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Category:    Home > Reviews > Crime > Gangster > Murder > Biopic > Drama > Politics > Spy > Historical > Cold War > Racism > Cable TV Mini-S > Black Mass (Warner Blu-ray w/DVD)/Bridge Of Spies (Dreamworks/Touchstone/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD)/Show Me A Hero (HBO Blu-ray Set)/The 33 (Warner Blu-ray)/Truth (Sony Blu-ray/all 2015)

Black Mass (Warner Blu-ray w/DVD)/Bridge Of Spies (Dreamworks/Touchstone/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD)/Show Me A Hero (HBO Blu-ray Set)/The 33 (Warner Blu-ray)/Truth (Sony Blu-ray/all 2015)

Picture: B & C/B & C+/B/B/B Sound: B & C+/B & B-/B/B/B Extras: C+/B-/C-/C-/B- Main Programs: C+/B+/C+/C+/C+

You know its awards season when you get so many releases based on real life stories, but that does not always make for great filmmaking or television, but at least the following are ambitious and one is an underrated gem...

Scott Cooper's Black Mass (2015) is the latest attempt to get the Gangster genre going again, but post-Sopranos, has seen no hits on the big or small screen. Johnny Depp needed a critical comeback and for the most part, word on his work here as real life killer gangster James ''Whitey'' Bugler (played briefly by Jack Nicholson in Scorsese's The Departed) was accurate. After several comedy bombs, he is back in good form and delivers impressively, but the way the film is scripted, paced and directed causes it more problems than helps.

Bulger was getting away with murder because the 'Feds' wanted to use him to break Italian Gangsters and used him, an Irish Gangster, as an informant. Than meant he'd get away with terrorizing anyone he wanted and never seems to be arrested or incarcerated. The film starts slowly just introducing everyone, but the storyline is too simplified and too much of the real-life story is jettisoned, so that is why the film did not do well for an audience wanting the likes of GoodFellas, Casino, Godfather or The Sopranos.

This is shot nicely on 35mm film and the money is on the screen, but the unreported surprise is the outstanding supporting cast that makes this more watchable, even if they could not help pave over the film's flaws including Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, David Harbour, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, a scene-stealing turn by Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson, Juno Temple and others that makes the interactions work, even when other things don't pan out. I see too many missed opportunities, but fans of the genre might want to give it a look.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds three Behind The Scenes/Making Of featurettes that cover how the film was made and more details on the actual case.

Steven Spielberg's Bridge Of Spies (2015) is one of the last films, if not THE last film that will ever have the Dreamworks name as Spielberg makes the move back to Universal for a new era of his career and his Touchstone/Disney deal ends. Ironically, his last political spy drama Munich (which this film complements very much) was his last at Universal for years. In what is his best film since then, two men are captured on opposite sides of The Cold War in the early 1960s as unbeknownst to most in the world, the USSR is about to get their half of Germany to build a wall to create two separate german countries. The Berlin Wall goes up almost unexpectedly as U.S. Authorities nab Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and the Soviets get U.S. Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) when he is detected in a top secret airplane that can take detailed photos of USSR land.

As this unfolds, an insurance man who used to be a lawyer named James B. Donovan (one of the best performances and roles of Tom Hanks' career) is asked by his boss (Alan Alda) and the U.S. Government to act as a non-government legal representative for Abel. Little do they expect that he will actually defend him in the strongest legal terms whether some political people want the man to get a kangaroo court trial or not. Bashing him with shallow hate helps get people to support the Cold War and makes him expendable, but Donovan has other ideas and gets more involved than he could have ever imagined. The story crosscuts between different storylines with great skill and ease (The Coen Brothers co-wrote with Matt Charman) and we also get to see The Berlin Wall start to go up (shades of Schindler's List, that with Munich, shows how Nazi authoritarianism did not end after WWII) and a young student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) is nabbed by the East Germans trying to force the U.S. to recognize them as a separate Germany from the free one and that leaves Donovan trying to free both men when the CIA (et al) just want Powers and could care less about Pryor!

Hanks is in rare form here, an actor who I've always had mixed feeling about since he stretched to do more than comedy, which he fits here in smart ways. The idea is that Donovan has the best moral center, common sense and will not sell out his morals or standards, even when the press turns on him for 'defending a commie' putting his family in jeopardy at one point. It also has time for smart character development and I was surprised how effective this was throughout as Spielberg has to leave his blockbuster/feel good side aside to really dig into this story and tell it with no compromises and pulling any punches. This should have been one of last year's biggest hits and an award's season frontrunner, but too many missed it. I hope this Blu-ray/DVD release changes that because it is a remarkable film all around.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds four featurettes: A Case Of The Cold War, U-2 Spy Plane, Berlin 1961: Recreating The Divide and Spy Swap: Looking Back On The Final Act.

Show Me A Hero (2015) is an HBO Mini-Series about how in the 1980s, the mostly-white neighborhood of Yonkers in New York resisted integration for a while, despite federal orders and how key persons did or did not handle things well. Slow moving and obvious in the early episodes, Oscar Issac is the politician who makes a promise to integrate things, only to give up early and get entangled in internal politics and personal problems beyond the volatile situation. Paul Haggis created and directed the show to his credit, which he juggles nicely.

Unfortunately, much of this does not go far enough early enough, though all eventually culminates in a solid final episode. Just know it is slow-going too often. James Belushi is particularly good, as does Winona Ryder, Alfred Molina, Catherine Keener, Bob Balaban and a really decent cast. The 1980s and 1990s are recreated well enough, but I wish a better pace and some different ideas had been tried out.

A Making Of featurette is the only extra.

Patricia Riggen's The 33 (2015) is a watchable but somewhat predictable melodrama about the men of the title getting trapped inside a coal mine in Chile for 69 days that made international news and one again shows how deregulation and a lack of worker's rights and unions constantly create this same ugly, deadly situation over and over again. Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Mario Casas, Kate Castillo and Gabriel Byrne lead a really good cast with chemistry and sections are still believable.

Too bad it wants to be a feel-good film as well, which cuts into the kind of necessary critique of the situation the film needed to present in more than just parts. Still, this is worth a look, but it lacks the impact it needed to have.

An Original Theatrical Trailer and 2 brief clips on the making of the film are the only extras.

James Vanderbilt's Truth (2015) covers the 2004 incident where CBS News thought they were digging up a 'shocking' story about President George W. Bush, when it turns out it might have been a plant by his people (like Karl Rove) that Bush did not really deliver the military service he says he did or was supposed to have as his father (a previous head of the CIA and President for 8 years himself, George H.W. Bush) may have had the power to protect him and keep him from seeing any real combat. Considering no one cared that President Bill Clinton never served and was against the Vietnam fiasco, why Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) would be so anxious to expose this and think people would thought it mattered brings up an essay of questions we don't have time for here.

However, they fell for it and no matter what was or was not true, would end Rather's reign as Walter Cronkite's successor and left CBS News with another permanent scar to its reputation. A flipside to Redford's problematic Quiz Show that definitely is trying not to glorify journalism as Redford said he felt All The President's Men later did, the film disappoints throughout despite tis best efforts on an A-movie level. Nice it got made, but I just again wish it would have worked much better and took on areas and sections the script missed.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while we also get a Q&A with Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss & Director Vanderbilt, a feature length audio commentary track with Vanderbilt & Producers Brad Fischer & William Sherak and The Team, plus Blu-ray exclusives The Reason For Being featurette and Deleted Scenes.

As for playback performance, the 1080p digital High Definition performance on all the Blu-rays are fine, but not always spectacular even when they are consistent with all four feature films sporting 2.35 X 1 scope frames and Hero in 1.78 X 1. All attempt visuals that are stylized to match the periods they are in and though they do not do a bad job, none are standouts, except Spies, which has Spielberg's longtime Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski delivering some stunning work throughout in what might be their most complex work in color ever. Light is usually simpler in Spielberg films, but not so much in his more personal, serious works since Schindler's List, but this is even more complex than the best moments in Munich and deservedly has been considered one of the best-looking films of 2015. Needless to say it was shot on 35mm film and in a far superior way to most shoots of any kind in the last few years. The anamorphically enhanced DVD version is passable, but looses too much of the detail and range, but the same kind of DVD for Mass is even softer and more problematic despite the Blu-ray version sounding so good.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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