Editor's note: "Bonus Materials," a new column by Glenn McDonald, highlights new movie and TV releases on DVD, digital download and streaming services. After its debut here in print, the column continues every other week on our Arts blog.
The experience of watching a movie is changing rapidly. For 70 years or so, there was exactly one way to see a film—going to a cinema and sitting in the dark with a room full of people.
Television changed that, as did a series of home video options—VHS, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray—that gradually ushered movies into the living room. You still sat in the dark, but there were fewer people around you, and you knew them. Ideally.
Fast-moving changes in digital distribution are altering the landscape again. These days, when a new movie enters the home-entertainment market—after rotating out of theaters or, increasingly, at the same time as the theatrical release—you have a bewildering variety of options, which frequently include additional materials not found in the cinema.
Besides renting or buying a physical DVD or Blu-ray disc, you can download a digital copy online, stream the movie via subscription services such as Netflix or get video-on-demand through your cable provider or videogame console. You can watch on your living room TV, your laptop or an ever-growing menagerie of portable devices, from tablets to phones.
Then, of course, there's the matter of selection. Every week, dozens of new titles come to DVD, Blu-ray and the digital marketplace: not just new movies, but reissues of old ones, TV series collections, independent films, documentaries and foreign films.
The technology may be changing, but the essential appeal of movie night at home remains. You just have to find the right movie. With this column, I hope to cut through some of the noise and recommend the best titles, online and on disc, for the discerning movie-night enthusiast. On any week, the best movie on home video is seldom the wide-release blockbuster—although sometimes, it is.
This week's recommendation is a typical sleeper pick, though—the kind of film that usually finds its audience a few months after release, in the living room. The delightful U.K. import LE WEEK-END played here for about a week last April, but like so many good "art house" titles, it quickly faded from the big screen. The good news is that you can now get it online, pretty much instantly, or on DVD/Blu-ray with a nice collection of bonus materials.
Starring Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, Le Week-End tells the story of a middle-class British couple celebrating their 30th anniversary with a trip to Paris. It's full of big laughs and subtle observations.
Broadbent plays Nick Burrows, a college professor who tends toward anxiety about aging, money, work—pretty much everything. Duncan is Meg Burrows, Nick's wife, a more free-spirited sort who hopes to recapture a bit of youth by touring the City of Lights once more.
Naturally, nothing goes as planned, and the comedic "bad vacation" business builds. What's interesting is how the movie's many funny moments plunge abruptly into an intimate darkness before coming back up again. Married 30 years, these two know how to hurt each other. Jokes about sex are still tossed about, even though they stopped being jokes long ago.
Broadbent is such an international treasure that he should be funded by the IMF. He's never less than likeable here, while Duncan carries the film's trickier scenes. She gives a fierce performance and isn't afraid to explore the idea that familiarity sometimes breeds cruelty.
Jeff Goldblum drops in about halfway though as an old American friend who has also retreated to Paris, for different reasons. Goldblum's crazy rhythms—he's a jazz soloist of dialogue—add another lovely layer to the story.
Le Week-End is the latest collaboration between director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and writer Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette). It dodges and weaves among the conventions of romantic comedy and drama, but refuses to behave. It's a movie for grown-ups, by grown-ups—and the ending is just about perfect.
Le Week-End is now widely available on disc and digital services such as iTunes and Amazon. Extras on the DVD and Blu-ray editions include audio commentary from Michell, an illustration gallery and some behind-the-scenes material. And if you're one of the few Triangle residents who actually caught it in theaters, there are still plenty of fresh options for you this week.
In my possibly obsessive opinion, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the great screen comediennes of all time, and we're lucky to be witnessing her in her prime. The third season of her very funny HBO series VEEP recently got an early release in Digital HD format, with exclusive bonus materials available online (and for free). A full DVD/BR set will be released later this year.
Lars von Trier's controversial two-film set, NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME I AND II, features some of the most graphic onscreen sexuality ever seen in a non-porn feature film. Extras include behind-the-scenes feature The Characters, The Director, The Sex.
The found-footage horror film AFFLICTED takes a new approach to some very old vampire story ideas, and has won several awards on the indie film fest circuit.
AFTERNOON OF A FAUN: TANAQUIL LE CLERCQ—the latest from Durham filmmaker Nancy Buirski, founder of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival—has been released on DVD and in digital format.
Too much good stuff—that's the problem. But if you're a lover of great movies and top-tier TV, it's a glorious time to watch, even if you have to give up things like daylight and muscle tone. Call it the Golden Age of Sitting on the Couch.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Bonus materials."