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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: July 17, 2014

Starting this week, we're enhancing our "Streaming Consumer Guide" with highlights of the best Blu-ray releases of the last few weeks as well. For some Blu-ray titles, we'll expand them out into full features, like we recently did with Criterion's "A Hard Day's Night" and Warner's "Alexander," but stay tuned to this bi-weekly feature for the best of the rest. And, this week, we mean THE BEST. It's an incredible month for Blu-ray new releases with several of the best films of 2014 to date making their HD debuts. It's also a remarkable week for Netflix and On Demand titles. To be honest, as much as this is somewhat painful to admit, this is a better weekend to stay home than to go to the multiplex. The big movies this weekend? Two sequels no one really asked for--"The Purge: Anarchy" & "Planes: Fire & Rescue" and a comedy called "Sex Tape" that we're hearing forgot to include jokes or real characters. At home, you could watch new films from Ari Folman & Bong Joon-ho through VOD, check out Paul Thomas Anderson and James Gray's latest through Netflix, and rent the latest from Lars von Trier, Roger Michell, and Jonathan Glazer on Blu-ray. Whoa.

TEN INTERESTING FILMS NEW TO NETFLIX

Let's start with the most popular streaming service. The latest waves of new releases to Netflix haven't been that extensive but they've been interesting, especially as they've been adding films not available on Blu-ray yet like James Gray's "The Immigrant" and the documentary "The Battered Bastards of Baseball."

"13 Sins"
"The Act of Killing: The Director's Cut"
"Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa"
"The Battered Bastards of Baseball"
"Black Rock"
"I Am Divine"
"The Immigrant"
"Manhunter"
"The Master"
"Out of the Furnace"

THREE NEW TO ON DEMAND (all available now)

Is the story of 2014 the development in On Demand programming? It could be. "Blue Ruin" reportedly set On Demand outlets like iTunes on fire. "Life Itself" is currently, while you read this, being watched all over the country in markets in which it would not be available without On Demand. And when you have major arthouse cinema voices like Ari Folman and Bong Joon-ho watching their films become available through services like Vudu and Amazon Streaming, it really feels like everything is about to change. Here are trailers for the three most interesting new On Demand releases since our last Guide (and click here to see how you can watch "Life Itself" through VOD if you haven't done so yet...or want to again.)

"The Congress"

"Particle Fever"

"Snowpiercer"

FOUR NOTABLE NEW BLU-RAY RELEASES

Welcome to our new section, in which we'll highlight a few of the most interesting Blu-ray and DVD releases of the last two weeks, with links to our reviews of the theatrical releases and links to buy them on Amazon. As we like to do, our first batch has a little something for everyone.

"Le Week-end"

Roger Michell's dramedy about a married couple (Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan) assessing the state of their marriage on a 30th anniversary trip to Paris works best in its smallest moments. Broadbent and Duncan are such confident performers that they emobdy their characters, finding the truth in glances, hands being held, icey stares, etc. This is a complex film about how marriage often allows love and hate to exist in the same moment. These two well-defined characters carry the baggage of resentment but do so together. The film falls apart a bit for me when plot intrudes, embodied by a supporting role by Jeff Goldblum, but when Michell allows his two talented stars to just define these two characters in the city of lights, it feels remarkably real. The Blu-ray is nicely transferred--Music Box Films has had quite a year already with "Ida," "The Last Sentence," and "A Coffee in Berlin," so it's nice to know that these arthouse films that deserve a wider audience are being treated well. Buy it here.

"Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1" & "Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2"

Great movies, crap release. Lionsgate takes the easy route with Lars Von Trier's latest sex opus, releasing both films on one disc for a low price, which is admittedly nice given how much it will bring these works to a wider audience, but it will do almost nothing for those who are big fans of the films already. Where is the European cut? Why on Earth are we not being given the full version of a two-part film? Can we blame Quentin Tarantino for this? (He notoriously promised a full "Kill Bill" on Blu-ray someday and I'm still looking at the two separate volumes on my shelf.) Don't waste time. Get a "Nymphomaniac" (no volumes) on Blu-ray before the end of the year. Until then, appreciate another fascinating work from one of our most consistently engaging filmmakers. I particularly like the first volume, which is LVT's most playful filmmaking in a decade. Buy it here.

"The Raid 2"

Gareth Evans took his precise setting for "The Raid: Redemption" and blew it up for the sequel, a superior action film in every way. More ambitious, more accomplished, and just more fun, "The Raid 2" is the best action film of the year to date. Yes, it's bloated and pretentious but Evans justifies both of those facts by providing what is so often missing from these pieces--breakthrough, breathtaking action sequences. The sixth-best action sequence in "The Raid 2" justifies a rental. The best few justify a purchase. And Sony delivers for fans with a stellar transfer that really allows Evans' underrated sense of composition to pop. It's a blast. Buy it here.

"Under the Skin"

My choice for the best film of 2014 to date is already on Blu-ray. Jonathan Glazer's mesmerizing sci-fi/horror/drama/whatever is such a unique experience and a master class in visual storytelling. I'm not sure there's a single necessary line of actual dialogue in "Under the Skin." It's a visual experience, which makes it a perfect fit for HD. Lionsgate/A24 do a reasonable job with the transfer but I remember a crisper image in the screening room and the sound design here is remarkable enough that it demands a great stereo system. Turned up loud. Special features are kind of scant but they focus on the production in a depth we often don't see on new release Blu-rays. Location scouting, editing, sound design, etc. are given more time than usual, which should be nice for fans wondering how a masterwork as unique as this film gets made. Buy it here.

BEST OF THE REST

There's little of interest in the New Releases section of Hulu except perhaps "Tell No One" and "Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever" (which is better than the first and should prepare you for the upcoming "Cabin Fever: Patient Zero" if you need such a thing). There's a bit more to watch on Amazon Instant Streaming, including "Chocolat," "The Boy with the Striped Pajamas," "Shall We Dance," and "Patton." Who has time, right? Get to work.

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