Top Film Picks on DVD/Blu-ray: A Joyce Carol Oates Adaptation; a Historical Drama of WWII Women Spies

LJ’s film columnist picks the month’s top indie, foreign, and classic films, now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Ammonite. 117+ min. Universal. 2020. DVD UPC 191329159361. $19.98; Blu-ray UPC 191329158852. $24.98. Rated: R.
With a demeanor as flinty as the rocks she forages among on the mid-19th-century English seaside, notable paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) half-heartedly contracts to look after the melancholic wife (Saoirse Ronan) of a visiting geologist (James McArdle). As their mutual attraction blossoms, Mary’s heart is all in as the pair engage in a passionate affair finally threatened by irreconcilable differences in class and temperament. Loosely based on historical figures, writer-director Francis Lee’s (God’s Own Country) affecting drama really defines the term slow burn.
A Call To Spy. 123+ min. Shout Factory. 2019. DVD UPC 826663215489. $19.98; Blu-ray UPC 826663215496. $22.98. Rated: PG-13.
At the outset of World War II, Britain originated a new spy agency to enlist and train female agents to organize sabotage operations with a burgeoning resistance in France. Chafing under her male boss (Linus Roache), Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) recruits two standouts: Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas), a gritty American with a wooden leg; and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte), an Indian pacifist. Based on real events, Lydia Dean Pilcher’s (Radium Girls) stirring historical drama sheds light on a daring effort whose unlikely participants faced the ultimate sacrifice.
Chop Shop. 84+ min. 2007. DVD UPC 715515255615; Blu-ray UPC 715515255516. 
Man Push Cart. 87+ min. In English & Urdu w/English subtitles. 2005. DVD UPC 715515255417; Blu-ray UPC 715515255318.
ea. vol.: Criterion Collection. DVD $29.95; Blu-ray $39.95.
A 12-year-old boy (Alejandro Polanco) and his older sister (Isamar Gonzales) eke out an existence in a Queens junkyard auto-repair shop, but both have side-hustles peddling bootleg goods; stealing purses, hubcaps, etc.; and turning tricks in Chop Shop. In Man Push Cart, a Pakistani immigrant (Ahmad Razvi) just scrapes by as a Manhattan street vendor and by doing odd jobs, but the widower, who was a recording artist in his homeland, merely wants to earn enough to be able to reunite with his young son. In both bleak yet hopeful films, Ramin Bahrani takes a naturalistic approach to storytelling akin to Italian neorealism in presenting marginalized lives—particularly in the latter title, which recalls Bicycle Thieves with its portrayal of a man faced with the loss of his livelihood. Digitally remastered in high-definition.
The German Lesson (“Deutschstunde”). 125+ min. In German w/English subtitles or dubbed. MPI. 2019. DVD UPC 030306714295. $24.98.
Expressionist paintings are verboten in Nazi Germany, which forces preteen Siggi (Levi Eisenblätter) to divide his loyalty between a bullying father (Ulrich Noethen)—an officious cop in a seaside village—and a friend (Tobias Moretti) considered a degenerate for his artwork. Based on the classic novel by Siegfried Lenz, Christian Schwochow’s sumptuously lensed adaptation considers blind obedience—piously referred to as “the joys of duty”—and its convoluted consequences for those who pursue it as a point of pride. Offered with optional dubbing for the subtitle-phobic.
Smooth Talk. 92+ min. Criterion Collection. 1985. DVD UPC 715515255813. $29.95; Blu-ray UPC 715515255714. $39.95. Rated: PG-13.
Coltish teenager Connie (Laura Dern) bridles from the expressed concern (“I look into your eyes and all I see are trashy daydreams”) of her mom (Mary Kay Place) and is eager to sow her wild oats by hanging out with her girlfriends at the local mall and burger joint, flirting with boys until she is approached by an older man (Treat Williams) who may be more than she can handle. Joyce Chopra’s adroit take on Joyce Carol Oates’s feted short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. Restored in high-def.
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