The Manhattan romantic comedy has become such a cliché that it’s even spawned its own spoof film, the erratic They Came Together. But just when you thought there was no new way to show New Yorkers falling in love, along comes the intelligently outrageous Sleeping With Other People (Paramount Home Entertainment), where two people who hooked up disastrously in college meet up again years later – at a sex-addiction 12-step meeting.
That synopsis might sound a little grim, but in the hands of writer-director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) and with the engaging, charismatic lead performances of Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, the results are both credible and hilarious. (And the scene where Sudeikis explains to Brie the mechanics of female self-pleasure should become a staple of sex-ed classes.) It just goes to show you – anytime you think a genre is completely played out, there’s always someone who can find a fresh perspective.
Also available: If you know Emily Blunt for her work in comedies and musicals, prepare to see a whole new side of the talented actress in the provocative Sicario (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), a drug-trafficking tale that also boasts exceptional cinematography by the great Roger Deakins; writer-director Michael Almereyda takes a fascinating look at human nature with the docudrama Experimenter (Magnolia Home Entertainment), starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder; young British actress Bel Powley had a breakout turn in the acclaimed The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic memoir.
Naz & Maalik (Wolfe Video) explores the thrills and challenges of being young, gay, Muslim and in love in contemporary New York; check out the critically-drubbed historical drama Stonewall (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) and judge it for yourself; Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are lesbians fighting an unfair system in the based-on-a-true-story Freeheld (Lionsgate Home Entertainment).
Turn off your phone, close your laptop, and allow yourself to be consumed by the gorgeous world of The Assassin (Well Go USA Entertainment), the latest work by master filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien. A woman trained by her aunt to be an indefatigable killer chafes over her assignment to murder a warlord who was once her fiancé. It’s slow and it’s quiet, but this subtle film rewards attentive viewing. (And the sword-fighting scenes are pretty kick-ass, too.)
Also available: A father searches for his missing daughters in the years following the Armenian genocide in the powerful The Cut (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment), from director Fatih Akin (Head-On); How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) (Wolfe Video) takes an unforgettable look at day-to-day life in Thailand, as characters cope with the upcoming lottery for the army draft; in a new documentary from Ulrich Seidl (the Paradise trilogy) people reveal the collections and the fetishes they keep hidden away In the Basement (Strand Releasing Home Entertainment); a Canadian lesbian tries to take the revolving door off her relationships in the comedy Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (Wolfe Video).
Nominated for an Academy Award, director Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence (Drafthouse Films) continues the director’s examination of genocide in Indonesia that he began in the acclaimed The Act of Killing. But whereas that movie allowed the killers to reinvent themselves as the movie heroes they imagined them to be, this latest film follows a survivor of the massacres who directly confronts retired military executioners as he seeks answers about the death of his brother.
Also available: He’s a rocker and he’s the star of schlock movies, but I Am Thor (Dark Sky Films) reveals the real Jon-Mikl Thor as he pursues his elusive show-biz dreams; The Image Revolution (Shout Factory) examines the publishing company created by former Marvel employees that would go on to change the world of comic books forever; in the powerful Making Rounds (First Run Features), doctors remind us that sometimes the most effective medical action is just listening to their patients.
Following her star-making performance in Blake Edwards’ 10, Bo Derek went on to make a series of increasingly ridiculous films with her then-husband, actor-turned-director John Derek, that were clearly designed to cement her status as the leading sex icon of the 1980s. That goal wasn’t quite achieved, but for bad-movie fans, the Dereks created a rich legacy of work. Two of those films, Bolero and Ghosts Can’t Do It, have been released as a double-feature disc by Shout Factory, and they’re fascinating snapshots at a world when what the kids now call Molly was known as “Extasy” and when future presidential candidate Donald Trump thought it would be a smart idea to make a cameo in a Bo Derek picture. It was the ’80s, kids.
Also available: Between the abused-child-as-trained-criminal and David Carradine in a dress, Sonny Boy (Scream Factory) is like nothing else you’ve ever seen; Deathgasm (Dark Sky Films) is the sort of title that tells you nearly everything you need to know, but rest assured that this gory heavy-metal movie has a sense of humor about itself; James Spader gives a memorably chilling performance as someone who might be the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper in the cult favorite Jack’s Back (Scream Factory); 3D Blu-ray technology means you can enjoy the stereoscopic delights of Dial M for Murder and Kiss Me, Kate in your own home – so why not the cheeseball Comin’ at Ya! (MVD Visual), which kick-started the brief Reagan-era revival of 3D?
Samurais get spooky in the chilling martial-art thrillers The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior (Scream Factory), available together on one Blu-ray disc; Scott Adkins has a lot of drug smugglers and corrupt cops to take out at Close Range (XLrator Media), in a thriller praised by Stuart Wellington of “The Flop House” podcast, particularly the moment where Adkins apparently stabs someone in the taint; the deadly virus continues to run amuck in the blood-soaked Contracted: Phase 2 (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory); Adulterers (RLJ Entertainment) find themselves in big trouble when cuckolded husband Sean Faris discovers what his wife has been up to behind his back.
Japanese gonzo master Takashi Miike returns with Over Your Dead Body (Scream Factory), which puts a modern spin on an ancient ghost story; in Condemned (RLJ Entertainment), a slumming rich girl winds up in a ramshackle apartment building infested with the only thing worse than urban hipsters – virus-plagued bloodsucking freaks; way before M. Night Shyamalan had the plants try to kill us in The Happening, William Friedkin planted the tree from hell in The Guardian (Scream Factory); Afghanistan vets find their memory loss in linked to a horrifying artifact they found in the thriller Painkillers (RLJ Entertainment)
Only a few playwrights have directed the screen adaptation of their work, and even fewer pulled it off with the wit and near-surreal absurdism that Tom Stoppard brought to the hilarious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (RLJ Entertainment), available for the first time ever on Blu-ray. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth star as two supporting characters from Hamlet who find themselves front and center in a world full of danger and strangeness, where little makes sense and there’s even less of a chance for survival. Co-starring Richard Dreyfuss as the Player King, this brilliantly whacked-out movie works even if you’re not steeped in Shakespeare.
Also available: In a strange bit of timing, French New Wave master Jacques Rivette passed away just as his epic 12-hour masterpiece Out 1 (Kino Lorber) was making its DVD/Blu debut in North America; there’s still a cult for the outer space derring-do of The Ice Pirates (Warner Archive Collection), and now fans can enjoy it in Blu-ray; also making a hi-def debut is the underrated slobs-vs.-snobs comedy Up the Creek (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), a personal favorite.
Sexy Rita Hayworth thoroughly flummoxes Glenn Ford in Gilda (The Criterion Collection), a classic now available in its most lavish home-video incarnation; all the Stillers – Ben, Jerry, Amy, Anne Meara – pop up in the oddball Highway to Hell (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), a comic-horror take on the Orpheus and Eurydice legend; funnymen Olson & Johnson (Hellzapoppin) run wild in Fifty Million Frenchmen (Warner Archive Collection), a screen adaptation of a Cole Porter musical that wound up jettisoning most of the original songs.
Meryl Streep brings the chills even after a decade as the worst boss on earth in The Devil Wears Prada: 10th Anniversary Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); Nikkatsu Diamond Guys, Vol. 1 (MVD Visual) collects three films featuring the biggest stars and most notable directors of 1950s Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu; opposites attract as uptight Robert Mitchum falls for a free-spirited Shirley MacLaine in the classic romance Two for the Seesaw (Kino Lorber Studio Classics); with the third movie in the trilogy topping the box office, there’s no better time to get caught up on Kung Fu Panda & Kung Fu Panda 2 (both Fox/Dreamworks).
Ken Russell revives the romance and the decadence of Hollywood in its infancy in the controversial Valentino (Kino Lorber Studio Classics); noir classic Kansas City Confidential (The Film Detective/Allied Vaughn) gets a gorgeous digital restoration from the original 35mm elements; Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling made her first screen appearance in Richard Lester’s beloved 1960s comedy The Knack…and How to Get It (Kino Lorber Studio Classics).
After last year’s traveling reissues of earlier films by Wim Wenders, The Criterion Collection has several new Blu-rays in the pipeline, starting with his Patricia Highsmith adaptation The American Friend, which features a vintage commentary with Wenders and star Dennis Hopper (The Criterion Collection) along with new interviews with Wenders and co-star Bruno Ganz; the legendary 1913 silent caper film Fantômas (Kino Classics) inspired countless super-spies and super-criminals in the decades that followed, and this beautiful Blu-ray comes loaded with information about the film and its creator, Louis Feuillade.
Downton Abbey: Season 6 (PBS) sees the Granthams and their household staff reminiscing about the past while facing an uncertain future. Kicking off in 1925, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) tries to fend off encroaching modernism that would threaten her position as the patroness of the local hospital; Lord Grantham’s daughters Mary and Edith spend more time thinking about careers than husbands; and various under-butlers and kitchen workers contemplate what they’ll do as this way of life comes to an end. Still delectably addictive, it’ll be sad to see this UK classic wrap up.
Also available: One of 2015’s most acclaimed new series was UnReal: Season 1 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment), about all the drama that unfolds behind the scenes on a (fictional) reality TV competition; the original Renaissance man copes with the horrors of the Crusades in Da Vinci’s Demons: The Complete Third Season (Anchor Bay/Starz); Black Work (RLJ/Acorn), from Bridge of Spies writer Matt Charman, follows a rogue policewoman (played by Sheridan Smith) who doesn’t trust the cops to investigate the murder of her detective husband.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season Ten (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) sees the gang up to their usual disturbing shenanigans; Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife) and David Walliams (Little Britain) are married sleuths in Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime (RLJ/Acorn); Flesh and Bone (Anchor Bay/Starz) peers under the glamorous exterior of ballet at the cruelty and ruthlessness underneath, and the toll it all takes on talented young dancers.
And if you didn’t pick up the recent complete-series box sets of these favorites, you can pick up individual seasons of Hill Street Blues: The Final Season (Shout Factory), Sisters: Season Three (Shout Factory), The Saint: Seasons Three and Four (Timeless Media Group) and The Facts of Life: Season Eight (Shout Factory)