New on Blu-ray:
“Aferim!” (Big World DVD, $29.95; Blu-ray, $34.95)
One of the best-reviewed films of 2016, the black-and-white Romanian road picture “Aferim!” takes an unusual approach to a harsh bit of Eastern European history. Set in 1835, the story follows a foul-mouthed lawman as he rides through the countryside with his son, tracking a fugitive slave. Writer-director Radu Jude borrows from American westerns and deadpan buddy comedies as a way of exploring the continent’s centuries-old legacy of racism and violence. He keeps the camera moving along at the pace of a horse’s trot, following his opinionated lead characters as they roam through sun-dappled forests, interrogating the eclectic citizenry. Throughout the long conversations about the state of the world, Jude hits his points about the persistence of bigotry a little too hard. Still, “Aferim!” is the rare political film that’s also often very funny — and pretty to look at.
[Special features: Jude’s Sundance-winning 2006 short, “The Tube with a Hat”]
“The Story of Film: An Odyssey” (available on Hulu July 1)
For those who missed Mark Cousins’ enlightening, challenging and at times infuriating “The Story of Film” when it aired on TCM a couple of years ago, Hulu now has the U.S. streaming rights. The 15-hour series spans the globe to cover the history of cinema, from early 19th century experiments to the digital era. Cousins offers a solid introduction to techniques, style and trends, crafting a docu-essay that is useful to neophytes and a good refresher even for scholars. The twist is that Cousins avoids the traditional canon, instead talking in his distinctive Northern Irish cadence about filmmakers often ignored by American and British critics. So while the lessons are much the same as in any college course, the examples are much fresher.
“Vera: Set 6” (Acorn DVD, $59.99)/“Vera: Set 1-5 Collection” (Acorn DVD, $149.99)
Since 2011, acclaimed British actress Brenda Blethyn has been appearing four times a year on ITV as Det. Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope: a crafty, brash cop who’s the heroine of sophisticated movie-length mysteries. In conjunction with the DVD release of the sixth four-episode “Vera” cycle, Acorn has assembled a bargain-priced box set of the first five series, enabling fans of British TV and smart detective shows to watch the complete run to date of a procedural that compares well to the likes of “Columbo” and “Cracker.”
[Special features: None, though the box set does include text interviews]
From the archives
“Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan” (Arrow DVD, $14.95; Blu-ray, $19.95)
Although stop-motion animator and special-effects innovator Ray Harryhausen is responsible for some of the most stunningly imagined special effects sequences in cinema history, the actual movies he worked on tend to be pretty hit-and-miss. That’s one good reason to watch the documentary “Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan,” which strings together some of the man’s best set pieces, along with rarely seen tests and experiments. An even better reason to watch is for the insights from the likes of Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Terry Gilliam and Steven Spielberg, who speak eloquently about how even with their state-of-the-art technology, they can’t match what Harryhausen could do with just a few crude tools.
[Special features: A commentary track, bonus footage, and extended interviews]
Three more to see
“Eye in the Sky” (Universal DVD, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98; also available on VOD); “Francofonia” (Music Box DVD, $29.95; Blu-ray, $34.95; also available on VOD); “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (Paramount DVD, $29.99; Blu-ray, $39.99; also available on VOD)