Spotlight (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is the kind of film that takes on the Big Subject with modesty and self-reflection, drawing the viewer into the world of the reporters and culture of Boston in 2001 to better understand the scope of everything that’s at stake.
Spotlight is the story of the Boston Globe reporters who investigated history of abuse perpetrated on children by Catholic priests, a history that had spotty coverage in the paper over the years but was each time quickly forgotten, chalked up as another isolated case. It takes new editor Marty Barron (Liev Schreiber), someone from out of town who hasn’t grown up believing The Church an untouchable institution, to spur a serious look into what turns out to be a systemic issue. He assigns the paper’s investigative “Spotlight” unit—reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), and editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton)—not all of whom are convinced there’s a story here. Until they see a startling pattern.
It’s got a big ensemble cast, but if you want a measure of what Spotlight does very, very well, keep an eye on the new guy. In the film’s opening minutes, new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at The Boston Globe. In Schreiber’s canny performance, Baron is woefully free of warm ’n’ fuzzies; he’s a blunt outsider in a clubby town—he came from Miami, for crying out loud. We spot him as a corporate stooge who will surely act as antagonist to the Globe’s band of reporter heroes, those hard-talking pros with their sleeves rolled up. In a story full of hard-won disclosures, Baron’s gradual emergence as a beacon of journalistic integrity and moral conviction is perhaps the movie’s subtlest revelation.
Maleficent (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD) does sort of a “Wicked” number on the story of Sleeping Beauty’s evil sorceress, casting her as the tragic figure of a dark fantasy (but not too dark for children—barely) of a revisionist fairy tale. Angelina Jolie plays the adult Maleficent, a fairy who watches over and defends the natural and supernatural wilds from human assault. With her magnificent leathery wings and curled horns, she has the look of a beautiful demon (even her cheekbones are sharpened to an edge that look like they could cut an unwary lover to ribbons) but is at heart an innocent, a primeval force whose emotions are pure and motives without guile. Her betrayal, at the hands of a human (Sharlto Copley) who was once a friend and lover, is an assault so personal and intimate and disfiguring that children can’t help but feel the transgression as a terrible, horrible wrong while adults see it as a form of rape. It is as powerful a dramatic moment you will see in an American film, let alone a mainstream spectacle, and coupled with Jolie’s committed performance (ripples of personality and conflicted emotions, as well as a playful sense of humor, play under even her iciest moments), it gives the film a power beyond the CGIed-to-monotony fantasy designs and magical creatures.
Not to slight Elle Fanning, who plays the princess Aurora as another innocent whose purity gets under Maleficent’s vengeful shell. Fanning has the ability to radiate pure joy and wonder and does so, but Jolie shows us that the potential for love is still within her, merely buried under rage and hatred and vengeance. It is a righteous revenge film, but with a feminist twist and a redemptive journey. To quote Matt Zoller Seitz: “The movie is a mess, but it’s a rich mess. It has weight. It matters.”
The five featurettes are quite brief (the longest, “From Fairy Tale to Feature Film,” runs only eight minutes) and there are five deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and Disney Anywhere Digital HD copies.
A Most Wanted Man (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) will stand as the final film completed by Philip Seymour Hoffman before his untimely death in February and that alone is reason enough to see the film, adapted from the post 9/11 novel by John le Carré and directed by Anton Corbijn, a music video veteran who becomes more accomplished with each feature. Hoffman has the ability to lose himself in his roles and as Günther Bachmann, the leader of covert German intelligence agency that monitors potential terrorist activity, he seems to pare down a performance to give us a man who betrays nothing of what he’s thinking or feeling yet radiates a gentle warmth for his team (made up of superb German actors Nina Hoss, Daniel Brühl, and Franz Hartwig). All we really know is his loyalty to his country and to his crew, and they return that loyalty in spades.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition (New Line, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD) follows the pattern that director Peter Jackson set on his TheLord of the Rings films. The theatrical cut came out earlier this year, and now the “Extended Edition” arrives. In the previous trilogy, those additions returned scenes from the book that had been edited out for narrative momentum, giving the film more heft as well as more intimacy. In the case of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, however, less than 15 minutes of footage is added to the film, and many (including myself) feel that it’s too long in the first place.
Tolkein wrote The Hobbit long before even contemplating his epic trilogy and the book is a modest, simple fantasy adventure compared to the sweep and scale of the subsequent books. Jackson approaches his adaptation, however, in light of the “events to come” and directs with the same gravity and sense of peril as we experienced in The Lord of the Rings, which seems like overkill to this smaller scale story. It’s impressively produced but overburdened with import and foreshadowing. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarfs don’t even get out of the hobbit hole for an hour and they can just see their destination on the horizon before the credits roll. While some fans may enjoy the added time in Middle Earth, it just slows their journey that much more.
More attractive than the added footage is the epic extras. The theatrical cut carried about two hours of behind-the-scene featurettes originally produced for the web. This edition offers commentary by Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens and two more chapters in the epic “Appendices” with more than nine hours of documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, and other explorations of the book and the adaptation. This is what makes Jackson’s special editions more special than anybody else’s.
There isn’t a lot of passion in Brian De Palma’s Passion(eOne, Blu-ray, DVD) but there is a love of kinkiness, flirtation, sensation, and the thrill of playing big business games and an odd intimacy that we don’t always get in De Palma’s coolly observed, stylistically exacting cinema. The opening scene has an easy intimacy of colleagues (Rachel McAdams as boss Christine and Noomi Rapace as trusted assistant Isabelle) with their respective guards down, or so it seems. “There’s no backstabbing here, it’s just business,” claims Christine after taking credit for Isabelle’s idea, and her attitude suggests that she really believes it. Isabelle, however, takes it personally, something between a betrayal and a personal affront, and when she kisses Christine on the lips, it’s not a seduction or a forgiveness. She’s planting the kiss of death.
If Woody Allen can leaven his comedies with supernatural gimmicks, why can’t Richard Curtis? The British author of Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral has built his latest project around time travel, but Curtis isn’t interested in the vasty reaches of future worlds or anything like that. His focus remains romance, played out on a modest scale.
On his 21st birthday, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is taken aside by his father (Bill Nighy) and informed of the family gift: The Lake men can time-trip. There are temporal restrictions, but basically Tim can go back and fix past errors by going into a dark closet and thinking hard about the previous moment in question. This is especially helpful during his courtship of Mary (Rachel McAdams), a cute and funny catch who seems to love him as much as he loves her. This is one of the odd notes about About Time: The central romance pretty much goes swimmingly.
Along with its other shortcomings, Passion is woefully mistitled. This off-key exercise is drained of any authentic juice, belying its apparent place in the crime-of-passion film tradition. But then passion has never been the long suit of its director, Brian De Palma, whose strengths have been his fiendish cleverness and his often giddy intoxication with the movie-ness of cracked stories and characters. Those talents find their footing mainly in some humid dream sequences in the third act of Passion, where De Palma finally asserts himself. Until then, the film has been a bland remake of Alain Corneau’s quite dandy 2010 film Love Crime, a trim tale that mixed All About Eve with The Servant and threw a big, bloody murder into the mix.
In this telling, set in the offices of a marketing behemoth’s Berlin office, stiletto-shod executive Christine (Rachel McAdams) takes credit for the ideas of her chief assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), soothing her underling’s hurt feelings with assurances of the importance of teamwork and the occasional kiss on the lips.