Female first-name titles are apparently the trend on the new release shelf this week, with Keira Knightley as a famous author and Chloë Sevigny as an infamous murderess. An earlier (and equally savage) effort from the director of The Favourite is back on Netflix, and on the catalogue front, we’ve got a new edition of a classic comedy, and three less-seen efforts from two ‘70s icons.
The Lobster: By turns puzzling, hilarious, heartbreaking, and irritating, this 2016 black comedy/drama from director Yorgos Lanthimos is a dense parable for modern dating, in which all of society’s looked-down-upon single people are sent away to a joyless seaside resort, to either find a mate or be turned into an animal. It’s a cringe comedy of real darkness, filled with awkward interactions and subhuman cruelty, emotionally and sometimes physically brutal. Yet it remains true to its cold, black heart, as dramatic music underscores dastardly deeds and our hero (Colin Farrell, great) discovers exactly how desperate his situation is. Lanthimos’s antiseptic style isn’t for everyone, and by the end of this journey, he’s painted himself into a bit of a corner. But all the way through, he’s creating scenes and situations where he’s almost daring us to keep watching; those who do are left with a film that’s at the very least provocative, which is more than you can say for the comfort food of even the best indie cinema these days.
ON BLU-RAY / AMAZON PRIME
The Apartment: With only a couple of weeks left until Christmas, it seems like the perfect time to revisit (or watch for the first time, you lucky dog) Billy Wilder’s classic romantic comedy — since it culminates over the holidays and ends on New Year’s Eve. But the recommendation isn’t merely seasonal; this is a smart, sophisticated, way-ahead-of-its-time sex comedy, with Jack Lemmon in marvelous form as an office drone whose bachelor pad becomes an unlikely tool for business success, and Shirley MacLaine simply perfect as the object of his affections. Lemmon, Wilder, and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond released this gem barely a year after their Some Like It Hot, creating one of the more potent one-two comedy punches in cinema history. (Includes audio commentaries, featurettes, new and archival interviews, and trailer.) (Also streaming on Amazon Prime Video.)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Colette: The four books detailing the adventures of Claudine, the gamine country girl who takes on the sophisticates of Paris, were a sensation in early-20th century France; credited to the popular novelist Henry Gauthier-Villars (aka “Willy”), they were actually written by his wife Colette. She became a brand — a marketable name and lifestyle, a proto-Kardashian, if you will — and Wash Westmoreland’s friskily entertaining literary biopic tells the story of how she stumbled into writing, and then stumbled into her own identity. Dominic West is well-cast as Willy, roguishly handsome and utterly incorrigible, and Keira Knightley is a marvel as Colette; watch carefully, at a key moment, how she says a single word (“possibly”) and turns it into a symphony.
Lizzie: Chloë Sevigny turns in a monster of a performance as Lizzie Borden, the headstrong and independent young woman who famously, one morning in 1892, murdered her father and stepmother with a hatchet. Or did she? She was found not guilty — her all-male jury simply didn’t believe that a woman of her social standing could commit such a crime — and screenwriter Bryce Kass approaches the murders sideways, skipping and dodging the event itself until both motives and fallout have been properly dramatized. It’s an effective approach, and director Craig William Macneill deploys the tools of Gothic horror (particularly the assaultive score’s stings and trills) to create the proper mood, and prepare us for the bloodshed at the film’s (but not the story’s) conclusion. Kristen Stewart is appropriately withdrawn as the servant who becomes Lizzie’s intimate — their everyday interactions take on a casual eroticism, which is a nice touch — and Jamey Sheridan is appropriately loathsome as her degenerate father.
De Palma and De Niro: The Early Films: In 1965, a brash young filmmaker named Brian De Palma cast a promising young actor named Robert De Niro in a supporting role in his low-budget comedy The Wedding Party. It was the first film for both, and they got along so well, De Palma cast De Niro in the counterculture comedy Greetings and its sequel Hi, Mom!. These men would carve out niches in decidedly different genres (reuniting memorably years later for The Untouchables, a film much more in their familiar styles) but their early collaborations offer a fascinating hypothetical for the sort of film artists they could’ve been. Arrow Video’s excellent new set offers up all three of those films, looking better than they ever have on home video, and the extras are choice. (Includes Greetings audio commentary, Hi, Mom! trailer, new interviews, and featurette.)
Forty Guns: Sam Fuller didn’t just make Westerns. His oaters, like the wrenching I Shot Jesse James (which does most of what The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford does, in about half the time) and this 1957 effort (new on Blu from Criterion) traffic in a kind of rough, psychological complexity that was a good decade and a half ahead of its time. This time, he’s got the invaluable bonus of Barbara Stanwyck as Jessica Drummond, the black-clad “boss of Cochise county,” who throws a real monkey wrench between the Bonnell brothers, a pair of U.S. Marshalls. Fuller clocks this one at a tight 80 minutes, but fills it with striking images and memorable moments: a bruising pistol-whipping, the quickest jailhouse “hearing” you’ve ever seen, and a stand-off that does not go as anticipated. (Includes new interviews and feature-length Sam Fuller documentary.)