12 Years a Slave (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), coming hot off an Oscar win for Best Picture as well as Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o, whose acceptance speech was a work of art) and Best Adapted Screenplay (by John Ridley), timed this release right. Still unavailable on VOD or On Demand, disc is the only way to see this at home.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the Solomon Northup, the free man who was kidnapped in the north and sold into slavery in the south where he survived for 12 years before he was able to return home, with Lupita Nyong’o as the young, abused female slave Patsey and a supporting cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Brad Pitt (who was also a producer).
“12 Years a Slave is actually far better than most Oscar-winners, specifically because it doesn’t simply use slavery as a chance to wallow in misery or be shocked by the sadism of familiar actors in bushy sideburns,” writes Cinephiled film critic James Rocchi. “Instead, British director [Steve] McQueen turns the real-life tale of Solomon Northup… into something much more than a moving museum exhibit. He creates a story about a society and a social order, where the brutal and vicious is commonplace and expected in the name of cheap labor and privilege for the few. Most historical dramas skim over the past, illustrating how different it was from now; in 12 Years a Slave, the point of it all draws blood when you reflect on how Solomon’s 1845 isn’t that dissimilar to our 2013.”
What most impresses me about the film is the way it shows how slavery distorts humanity on all levels. When human beings are treated as property, it corrupts the owners as it takes away the self-worth of the captives. There is a vast gulf between the “bad master” played by Fassbender and the “good master” played by Cumberbatch, but he is a slave owner nonetheless and never considers another way.
Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes, “The Team” and “The Score.” The Blu-ray offers an exclusive third featurette, “A Historical Portrait.” You’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for On Demand and VOD, which could spur even more sales for those not willing to wait. Or you could visit your local video store. They could use your business.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD, On Demand on Friday, March 7), the second film in the young adult dystopian series starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katnis Everdeen, a reluctant warrior and symbol of resistance, improves upon the original film in almost every way. Taking the same basic premise—a despotic government that keeps its citizens in poverty and reminds them of its power by drafting the young into a modern gladiatorial ring to kill or be killed on TV—this one digs deeper into the idea of power and control and the way media is used as a tool of oppression.
Director Francis Lawrence understands the novels better than previous director Gary Ross. Katnis’s District 12 doesn’t look like an ennobled patch of poverty in the majesty of the wilderness this time, it’s a rural slum caked in coal dust, and the districts are essentially open slave pens for people who will be worked to death without any hope of escape. The façade of the luxurious capitol is built within a veritable bunker. And Katniss is no selfless heroine, simply a young woman who acts on instinct to protect who she loves rather than simply protect herself.
“[T]his may be the first YA series that’s not just about the making of a hero but also about the selling of one; both sides, oppressor and rebel, are very concerned with their optics, and Katniss figures very heavily in both their plans,” agrees Cinephiled film critic James Rocchi. “Catching Fire is smart, subversive and constructed to be as unquestionably engaging even as it engages you with its questions; as much as I like the Fast and Furious films, no one’s inspired to think about the power of the state, the complicity of the crowd and the need for dissent after one of them.”
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire stakes out its own release date on Friday, March 7 for all home video formats. The Blu-ray and DVD feature commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray includes the feature-length “Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire,” a nine-part documentary, plus bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copies.
The Grandmaster (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD, On Demand) is Wong Kar-wai’s contribution to the cottage industry in Ip Man films (Ip Man was the martial arts master who became a hero during World War II and a respected teacher who mentored, among others, Bruce Lee). Wong favorite Tony Leung Chiu Wai (In the Mood for Love) plays the master in a film that invests in the romance of the wuxia pian, the classic form of Chinese martial arts dramas of the fifties and sixties, and the real-life history of Japan’s invasion of China in World War II. Ziyi Zhang and Chang Chen co-star and Yuen Wo Ping provides the choreography, which Wong turns into something more like a dance on screen. To Wong, the power of the movement is not just in its effect upon a rival fighter but in the way the man moves through the world. Leave it to Wong to make the image of a fist shooting through the rain or a foot displacing water as dramatic as a body blow. It was nominated for two Oscars, including one for its rich cinematography.
Wong recut the film for American release and that’s the version on home video stateside, presented in Mandarin with English subtitles and an optional English dub soundtrack. The Blu-ray and DVD include “The Grandmaster Behind the Scenes,” a collection of seven Chinese-language featurettes, and the 23-minute “The Grandmaster: From Ip Man to Bruce Lee,” plus interview featurettes with Shannon Lee (daughter of Bruce Lee) and rapper / producer RZA.
Oldboy (2014) (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD, On Demand) is Spike Lee’s remake of the 2003 Korean film, based on the same source graphic novel as Park Chan-wook’s notorious film, and starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley. The discs come with two featurettes and the Blu-ray adds a third featurette and deleted and alternate scenes among the supplements.
Also new and notable:
Last Day on Mars (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD) stars Liev Schrieber, Elias Koteas and Romola Garai as astronauts on a manned mission to Mars who discover evidence of life on the red planet. Includes a collection of featurettes.
Cold Comes the Night (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) is a thriller with Bryan Cranston as a career criminal out to collect a score from a crooked cop.
Hours (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD) features Paul Walker in one of his last roles, playing a father who has to fight Hurricane Katrina to save his infant daughter.
The Iran Job (Film Movement, DVD) is a documentary on the odyssey of American basketball player Kevin Sheppard and his year playing pro ball in the Iranian Basketball Super League.
Debuting via Cable On Demand in advance of its American theatrical release is Lars von Trier’s latest provocation Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (Magnolia, On Demand), starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård, and Shia LaBeouf, who curiously has been stealing the limelight from a film about designed for notoriety. It’s unrated, of course. Volume II is set to premiere On Demand in two weeks.
Available same day as theatrical release is Missing William (On Demand), a drama starring Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford.
Arriving before disc is the thriller The Bag Man (Universal, On Demand) with Robert De Niro and John Cusack, the racing drama Snake & Mongoo$e (Anchor Bay, Digital, On Demand), and the science fiction film After the Dark (Phase 4, Digital HD, VOD, On Demand) with James D’Arcy and Bonnie Wright.
Also available on Digital HD, VOD, and On Demand sale day as disc is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) on Friday, March 7 and Spike Lee’s Oldboy (Sony) on Tuesday, March 4.
Girl Rising (Cinedigm, DVD)
Big Bad Wolf (Horizon, DVD)
1000 to 1: The Cory Weissman Story (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD)
For Love or Money (eOne, DVD)
The Knot (Gaiam, DVD)
Wicked Blood (eOne, Blu-ray, DVD)
Snowflake the White Gorilla (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital, VOD)
Children of Sorrow (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Free Fall (Wolfe, DVD, Digital)