Johnny Depp disappears into the role of despicable monster Whitey Bulger, and his frighteningly realistic performance powers Scott Cooper's engrossing but diffuse look at how the mobster had the Boston FBI and police in his pocket for decades, until his capture in 2011. Although seemingly everything's in place—acting, writing, directing, atmosphere—something's missing from this portrait, mainly psychological depth: as creepy as Depp is, we never see behind Bulger's bludgeoning. The movie has a superlative hi-def transfer; extras are featurettes on the film and an hour-long documentary on Bulger.
Elvis Costello's recent homecoming concert was mainly an intimate solo performance: he played guitar or piano on some of his best songs, and not always the most obvious ones: alongside classics like "Watching the Detectives" and "Alison," the career-spanning concert includes equally strong songs like "Pads Paws and Claws" and "Brilliant Mistake." Along with Costello’s wry in-between songs patter, great support is provided by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe. Both hi-def video and audio are sharp; extras are four additional songs.
A family's attempt to avoid dysfunction during the holiday season is the subject of Love the Coopers, a schizophrenic comedy that fails to balance its interesting relationship avenues with an unabashed sappiness; the likes of Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Marisa Tomei and Alan Arkin can't get much traction against a stumbling script. In MI-5, the British intelligence services battle a formidable terrorist plotting a huge attack on London; the taut thriller largely avoids yawning plot holes as it heads to a climactic fizzle. Both films have first-rate transfers; extras include deleted scenes (on MI-5) and featurettes (on both discs).
Bernadette Lafont makes an endearingly spunky heroine as a retiree who figures out she can make quick cash by selling drugs for local dealers, in the process discovering she can also be a good mother to her estranged daughter and better grandmother to her grandson, whose father just happens to be the local cop fighting the drug gangs. Frightfully contrived, it manages to withstand close scrutiny thanks to Lafont's turn as a female Archie Bunker of an apartment block who outsmarts both crooks and cops. The hi-def transfer is fine; extras are 10 deleted scenes.
While queen of '70s Blaxploitation movies, Pam Grier made routine pictures like director-writer William Girdler’s entry about a private eye who leaves Chicago for her hometown to help her family in distress, only to fight for her life (and revenge) against a group of ruthless gangsters. Grier is in decent form even if Sheba is a by-the-numbers heroine, and the movie ends up more undistinguished than diverting. Now how about The Arena on Blu-ray? The film looks good enough on Blu; extras include two commentaries, interview with co-writer David Sheldon and Pam Grier featurette.
The real-life drama that played out in Chile six years ago—33 miners were trapped for months amid media saturation coverage about whether the company could get them out alive—is reenacted in director Patricia Riggen's sentimental but involving docudrama. Although much of the movie hits unsurprising emotional arcs—and Juliette Binoche is particularly wasted as a miner's sister—the satisfying result is ultimately moving, especially when the real men's faces are seen at the end. There’s a top-notch hi-def transfer; extras are two short featurettes.
DVD of the Week
The best cop show currently streaming, on TV or DVD remains this epic French policier: the fifth season follows the same seasoned Parisian police unit, this time tackling a baffling double murder case and dealing with the usual twists and turns it entails: what's best about the series is its inside look at (to these American eyes anyway) the confusing French justice system, with lawyers, judges and police working together—or against one another. Equally enthralling are the meticulous recreation of police work—as memorably messy as in Bertrand Tavernier's great, underappreciated L.627—and the seamless ensemble led by Caroline Proust as the head cop and Audrey Fleurot (also a standout in A French Village) as the fiery but morally shifty lawyer.