InsurgentThe Divergent Series: Insurgent (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD) – let’s being with the obvious: this film is not aimed at me. A franchise based on a trilogy of young adult novels, it’s yet another metaphor in the guise of a dystopian science fiction thriller. Like The Hunger Games, this is built on a strong young woman and a superb young actress (Shailene Woodley), which is a promising sign (if the American cinema is dead-set on cranking out superhero movies, supernatural epics, and sci-fi adventures, then the women need their own stories with the conventions). But unlike The Hunger Games, which create a complete world with an organic (is simplified) logic and order to its existence, the Divergent films are symbolic constructs without an world-building logic underneath. Whatever the novels are like, these films seem to make up their world order to fit the demands of the plot and the distaff hero’s journey.

The premise is the same: a society segregated and regimented into a kind of caste system that self-righteous would-be dictator Jeanine (Kate Winslet, whose severe sense of control and innate insincerity while spouting placating speeches marks her as sci-fi equivalent of a Disney villain) wants to rule with an iron fist that crushes all opposition. Woodley’s Tris is one of the divergents—someone who doesn’t fit squarely into any one caste—and a threat to conformity, and as the title suggests she returns as a rebel fighter taking on Janeane’s army of killers who unquestioningly wipe out any hint of opposition. Woodley tries to give Tris the kind of tortured conflict that defines Katniss in The Hunger Games, the girl who becomes a symbol of hope merely by surviving, Tris has little dimension and less motivation, and the film turns on an object that might as well be a magical object that only our chosen one can wield. The rest is beautiful bodies in motion and big-budget action spectacle parceled out with such regularity it feels more programmed than written. Which may work just fine for the target audience primed to identify with a rebel who doesn’t fit into the labels applied by society and finds the inner strength to define herself. I’ve seen it play out so many times that I need something more. A lot more. Kudos, however, to Miles Teller for bringing hotheaded energy to the only wild card character in the cast.

Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD, with producer commentary and the featurette “From Divergent to Insurgent.” The Blu-ray editions also include the feature-length documentary “Insurgent Unlocked: The Ultimate Behind-the-Scenes Access” and four additional featurettes, plus an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.

Also on cable on demand and VOD.

SalvationThe Salvation (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD), a Danish production starring Mads Mikkelson as a peaceful settler driven to violence, is a frontier drama, revenge western, immigrant story, gangster film, and brutal capitalist fable. It could be Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring’s answer to the spaghetti western (this one shot in South Africa with American landscapes CGIed into the background) with a sensibility that echoes the savage frontier novels of Cormac McCarthy.

Mikkelson (currently starring in the title role of the third and likely final season of Hannibal) is former soldier turned homesteader who, with his brother (Mikael Persbrandt), fled the wars and violence of Europe for a fresh start and after seven years of building a home finally brings his wife and son west, where they are almost immediately murdered by the brother of the sadistic gangleader (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). He terrorizes the territory with the blessing of a corporation slowly buying up the land cheap and starts killing off the townsfolk until they deliver his brother’s killer. He also takes his brother’s widow (Eva Green), a mute, savage beauty with a scar slashed across her mouth and a burning eyes that betray no emotion beyond an unshakable will to survive.

This is the western as art film, driven by primal emotions in a world that is almost too perfectly imagined: peaceful rolling hills, a dusty town of rough-hewn buildings, and a gangster hideout in a ghost town bank, a magnificent building surrounded by the black skeletons of burned-out homes, near a bubbling pit of black tar oil that gives the whole place a stygian atmosphere. Morgan is the articulate killer with a savage heart and a greedy soul and Mikkelson, who looks like he was carved right out of the landscape, is the terse hero who gets pulled back into the violence he has spent the last seven years trying to escape. The townsfolk are both victims and meek collaborators, ready to hand over whoever it takes to keep the terror at bay. This a western from a filmmaker who loves westerns, not so much a commentary on the genre as a passionate riff on it. He pares familiar conventions down their essential elements and fills it with a cast that embraces their archetypes with gusto. And on those terms, it is remarkably satisfying.

Blu-ray and DVD, with brief cast and crew interviews and a collection of short, light featurettes.

Four film noirs—including two making their respective home video debuts—arrive on Blu-ray and DVD this week. We review Night and the City (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), He Ran All the Way (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD), Storm Fear (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD), and Big House, U.S.A. (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) later this week.


The Comeback (HBO, DVD) – Lisa Kudrow plays Valerie Cherish, a self-absorbed former sitcom star who lets a camera crew into her life to watch her attempt to kick-start her dormant career as she takes a supporting role in a raunchy, youth-skewing sitcom. Playing the ever smiling host, she’s caught swallowing her pride on camera week after week as the 40-year-old has-been gets demoted to comic relief in a sexy sitcom and a hot young actress (Malin Akerman) winds up with all the publicity and public interest. It’s perfect material for Kudrow to send up Hollywood egos and insecurities and the short shelf life of celebrity. Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City) co-created the original show with Kudrow for HBO a decade ago and the first run of 13 episodes ran in 2005. It was indifferently received at the time—that kind of reality TV was already ubiquitous and already becoming a parody of itself—but gained appreciation over time, in part thanks to Kudrow’s fearless performance as a show business veteran who isn’t particularly self-aware or considerate but is well aware of every slight and insult in her orbit. It adds a poignant edge to the comedy.

In 2014, Kudrow and King reunited for a follow-up series of eight episodes that catches up with her attempting to produce her own reality show (with a crew of amateurs and students) as she lands a role playing a fictionalized (and highly unflattering) version of herself in an HBO series based on the tempest behind the scenes of her old sitcom. The show is created by the old show’s producer, who bottomed out as a heroine addict after the show’s failure, and Seth Rogen plays his role in his fictionalized take. Again, Valerie isn’t oblivious to these shortcomings, but she has own addiction: she needs the attention of fame and will put up with a lot to get her fix after being out of the spotlight for so many years. It makes for a rather vicious comedy, a show business satire about a shallow narcissist who endures the worst emotional cruelties to feed her neediness.

21 episodes on DVD, with commentary on select episodes, the featurette “Valerie Backstage at Dancing with the Stars,” and deleted scenes.

Orphan BlackOrphan Black: Season Three (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD) – Tatiana Maslany is still the reason to see this BBC America original series. She plays multiple roles—the clone sisters who band together to protect themselves from the corporation that created them as an experiment and the enemies that want to either hijack or terminate “Project Leda”—and the show’s strength is in the way she creates complete, richly-layered characters out of each character and develops complex relationships between them. It’s impressive as a stunt, of course, but it’s also satisfying as a character drama, and not just for her characters. The show has become about how these strangers become family, and how that definition expands as other (non-clone) folks become part of the fabric of their lives. Season Three adds more clones, and not just those portrayed by Maslany. A rival experiment, “Project Castor,” has created a clan of male clones: the “Soldier Boys,” all played by Ari Millen. Unfortunately, they aren’t nearly as interesting or as differentiated as Maslany’s sisters and the confusion doesn’t serve the story. The conspiracy behind the experiment is ostensibly what drives the Leda sisters but it increasingly feels less like a conceptual foundation and more like an excuse to send characters running through their plotlines. It’s the commitment of Maslany to her roles—and the commitment of the sisters and other members of the extended family to each other—that sustains this high-concept conspiracy.

10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with featurettes, an extended scene, and a blooper reel.

ManFromUNCLES1The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete First Season (Warner, DVD) – Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, top agents of U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, of course) and TV’s coolest cold warriors of the 1960s. Hatched in the era of James Bond (creator Ian Fleming came up with the name of star agent Napoleon Solo) and The Manchurian Candidate, the show mixed espionage plots and high-tech gadgetry with a trace of sardonic humor and the continental charm of Vaughn’s dashing Solo. McCallum’s Kuryakin began as Solo’s Russian sidekick with limited screen time, but soon became an equal partner thanks to the influx of fan mail, and Leo G. Carroll practically reprised his North by Northwest role as their boss, Mr. Alexander Waverly. The first season is the only season in black and white but it’s my favorite. Check out episode 9: “The Private Strigas Affair.” Not only is it a marvelous balance of cold war thriller and self-aware humor that defines the series, it features William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the same episode two years before they teamed up for Star Trek. It was previously available exclusively in a series box set, now available individually for the first time.

29 episodes on 10 discs on DVD, no supplements.

CasualVacancyThe Casual Vacancy (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), a miniseries coproduced by HBO and BBC, is based on the first adult novel by J.K. Rowling. Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Keeley Hawes, Rory Kinnear, Richard Glover, and Emilia Fox star in the acerbic drama about the struggle for control of a town council in a small British village during a contentious election. Blu-ray and DVD with three featurettes and a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film (SD with DVD).

How to Get Away With Murder: The Complete First Season (Disney, DVD) – Shonda Rhime’s latest hit series, starring Viola Davis as a criminal attorney and law school professor who gets involved in a murder, debuts in DVD well in advance of the fall debut of the second season.

Also new and notable:MadameBovary2014

Madame Bovary (2014) (Alchemy, Blu-ray, DVD) – Mia Wasikowska stars in the new version of the classic Flaubert novel directed by Sophie Barthes, and Ezra Miller, Paul Giamatti, and Rhys Ifans co-star.

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) stars Carey Mulligan as Thomas Hardy’s headstrong young heiress and Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, and Tom Sturridge are her suitors.

Flamenco, Flamenco (Music Box, DVD, VOD), Carlos Saura’s 2010 dance film about the history and culture of flamenco music and dance, debuts on DVD stateside. Multiple Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro shot the gorgeous production. Spanish with English subtitles, with three featurettes.

Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:

Available on Cable VOD on Friday, August 7, the same day as select theaters nationwide:
Dark Places
The Runner

The Falling

On Digital VOD:
The Last Survivors (Dark Sky, Digital, VOD)
Famous Nathan (Film Movement, VOD, iTunes)

Available for digital purchase in advance of disc:
Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (Warner, Digital HD)
The Knick: The Complete First Season (HBO, Digital HD)

Classics and Cult:ForeignInt

Foreign Intrigue (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Deep Sea Blues (MVD, Blu-ray)
Blast From the Past (Warner, Blu-ray)
Inner Space (Warner, Blu-ray)
Free Willy (Warner, Blu-ray)
Troma’s War (Troma, Blu-ray)
Extreme Jukebox (Troma, Blu-ray)
Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run (Warner, DVD)

TV on disc:StrikeBack S3

Strike Back: The Complete Third Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD)
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 8 (Acorn, Blu-ray, DVD)
I Love Lucy: The Ultimate Season Two
(Paramount, Blu-ray)
Sgt. Bilko / The Phil Silvers Show: Season 3 (Shout! Factory, DVD)
The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin (PBS, DVD)
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (PBS, DVD)

More releases:EverySecretThing

Every Secret Thing (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Adult Beginners (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
True Story (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
A Little Chaos (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Child 44 (Summit, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Do You Believe? (Pure Flix, DVD, VOD)
Barely Lethal (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Burying the Ex (Image, Blu-ray, DVD)BuryingEx
Antarctic Edge: 70˚ South (First Run, DVD)
Message From Hiroshima (Cinema Libre, DVD, VOD)
Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
When the Heart Calls: Heart of the Family (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Black & White: The Dawn of Assault (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Brother’s Keeper (Alchemy, Blu-ray, DVD)
Inner Demons (IFC, DVD)
The Dead Lands (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD)
Any Day (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Blackbird (RLJ, Blu-ray, DVD)
Phantom Halo (Arc, DVD)
Chocolate City (Paramount, DVD)
Seashore (Wolfe, DVD, VOD)
Into the Grizzly Maze (Sony, DVD)
Toolbox Murders 2 (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Lake Placid vs. Anaconda (Sony, DVD, Digital HD)
The Box
(Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
The White Storm (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
A La Mala (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Appetites (RLJ, DVD)
Little Loopers (Cinedigm, DVD, Digital HD)

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