Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
A remarkable tale of immigrant success, wrapped around a crime story.
You've made it through Valentine's Day and President's Day, have likely survived a snowstorm or two, and are probably curious what's new on Netflix, VOD and Blu-ray. That's why we're here. We serve a purpose just for you. Two dozen movies you could watch in the next two weeks before we return with more titles to put on your watchlist. There's never enough time. Movies stop for no one.
10 NEW TO NETFLIX
9 NEW TO BLU-RAY/DVD
"The Kid" (Criterion)
I have a special shelf of my favorite Criterions that really could include all of the releases the landmark company has done for Charlie Chaplin. The next time there's a Criterion flash sale anywhere, you owe it to yourself to pick up "The Gold Rush" and "City Lights." "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator" are just as good if you already have those two. And now Criterion finally gets to the one that started it all, Chaplin's feature directorial debut, "The Kid," the movie that elevated Chaplin's profile from entertainer to genius and turned Jackie Coogan into the first child star. "The Kid" is such a gorgeously subtle film, deftly walking that line between comedy and pathos that would define Chaplin's career, and really be one of his greatest influences. Most interesting here are the deleted scenes that Chaplin took out when he added the new score and restored the film in 1972, which Criterion uses as their 4K base. The new audio commentary by a Chaplin historian is also interesting as is a rare short that Chaplin produced for a wedding gift called "Nice and Friendly."
New 4K digital restoration of Charlie Chaplin's 1972 rerelease version of the film, featuring an original score by Chaplin, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
New audio commentary featuring Chaplin historian Charles Maland
Jackie Coogan: The First Child Star, a new video essay by Chaplin historian Lisa Haven
A Study in Undercranking, a new program featuring silent-film specialist Ben Model
Interviews with Coogan and actor Lita Grey Chaplin
Excerpted audio interviews with cinematographer Rollie Totheroh and film distributor Mo Rothman
Deleted scenes and titles from the original 1921 version of The Kid
"Charlie" on the Ocean, a 1921 newsreel documenting Chaplin's first return trip to Europe
Footage of Chaplin conducting his score for "The Kid"
Nice and Friendly, a 1922 silent short featuring Chaplin and Coogan, presented with a new score by composer Timothy Brock
Plus: An essay by film scholar Tom Gunning
Ramin Bahrani's latest drama, a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival and the 2015 Ebertfest, is one of the acclaimed director's best works to date. A searing, riveting drama that plays more like a thriller, his film stars Andrew Garfield as a young man, like so many, evicted from his family home when he misses a few payments. As he works to try and get back that which he has lost, he finds employment with a real estate shark (played by the Oscar-snubbed Michael Shannon) who has figured out how to game the corrupt system to his greatest advantage. Using interviews with people actually evicted from their home, Bahrani has crafted a wake-up call for America. We can't continue this way. We can't keep eating our own for profit and destroying the lives of hard-working people. Bahrani has always been a socially-conscious filmmaker and this film represents his moving to another level in terms of craft. Don't miss it. Note: The Blu-ray is a Best Buy exclusive.
Feature-length Audio Commentary by Writer and Director Ramin Bahrani with a Specially Selected Deleted Scene
People were too hard on Scott Cooper's gangster epic about the unusual case of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), a monster basically given free reign when he was turned into an informant for the FBI. Yes, it's not "The Departed," but that needn't be the bar to say that this movie works on its own terms. It's a very purposefully designed ensemble piece in that Cooper's point is that Bulger could have only come from a community willing to allow his crimes in the name of "brotherhood." And so he diffuses the work's perspective, featuring multiple narrators and protagonists, which is what I think threw off most viewers. That and Depp's goofy eyes. Ultimately, "Black Mass" is not a great film, but it's a good one, carried by strong performances and a director who gets more confident with each film. It's totally worth a rental now that the backlash has died down.
When the movie ends, the manhunt begins! Uncover the incredible global maze of mystery and deception that finally led up to the capture of the FBI's most wanted fugitive, Whitey Bulger
Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger
"Black Mass": Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime
I couldn't believe the number of people, critics included, who wrote off Guillermo Del Toro's latest film with a clause along the lines of "Well, it looks amazing but ... " as if looking amazing was A) Easy to do and B) Not worth praising. Film has always been and always will be a visual medium, and Del Toro is one of our modern directors who understands this fact better than most of his peers. His cinematic language is steeped in his deep understanding and history of his art form, and that comes through in every passionate frame. I understand the "hollow box" argument--pretty packaging housing nothing--but I don't think that argument holds at all for "Crimson Peak," a gorgeous Gothic Romance with committed performances from everyone and some of the best technical elements of the last few years. It's a perfect film for Blu-ray, with an HD mastering that captures Del Toro's luscious color scheme. So much sumptuous red. And Universal treats the fans right with copious special features, including a commentary. One last note: "Crimson Peak" will open Ebertfest 2016. Don't miss what will be one of the film events of the year.
I Remember "Crimson Peak"
A Primer on Gothic Romance
Hand Tailored Gothic
A Living Thing
Keys to Deciphering "Crimson Peak": By Guillermo Del Toro
Beware of "Crimson Peak"
The Light and Dark of "Crimson Peak"
Feature Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro
The "meh" response to Daniel Craig's fourth outing as 007 put me off seeing it in theaters despite my adoration for "Skyfall" and "Casino Royale." It's too bad because catching it up with it on Blu-ray, I ended up liking the film quite a bit. It's not as perfect as those other two outings, but arguably no Bond films are, and it's certainly an improvement over "Quantum of Solace." How do you follow up a film like "Skyfall"? Sam Mendes and company go existential, making a Bond film that comments on the very existence of Bond films. The movie plays out like a greatest hits, with action set pieces that very purposefully recall other Bond movies and a return of Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in an existential form, commenting on Bond's lost loves and past failures. It is about the perfect spy brought down to Earth, made human again, and if it's Craig and Mendes' final Bond film, it's a fitting, fun, smart conclusion to their collaborations.
"Spectre": Bond's Biggest Opening Sequence
I am almost equally enraptured and frustrated by Danny Boyle's mini-biopic of one of the most important innovators in history. On one hand, the dialogue crackles and the performances, especially those of Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Michael Stuhlbarg, are incredibly strong. On the other hand, Aaron Sorkin's script is a disappointing bit of hagiography, especially in the final act that allows Jobs closure with everyone in his life before emerging triumphant to an adoring crowd. The scenes with his daughter in the closing acts of the film are downright insulting, pure wish fulfillment for a man who left others behind on his climb up the ladder. Even before then, Jobs' flaws are often presented as necessary for his genius instead of things he could have overcome. It's a movie made by people who clearly love Jobs and what he did for technology, turning his failures into mere speed bumps to success. See it for Fassbender and Winslet. But know that you're getting a rose-colored view of history.
Inside Jobs: The Making of "Steve Jobs"
Feature Commentaries with Filmmakers
Rose-colored would be a polite way to describe Jay Roach's period drama that inexplicably became a part of awards season, even earning Bryan Cranston an unexpected Oscar nomination for Best Actor (I could list roughly 100 people more deserving but I'll just name-drop Geza Rohrig, Christopher Abbott, Michael B. Jordan, and Jason Segel and move on). When I saw "Trumbo" at TIFF, I presumed it would fall flat when it hit the U.S. atmosphere, but I was wrong. This column is generally about Blu-rays and DVDs that I recommend, distilling the best from the new releases for your viewing pleasure. This entry is a warning. "Trumbo" is not a good film. It is a dress-up movie, a flick in which people put on costumes and do exaggerated impressions straight out of community theatre productions. It is framed like the people who made it never saw a visually interesting film in their lives. Some said it looked like TV. Most TV looks better. The truly sad thing is that Dalton Trumbo led a fascinating life, and the response to this film means it will be the definitive film version of that life. No one will bother to try again. That's one of the greatest, final injustices in Trumbo's life.
Who is "Trumbo"?
Bryan Cranston Becomes "Trumbo"
"Bound For Glory"
"The Last Detail"
Finally, the wonderful Twilight Time sent over their January releases, and these are the two most interesting of the bunch, although the Paul Newman fan in me wants to forgive the melodrama of "From the Terrace" too. Hal Ashby's "Bound For Glory" looks amazing in Twilight Time's typically-strong HD, capturing Haskell Wexler's award-winning cinematography. Look at the way Wexler and Ashby capture the neverending horizon of America as David Carradine's Woody Guthrie crosses the country and forms his personality. It's a beautiful film. Less gorgeous but still fun is Ashby's "The Last Detail," also remastered by Twilight Time and featuring a very amusing Jack Nicholson performance.
Isolated Score Track
Original Theatrical Trailer
3 NEW TO VOD
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A look at the entire "Alien" franchise, and a reappraisal of its unloved installments.
A tribute to the late Powers Boothe.