Good news, folks: there’s a little something for everyone in this week’s new release line-up: a new and classic foreign film, a couple of fall prestige pictures, a nutso new satirical thriller, an overlooked ‘70s gem, and even (since we’re so inclusive around here) one for the kids.
Velvet Buzzsaw : In retrospect, it’s sort of fascinating that Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler was so tightly constructed, since his follow-ups — 2017’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. and this L.A. art world satire — are so messy. But that messiness is far more compelling this time around; this is a playful, sometimes goofy, sometimes freaky effort that overcomes the fish-in-a-barrel quality of its subject matter to take Gilroy into new and peculiar territory. The horror elements may not work entirely, but the effort is admirable (and there are some very inventive kills). More importantly, in spite of the returns of Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (and the presumptions of that casting), this is quite unlike anything he’s done before. Queue it up and go for a ride.
ON 4K / BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
Widows : Steve McQueen’s decision to follow-up the Oscar-winning triumph of 12 Years a Slave with a popcorn movie — a heist picture adaptation of a British miniseries, co-written with Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn — prompted more than a little head-scratching back in the fall, and if there’s a clear fault with the result, it’s that he didn’t go all the way with it. That said, for every odd flourish that doesn’t work, there’s a splash of color or commentary that does (that one-shot car ride is a marvel), and the performances are top-shelf, with Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Daniel Kaluuya the MVPs. (Includes featurettes.)
The Grinch : This feature-length crack at Dr. Seuss’ Christmas classic comes to us via Illumination Entertainment, the people behind the Despicable Me movies — and boy oh boy can you tell, so blatantly does it attempt to frame Mr. Grinch like Gru 2.0 (down to the introduction accompaniment of slow, growling hip-hop). But if you can forgive that, there’s a lot to like here: the animation is bright and expressive (particularly in the Blu-ray 3D edition), Benedict Cumberbatch is clearly having a blast voicing the title role, and, hey, if nothing else, it’s miles better than that Jim Carrey/Ron Howard atrocity. (Includes featurettes, music video, and “mini-movies.”)
ON BLU-RAY / DVD / VOD
The Sisters Brothers : A Prophet director Jacques Audiard smoothly adapts Patrick deWitt’s novel, a Western with splashes of a road movie and a Horace Greeley-style adventure tale thrown in; the French filmmaker engaging meanders through the frontier with a pair of double acts (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed), and each of them gets a chance to shine. But the best moments belong to Reilly, funny and touching as a sensitive man of the gun who wants to be better, smarter, and more understanding, if he could just get his damn fool brother to settle down. Darkly funny and often deeply disorienting, with a marvel of an ending. (Includes featurettes, Q&A, and trailer.)
The Guilty : This tight-fisted thriller from first-time Danish director Gustav Möller runs a trim 84 minutes, all of them spent within the walls of a 911 call center, where the smooth surfaces and shiny computer screens give the entire enterprise a slick claustrophobia. Asger (the excellent Jakob Cedergren) is a cop busted down to jockeying the phones while awaiting judgment on a dodgy shooting; near the end of his shift, he gets a call from a woman who’s been kidnapped by her abusive husband, whom Asgar tries to save from his considerable distance. The writing and acting are sharp as a tack, but Möller’s real skill is understanding and manipulating audience expectation — there are scenes where he knows we’re ahead of him, creating unbearable tension as we wait for the movie to catch up, and then he’ll turn the whole movie upside down. Crisp, slippery, and smashing.
Shame : Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 film (a new stand-alone release from Criterion) opens like another of his many relationship-based dramas, with standbys Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow as a married farm couple dealing with fairly typical married-couple stuff. And then, it being 1968, the world makes its way in, with forces of authority and rebellion pushing these two people to test the limits of their trust, mortality, and stability. Their descent into desperation and misery isn’t exactly comfort viewing, but Ullmann and Von Sydow are (as usual) stunningly good, the black-and-white cinematography by Sven Nykvist is appropriately crisp and harsh, and Bergman expertly sidesteps the land mines of polemics, crafting a picture that’s, yes, tough and uncomfortable, but also intimate and even erotic. (Includes new and archival interviews and vintage featurette.)
Kotch : Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau co-starred in eight films over two-plus decades, with two more outliers: both appeared, though not together, in JFK, and Matthau was directed by Lemmon (who did not appear) in this gentle 1971 comedy/drama, new on Blu from KL Studio Classics. It is a film very much of its time, with a decidedly ‘70s TV-movie aesthetic at work (particularly in the cinematography, music, and reliance on freeze-frames). But Lemmon was skilled at bringing out the best in his collaborator, who ages up — he was only 50 at the time it was made — to play a likable codger on a platonic road trip with his grandson’s babysitter. Matthau’s best work always had a W.C. Fields quality, and this is perhaps his most Fieldsian character (affection for children aside); he mumbles, hoots, and charms all the way through. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)