Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1
Available on VOD beginning March 6
It's hard to know how to evaluate this because Lars von Trier's two-hour character sketch is, on its own, an unfinished film, ending on a cliffhanger that suggests a change of gears for the next two hours (set to come out in a few weeks). And that's not even considering the five-hour "complete" version that won't be available stateside for a while. But at the halfway point, "Nymphomaniac" is on pace to be perhaps the essential Von Trier film, pouring all his thoughts about faith, death, lust and gender relations into the story of one sick woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who recounts her tangled sexual history over the course of one long evening while being nursed back to health by an emotionally distant scholar (Stellan Skarsgard). The first two hours of "Nymphomaniac" are explicit, funny and clearly personal, using sexual compulsion as a metaphor for everything from self-discovery to creative drive. Even half-finished, this is a major cinematic event.
12 Years a Slave
20th Century Fox, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99
Don't be put off by the "importance" of director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley's historical epic. First and foremost, this is an absorbing, emotional drama, following well-off black musician Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he's kidnapped, sold into slavery and shipped from one plantation to another in rural Louisiana. The film is a nightmarish survival tale, in which Solomon has to learn to please masters both cruel (Michael Fassbender) and kind (Benedict Cumberbatch), often at the expense of his moral code and his empathy. Yes, it's an essential piece of American history, but it's also a fully realized movie. The DVD and Blu-ray add a trio of featurettes.
Sony, $30.99; Blu-ray, $35.99
Available on VOD beginning March 4
Spike Lee's 2013 version of "Oldboy" lacks the intensity and emotional peaks of Park Chan-wook's 2003 version, but as a stand-alone film — independent of its predecessor — Lee's "Oldboy" is highly effective. Josh Brolin plays a businessman who's kidnapped and imprisoned for 20 years, then cut loose unexpectedly and set on a mission of revenge. Lee's film is as hyper-violent as Park's and shares the same sick plot twists, and although it's less inspired overall, the presence of Brolin, Samuel Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen and a batch of great character actors adds new juice to a lot of scenes. The DVD and Blu-ray contain deleted scenes and featurettes.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Lionsgate, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99
Available on VOD beginning March 7
The middle film in "The Hunger Games" trilogy improves immeasurably on the first, adding more personal drama and mythology to the saga of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a poor kid who became the champion of her people when she volunteered to participate in a violent annual competition. In "Catching Fire," Katniss finds that stardom comes with complications as she ends up in a manufactured romance and is pushed by the powers that be to collaborate with them on protecting the status quo. The more complex narrative and ethical quandaries deepen the whole "Hunger Games" scenario, as do the performances by Lawrence and her amazing supporting cast, which includes Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Director Francis Lawrence contributes a commentary track to the DVD and Blu-ray, which add deleted scenes and a feature-length making-of documentary.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times