08.2017

1 British punk classic from Criterion

Sid and Nancy (U.K., 1986)

Two things first. 1) The origin of that name, Sid Vicious: In the early 1970s, John Simon Richie, aka John Beverly, went to vocational school in London, where he met John Lydon, who had a pet hamster named Sid; one day the hamster bit his friend "viciously," and from then on Lydon called his friend Sid Vicious. 2) The girlfriend: Nancy Spungen was a free-spirited  Jewish girl from Philadelphia who fell in with Sid after he became bassist for Lydon's punk band The Sex Pistols; she got him into hard drugs; they moved to New York City, and in late 1978, according to police, Sid attacked her violently and stabbed her to death with his hunting knife. Sid & Nancy is the semi-fictionalized story of the couple's tumultuous, 19-month relationship, culminating in Sid's death by heroin overdose several months after Nancy's death, before he could be brought to trial for her murder. In the film, Sid is played (and sung) by Gary Oldman and Nancy by Chloe Webb; Andrew Schofield plays Lydon, better known as the Sex Pistols' lead singer Johnny Rotten, who, incidentally, had no involvement with the film and panned it on release as a wildly inaccurate farce that "celebrates heroin addiction." Criterion's 4K transfer on Blu-ray and DVD was supervised by cinematographer Roger Deakins and, along with a remastered soundtrack, improves immensely on the Blu-ray that MGM put out in 2011. Extras include a new interview with director Alex Cox (Repo Man); a half-hour making-of from 1987 called "England's Glory" ; an archival interview with the Sex Pistols; two audio commentaries; a phone interview with Sid Vicious from early 1978; a trailer; and more. There's also an 18-page booklet.

2 Japanese films from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

Anatahan (Japan, 1953)

Joseph von Sternberg (The Blue Angel) made his final film in a Japanese studio in 1953 and re-cut it in 1958. It tells the true story of shipwrecked sailors on Anatahan island at the end of World War Two who discover a beautiful young woman (Akemi Negishi, in her screen debut) living in their midst. Coming three months after their U.S. Blu-ray debut via Kino, both cuts look and sound almost identical in their  British iteration for Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema series. Extras are identical, too, with one major addition: a new, 45-minute interview with Asian film expert Tony Rayns. There's also a booklet and a DVD of the 1958 cut . The discs are code-locked for European players.

The Mourning Forest (Japan/France, 2007)

Mourning the death of her son, a young nurse named Machiko (Machiko Ono) takes a senile old widower named Shigeki (Shigeki Uda) on a drive out to the country. The car breaks down and Shigeki wanders into the forest by the road, apparently searching to reconnect with the spirit of his late wife. Machiko follows after, looking for him. Directed by Naomi Kawase (Still the Water; Sweet Bean), the movie now comes to Blu-ray in a dual-format, code-locked edition that includes a DVD but no video extras. There is a stills gallery and a booklet which reproduces the director's statement from the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie won the Grand Prix. 

07.2017

1 Czech classic from Second Run

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Czechoslovakia, 1961)

The great Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman (1910-1989) got out his whole bag of tricks – live-action photography, meticulously hand-drawn animation and mind-blowing matte work – for this adaptation of the late-18th-century tales of the fictitious German nobleman Baron Munchausen, a buffoon and a braggart whose self-reported exploits including travelling to the Moon. The major extra on British distributor Second Run's brilliant-looking all-region Blu-ray release is a feature documentary from 2015 on Zeman's life, work and influence, with interviews with Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Koji Yamamura and others (102 minutes). There's also a new appreciation by film historian Michael Brooke (36 mins.), six featurettes on Zeman and his films (totaling 22 mins.), and a promo spot for the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague (right downtown by the Charles Bridge, worth a visit). Everything has optional English subtitles. The Blu-ray comes with an illustrated booklet containing a new essay by critic Graham Williamson. 

3 vintage American films from Indicator

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (U.S., 1953)

Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, wrote the screenplay and lyrics of this musical fantasy about a boy (Tommy Rettig) who hates taking piano lesson so much that he dreams he and 499 other boys (the "5,000 fingers" of the title) are being tyrannized by a mad music teacher (Hans Conried) who forces them to play an enormous piano, endlessly. A flop on release in 1953, the film is today regarded as a quirky classic very much ahead of its time. The new all-region Indicator Blu-ray from England easily bests the bare-bones American BD that budget label Mill Creek Entertainment released around the same time last year. Indicator's has lossless audio, optional subtitles and a plethora of extras: an audio commentary with film historians Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton; a new documentary short called Father Figure; a new interview with Steve Rowland, son of director Roy Rowland; a short introduction by Karen Kramer, widow of producer Stanley Kramer; a 15-minute short of interviews from 2007 called Dr. T. on Screen; two looks at the musical score (A Little Nightmare Music and Crazy Music); a short commentary and appreciation by Joe Dantefrom 2013; the original theatrical trailer; an Image gallery of on-set and promotional photography; and a booklet with a new essay by artist Peter Conheim as well as critics' (mostly negative) reviews of the film upon release and (also negative) articles written about it at the time. There's also an accompanying DVD.

Mickey One (U.S., 1965)

Warren Beatty stars as a stand-up comic on the run from the Mob in this drama directed by Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde). Inspired by the French New Wave, the picture was scored by Big Band jazzman Eddie Sauter and shot in widescreen black-and-white by Robert Bresson's cinematographer, Ghislain Cloquet. In its Blu-ray debut (with an accompanying DVD, also all-region), the movie comes with a lot of extras: new interviews with star Alexandra Stewart (18 mins.) and Penn's son, Matthew (19 mins.); audio of an on-stage interview Penn gave in 1981 in London; a short commentary and appreciation by Joe Dante from 2013; a trailer; an Image gallery of on-set and promotional photography; and a booklet featuring a new essay by journalist Nick Pinkerton as well as reviews and articles about the film upon release.

Castle Keep (U.S., 1969)

Sydney Pollack directed this dark comedy set in France in the waning days of World War Two. Burt Lancaster plays a U.S. Army major who billets his small company of soldiers in a castle in the Ardennes forest. Each man finds something to care about there, whether it be the castle's art treasures, a local baker's wife or a prototype Volkswagen Beetle. Then the Germans arrive. New to Blu-ray (with an accompanying DVD, also all-region), the movie is buttressed by several extras: audio of Lancaster interviewed onstage in London in 1972; a new interview with actor Tony Bill (18 mins.); a half-hour Interview with author William Eastlake from 1968; an original theatrical trailer; and a booklet with a new essay by critic Brad Stevens as well as reviews and articles about the film from when it was released.

3 American movies from Twilight Time

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (U.S., 1972)

For his fourth film as writer/actor/director, Woody Allen took a pop psychology bestseller by Dr. David Reuben and turned it into a hit comedy on the theme of – what else? – sexuality. In a series of sketches, Allen sends up Shakespeare and Fellini, Masters and Johnson, TV's What's My Line? and crossdressing, and does a most memorable turn as a human sperm in a white body suit (complete with tail) who's discharged headlong, Fantastic Voyage-style, during coitus. Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Louise Lasser, John Carradine, Lynn Redgrave co-star, and Gene Wilder plays a doctor in love with a sheep. The Twilight Time Blu-ray has a trailer and the option of watching the film listening to Mundell Lowe's score as an isolated track. Besides a booklet, there are no other extras. 

The Crimson Kimono (U.S., 1959)

Samuel Fuller (House of Bamboo; The Naked Kiss) wrote and directed this late '50s film noir that follows two Los Angeles cops (James Shigeta and Glenn Corbett, both in their screen debut) as they investigate the murder of a stripper in the city's Little Tokyo district. Tensions mount when the partners fall for the same girl (Victoria Shaw). Twilight Time include a half-hour documentary and a 10-minute appreciation that Sony had in its 7-DVD boxset of Fuller's movies in 2009: Sam Fuller Storyteller and Curtis Hanson: The Culture of The Crimson Kimono. There's also an isolated music track (score by Harry Sukman), two trailers and a booklet with linear notes by Julie Kirgo.

Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn (U.S., 1973/74)

2 musicals for the price of 1, on a single Blu-ray. Adapted from Mark Twain's classic adventure stories and shot in rural Missouri, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were produced by Reader's Digest, adapted by the Sherman brothers of Disney fame (who wrote the songs), and released one after the other in the early 1970s. Freckle-faced redhead Johnny Whitaker (Family Affair) plays Tom and Jeff East is Huck. Extras include two audio commentaries on Tom Sawyer, isolated scores for both films, trailers, a vintage promotional featurette, some quick discussion between the Shermans and arranger/conductor John Williams, and a six-page booklet.

3 early German classics from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

Der müde Tod (Germany, 1921)

In Fritz Lang's silent Der müde Tod (aka Destiny), Death (Bernhard Goetze) gives a young woman (Lil Dagover) three chances to save the life of her fiancé (Walter Janssen) by time-traveling to ancient Persia, Imperial China and 17th-century Venice. Like the Blu-ray that Kino issued in the U.S. a year ago, the Masters of Cinema edition sports the same German restoration of the film, new orchestral score and a (slightly different) audio commentary track by Tim Lucas. The new edition adds a 15-minute video essay by David Cairns, a 44-page booklet and a DVD. Both discs are code-locked to Region B (Europe). 

Westfront 1918 / Kameradschaft (Germany, 1930 /1931)

Georg Wilhelm Pabst (Pandora's Box; Diary of a Lost Girl) broke into the sound era with these two anti-war/brotherhood-of-nations movies released at the start of the 1930s. The first is set in the German trenches of the Western Front in 1918; the second details the rescue of French miners by German ones after an underground explosion. As the sole extras, UCLA scholar Jan-Christopher Horak introduces both films for about a quarter-hour each. There's an illustrated booklet with an essay by British historian Philip Kemp. The Blu-ray and DVD in this dual-format edition are code-locked Region B (Europe). 

3 movies from the British Film Institute

My Beautiful Laundrette (U.K., 1985)

Daniel Day-Lewis and co-star Gordon Warnecke broke Queer Cinema ground playing childhood friends who become lovers in this unusual story set in South London – unusual, because Day-Lewis's character, Johnny, is a white fascist skinhead and Warneke's character, Omar, is a first-generation Pakistani. They find common ground in a rundown laundromat that Omar's rich uncle (Saeed Jaffrey) has asked him to fix up and run. Things comes to a head when the uncle finds out about their relationship. Written by Hanif Kureishi (London Kills Me) and directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), My Beautiful Laundrette was a domestic and international hit when it was released in 1985, at the height of the Thatcher era. The new British Blu-ray offers much more variety in the way of vintage extras than the collection of new interviews that Criterion had on its BD release in the U.S. two years ago. First up is Typically British, a 77-minute survey of British cinema that Frears made with Michael Dibb and Charles Barr in 1994. Then there's I'm British But ..., a half-hour personal documentary from 1989 by Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha. There's also Mensahib Rita, a 19-minute short on the theme of racism, directed by Prathiba Parma from 1994, and a 25-minute featurette from 2015 in which Warnecke reminisces about Laundrette. Finally, as an alternate audio track, you can listen to a Q&A with Frears, Kureishi, and producers Sarah Radclyffe and Tim Bevan that was recorded for a screening of the movie at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1986. There's also an illustrated booklet and a DVD copy of the film with all the extras.

Diabolo menthe (France, 1977)

Known in English as Peppermint Soda, Diane Kurys's autobiographical debut feature looks at two very different Jewish sisters (Éléonore Klarwein and Odile Michel) struggling through their teens in Paris in the early 1960s. The Blu-ray has optional English subtitles. Extras include a theatrical trailer, a half-hour nterview with Kurys from 2008, and three minutes more with the director as she explores her collection of photographs and production materials. There's also an isolated music and effects score, and an illustrated booklet with a new essay by Sophie Mayer and Michael Brooke.

The Orchard End Murder (U.K., 1981)

One summer in bucolic Kent, a young woman is murdered in an apple orchard while her boyfriend, oblivious, competes in a cricket match across the road. Not your cup of tea? Then try the main extra on the disc, a 25-minute documentary about a real-life British fairground knife-thrower who went by the the improbable name of Wally Shufflebottom. Christian Marnham wrote and directed both films, and he offers a video commentary on each. Tracy Hyde, the victim in Orchard End, is interviewed, as is actor David Wilkinson. There an illustrated booklet and accompanying DVD.