The Lobster (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD) – Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos describes his English language debut as his film about love (following Dogtooth, his film on life, and Alps, on death). Which is not necessarily to call it a love story. It is, in its own way, but it just as much about the social expectations of love and marriage and coupledom that can be an obstacle to forging our own definitions of what makes us happy.
David (Colin Farrell), newly single after being dumped by his (unseen) wife of 12 years, is immediately sent to a hotel for singles to find a mate within 45 days or be turned into an animal of their choice (David chooses a lobster). Pairing off is the default natural social order and remaining single is simply some kind of crippling aberration. The anonymous resort becomes the tacky setting for stilted pleasantries, unenthusiastic dating, and surreal lessons in the horrors of single life (in his first day, David has one hand handcuffed behind his back to show how life is easier “when there are two of something rather than just one”).
It’s a kind of blandly stultifying death row prison where parole is given only to those who pair off, the runaways are hunted down with tranquilizer guns (singles can buy more time by bagging a few rebels), and the rest await their sentence of transmogrification (a menagerie of decidedly non-native creatures, the exotic choices of unlucky singles and romantic failure, can be found wandering the nearby forest). The desperation is enough to contrive compatibility and put on a façade of romantic bliss, but the alternative—a society of escaped loners have taken residence in the forest—is no less restrictive or forgiving under the equally intolerant dictates of guerilla loner Léa Seydoux, who forbids coupling of any kind. Even flirting is forbidden, so when David falls for a woman known only by her “defining characteristic” (Rachel Weisz as Short Sighted Woman) and she returns his affections, their clandestine intimacy makes them doubly outcast.
There’s no logical explanation for this social dystopia of numbing conformity and false fronts of marital harmony, it simply is, in the same way that Luis Bunuel’s surreal social satires are. And chances are, if you don’t like Bunuel’s brand of philosophical whimsy, you’ll probably have a hard time connecting with The Lobster. Lanthimos invests his absurdist parable with a dark, deadpan humor and an eerie poetry, while the cast drones their awkward dialogue in conversations and comments that often come a beat or two late, turning every interaction into a forced show of social convention. Even the comradeship between David and two recent arrivals to this loveless love hotel (the limping Ben Wishaw and the lisping John C. Reilly) is strained by competition and desperation. When David and his Short Sighted sweetheart concoct a sign language with all the subtlety of semaphore to communicate their affections in the single outcast camp, their unreal conversations take on an intimacy precisely because of their furtive antics. They have found a way to say “I love you” in a world where it’s an empty ritual in one society and taboo behavior in the other.
When every relationship is held to what is ultimately an arbitrary ideal and timeline, how can a genuine emotional connection be allowed to take root and be nurtured into a thriving love? And what is a sacrifice too far to sustain it? Lanthimos doesn’t have the answers but he sure enjoys playing with the questions.
Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “The Fabric of Attraction: Concocting The Lobster” and bonus Ultraviolet Digital copy of the film.
April and the Extraordinary World (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD), inspired by the graphic novels of the great French comic artist Jacques Tardi, is a steampunk adventure set in an alternate reality Paris where the World Wars never occurred, electricity was never discovered, twin Eiffel Towers anchor a direct cable-car route to Berlin, and the smoke that powers the steam-based energy economy pollutes the world. It’s also a rarity in feature animation: a film made in the classic 2D hand drawn manner, with designs modeled on Tardi’s clean, strong, storybook illustration style.
History veers off course in the wake a failed 19th century experiment to create a super soldier and we rush through the domino effect that lands us in 1941 Paris. That’s where we find April, effectively orphaned after her scientist parents are captured by a mysterious organization snatching the geniuses of the world, living with her talking cat Darwin and carrying on her parents’ research in a secret hideout. There’s a teen street urchin who shadows April, a disgraced cop trying to track down April’s scientist grandfather, a militaristic government imprisoning the greatest minds to work on weapons research, and a secret underground where a new multi-species society plots a better future… maybe.
The artwork has the character of a Tintin graphic novel (Herge was an influence on Tardi) and the thick lines, simple designs, and imaginative detail give it the quality of a storybook. Imagine Oliver Twist meets Jules Verne as a whimsical fantasy fable, a film made for kids but clever and creative enough for adults. It carries messages of environmental responsibility, anti-militarism, and scientific ethics, and in its own way celebrates science and technology as a public good, but only when undertaken with that in mind. Plus, it features spy rats with goggles and talking lizards, so what’s not to like?Animators Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci make their respective directorial debuts.
Blu-ray and DVD with choice of original French soundtrack (featuring the voices of Marion Cotillard, Olivier Gourmet, and Jean Rochefort) and English language version (with the voices of Paul Giamatti, J.K. Simmons, and Susan Sarandon), plus the 28-minute featurette “The Origin of The Extraordinary World” (in French with English subtitles).
Confirmation (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD), the made-for-HBO feature starring Kerry Washington stars as Anita Hill and Wendell Pierce is Clarence Thomas, is reviewed here.
Also new and notable:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray), Philip Kaufman’s 1978 update of the 1956 science fiction paranoia classic, moves the tale of insidious spores from outer space from the homespun innocence of small town fifties America to the social urban alienation of seventies San Francisco, echoed in every empty social ritual and deadened voice of authority (a perfectly cast Leonard Nimoy). It takes an assault on his identity for repressed Donald Sutherland to unleash his emotions, but by then his world has gone just plain… wrong. This invasion from within mines the fears over loss of one’s soul and one’s self and the simple pod effects are unnaturally unnerving, helped by gurgling soundtrack. Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Veronica Cartwright co-star.
The new Collector’s Edition is remastered for Blu-ray from a new 2K scan from the film’s interpositive and features new interviews with actors Brooke Adams and Art Hindle, screenwriter W.D Richter, and composer Denny Zeitlin. Carried over from previous home video releases is commentary by director Philip Kaufman and the featurettes “Re-Visitors From Outer Space,” “Practical Magic: The Special Effects,” “The Man Behind the Scream: Sound Effects,” and “The Cinematography,” plus an archival episode of Science Fiction Theatre, “Time is Just a Place,” based on a short story by Jack Finney and directed by Jack Arnold.
Deadline-U.S.A. (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) stars Humphrey Bogart as the editor of a big city newspaper on the verge of closing after its publisher dies and the heirs want to sell out to a rival paper intent on shuttering the competition. With three days left before the sale is final and his top reporters (notably Paul Stewart and Jim Backus as the class clown of the bullpen) already giving the paper’s eulogy over drinks at the local watering hole, Bogart’s Ed Hutcheson teams up with the widow (Ethel Barrymore) for one last shot at saving the paper. Meanwhile they plan to go out on top with a scathing expose of the city’s untouchable mob boss Tomas Rienzi (Martin Gabel). It’s written and directed by Richard Brooks who, like John Huston, was a superstar studio screenwriter who graduated to director. It’s not really a film noir but it lives in a neighboring zip code, with its night in the city setting, rampant urban crime, and sardonic, tough guy reporters trading quips and tangling with crooks. And it finally makes its long awaited home video debut.
Features commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller and the trailer.
The Mark of Zorro (1940) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray) – Tyrone Power is neither as dashing as Errol Flynn nor as daring and athletic as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. but he is a natural as the swashbuckling hero in this rousing remake of the Old California adventure. Power is the Spanish swordsman who poses as a foppish aristocrat by day but a 19th century Robin Hood by night: Zorro, the hero of the oppressed. Power pulls it off out of sheer bravado and smoldering determination, and he plays the insufferably indifferent Lord with his trademark self-consciousness, an actor living it up in an absurd role. It fits the character to a Z. Basil Rathbone is perfectly cast as the corrupt ruler who killed Power’s father, and Linda Darnell is beautiful and spirited as his lady love. Rouben Mamoulian directs with panache.
It features commentary by film critic and historian Richard Schickel and an archival episode of the A&E series “Biography” series “Tyrone Power: The Last Idol,” both carried over from the earlier DVD release.
Pioneers of African-American Cinema (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) – There is simply too much in this amazing five-disc box set to summarize in a capsule: more than 15 feature films, even more short films, plus documentaries, fragments of incomplete films, and other films made for African-American audiences and in many case by African-American filmmakers between 1915 and 1947. It is the leading contender for disc release of the year and a full review is coming. On Blu-ray and DVD an accompanying booklet featuring essays and notes on each film.
Classics and Cult:
The New World (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Hellhole (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Five Miles to Midnight (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Rawhide (1951) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues (animated comic) (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD)
TV on disc:
Blindspot: Season One (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Girlfriend Experience (Season One) (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Knick: The Complete Second Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD)
Jack Irish: Season 1 (Acorn, Blu-ray, DVD)
Jack Irish: The Movies (Acorn, Blu-ray, DVD)
More new releases:
The Boss (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Sing Street (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Mother’s Day (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Keanu (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Bronze (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD)
High Rise (Magnet, Blu-ray, DVD)
Manhattan Night (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Criminal (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Barbershop: The Next Cut (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Hardcore Henry (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
I Am Wrath (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Born to Be Blue (MPI, DVD)
River (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Last Diamond (Cohen, DVD)
Careful What You Wish For (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Traded (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD)
Meet the Blacks (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Puerto Ricans in Paris (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Trust (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bite (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Binding (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Summer Camp (Pantelion, DVD)
Chosen (Lionsgate, DVD)