"Spring can really hang you up the most." - Landesman/Wolf
2 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
La mort en ce jardin (France/Mexico, 1956)
The "garden" of the title is actually a jungle in South America, and it's there that a motley band of fugitives – an old diamond miner (Charles Vanel), his deaf-mute daughter (Michèle Girardon), a priest (Michel Piccoli), a prostitute (Simone Signoret) and a two-bit adventurer named Shark (Georges Marchal) hide out from government troops bent on driving them out. Luis Buñuel's mid-career movie was a thinly disguised a critique of the oppression and avarice of his native Spain, and still bears watching today. The dual-format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition is code-locked for Europe. Extras include a new interview with British film critic Tony Rayns, interviews from 2009 with French actor Michel Piccoli and Spanish film scholar Victor Fuentes, a new trailer and a 24-page booklet with an essay by Philip Kemp.
Harmonium (Japan/France, 2016)
Harmonium took third prize (the Jury Prize) last year at Cannes, and its themes read like a checklist of things a Japanese indie writer-director (here, Kôji Fukada) should cover in making a contemporary drama. The list is long: family intrigue and dysfunction, buried secrets, maternal protection, father-son loyalty, friendship, crime and punishment, murder and (spoiler alert, probably too late) rape. The moral of the story: Never let a strange "lodger" into your house, even if you think you might already know him (remember your Hitchcock?). Extras on the dual-format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition, which is code-locked for Europe, are slim but informative: two new interviews with the director and actor Kanji Furatachi, a trailer and a 32-page booklet that includes another talk with Fukada.
1 from Disney
Bambi (U.S, 1942)
First, a few things I didn't know. 1) Bambi was a book before it was a Disney film; it was called Bambi, ein Leben im Walde (Bambi, a Life in the Woods) and was published in Austria in 1926; the writer, Felix Salten (real name Siegmund Salzmann) had been to Italy, where he'd picked up the word "bambino". 2) Bambi was meant to save Disney from bankruptcy, coming right in the middle of World War Two and following the box-office failures of Fantasia and Dumbo; it didn't, and so Disney re-released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which did – a successful marketing strategy or re-releases that Disney still uses today. 3) Bambi is considered the last of the "classic" Disney pictures, ones that took artistic risks, that innovated, that stunned audiences with their originality rather than following the motto of "give them what they want," which is a surprise to me, who grew up in a different era and for whom Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book and even The AristoCats are classics in their own right (maybe it was just all that jazz). The story? Well, you know it already, surely: A white-tail deer fawn named Bambi grows up in the forest with his animal friends Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk but his idyll is broken when, one day out in the meadow, his mother is shot by hunters (a scene that will live in infamy for any parent who has to console a crying child traumatized by the death). In between, there's a forest fire, winter famine, a murderous pursuit by the hunters' bloodhounds, and the haunting presence, so close yet so far, of Bambi's father, the Great Prince of the Forest. Disney upped the artistic ante with masterful use of a multiplane camera to make the hand-painted backgrounds really come alive, and added doses of humour with speeches like little Thumper's "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nuthin' at all." All in all, classic family entertainment of a quality and depth you don't see much of anymore. Now, the new home-video release: This is Disney's second Blu-ray release of Bambi, and they're calling it an "Anniversary Edition," which is odd (what, Bambi is 100 years old? no, they mean 65) and is being marketed as Bambi's "first time on digital," which simply means you can download a digital copy. It's the latest in Disney's "Signature Collection" of dual format Blu-ray/DVDs and follows up on the "Diamond Edition" of Bambi that the studio released in 2011. What's new? Not a lot. Video and audio are the same, there's a slipcase (with different art) and most of the extras have been retained from the last kick at the Bambi can. New extras total about 25 minutes and are divided into five segments: a 1927 animated short in black-and-white called "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit"; a higher-res version of one deleted scene and another, new, in regular res; a behind-the-scenes look at several sequences; and fleeting looks at Bambi's impact on animation and some of the animals it portrays. There's also one supplement that's digital-only (presumably to lure viewers to Disney's website, clever marketers that they are): it's a 9-minute look at the life and art of Disney animator Tyrus Wong, and is actually interesting enough that I wonder why it wasn't just included on the Blu-ray itself, especially since it comes packaged with a collectible art card of Wong's fine work.
2 war movies from Twilight Time
The Quiet American (U.S., 1958)
Michael Redgrave plays a British journalist in French colonial Saigon whose Vietnamese girlfriend catches the eye of a U.S. aid worker (Audie Murphy), setting in motion a confrontation with Communist insurgents. The CIA secretly helped to adapt the script from Graham Greene's novel, much to his displeasure, apparently. Remade in 2002 with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in the lead roles. The region-free Blu-ray shows the film in a wider aspect ratio (1.85:1) than the old DVD that MGM put out in 2005; it also has better visuals and sound. Not much in the way of extras, however, besides optional English subtitles, a trailer and an optional audio track of the score (with some effects). There's an illustrated booklet, too (8 pages).
The Bridge at Remagen (U.S, 1969)
To me, the most interesting thing about this Hollywood war movie (about a decisive battle in the Allied advance into Nazi Germany in early 1945) is where and when it was shot: in Czechoslovakia, under strict supervision, just before Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the Prague Spring of 1968. Cast and crew fled across the border in a fleet of 28 taxis as the production was shut down. The new Blu-ray is region-free and easily bests MGM's DVD from 2006; extras include a trailer and an isolated track of Elmer Bernstein's score. In the 8-page booklet, critic Julie Kirgo briefly discusses the film's production problems, but there's is no video making-of, unfortunately. It would have been nice to have unearthed some eyewitness vintage material.
1 boxset from Criterion
The Marseille Trilogy (France, 1931-46)
- From the Criterion press notes: In the 1930s, Marcel Pagnol, a leading light of the Paris theater, set out for new horizons as a filmmaker in his native Provence. His early masterpieces Marius, Fanny, and César mix theatrical stagecraft with realistic location photography to create an epic love story from the fabric of everyday life. Gruff, sentimental César (music-hall star Raimu) owns a waterfront bar in the Old Port of Marseille where his son, Marius (Pierre Fresnay), wipes down tables and dreams of a life at sea. The prosperous, middle-aged sailmaker Panisse (Fernand Charpin) wants to wed Marius’s sweetheart, Fanny (Orane Demazis), setting up a fateful romantic triangle whose story unfolds across a generation in the films of The Marseille Trilogy, which first earned Pagnol his place in cinema history. “If Pagnol is not the greatest auteur of the sound film,” critic André Bazin wrote, “he is in any case something akin to its genius.” The three films look wonderful in the new edition from U.S. distributor Criterion (your choice of 3-disc Blu-ray or 4-disc DVD sets); each one has been newly restored in 4K digital and the BDs have uncompressed monaural soundtracks. Extras are extensive: a new introduction by veteran French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier; a new interview with Pagnol's grandson, Nicolas; several segments of Marcel Pagnol: Morceaux de choisis, a 1973 documentary series on the writer-director's life and work; a short documentary on the Marseille harbor by Pagnol himself; archival interviews with actors Orane Demazis, Pierre Fresnay and Robert Vattier; a new video essay by scholar Brett Bowles called Pagnol's Poetic Realism; a clip from French TV about the restoration of the trilogy; a theatrical re-release trailer for the trilogy; new English subtitle translations; and a booklet that includes an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson as well as excerpts from Pagnol's memoirs.
3 from the British Film Institute
Stockholm, My Love (U.K./Sweden, 2016)
The Irish director and critic Mark Cousins is a busy fellow. You may know him for his truly epic TV documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), all 15 hour-long episodes of it. Or perhaps you've relived your favorite screen moments as a kid via his 2013 follow-up A Story of Children and Film. Or enjoyed the walkabouts he's taken in his native land (I Am Belfast), or around Mexico City (What Is This Film Called Love?), or, more obscurely, in Albania (Here Be Dragons). Sure, his thick accent and repetitive way of upturning the end of every sentence (if you know what I mean?) can be a major turnoff to some viewers; his manner of speaking has even invited a scabrous YouTube parody. But admirers, as well as readers of his books (including his excellent collection of film celebrity interviews for the BBC series Scene by Scene) and of his column in The Guardian, have long appreciated Cousins' prolific brillance, the way he approaches film history through autobiography, making connections between landmarks of global cinema and small pictures alike, turning "appreciation" into an art form. In his latest film, he combines fiction and the travelogue by sending Swedish singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry out into the streets of Stockholm. She's cast as a visiting academic who's going through a bit of an emotional rough patch of grief and guilt, which is revealed to us only through voiceover (in the first half, in English; in the second in Swedish, culminating in Cherry singing the title track). Extras on BFI's region-free video (packaged as a dual-format Blu-ray/DVD edition) include a making-of (17 mins.), a select locations tour with audio commentary (12 mins.), and just under two minutes of Cousins writing notes to his own narration. There are also a trailer, teaser and stills & poster gallery (39 pages). The 20-page booklet has an essay on Cousins and his work by esteemed critic Ian Christie, as well as a "self-interview" by Cousins himself.
Minute Bodies (U.K., 2016)
From the BFI press notes: British naturalist, inventor and pioneering filmmaker F. Percy Smith worked in the early years of the 20th century, developing various cinematographic and micro-photographic techniques to capture nature's secrets in action. Minute Bodies is an interpretative edit that combines Smith's original footage with a new contemporary score by Tindersticks (with Thomas Belhom and Christine Ott) to create a hypnotic, alien yet familiar dreamscape that connects us to the sense of wonder Smith must have felt as he peered through his own lens and saw these micro-worlds for the first time. The dual-format edition (one Blu-ray, one DVD) is coded Region-B for Europe. Extras include four short films Smith made in 1910, '11, '13, and '30, and four made by his colleague Mary Field in 1932, '36 and '42. The illustrated booklet has essays by Bryony Dixon, Tim Boon and Stuart A. Staples. The soundtrack is also available separately in the U.K. on limited-edition LP, CD or download.
Long Shot (U.K., 1978)
From the BFI press notes: Shot for next to nothing on short-end scraps of black and white stock, this deadpan verité-style comedy drama follows director Charlie (Charles Gormley) and scriptwriter Neville (Neville Smith) around the 1977 Edinburgh Film Festival on the hunt for cash, cast and ‘name director’ Sam Fuller to shoot their Aberdeen-set oil-boom adventure Gulf and Western. Along the way they encounter a plethora of filmmaking luminaries including Wim Wenders, Stephen Frears, John Boorman, Bill Forsyth and Alan Bennett. The new dual-format edition (one Blu-ray, one DVD) is coded Region-B for Europe. Extras include Scene Nun, Take One (a half-hour comedy short by Hatton from 1964 that stars Susannah York); Hooray for Holyrood (1986, 38 mins), a Scottish TV film marking the 40th anniversary of the EFF; and Sean Connery's Edinburgh (1982, 28 mins), a promotional film for the city that stars Mr. James Bond himself. The 22-page booklet includes new writing by Forsyth.
1 from Film Movement
Pelle the Conqueror (Denmark/Sweden, 1987)
A decade and a half after starring with Liv Ullmann in The Emigrants and The New Land, Max Von Sydow returned to the screen in another mid-19th century tale of poor Swedes struggling to make a better life abroad, this time not in America but just across the water in neighbouring Denmark. Here, he plays Lasse Karlsson, an old man who, after the death of his wife, takes his young son Pelle to the island of Bornholm. They wind up working on a farm where the work is exhausting, the owner corrupt and the managers unsympathetic brutes. Pelle's dream of emigrating to America never pans out, but the open ending leaves him with possibilities. The movie is considered a Scandinavian classic; it won the Palme d'or at Cannes and the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 1988. The newly restored Blu-ray from U.S. niche distributor Film Movement improves in all aspects over the barebones DVDs released in the early 2000s (by Anchor Bay and Fox), finally revealing all of the original image in the widescreen frame (in the others, it was cropped on both sides). Extras include a new commentary track by British film historian Peter Cowie, a trailer of this film and six others that Film Movement has released, and a 16-page booklet with an essay by U.S. critic Terrence Rafferty.
2 from Indicator
The Wild One (U.S., 1953)
Fathers, lock up your daughters; Marlon Brando is coming to town, and he's bringing his biker gang. Rather tame by today's standards, The Wild One had street cred back in the early '50s, largely thanks to Brando's portrayal of leather-clad bad-boy Johnny Strabler. Stanley Kramer produced. British distributor Powerhouse Films pulls out the stops for this dual-format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition on its upstart Indicator label. Extras include an audio commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger; a short introduction by Karen Kramer, the producer's wife; a new half-hour look at how The Wild One was censored in Britain; a half-hour doc from 2007 on the "true story" that inspired the film; a 20-minute profile of Brando from 2007; and the film's 20-minute Super 8 version. There's also an image gallery, theatrical trailer, booklet and DVD. Oh, and the discs are free-region, so they'll play on any player. (So will the U.S. Blu-ray edition by Mill Creek and the German one by Sony, but they don't have as many extras.)
Housekeeping (U.S./Canada, 1987)
In a small northwestern town in the late 1950s, a wayward aunt named Sylvie (Christine Lahti) drifts into the lives of two teenage orphaned sisters, Ruth and Lucille. One rebels, the other falls under her spell, and inbetween all kinds of mundane and quietly amazing things happen. Shot in British Columbia from a novel by Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping marked the American debut of Scottish director Bill Forsyth (Local Hero), and it's an understated beauty. Extras on Powerhouse's Indicator Blu-ray (the first time the film has been in that format) are mostly a series of (very informative) interviews. Four are new: one with Forsyth (42 mins.), one with editor Michael Ellis (11 mins.), one with director of photography Michael Coulter (13 mins.) and one with Robinson (14 mins.); there are none with the girls, however. There's also a 13-minute interview the British Film Institute did with Forsyth in 1994, plus a trailer, an image gallery and a booklet. And like all Indicator's releases, the Blu-ray is region-free.
1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
Daughter of the Nile (Taiwan, 1987)
Taiwan, the 1980s. A 19-year-old woman named Lin (played by pop music star Lin Yang) leads a seemingly hopeless life in the capital, Taipei, working as a fast-food waitress, fantasizing over her older brother's pretty-boy gangster friend (Fan Yang) and imagining a more carefree existence as the lead character in her favourite manga, the "Daughter of the Nile." Directing a script by Chien Ho-Huang, Hsiao-Hsien Hou shows his usual visual flair, which is beautifully captured in this newly restored addition (a combo Blu-ray/DVD set) to British distributor Eureka's Masters of Cinema series. Extras include a long interview with Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns (42 mins.) and a trailer; there's also a booklet. The discs are locked to Region B (Europe); there are optional English subtitles.
2 from Eureka! Entertainment
Born Free (U.K./U.S., 1966)
In 1960, Joy Adamson published her first autobiographical novel, Born Free, about the life-changing experience she and her game-warden husband, George, had raising three orphaned lion cubs on their farm in Kenya. Six years later, James Hill adapted the story into an Oscar-winning movie, and to this day Born Free remains a classic of family entertainment (the title song is still catchy, too). The dual-format (Blu-ray/DVD edition) from British distributor Eureka! has a number of extras. There are two original trailers; promotional materials from the Born Free Foundation; the option of listening to the film's score and effects as a separate track; and an audio commentary by film historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. The discs are Region-B locked, however, which means they won't play on standard North American players; for that, there's the (largely similar) U.S. Blu-ray edition that Twilight Time released in late 2015.
The Olive Tree (Spain, 2016)
Spanish director Icíar Bollaín (Even the Rain, Take My Eyes) and British screenwriter Paul Laverty (I, Daniel Blake) collaborated on this indictment of the hypocrisy of multinational corporations who "greenwash" their destructive industrial practices. The story follows a headstrong young farmworker named Alma (Anna Castillo) who travels to Düsseldorf in search of her grandfather's ancient olive tree, which the family has sold for big bucks to open a restaurant but which is now exhibited in the lobby of a German energy company, a symbol to camouflage its phony "pro-environment" policies. With the help of a local NGO, can Alma rally enough support to get the tree back? The odds are against her. There are no extras on Eureka's dual-format edition (BD/DVD), but there is a 24-page booklet that includes an essay by British critic Jason Wood and notes by Bollaín on how the film came about and how the production went.
1 from Mongrel Media
I Am Not Your Negro (France/U.S., 2016)
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly," James Baldwin once wrote, "is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” How apt for today's divided America. Baldwin was writing in the mid-1950s, and would go on to become a major public figure of black activism right through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and into the '70s and '80s. He left behind an unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, in which he reflected on the legacy of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, Jr., and last year that book was made into a film. I Am Not Your Negro got an Oscar nomination as best documentary feature, and it's easy to see why. Baldwin, the social critic, and racism in America, the underlying issue, come vividly to life through brilliant use of TV archives, film excerpts (from movies like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and The Defiant Ones), and contemporary news footage (of the riots in Ferguson, Miss.). Released in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures and in Canada by Toronto-based Mongrel Media and its Quebec affiliate, Métropole Films, the documentary is available in Blu-ray and DVD with a few worthy extras: an interview with director Raoul Peck (who's from Haiti, and was once the country's culture minister) and two lengthy Q&As with narrator Samuel L. Jackson and Peck before live audiences. There's also a photo gallery and, on the Canadian edition, an optional French dub.
2 from the British Film Institute
Madame de ... (France/Italy, 1953)
A German Jew by birth, a French citizen by necessity (he fled the Nazis) and then briefly American (during the Nazi occupation of France) before coming back to the Continent postwar, Marcel Ophuls made movies in different languages but always had a signature style: a camera that was so fluid it seemed to float on air. It's very evident in Madame de ..., which is set in fin-de-siècle Paris and stars Danielle Darrieux as an aristocrat who sells her precious earrings to pay off some debts, then hides the fact from her husband (Charles Boyer), who has secrets of his own. This is the movie's third iteration on Blu-ray; Criterion had one in the U.S. in 2013 that was marred by excessive digital "scrubbing," Gaumont in France improved on things in 2014, and now comes the BFI with a transfer that finally does justice to Ophuls' artistry. The dual-format edition (BD and DVD, both code-locked for Europe) offers two of the extras from the other editions: an hour-long French documentary on Ophuls from 2013 and a 35-minute interview with his assistant director, Alain Jessua. Everything comes with English subtitles that are, of course, optional. The illustrated booklet is 32 pages long.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too (U.K.,1987)
This British social comedy from the Thatcher era stars Siobhan Finneran (now known for TV's Downton Abbey) in her feature film debut. She and Michelle Holmes play Rita and Sue, "two tough, deprived girls from the worst part of town," as critic Roger Ebert put it, who have a fling with Bob (George Costigan), a married man. The joke's on him, because these liberated girls just want to have fun – at his expense. Alan Clarke (Scum, Made in Britain) directs. Unlike the Blu-ray released in the U.S. three years ago by Twilight Time, the BFI's dual-format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition has optional subtitles (very useful for the thick Yorkshire accents), and different extras. Most significant is a new, 68-minute documentary in which cast and crew (including Finneran) look back on making the movie and on the controversy over its depictions of underage sex. There's also a 98-page collection of production stills and a 32-page booklet that goes into detail about screenwriter Andrea Dunbar, who adapted the story from two of her plays and died three years later of a brain hemorrhage, age 29. The discs are coded Region-B for Europe, so they won't play on a standard North American player.
1 from Criterion
Dheepan (France, 2015)
French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (A Prophet; Rust and Bone) won the Palme d'or at Cannes for this contemporary crime drama about a refugee from Sri Lanka (Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a novelist in his first-ever role) who inadvertently gets into a turf war with drug lords in the Parisian banlieue housing project where he works as a janitor. The refugee has a back story: a former child soldier for the Tamil Tigers, he fled his homeland using the passport of a dead man named Dheepan and taken along with him a woman and young girl he now passes off as his family. Gritty stuff, very much ripped from the headlines. Extras on the Blu-ray (also available on DVD) include an audio commentary by the Audiard and his co-screenwriter Noé Débré (in French with optional English subtitles), a 21-minute video interview with the director, a 22-minute video interview with Jesuthasan (whose life largely mirrors Dheepan's), nine minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Audiard and Débré, and a trailer. There's also a foldout leaflet with an essay by critic Michael Atkinson.
4 documentaries from First Run Features
The Future of Work and Death (U.S./U.K. et al, 2016)
What does automation have in store for us? Will artificial intelligence put us all out of work or actually improve our quality of life? Futurists and other experts both past (Isaac Asimov) and present (Aubrey de Grey et al) weigh in on these and other essential questions in this Kickstarter-funded debut documentary by British filmmakers Sean Blackwell and Wayne Walsh. No extras on the DVD, and it's too bad all the vintage clips have been stretched to fit the wide screen (a deal-breaker for me).
All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone (Canada, 2016)
Inspired by trailblazing journalist I.F. Stone (whose newsletter I.F. Stone's Weekly was required reading on the radical left in the 1950s and '60s), American investigative reporters Amy Goodman (Democracy Now), Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone), and Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill (both of The Intercept) talk about government spin and secrecy and, yes, lies, in our own era and why good journalism matters now more than ever. Canada's Fred Peabody (CBC-TV's 'The Fifth Estate') directs. The DVD has half an hour of extended interviews.
Unlocking the Cage (U.S., 2016)
The documentary team of Chris Hegedus and her partner D.A. Pennebaker (The War Room, Kings of Pastry) delve into the fight of American lawyer Steve Wise to get the U.S. courts to acknowledge the legal rights of animals. It's an up-the-evolutionary-chain battle, and Wise – and the filmmakers – make a compelling argument for giving animals the respect we'd give ourselves. The DVD comes with a music video; it's a fundraising song called "Meant to Be Free," co-written and sung by Wise himself.
Concrete Love, aka The Bohms: Architecture of a Family (France/Germany/China/Switzerland, 2014)
He's described as Germany's most important architect, still going strong at 97 years old. But true to his profession and perhaps his generation, Gottfried Böhm is a bit of a control freak. As this fly-on-the-wall family portrait shows, Böhm père, son of a famous architect himself, is a stifling influence on his three architect sons, all of them distinguished and prolific in their own right: Stephan, Peter and Paul. First Run doesn't give you much room to manoeuvre, either: the English subtitles on the DVD are burned-in (you can't switch them off).
2 classics of the '70s from Paramount
The Godfather (U.S., 1972)
There are humble beginnings and there's the legend. When it was being made, nobody expected The Godfather to be a box-office smash, let alone an all-time classic. It was a low-budget gangster flick of modest pretensions, a hit-or-miss vehicle for some big stars (Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton) and a 50-50 chance for writer Mario Puzo to see if he could successfully adapt his bestselling novel to the big screen. But something about the epic story about crime in America and the way it was handled by director Francis Ford Coppola made for movie magic, and in the end The Godfather walked away with three Oscars, including best picture; it made cinema history again two years later with an even better sequel, The Godfather: Part II. Brando, of course, played Don Corleone, a New York mafia boss losing his grip on power in the aftermath of World War II to a new breed of drug-dealing hoodlums keen to take over his lucrative turf. Can his war-hero son, Michael (Pacino) take over from the family business and uphold the family's ill-gotten honour, despite his reluctance to do do so? Well, you know the answer already, so don't worry 'bout it. The only extra on the Blu-ray (also available as a single DVD) is Coppola's original audio commentary for the film. It's a bit odd that Paramount is re-releasing the Godfather trilogy now as individual discs without adding any bonus content; the distributor already went the single-disc route in 2010, two years after "The Coppola Restoration" boxset, and the new editions offer nothing new, except different cover art and slipcases. Is it possible Paramount is holding off for a major re-release in 2022, when the original Godfather celebrates its 50th anniversary, and when we might get a new transfer in ultra-high-definition? And, purists be damned, can we even hope for an extra that's never been on DVD before: the nearly 10-hour chronological re-edit, The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980, that Coppola did for VHS and laserdisc in 1992?
Saturday Night Fever (U.S., 1977)
Brooklyn, 1976. By day, Tony Manero (John Travolta) works in a hardware store; by night, his kingdom is a discothèque called the 2001 Odyssey. Young and cocky, Tony dreams of winning an important dance competition that's coming up, and to increase his chances he ditches his usual partner, Annette (Donna Pescow) for a new girl named Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), who's athletic and graceful and smart. Cue the Bee Gees soundtrack ("More Than a Woman" etc.). Meanwhile, at home, Tony and his working-class parents face a crisis when Tony's elder brother (Martin Shakar) abandons the priesthood. Director John Badham (Blue Thunder, War Games) and screenwriter Norman Wexler (Serpico) don't shy away from the story's darker themes (abortion, gang violence, racism), making Fever still topical today. This is the second time Paramount has released the movie on Blu-ray; the previous one in 2009 was playable in all regions. The new one, code-locked to Region A (i.e. North America), is being marketed as the "director's cut," but all that means is three minutes of (previously available) deleted scenes have been added to the original theatrical cut (also provided). Besides that and a new 4K restoration, this edition isn't substantially different. The soundtrack is still in lossless 5.1 high-def, tweaked just a bit to "enhance viewers' enjoyment." The extras remain the same: a director's audio commentary (on the theatrical cut only); a pop-up trivia track (accessible on both versions); an hour-long making-of divided into five segments that explores, among other things, the Bee Gees' music; a 9-minute locations tour hosted by actor Joseph Cali in 2007; a 10-minute video tutorial on how to dance like Travolta and a four-minute "Fever Challenge" that shows some more moves; and finally,one deleted scene lasting a minute and a half (the old Blu-ray had three other deleted scenes as extras, each with optional director commentary; they're now in the director's cut.)
1 from Indicator
The Lady from Shanghai (U.S., 1947)
Orson Welles directs his wife Rita Hayworth (her hair cut short and bleached blonde for the occasion) in this thriller about a murder plot hatched aboard a private yacht, and its consequences. The yacht is owned by Hayworth's character's husband (Everett Sloane), a defense attorney; the couple have recently returned to the U.S. after living in Shanghai; Welles plays Michael O'Hara, a seaman they hire to help sail their boat to San Francisco. Michael gets dragged into a bit of criminal skullduggery by the husband's corrupt law partner (Glenn Anders). There's an attempted murder, then a real one, then some good old-fashioned double-crossing, then a lengthy courtroom scene, and the movie culminates in a memorable shootout in a funhouse hall-of-mirrors. Fabulous stuff. This is Shanghai's fourth time on region-free Blu-ray; TCM released a dual-format (BD/DVD) edition in 2014, remastered and re-issued it with more extras on five months later, and budget label Mill Creek came out with a barebones edition in 2015. The new edition from British label Indicator (the Criterion-like imprint of Powerhouse Films) is the best of the lot. Besides the previously available audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, Indicator adds a a new video introduction by Welles' biographer (and well-known British actor) Simon Callow (21 mins.), a discussion with Bogdanovich about Welles (20 mins, from 2000), two trailers (one with a commentary by Gremlins director Joe Dante), an image gallery and a booklet.
1 from Criterion
Tampopo (Japan, 1985)
The spaghetti Western genre meets the precision of Japanese cooking in writer-director Juzo Itami's classic foodie film, Tampopo, a wry comedy about authentic cuisine, true friendship and the sensual joys of eating. Demure starlet Nobuko Miyamoto, Itami's wife, plays the title role as the inheritor of a ramen soup restaurtant that has fallen on hard times. With the help of a pair of wayward truckers, tough guy Gun (Ken Watanabe) and his young sidekick Goro (Tsutomo Yamazaki), along with a posse of admirers that includes a master chef and a crooked construction contractor, Tampopo transforms her shop into a popular venue for connaisseurs of ramen. To thicken the broth, Itami throws in some memorable vignettes: a gangster and his moll having sex with food, a simple office worker showing up his bosses with his knowledge of fine cuisine, a young mother who's on her death bed but manages to cook one last meal for her husband and kids, and more. Very enjoyable stuff. Extras on Criterion's Blu-ray (also available on DVD) include a making-of from 1986 that's narrated by the director and lasts 90 minutes; Rubber Band Pistol, Itami's 1962 debut short film (33 mins.); a new interview with Miyamoto (11 mins.); a 16-minute interview with Tampopo's "food stylist" (an unusual concept at the time) and a 22-minute one with a Japanese "ramen scholar" with four American celebrity chefs; a new video essay (10 mins.) and a trailer. There's also an 8-page booklet you can fold out to make a colourful poster (the artwork is new).
3 from the British Film Institute
Letter to Brezhnev (U.K.,1985)
Liverpool, mid-1980s. Soviet sailors Sergei and Petr (Alfred Molina, Peter Firth) get shore leave to explore the town and wind up hitting the bars, where they meet Elaine and Teresa (Alexandra Pigg, Margi Clarke), two working-class girls out for a good time. Teresa pairs off with Sergei for a night of fun and sex, but Elaine wants something more, a real relationship. After the two sailors return to their ship and leave the next day, Elaine pines for her departed Petr, eventually writing a letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev pleaded for them to be reunited. Will the loving couple get their wish? Written by Frank Clarke, directed by Chris Bernard and shot with almost no budget on Super 16-mm film with minimal equipment, Letter to Brezhnev was a sleeper hit, and is still highly regarded today as a classic of British '80s cinema. Extras on the BFI dual-format edition (one Blu-ray, one DVD) include a new Interview with Margi Clarke (35 minutes), a new interview with Alexandra Pigg and Peter Firth (14 mins.), a new audio commentary by Bernard and Frank Clarke, a vintage commentary by Margi Clarke, a 2003 making-of called From Liverpool with Love (16 mins.), an original trailer and a "stills and collections" gallery. There's also an illustrated booklet with two new essays on the film. (Missing are a couple of extras from the otherwise inferior, full-frame DVD that British distributor C'est la Vie released back in 2004 and that's still available: a 13-minute vintage TV interview of Frank Clarke and cast, and a three-minute TV news report on the film as it was being shot.)
The Informer (Britain, 1929)
Based on Liam O'Flaherty's bestselling novel and helmed by German-American director Arthur Robison, The Informer is set in the newly independent Ireland of 1922. It portrays the shadowy world of a Dublin revolutionary group thrown into disarray when one of its members shoots a policeman. The cast is international (Carl Harbord, English, plays the informer; Lars Hanson, Swedish, is his rival; and the lovely-named Lya de Putti, Hungarian, is their love interest); German cinematographers Werner Brandes and Theodor Sparkuhl load on the chiaroscuro. After this version (shot in silent and in sound), the novel was adapted twice more for the screen: in 1935, famously, by John Ford; and in 1968 by Jules Dassin, given the new title Uptight. Newly restored and with a new score for chamber ensemble by Irish violinist Garth Knox, the film comes to home video in a dual-format edition (one Blu-ray and one DVD, both code-locked to play on European or all-region players only). Both silent and sound versions are featured. Extras includes a short restoration demonstration and eight vintage "Topical Budget" newsreels, starting with I Want Peace (1921) and ending with Dublin's Civil War (1922). There's also an illustrated booklet.
The Goddess (China, 1934)
For years, The Goddess was a neglected classic of pre-Communist China. Newly restored by the Chinese Film Archive with a new orchestral score by Zou Ye (The Knot), it's a silent drama about a single mother (Ruan Lingyu, the country's most famous actress at the time) who resorts to prostitution in order to support her infant son. In Chinese, "goddess" (shen nu) can mean either "protector" (of children, for example) and, as a slang term, "prostitute." Lingyu plays both to perfection, and shows a vengeful side, too, when her character takes the law into her own hands and kills her brute of a pimp. The actress's bravura performance came tinged with tragedy: overburdened by her stardom, Lingyu committed suicide a year after the movie was released, aged 24. There are no extras on the DVD, just optional English subtitles for the Mandarin intertitles. There is no audio commentary, either, unlike the (inferior-looking) DVD issued by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2005. The disc is code-locked for European players, so if you're in North America you'll need an appropriate DVD player to watch it (go all-region, while you're at it; you'll be glad you did). There's also an eight-page booklet.
3 from Twilight Time
How to Steal a Million (U.S., 1966)
William Wyler was prolific, versatile, successful – the very image of a major Hollywood director and the only one to win more than two Oscars as the best of the best. A Jewish emigré from Alsace, he started his career in the silent era, directing some two dozen Westerns in the 1920s; got his first Oscar nomination in 1936 with Dodsworth; got several more adapting literary classics like Wuthering Heights and The Little Foxes; won his first Oscar for the World War Two drama Mrs. Miniver and his second, just after the war, for The Best Years of Our Lives; hit the '50s running with Roman Holiday (Audrey Hepburn's screen debut); closed out the decade with the costume epic Ben Hur (his third Oscar); and had a string of late-career hits in the '60s with The Collector (starring Terence Stamp), How to Steal a Million (with Hepburn and Peter O'Toole) and Funny Girl (Barbra Streisand's screen debut). How to Steal a Million is a rom-com heist movie set in Paris, with Hepburn the Givenchy-wearing daughter of an art forger and O'Toole the suave burglar she enlists to get daddy out of trouble; the great Alexandre Trauner (Quai des brumes, The Apartment), designed the opulent sets. Loads of high-class fun, and nobody gets hurt. The Blu-ray has a big extra, which owners of the DVD that Fox released in 2004 are already familiar with (though this one doesn't have optional French or Spanish audio): It's an A&E TV documentary called "Audrey Hepburn: The Fairest Lady," and it lasts 45 minutes. There's also an audio commentary by actor Eli Wallach and producer Catherine Wyler (the director's daughter), an isolated track of John Williams' score, a trailer and a 6-page booklet.
You'll Never Get Rich (U.S., 1941)
When Fred Astaire was asked who his favourite dancing partner was, he'd usually say Ginger Rogers, with whom he made 10 movies. But sometimes he'd say Rita Hayworth, with whom he made two: You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and You Were Never Lovelier (1942). The first one made Hayworth a star, and it's true, she does show a lot of pizzaz dancing with Astaire to the tunes of Cole Porter in this musical rom-com set in the unlikely locale of an army bootcamp. The Blu-ray has an isolated music-and-effects track, a trailer and a 6-page booklet.
The Fortune Cookie (U.S., 1966)
After the scandal over his sex farce Kiss Me, Stupid in 1965, Billy Wilder needed something safe to keep the censors at bay. He found it the following year by turning to crime, figuratively speaking. The Fortune Cookie is a comedy about medical-insurance fraud starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the first of their many pairings on screen. What it lacks in charm it makes up for in biting wit, and Matthau was so good he earned an Oscar for best supporting actor. The Blu-ray has an isolated score track, a trailer and a 6-page booklet.
3 by Woody Allen
Another Woman (U.S., 1988)
Woody Allen borrowed Ingmar Bergman's cinematographer, Sven Nkyvist, and much of Bergman's intimate worldview for this compact (81-minute) drama about a 50-something philosophy professor (Gena Rowlands, who also narrates) who moves to a new apartment in New York City and begins eavesdropping on the neighbours. A psychiatrist has his office next door, and through the wall comes the voice of "another woman" (Mia Farrow) who complains how empty her life is. The professor sympathizes; she, too, is filled with regret, and through this other woman's story she begins to understand her own life better and begins to try to change things for the better. Then one day, they actually meet. The Blu-ray from Twilight Time comes with an isolated score track, a trailer and a 6-page booklet.
Crimes and Misdemeanors (U.S., 1989)
Infidelity, NYC-style, circa late 1980s. Successful ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) has an affair with a flight attendant (Angelica Huston) and has to take desperate action when she threatens to tell his wife. Meanwhile, filmmaker Cliff Stern (Woody Allen) falls for an associate TV producer (Mia Farrow) while shooting a documentary about his obnoxious brother-in-law (Alan Alda). There are laughs and there are tears in this, one of Allen's better tragicomedies. As per most of his films on home video, the only extra on this Arrow Films Blu-ray is a trailer. Note also that disc is region-locked to Britain and Europe, but can be played on all-region players.
Alice (U.S., 1990)
Infidelity in '80s NYC, take 2. Alice (Mia Farrow) finds she no longer loves her husband, Doug (William Hurt) and is drawn instead to a handsome jazzman named Joe (Joe Mantegna). Hypnotized by her Chinese acupuncturist, she confesses her infatuation and is given a magic potion to become invisible. Spying on her husband, she discovers some uncomfortable truths, helping her make up her mind. This whimsical fantasy earned Allen an Oscar nod for best original screenplay; it was Farrow's 11th film with him; they split as a couple two years later. Again, typically, the only extra offered on this Arrow release is a trailer, and the Blu-ray is code-locked for Britain and Europe.