NEW ON THE SHELF
“12 YEARS A SLAVE,” Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender. Director Steve McQueen (“Shame”) expertly and devastatingly adapts a 1853 memoir by Solomon Northrup, brilliantly portrayed by Ejiofor (“Redbelt”) as an educated family man abducted from his New York home and sold into a life of slavery, undergoing unspeakably barbaric treatment and unthinkable ordeals, none of which McQueen shies away from in the slightest. A difficult but essential work, “Slave” hits hard out of necessity, sugarcoating nothing yet leaving room for hope. Rated R. Running time: 2:14. Suggested retail price: $29.99; Blu-ray $39.99.
“THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE,” Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson. Eagerly anticipated sequel to the overwhelmingly successful 2012 adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series manages to improve considerably on the already impressive original. Actress of the moment Lawrence reprises her role as Katniss, preparing here for the Quarter Quell, a potentially deadly competition involving previous Hunger Games champions. An undercurrent of uprising amongst the oppressed fuels this compelling entry in what is shaping up to be one of the best written-page-to-silver-screen transfers in recent memory. Special features include a commentary from director Francis Lawrence. Rated PG-13. Running time: 2:26. Suggested retail price: $29.99; Blu-ray $39.99.
“OLDBOY,” Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen. Skillful remake of the 2003 cult classic finds Spike Lee taking over for Chan-wook Park in delivering the bluntly traumatic tale of an alcoholic deadbeat (Brolin), fresh out of being imprisoned in a small, windowless room for two decades for seemingly no reason, out to find out who kidnapped him by any violent, depraved means necessary. Memorable supporting turns by Sharlto Copley and Samuel Jackson round out the cast, but in the end it’s Lee who comes off best here, diverging from his usual directorial habits and taking some left-field risks with the material that pay off well. Rated R. Running time: 1:44. Suggested retail price: $30.99; Blu-ray $35.99.
NEW TO DVD
“DOCTOR WHO: THE TIME OF THE DOCTOR,” Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman. In which the passing of the TARDIS torch to new Doc Peter Capaldi (“In the Loop”) transpires, along with a charmingly small-scale adventure that bids a fond and proper cheerio to Smith. Not one of the more effects-heavy eps, but certainly one of the funnier “regeneration” stories, and we can hardly wait to watch the ever-enthusiastic Capaldi run with his coveted and well-deserved role. Special features include a farewell featurette to Smith. Not rated. Running time: 60 minutes. Suggested retail price: $14.99; Blu-ray $19.99.
“THE LAST DAYS ON MARS,” Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai. One of your more high-end B-movies, “Mars” finds a group of astronauts waylaid from a specimen collection mission when an alien infection begins turning them all into zombielike creatures. A minimalist approach is the key to the considerable success of “Mars,” adopting a chilly, procedural tone that renders the inevitable carnage all the more believable and horrifying. Rated R. Running time: 1:38. Suggested retail price: $26.99; Blu-ray $29.99.
“THE VENTURE BROTHERS: THE COMPLETE SEASON FIVE,” Animated. With the voices of Christopher McCulloch, James Urbaniak. Rabid fans of this Hardy-Boys-on-laughing-gas favorite weathered a long three-year hiatus to be rewarded with this typically witty and wonderful collection of episodes. Agreeably ridiculous, with a surprisingly addictive and complex storyline skillfully threading the various nutty situations. Not rated. Running time: 3:20. Suggested retail price: $24.98; Blu-ray $31.97.
NEW TO BLU-RAY
“THE VISITOR,” Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford. Truly insane Italian genre mash-up from 1979 boasts an incredible cast (which also includes John Huston, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen and even director Sam Peckinpah) and a mind-boggling plot involving a telekinetic little girl (Paige Conner) and her trusty attack hawk. A midnight movie done no justice by a mere synopsis; it really must be seen to be believed. Special features include an interview with co-star Lance Henriksen. Not rated. Running time: 1:48. Suggested retail price: $29.99.
“GIRL RISING,” documentary. If you don’t mind being put through the proverbial wringer, this alternately devastating and uplifting doc from filmmaker Richard Robbins (“Operation Homecoming”) profiles nine young women across the globe, particularly in areas where education for women is not considered a priority. Faced with arranged marriages, rape, child slavery and all manner of tragic injustice, the girls in question rise above their desperate situations and become empowered through education. Narrated in turn by Cate Blanchett, Selena Gomez and Salma Hayek, among others, “Girl Rising” bears a vital message that deserves to be seen by a far wider audience. Not rated. Running time: 1:43. Suggested retail price: $29.99.
“HOURS,” Paul Walker, Genesis Rodriguez. The late Paul Walker will be remembered more for his expertise as the stoic, ready-for-anything action hero, but it’s fortunate that he was able to complete “Hours” before his untimely death, as it hints at a deeper, contemplative quality rarely allowed to bloom in the course of his typical output. Portraying Nolan, about to become a father at the wrong time in the wrong place: New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina hits. Forced to remain in an evacuated hospital to ensure that an incubator remains functional and keeps his newborn alive, with all manner of hell breaking loose outside, Nolan finds himself in possibly the most stressful situation imaginable, and Walker ably conveys this, carrying the entire film on his shoulders and overcoming some occasionally uninspired dialogue. A bittersweet hint at a promising future in hard-hitting drama, “Hours” is a moving swan song for an underrated performer. Rated PG-13. Running time: 1:37. Suggested retail price: $19.99.
– Courtesy of Videoport