Two new documentaries and a collection of experimental art films lead new movies on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
“The Last of the Unjust” (Cohen/Blu-ray/DVD, 2013, PG-13, in French and German with English subtitles, featurette, photo gallery, trailer). In my 1986 review of French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann’s brilliant Holocaust documentary “Shoah” (also recently released on DVD/Blu-ray), I wrote that the ingratiating filmmaker has a remarkable affinity for getting his sometimes reluctant subjects to recall vividly their experiences even when it’s clear they’d rather not.
Lanzmann spent 11 years collecting on-camera stories of survivors of the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” and after editing the material into the mesmerizing, two-part, 9½-hour “Shoah,” he apparently still had plenty left over. Quite a bit of which was devoted to the somewhat reluctant, often contradictory Benjamin Murmelstein, the subject of Lanzmann’s new film “The Last of the Unjust,” which mixes nearly 40-year-old interview footage with shots of Lanzmann today visiting some of the European locations under discussion.
As is his wont, Lanzmann allows his subject to take center stage for nearly four hours to tell his story. Murmelstein was a rabbi in Vienna at the Theresienstadt ghetto, a sort of decoy camp used to misdirect the Red Cross into thinking that Jews in German-occupied countries were being treated with care and humanity. After the war, he was accused of complicity due to his positions of power in the ghetto and his close association with Adolf Eichmann. He defends himself here but occasionally says things that will have you wondering. On the other hand, as Murmelstein himself says, who are we to judge? In the end, Lanzmann demonstrates respect for Murmelstein’s forthrightness but also allows us to make up our own minds.
“Bill Morrison: Collected Works (1996-2013)” (Icarus/Blu-ray/DVD, 1996-2013, not rated, b/w and color, five discs, 16 films). Morrision is a New York-based documentary/experimental filmmaker and darling of the festival circuit (including the Sundance Film Festival). He is famed for such works as “Decasia” and “Light Is Calling” (both on the set’s lone Blu-ray disc) that are comprised of naturally decaying vintage celluloid, which he edits to new musical scores for a kind of “Koyaanisqatsi”-ish kaleidoscope feel.
Never mind such faux found-footage films as “The Blair Witch Project” and its numerous descendants. Morrison is the real deal, artistically assembling actual found footage, some with remarkable narrative structure, as with the abstract “Spark of Being,” which is a “Frankenstein” variation, and “The Miners’ Hymns” and “The Great Flood,” which are long-form “documentaries” made up of silent film culled from real-life events. This collection is the perfect introduction to Morrison’s work for those who crave off-the-beaten-path cinema.
“Ivory Tower” (Paramount/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, PG-13, deleted scenes, featurette). Stirring documentary about higher education questions the value of college in light of spiraling costs and resulting student debt. In many ways, as the film examines ivy league schools, community colleges and online classes, it confirms suspicions about whether the college-education model is outdated and needs to evolve to remain relevant.
“Chef” (Universal/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2014, R for language, deleted scenes, audio commentary). Filmmaker/actor Jon Favreau, who hit the big time by directing the first two “Iron Man” pictures, has constructed a smaller movie for himself, calling on some A-list friends to participate. Favreau plays a rebel chef who leaves a trendy L.A. restaurant to travel with a food truck. Funny, witty and, yes, delicious, with support from Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara and Dustin Hoffman, among others.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” (Paramount/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2014, PG-13, featurettes, trailers). Mark Wahlberg stars in this fourth go-around, which is set five years after the third film’s Chicago smackdown. He plays a rural mechanic who buys an old truck for parts and discovers it is actually an injured Optimus Prime. Let the mayhem begin.
“Cold in July” (IFC/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014; R for violence, language, sex, nudity; deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurette, isolated music, trailer). Down and dirty suspense thriller set in 1989 Texas but with a distinctly ’70s vibe begins with Michael C. Hall killing a burglar in his home, then being confronted by the dead man’s father (Sam Shepard). But it turns out the victim may not be Shepard’s son after all, and soon both men find themselves mired in a dangerous mystery. Excellent performances — especially, and this may surprise you, from Don Johnson as a detective who joins the melee.
“Third Person” (Sony Classics/Blu-ray/DVD, Digital, 2014; R for language, sex, nudity; audio commentary, featurettes). Liam Neeson heads an ensemble cast as a blocked writer in this disappointing comedy-drama set in New York, Paris and Rome, with interconnecting stories and a twist ending. Neeson has recently left his wife (Kim Basinger) and is having an affair with a journalist (Olivia Wilde). Adrien Brody is attracted to a woman in Italy but finds himself drawn into a con. And Mila Kunis is an unstable mother whose ex-husband (James Franco) has custody of her daughter, and her attorney (Maria Bello) is trying to obtain visitation rights for her.
“Come Morning” (Monarch/DVD, 2013, not rated, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes). Set in 1973 Arkansas, this thriller has a man and his grandson hunting when they find that they’ve apparently killed a trespassing neighbor instead of a deer. Because he’s had disputes with the victim, the man talks the boy into helping him bury the body deep in the woods.
“Lucky Them” (IFC/DVD, 2014; R for language, sex, drugs; featurettes, trailer). A rock journalist’s job is on the line if she doesn’t locate and profile a musician who went missing 10 years earlier and who just happens to have been the love of her life. Toni Collette stars in this comedy-drama set against the music scene, with Thomas Haden Church as a quirky documentary-filmmaker wannabe who tags along and Oliver Platt as her boss.
“Hellion” (IFC/DVD, 2014, R for language, featurettes, short film, trailer). Aaron Paul plays a Southeast Texas ne’er-do-well whose young teenage son has become the de facto caregiver for his younger brother. When the younger boy is removed from the home, the volatile teen vows to get him back, even as he becomes obsessed with motocross and is determined to win a big race. Juliette Lewis has a supporting role and young Josh Wiggins as the teen boy delivers an impressive performance.
“Wolf” (IFC/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, not rated, in Dutch with English subtitles or English dubbed, featurettes, music videos, trailer). When a young gangster (Marwan Kenzari) is released from prison, he tries to go straight by employing his kickboxing talent in the ring, but soon his personal demons and his criminal past catch up with him.
“Sniper: Legacy” (Sony/DVD/Digital, 2014, R for violence and language). The fifth in the “Sniper” series, which began with a theatrical film and was followed by straight-to-video sequels, has Chad Michael Collins tracking someone who is assassinating military leaders, which apparently includes his father (Tom Berenger). Dennis Haysbert co-stars.
“Sordid Lives” (Wolfe/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital, 2000; R for sex, nudity, language; audio commentary, featurettes). Dark comedy about an eccentric family coming together for the funeral of the matriarch, who died in less-than-genteel circumstances. Stars include Olivia Newton-John, Bonnie Bedelia, Delta Burke and Beau Bridges. (This independent film led to the “Sordid Lives” cable-TV series.)
“American Muscle” (Well Go/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, not rated, audio commentary, trailer). Violent revenge thriller about an ex-con just off a 10-year stretch who seeks revenge on those who wronged him before he went down. Nick Principe stars.