New releases: 'Damsels in Distress' is singularly funny

Damsels in Distress

Sony, $30.99; Blu-ray, $35.99

Available on VOD beginning Sept. 25

Writer-director Whit Stillman's first film since 1998's "The Last Days of Disco" is a loopy campus comedy, starring Greta Gerwig as an idealistic upperclassman who leads a group of young women with strict rules about dating and cleanliness. Even those who've enjoyed the arch language and intricate social tribalism of Stillman's "Metropolitan" and "Barcelona" might be put off by the cartoony absurdism here. But for those who appreciate originality, this is one singularly funny movie, full of color, music, dancing — and some sharp insight into how college kids struggle to define themselves. Stillman and his cast provide a commentary track to the DVD and Blu-ray, which also include a trio of featurettes.

The Avengers

Walt Disney/Buena Vista, $29.99; Blu-ray, $39.99/$49.99

Available on VOD beginning Sept. 25

Marvel's name might be above the title, but fans know the year's biggest blockbuster is mostly the work of writer-director Joss Whedon, who now joins Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker capable of giving a massive superhero franchise an auteur stamp. In this case, Whedon takes a mammoth story about Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow teaming to thwart an alien invasion and emphasizes the team dynamics, giving these heroes (and, more importantly, the actors playing them) a chance to be funny and complicated. But Whedon doesn't shortchange the action either; the final battle royale is one of the best ever of its kind, at once thrilling, surprising and still rooted in character. The DVD and Blu-ray are loaded with extras, including a Whedon commentary, featurettes and deleted scenes.

Gerhard Richter Painting

Kino Lorber, $29.95; Blu-ray, $34.95

Corinna Belz's documentary is more or less exactly as advertised: scene after scene of the famed artist smearing canvases with layers of paint. Belz follows the creation of some of Richter's artworks from start to finish and intersperses that footage with old interviews and shots of him prepping for an upcoming show. The biographical information is too sparse, and Richter ducks questions about process and meaning, which can be frustrating. But as a document of the sheer physical labor that goes into covering a giant canvas with color, "Gerhard Richter Painting" is never less than absorbing, and revealing about how art emerges from what looks like muck. The DVD and Blu-ray add some additional interviews and footage.

How to Survive a Plague

Available on VOD beginning Sept. 28

The tragedy of the AIDS epidemic had the ironic effect of advancing the cause of gay rights, as activists rose up and petitioned the government and the public to recognize them as human beings. David France's powerful documentary gathers archival video footage of the group ACT UP, a scrappy but focused band of agitators who fought with the press, politicians and the medical community to make sure that AIDS stayed on everyone's minds, and that the health concerns of homosexuals weren't shrugged off. The film is loose and maybe overly personal — France was a reporter who covered the AIDS story extensively — but it also has an insider's perspective on a movement that's ultimately been culturally significant beyond the world of medicine.


American Horror Story: The Complete First Season

20th Century Fox, $49.98; Blu-ray, $59.99


Image, $27.97; Blu-ray, $29.97

The Man From Beijing

Music Box, $24.95

Available on VOD beginning Sept. 25

Snowman's Land

Music Box, $24.95

Available on VOD beginning Sept. 25

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