FifthEstateThe Fifth Estate (Touchstone, Blu-ray, DVD) — Benedict Cumberbatch makes such a fascinating Julian Assange that it only focuses attention on the problems with Bill Condon’s portrait of Assange, WikiLeaks and the Bradley Manning revelations.

Ostensibly about how Assange and WikiLeaks rocked the word with a whistle-blowing leak on a scale unseen since The Pentagon Papers, the film is more fascinated with the contradictions within the character of Assange, whose achievements were almost eclipsed by accusations of sexual misconduct and his flight from extradition, than on the reverberations of the web publication of classified documents.

I guess it’s no surprise that, like so much of the reporting on the issue, the real story — of government lies, of the vulnerability of secret information, of what the leaked intelligence does to our trust in our own government — is sidelined by the human sideshow.

As sideshows go, Cumberbatch is riveting as the thin, white duke of digital activism, a churlish Sherlock under a white bleach job and pasty pallor who wants to be thought of as the mysterious mastermind in the shadows while playing the flamboyant showman for an audience of hackers. Is he an idealist who dedicates his entire life to fighting power or a pathological liar with an ego-driven personality, a holier-than-thou arrogance and a need for attention that trumps social activism? To put it in computer-age terms, it’s a film in a binary universe, all about singular contradictions as defining characteristics rather than a spectrum of detail. And when it comes to the WikiLeaks Web network, Condon’s visual metaphors present the digital world with analogue sensibility. Or maybe an MTV video from a decade ago.

Daniel Brühl is the junior partner he adopts to help with what was essentially a one-man crusade hidden behind a digital network that suggested a small army of conspirators, and which ends up challenging and alienating Assange. Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and Stanley Tucci stand in for the American intelligence community in a subplot that pretends to illustrate how the information dump put the life of an ally in peril, a story line more calculated than convincing. What should be a 21st century All the President’s Men forgoes the complexity of the issues to hammer on the big contrasts and makes Assange’s petty personality eccentricities more of a focus than his actual accomplishments.

Blu-ray and DVD with three featurettes plus trailers and TV spots. The Blu-ray edition also features a bonus DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD copy for download and instant streaming.

Argento'sDraculaArgento’s Dracula (IFC Midnight, Blu-ray+Blu-ray 3D, DVD) is how it reads on the disc case. On the screen it’s Dario Argento’s Dracula and on the IMDb it’s Dracula 3D. Any way you list it, this Dracula feels like the last gasp of a once creatively mad cinematic chemist, stirring combustible colors and unstable reactions into strange concoctions of murder and madness. There is a vibrancy to some of the art direction and set design in this busy but oddly inert take on the Bram Stoker novel, which adds a bunch of mayhem but else to justify yet another take on the same story, but over the last couple of decades Argento seems to have lost all sense of directing actors. The performances are all over the place here, some of them stilted and stuffy as if in a Victorian stage piece (Unax Ugalde’s Jonathan Harker looks like a dazed clown trying to remember marks), others sloppily hamming it up (Darios’s daughter Asia is one of the guilty parties on that score). Only Rutger Hauer brings a sense of history to his character when he appears around the 2/3s mark as a melancholy Van Helsing, as if his calling carries a high price in terms of loss and sacrifice.

Thomas Kretschmann is a credible but unremarkable Dracula, neither tormented nor demonic, but at least he doesn’t take a bite out of the scenery the way he does with just about every character he comes across. Most of the cast seems to be performing in another language and the dead studio sound of voices suggest a soundtrack recreated in the dubbing booth. I’d almost be willing to overlook the glaring CGI shortcuts in effects that would previously have been accomplished with stunts or practical gags if they weren’t so prevalent. The rest is a garish Euro-horror attempt at a Hammer seventies production, complete with gratuitous nudity and a creature transformation in the first ten minutes. Even the score by Claudio Simonetti (of Goblin fame) sounds like a pastiche of horror clichés.

The Blu-ray release features both standard and 3D versions of the film (requires a full HD 3D TV, compatible 3D glasses and a Blu-ray 3D player) plus a featurette and 3D music video . The DVD features only the standard version.

cloudyMeatballs2Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs 2 (Sony, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) moves beyond the food-based weather of the original film (and the whimsical children’s book on which is was based) and into a genetic zoo of experimental hybrids: the foodimal. It’s both animal and vegetable, and inventor Flint Lockwood and meteorologist Sam Sparks have to save the world from tacodiles, shrimpanzees and apple pie-thons. Bill Hader and Anna Faris are back to voice the heroes in this animated hit and Will Forte joins the cast as the food scientist. Blu-ray and DVD with filmmaker commentary and a buffet of featurettes. The Blu-ray also features four mini-movies and four deleted scenes.

Also new and notable:

Last Vegas (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, On Demand) stars Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline as sixty-something buddies who head to Vegas for a late-in-life bachelor party;

badgrandpaJackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD, On Demand), with Johnny Knoxville in Oscar nominated old-age make-up and bad behavior mode, offers a longer, unrated version on Blu-ray and digital but not DVD;

Collision (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, On Demand) is a thriller from Luc Besson’s Euro-action production company with Frank Grillo, Jaimie Alexander and Roschdy Zem’

I Used to Be Darker (Strand, DVD), from American indie director Matt Porterfield, was a featured selection at Sundance in 2013.

VOD / On Demand exclusives:enders-game-poster-570x890

Ender’s Game (Lionsgate, Digital HD) will be available as a digital download two weeks before disc release.

Arriving On Demand in advance of disc: Afternoon Delight, a comedy with Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple, and the music drama Grace Unplugged.

On Thursday, January 30, in advance of theatrical release, comes Grand Piano (On Demand) a thriller with Elijah Wood and John Cusack, and on Friday, January 31 is the romantic drama At Middleton (Anchor Bay, iTunes, On Demand) with Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga.

Enough Said (Fox, On Demand) and Rush (Universal, On Demand) arrive two weeks after disc release.

More releases:coexist

The Coexist Comedy Tour (Horizon, DVD)
A Perfect Man (MPI, DVD)
Concussion (Anchor Bay, DVD)
1 (Millennium, Blu-ray, DVD)
Metallica Through the Never (Blackened Records, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital, VOD, On Demand)
The Booker (Indiepix, DVD)
Stonados (ARC, DVD, VOD)
Vikingdom (Epic, DVD, Digital)
Antisocial (Breaking Glass, DVD)
Dark Touch (IFC, DVD)
It’s Better to Jump (Cinema Libre, DVD, VOD, On Demand)
Six Million and One (Nancy Fishman, DVD, VOD)
Odd Thomas (RLJ, VOD)

Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD