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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Relationships > Sexuality > Law > Lesbian > Rights > Scandal > Child Molestation > Catholic Church > Danish Girl (Universal Blu-ray)/Freeheld (Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Spotlight (Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Stonewall (Lionsgate DVD)/Trumbo (Universal Blu-ray/all 2015)

Danish Girl (Universal Blu-ray)/Freeheld (Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Spotlight (Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Stonewall (Lionsgate DVD)/Trumbo (Universal Blu-ray/all 2015)

Picture: B/B/B & C/C+/B Sound: B+/B/B+ & B-/C+/B Extras: C/B/C/C/C- Films: B-/B-/B+/C/B

Here are five ambitious dramas from 2015 you should know about...

Tom Hopper's The Danish Girl is set in the 1930s when a young married man (Eddie Redmayne) decides to explore his feminine side so much, he decides to change his identity to the point that he goes for the first-ever unheard of sex change operation. He and his wife (Alicia Vikander of Ex Machina) are both painters, but his becoming a temporary subject and starting to like wearing women's clothes increasingly draw him to his legendary destiny to become Lily Elbe. Shocking for decades afterwards before gay civil rights came to be, the event was shocking, led to some ugly comments (as expected) and permanently established a transgender movement for those who felt best as part of it.

I was surprised at how classy and smart the film was, but it also has some moments that do not work and some of it seems too late in what it is showing and telling. Ben Whishaw (currently 'Q' in the Bond films and of the underrated BBC series The Hour) is a man who becomes interested in Lily, to Lily's surprise and these scenes are handled best of all, unexpected, human and very well rounded. It may not be a perfect film, but it succeeds in telling its story about as well as can be expected (based on Elbe's own book in part) and is worth a look just to be surprised for yourself how good everyone here is and how good it always looks.

Peter Sollett's Freeheld is an impressive dramatic version of an Academy-Award Winning documentary about a police woman (Julianne Moore, so good here) who is a lesbian, but never tells her co-workers in their conservative small town because she is a private enough person and is too busy doing her job of protecting the citizens for decades. She meets a younger woman (Ellen Page in one of her best performances to date) and they fall for each other, moving in and more. That might have been it until Laurel (Moore) gets sick with a devastating disease, but (and this is before gay marriage recently became enforceable law) the law will not allow her to pass her hard-earned pension money to Stacie (Page) and certain Right-Wing political forces want to keep it that way.

This challenges the community and everything, plus the couple has less to hide than some of the men denying the benefits they are in the power to grant. Though a few scenes did not work for me, this is surprisingly immediate, the performances are good all around (including Michael Shannon getting away from mean-guy roles and a great turn by Steve Carell that is some of his best work to date) makes for a fine film whose relevance goes beyond any minority community. A pleasant surprise, it is definitely worth a look.

Tom McCarthy's Spotlight tells the ever-relevant story of how an investigative subdivision of The Boston Globe once and for all uncovered the Catholic Church's still-ongoing child molestation epidemic against the odds and a massive cover up all over the place. Michael Keaton (transforming himself into a very convincing lifetime Bostonian), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slatterly and Liev Schreiber (also very welcome playing more than a tired bad guy) when Schreiber's real life newspaperman comes to the Globe and suggests they look more into a molestation story than the paper has been.

They start to get a larger investigation going and lowly start to discover just how massive, horrid and awful the story is, including some denial and outright obstruction getting in their way. Despite this, they move forward and uncover (confirming what many knew and too many have been hiding worldwide) the ugly truth and getting it into print permanently. It is one of the great stories of journalistic triumph and is easily one of the most underrated films of the last few years.

As relevant as ever with Penn State trying to erase their own horrid scandal of the same abuses and then some and a new Pope trying to solve the problem against ultra-Right Wing forces in his own Church who (like Penn State) think money and the right to do what you want if you are a certain person, have certain friends and even more money than usual, no matter who you hurt or kill trying to stop him, this is sadly only the very beginning of how ugly this all is. It also makes the case why serious, uncompromisable journalism in all seriously free societies is a must, or good people get hurt by those who should know better and must be brought to justice.

Bringing the truth to light and keeping it there, now more than ever in an age of multi-media, is more important than ever and this film will grow in importance over the years to come. A must see films and one of the best of 2015 easily, see it!!!

Roland Emmerich's Stonewall is a film about the rise of the gay rights movement from the director of Independence Day, The Patriot and Stargate, but I still thought that maybe he'd be able to concentrate and tell the story well and thoroughly. Well, no aliens to time/space dimensional machines showed up, but a poor, formulaic script did that follows a small town guy (Jeremy Irvine) out of his small town after getting caught having sex with a male friend who says 'they're not gay, just doing things' and goes to Greenwich Village in New York where he finds a gay community, as well as gay men brutalized selectively by police officers, gangsters running the bars and even (underplayed here) exploited by each other.

What follows is too predictable and post 1990s Gay New Wave, safe and anything with impact lands up getting very undermined. Some things about the period are done well, but even with most of the cast playing real life people, this is highly underwhelming, flat and never adds up to anything with the impact the actual event is known for. Too bad because Caleb Landry Jones, Matt Craven, Johnny Beauchamp, Joey King, Johnathan Rhys Meyers and Ron Perlman help to make up a good cast. This is not just the kind of film Emmerich can pull off.

Jay Roach's Trumbo joins The Front (1976) and Guilty By Suspicion (1990, both reviewed elsewhere on this site) as all too rare films about the ugliness and life-destroying Hollywood witch hunts of the 1950s, from a committee that did not get disbanded until the mid-1970s. The House of Un-American Activities Committee was being sold as a way to sell The Cold War and get rid of sudden 'Communists in Hollywood' that the studios agreed to since most studios were run by Jewish men at the time who wanted to keep that to themselves and avoid box-office killing anti-Semitism, but a hunt for Jews by the committee members was part of what was going on otherwise and it was no more a crime to be communist or Jewish than anything else anyone was being accused of.

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston in an amazing performances) is Hollywood's highest paid writer, writing hit after hit to major critical acclaim, but certain people and forces in town including uppity gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren nailing the role perfectly) is out to 'help' the hunt with friends like John Wayne and others, no matter who gets thrown out of town, in jail or is ruined for life. Unlike the other two films that show the evil the government was doing, it suggests that Hopper and company were playing favorites and on some level, totally take over Tinseltown.

After dealing with jail, Trumbo stars working in secret for others (including B-movie producers The King Brothers, played well here by Stephen Root and John Goodman in casting so good, they could have had their own film) and slowly working his way back to possibly continuing his success somehow... if he can overcome those who hate not being able to control or stop him.

Diane Lane and Louis C.K. Also add to a great cast that tells this great story in a film that matches the solid documentary of the same name we reviewed at this link...


Be sure to see both, starting with this new film, then compare to the documentary. It's uncanny how much they got it right.

All the 1080p Blu-ray presentations are top rate, consistent and look pretty good throughout with only minor complains, all color 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition shoots that have to capture past periods. That is not easy, but they all manage to succeed convincingly enough and are A-grade awards-quality filmmaking, even when shot in HD as well. The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on the Spotlight DVD is weaker than expected, outdone by the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Stonewall. Otherwise, no problems here.

As for sound, all Blu-rays offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes that are well presented and recorded, but the big surprises are how good and well-recorded both Danish Girl and Spotlight are. They both push the multi-channel possibilities for what would otherwise be dialogue-based films. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the Spotlight DVD cannot compete, but is not bad and is even better than the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Stonewall, which is good, but not great.

Extras on all five releases include Behind The Scenes/Making Of featurette material and Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, but Freeheld adds a feature length audio commentary track with Director Sollett, Moore & page, a second featurette and the original Oscar-Winning Freeheld documentary, Spotlight has 3 featurettes in all, Stonewall has smaller clips with an Original Theatrical Trailer and Trumbo adds a second Making Of piece.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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