ByzantiumThe timing of Byzantium (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD), arriving two days before Halloween, is not coincidence, but Neil Jordan’s take on the vampire genre (from a play by Moira Buffin) is not a traditional horror film. There is blood, of course, and there is sex, but it’s less eros and more survival here, with Clara (Gemma Arterton) walking the streets (on in this case, the boardwalk of a British coastal town in the off-season) to pay the bills for herself and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), an eternal sensitive teen pouring out her soul in unread letters cast to the wind. It’s a Gothic tale with a twist of conspiracy and a radically different take on vampirism as ancient earth force tightly controlled by a male cabal who treat the transformation like a patriarchal right. Only men can birth eternals and Clara has broken the covenant by giving immortality to her dying daughter. Which makes her a target.

Jordan keeps returning to themes of fairy tale and myth and Byzantium is rich with metaphor and sexual politics, almost overwhelmingly so. Set in a seedy coastal town, where Clara has dragged Eleanor after escaping an assassin, and peppered with flashbacks to a life of degradation at the hands of a British officer (a proudly debauched Jonny Lee Miller), it plays with tropes of the female vampire as icy seductress. Clara is more of a tigress protecting her cub from a hunting party of male predators and her victims are, for the most part, predators in their own right while Eleanor, locked in transition from girl to woman for a couple of centuries, is the eternal innocent who only feeds on the willing like a melancholy angel of death. Clara’s feeding can get a bit messy but Eleanor takes only by consent and leaves them in a state of peace.

You won’t find fangs or wooden stakes here (they draw blood with knife-like fingernails) and sunlight doesn’t sear the flesh. Jordan creates his own rituals, notably the transformation as sacrificial offering to the Earth itself that is sealed in blood running over the black rocks of a forsaken island off Britain. That’s a primordial image as resonant as any classic vampire movie and it gives the film a foundation stronger than the script’s Masonic conspiracy of loyal eternals hunting down our heroines. (If souls are the cost of eternity, then men give them up willingly to the cabal in this version.) For all its darkness (literally as well as figuratively) and blood, it’s quite lyrical and evocative and elemental. Vampirism is both a gift and a curse, a kind of priesthood bestowed by the Earth and corrupted by the men who would try to control it. These women offer an alternative moral approach. The discs features interviews.

TabuMiguel Gomes’ Tabu (Kino Lorber, DVD), not to be confused with Murnau classic, almost defies description. It’s a film split in two parts, the first half set in present-day Lisbon where middle-aged Pilar (Teresa Madruga) falls into a routine that includes checking in on her elderly, deteriorating upstairs neighbor, Aurora (Laura Soveral). She calls for a Mr. Ventura as she dies and, as he tells Pilar the story of their past in colonial Africa of the early 1960s, “Paradise Lost” shifts back to “Paradise,” a dream-like remembrance told in voice-over. There no dialogue in this impressionistic recall of a lugubrious life out of time where days run into months without a change in routines or even weather, but ambient sound (and a soundtrack including Portuguese takes on Phil Spector music) adds to the spell this poetic picture casts.

This black-and-white tone poem is no political statement on colonialism but a hushed tragedy of young, reckless love in an isolated world and rugged landscape far from the social culture the Europeans to try to recreate in their bubble. It’s not the story, however, but the texture and detail and haunting atmosphere that casts its spell, and it is entrancing. Portuguese with English subtitles, no supplements.

More new releases:MonstersUsmall

Monsters University (Disney, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital HD), the prequel to the animated Pixar hit, rewinds back to when Mike (Billy Crystal) meets Sully (John Goodman) in college, where all sorts of lessons are learned. All discs feature filmmaker commentary and the Pixar animated short The Blue Umbrella, which played in front of the film in theaters. The Blu-ray editions are filled with featurettes and a couple of deleted scenes.

Also this week comes Cars 3D: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Disney, Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack), a new edition of the Pixar hit with a version reworked for 3D TVs along with standard 3D and DVD and a digital copy. It has all the supplements from the previous Blu-ray release.

R.I.P.D. (Universal, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD) tried to become the next Men in Black for the undead era, with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as recently deceased cops called back to service on the supernatural beat. It ended up as one of the year’s major flops.

Margarita (Wolfe, DVD, VOD) is a Canadian love story between an undocumented Mexican nanny in Toronto and her Canadian girlfriend who is reluctant to commit.

VOD / On Demand exclusives:AsILayDying

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition (Warner, Digital HD) became available last week, in advance of the November 5 disc release. It features 13 minutes of footage not seen in theaters, but the digital edition doesn’t have all the commentary promised on the disc.

A week after debuting on disc, The Heat comes to Cable On Demand, while the science fiction film The Last Days on Mars, which premiered earlier this year at Cannes, is available in advance of theatrical release.

James Franco directs, adapts, and stars in As I Lay Dying (Millennium, Digital HD, VOD, Cable On Demand), based on the novel by William Faulkner and co-starring Tim Blake Nelson and Danny McBride. It’s available on Friday, November 1 and comes to DVD next week. Also svailable On Demand on November 1 is Angels Sing with Harry Connick Jr. and Connie Britton (same day as theaters) and CBGB with Alan Rickman and Ashley Greene.

More releases:

Free Samples (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Springsteen & I (Eagle Rock, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Stalker (Screen Media, DVD)
Duress (Screen Media, DVD)
Home Alone: The Holiday Heist (Fox, DVD)
Coming Home for Christmas (Nasser, DVD)
The American Journey (Cinema Libre, DVD)
American Empire: An Act of Collective Madness (Heartfelt Films, DVD)