Editor’s Notes: Truth, Home Invasion, Our Brand Is Crisis, and A Ballerina’s Tale will be released on their respective formats on February 2nd.
Truth (Sony Home Entertainment) is about the scandal over a 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report investigating President George W. Bush’s military service, which noted that he had exploited family connections and political privilege to avoid military service in Vietnam. After the story breaks, CBS news producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and CBS news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) attract scrutiny.
The film follows the downfall of Rather and Mapes. They believe their report is based on solid research and credible interviewees, only to see other news organizations find flaws in the story after the fact. This forces network executives to do what they have to in order to save face and preserve the news division’s reputation. The jobs of Rather, Mapes, and their team are on the line.
Because the film is based on Mapes’ book, it is sympathetic to both herself and Rather, but still raises interesting questions about agendas — both of the news reporters and those who attacked the aired story. Issues of journalistic responsibility and fairness are raised, but there is an emphasis on the underlying drive to get the scoop and beat competitors at all costs, frequently leading to shortcuts. High on the success of her expose of torture in Abu Ghraib, Mapes is filled with a combination of arrogance and determination to break another huge story, but what is perceived to be the biggest story of the year results in an unforeseen, career-destroying backlash.
Both Redford and Blanchett are excellent. Redford has a tough job, since Rather was such a well-known presence on television, but manages to channel the essence of Rather, capturing the anchor’s vocal style and physicality. Blanchett portrays a range of emotions from elation to dejection, with anger, resentment, and defensiveness part of the mix. As she circles the wagons when the public outcry increases, we see her self-confidence and self-image begin to erode. The distinguished supporting cast includes Dennis Quaid, Stacy Keach, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, and Topher Grace.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include a Q & A with Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss, and writer/director James Vanderbilt; commentary with Vanderbilt and the film’s producers; and the featurette “The Team.” A digital HD copy is included.
Home Invasion (Sony Home Entertainment) is a direct-to-video psychological thriller starring Natasha Henstridge, Jason Patric, and Scott Adkins. When a wealthy woman and her stepson living in a remote mansion are targeted by a trio of expert thieves, the only form of help comes from a call with a security systems specialist. As the intruders become increasingly hostile and the connection wavers, the likelihood of rescue diminishes.
This type of plot has been used quite a bit in films, including A Clockwork Orange, Panic Room, Straw Dogs, and The Strangers. Home Invasion follows the formula, adding the gimmick of an outside person attempting to help a home’s occupants. What makes it gripping is that there have been a number of home invasions, often with deadly consequences, reported in the news. Viewers can identify more with this realistic kind of terror than with the kind of terror created in pictures featuring monsters or the supernatural.
Because of the film’s tame PG-13 rating, things never get really intense, although director David Tenant does manage some nicely crafted suspenseful sequences. Ms. Henstridge, who has carved out a niche for herself in the horror and sci-fi genres, does an effective job of looking terrified while trying desperately to follow the instructions of the security worker on the phone as grim circumstances escalate.
The three cold-blooded masked thieves are creepy in appearance and make clear that they mean business. Evidence of their lethal nature is shown almost as soon as they approach the house, setting us up for a frightening ride ahead.
There are no bonus features on the DVD release.
Our Brand Is Crisis
Our Brand Is Crisis (Warner Home Video) is about a right-wing Bolivian presidential candidate failing badly in the polls who enlists the aid of an American management team, led by burned-out strategist “Calamity” Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock). In self-imposed retirement following a scandal, Jane is coaxed back into the game for the chance to beat her professional nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), now working for the opposition, and to restore her reputation.
Director David Gordon Green attempts to mix political drama and broad comedy — an attempt that comes up short. Though based on a 2005 documentary of the same name, it rings terribly false. Not even the considerable star power of Bullock and Thornton could save it. Though both actors do their best, they are working with an uninspired script and never appear comfortable in their roles. Bullock, in particular, seems sometimes to be channeling Meryl Streep, other times Lucille Ball. For the first half hour, her character wallows in self-pity, which becomes irritating pretty fast.
The story is the key problem. Americans managing a South American election isn’t exactly a plot that will have audiences flocking. And there’s not enough to distinguish the film and motivate audiences to get on board. Effective supporting performances by Anthony Mackie, Joaquin de Almeida, and Reynaldo Pacheco are not enough to raise the overall quality of the picture.
The only bonus extra on the Blu-ray release is the featurette “Sandra Bullock: A Role Like No Other,” which chronicles Bullock’s challenge to the filmmakers to change the film’s lead role from male to female and her collaboration with director Green to develop the character.
A Ballerina’s Tale
A Ballerina’s Tale (IFC Films) is a documentary about Misty Copeland, the first black woman named principal dancer by the American Ballet Theatre. Director Nelson George focuses on Copeland at a crucial point. She has been promoted to soloist just as an injury threatens her career. Her stardom has given ballet a renewed surge of relevance even as it draws attention to the ballet establishment’s difficulty in dealing with race.
Director George provides some historical background of ballet, noting its aristocratic, European roots. Interviews with former dance critics underscore ballet’s often-cited obsession with thinness. Black dancer Victoria Rowell talks about how out of place she felt at ballet school in the 1970s, while Copeland comments on being more muscular and curvy than the ballet ideal.
Copeland didn’t start ballet lessons until age 13, yet quickly became a prodigy. Just five years later, she was accepted into American Ballet Theatre. At age 15, she was at the center of a custody battle between her mother and the ballet teachers who were serving as her guardians. Through it all, she matured into one of the most sought-after ballerinas in the United States. Copeland was promoted to principal dancer, the highest rank in a professional dance company, at ABT in June, 2015, making her the first female African-American principal in the company’s 75-year history.
In addition to her dance career, Copeland has become a public persona and media star as a speaker, spokeswoman, Broadway performer in On the Town, featured dancer for musician Prince, and reality TV star on So You Think You Can Dance. She has also written two autobiographical books and serves as narrator of A Ballerina’s Tale.
Though the film offers a revealing portrait of the dancer and the ballet world, there should definitely be more dancing. The dancing, after all, is what got Copeland where she is. Talking heads and commentary are fine, but there’s nothing like seeing the grace, elegance, and power of a star ballerina to understand why she is so exceptional.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include deleted scenes and a trailer.