Blu Tuesday: Steve Jobs, Black Mass and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Steve Jobs”

WHAT: An unconventional biopic that follows Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) backstage during three product launches – the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT “black box” in 1988, and the Apple iMac in 1998 – that helped shape his legacy.

WHY: For a movie about one of the most innovative people of the past century, it’s fitting that “Steve Jobs” is as risky and unique as the man himself. Aaron Sorkin was the perfect screenwriter to tackle this material, creating a sharp, funny and often unflattering look at Jobs that moves like a bullet train, despite the dense nature of its three-act structure. Director Danny Boyle stays out of the way for the most part, allowing Sorkin’s script to sing with few distractions, but he brings an electric immediacy to the story that’s reminiscent of live theater. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the title character, blurring the line between fiction and reality with his nuanced portrayal, while the rest of the cast shines in supporting roles. Though “Steve Jobs” will rub some people the wrong way with its prickly depiction of the Apple visionary, it’s an endlessly fascinating film that’s more respectful of its subject than it initially appears.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Danny Boyle, writer Aaron Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham, as well as a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Black Mass”

WHAT: When small-time criminal Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) begins to make a name for himself in South Boston, he strikes a deal with childhood friend/FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) to help get rid of the local mob. But as John struggles to cover up Whitey’s growing criminal empire, he unknowingly places himself in the FBI’s crosshairs.

WHY: Much like director Scott Cooper’s first two films, “Black Mass” is a pretty slow burn, and although that comes with the territory of the crime genre, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say (or a new way to say it) that hasn’t been done in countless other gangster flicks. The true-life story is certainly compelling, but it never attains the greatness to match its ambition, despite Johnny Depp’s effectively chilling turn as the notorious Whitey Bulger. It’s not an overly showy piece of acting, servicing the story instead of his own self-indulgence for once. Unfortunately, the rest of Cooper’s top-notch cast (save for Joel Edgerton) is wasted in throwaway roles, which is not unlike the film itself, because for every outstanding setpiece, there are several scenes of tedious filler that grind the movie to a halt. Still, while it doesn’t do enough to earn a spot among the classics, “Black Mass” is a satisfying crime thriller that’s worth watching if only for Depp’s impressive return to form.

EXTRAS: In addition to a documentary about Whitey Bulger’s eventual capture, there’s a making-of featurette and a behind-the-scenes look at Johnny Depp’s transformation.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The 33”

WHAT: The unbelievable true story of the 33 Chilean miners – including reluctant leader Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) and shift foreman Luis “Don Lucho” Urzúa (Lou Diamond Phillips) – who were trapped underground for 69 days following a catastrophic mine collapse, only to be miraculously rescued.

WHY: It was never a question whether a movie would be made about the 2010 Copiapó mining accident, because it’s the kind of real-life story about courage and heroism that Hollywood loves. But for as extraordinary as the story may be, “The 33” recounts the events in such a disappointingly ordinary manner that it doesn’t really do it justice. Director Patricia Riggen does a good job of balancing all the different subplots, but there are so many characters fighting for screen time (from the miners, to their family members, to the government workers spearheading the rescue attempt) that none of them are very well developed. Antonio Banderas’ character is the only one who doesn’t feel like a thinly-sketched stereotype, while the decision to cast actors like Gabriel Byrne, Juliette Binoche and Bob Gunton in non-white roles is just plain insulting. There are a few great moments peppered throughout (like the climactic rescue sequence and the dream-like Last Supper scene), but “The 33” too often resorts to the same boring clichés.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette on filming the mine collapse sequence, as well as a retrospective on the real-life events with news footage, interviews and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Kid”

WHAT: When a woman (Edna Purviance) abandons her newborn child on the street, a tramp (Charlie Chaplin) takes him in and raises the young boy (Jackie Coogan) as his own.

WHY: Charlie Chaplin’s first foray into feature-length filmmaking is undoubtedly one of his best works, even if the 1972 rerelease included on this Criterion edition is only 53 minutes long. Not many people have seen the original 1921 cut, which includes 15 minutes of additional footage, but it seems strange that Chaplin would remove so much from an already short movie when the one thing that “The Kid” is lacking is a richer narrative; it’s almost too simple for its own good. Though the film works really well as a showcase for Chaplin’s comedic genius, it lacks any real emotional depth apart from the sequence where the Tramp fights to retain custody of Jackie Coogan’s orphan boy. Chaplin is brilliant as always in the role of his famous Tramp character, and Coogan impresses as his young partner-in-crime, but while there’s a lot to love about “The Kid” (particularly the duo’s fantastic chemistry), it falls well short of its reputation as a cinematic masterpiece.

EXTRAS: There’s a new audio commentary by Chaplin historian Charles Maland, a video essay about Jackie Coogan, interviews with Coogan and Lita Grey Chaplin, deleted scenes, archival footage, the 1922 silent short “Nice and Friendly,” an essay by film scholar Tom Gunning and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Girls: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: The further misadventures of Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) and her group of twenty-something friends – Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) – as they traverse the ups and downs of adulthood in New York City and beyond.

WHY: HBO’s “Girls” continues to be one of the best shows on television to hate-watch, so oblivious to the soap-operaish train wreck it’s become that it sometimes feels like creator/star Lena Dunham is punking us. While Season Four represents a slight improvement due to the main quartet’s efforts to finally grow up, even if they’re rarely successful, the rest of the show is business as usual. Hannah’s journey from graduate student to substitute grade-school teacher is laughable; Marnie’s awkward partnership with new boyfriend Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is even more groan-worthy than her past relationships; Jessa is still a complete waste of space; and Shoshanna (perhaps the most realistic of the group) is vastly underutilized. Zachary Quinto has a fun guest stint as the ultimate hipster asshole, but it’s Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky who remain the show’s greatest assets. “Girls” simply wouldn’t be tolerable without them, which is why it’s in Dunham’s best interest to keep them around as long as possible.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes audio commentaries by the cast and crew on seven episodes, a making-of featurette, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and the previously released “Inside the Episode” mini-featurettes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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