On DVD and Blu-ray this week: James Marsh’s acclaimed follow-up to his Academy Award-winning documentary “Man on Wire;” season two of Britain’s favorite import; “The Sunset Limited,” directed by Tommy Lee Jones; the latest button-pusher from “Run, Lola, Run” helmer Tom Tykwer; and a documentary that got last year’s Sundance Film Festival all riled up for the right reasons.
1. Critic’s Pick: “Project Nim” (DVD)
Sure, James Marsh’s follow-up to “Man on Wire,” “Project Nim,” didn’t earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary like its predecessor (which went on to win), but don’t let that stop you from catching what’s surely one of the best documentaries of last year. (Fun fact: it beat out awards juggernaut “The Artist” to win the Golden Tomato for best reviewed film in limited release, per Rotten Tomatoes.)
The Lionsgate release tells the story of Nim, a chimpanzee who, in the 1970s, became the focus of a landmark experiment that sought to prove an ape could learn and communicate sign language like a human toddler. Under the guidance of Columbia University psychology professor Herbert Terrace, Nim is removed from his mother at birth to spend his life among humans. Combining testimonies from all the key participants, archival footage and deftly handled reenactments, Marsh weaves together a heartbreaking tale that proves chimpanzees belong outside, not at home.
“I didn’t think it would be right to pretend that Nim was a cuddly, friendly animal during his life because he wasn’t,” Marsh told Indiewire. “That would only compound the mistake that was made during his lifetime. I wanted to be true to that character and creature, as opposed to it being ‘March of the Penguins.'”
Go here for Indiewire’s review out of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where the film world premiered on opening night.
Extras: Marsh takes part in a feature-length audio commentary that’s informative and makes for a great listen after viewing the film. Also featured on the disc: “Bob’s Journey,” a 10-minute piece focused on former research assistant and Nim rescuer-advocate Bob Ingersoll; a half-hour documentary that delves into the origins of the project and how it all came to be; and some trailers, including the one for “Project Nim.”
Preview one of the extras below:
2. “Downton Abbey” Season 2 (DVD and Blu-ray)
The British TV sensation that seemingly came out of nowhere to beat “Mildred Pierce” at the Emmys only gets more addictive with each drama-filled episode. This second season begins with England gearing up for war against Germany.
Extras: Fans of the show will want to check out the three meaty featurettes included here that cover everything from the show’s fashion to the gorgeous production design.
3. “The Sunset Limited” (DVD and Blu-ray)
Tommy Lee Jones follows up his powerful directorial debut “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” with this HBO TV movie penned by Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy (“No Country for Old Men”), based on his own play. The film retains its stage roots by solely focusing on White (Jones) — a suicidal college professor — and Black (Samuel L. Jackson) — a man of faith — who have one lengthy conversation after White attempts to kill himself at a subway station.
Extras: Jones, Jackson and McCarthy all take part for a feature-length audio commentary. Other than that, not much else is included other than a super brief making-of documentary.
4. “3” (DVD)
“Run, Lola, Run” director Tom Tyker is never one to play it safe. His latest steamy drama, “3,” follows a married couple, each of whom have an affair with the same man. “We wanted contemporary social theory to be part of the puzzle as much as the impact of longing, the power of flesh,” Tyker said of his aim with the film to Indieiwre. Go here to see an exclusive scene from the film.
Extras: We’re sad to report it’s a bare-bones release. Nothing’s here, save for the film’s theatrical trailer and some other previews for films available on DVD from Strand Releasing.
5. “Knuckle” (DVD)
“Knuckle” was one of the highest-profile documentaries to play at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and with good reason. Director Ian Palmer went all-out to make this film, by spending 10 years following a pair of warring Irish traveler families, the Quinn-McDonaughs and their distant cousins, the Joyces. The result is a brutal portrait of two families at war, bare-knuckle fights and all. As Eric Kohn put it in his review, “The selling point of “Knuckle” is the fights, period.” Below is an exclusive scene from the film (go here to learn more about the making of the scene):