Out on 16 May and 23 May
Ryan Coogler takes on the Rocky franchise. Tom McCarthy’s chronicle of a scandal. A one-take thriller in Berlin.
Yes, here’s the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases coming out in the next two weeks. Click on for our reviews of Creed, Spotlight, The Big Short, The Assassin, Victoria, The 5th Wave, The Danish Girl, All Things Must Pass, In a Lonely Place, The Last Command, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Glen Campbell I'll Be Me.
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While no one can deny the controlled craftsmanship of Mark Rylance’s cool turn in Bridge of Spies, it’s hard to imagine anyone not rooting for Sylvester Stallone in the Best Supporting Actor category at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He has, after all, carried a career on the shoulders of a plucky underdog. There was also a pleasing symmetry in seeing Sly nominated again, at this stage of his career, in the role he originated (and was nominated as actor and writer for) almost 40 years ago.
Then again, some comfort can be taken in the fact that this isn’t really a Rocky film, so it’s perhaps more galling that Creed was overlooked in every other Oscar category. Belated sequels are always a tough nut to crack. The same goes for reboots. So no small amount of credit is due to Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, who succeeds in making Creed deliver on both counts.
Coogler – who reveals he was introduced to Rocky II as a kid by his father – came up with the idea, and co-wrote the script with Aaron Covington (it’s the first in the series not written by Stallone), giving the Italian Stallion an opportunity to grow old gracefully, while also introducing a new lead character for the next generation.
Michael B. Jordan is Adonis “Donnie” Creed, the illegitimate son of Rocky’s late rival-turned friend Apollo, who perished in the ring before Donnie was born. After his mother dies, the young Donnie is taken out of a youth detention centre and given a home by Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). But even growing up with wealth and opportunity, Donnie can’t resist the lure of the ring, and frequently heads to Mexico to pick up black eyes and bruises in unlicensed bouts.
Quitting a job with prospects, he heads to Philadelphia looking for a coach who can help him go the distance. Fruitvale star Jordan’s commitment is evident in his hulking frame (a featurette details his year-long road to getting fighting fit), and his charismatic, layered performance immediately Febrezes the stink of Fantastic Four off his CV.
And so in shuffles Stallone as Rocky, his ringside seat allowing him to age in a way franchise comeback characters rarely can: coaching from the sidelines, he doesn’t have to pretend he can keep up with his past self, as the likes of Indiana Jones, Rambo, and even, yes, Rocky (in 2006’s sentimental and slightly silly Rocky Balboa) have done in previous sequels.
Leaving the character in the hands of a new writer/director, Stallone delivers his most affecting performance since 1976’s Rocky. Dispensing life wisdom as much as boxing advice, he’s taken on Mickey’s mantle as the sporting coach/father figure. Rocky provides a link to Donnie’s past, and Donnie offers Rocky another shot at redemption/relevance.
Reflecting the best of the Rocky movies without being a carbon copy, Coogler doesn’t spare the homages (visual and musical), but Creed still manages to feel fresh. Coogler and Covington’s authentic-sounding dialogue helps on that score, but it’s also no slouch in the ring. The high point of the boxing action comes during a bravura central set-piece, a one-take wonder that dazzles without distancing. Just as a musical leaves you tapping your feet, Creed’s montages and melees leave you wanting to pummel a punchbag.
It also helps that the characters don’t feel like they’ve come off a production line. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca is no Adrian clone. Her singer with failing hearing sounds a bit inner Conflict 101 on the page, but she’s a fierce foil for Donnie. Their relationship inevitably feels a bit short-changed in the second half, as Donnie and Rocky’s bond comes to bear as the latter’s health fails.
In truth, Creed is very much a male-odrama. He-motions abound as themes of fatherhood and legacy are against the ropes. Many of the emotional beats will hit harder if you’re familiar with the Rocky series, with later scenes carrying added heft, but newbies are still advised to prepare their grit-in-eye excuses. Rocky remains the champion for anyone who has dreamed of punching above their weight, the figurehead for determination against the odds. Like its often downtrodden title character, the franchise has proven its resilience; on the strength of Creed, don’t bet against it continuing even without its hangdog hero.
Extras on the Blu-ray release comprise 20 minutes of deleted scenes (interesting, if far from essential; the most touching one finds Rocky engaged in another graveside chat) and two featurettes (only one on the DVD). While not devoid of insight, they lack the depth and detail you’d hope for. Still, bonus content aside, the film makes for a worthy addition to a Rocky boxset – putting the more recent instalments to shame – as well as standing on its own feet as a flying start to a Creed collection.
EXTRAS: Deleted scenes (BD) > Featurettes
Director: Ryan Coogler; Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad; DVD, BD, Steelbook, Digital HD release: May 16, 2016
Size matters in Spotlight, the tiny investigative team alluded to in the title takes on the might of the Roman Catholic Church, a vast institution that measures time in centuries. Off-screen, too, Tom McCarthy’s low-key character drama stood up to much bigger portions of Oscar-bait and claimed Best Picture with its unhurried, even old-fashioned, faith in the virtues of a good story, well told.
McCarthy’s modest, deceptively plain style is alert to nuance and able to juggle multiple meanings. The Boston Globe’s uncovering of endemic child abuse certainly delivers a consistent horror as the extent of the scandal is revealed. But McCarthy and Josh Singer’s Oscar-winning screenplay widens the scope to show how a banal, apparently benign indifference can harbour a systemic, societal evil.
Then again, this is also a tale of journalism and the necessity of the kind of long-form ambition increasingly absent from today’s click-bait culture. The film operates as an update and inversion of All the President’s Men: there are no shadows or paranoia here, but a dogged belief in turning on lights, finding the truth through an openness of manner and character.
This is a film of remarkable clarity, often structured like a thriller but with a warmth of purpose that blasts away the residual chill of the events at the story’s core. McCarthy casts for empathy and the actors deliver, especially Mark Ruffalo – his face contorted in frustration at every setback – and Rachel McAdams, the team’s most attentive listener, who sees the positive effect she’s having and wants to replicate it on a massive scale. Much like the film does.
EXTRAS: Roundtable > Featurettes
Director: Tom McCarthy; Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: May 23, 2016
THE BIG SHORT
The 2007 financial crash has been done to death on film, often intelligently (Margin Call), sometimes less so (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps). The Big Short adds a sharp script, a venomous tone and an impressive A-list ensemble to the conversation. Christian Bale gives his most intriguing performance in years as off-kilter hedge-fund manager Michael Burry, one of the first to see the crunch coming, while Steve Carell is outstanding in support.
The female characters are disposable to the point of being offensive, but director/co-writer Adam McKay tackles a complex subject with such confidence and pizzazz, you probably won’t notice until afterwards.
EXTRAS: Featurettes > Deleted scenes (BD)
Director: Adam McKay; Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: May 23, 2016
Don’t be fooled by its lively trailer and apparent wuxia sensibilities – this is no martial-arts flick. In Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s sumptuous-looking arthouse feature, any bursts of violence are treated briefly and gracefully, rather than as the main spectacle.
The story of political intrigue in eighth-century France, where an assassin (played by the quietly expressive Shu Qi) frets over whether or not to kill her cousin and former lover, is largely incidental to the film’s visuals: with close attention to detail and expert manipulation of light, sound and colour, Hou creates some of the most beautiful images on film.
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien; Starring: Chen Chang, Qi Shu, Yun Zhou; DVD, BD, Digital HD: May 23, 2016
Sebastian Schipper’s slice-of-lowlife drama is always going to be known for one thing: the fact that this freewheeling 138-minute odyssey, zig-zagging across Berlin, was shot in one continuous take. From the camerawork to the consistency of the performances, it’s an astounding feat.
But Victoria, about a tourist (Laia Costa) who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd and their disastrously bungled heist across a single increasingly frantic night, is more than just a gimmick. By the hotel-set finale, you’ll be too wrapped up in the story to care whether it’s one take or 50. True, it becomes more about momentum than character, but even on the small screen, this will leave you agog.
Director: Sebastian Schipper; Starring: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit; DVD, BD release: May 23, 2016
ALL THINGS MUST PASS
Despite the mournful title, flashes of nostalgic joy illuminate actor-turned-director Colin Hanks’ warm, generous tale of the rise and fall of Tower Records. Few stores merit docu-love, let alone megastars’ misty-eyed eulogies. Yet Russ Solomon’s chain – founded in Sacramento, 1960 – was a hipster hotspot in its heyday, as garrulous guests testify.
Solomon chats gamely; ex-staff fondly recall the camaraderie (and cocaine on expenses); rack-rifling regulars featured include Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Dave Grohl. The dream’s death from poor sales and tech shifts seems inevitable but achingly sad: suddenly, streaming culture looks awfully cold.
Director: Colin Hanks; DVD, VOD release: May 16, 2016
THE DANISH GIRL
For all the predictably safe or just plain wrong choices at this year’s ceremony, the Academy got it spot-on awarding Alicia Vikander a golden baldie for her extraordinary, earnest turn in Tom Hooper’s Oscar-courting transgender drama The Danish Girl. Their mistake was handing her the best Supporting Actress award, as Vikander’s Gerda Wegener is as much the Danish girl of the title as Eddie Redmayne’s gender reassignment pioneer.
It’s an important tale, elegantly captured by Danny Cohen’s painterly lens, but it’s sorely lacking the emotional gut punch such a story should land, and Redmayne’s overblown performance almost sabotages the whole thing.
Director: Tom Hooper; Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: May 16, 2016
THE 5TH WAVE
This YA novel adaptation kicks all the boxes for Hunger Games-like success: strong female lead, dystopian landscape and, yes, complicated love triangle. It just lacks the guts and grit...
Chloe grace Moretz plays Cassie, a teen who recounts the alien invasion that wiped out most of humanity. As other kids start receiving military training to fight back, Cassie is a lone survivor trying to reunite with her brother. A bold opening and interesting premise give way to a teen-lite telling of an alien apocalypse, with Moretz going gooey-eyed whenever she meets her hunky love interests.
EXTRAS: Commentary > Featurettes (some BD) > Gag reel (BD) > Deleted scenes (BD)
Director: J. Blakeson; Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez, Bailey Anne Border; DVD, BD, Digital HD release: May 23, 2016
IN A LONELY PLACE
Humphrey Bogart gives his best performance in Nicholas Ray’s film noir, playing a screenwriter who’s a drinker and a brawler with terrible self-esteem and an even lower opinion of others. Suspected of killing a young woman, he’s provided with an alibi by his wounded neighbour (Gloria Grahame), and the two fall in love.
But can their romance survive his violent temper? Set in a diseased Hollywood, Ray’s claustrophobic, fatalistic picture looks pinpoint perfection on this UK Criterion Blu. Ace extras – the doc features plenty of Ray, who says it’s vital “the hero is just as fucked-up as you are”.
EXTRAS: Commentary, Documentary, Interview, Radio Play
Director: Nicholas Ray; Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy; BD release: May 16, 2016
THE LAST COMMAND
Before Josef von Sternberg and Emil Jannings teamed up for The Blue Angel, there was this, another of the grandeur-brought-low portrayals that were a Jannings speciality. He’s a put-upon Hollywood extra, cast as a Russian general. But before the Revolution he really was a Russian general.
The caustic view of Hollywood is pure von Sternberg, as is the delirious depiction of Imperial Russia on the brink of extinction. Jannings plays it to the hilt, with fine support from William Powell and Evelyn Brent.
EXTRAS: Intro, Video essay, Booklet
Director: Frank Lloyd; Starring: Sterling Hayden, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Richard Carlson; Dual format release: May 16, 2016
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Long before Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern-day mind palace and Robert Downey Jr.’s super slow-mo street fights, there was Basil Rathbone. In the first of 14 films as Sherlock Holmes, Rathbone tackles Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular case, centred on a family curse, a demonic hound and lots of fog.
It’s also the start of one of the great screen bromances, with Nigel Bruce’s Watson a comical foil to the captivating Rathbone. A timelessly entertaining piece that’s faithful to the original without being too dogged.
Director: Terence Fisher; Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Sir Christopher Lee; DVD, BD release: May 23, 2016
GLEN CAMPBELL, I’LL BE ME
All concert movies need human depth as well as hits, but the humour and heartbreak run truly deep in James Keach’s portrait of country rocker Glen Campbell’s Goodbye Tour. The ‘goodbye’ tag is no ticket-shifting ruse: the ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ began the 137-date jaunt after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Campbell responds to this grim news boisterously at first; he’s celebrated, too, by Bruce Springsteen and other stars. As Campbell’s health plummets, the impact on his faculties and family makes for a weepie with a fully-felt purpose: a howl for more insight into a terrible illness.
Director: James Keach; DVD release: May 23, 2016