Monday, February 15, 2016

This week's DVD Releases


Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Steve Jobs ***½ Directed by Danny Boyle. Focuses on three product launches as well as personal and professional relationships to tell the story of a digital visionary who changed the world. In many ways the film reflects its hero’s brilliance. It’s a scintillating construction, though one that sometimes feels like a product launch in its own right.

The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution ***½ Directed by Stanley Nelson. A documentary that relates the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, one of the 20th century's most alluring and controversial organizations that captivated the world's attention for nearly 50 years. This is a forceful, initially uplifting, ultimately sobering illustration of how much protest matters, how far those in power will go to stifle it, and how ugly and criminal those efforts look in hindsight.

The Iron Ministry *** Directed by J.P. Sniadecki. In the years since World War II, China's vast interior has slowly become connected with the rest of the country by the expansion of the state railway. This documentary resulted from three years of touring and filming the colossal and vital network. While cerebral in intent and planning, the film doesn’t feel overly straitjacketed by theory and offers unexpected moments of amusement.

Black Mass *** Directed by Scott Cooper. The story of Whitey Bulger (Johhny Depp), the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf and then, after being indicted himself, eluded authorities for more than 15 years, until his arrest in 2011. A tightly wound piece of work, and Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) keeps its many small parts moving with ease. He's skillful at merging telling, minute details with bigger, looping schemes. Depp's instinct for observing, underlaying and keeping things in, then letting it all out when required, pays big dividends here in a performance far more convincing than his previous big gangster role, John Dillinger in Michael Mann's Public Enemies; it's unexpected, very welcome at this point in his career, and one of his best.

Labyrinth of Lies **½ Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli. In 1958, prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) follows up on a reporter's tip and uncovers a trail of evidence connecting a host of public-sector employees to atrocities perpetrated at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Nazi regime. It's to the film's credit that truth-telling here looks as hard as it does noble, and that the Holocaust is not treated just as a suspense story's macguffin.

Trumbo **½ Directed by Jay Roach. The docudrama of 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), whose refusal to testify before the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee resulted in a prison sentence and being blacklisted as a communist. It feels terrestrial rather than cinematic, but the joy of the film is in the heroism of its subject and an amazing performance from Cranston.

The 33 ** Directed by Patricia Riggin. Chronicles the 69-day effort to rescue 33 Chilean miners who were trapped more than 2,000 feet underground. What these men endured is remarkable, and the logistics of the rescue are remarkable as well. The film, however, settles for an unremarkable chronicle of that endurance test. Even the brilliant Juliette Binoche, a welcome presence in any film, is reduced to whipping up empanadas and looking wistfully beyond a fence — basically standing there and doing nothing. And this is one of the most developed characters in the movie.

Criminal Activities ** Directed by Jackie Earle Haley. Four young men make a risky investment together that puts them in trouble with the mob. A surehanded, tight and minimalist amateur-kidnapping thriller that benefits from a cast of some repute and a few nods to Tarantino within its 94 minutes.

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