Artful, complex 'Olive Kitteridge' builds on beautiful vignettes

HBO's newly released 'Olive Kitteridge' builds beautifully on artful vignettes over four very fast hours

Olive Kitteridge

HBO, $39.98; Blu-ray, $49.99

Though hardly the splashiest HBO production of recent years, this miniseries is the best kind of prestige television: artful, complex and quietly ambitious. Spanning several decades in the life of a prickly New England schoolteacher (played by Frances McDormand), “Olive Kitteridge” follows the lead of the Elizabeth Strout novel that screenwriter Jane Anderson and director Lisa Cholodenko adapted, building a larger story out of beautifully constructed vignettes. As McDormand’s Olive snarls at the neighbors, embarrasses her son and retreats into her own loneliness, the character gradually starts to seem less abrasive and more human. She’s funny, opinionated and ultimately — poignantly — regretful. It’s a brilliant turn from McDormand in a four-hour movie that zips by too quickly.


Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

Available on VOD Tuesday

Jake Gyllenhaal gives an electrifying performance in writer-director Dan Gilroy’s Oscar-nominated film, playing an amoral videographer named Lou Bloom who prowls Los Angeles, looking for crime scenes and car wrecks that he can record for the local news. Rene Russo plays the desperate TV producer who helps bankroll Bloom even though she can tell right away that he’s a dangerous creep who’s cobbled together his philosophy of life and his line of patter from self-help websites. As Bloom crosses more and more ethical lines, “Nightcrawler” becomes both a commentary on “it bleeds it leads” journalism and an outstanding neo-noir, making the city look like a steamy hell where a social misfit like Lou can thrive. Gilroy adds a commentary track to the DVD and Blu-ray, which also include a featurette.


Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

“The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart makes a fine feature-filmmaking debut, based on journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir about spending more than 100 days in an Iranian prison. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Bahari, an Iranian-born Newsweek reporter who returned home in 2009 to cover the presidential election and was accused of being a spy — in part because he was documenting a subculture of young reformers and in part because of a “Daily Show” interview he did. Bernal and Stewart both employ a relatively light touch throughout “Rosewater” to make a grim story of psychological torture endurable. The film also integrates news footage, serving as a complicated portrait of modern Iran. The DVD and Blu-ray covers more of what happened to Bahari via a fascinating set of featurettes.

Force Majeure

Magnolia, $26.98; Blu-ray, $29.98

One of the most popular foreign-language films of the last year, Ruben Östlund wrings dry social satire from domestic melodrama. Johannes Kuhnke plays a handsome, successful family man who takes his wife and kids on a ski vacation and then disappoints them by behaving like a coward during a crisis at the chalet. Östlund’s part of the world cinema school that favors long, static takes and deliberate pacing, but the writer-director is also a savvy student of human behavior, and in “Force Majeure” he explores the tensions boiling beneath the surface of a seemingly happy couple via scenes where seemingly innocuous conversations develop into passive-aggressive arguments about trust. The result is a movie that’s alternately gripping and funny, and one that asks the audience what they would do in a similar situation. The DVD and Blu-ray adds an interview with Östlund.


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Walt Disney/Buena Vista, $29.99; Blu-ray, $36.99

Kill the Messenger

Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98


Lionsgate, $19.98; Blu-ray, $24.99

Available on VOD Tuesday


Sony, $26.99; Blu-ray, $30.99

Stray Dogs

The Cinema Guild, $29.95; Blu-ray, $34.95

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