This week, 24 Frames introduces a feature new to the blog, highlighting some of the most interesting titles available on Video on Demand or on DVD and Blu-ray. Look for the column on Tuesdays.
Available on VOD beginning May 4
Guy de Maupassant’s novel has been adapted for the screen before (most memorably in 1947, with George Sanders and Angela Lansbury), but for their new version, directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod take advantage of some of the freedoms of modern moviemaking, making sure that De Maupassant’s tale of a social-climbing rake has plenty of sex and straight talk. Robert Pattinson plays the rake in question, who takes a job as a newspaper columnist in 1890s France and advances in his career thanks to his relationships with three aristocratic women (played by Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci). The film isn’t as artful and sophisticated as the similar “Dangerous Liaisons” -- and it’s better at light drawing-room machinations than heavier political and romantic drama -- but this new “Bel Ami” is remarkably assured as it depicts how a man with no discernible skills works his way up from whorehouses to elegant estates simply because he’s handsome. (The film opens in Los Angeles theaters June 8.)
'George Harrison: Living in the Material World'
Hip-O/Universal, $24.98; Blu-ray, $24.98/$99.99
What keeps Martin Scorsese’s “Living in the Material World” from being just another Beatles-championing documentary is that it focuses specifically on guitarist George Harrison’s warring impulses: He was a spiritual, caring person who tried to make other people feel loved, and he was a brutally honest, self-centered man who succumbed to his carnal desires and hoarded money. (Harrison did write “Taxman,” after all.) “Living in the Material World” is divided in two, with the first half dedicated to Harrison’s stint with the Beatles, and the second half covering his explorations into religion as a solo artist. But both halves are really the same story: about a man who strove to be humble, while also grumbling that he was under-appreciated. The documentary is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and in a deluxe set that includes a book of photographs and a CD containing early takes of 10 Harrison favorites.
Lionsgate, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99
Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs return to the fast-paced, existential revenge-thriller mode of their 1999 film “The Limey” with “Haywire,” which stars real-life mixed martial arts specialist Gina Carano as a black-ops secret agent trying to track down and assassinate her handlers before they do the same to her. “Haywire” jumps back and forth in time and location and is packed with appearances by such actors as Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum and Ewan McGregor. But the story feels like an afterthought, and Soderbergh’s guerrilla filmmaking style at times makes “Haywire” resemble cheap, straight-to-video product. Still, Dobbs’ snappy dialogue and Soderbergh’s eye for the unusual go a long way. Some will appreciate that “Haywire” is a “pure” action flick: all kicks, little waste. The DVD and Blu-ray add two short featurettes. Available on VOD on May 1.
Starz/Anchor Bay, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99
Say this for Madonna: She doesn’t lack for ambition. For her second film as a director (after the very strange “Filth and Wisdom”), the multi-platinum pop singer and her co-screenwriter, Alek Keshishian, attempt to tell the story of King Edward VIII’s choice to abdicate the throne to pursue a love affair with American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Madonna and Keshishian employ a framing device that has a modern-day woman (Abbie Cornish) discovering that the reality of the renowned romance doesn’t match up with her fantasy version. But Madonna fails to convey her own fascination with Edward and Wallis, outside of some vague personal connection to the details of worldwide fame and pervasive dissatisfaction. Mostly, she seems to have made a movie that has a lot on its mind and no coherent way to express it. The DVD and Blu-ray come with a making-of featurette. Available on VOD on May 1
-- Noel Murray
Photo: Uma Thurman and Robert Pattinson in "Bel Ami." Credit: Magnolia Pictures.