A French drama about Iranians in Paris, a family movie about a man building tree houses around the country, and animated features about Marvel heroes and teenage "monsters" lead an eclectic mix of new DVD and Blu-ray releases.
“The Past” (Sony Pictures Classics/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, two discs, $35.99, Blu-ray and DVD versions, in French with English subtitles, audio commentary, featurettes). Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian filmmaker who last gave us “A Separation,” conceived this complex story of lives going in directions that can’t be predicted despite being of their own making.
The film begins with a man arriving in Paris to grant a divorce to his wife so she may marry her boyfriend, but it isn’t long before we learn that secrets and lies abound. Set in a working class suburb of Paris that movies generally ignore, the story’s threads gradually unfold like a mystery.
“Gordon Family Tree” (Monarch, 2014, not rated, $24.95, audio commentary, one-minute animated short: “Hey Dad”). This family film is a Kickstarter passion project for director/composer/editor Marc Hampson and Jennica and Ryan Schwartzman, who co-wrote and co-star. Ryan Schwartzman plays an unhappy high-rolling architect from a family of celebrity overachievers. When he turns 30, he quits his job and hits the road to become the Johnny Appleseed of tree houses, building them around the country. Constant, overbearing music and needless flashy direction hinder an interesting idea. But it has its moments and gives a nice role late in the film to the ever-affable Richard Karn (TV’s “Home Improvement,” “Family Feud”).
“Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher” (Sony/Blu-ray, 2014, PG-13, two discs, $26.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; featurettes, art gallery). Animated action-oriented offshoot of Marvel’s “Avengers” focuses on the two title characters. The Punisher, recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. after interfering with a mission, teams up with Black Widow to stop a global terrorist organization called LEVIATHAN. Other Avengers show up in the final minutes, including Iron Man and Hulk. (Also on DVD, $19.99)
“Monster High: Frights, Camera, Action” (Universal/Blu-ray, 2014, not rated, $26.98, three webisodes). Feature-length Nickelodeon animated special about classic-monster-inspired teens (based on Mattel dolls). The “ghouls” head to Transylvania when Draculaura finds she’s in the running for Vampire Queen. (Also on DVD, $19.98)
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 2013; R for sex, nudity, drugs, foul language, violence; two discs, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; featurette). Despite its pedigree — five Oscar nominations (no wins), a $387 million box-office take (most of it overseas) and rave reviews (77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) — and even though I greatly admire director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio, this hyperkinetic true story, a dark satire of Wall Street, left me cold. In fact, it’s fair to say that whatever the film achieves in terms of message or art is overwhelmed by three hours of graphic onscreen debauchery. (Also on DVD, $29.98)
“Welcome to the Jungle” (Universal/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, two discs, $26.98, deleted scene, featurette). Adam Brody stars in this broad comedy as a wimp whose bullying co-worker steals his ideas. He’s also too shy to ask out a co-worker. But when the staff is compelled to attend a retreat led by a wacko former Marine (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Brody eventually has to step up and use his Boy Scout skills to save the day. Not rated but with R-level language, violence, sex and nudity. (Also on DVD, $19.98)
“The Truth About Emanuel” (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, deleted scenes, featurette, outtakes, trailer). The troubled teen of the title (Kaya Scodelario), whose mother died when she was born, lashes out at her stepmother (Frances O’Connor) and dad (Alfred Molina) until she becomes preoccupied with the ethereal single mother (Jessica Biel) that moves in next door and bears a striking resemblance to Emanuel’s own mother. Hallucinatory surrealism ensues.
“The Appearing” (Lionsgate, 2014, R for violence, $26.98, featurette). Umpteenth variation on “The Exorcist” has a small-town sheriff’s deputy (Will Wallace) and his mentally unstable wife (Emily Brooks) encountering demons. Dean Cain and Don Swayze co-star.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com