From the Big Screen:
“Hot Pursuit” and “Unfriended.” For more information on this and other releases this week, see the Weekly Guide to Home Video Releases.
This Week’s Best Bets:
The highlight this week is a Criterion Collection anthology of films by one of the unsung mistresses of film, Agnes Varda, who was a leading force in the French New Wave with her astounding real-time drama “Cleo from 5 to 7” (1962). Varda , whose remarkable career began in the 1950s and has continued into the 21st century, produced some of her most provocative works while living on the West Coast of the United States. After temporarily relocating from France to California in the late 60s with her husband, Jacques Demy, so that he could make his first Hollywood film, Varda became entranced by the politics, youth culture, and sunshine of the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, and created documentary explorations and fictional narratives — sometimes within the same film. She returned a decade later, and made more fascinating portraits of outsiderness. Her five revealing, entertaining California films, encompassing shorts and features, are collected in this three-DVD box set, “Eclipse 43: Agnes Varda in California,” which demonstrates that Varda was as deft an artist in unfamiliar terrain as she was on her own turf. The set includes:
“Uncle Yanco” (1967) and “Black Panthers” (1968): Varda’s first California films were two short documentaries made in the San Francisco Bay Area, one personal, the other political. In “Uncle Yanco” (22 minutes), Varda tracks down a Greek emigrant relative she’s never met in Sausalito. In “Black Panthers” (29 minutes) she turns her camera on an Oakland demonstration protesting the imprisonment of activist and Black Panthers co-founder Huey P. Newton. These films chart a course from the delightful to the urgent, each in its own way revealing Varda’s curious, empathetic nature.
“Lions Love (… and Lies)” (1969): Varda goes to Los Angeles, taking New York counterculture with her. In a rented house in the sun-soaked Hollywood hills, a woman and two men — Viva, of Warhol Factory fame, and James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who created and starred in the rock musical “Hair”– delight in each others’ bodies while musing on love, stardom, and politics. They are soon joined by underground director Shirley Clarke, playing herself as well as functioning as a surrogate for Varda. “Lions Love (. . . and Lies)” (112 minutes) is a metacinematic inquiry into the alternating currents of whimsy and tragedy that typified late sixties America.
“Mur Murs” (1980) and “Documenteur” (1981): After returning to Los Angeles from France in 1979, Varda created two films, different in form and tone yet complexly interwoven. “Mur Murs” (82 minutes) is a kaleidoscopic documentary about the striking murals that decorate the city; “Documenteur” (65 minutes) is a small-scale fiction about a divorced mother and her child (played by Varda’s own son) living a quiet existence on L.A.’s margins. Taken together, these films, with their overlapping images and ideas, sketch a portrait of a metropolis at once sprawling and isolating, bursting with life and haunted by loneliness.
From TV to DVD:
International conspiracies come to the fore in “Dig: Season One” (2014), a 10-episode global thriller series featuring Golden Globe nominee Jason Isaacs and Anne Heche. When FBI agent Peter Connelly (Isaacs) investigates the murder of a beautiful American woman in Jerusalem, he soon discovers that the holiest city on earth hides an unholy secret. Now, in a race against time, Peter must stop the schemes that threaten to bring about an ancient prophecy and change the course of humanity. From the executive producers of “Homeland” and “Heroes.” From Universal … “Hell on Wheels: The Complete Fourth Season” (2014) is a four-disc set with all 13 episodes. “Hell on Wheels,” a lawless melting pot of a town that travels with and services the construction of the first intercontinental railroad, is a lavishly-produced series that underscores just how uncivilized the business of civilization can be. In Season 4 of AMC’s top-rated drama, Hell freezes over. Following the brutal winter of 1868, the railroad is at a standstill and restless workers wreak havoc on Cheyenne. Cullen Bohannon is trapped in a fort with a pregnant wife and the Swede. Thomas Durant is broke and Elam Ferguson is presumed dead. The task of uniting America by rail remains undone and the costs and consequences are rising, for everyone. The cast is headed up by Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common and Dominique McElligot. On DVD and Blu-ray from Entertainment One … “The Jeffersons: Season 8” (1981-82) is a three-disc set with 25 episodes, $24.97. Call the neighbors — George and Louise are back again for an eighth season. A groundbreaking series that mixed comedy and social commentary, “The Jeffersons” remains an all-time favorite thanks to its terrific cast (including Sherman Hemsley, Isabel Sanford, Marla Gibbs, Roxie Roker, and Franklin Cover), sharp writing, and one of the most hummable theme songs in television history. Season Eight finds everyone’s favorite dry cleaner, George, on a typical string of misadventures, including facing off with a street gang, taking charm lessons, and erecting a museum — to himself. And when a familiar face returns to the Jeffersons household, poor George may never have a moment’s peace again. From Shout! Factory … “Kendra on Top: Season 3” (2014) includes all 14 episodes of the WE TV series that follows the day-to-day life of the former “The Girls Next Door” reality show star as she balances being a wife and mother with her business ventures. From MPI Media Group … “The Knick: The Complete First Season” (2014) is a four-disc set with all 10 episodes. Modern medicine had to start somewhere. In this hit Cinemax drama series from executive producer Steven Soderbergh (who directed all 10 episodes), brilliant surgeon John Thackery (Clive Owen) pushes the boundaries of medicine, morality and race relations in 1900 at a downtown NYC hospital known as The Knick. On DVD and Blu-ray from HBO … “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – The Sixteenth Year” (2014-15) is a five-disc set with 23 episodes, from Universal … “Maude: Season 2” (1973-74) is a three-disc set with 24 episodes, $24.97. The unforgettable Bea Arthur returns to Tuckahoe for the second season of her groundbreaking sitcom created by television mastermind Norman Lear (“All In The Family,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”). Second season highlights include Maude’s husband Walter (the terrific Bill Macy) confronting his drinking problem, the departure of Maude’s housekeeper Florida (Esther Rolle, who was spun off into her own show with “Good Times”), and Maude’s eye-raising decision to get a face-lift. Also starring Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain, and Rue McClanahan (who would later re-team with Arthur on “The Golden Girls”), “Maude’s” second season proves to be every bit as smart, brash and funny as the lady herself. From Shout! Factory … This lucky thirteenth MythBusters season in the two-disc set “MythBusters Collection 13” (2012) is packed with its infamous scintillating scientific mayhem, along with a few rocket-powered surprises. With 30 years of special effects experience, Adam and Jamie will answer the craziest questions viewers can think up and then make up a few of their own! Can balloons protect you in a car crash? Does the smell of fear really exist? Can you cook lasagna in a dishwasher? And what exactly tastes like chicken? They also team up with movie director James Cameron to tackle a Titanic myth — the most requested in MythBuster history. Plus, this set includes perhaps the perfect episode ever: Explosions from A to Z, highlighting some of the show s 752 detonations and counting. From Cinedigm … “Person of Interest: The Complete Fourth Season” (2014-15) is a six-disc DVD and four-disc Blu-ray with 22 episodes from Warner … “Shark Week: Dominating the Deep” (2014) is a three-disc set with 10 episodes as the ocean explodes into a wild fury as Great Whites, Hammerheads, Whale Sharks, and others take you on a fin-gripping ride through their underwater world. Featuring “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives”, these episodes bring you more than eight hours of remarkable new insights into the lives of these magnificent, elusive creatures. From Cinedigm … “2 Broke Girls: The Complete Fourth Season” (2014-15) is three-disc set with 22 episodes, $24.98. Formats: DVD. Extras: Gag reel, unaired scenes. From Warner.