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In 'Black Mass,' Johnny Depp & Co. enliven over-familiar tale of Boston crime boss 'Whitey' Bulger

Black Mass

Warner Bros., $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99

Available on VOD on Tuesday

A great cast goes a long way toward enlivening this over-familiar true-crime saga. Johnny Depp disappears into too much makeup and a ridiculously thick Southie accent to play Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger, but he's ably supported by Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard and Jesse Plemons (among others), as director Scott Cooper and screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk wind from the 1970s to the 2010s to explain how the FBI inadvertently helped turn Bulger into a kingpin by wiping out his rivals. There's nothing really new here — it's basically just a real-life version of "The Departed" — but it's fun to watch these actors play cops and robbers. The DVD and Blu-ray include a few featurettes, including one that delves further into what's become of Bulger since the events of this film.

Steve Jobs

Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

Available on VOD on Tuesday

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin doesn't quite bring the same snap to the life of Apple guru Steve Jobs that he did to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," but it's not for lack of trying. Working with director Danny Boyle and star Michael Fassbender, Sorkin breaks "Steve Jobs" into three important days in the man's life, following him as he deals with friends, family and colleagues while trying to sell himself and his products to the world. The gimmick makes the movie feel too much like a stage play, and it results in a too-reductive depiction of complicated real-life characters. But the Oscar-nominated Fassbender is good as Jobs (as is the Oscar-nominated Kate Winslet as his business partner Joanna Hoffman), and the film as a whole is at least a more memorable experience than a more conventional biopic might've been. The DVD and Blu-ray add two commentary tracks and a featurette.


Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

Available on VOD on Tuesday

The story of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's rise, fall and rebirth is an important one to tell, lest Americans forget what the right to free expression really means. But director Jay Roach and screenwriter John McNamara give the man a once-over-lightly treatment in their film, hitting all the high points — the testimony before Congress, the prison sentence, the years of working for studios under other people's names — without really fleshing out the in-betweens. Bryan Cranston has been nominated for an Oscar for playing Trumbo, but his mannered performance is really representative of the film's weakness. The film is entertaining and easy to watch, but it only glides across the surface. The DVD and Blu-ray are equally disappointing, tacking on only two short, none-too-informative featurettes.

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

PBS, $24.99; Blu-ray, $29.99

Stanley Nelson's fascinating look at the 1960s heyday of the Black Panthers uses rare archival footage and nearly a decade's worth of interviews to paint a rich portrait of grass-roots activism, political in-fighting and racial paranoia. The documentary starts in Oakland in 1966, when the organization arose in response to a wave of police brutality, and then traces how the Panthers went from earning the support of white liberals to becoming emblematic of "lawlessness" when Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan rose to power. Nelson doesn't ignore the Panthers' issues with violence or the difficulties their scattered chapters had staying unified, but this film is more interested in how the party was demonized for exercising its constitutional rights — and why that remains relevant in the age of #BlackLivesMatter.

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Death by Hanging

Criterion, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.95

Girls: The Complete Fourth Season

HBO, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.98

The Kid

Criterion Blu-ray, $39.95

Labyrinth of Lies

Sony Pictures Classics, $20.95; Blu-ray, $34.99

The 33

Warner Bros., $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99

Available on VOD on Tuesday

Togetherness: The Complete First Season

HBO, $39.98; Blu-ray, $49.99

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A version of this article appeared in print on February 16, 2016, in the Arts + Entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Home theater" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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