‘Selma,’ ‘ Fifty Shades of Grey’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman

 

This week’s home video releases include the story of a great English painter, a cinematic adaptation of the novel “50 Shades of Grey” and a historical picture centered on Martin Luther King Jr. 

 

Selma

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language.
Paramount
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

Much was made of the fact that “Selma” received only two Academy Award nominations (best picture and best original song), but second guessing awards shows is a fool’s game. What matters is the picture itself, and director Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King Jr. biopic is outstanding.

 

The movie focuses on King’s fight to secure equal voting rights for blacks in Alabama. Because the movie considers such a short segment of the man’s life, it has a tight narrative structure that benefits viewers through a detailed depiction of the historical period.

 

King is portrayed brilliantly by David Oyelowo, a British actor who skillfully captures the nuances of King’s posture, voice and demeanor. Oyelowo’s work was rewarded with a best actor nomination for a Golden Globe, and his performance ranks among the best of 2014.

 

Although the movie revolves around King – and thus Oyelowo –

DuVernay assembled a fine supporting cast that includes Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Common as James Bevel, Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper and Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson.

 

It has been 50 years since King and other civil rights leaders led a March from Selma to Montgomery demanding that black citizens be afforded the same voting rights as whites. The nation has made considerable progress in those five decades, but “Selma” reminds us that bigotry was openly tolerated in our recent past. The film also seems timely considering ongoing, racially fueled conflicts in the U.S. Few movies are impactful enough to prompt real discussion on important societal issues, but DuVernay’s project has the power to get people talking.  

 

“Selma” is not perfectly historically accurate, but it does capture the most important elements of the real-life story along with the spirit of the times. Because that history is so important, the film is required viewing for anyone interested in America’s past.

 

The DVD release doesn’t contain significant extras, but the Blu-ray features historical newsreels, a photo gallery, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes and an audio commentary.  

 

 

Fifty Shades of Grey

2 stars
Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language
Universal Studios
Available now for digital download. Available May 8 on Blu-ray, DVD and on demand

 

The film adaptation of author E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey” novel is short on plot, long on nudity and more interested in titillating than telling a story with depth and finesse. Whether this is viewed as a liability has more to due with expectations than anything else.

 

Put simply, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not a great movie, but it does serve a purpose in the marketplace. The film, about a naïve college coed who begins a relationship with a kinky businessman, is essentially a soft-core porn film, and it carries all the stereotypes that label conjures.

 

Dakota Johnson stars as Anastasia Steele, a young woman who gamely stands in for her journalism-major roommate when an illness prevents the latter from conducting an interview with wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). At first, the handsome, slightly older man intimidates Anastasia, but she is also immensely attracted to him. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson makes it obvious that the feeling is mutual, particularly when Grey finds excuses to flirt with the young woman.

 

Soon, Grey and Anastasia are engaged in a romantic relationship … or at least the closest thing the businessman is willing to embrace. You see, Grey likes the rough stuff when it comes to sex, and he alternates between telling Anastasia that he’s wrong for her and doing his best to get her into his bedroom.

 

For Anastasia, the relationship is a sexual awakening, but it’s also an introduction to a lifestyle that many people never embrace. This creates a dynamic where the couple is engaged in a difficult, erotic tug of war built on a combination of desire and genuine caring.

 

Johnson and Dornan are adequate in the lead roles, but it would be overkill to call their performances strong. Mostly, they are asked to portray archetypes and look good with their clothes off, something any number of modern actors could achieve.

 

The story is slight, and Taylor-Johnson adjusts for this by keeping the pacing fast and never allowing too much time between sex scenes. This doesn’t make “Fifty Shades of Grey” thoughtful or emotionally involving, but it allows the film to serve its purpose.  

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 

 

Black or White

3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking and for a fight
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

Writer-director Mike Binder delivers an engaging and thoughtful commentary on familial bonds and race relations with “Black or White,” a drama starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer as grandparents tangled in a heated custody battle.

 

The movie begins with Elliot Anderson (Costner) learning that his beloved wife has died in a car accident, making him the sole guardian of his young granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell). Elliot and his wife took custody of the girl after their daughter died in childbirth. The father, Reggie Davis (André Holland), was a drug addict with no ability to care for the child. Although Elliot deeply loves his granddaughter, his wife’s death plunges him into depression, leading him to drink heavily and struggle with daily affairs.

 

Concerned about the wellbeing of her granddaughter, Reggie’s mother, Rowena Jeffers (Spencer), makes a play for custody, hoping her son will become a bigger part of the girl’s life. The resulting legal dispute leads to a curious situation where Eloise is shuttled between the houses of her two competing grandparents. For the girl, it’s a contrast in lifestyles, as Elliot lives an upper-crust life in a mostly white area, while Rowena scrapes by in a close-knit neighborhood populated mostly by minorities. 

 

Race, of course, is central to the plot, and Binder doesn’t shy from this. Neither does he make more of it than he should. Although the custody battle pits a wealthy, white male against a black female of modest means, Binder’s screenplay makes it clear that race isn’t the only issue. Both grandparents love their bi-racial granddaughter, and both are doing what they believe is right for the girl and themselves.

 

Costner has become an increasingly fine actor with age, and his performance here is earthy and enjoyable. Spencer turns in an equally strong performance, and the two lead actors play beautifully off one another. The supporting cast is also solid, with Estell, Holland and Anthony Mackie (playing a lawyer related to Rowena) delivering memorable turns.

 

Binder moves the film at a nice pace, giving viewers time to digest the heady material but never dragging things out. He also avoids the preachy tone that often accompanies movies about race, allowing the film to do its work calmly, quietly and effectively.        

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature.

 

 

Mr. Turner

2 stars
Rated R for some sexual content
Sony
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

Writer-director Mike Leigh is a quality filmmaker with a remarkable eye and a penchant for talky dramas that sometimes feel more theatrical than cinematic. His films are aimed at capturing reality, a quality that’s led many to embrace his work, but his style is not for everyone.

 

In fairness, it is important for me to note that Leigh’s cinematic work rarely moves me, even when it leaves others raving. His latest effort doesn’t change that.

 

With “Mr. Turner,” Leigh explores the last 25 years in the life of Joseph Mallord William Turner, an 18th- and 19th- century painter renowned for his landscapes. Turner, played beautifully by Timothy Spall, is a fascinating figure both because of his work and his eccentricities. He never married, but he did take lovers, and the film depicts Turner as a man who flirted with the boundaries of the elegant and the grotesque.

 

Leigh isn’t as concerned with highlighting great moments in Turner’s life as he is in capturing the spirit of the man and his times. Because of this, the film veers between scenes set in his home; at the Royal Academy of Art; at the house of his lover, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey); and at other locations.

 

Spall portrays Turner as a man capable of jovially mingling with high society, but also as a figure with a single-minded, off-putting gruffness. He also depicts the painter as totally devoted to his work.

 

Leigh captures these visions of the man with lush visuals that seem appropriate for the life of an artist. The costuming and art direction are brilliant, and the cinematography is gorgeous. Despite these high points, “Mr. Turner” feels quite dull.

 

Leigh takes two and a half hours to tell Turner’s story, but the screen time is often devoted to esoteric discussions about art rather than key events in the man’s life. For painting enthusiasts, particularly those with a keen interest in Turner, this level of detail may prove remarkable. For everyone else, “Mr. Turner” will likely feel too mired in minutiae.

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a deleted scene, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Leigh.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

 

“Lost River”: Ryan Gosling makes his feature directing debut with this fantasy drama about a single mother who lands in a strange underworld while trying to save her childhood home. Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan and Eva Mendes star.

 

“Black Sea”: Thriller featuring Jude Law as an unemployed submarine commander who recruits a crew for a sunken-treasure hunt. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”).

 

“Parenthood” – The Complete Series: This popular NBC drama completed its TV run in January. This week, Universal is releasing episodes of the show on two separate boxed sets. One release features all 13 episodes of the sixth season. The other includes the entire series. The show revolves around several generations of a San Francisco Bay area family. Craig T. Nelson, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Peter Krause, Monika Potter and Bonnie Bedelia star.  

 

“Pitch Perfect” – Sing-Along Aca-Awesome Edition: The “Pitch Perfect” sequel hits theaters May 15, so Universal is releasing a sing-along version of the 2012 film that inspired it. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Elizabeth Banks star.

 

Author Bio:

 

Forrest Hartma, a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com.

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