Blue Collar (1978) Like Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love and Robin Williams in a number of films, Richard Pryor successfully pumped his comedic persona into a dramatic mold in Paul Schrader’s crime drama about a trio of Detroit autoworkers who uncover corrupt union practices. It’s a bleak depiction of workingmen who discover that the only people truly on their side are themselves.
Norma Rae (1979)
Director Martin Ritt knew what it was like to go up against the powers that be. Blacklisted from television work during the dark days of McCarthy and HUAC, he would go on to make the first film to explicitly deal with the witch hunts (The Front) as well as this left-leaning classic starring Sally Field as a tough-as-nails textile worker who fights for unionization. Field deservedly won an Academy Award for her performance.
This drama is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, a union activist whose investigation into safety hazards at her place of employment — a plutonium manufacturing plant — ended with her suspicious death. Directed by Mike Nichols, the film perfectly conveys the encroaching horror of an orchestrated cover-up, with a final ambiguity that is haunting. And of course Meryl Streep is riveting in the lead role.
If you’ve seen the seminal doc Harlan County U.S.A., you know how hard it was for coal miners to unionize even into the ’70s. John Sayles’ exquisite dramatization of similar efforts in 1920s West Virginia shows it was worse back then, as a strike turns to bloodshed. Sayles’ impressive script is brought to life by a fine cast of actors (including Chris Cooper) who, like the workers they portray, are stronger together than alone.
ONCE (2007, R)
Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Before it became a Tony-winning musical, it was an Oscar-winning film. The warm, wonderful movie (now on Blu-ray) about love and music in Dublin is full of magic and accents. A
FARGO (1996, R)
Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
The Coen brothers serve up murder and extortion on ice with their deadpan Midwest-set thriller that gleefully tears apart the best-laid plans of mice and men. Blu-ray debut. A
PERSONA (1966, Not Rated)
Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann
Ingmar Bergman’s experimental existential jigsaw puzzle gets a new release with a bunch of extras. It’s still as cool as a Swede’s disposition. A
THE FRESHMAN (1925, Not Rated)
Often glossed over in favor of Chaplin or Keaton, Lloyd was one of the best silent comedians. His classic film about a college nerd is now on Criterion Blu-ray. A
THE BAG MAN (2014, R)
John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, Robert De Niro
Cusack plays a cursed tough guy tasked with retrieving a mysterious satchel and outsmarting a menagerie of deadly oddballs in this third-rate Blood Simple. C
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013, R)
Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep
Misery and sadism are just other words for family in the all-star play adaptation. B 4/8
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013, PG-13)
Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom
The diminutive heroes take on a gigantic dragon. A- 4/8
Most grades are from EW’s reviews of the original theatrical release