its sleeve. The venues get smaller, the phone calls home become more desperate, and the encounters with strangers grow more surreal, but the film never shifts gears; it hits the same note of deadpan despair over and over again, until shock begins to calcify into boredom. “The Comedy” had a clearer sense of purpose; here, Alverson seems to be riffing on little more than the conventional wisdom that comedians are sadsacks at heart, and while the circular repetitiveness of the film’s structure may accurately convey the grind of life on the road, it doesn’t entirely excuse the general tedium that begins to set in. Yet “Entertainment” is too artful in its aggressive alienation tactics to outright dismiss. Like Hamburger himself, the film seems engineered to polarize. But even those left confounded or enraged should know a unique experience when it slaps them, in the comedian’s own parlance, straight across their fool faces. Read more.