New on Blu-ray
"Café Society" (Lionsgate DVD, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99; also available on VOD)
Woody Allen probably won't ever hit his '70s and '80s highs again, but "Café Society" is one of his better later films — a wistful romance set both in Golden Age Hollywood and Prohibition-era New York. Jesse Eisenberg plays the very Allen-esque lead, an ambitious young man who takes a job in Los Angeles with his uncle, a high-powered agent played by Steve Carell. There he falls in love with both the glamour and his uncle's freethinking assistant (a marvelous Kristen Stewart); but when his dreams are dashed, he scampers back to NYC to work for his gangster brother. Allen's dialogue doesn't sparkle like it used to, but his affection for the time period is palpable, and Vittorio Storaro's cinematography brings a soft glow to a story that has some unexpectedly jagged edges.
[Special features: One brief featurette]
"King Cobra" (available 10/21)
Based on a seedy true-crime story, writer-director Justin Kelly's "King Cobra" follows a young gay porn star (played by Garrett Clayton) who becomes a modest star, then finds himself caught between rival producers (played by Christian Slater and James Franco). There's not much story here, and the film plays it a little too coy with its eroticism, playing up the shock value of its sex scenes while stopping well short of being as explicit as this kind of B-movie should be. But the actors are all terrific, and Kelly creates a rich world around his characters, emphasizing how they're all trying to live the high life without any of the respectability.
TV set of the week
"The Night Of" (HBO DVD, $49.99; Blu-ray, $59.99)
HBO delivered one of the summer's most satisfying TV obsessions with "The Night Of," an adaptation of the BBC series "Criminal Justice" that had been in the works since 2012, when the late James Gandolfini was set to star. John Turturro fills in for Gandolfini as John Stone, a scrappy, budget-priced New York defense attorney who signs on to help a Pakistani American student (played by Riz Ahmed) accused of murder. The creative team of Richard Price and Steven Zaillian — two of the business' best screenwriters — are hindered a bit by the plot contrivances of their source material. But for the most part they deliver a top-shelf urban mystery, which explores what happens to a polite, studious young man when he descends into the New York City court and prison systems, with only one underdog lawyer as a lifeline to who he used to be.
[Special features: None]
From the archives
"Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro" (Criterion DVD, $99.95; Blu-ray, $99.95)
Writer/director/producer Guillermo del Toro has become a one-man geek-friendly showbiz industry, lending his name and talents to everything from TV shows to cartoons to genre pictures of every stripe. But his reputation springs from his own imaginative, personal films, three of the best of which are collected in the new Criterion box set "Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro." "Cronos," "The Devil's Backbone," and "Pan's Labyrinth" share a common language (Spanish), and they all use creative make-up effects and a muted, melancholy mood to reinvent classic horror tropes. Del Toro puts his own twist on vampires, ghosts and extra-dimensional monsters, calling back to old Hollywood movies while crafting elaborate, pointed metaphors. His work is suitably gasp-inducing, but also comments on authoritarianism in ways that — sadly — will continue to be relevant for generations to come.
[Special features: Commentary tracks on all three films, plus deleted scenes, interviews, featurettes and a bonus Del Toro short]
Three more to see