DVD Obscura digs past the more high-profile new releases to find the best indie, retrospective and TV titles freshly available this month.
New: Another “Killer” McConaughey Performance
While Matthew McConaughey has rightly received year-end plaudits for his performances in Magic Mike and Bernie, perhaps his most stellar turn this year was in the shocking Killer Joe (now available; Lionsgate Home Entertainment). Reuniting director William Friedkin and writer Tracy Letts after their dynamic collaboration on Bug, this new film stars McConaughey as a Dallas lawman who moonlights as a hired killer.
While it doesn’t always transcend its stage roots, Killer Joe features indelible performances by both McConaughey and Gina Gershon (as one member of a trailer-trash family who gets enmeshed in Joe’s side job). Both unsettling and darkly funny, it’s one of the year’s most uniquely creepy movies.
Writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk (Logo’s Noah’s Arc) returns with The Skinny (now available; Breaking Glass Pictures), a romantic comedy that’s hilariously explicit about discussing the boundaries of queer sexuality. A quintet of Ivy League besties reunite a year after graduation for pride weekend in New York City and set off on a round of debauchery, confrontations and revelations that will shake up their friendship. It’s sassy, saucy and smart.
Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos returns with another description-defying new movie, Alps (now available; Kino Lorber Home Video), about a group of people who stand in for the recently deceased as a way to help survivors through the grieving process. Things never go quite as planned, however, leading the characters into provocative and dangerous territory. If you’re a fan of Lanthimos’ rule-breaking brand of cinema, he remains firmly on that wavelength in this wonderfully bizarre film.
New and notable documentaries this month include The Whale (now available; Docurama Films), executive-produced by Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds; Inspired: The Voices Against Prop 8 (now available; Garden Thieves Pictures), made all the more timely with the Supreme Court’s recent decision to hear the California marriage-equality case; and Sound and Fury director Roger Weisberg’s latest, Money and Medicine (now available; Docurama Films), which examines the equally zeitgeist-y issue of health care costs.
Classic: Call Her Miss Crawford
Long before Matt Damon slipped into his swimtrunks for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith’s novel had already received stellar big-screen treatment with René Clément’s Purple Noon (now available; the Criterion Collection), starring that legendary Euro-smoothie Alain Delon. This coolly continental thriller plays darker and sparer than the later adaptation, but if you’re a fan of Ripley, you should absolutely check this one out. Extras include archival interviews with Delon and Highsmith, as well as a new digital restoration (and Blu-ray debut).
Unironic fans of Joan Crawford and lovers of camp alike will find a lot to love in the Joan Crawford in the 1950s box (now available; TCM/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), which spotlights her post–Mildred Pierce period of full-tilt, big-shouldered performances in films like Queen Bee, Harriet Craig and Autumn Leaves. Proceed accordingly.
Speaking of big-screen divas, Nicole Kidman gives one of her most multilayered performances in The Portrait of a Lady (now available; Shout Factory), teaming with legendary filmmaker Jane Campion to adapt the immortal Henry James novel. This first-ever Blu-ray “Special Edition” is spare on extras (a doc on Campion), but it’s worth experiencing the film’s lush art direction in HD. (Shout Factory has another semi-forgotten ‘90s arthouse film on the new release shelf, Stephen Frears’ The Hi-Lo Country, available December 18.)
You may recall that there was a grindhouse war picture called The Inglorious Bastards that later inspired a Quentin Tarantino title. Now that QT is back in theaters with Django Unchained, it’s cast a spotlight on the original Django spaghetti Westerns. Timeless Media Group offers two double-feature DVDs with four actors playing the titular gunslinger: One features A Man Called Django! (starring Anthony Steffen) and Django and Sartana’s Showdown in the West (Franco Borelli), while the other has Django Kills Silently (George Eastman) and Django’s Cut Price Corpses (Jeff Cameron). None of these reaches the heights of, say, Sergio Leone, but it’s always nice to see more of these grungy and entertaining oaters on DVD.
TV: Oh, Zelda!
One of the most acclaimed new series of 2012, Lena Dunham’s Girls (now available; HBO Home Entertainment), has its first season compiled in a nifty new box set that offers lots of extras fans will devour, including five commentary tracks; conversations with Dunham, cast members, and executive producer Judd Apatow; and the usual stuff like deleted and extended scenes, a making-of featurette and audition reels. (Not sure how excited I’m supposed to be about a booklet “containing a collection of Lena Dunham’s tweets,” however, but it’s probably a harbinger of the future of DVD extras.)
Cult icons like Felicia Day (The Guild, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), Garfunkel and Oates, Mike Rose (Planet Unicorn) and the Sklar Brothers are just some of the reasons to check out The Legend of Neil (now available; Flatiron Film Company), the Web series from Comedy Central about a slacker who gets sucked into The Legend of Zelda. Want to make your own cult Web series? There’s an extra on the DVD that tells you how. (Other extras include commentaries, a music video and such.)
Justified: The Complete Third Season (available December 31; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) wasn’t quite the same without Margo Martindale around, but this go-round offered up another Emmy-winning guest criminal with Jeremy Davies. This set offers nine cast and crew commentaries, as well as an extended conversation between series stars Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins.
Finally, don’t miss one of the great cheeseball “nonfiction” shows of the 1970s as In Search Of...: The Complete Series (now available; VEI) finally makes it to DVD. Hosted by Leonard Nimoy, this program was always setting out to find Bigfoot or UFOs or the Loch Ness monster or proof of ESP. As a comedian once noted, they didn’t always find anything — but hey, the show’s called In Search of…