Real-life dramatic thriller set against the backdrop of a series of historic events: the story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a Brooklyn lawyer who finds himself thrust into the center of the Cold War when the CIA sends him on a near impossible mission to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot who was shot down over Russia at the height of the Cold War.
Vitals: Director: Steven Spielberg. Stars: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Scott Shepherd, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Sebastian Koch, Eve Hewson, Will Rogers.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 142 min., Drama, Box office gross: $70.677 million, DreamWorks/Disney.Extras: "A Case of the Cold War: Bridge Of Spies": The story of James Donovan, Francis Gary Powers and Rudolf Abel encapsulates the Cold War era -- a tense political climate shrouded in propaganda, espionage and the threat of nuclear war. This piece explores the characters and the real-life people they're based on; "U-2 Spy Plane: Beale Air Force Base" showcases spectacular footage shot at the Beale Air Force Base of the U-2 plane and the scene where Powers and other pilots are instructed about their spying mission, including a cameo appearance in the film by Francis Gary Powers son, Gary Powers Jr.; "Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act": Spielberg and his team stage the pivotal scene of the film at Glienicke Bridge, the very same location where the historic exchange of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers took place; "Berlin 1961: Recreating The Divide": A mix of behind-the-scenes footage with iconic archival imagery transports viewers to another place and time as the filmmakers construct the Berlin Wall, envision what it was like to cross through Checkpoint Charlie, and recreate the divide.
Based on award-winning TV producer Mary Mapes' memoir, "Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power," which chronicles the story of Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mary Mapes' (Cate Blanchett) investigation into a sitting President's military service and one of network news' biggest scandals. As a renowned producer and close associate of Rather, Mapes believes she's broken the biggest story of the 2004 election: revelations of irregularities in President George W. Bush's military service. But then allegations come pouring in, sources change their stories, document authenticity is questioned, and the casualties begin to mount. This dramatic thriller goes behind the scenes to expose the intricacies of journalistic integrity and what it takes to reveal the truth.
Vitals: Director: James Vanderbilt. Stars: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Dennis Quaid. 2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 121 min., Drama, Box office gross: $2.522 million, Sony.Extras: "The Team" featurette; Q&A with Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss and James Vanderbilt; commentary with Vanderbilt, producers Brad Fischer and William Sherak. Blu-ray adds deleted scenes, "The Reason for Being" featurette.
The Last Witch Hunter
Vin Diesel stars as the heroic Kaulder, an immortal witch hunter who has spent centuries tracking down those who practice evil magic. When history's deadliest witches resurrect their bloodthirsty Queen Witch, Kaulder becomes humanity's last hope as he clashes with the supernatural in an epic battle for the ages.
Vitals: Director: Breck Eisner. Stars: Vin Diesel, Elijah Woo, Rose Leslie, Julie Engelbrecht, Michael Caine.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: P-13, 106 min., Action Fantasy, Box office gross: $27.133 million, Lionsgate.Extras: "Crafting the Magic: The Last Witch Hunter" featurette, animated short films: "The Origins of the Axe and Cross," "The Last Witch Hunter" sizzle reel/"Paint It, Black," commentary with director Breck Eisner, deleted scenes.
"Spectre" is the 24th "official" James Bond/007 big-screen adventure (not including the 1967 "Casino Royale" and the 1983 "Never Say Never Again") and -- despite the naysayers -- it continues the Bond tradition of mixing fast-paced action sequences and stunts with high-tech gadgets, nasty megalomaniac villains, and a little bit of love-interest. Daniel Craig returns as Bond, here on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he goes after the leaders of a sinister organization known as SPECTRE. To get to the heart of the group, he tracks down Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the beautiful daughter of his old nemesis Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who gives him the clues he needs to unravel a chilling conspiracy masterminded by the leader of Spectre, one Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). There's plenty of twists and turns in what is definitely a lower-key Bond, with some interesting thoughts on the nature of good and evil popping up that cause Bond to question his role in the spy universe. It's a fun ride, and definitely more mature and exciting than the many Bond imitators out there, including the "Mission Impossible" outings. Though past 50, don't count out the Bond franchise. Vitals: Director: Sam Mendes. Stars: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, Jesper Christensen, Dave Bautista, Christoph Waltz, Rory Kinnear.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 148 min., Action-Thriller, Box office gross: $197.104 million, MGM/Sony/Fox.Extras: Video Blogs: Director – Sam Mendes, Supercars, Day of the Dead Festival, Introducing Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci, Action, Music, Guinness World Record. Blu-ray adds "SPECTRE: Bond's Biggest Opening Sequence," gallery.
"99 Homes" is the grueling down-to-earth flip side of "The Big Short," an indie film that looks at the 2008 economic melt down from the bottom up. In sunny Orlando, Florida, construction worker Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is evicted from his home by a charismatic, gun-toting real-estate broker, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Humiliated and homeless, Nash moves his mom and 9-year old son into a shabby, dangerous motel. But an unexpected opportunity arises for Nash to strike a deal with the devil -- he begins working for Carver in a desperate attempt to get his home back, causing him to live a double life: he hides his new boss and job -- evicting honest families from their homes, just as it happened to him -- from his family. But there are consequences ... . Great performances by Garfield and Shannon in a truly creepy film. Vitals: Director: Ramin Bahrani. Stars: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Tim Guinee, Noah Lomax, Clancy Brown.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 112 min., Drama, Box office gross: $1.410 million, Broad Green Pictures.
When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay -- a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak: a house that breathes, bleeds -- and remembers.
Vitals: Director: Guillermo del Toro. Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 119 min.,Gothic Horror, Box office gross: $31.090 million, Universal.Extras: Deleted scenes; "The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak" production featurette; "Beware Of Crimson Peak" walking tour of the many secret spaces in Allerdale Hall; feature commentary with co-writer and director Guillermo Del Toro. Blu-ray adds "I Remember Crimson Peak" interviews with del Toro, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain; "A Living Thing" set featurette; "A Primer on Gothic Romance"; "Crimson Phantoms" make-up effects featurette; "Hand Tailored Gothic" costume design featurette.
Unapologetic and candid film navigating the intricacies of relationships between three generations of women. Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) unexpectedly shows up needing $600 before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash, as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets.
Vitals: Director: Paul Weitz. Stars: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Sam Elliott.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 79 min., Comedy, Box office gross: $6.952 million, Sony.Extras: "A Family Portrait: The Making of Grandma"; Q&A with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott and director Paul Weitz; commentary with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott, Julia Garner and Paul Weitz.
The Hollywood Blacklist -- the persecution of Hollywood screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other entertainment professionals for their political beliefs -- destroyed careers and families for more than a decade, beginning in 1947 when the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigating "Communist infiltration" of Hollywood's creative community. "Trumbo" is a stirring dramatization of the fight by Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) -- one of the most successful screenwriters of the 1940s -- against the U.S. government and the studio bosses who strangled his livelihood by blacklisting him -- and nine others, collectively known as the "Hollywood 10" (though there were scores of others who were blacklisted, the "Hollywood 10" were the most visible at the time, being singled out for refusing to testify before Congress and refusing to "name names"). A tour-de-force performance by Cranston -- and an over-the-top supporting performance by John Goodman as an exploitation-film producer who supports Trumbo during the Blacklist. Cranston has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
Vitals: Director: Jay Roach. Stars: Bryan Cranston, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, John Goodman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dean O'Gorman, Michael Stuhlbarg.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 124 min., Drama, Box office gross: $7.361 million, Universal.Extras: "Who is Trumbo?", "Bryan Cranston Becomes Trumbo.".
An interesting if not in-depth look at Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple and one of the chief architects of the digital age. The film -- almost a theatre piece, with its emphasis on dialogue over action and its three-act structure -- is set backstage at three iconic product launches spearheaded by Jobs: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the unveiling of NeXT computers in 1988, and the release of the iMac in 1997. At each juncture Jobs interacts with marketing chief Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), his daughter Lisa Brennan and his ex-lover Chrisaan Brennan. Though based on Walter Isaacson's well-rounded, best-selling biography of Jobs, this Danny Boyle-directed film -- written by Aaron Sorkin, who also wrote "The Social Network" -- depicts the man solely as a self-centered jerk who was "cruel and inhumane" to everyone around him. It's a narrow view of the visionary who gave us the iPod and the iPhone, and though mildly entertaining, it's forgettable filmmaking. "Steve Jobs" has garnered Oscar nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Fassbender and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Kate Winslet. Vitals: Director: Danny Boyle. Stars: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 122 min., Drama, Box office gross: $17.766 million, Universal.Extras: "Inside Jobs: The Making of Steve Jobs," commentary with director Danny Boyle, commentary with writer Aaron Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham.
A by-the-book and unimaginative dramatization of the plight of the 33 miners who had been buried alive for 69 days by the catastrophic explosion and collapse of a 100-year-old gold and copper mine in Chile in 2010. During the ordeal, an international team worked night and day in a desperate attempt to rescue the trapped men as their families and friends, as well as millions of people globally, waited and watched anxiously for any sign of hope. The film is based on the story by Jose Rivera and the book "Deep Down Dark" by Hector Tobar, and was filmed on location -- with the cooperation of the miners, their families and their rescuers -- in Chile's harshly remote yet stunningly beautiful Atacama desert just kilometers away from where the event took place, and deep within two mines located in central Colombia.
Vitals: Director: Patricia Riggen. Stars: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips,Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 127 min., Drama, Box office gross: $12.188 million, Warner.Extras: "The 33 The World Was Watching," theatrical trailer. Blu-ray adds "The Mine Collapse."
Dramatization, "ripped from the headlines," of the life of James "Whitey" Bulger, a vicious and ruthless Boston gangster who collaborated with the FBI in order to eliminate the Italian mob; this unholy alliance gave Bulger carte blanche to murder and pillage at will. Though the crime thriller boasts a great performance by Johnny Depp as Bulger, the film pretty much has
no reason for existing.
Vitals: Director: Scott Cooper. Stars: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 122 min., Drama, Box office gross: $62.575 million, Warner.Extras: "Johnny Depp: Becoming Whitey Bulger" featurette. Blu-ray adds "The Manhunt for Whitey Bulger," "Black Mass: Deepest Cover, Darkest Crime."
Upholding the grand cinema tradition of films about hard-working journalists who expose corruption and malfeasance ("All the President's Men" comes to mind immediately) is director Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight," a superbly directed and acted dramatization of the Boston Globe's
Pulitzer Prize-winning "Spotlight" team investigation into allegations of child sex abuse within the local Catholic Archdiocese -- child abuse that had been going on for decades and that had been covered up by the Church as well as Boston's legal and government establishment. Like McCarthy's previous outings, "The Station Agent," "The Visitor" and "Win Win," "Spotlight" eschews splash and hyperbole to concentrate on the minute details of the story -- here following the investigative reporters as they go after the facts, digging into archives and conducting interview after interview -- and slowly building up layer after layer of nuance and mis en scene. The film -- which stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, Lana Antonova, Jamey Sheridan and Brian d'Arcy James -- has been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Mark Ruffalo, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Rachel McAdams, Best Achievement in Directing for Tom McCarthy, Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and Best Achievement in Editing. It already has nabbed Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture from SAG, Best Picture at the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, won Best Picture and Best Screenplay at both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and the National Society of Film Critics Awards, and Best Original Screenplay from the Writers Guild. Given that Alejandro González Iñárritu and his "Birdman" won for best director and best film last year, effectively knocking out his "The Revenant," which is clearly the best film this year, and given that "Carol," our second pick for Best Motion Picture of the Year, wasn't nominated by the Academy, we figure that McCarthy and "Spotlight" will be the winners this year. Vitals: Director: Tom McCarthy. Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, Lana Antonova, Jamey Sheridan, Brian d'Arcy James.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: R, 128 min., Drama, Box office gross: $31.045 million, Universal.Extras: "Uncovering the Truth: A Spotlight Team Roundtable," "Spotlight: A Look Inside," "The State of Journalism."
Secret in Their Eyes
Thriller that explores the murky boundaries between justice and revenge. A tight-knit team of investigators -- Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Jess (Julia Roberts) and their supervisor Claire (Nicole Kidman) -- is torn apart when Jess’s teenage daughter is brutally and inexplicably murdered. After obsessively searching for the elusive killer every day for 13 years, Ray finally uncovers a new lead that he’s certain will resolve the case. No one is prepared, however, for the shocking secret that will reveal the enduring, destructive effects of personal vengeance on the human soul. A reimaging of the 2009 Academy Award-winning Argentinian film "The Secret in Their Eyes."
Vitals: Director: Billy Ray. Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole, Alfred Molina.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 111 min., Mystery Thriller, Box office gross: $20.167 million, Universal.Extras: "Adapting the Story for Today’s World," "Julia Roberts Discusses Her Most Challenging Role," commentary with director-screenwriter Billy Ray and producer Mark Johnson.
The Good Dinosaur
This animated family adventure asks the question: What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? Pixar Animation Studios creates a world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
Vitals: Director: Pete Sohn. Stars: Voices of
Jeffrey Wright, John Lithgow, Frances McDormand, Neil Patrick Harris, Judy Greer, Bill Hader.
2015, CC, MPAA rating: PG, 93 min., Animated, Box office gross: $120.421 million, Disney.Extras: "Sanjay's Super Team" theatrical short; "True Lies About Dinosaurs" featurette; "The Filmmakers' Journey," in which director Peter Sohn and his fellow filmmakers talk about the challenging, inspiring, and unexpectedly emotional experience of making "The Good Dinosaur"; "Every Part of the Dinosaur" animation featurette; "Following the T-Rex Trail"; commentary by director Peter Sohn, story supervisor Kelsey Mann, supervising animator Mike Venturini, director of photography/lighting Sharon Calahan, and supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi; "Dino Bites" montage of original animated pieces produced to promote "The Good Dinosaur"; "Hide and Seek" short animated clip produced to promote "The Good Dinosaur"; deleted scenes.
All DVDs are screened on a reference system consisting of a
Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc Player w/SACD & DVD-Audio, a
Rotel RSX-972 Surround Sound Receiver, and Phase Technology 1.1 (front), 33.1 (center),
and 50 (rear) speakers and Power 10 subwoofer.