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New releases: 'Son of Saul,' 'Phoenix,' the Kennedy films of Robert Drew & Associates and 'River of Grass'

New releases: 'Son of Saul,' 'Phoenix,' the Kennedy films of Robert Drew & Associates and 'River of Grass'
Géza Röhrig as Saul in "Son of Saul." (Sony Pictures Classics)

Son of Saul

Sony, $30.99; Blu-ray, $34.99

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Available on VOD on Tuesday

Given the Oscars' historical preference for Holocaust dramas, it wasn't exactly an upset when Lászlo Nemes' Auschwitz-set film won the foreign language prize this year. Still, this is a different kind of movie about a concentration camp. It's a nail-biting suspense picture, following a Hungarian Jew who takes advantage of his position of responsibility within the prison to complete a risky, highly personal mission. Géza Röhrig plays Saul, who believes he's found the body of his child and arranges with his fellow prisoners to give the boy a proper ritual burial. Nemes holds tight on his hero throughout, ratcheting up the tension, while never letting the audience forget that this is merely a symbolic gesture. The result is a movie that's tense, mournful and ultimately devastating. The DVD and Blu-ray come with a commentary track and an extensive interview.

Phoenix

Criterion, $29.95; Blu-ray $39.95

A truly original re-imagining of the Alfred Hitchcock "Vertigo" plot, the melancholy German drama stars Nina Hoss as a concentration camp survivor with a reconstructed face who comes back to Berlin and gets involved in an insurance scam run by her ex-husband — who doesn't recognize her and asks her to pose as herself. Ronald Zehrfeld plays the ex, who takes the woman he betrayed to the Nazis and fusses with her look and demeanor, trying to remake her into the woman he always imagined her to be. Writer-director Christian Petzold savors the ironies of the story and builds in a few anxious sequences — including the powerhouse ending. But mostly he explores how a woman tries to come to grips with her hard past by reenacting it. The Criterion DVD and Blu-ray editions add an interview and a behind-the-scenes documentary.

The Kennedy films of Robert Drew & Associates

Criterion, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.95

Journalist Robert Drew helped invent a new kind of filmmaking with his 1960 short "Primary," which takes a rare, intimate look inside the presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. This "direct cinema" approach would inspire other young artists — including Drew's assistants Albert Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker — and become an immediate influence on American fiction and nonfiction movies alike. After "Primary," Drew went on to document the Kennedy administration in "Adventures on the New Frontier" (about JFK's inauguration and early days in office), "Crisis" (a glimpse inside the White House during the integration of the University of Alabama), and "Faces of November" (a poetic look at the nation's reactions to the president's assassination). These aren't just historically important films, they're also absolutely riveting. The Criterion DVD and Blu-ray sets include interviews, outtakes, bonus documentaries and alternate cuts.

River of Grass

Oscilloscope, $34.99; Blu-ray, $39.99

American independent filmmaker Kelly Reichardt made her feature debut with this modest-but-powerful story of a depressed Florida housewife who desperately needs to leave town but doesn't have the funds. After wowing crowds at Sundance in 1995, the film largely fell out of circulation and into disrepair before Oscilloscope crowd-sourced the funds for a digital restoration, which makes it look more luminous than ever — like a sun-dappled portrait of everyday angst. Now, the company is putting this landmark picture on DVD and Blu-ray, in handsome editions that add a commentary track by Reichardt and her producer-star Larry Fessenden.

And…

Dirty Grandpa

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Lionsgate, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99

Jane Got a Gun

Starz/Anchor Bay, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.99

Available on VOD on Tuesday

Krampus

Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

Available on VOD on Tuesday

Ride Along 2

Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98

Available on VOD on Tuesday

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