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New on DVD & Blu-Ray: Need for Speed, Divergent, and Oculus

Plus, a faith-based drama, an Australian film currently in theaters, and some notable TV choices.

by | August 5, 2014 | Comments

Though critics weren’t particularly kind to all of the films available this week on home video, we’ve got a number of titles that cater to specific audiences, and if you’re part of one of those audiences, you should find something worthwhile here. The biggest films this week include a racing action film, a dystopian YA adaptation, a well-reviewed horror thriller, and a faith-based drama. Then we’ve got some smaller choices, including an Australian film currently playing select theaters, and some noteworthy choices on television. Read on for details:

Divergent

41%

Maybe Shailene Woodley took a cue from Jennifer Lawrence, earning rave reviews for her work in indie films like Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and last year’s The Spectacular Now before taking the lead in a young adult franchise about a dystopian future. Unfortunately, Woodley’s Divergent failed to wow the critics like Lawrence’s Hunger Games did. Based on the novel by Veronica Roth, the film is set in an alternate Chicago, where citizens are sorted into five factions based on their genetic aptitude. Woodley plays Beatrice Prior, whose serum-based test reveals she is suited to more than one of the factions, rendering her “divergent” and thrusting her into the middle of a power struggle. While critics noted that the film certainly seemed to have the ingredients of another successful franchise, they also agreed that these same ingredients made the film feel overly derivative, and the result was a lukewarm 41 percent on the Tomatometer. Special features include commentary tracks, a handful of making-of featurettes, and an exploration of the film’s factions, among other things.

Need for Speed

22%

With the Fast and Furious franchise temporarily set back by the tragic loss of star Paul Walker, Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul made an attempt to fill the void with Need for Speed, an adrenaline-fueled adaptation of the popular racing video game series. Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a mechanic and muscle car enthusiast who’s framed for manslaughter and embarks on a cross-country trek to participate in a race to clear his name. If it sounds a little hokey to you, you aren’t alone; though critics noted that stunt coordinator-turned-director Scott Waugh did some impressive work on the big setpieces, they found little in the way of story to support the spectacle and saddled the film with a 22 percent Tomatometer. If all you’re looking for is some hard driving action, in other words, you’d probably be just fine skipping to those scenes. Bonus features on the Blu-ray include a look at the mostly practical special effects in the film, an interview with Waugh about the dedication of stuntmen, outtakes and deleted scenes, and more.

Oculus

75%

Though the traditional slasher horror films may be fewer and farther between these days, haunted houses and cursed objects remain a strong presence in the genre. The latest film to take advantage of the theme is Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, an expansion of a short film he wrote and directed back in 2006. Brenton Thwaites is Tim Russell, a teen accused of murdering his parents and sent to prison for a decade, while Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan plays his sister Kaylie, who attempts to prove Tim’s innocence by investigating the history of the cursed mirror she suspects is actually responsible for the deaths. The more Kaylie digs, the more she discovers about the mirror’s past, endangering her and her brother once again. Thanks to minimal use of gore in favor of chilling atmosphere and effective head games, Oculus managed to impress critics to the tune of 74 percent; it won’t shock you out of your seat, but it might stay with you after the credits roll. Extras include deleted scenes, the original short film, an interview with Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy about expanding the film to feature length, and more.

God’s Not Dead

12%

Often, the common criticisms of faith-based films in the US are that they lack sophistication, possess little to no nuance, and exist primarily to reaffirm and reinforce ideals its target audience already holds. God’s Not Dead is unfortunately no exception. The plot follows Christian college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), who enrolls in a philosophy class taught by notorious atheist Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). When Prof. Radisson demands his students sign a statement declaring that “God is dead,” Josh takes exception, and P-Rad then insists that Josh debate him on the subject. Most critics agreed this could have been an excellent opportunity to explore a provocative topic relevant to today’s believers, but God’s Not Dead instead chose to soft-pedal the issue, present a caricaturized version of reality without a hint of irony, and consider the matter closed. Like other films of its kind, God’s Not Dead will neither convert any new followers nor challenge those who already follow. Special features include a short making-of featurette, two music videos, and a brief look at the struggles of on-campus Christian groups.

Also available this week:

  • 12 O’Clock Boys (91 percent), a Certified Fresh documentary about a young boy in Baltimore who grows increasingly enamored with a local gang of urban dirt bike riders.
  • Australian import Around the Block (57 percent), starring Christina Ricci in a drama about a trouble aboriginal student who forms a bond with a transplanted teacher as they prepare to put on a presentation of Hamlet together.
  • Ping Pong Summer (54 percent), starring Susan Sarandon and Lea Thompson in a coming-of-age film set in the 1980s about a boy obsessed with ping pong and hip-hop.
  • Anna (33 percent), starring Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga in a thriller about a telepathic detective who investigates a teenager accused of murder.
  • I’ll Follow You Down (25 percent), starring Rufus Sewell and Gillian Anderson in a sci-fi mystery about a young scientist who learns his long-missing father may have discovered time travel.
  • The Certified Fresh season five of cult favorite NBC sitcom Community (92 percent) is available on DVD.
  • Season two of Last Tango in Halifax (100 percent) is also available on DVD.
  • Season seven of Showtime’s Californication is available on DVD.

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