The Night Of (15)

HBO/Warner Home Video, £21.99

Based on Peter Moffat's BAFTA-winning BBC series Criminal Justice, The Night Of stars British actor Riz Ahmed as Nasir 'Naz' Khan, a hard-working American-Pakistani student from Queens in New York who winds up in prison charged with murder after the mother of all bad nights.

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Borrowing his father's cab to go to a party, Naz becomes lost in downtown Manhattan and, unable to turn off his “for hire” light, inadvertently picks up a passenger, Andrea (Sofia Black D'Elia). One thing leads to another and soon the bemused, asthmatic Naz is back at Andrea's brownstone drinking, taking drugs and having sex. He eventually wakes up to find Andrea her face down on a bed with 22 knife wounds in her back. So he runs, though not far: he's pulled over for a traffic infraction by two cops who are then called back to Andrea's house by a report from suspicious neighbour.

Eventually the harassed and over-tired cops join the dots and Naz is arrested, by which time quietly tenacious detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) has joined the investigation and Naz has accidentally acquired a lawyer - grafting ambulance chaser John Stone (John Turturro), who wears sandals in all weather on account of his dreadful eczema.

The point of Moffat's original five-part series was its forensic look at the realities of all aspects of the criminal justice system. Written by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, whose collective credits include The Wire, Moneyball and Gangs Of New York, The Night Of sets out to conduct the same uncompromising survey over eight episodes.

Turturro is on exceptional form, but he by no means overshadows Ahmed and Camp. There's also a rich cast of supporting characters, from Rikers Island kingpin Freddy Knight (Michael Kenneth Williams), who takes Naz under his wing and aims to “make a proper convict” of him, to hard-bitten, hard-smoking district attorney Janet Weiss (Jeannie Berlin).

There are a few false steps along the way, though. The prison scenes verge on cliché at times; it's hard to believe streetwise cops and lawyers would say things like “Khan? What's that, Arab?”; the pacing feels like it's intended for a 26-episode series rather than an eight-part one; and the constant scenes of Stone wrapping his feet in cling-film or visiting this or that doctor seem needless once the dermatological idiosyncrasy has been established. Those small complaints aside, The Night Of is gripping television and will surely be recognised as such when the Emmys are handed out.

Paris Blues (12)

BFI, £19.99

Over the course of a long career Paul Newman played more likeable characters than jazz trombonist Ram Bowen, and he certainly appeared in more iconic films. But rarely did he line up alongside such stellar names as he does in Martin Ritt's study of two American jazz musicians living and working in Paris: Sidney Poitier co-stars as sax player Eddie Cook, Louis Armstrong features as touring jazz great Wild Man Moore and another bona fide jazz great, Duke Ellington, wrote the cacophonous soundtrack. With Joanne Woodward playing one of a pair of American tourists Bowen and Cook take up with (trailblazing black actress Diahann Carroll is the other), Newman even gets to romance his own wife on the big screen.

Adapted from Harold Flender's 1957 novel of the same name, the script is by blacklisted ex-Communist Walter Bernstein and he uses the presence of black characters in Paris to openly discuss what they refer to as “the race question”. Meanwhile a wonderful opening scene which pans round a packed jazz club appears to show gay, lesbian and inter-racial couples and in Bowen's first meeting with Woodward and Carroll, it's notable that it's the latter he tries to pick up. Those important moments aside, the real showstopper is a wordless five minute section in which Wild Man Moore and his band march down the steps into Bowen's club so that Moore can "duel" with each member of Bowen's group in turn. It's spine-tingling stuff.

Stella Cadente (18)

Second Run, £12.99

As a producer, Barcelona-born Lluis Minarro has worked with cinema greats such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Manoel de Oliveira so he has a track record which reads like a who's who of world cinema in the 21st century. Stella Cadente - it means “falling star” - is his first film as director and takes as its subject the brief, troubled reign of Amadeo I of Spain, Italian by birth and a member of the House of Savoy. His rule began in 1870, ended three years later, and covered a turbulent time in Spanish politics in which separate Bourbon claimants competed for the crown while the forces of Republicanism and Nationalism mustered on the sidelines.

Some of this is explained, some isn't, so for non-Iberian audiences Stella Cadente can be hard to follow. Not that Minarro intends it to be historically accurate: the slow-moving film is dotted with bizarre and absurd episodes and plays out almost entirely within the confines of Amadeo's palace. At times it borders on the tedious, but the scene in which Amadeo's handsome factotum finds a novel use for a hollowed out melon is hard to forget and Minarro's use of 1960s French pop songs on the soundtrack is another act of brio worth applauding.