CloudsSilsClouds of Sils Maria (Paramount, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) – Olivier Assayas wrote this drama about a veteran actress facing a transition in her career after Juliette Binoche, arguably France’s greatest and certainly most ambitious actress working today, challenged him to write a film centered on women. It was a friendly challenge—she had already starred in two films he wrote for director André Téchiné and another, Summer Hours, that he directed from his own script—and Assayas emerged with one of his most beautiful, nuanced, and complex films to date.

Clouds of Sils Maria doesn’t open on Binoche’s Maria Enders but on her assistant, a worldly American twentysomething named Valentine (Kristen Stewart) who we meet juggling phone calls and scheduling issues in the noisy passageway of a train travelling through the Swiss Alps. In the midst of the journey—Maria is on the way to a tribute to the playwright who wrote her breakthrough part—they learn that the author, a lifelong friend as well as mentor to Maria, has just died. The story plays out in the shadow of his death and the memory of the play that launched the career of the then 18-year-old Maria over 20 years ago. A hot young theater director wants to restage the play with Maria in the role of the older woman, a 40-year-old professional destroyed by the vicious younger woman (it sounds a whole lot like something Fassbinder might have written), and she struggles with it. She can’t relate to what she sees as a pathetic, weak character, but is it because she can’t yet acknowledge that she’s aging out of the dynamic roles reserved for younger actresses? The director (Lars Eidinger) has a different take: they are two sides of the same woman. Maybe that’s what really bothers Maria.

Clouds of Sils Maria could have turned into a rumination on the state of women’s roles and opportunities in the contemporary filmmaking culture as they age into their forties and beyond, but it’s far more personal and introspective than that. The story heads into All About Eve territory when Maria meets her new costar, the young Hollywood phenom Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) who will step into the role Maria originally created, but the real story is between Maria and Val, and actresses Binoche and Stewart. Watching the two actresses wrestle with what you could call Maria’s mid-life (or at least mid-career) crisis is like getting a master class in movie acting and interacting. Their relationship is unbalanced, prickly, fraught with unacknowledged anxieties and frustrations, but they have history and Maria has more respect for Val than she realizes. Binoche is sublime as she peels back the layers of Maria’s complicated persona in scenes that show her generosity and sharp perceptiveness colliding with self-regard and caustic commentary covering a fragile ego. Stewart shows a remarkable intelligence as the smart but still growing young woman who is less careful in her private life than she is in her professional capacity as Maria’s PA and she matches Binoche scene for scene. The perfomrance earned Stewart the César, the French equivalent of an Academy Award. She’s the first American actress to win the award.

DVD only with no supplements, which is a shame. This is a film that deserves a Blu-ray edition with interviews and other extras to explore the layers. Perhaps Criterion could take it on at a later date. What do you say, Paramount? Also on Digital HD purchase and cable and digital VOD (from Amazon, Vudu, Xbox Video, and CinemaNow).

GangsWassGangs of Wasseypur (Cinelicious, Blu-ray) is a crime epic from India that spans seven decades and three generations in the lives of two crime families: the Singh clan, which takes over coal mining town of Wasseypur in the eastern India state of Jharkhand upon independence, and the Khan clan from the impoverished working class. Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) moves up from robbing trains to becoming an enforcer for Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia) until Singh puts out a hit on the ambitious muscleman (in the local parlance) and sets the inevitable collision in motion. Shahid’s son Sardar (Manoj Bajpayee) vows vengeance, a promise that he puts aside when one of his sons, the oddly-named Danish, marries the sister of Ramadhir’s right hand man Sultan, but those in the Singh clan see this as a calculated plot to move in on their territory and plot a hit right out of The Godfather. In fact, The Godfather—the entire three film saga—is one of director Anurag Kashyap’s inspirations, and not just in terms of narrative scope and dramatic length (the two parts add up to 320 minutes). Gangs of Wasseypur offers a densely-woven story that puts the crime drama in historical context and traces the family drama over the course of decades as the sons of Sardar Khan become caught up in the family feud.

Inspired by a true story, Gangs of Wasseypur is technically a Bollywood musical (it has 25 original songs, according to film notes) but without the characters breaking into song and dance (the music plays as accompaniment or commentary) and without the florid romantic complications. Rather, the music powers the film, which moves quickly through the years and across the clans, and set the tone. In the traditional Bollywood musical, lovers dance rather than kiss and shared songs stand in for courtship and seduction. The lyrics of these songs (at least as expressed in the subtitles) are downright sexual and raw, more explicit that I’ve ever heard (or rather read) in a Hindi musical. The violence is largely underplayed in the first half, more suggested than seen, but it’s a brutal world where the poor either accept their lot or turn to crime and, for the most part, prey upon their own. In the second half, the tension between the two clans—the rich Singhs, who keep their power by suppressing everyone else, and the up-from-the-streets Khans—explodes in bloody gang war. It’s a commitment—the film was released in two parts and runs almost five-and-a-half hours back-to-back (the story breaks right down the middle, a good way to spread the film over two nights)—but it never falters or slows. Kashyap uses the bright colors of the Bollywood style to create a world that burns with injustice and inequity and anger.


The Blu-ray release is superb, a very nice transfer with vivid, rich colors and robust stereo sound. It’s in Hindi with English subtitles that are more like close captions, with notes on some background music and sound effects and speakers identified in scenes where they speak off-screen. It presents each part on a separate disc, with commentary across the entire film by director Anurag Kashyap, actors Huma Qureshi and Richa Chaddha, composer Sneha Khanwalkar, lyricist Varun Grover, associate director Anubhuti Kashyap, and assistant director Neeraj Ghaywan, all speaking in English. An accompanying 12-page booklet features an essay by Aseem Chhabra with background on the director and the film, plus a very helpful visual map of the gang family connections.

ItFollowsIt Follows (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is both the title and the premise of this simple but intelligent low-budget horror. The premise is like a twist on Ringu / The Ring, except that this curse is passed on through sex, which writer / director David Robert Mitchell plays with a tender sense of romance that twists into a terrible betrayal and violation. It’s the most vicious form of venereal disease since David Cronenberg’s horror days, while the curse itself is remarkably scary: figures that change identity as they follow, deliberately and relentlessly, until they catch up with and kill the cursed.

A tonic to the spate of “found footage” and shaky-cam horror films designed to look like they are home movies gone bad, this is a carefully designed film that recalls the visual control of John Carpenter’s early horror films, especially the way it tracks movement within carefully composed shots. It was originally slated to debut on cable and web VOD a couple of weeks after its March theatrical release, but it’s strong opening shifted release plans and it arrives on VOD as well as Blu-ray and DVD this week. Just on piece of advice: see it on as big a screen as possible. The stillness of the direction and the careful choreography and camera movement create subtle effects lost on the tablet or, heaven help us, smartphone screen.

Features commentary by a critics roundtable hosted by Scott Weinberg, an interview with composer Disasterpeace, and a poster art gallery, plus an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film (SD for DVD release).

Here Is Your Life (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), the 1966 feature debut of Swedish director Jan Troell, is another epic, this one a coming of age story based on the semi-autobiographical novels by Nobel Prize winner Eyvind Johnson. It makes its American home video debut in a newly restored edition with new interviews and Troell’s 1965 film Interlude in the Marshland. A full review to come.


Batman: The Second Season, Part Two (Warner, DVD) – Warner continues the a la carte roll-out of the sixties Batman series on DVD (for those uninterested in the deluxe box set editions originally released). This set features the back-end of the second season: 30 more half-hour episodes originally shown in pairs over two nights each week, with the first part ending in a cliffhanger. This collection actually includes a pair of three-parters: one featuring a team-up between The Joker (Cesar Romero) and The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the other with The Penguin and Marsha, Queen of Diamonds (Carolyn Jones). This set also feature John Astin’s turn as The Riddler (taking over from Frank Gorshin) and Eli Wallach as Mr. Freeze (replacing Otto Preminger), and along with the colorful rogues gallery of cartoon villains, the season introduces fellow masked heroes Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (Bruce Lee), who team up with the dynamic duo to take on Colonel Gumm (Roger C. Carmel).

30 episodes on four discs on DVD, no extras, but there is an episode guide with a list of guest villains.

Powers: The Complete First Season (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), an adaptation of the graphic novel series by Brian Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, is the first original scripted series for the PlayStation Network, where it was available exclusively to subscribers of the game-centric service. The disc release is the first chance the rest of us have to see the show. Review to come.

Also new and notable: ExMachina

Ex Machina (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) plays the man-vs.-machine story as a chamber drama with a socially naïve programmer (Domhnall Gleeson), a sophisticated artificial intelligence with a feminine appearance (Alicia Vikander), and a manipulative software genius (Oscar Isaac) pulling the strings. This is the science fiction of ideas rather than visual spectacle and the smartly-made film us all about the mind-games and shifting dynamics between the characters. And make no mistake: the female robot is definitely a character in the theatrical sense: she knows what she wants and it motivates her every action. Includes the five-part featurette “Through the Looking Glass: Creating Ex Machina,” eight short behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a cast and crew Q&A from the SXSW screening, plus an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film (SD for DVD release).

The Salt of the Earth (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD, Digital HD, VOD) is the Oscar-nominated portrait of photographer Sebastião Salgado co-directed by Wim Wenders (a talented photographer in his own right) and Salgado’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Includes filmmaker commentary and a featurette.

StrayCatRockStray Cat Rock: Five Film Set (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD) collects five Japanese girl gang thrillers of the early seventies—Delinquent Girl Boss, Wild Jumbo, Sex Hunter, Machine Animal, and Beat ’71—in a limited edition box set.

Elliot Smith: Heaven Adores You (Eagle Rock, Blu-ray, DVD) looks at the life and music of the singer-songwriter, who suffered from depression and substance abuse and died in 2003 at the peak of his success.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s ‘Island of Dr. Moreau’ (Severin, Blu-ray, DVD, Netflix) looks what Richard Stanley was trying to make in his version of Moreau and how the production collapsed.

X-Men: Days of Future Past Rogue Cut (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) – I did not receive a review copy so I can only report what’s in the press release: this longer cut includes scenes featuring Anna Paquin as Rogue, who had a much more active role in the original script but has a very abbreviated role in the finished film.

Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:Lila&Eve

Available same day as select theaters nationwide is the revenge thriller Lila & Eve with Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez as mothers avenging the deaths of their children and the drama Safelight with Evan Peters and Juno Temple.

Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, the sequel that nobody request, debuts exclusively on the free streaming service Crackle. David Spade fans can now rest easy.

Available for digital purchase in advance of disc:
Silicon Valley: Season 2 (HBO, Digital HD)
Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) (Fox, Digital HD) – Friday, July 17

Classics and Cult:Hiroshima

Hiroshima Mon Amour (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Black Stallion (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Andromeda Strain (1971) (Universal, Blu-ray)
The Game (1997) (Universal, Blu-ray)
Sneakers (Universal, Blu-ray)
The Legend of the Lone Ranger ( (Shout! Factory, DVD)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) (Timeless, Blu-ray, DVD)XMenDaysFuturePastRogueEd
Howling II (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Man of Conquest (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Rush (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Blown Away (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Life Stinks (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Real Men (Kino Studio Classics, Blu-ray)
Adventures of Captain Fabian (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Baby It’s You (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)HereisyourlifeBD
King of the Gypsies (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Eternal Sea (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hell’s Five Hours (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Borderline (Timeless, DVD)
The Outing / The Godsend (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Cellar Dweller / Catacombs (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)

TV on disc:CrimsonField

The Crimson Field (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Masters: American Ballet Theatre – A History (PBS, DVD)
Doctor Who: The Daleks
Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: Season 1
(Warner, DVD)
Adventure Time: The Complete Fifth Season
(Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Little House on the Prairie: Season Six Remastered
(Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
WKRP in Cincinnati: Season Three
(Shout! Factory, DVD)

More releases:SecondBest

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Longest Ride
(Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
The Unwanted
(Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Set Fire to the Stars (Strand, DVD)
Red Knot (Icarus / Kimstim, DVD)
Goodbye to All That (IFC, DVD)
The Chambermaid (Film Movement, DVD)saltearth
The Appearance (Facets, DVD)
112 Weddings (Zeitgeist, DVD, Digital)
Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police
(Cinema Libre, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
(Arc, DVD)
Dawn Patrol (Alchemy, DVD)
Black Beauty (2014) (Lionsgate, DVD)

Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD