"The falling leaves / Drift by the window / The autumn leaves / Of red and gold ..." - Nat 'King' Cole

11.2022

1 boxset from Powerhouse

'Universal Noir #1' (U.S., 1947-54)

First they dove deep into Columbia Pictures' back catalogue of film noir, in five boxsets. Now, again on its Indicator label of region-B Blu-rays, British distributors Powerhouse follow up with a foray into the Hollywood noirs of Universal Pictures. The first boxset in the series features six movies from the late 1940s and early 1950s: The Web (1947), Larceny (1948), Kiss the Blood off My Hands (1948), Abandoned (1949), Deported (1950) and Naked Alibi (1954). The casts are a who's-who of Hollywood from that era –  Burt Lancaster, Joan Fontaine, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Vincent Price, Edmond O’Brien, Sterling Hayden, Gloria Grahame and Jeff Chandler – and tackle themes dear to many a noir fan: embezzlement and murder conmen, lovers on the run, an adoption racket, transatlantic criminals and police brutality. In this set, all the films except Abandoned have been restored from 4K or 2K scans and, for extras, each has a new audio commentary, highlights of press reviews of the time, contemporary documentaries and other short films, and an image gallery. There are also radio adaptations and other audio recordings, new appreciations of the films and their casts, and Q&As from recent film festivals. A 120-page illustrated book rounds out the package.

1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

Son of the White Mare (Hungary, 1983)

Billed as "the greatest psychedelic animated movie ever made" (though I suppose The Beatles' pop-art Yellow Submarine might also qualify), Hungarian filmmaker Marcell Jankovics' Son of the White Mare (in Hungarian, Fehérlófia) is a folk tale come to kaleidoscopic life. For 86 minutes, viewers are taken on an epic trip into an underworld populated by demons that's just begging for some kind of redemption. Now in a 4K restoration supervised and approved by the director, the film comes to English-friendly, region-B Blu-ray as part of the Masters of Cinema series of Eureka!, a British distributor. Also included are Jankovics’ debut feature and the first-ever Hungarian animated feature film, Johnny Corncob (1973), as well as three of his short films: "Sisyphus," "The Struggle," and "Dreams on Wings."  There's also a wide-ranging interview the director gave the Hungarian National Film Archive in 2020, a making-of of Johnny Corncob from 1973, a featurette on Jankovics by the Archive , and a booklet with a new essay by film writer Rich Johnson.

1 boxset from Criterion

Infernal Affairs I, II & III (Hong Kong, 2002-03)

Hong Kong cinema's cops-and-gangsters genre took a big leap forward in 2002 and 2003 with the back-to-back-to-back releases of three movies: Infernal Affairs, Infernal Affairs II and Infernal Affairs III. Elegantly written, beautifully shot, slickly produced and with real star power, the trilogy works as a multi-part thriller whose chills come from an exploration of secrecy in the world of organized crime. The two leads (Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau Tak-wah) play unwitting rivals on both sides of the law: one investigating a Traid gang from the inside, the other spying for it. Martin Scorsese was so taken with the first installment, he remade it in 2006 as The Departed, and was rewarded at the Academy Awards with an Oscar for best picture and best director. Finally given a proper Blu-ray release, the trilogy now arrives in a pricey three-disc set from prestige U.S. distributor Criterion that features new 4K digital restorations with improved high-definition soundtracks and new English subtitles for the Cantonese dialogue, and a whack of extras. There are audio commentaries for the first two movies (with co-directors Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Alan Mak and screenwriter Felix Chong Man-keung); an alternate ending for the first movie; a new interview with Lau and Mak; archival interviews with Lau, Mak, Chong, the two lead actors and co-stars Anthony Wong Chau-sang, Kelly Chen Wai-lam, Edison Chen Koon-hei, Eric Tsang Chi-wai, and Chapman To Man-chak; and a variety of making-ofs, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, outtakes and trailers. The accompanying booklet has an essay by film critic Justin Chang.


10.2022

1 from Blue Underground

Quiet Days in Clichy (Denmark, 1970)

Based on Henry Miller 1956 novel, Quiet Days in Clichy was a racy black-and-white movie made by a Danish provocateur named Jens Jørgen Thorsen and released in 1970. Counterculture manifesto, sexist pornography, a poor man's Jules et Jim for the X-rated crowd, the movie tells the freewheeling story of two expatriate buddies in Paris who fill their days drinking and whoring and generally misbehaving, only reaching a brief poignancy in a sequence where one of the men runs out of food and goes hungry, wandering the streets of the city on an empty belly. Sporting a new 4K restoration of the film, the new edition from U.S. distributor Blue Underground improves on its 2011 release with two region-free discs in a case protected by a slipcover and with a reversible sleeve. One disc has Quiet Days ... transferred to a 4K UHD disc, the other is a Blu-ray. Extras abound: there's a six-minute deleted scene; a 12-minute interview from 2004 with soundtrack musician "Country Joe" McDonald, perhaps best known for his appearance at Woodstock in 1969 chanting "Gimme an F!"; twin interviews with Miller's New York editor and publisher, Grove Press's  Barney Rosset, that last 17 and 25 minutes; and image galleries of posters, stills, book covers and U.S. court documents dealing with charges brought against the filmmakers for obscenity. A couple of hidden extras, or 'easter eggs,' are also included that feature Rosset: for two minutes he talks about Malcolm X, whose autobiography (ghostwritten by Alex Haley) he published posthumously, and for four minutes he discusses Norman Mailer's 1970 film Maidstone, in which he appeared.

1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (U.S., 1923)

Not the first and certainly not the last studio to bring Victor Hugo's classic story to the silver screen, Universal Pictures went all out in 1923 when it cast Lon Chaney in the titular role of Quasimodo and hired Wallace Worsley (The Penalty) to direct. Good choices, because with that talent and lavish spending on costumes and sets (and Chaney's deforming makeup), it turned out to be the studio's most popular silent picture yet, grossing three times its $1.2-million budget. The movie first made it to Blu-ray in 2014 via U.S. distributor Flicker Alley, and in 2021 it was restored in 4K from an imperfect 16-millimetre source, given new extras and re-released on BD in the U.S. by Kino Lorber. Now, again with different extras, it gets a region-B BD release via the U.K.'s Eureka! as part of the Masters of Cinema series. The musical score by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum and Laura Karpman rings clear in uncompressed LPCM stereo, there's a new audio commentary by authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, a new interview with Newman on this and the many other adaptations of Hugo’s novel, and a new interview with film historian Jonathan Rigby. The accompanying illustrated booklet features a new essay by journalist Philip Kemp.