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New video: ‘Searching’ uses webcam to create a one-of-a-kind mystery

New video: ‘Searching’ uses webcam to create a one-of-a-kind mystery
Director/writer Aneesh Chaganty and John Cho on the set of Screen Gems' "Searching." (Elizabeth Kitchens)

New on Blu-ray

“Searching” (Sony DVD, $30.99; Blu-ray, $34.99; also available on VOD)

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Aneesh Chaganty isn’t the first director to use webcams as a storytelling tool, but his hit thriller (co-written with Sev Ohanian) does more with the concept than just cleverly try to limit what we see on the screen to whatever the characters find on their computers or cellphones. As worried father David Kim (played by John Cho) uses every online resource at his disposal to find his daughter — with the help of a cop (Debra Messing), with whom he’s in frequent contact — “Searching” taps into one of the common anxieties of modern life, where access to a plethora of information only heightens our awareness of what we can’t ever really know. The gimmicky presentation works well with the film's tense missing-persons plot and Cho’s excellent lead performance, creating a one-of-a kind mystery in which the hero is stymied by an overabundance of clues.

Special features: A commentary track and featurettes

VOD

“Happy as Lazzaro” (available Nov. 30 on Netflix)

Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher follows up her dreamy 2014 rural drama “The Wonders” with this similarly low-key slice of life — at least for its first hour. Set on a remote farm populated by peasants who work for nothing, “Happy as Lazzaro” stars Adriano Tardiolo as the title character, a kindly but dim young man who gets routinely exploited by his peers. In the second half, the hero’s well-meaning bumbling leads to a drastic change in the workers’ circumstances, for better and worse. Soft and subtle, Rohrwacher’s latest film is ripe with symbolism and metaphors as it examines a society fueled by inequity.

TV set of the week

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” (Acorn DVD, $39.99)

Natalie Dormer in "Picnic at Hanging Rock."
Natalie Dormer in "Picnic at Hanging Rock." (Amazon)

In Joan Lindsay’s bestselling 1967 novel “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” a group of Australian boarding-school girls mysteriously disappear during an outing, throwing the surrounding community into a tizzy. The book was adapted into a 1975 movie by Peter Weir, who played up the story’s haunting ambiguities. The terrific new six-part TV miniseries — starring Natalie Dormer as a stressed-out headmistress — is more focused on the novel’s detailed sense of place, illustrating how even an institution founded to promote civility can be torn apart by tragedy and mistrust.

Special features: A trio of substantial featurettes

From the archives

“Philadelphia: 25th Anniversary Edition” (Sony Blu-ray/4K combo, $30.99)

There are a few elements in the Oscar-winning 1993 social drama that don’t play as well in 2018 — in particular director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner’s excessive concern with making their homosexual protagonist more palatable to middle Americans by downplaying the hero’s actual sex life. For the most part though, this story of a gay lawyer and AIDS patient (played by Tom Hanks), who hires a homophobic colleague (Denzel Washington) after his firm fires him, is still effective as a melodrama and even better as a snapshot of these character’s lives and times. The late Demme was a master at finding people and places that had rarely been on film before, and using them to give even the most contrived plots the ring of truth.

Special features: Deleted scenes, commentary track, new and old featurettes

Three more to see

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“The Little Stranger” (Universal DVD, $24.98; Blu-ray, $29.98; also available on VOD); “Sharp Objects” (HBO DVD, $49.99; Blu-ray, $59.99; also available on VOD); “What Keeps You Alive” (Shout! Factory/IFC Midnight DVD, $16.97; Blu-ray, $22.97)

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