A pair of Academy Award-nominated performances highlight the best of Blu-ray releases available this week.
Trumbo (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Rated R, $34.98, 125 minutes) — Director Jay Roach brought to silver screens the difficult life of legendary blacklisted screenwriter and outspoken supporter of the C.P.U.S.A. (Communist Party of the USA) Dalton Trumbo in a biographical drama last year.
Academy Award-nominated actor Bryan Cranston does the emotional heavy lifting onscreen playing one of the most talented but disliked men in 1950s Hollywood.
His performance is fantastic, but it truly comes to life thanks to a powerful ensemble cast.
They include Helen Mirren as legendary gossip columnist and staunch hater of Trumbo’s ideals, Hedda Hopper; Diane Lane as Trumbo’s supportive wife Cleo; Michael Stuhlbarg as celebrity friend Edward G. Robinson; Christian Berkel as director Otto Preminger; and John Goodman and Stephen Root as the schlock moviemakers the King Brothers that kept Trumbo working under ever-evolving pseudonyms.
The digital transfer offers a full-screen look (a 1.85:1 aspect ratio) into the visual detail of the thought-provoking film highlighted by some great period costumes and set designs moving from congressional hearings to Hollywood parties and sets and stars’ lavish mansions.
SEE ALSO: Blu-ray review: ‘Crimson Peak,’ gorgeous gothic romance
What echoes throughout Mr. Roach and screenwriter John McNamara’s interpretation of the events is the ridiculous attitude of politicians and leaders in Hollywood catering and caving to special interests but forgetting the core principles of democracy that makes freedom of expression an inalienable right in America.
However, I would suggest viewers explore many more sources to decide if Trumbo was an eccentric martyr or traitor, and if his reverent allegiance to Communism needed to be exposed and dealt with during the emergence of a frightening Cold War.
Sadly, a head-scratching lack of extras, only including a paltry six-minutes worth of promotional pabulum, relegates the great effort to a rental or on-demand viewing.
An optional commentary track from Mr. Roach or a History Channel-type overview of the real Trumbo (we see only snippets of him in the closing credits) would have made the Blu-ray a mandatory addition to a home theater library.
Steve Jobs (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Rated R, $34.98, 122 minutes) — Director Danny Boyle’s unusual look at a man who helped lead Apple Inc. and orchestrated a digital revolution arrives on Blu-ray.
Spearheaded by the Academy-Award nominated performance of Michael Fassbender, the dramatic biopic sheds light on the egomaniacal complexities of Jobs while he roams around backstage before three significant product launch announcements in his career — the 1984 debut of the Apple Macintosh, the 1989 ill-fated debut of the NeXT computer and 1998 debut of the mega successful iMac.
SEE ALSO: Blu-ray reviews: ‘Black Mass’ and ‘Spectre’
Writer Aaron Sorkin crafts a dynamic script based on the biography from Walter Isaacson to highlight some sharp interactions with characters.
Job’s inner circle ranges from marketing director and confidant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, also nominated for an Oscar) to former Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), key Apple programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan).
The overall plot pacing does a fantastic and frenetic job of exposing a brilliant but emotionally damaged human who had better relationships with his products than friends or family.
The great movie also gets backed up with equally potent extras including a pair of must-hear commentary tracks, one starring Mr. Boyle and the other with editor Elliot Graham and Mr. Sorkin.
Mr. Boyle focuses on the story, technical merits acting techniques and loads of production details even touching on deleted scenes (I wish they were included).
The second track is equally entertaining, but with more dead space, and regularly finds both Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Graham interviewing one another about their crafts.
Additionally, viewers get a 44-minute, three-part look at the production loaded with cast and production interviews. The last segment touches on the special filming process.
Once understood, I suggest watching the movie again to appreciate the director and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler use of three distinct types of film sources — a grittier 16mm stock early on, 35mm for the middle and digital video for the final third — all beautifully complementing the evolving Jobs and artistically bringing the film to life.