With her alabaster skin and flame-red hair, teenage bride Jolene (Jessica Chastain) is a luminescent blank slate for others - mostly lecherous provider types - to project their desires and insecurities onto. Jolene, based on an E.L. Doctorow short story and adapted by writer Dennis Yares and director Dan Ireland, capitalizes on, yet never lives up to, its titular character's loaded, immortalized name. The film follows Jolene through a decade of Americana surroundings and bad-intentioned suitors as she slowly - very slowly - acquires some amount of wisdom (as spelled out in an excruciating, ill-advised narration). It's an uneasy film, both in the sense of discomfort we experience watching this girl-cub try to make it in the wild and in Ireland and Yares' shaky construction. But Chastain is a revelation: She makes it clear how sexuality, innocence and self-invention can be strands of the same thread. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, interviews
Looking For Fidel
Previously only available as part of a massive 2004 Oliver Stone box set, the director's HBO documentary covers one uneasy, eye-opening and infuriating hour with the then-president of Cuba as Castro allows a glimpse into his decision-making process, his grandiose megalomania and a worldview shaped by decades of combative leadership. As it stands, it would be one of the last such glimpses during his often brutal reign - Castro stepped aside in 2006, just a couple of years after Stone inquired about the possibility of such a move. Regardless of one's politics (and surely the idea of listening to Stone and Castro, both reviled by the right, prattle on about political philosophy for minutes at a time could trigger even the most liberal thinker's gag reflex), it's worth a look if only for the chance to marvel at Castro's process, which Stone digs into with admirable balance and curiosity. (available now)
Special Features: None
The Scent of Green Papaya
An Oscar nominee upon its original release in 1994, director Anh Hung Tran's debut feature is now available on Blu-Ray in anticipation, presumably, of Hung Tran's Haruki Murakami adaptation, Norwegian Wood, is a tone poem set in Saigon and filmed in France. It remains as intoxicating in its visual beauty and tiny moments of elevation today as ever before. The story, concerning a young orphan who comes of age working as a peasant girl for a household in the 1950s, and who, years later, falls for the boy she attended to, takes its time developing, but the payoff - a wallop of a love story - is worth the investment. Now let's hope its maker does similar justice to Japan's postmodern master.
Special Features: Featurette