Today's DVDs & Blu-rays: Life of Pi, Hitchcock, Tristana and This Is Not a Film

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Life of Pi stars Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan; Ang Lee directs.

Thanks to Ang Lee's strong storytelling skills, his Oscar winning film Life of Pi is more than just another Disney-esque movie. We see Pi as an adult (Irrfan Khan) recalling an adventure he had as a teen (Suraj Sharma). Pi's family and their zoo animals are traveling by cargo ship when a storm hits and sinks the ship. Pi manages to climb aboard a lifeboat, but discovers it's already occupied -- by a Bengal tiger.

While it's certainly an adventure tale, it's also an examination of faith. Faith in God, yes, (Pi subscribes to a variety of religions, from Christianity to Islam), but also faith in the value of truth and of storytelling.

The film took in 11 Oscar nominations and four wins, including Lee for best director.

The Blu-ray three-disc release has two versions of the theatrical feature (one in 3D, one regular), deleted scenes, several making-of featurettes and trailers.

The 1960 film Psycho changed things for director Alfred Hitchcock; it propelled him to a new level of Hollywood success. Sacha Gervasi's biopic Hitchcock follows the famous director during the filming of the horror movie. Anthony Hopkins stars as Hitchcock, Helen Mirren plays his patient wife and confidante Alma, while Scarlett Johansson appears as Janet Leigh.

It would be easy for Gervasi to to focus on re-creating Psycho's famous scenes, a sort of fictional behind-the-scenes look at Hitchcock at work; that alone would have Hitch fans oohing and ahhing, but he does more. He explores the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife during the filming. No studio would back Psycho, so, amid rumors that he should consider retiring, Hitchcock risks it all and makes what many consider to be his signature film.

The DVD/Blu-ray release features several extras including deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary by Gervasi and Stephen Rebello and a theatrical trailer.

Spanish director Luis Buñuel won the first of three Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film for his sensual Tristana, theatrically released in 1970. Based on the novel by Benito Pérez Galdós, the story is incendiary. An orphan, Tristana (Catherine Deneuve), is adopted by Don Lope Garrido (Fernando Rey). He falls in love with her, and while in her late teens, Tristana serves as both wife and daughter to Don Lope. As she matures, she grows more independent and eventually leaves Don Lope for a younger man, but she's forced to return to Don Lope when she becomes ill. Soon the roles are reversed, and it's Don Lope who's ill and Tristana his caregiver. Although she seems resigned to her fate, Tristana is actually plotting her escape.

Newly restored and released on Blu-ray, Tristana includes feature-length commentary with Deneuve and critic Kent Jones, an alternative ending, a 30-minute featurette with Buñuel scholar Peter William Evans and more.

This Is Not a Film is a documentary that has a backstory almost as dramatic as what we see onscreen. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, a vocal critic of the government, was sentenced to prison and given a 20-year ban from filmmaking for his continued "propaganda against the Islamic Republic." While out on appeal, Panahi is visited by his friend and fellow filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb in his Tehran apartment. Using an iPhone for some of the filming, the pair document Panahi's daily life, normal things like talking to his family and lawyer on the phone, discussing his directing career, babysitting a temperamental iguana, watching fireworks from his apartment window and chatting with a man who picks up the trash in his building. But for a political dissident in Iran, nothing is really quite normal. The custodian happily chats with Panahi inside the building, but pleads with the filmmaker not to follow him outside. "They'll see you with the camera," he warns.

The film is later smuggled out of Iran on a jump drive inside a cake and submitted at the last minute to the Cannes Film Festival, where it played to rave reviews. After the film's success at Cannes, co-director Mirtahmasb was not allowed to leave Iran and has been subsequently arrested and charged with being a spy.

The DVD release includes excerpts from a 2008 interview with Panahi and commentary by scholar/filmmaker Jamsheed Akrami (Friendly Persuasion: Iranian Cinema After the Revolution).

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