Blu-rays of the Week
Personal Shopper (Criterion)
French director Olivier Assayas wrote this vapid 2016 ghost story with Kristen Stewart in mind, and it’s one of his biggest failures, on par with Irma Vep and Boarding Gate; as with those films, his natural empathy and artistry is conspicuously missing. Stewart’s title character is also a medium who tries contacting her recently deceased twin brother—also, naturally, a medium—while getting involved in what turns out to be a brutal murder. Not helped by at all by Assayas’ bogus script, Stewart sleepwalks (or Vespa-rides) through it all, coming to life only when she’s stalked by a stranger on her phone, where she lets her fingers do the talking, so to speak. The film looks pristine on Blu; extras include an Assayas interview and 2016 Cannes press conference.
Blood Feast (Arrow)
Herschel Gordon Lewis is considered the Godfather of Gore, and Blood Feast, a 1963 humdinger, is one of his earliest forays into cinematic bloodletting: the plot is inscrutable (a loony caterer kills and dismembers nubile young women for a party feast he’s preparing) and the murder sequences are fake-looking enough to be funny, even if during its original release it was the last word in nasty violence. But for more ineptitude, there’s Lewis’s 1963 B&W mess, Scum of the Earth, as a bonus, along with Lewis intros, commentaries, featurettes, outtakes and a short film. The films have good hi-def presentations, at least.
Bushwick (RLJ Entertainment)
Brooklyn becomes the scene of murderous anarchy—not the fault of Mayor de Blasio—in this convincingly downbeat drama about an invasion by a “new” Confederate army backing a seceding Texas. Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott use lots of hand-held, excruciatingly long takes to put us on the ground with people just trying to stay alive without knowing exactly what the hell is going on. Brittany Snow leaves behind her cute Pitch Perfect persona to play a naïve grad student who quickly transforms into a hardened combatant. It’s highly implausible but, scene by scene, fairly gripping right to the end. Lone extra is a making-of featurette.
Murdoch Mysteries—Once upon a Murdoch Christmas (Acorn)
This genial holiday episode of the long-running Canadian drama series about a police inspector in early 20th century Toronto ties together sentiment, warmth and a good old-fashioned mystery as a thief steals expensive items from Eaton’s shoppers while the police department chorus practices for the upcoming holiday party. Fans of the series will be thrilled by this good-natured entertainment; this isn’t the first time there’s been a Murdoch holiday episode, and it likely won’t be the last. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; extras are brief featuretttes.
Red Christmas (Artsploitation Films)
Aussie writer-director Craig Anderson somehow convinced the iconic Dee Wallace (E.T., Cujo, The Howling) to take part in his relentlessly insane horror movie about a masked intruder who takes his mommy and daddy issues out on a family—including a heavily pregnant young woman—getting together for Christmas. Fans of icky slasher flicks may love its lunacy (notably when the grotesque Big Reveal comes), while others can watch Wallace do her thing, especially in the utterly crazed finale. The film looks sparkling on Blu; extras include a Wallace interview, deleted scene, bloopers, and an Anderson interview and commentary.
DVDs of the Week
School of Babel (Icarus)
Julie Bertuccelli’s enormously moving documentary follows a group of students—refugees from other countries, ranging from Northern Ireland to Serbia, and China to the Ivory Coast—through their first year in a French school, all learning the language and their new culture under the superhuman tutelage of their teacher, Ms. Cervoni. These teens are a bright hope for the future, and in Cervoni, Bertuccelli paints an indelible portrait of a woman doing her best, against all odds, to prepare them for what’s ahead. Extras include a Bertuccelli interview and a featurette showing the students two years after being filmed.
Soul on a String (Film Movement)
Stunning widescreen vistas notwithstanding, Zhang Yang’s epic adventure—which follows an unrepentant killer drawn to a mythical destination after finding a tooth inside the mouth of a dead deer—meanders for 140 minutes through mysticism, cutesy dramatics (accompanying the quest are a young woman and too-adorable young boy) and slowing down the narrative to let desultory encounters play out. Spectacular scenery and oversaturated photography keep viewers occupied throughout; it’s too bad this isn’t available in hi-def on Blu for the visuals alone. Lone extra is a short, The Rifle, The Jackal, The Wolf and The Boy by Lebanese director Oualid Mouaness.