Late Night: International treasure Emma Thompson and reliably delightful Mindy Kaling team for this inside showbiz comedy about long-running talk show host Katherine Newbury (Thompson) who is on the verge of a network dismissal, and Molly (Kaling) the “diversity hire” for her all-male, all-white writers’ room that helps turn it around. In its rhythms, joke rapidity, and flat style, “Late Night” feels very much like a movie made by TV people. But that’s also a virtue— this feels like a story told from the inside out, wise to the ways of the industry. Thompson is glorious, her crackerjack comic timing turning even her roughest lines into polished gems.
Pasolini: Abel Ferrara’s tribute to provocative Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini is not, thank God, a traditional, cradle-to-grave biopic. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: a casual character study, focused solely on the final day of his life, ending with a grisly dramatization of his mysterious death at 53. Yet along the way, it’s an often funny, playful, and boundary-breaking picture, hopscotching between his duties promoting his final film (the cause célèbre Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom), working on his new novel (which Ferrara dramatizes), and catching up with old friends. It’s a film of thoughtful conversations, probing inquisitions, and unorthodox music choices, anchored by a stunningly believable and affecting lead performance by Willem Dafoe. “I think to scandalize is a right,” he says early on, “to be scandalized is a pleasure, and those who refuse the pleasure to be scandalized are moralists.” Amen. (Includes interview, featurette, and trailer.)
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am: The interviews with the late Ms. Morrison that populate this documentary portraithave an unusual directness – they’re like we’re having genuinely a conversation with this remarkable woman with a tale to tell. And it’s quite a tale, a long, twisty story of both her life and her work, and how they intertwined. Bio-documentaries come a dime a dozen these days, too often leaning on the easy formula of talking heads and archival footage, but there’s real depth here; director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders examines the influence, themes, and ramifications of Morrison’s writing, so much so that it becomes a similarly potent commentary on race and representation. And it’s not all schoolwork either, since Morris is so brilliant and warm and funny (“I like the Nobel Prize, because they know how to give a party”). (Includes deleted scenes and trailer.)
Polyester: John Waters has always loved ballyhoo, and he engaged in one of his goofiest gimmicks with the release of this gleefully sleazy 1981 comedy: Odorama, in which all audiences were given snatch-and-sniff cards, to fill their nostrils with (mostly repugnant) smells during key points of the film. Delightfully, the Criterion Collection has replicated those cards for the film’s Blu-ray debut, a giggly flourish for this soapy suburban satire, focusing on a perpetual victim housewife (the inimitable Divine) and her descent into MADNESS. It is, in Mr. Waters’s style, transgressive and bizarre and funny as hell, and yes, the Odorama makes it an unforgettable (for better and worse) experience. (Includes audio commentary, new and archival interviews, deleted scenes and alternate takes, and trailer.)
Cluny Brown: You may need to sit down to digest this idea: a lady plumber. That is, thankfully, not all that’s going on in this crisp, sophisticated, slightly ribald comedy from director Ernst Lubitch (his final completed feature), which hits the Criterion Collection this week after becoming one of the runaway favorites of their late, great FilmStruck streaming service. Jennifer Jones is utterly delightful in the title role, as a free-spirited young woman who becomes a maid and takes up with a charming Czech (the fabulous Charles Boyer). It’s a fizzy entertainment, sparkling and delicious. (Includes featurettes, interviews, and radio adaptation.)
My Favorite Year: “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” proclaims Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole), the hard-living, hard-drinking, oft-married former matinee idol at the center of Richard Benjamin’s fast-paced, boisterously funny 1982 comedy, which hits Blu-ray this week via Warner Archive. He’s making his live television debut on a Your Show of Show-style comedy variety show (Mel Brooks, a member of that show’s legendary writer’s room, is one of the producers), so a junior writer (Mark Linn-Baker) is made the great man’s minder for the week, and it becomes quite the job. O’Toole is terrific – dashing, funny, self-effacing – and Benjamin surrounds him with a cast of ace ‘80s character actors, shoves him into several delicious set pieces, and generally has a great time. The feeling is infectious. (Includes audio commentary and trailer.)
Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore: The American Genre Film Archive is back with this invaluable release of the only feature film from the late, great outsider artist and DIY multi-hyphenate Sarah Jacobson. She wrote, produced, directed, shot, and edited this story of a delightfully average teenage girl (Lisa Gerstein, wonderful) and her quest to get laid – and, in the process, maybe grow up too. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an early grunge record, grainy and scratchy but undeniably authentic and candid; these characters look and sound like actual teenagers, and Jacobson’s unblinking candor in matters sexual and cultural is still startling. The third act stumbles a bit – it feels like someone decided it needed a big, melodramatic “plot turn,” when none of us are there for the plot anyway – but that said, this is a must-see (and sadly overlooked) piece of the ‘90s indie cinema puzzle. (Includes Jacboson’s short films and music videos.)
Whirlpool: This 1950 film noir from producer/director Otto Preminger (new on Blu from Twilight Time) plays like Preminger’s riff on Hitchock’s Spellbound– a traditional thriller, wrapped up in the buzzwords and possibilities of hypnosis and psychotherapy. Preminger takes the opportunity to create something of a dream state in his film, which tells the story of a socialite wife (the always-excellent Gene Tierney), her psychoanalyst husband (Richard Conte), and the hypnotist (José Ferrer) with enigmatic motives. Moody and (forgive me) hypnotic, with one of Ferrer’s trickiest and most energetic performances. (Includes audio commentary, isolated music track, and trailer.)