STORY BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
How do you top Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed’?
That’s the challenge director Scott Cooper faced in “Black Mass” (2015, Warner, R, $30) as he unreeled the story of James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), the same notorious Boston gangster who inspired the earlier film.
Rather than try to outflash Scorsese, Cooper takes a sober, low-key approach which, for the most part, works beautifully. Aided by Depp’s menacing turn, Cooper focuses on the unholy alliance between FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) and Bulger, who plays the Feds for fools by pretending to be an informer. “Black Mass” takes its sweet time but once it grabs you, it won’t let go. Extras: featurettes.
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Steve Jobs (2015, Universal, R, $30): Set in the hours leading up to three of the Apple co-founder’s product launches (in 1984, 1988, and 1998), this biopic is as original as the man it is chronicling. Within each time frame, Jobs (Oscar-nominated Michael Fassbender) interacts with the same associates and family members, including innovator Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), marketing whiz Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and daughter Lisa, whom he initially tries to disown. This is a warts-and-all portrait of the tech genius and thanks to Fassbender’s sly performance, Aaron Sorkin’s probing screenplay and Danny Boyle’s flashy direction, Jobs emerges as a visionary with grand ideas but deep, deep flaws. Extras: commentaries and featurettes.
Criminal Activities (2015, Image, unrated, $30): After four friends (Michael Pitt, Dan Stevens, Christopher Abbott, Rob Brown) borrow money they can’t pay back from a mobster (John Travolta), they are tasked with kidnapping one of the crime boss’s drug-dealing rivals (Edi Gathegi). The plot of actor Jackie Earle Haley’s preposterous directorial debut manages to be both threadbare and wildly convoluted at the same. While the younger cast members are reduced to screaming fits to sustain the tension, Travolta at least gets some funny lines about wheatgrass juice. Still, the end result is a movie that’s eye-rolling stupid. Extras: deleted scenes and featurette.
Labyrinth Of Lies (2015, Sony, R, $30): Set in Germany in 1953, this compelling docudrama centers on a young prosecutor named Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) who becomes obsessed with bringing to justice 22 ex-Nazis who served as guards at Auschwitz. Radmann initially tries to track down the infamous camp doctor Dr. Josef Mengele before turning his attention to the former SS members who are living in the open, working as bakers and elementary school teachers. Part coming-of-age story and part procedural, “Labyrinth” sheds light on a turning point in history when Germany finally began acknowledging the horrors of the Holocaust. Extras: featurettes, deleted scenes and commentary by director Giulio Ricciarelli.
Extraordinary Tales (2015, Cinedigm, unrated, $15): Bela Lugosi’s been dead for sixty years but he’s still making movies! This horror anthology based on five tales of terror by Edgar Allen Poe makes use of Lugosi’s tonsil power, as well as the voices of Christopher Lee, Julian Sands and horror filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. The ‘toons themselves vary in animation style, ranging from CGI-powered action imagery to stark, black-and-white-drawn figures meant to evoke comic artist Alberto Brecci. It’s ghoulish fun. Extras: featurettes and commentary by director Raul Garcia.
The Iron Curtain (1948, Fox Cinema Archives, unrated, $20): Even though director William A. Wellman (“Public Enemy”) lays on the anti-Communist sentiment a bit too thickly, this spy yarn still connects the dots in a compelling way. Dana Andrews stars as a Russian code breaker named Igor Gouzenko who is stationed in Canada when he’s asked to pass stolen atomic secrets. After balking at his duty, he tries to defect to the West, rather than take his wife (Gene Tierney) and newborn son back to Moscow. Based on a true story, “The Iron Curtain” would make a great double bill with “Bridge of Spies.” Extras: none.
The Happy Ending (1969, Twilight Time, R, $30): A deeply moving performance by Jean Simmons fuels Richard Brooks’ study of a Denver matron who realizes that her marriage is rotting from within. Desperate to escape her indifferent, philandering husband (John Forsythe), she hops a flight to the Bahamas and runs into an old friend (Shirley Jones), who’s sharing a vacation with a married lover (Lloyd Bridges). Brooks, who makes exquisite use of Michel Legrand’s bittersweet score, tells the tale largely in flashback, slowly revealing how Simmons and Forsythe’s relationship turned sour. Extras: none.
The Vincent Price Collection III (1961-1970, Shout Factory, unrated, $70): The first two sets in Shout Factory’s essential series collected some of the horror icon’s scariest turns in pictures like “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “Tomb of Ligeia.” The latest volume keeps up the high quality with “Master of the World,” “Cry of the Banshee,” “Tower of London,” “Diary of a Madman” and the TV movie “An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe.” Price fans should rejoice. Extras: new interviews, featurettes and commentaries.
The Leftovers: The Complete Second Season (2015, HBO, unrated, $45): Before the third and final season airs on HBO, check out the second batch of episodes set after 140 million people inexplicably vanished from earth. There’s only one small town in eastern, Texas that was spared from this odd apocalypse and that’s where the Garveys — Kevin (Justin Theroux) and daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) — decide to relocate. Adding tension to this season are a series of weird plot twists involving the Garvey’s peculiar neighbors, the Murphys (Regina King, Kevin Carroll, Jasmine Savoy Brown). Expect plenty of mystery, action and can’t-escape-your-past drama. Extras: none.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution (2015, PBS, unrated, $25): From acclaimed documentarian Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Riders”) comes a fascinating look at the black power movement which was founded in Oakland, California in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in response to police persecution. Nelson captures the group’s good deeds, including organizing free breakfasts for school children, as well as the internal strife which largely led to its downfall. Extras: none.