Sully (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UltraHD, VOD) is a fittingly modest nickname for an unassuming career airline pilot who became an American hero in 2009. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was piloting a routine flight from LaGuardia when his Airbus airliner was disabled over New York City mere minutes after take-off and he ditched in a water landing in the Hudson River with no loss of life.
That’s the story most people know, the Miracle on the Hudson as it was so anointed by the media, and it would be the climax of your standard cinematic treatments of the true story, with Sully heroically defying orders to turn back to LaGuardia on nothing but gut instinct. But Sully plays out a week after the incident as Sully (Tom Hanks under snowy, thinning hair and trim mustache) and his co-pilot Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) undergo the third degree from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The investigating team questions his decision, based on their data and computer simulations, and a ruling of pilot error would effectively end his career and cost him his pension.
So the stakes are personal for Sully, but it’s not just his livelihood. It’s his life, his dignity, his very identity. Sully is a professional whose “gut decision” was informed by 40-plus years of flying experience; he can feel that his craft is crippled beyond the point suggested by panel readings, and the weight of his responsibility (the lives of 155 souls on his flight) means he can’t get it wrong. The alternative plays out in his PTSD-tinged nightmares, failed replays where the plane crashes the heart of NYC, a haunting collision that can’t help but evoke September 11. Hanks plays Sully with the kind of bedrock decency and sincere modesty that he does better than anyone on screen today. He’s as uncomfortable being feted by the public as he is being grilled by an aggressive panel of investigators who seem to have already made up their minds. (The board’s unrestrained antagonism is the film’s major weakness, a contrivance to generate dramatic conflict, but even that is alleviated by the third act.) His cell phone lifeline to his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) across the country serves to remind us of his disconnection, his life on hold while the city celebrates him as a hero and the NTSB threatens to brand him a villain.
It’s interesting to read the initial reviews, mostly positive, a few glowing, but a number of them critical of Eastwood’s seemingly simple equation of Sully defending his actions as a defense of his honor. It was accused of hagiography, of a libertarian streak of mistrust of institutional oversight, of being another film about an old white guy persecuted for his courage. And if you view it through that lens it may be all you see. I see an unconventional drama—the entire flight, from lift-off to water landing, lasted only a few minutes and Eastwood replays it three times through the course of the time-slipping film to give the audience a different perspective and, more importantly, a different experience—told in an old-school, unassuming manner. Eastwood uses the state of the art effects to create something real and immersive experienced from within rather than observed as spectacle, and the contrast with the flight simulator recreations only enhances the visceral immediacy of the flashbacks.
Eastwood is in Sully’s corner but despite the title, Sully is ultimately about everyone involved in saving the passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549: the flight attendants who prepped the passengers and guided them calmly but firmly to the emergency exits, the rescue divers who fished passengers out of the freezing waters, the ferry captains who turned their boats to the floundering aircraft and the crews that methodically pulled the passengers to safety. This is the Eastwood aesthetic: professionals doing their jobs without fuss or debate. They don’t have much dimension—Sully is the only fully-developed character on screen—but the actors, like the figures they play, get the job done. Sully clocks in at a trim 96 minutes and moves at a measured pace that takes in the details of how things work. There’s no rousing fanfare to the common man as hero and, finally, there are no real villains, just the simple dignity of people rising to the occasion in a superbly-crafted, crisply-directed film. Those are American values I can respect.
On Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UltraHD with three featurettes. “Sully Sullenberger: The Man Behind the Miracle” and “Moment by Moment: Averting Disaster on the Hudson” tell the story of the event behind the movie and the people behind the characters with Captain Sullenberger, co-pilot Jeff Skiles, air traffic controller Patrick Harris, and Lorrie Sullenberger. “Neck Deep in the Hudson: Shooting Sully” is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes production featurette. The Blu-ray also includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.
Florence Foster Jenkins (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) may sound like a one-joke contrivance—a rich, generous, arts-loving heiress in 1940s New York City gives private recitals to a select group of high society insiders who never let on to the oblivious woman that she is quite possibly the worst singer to ever trod a stage—but it is both a true story and an unexpectedly tender, touching movie. And it’s quite funny to boot.
Meryl Streep, who is in fact a trained and talented vocalist, pulls off that most difficult of comic performances as Mrs. Jenkins. She glows with joy while her shrill tones are wretchedly off-key and at times off-the-charts, while her husband St Clair (a warm and protective Hugh Grant) smiles in appreciation through her rehearsals. Her new practice pianist Cosmé (Simon Helberg, The Big Bang Theory) is dumbstruck during his inaugural session with Florence and Helberg’s performance is superb. He’s like a silent movie comic, looking on gobsmacked then contorting himself to keep from betraying his reaction when he sees that no one else is the least bit fazed. You can imagine everything running through his head as he plays away: are they putting him on? Are they putting her on? Can they even tell she’s wildly untalented? Just what has he gotten himself into, and is having a steady job worth it?
It would be so easy to make Florence the butt of the joke, the victim of an elaborate prank perpetrated by a slice of New York society feeding her delusions, but her story borders on tragedy and St Clair sustains her illusions of vocal competence out of nothing less than pure love. She’s a dizzy socialite in the public sphere but behind closed doors we see the tired, worn survivor of a disease that should have taken her long ago and prevents her from sleeping with her husband. Stephen Frears was once the most provocative of Britain’s young filmmakers but he’s mellowed with age and I appreciate the compassion of his recent films. This is one of his most compassionate, a story that appears to ridicule its hapless heroine and puncture the pretensions of high society as the affection and love sneaks up on the viewer. Before we know it, we are just as invested in sustaining the illusion: conspirators in a plot to sustain the dreams of Mrs. Jenkins against the cold, hard light of judgment.
Blu-ray and DVD, but the supplements are limited to the Blu-ray edition: a Q&A with Meryl Streep conducted at the Director’s Guild Theater in New York, four short production featurettes, the 10-minute “Live at Carnegie Hall” look into the official venue archives, deleted scenes, and footage from the world premiere opening.
American Honey (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is a road movie powered by the restlessness and passion of its young heroine Star (newcomer Sasha Lane), the daughter of a deadbeat mom and a father who won’t stop pawing her teenage body. Recruited by Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a charismatic bad-boy with a streetwise confidence, she dumps her younger siblings with mom and hits the road with a gypsy crew selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door under the mercenary eye of Krystal, the pitiless captain of this otherwise freewheeling crew. Krystal is Fagin to Jake’s Artful Dodger, her top earner and group cheerleader, in a migrant gang following the fields of potential marks. They travel by van across the Midwest, crash in dumpy motels, and shuttle from the dreary industrial outskirts into the moneyed neighborhoods where they spin whatever spiel they think will stir the charitable impulses of their marks.
It’s the first American film from British filmmaker Andrea Arnold and it could be the American cousin to her celebrated 2009 feature Fish Tank, another film about a teenage girl with dreams of escaping her dead-end life. Star doesn’t so much escape as trade her smothering life for a caravan existence with its own restrictions and dangers, and she lets loose with equal parts reckless abandon, irresistible self-confidence, pouty insolence, and impulsive passion. Sasha Lane was scouted and recruited by Arnold—she arrived with no acting experience—and Arnold’s instincts are rewarded with an incandescent performance. Star is a girl that grew up fast and Lane invests her with a mix of survivalist experience and emotional immaturity suddenly unleashed without responsibility or oversight. It’s hard not to panic as she blindly leaps into a car with three drunk cowboys, but Arnold isn’t judging. She’s just laying out Star’s life.
Arnold shoots the film in the squarish frame of the pre-widescreen era, as if Star’s freedom is still constrained by the limitations of opportunity, with a handheld camera that runs, bounces, and whips around in the indie vérité style so popular in independent cinema, intimate and in the midst of everything. It rambles on for over two-and-a-half hours with a raw energy and a rough-hewn beauty, taking its time to really invest in the moments. Arnold is intent on capturing the texture of Star’s experience and she succeeds. This is reckless, anxious, hormonally-charged, anything-goes youth unbound and it is alive.
Blu-ray and DVD, with an interview featurette with stars Sasha Lane and Riley Keough.
Suicide Squad (Warner, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, 4K UltraHD, DVD, VOD) – “Worst. Heroes. Ever.” reads the tagline of DC’s attempt to get a little scruffier and offer audiences a comic book movie more fun than the stuffy “Superman” reboots. It stirred dark humor and dark doings into the superhero movie, flirting with cynicism while bonding under fire, and it worked, at least if measured by box-office.
Based on the eighties comic book series and written and directed by David Ayer, Suicide Squad is a strike team created almost entirely from supervillains yanked from their ultra-high-top-secret-security black site prison and sent against an ancient god with a grudge against humanity. It wasn’t the first film based on the concept—the direct-to-video animated feature Batman: Assault on Arkham sent the team in action as support for Batman—but it was the first for the big screen and Warner Bros. gave it a star-studded line-up: Will Smith as assassin Deadshot, Margot Robbie as bonkers Joker sidekick Harley Quinn, Joel Kinnaman as Special Forces babysitter Rick Flag, and Jared Leto in a punk take on supervillain psychopath Joker. The squad is filled out by Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Slipknot (Adam Beach), and non-villain Katana (Karen Fukuhara).
It makes for another overstuffed team movie, though this one takes a much darker path. Ruthless government heavyweight Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) injects the villains with a nano-bomb, which will detonate if they disobey orders or attempt escape. They are dropped into a city choked in the black magic of The Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) and ordered to shut her down. And that’s pretty much the plot, apart from wild card Joker trying to rescue Harley in the midst of the chaos. The imagery is just as dark as the premise—the city is a ruined war zone enveloped in night—but otherwise it’s another CGI spectacle of big battle set-pieces, epic destruction, and high body count, with the least imaginative jukebox score every chiming in obvious anthems for each character entrance (“Sympathy for the Devil”? “Super Freak”? Can you get more obvious?). Robbie sells her part with gusto but otherwise the film fails to create any memorable characters from the cast of largely unknown comic book villains or even establish much chemistry from the mix. What the film has to sell is attitude: it’s fun to be bad, and it’s just as fun to behave badly while fighting for the good guys. In other words, a film that hasn’t even the convictions of its own cynicism.
Warner gives the film the special edition treatment on DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and 4K UltraHD with seven featurettes, including the 23-minute “Task Force X: One Team, One Mission” (on the comic book inspiration and the big screen adaptation) and the production featurettes “Chasing the Real,” “Squad Strength and Skills,” “This is Gonna Get Loud: The Epic Battles of Suicide Squad.” The Blu-ray / 3D/ 4K versions also feature an extended cut of the film, with over 10 minutes of additional footage, in addition to the theatrical version. The Blu-ray includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film and the 3D / 4K versions include bonus standard Blu-ray and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies.
Little Men (Magnolia, DVD) – Ira Sachs has been consistently making marvelous small, intimate features about relationships challenged by the complications of the adult world for a good decade now. Little Men shifts the focus to two schoolboys from very different backgrounds who become best friends while their respective parents turn antagonistic. Shy, introverted aspiring artist Jake (Theo Taplitz) moves from Manhattan to Brooklyn when his financially-struggling parents (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle) inherit an apartment over a storefront commercial space leased by a dressmaker (the sublime Paulina García) and he becomes instant best friends with her son Tony (Michael Barbieri), a streetwise kid with acting aspirations. When the parents go to war over raising the rent of the business, the boys stage a strike, refusing to speak to their parents until they resolve things.
This is not a Disney movie with a teary resolution and all sins forgiven. Sachs is more interested in the nuances of relationships, the power of childhood friendship, and the contrast between the guileless commitment of the boys and the pettiness that creeps into what should be an honest discussion between the grown-ups but becomes a battle with the boys caught in the middle. Sachs’s films tend to get lost among the bigger, busier, grabbier movies dominating theatres, championed by film critics but underseen by audiences. The delicacy of his filmmaking can get lost on the small screen—this is not a film that can play in the background—but that same intimacy is also suited to at-home viewing if you can immerse yourself in the experience.
On DVD with a featurette and casting session video of Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri, the two young stars.
Snowden (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Oliver Stone continues his big screen chronicles of American cultural and political history with the story of Edward Snowden, the most controversial whistleblower of the past century. Framed by the famous meeting in a Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden (played with modest integrity by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shared top-secret files revealing illegal surveillance programs with journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), it tells the story of a patriot from a conservative background who decides to serve his country working for American intelligence after an injury in basic training ends his career as an enlisted soldier, and then becomes disillusioned by the abuse of power under cover of the Patriot Act.
Stone champions mavericks who challenge the status quo in the name of justice and the ideals of the American experiment and Snowden is kind of American hero, the moral voice in an amoral world who challenges the prevailing philosophy that the ends justify the means. Stone doesn’t set up a straw man villain here—Snowden’s CIA mentor and protector (Rhys Ifans) believes deeply that he’s doing the right thing to protect American lives in post 9/11 era—he simply argues that questioning the government and holding it accountable for its actions is just and necessary to maintain the democratic ideals of the country. In many ways this is Stone’s most straightforward film in decades. There’s no showboating cinematic fireworks or flamboyant cameos here (even Nicolas Cage is subdued in a small role), just the commitment to presenting Snowden as a true patriot for standing up for the rights of American citizens.
Blu-ray and DVD with a featurette, deleted scenes, and a 41-minute Q&A with director Oliver Stone, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Edward Snowden (via video connection from Russia) moderated by Matt Seitz. The Blu-ray also includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.
Also new and notable:
The Magnificent Seven (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), the latest remake of the classic western (itself adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai), stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. This one, directed by Antoine Fuqua, pits the outlaw defense force against a ruthless mining baron (Peter Sarsgaard). Blu-ray and DVD with four featurettes. The Blu-ray also includes the “Vengeance Mode,” a visual commentary track that stops the film to explore key scenes with the cast and filmmakers, plus two additional featurettes, deleted scenes, and a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
The Dressmaker (Broadgreen, Blu-ray, DVD) – Kate Winslet is a glamorous fashion designer who returns to her rural Australian town, where she has a notorious reputation, in this offbeat comedy from director Jocelyn Moorehouse and co-writer P.J. Hogan. Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, and Hugo Weaving co-star. Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes and a photo gallery.
Southside With You (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is the indie romantic drama starring Parker Sawyers as young Barack Obama and Tika Sumpter as Michelle Robinson on their first date. Blu-ray and DVD with filmmaker commentary. The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
A Man Called Ove (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD), a Swedish comedy based on the bestselling novel about an old curmudgeon who unexpectedly bonds with his boisterous new neighbors, is the highest-grossing foreign language film in American theaters in 2016 and made the cut for the foreign-language Oscar shortlist. In Swedish with English subtitles. Blu-ray and DVD features a 21-minute Q&A with director Hannes Holm and stars Rolf Lassgård and Bahar Pars, bonus interviews with the director and stars, a photo gallery and time-lapse look at the make-up.
Classics and Cult:
The Asphalt Jungle (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Roma (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sudden Fear (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Lodger (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Bad Girl (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Black Christmas (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Dreamscape (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
99 Women (Blue Underground, Blu-ray)
Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box (I, II, III) (Arrow, Blu-ray)
Driller Killer (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)
Creepshow 2 (Arrow, Blu-ray+DVD)
The Stewardesses 3D (Jezebel, Blu-ray+Blu-ray 3D, DVD)
Nicholas Nickleby (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Barefoot Contessa (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Keys of the Kingdom (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Three Worlds of Gulliver (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Bullet Train (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
TV on disc:
Hairspray Live! (Universal, DVD)
Close to the Enemy (Acorn, Blu-ray, DVD)
Jericho of Scotland Yard (Acorn, DVD)
Versailles: Season One (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
Harley and the Davidsons (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
800 Words (Acorn, DVD)
Britain’s Bloody Crown (Athena, DVD)
More new releases:
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Fox, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, 4K UltraHD, DVD, VOD)
Storks (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UltraHD, VOD)
Bridget Jones’s Baby (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Ben-Hur (2016) (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
In a Valley of Vengeance (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hitchcock/Truffaut (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Dog Eat Dog (IMES9, Blu-ray, DVD)
When the Bough Breaks (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
31 (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Equity (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Maximum Ride (Paramount, DVD)
Brother Nature (Paramount, DVD)
Morgan (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, 4K UltraHD)
Goat (Paramount, DVD)
Greater (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
Dad’s Army (Universal, DVD)
Coming Through the Rye (Paramount, DVD)
Hillsong: Let Hope Rise (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
End of a Gun (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD)