“Valerie and her Week of Wonders” (1970, Second Run DVD) With the onset of her first period, certain notions (or hallucinations) are revealed to young Czech Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerova), including the possibility that the young man she fancies may be her brother, her grandmother is a vampire (and also maybe her cousin), and a monstrous figure known at various times as Richard, the Constable, and the Weasel, might also be her father. Striking color and visuals inform this extended parable about the transition from adolescence to adulthood by Czech director Jaromil Jires; the story defies any linear interpretation, but Jires’s freeform imagery and direction – equal parts lyrical and lysergic – suggest a feverish hybrid of fairy tale, Freudian analysis, grindhouse chiller and Expressionistic art. Second Run’s Special Edition Blu-ray features a HD master from original materials and three short films by Jires, commentary by, among others, Kat Ellinger, an interview with Schallerova, and liner notes by Peter Hames.
“Vivarium” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) SOs Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots discover that the development they’ve scoped out for potential cohabitation is not only impossible to escape, but comes with a strange child that matures at an alarming rate into something other than human. Commitment phobia manifested as paranoia, this indie drama about confinement and monstrous children might not be your first choice for the evening’s entertainment at this moment in time, and poses far more questions than it answers, but it does feature excellent performances by the leads and Jonathan Aris as their not-quite-right realtor, and an atmosphere of icy disquiet that blooms frequently into a full-blown case of the creeps. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes commentary by director Lorcan Finnegan and a making-of doc.
“When the Wind Blows” (1986, Severin Kids) Optimism, boundless faith in the British way of life and World War II-style preparations prove useless in protecting an elderly couple (voiced by Sir John Mills and Dame Peggy Ashcroft) from the horrors of nuclear war. Again, the current global situation may not make this animated feature, directed by Jimmy T. Murakami (“Free to Be… You and Me”) and written by Raymond Briggs (who adapted his own graphic novel), anyone’s go-to for Movie Night, but it’s remarkably poignant from both a performance and visual standpoint, and delivers its message without histrionics or shock value. Roger Waters performs the soundtrack, which also features songs by David Bowie, Genesis and the Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell; Severin’s Blu-ray includes a feature-length documentary about the late Murakami’s childhood in a Japanese internment camp (at Tule Lake); Murakami and Briggs are also featured in a making-of featurette, while assistant editor Joe Fordham details production on a commentary track. A 1975 animated short made for English citizens in the event of a real nuclear war and an isolated music effects track round out the disc.
“Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles” (2018, Shout! Factory/GKids) Stung by the uproar over his scathing class satire “L’age d’Or,” filmmaker Luis Buñuel decides to up his provocateur game with “Land Without Bread,” a documentary about extreme poverty in rural Spain, but finds that his blend of fact and fiction may not be the best means to tell the story of the region and its people. Animation proves to be the perfect medium for director Salvador Simo to detail the extremes of his story on both the physical plane (the dire circumstances of the people in Las Hurdes and Buñuel’s attempt to manipulate them) and in the metaphysical world (Buñuel’s unsettling dreams about his childhood). Gruesome images of animal cruelty from “Bread” make this inappropriate for younger viewers who might benefit from the core message of artistic and emotional maturity, but older animation devotees will appreciate its adventurous scope and painterly visuals. Shout’s Blu-ray includes an interview with Simo and a feature-length documentary which details the town and residents of Las Hurdas after Buñuel’s visit.
“BraveStorm” (2017, GVN Releasing) Two families – both survivors of an alien-fueled extermination event in 2050 – travel through time to help their grandfather complete work on a colossal robot that could turn the tide in humanity’s favor. Mecha thrills from former Tsuburaya VP Junya Okabe, who adapted two ’70s-era tokusatsu series (“Silver Kamen” and the wonderful “Super Robot Red Baron“) for this sci-fi actioner. The plot is hopelessly convoluted, and those who appreciate suitmation FX may be disappointed to see Red Baron and his opponent, Black Baron, rendered in CGI, but the city-wrecking mayhem is Saturday-morning satisfying, and may even please younger kids (though their parents should know that the language and violence is probably close to PG-13); GVN’s widescreen DVD offers a visual FX breakdown (good) and English-dubbed audio (bad).
And: if Japanese monster brawls are (or could be) your chosen comfort viewing for this extended shutdown, the fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment have a staggering amount of TV series and movies from the long-running and voluminous Ultraman franchise to feed that need. Stand-alone features for “Ultraman Orb,” “Ultraman Geed,” and “Ultraman X” – each an iteration of the extraterrestrial defender of Earth created by Eiji Tsuburaya – are offered on Blu-ray and digital download; all feature a mix of traditional suitmation and CGI, which may be the best way for younger or newer viewers to appreciate the Ultra-aesthetic. Ultraman Geed stars in his stand-alone adventure, “Connect the Wishes,” but Orb is showcased in a movie (“Let Me Borrow the Power of Bonds!“), a prequel series, appropriately titled “The Origins Saga,” and a follow-up miniseries, “Ultra Fight Orb,” while X has both a movie – “Here He Comes! Our Ultraman,” released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ultra series – and a series.All three are featured as separate discs combo packages with subtitled Japanese language audio; no extras, but the sheer number of episodes and features should help the monster-suit faithful and curious while away the anxious hours in Ultra style.