For his first film made beyond the borders of his home country Iran, writer-director Abbas Kiarostami builds an admirable filmic obstacle course within the otherwise simple tale of a gallery owner (Juliette Binoche, who won Best Actress at Cannes last year for this role) who takes an attending art critic (William Shimell) on a walking tour of a whimsical Tuscan village. As they discuss, Before Sunrise/Sunset-style, the concepts of authenticity, romance and domesticity, Kiarostami reveals – so slowly that you almost don't notice – his French New Wave intentions, cribbing almost directly from Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (also available through Criterion) as the couple's playful husband-wife role-play eases into a semi-genuine marriage quarrel. Binoche's Elle is no easy improv partner, either. She sets the smallest, most deadly spiritual traps, lulling Shimell's author with banal complaints before pushing him outside his own head. (available now)
Special Features: Kiarostami's 1977 film The Report, new interview, Italian making-of documentary
Another walk-and-talk New York love letter from Edward Burns, another mostly pleasant couple of hours sure to fade from memory before I have time to wonder what ever felt fresh about The Brothers McMullen. Burns has recovered well of late from a mid-career plummet – 2010's Nice Guy Johnny was practically Burns' mission statement: “Let's have a good time on the cheap and not sweat the loftiness, everybody.” I'll sign on for that. Newlyweds, then, is proof of concept: Filmed for less than $10K and hedging all bets on its Tribeca Film Festival premiere (the festival, in partnership with American Express, picked up distribution rights), the story of a couple (Burns and the luminous Caitlin Fitzgerald) determined to keep their marriage casual until they're challenged by their respective, loft-crashing sisters, leaving Burns up to his ears in neurotic waifs, is hardly the freshest around, but Burns' handheld urgency and the arrival of the electrifying Kerry Bishé as his trainwreck of a sibling makes it one worth dusting off. (available now)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, interviews
The sophomore season of this BBC modern-era update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's deerstalkered detective, like its premier three-episode run, traverses, once again, the brilliant heights and stifling lows that left me tearing my hair out last year. Played with razor-sharp features and limitless range by Benedict Cumberbatch, creator Steven Moffat's Sherlock Holmes, trailed as ever by the faithful and perennially flummoxed Dr. Watson (The Hobbit's Martin Freeman), the season kicks off with a doozy – an erotic mystery that addresses the nagging question of Holmes' sexuality, or lack thereof. Season closer “The Reichenbach Fall,” inspired by Doyle's The Final Problem, is a bravura showing that tears open the Sherlock mystique and shoots it in the gut. But, as with the first season, there's a bad apple and, unfortunately, it's the biggest of the bunch. “The Hounds of Baskerville” retells Doyle's most legendary tale by focusing on the Gothic horror elements of the original story, which only calls attention to the show's relatively low effects budget and drains Baskerville Hall of familial intrigue and greed. Still, it's hard to blame this daring and utterly fresh series for going out on a ledge, especially when those ledges so often end up with blood on them. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentaries, featurette
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