Blu-rays of the Week
Camp X-Ray (IFC)
Guantanamo Bay is the setting for writer-director Peter Sattler’s straightforward account of the unlikely friendship between a female American soldier and a Muslim man she guards inside the notorious prison. Kristen Stewart and Payman Maadi give strong portrayals of the confused young woman and equally bemused detainee who discover their common humanity; too bad Sattler’s weakness for repetition makes for a saggy midsection: 15 to 20 minutes could have been cut. The hi-def transfer looks superb; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
The Duff (Lionsgate)
An amusing riff on high school a la John Hughes, The Duff stands for “Designated Ugly or Fat Friend,” which is what Bianca discovers she is as while navigating the land mines of high school’s hallways, classrooms and online bullying. It’s funny despite an obvious moral hammered home at the end, with a percolating cast led by Mae Whitman as Bianca, Skyler Samuels and Bianca Santos as her prettier friends and Bella Thorne, who effortlessly embodies the hottest girl in school. The Blu-ray looks excellent; extras include gag reel and featurettes.
Island of Death / Society (Arrow)
In director Nico Mastorakis’s demented 1976 horror flick Island of Death, a weirdly religious couple visits the Greek isle of Mykynos and proceeds to kill everybody immoral, irreligious or plain not worth living; its insane plot and laughably bad acting aside, there’s a certain chutzpah to the inventive murderous ways, including a beheading, a hanging from a flying airplane and impaling a nude woman on a blade through a door. Society, Brian Yuzna’s 1989 gore-splattered mess, has an absolutely lunatic finale in which the hero improbably escapes—maybe to set up a sequel that mercifully never came. One point of interest is Devin Devasquez, a Playboy playmate who showed off her best attributes. Both movies look properly grainy on Blu-ray; extras comprise interviews and featurettes.
Killing Jesus (Fox)
Bill O’Reilly’s “killing” cash cow, which has already done in Lincoln, Kennedy and Patton, goes after even bigger game in this stillborn adaptation of his best-selling book about the crucifixion of Christ that adds nothing dramatically, philosophically or cinematically to what we’ve seen onscreen for deacdes, from King of Kings and The Greatest Story Ever Told to The Passion of the Christ. Lacking the grandiosity of the reverent Biblical epics and the out-and-out sadism of Mel Gibson’s movie (although it tries), the movie also features a blank slate in Haaz Sleiman’s Jesus, although Pontius Pilate—a foolproof role—is well-played by Stephen Moyer. The hi-def transfer is first-rate.
The Pillow Book (Film Movement Classics)
Peter Greenaway’s 1996 Tokyo-set drama of vengeful calligraphy written on men’s bodies was the beginning of his fall from arthouse grace following the extreme violence of The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover and The Baby of Macon: its unwieldy mix of visual experimentation, eclectic music from U2 to Japanese songs and Greenaway’s own formal elegance never coheres into anything beyond empty if stimulating images. The Blu-ray—with a new Greenaway commentary covering the first 38 of the film’s 127 minutes—has a transfer which shows the varied aspect ratios within the square 1.33:1 frame, cutting down considerably the visual information one can see. Too bad the hi-def transfer isn’t like that for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which utilized the entire 16:9 widescreen for its varied ratios.
Thank Your Lucky Stars (Warner Archive)
This 1943 musical revue fills its two-hour running time with appearances by the biggest names in Hollywood at the time, some of whom (Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Errol Flynn) might be surprising in this context, while others—Bette Davis, Dinah Shore, Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith—make it a glittering paean to the Great American Songbook. The enjoyable musical numbers are the main interest of this embodiment of the era’s “that’s entertainment!” type of moviemaking. The restored film looks perfect on hi-def; extras comprise vintage cartoons, shorts and a radio broadcast.
DVDs of the Week
Gett (Music Box)
Writer-director-star Ronit Elkabetz and her brother, co-writer-director Shlomi, have made a remarkably gripping study of the difficulties middle-aged Viviane has getting a divorce (or gett) from her husband in Israel. Humanizing a managerie of characters—Viviane, her husband, her lawyer, his brother and representative and the three-man panel of judges—the talented siblings’ stunning look at how modern society butts heads with ancient laws gives as much weight to their characters’ pauses, silences and gestures as they do the words that alternately wound and heal. Extras comprise a making-of featurette and interviews.
Once a Thief (Warner Archive)
The grit and grime of working-class criminals underscores this 1965 cop drama about a former thief tempted with one last big score by his brother while a relentless detective bears down on him, his innocent wife and young daughter. The screws are tightened by Ralph Nelson’s taut direction and Zekial Marko’s precsise script (based on his own novel), and even if the finale is too convoluted, the acting by Alain Delon, Van Heflin, Jack Palance and Ann-Margret help finesse the plot holes to keep things moving.
Pretty Little Liars—Complete 5th Season (Warner Bros)
Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer are joined by Alison—presumed dead last season—to find answers to seemingly unanswerable questions, as the mysteries continue unabated for what is now a quintet of “liars” in the popular ABC Family series’ fifth season. The five-disc set, which includes 25 episodes, also contains a plethora of bonus features: several featurettes, cast interviews, a look inside the series’ 100th episode, a fan appreciation episode and deleted scenes.
Tough to Be Loved By Jerks (Kino Lorber)
Daniel Leconte’s account of the 2007 trial of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo after being sued over its publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims has an added poignance after the horrific January events when its editorial staff was cut down by extremists. (Many of those interviewed by Leconte are now dead.) Leconte’s cameras record editorial meetings where cartoons, columns and cover art are discussed, and he sits down with everyone involved—from editors and cartoonists to aggrieved Muslims—to arrive at a thorough overview of a still-volatile subject, allowing all sides to speak openly.