"Earth laughs in flowers." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
1 from Second Run
Distant Journey (Czechoslovakia, 1948)
Made in 1948, Distant Journey is one of the first feature films to address the subject of the Holocaust, and was the debut film of Czech theatre avant-gardist Alfréd Radok. Set in the Bohemian town of Terezín as the Nazi transports to German extermination camps began, Radok's black-and-white film blends documentary footage with a fictional love story between a Jewish woman and her Gentile husband. The all-region Blu-ray from British distributor Second Run features a new 4K restoration of the film by the Czech National Film Archive with new English subtitles. Extras include a new audio commentary by critics Mike White, Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, and two short films in colour. The first is "The Opening of the Wells" (18 mins.), a controversial hybrid of film and live theatre inspired by a poem of Miloslav Bureš and set to a cantata by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů; initially banned by the Czech communists, it was re-worked for its premiere at Expo '58 in Brussels by an arts collective that included Miloš Forman. The second short film, from 1958, is "Butterflies Don't Live Here" (13 mins.), a Palme d'Or-winning documentary by Miro Bernat about paintings and drawings made by children at Terezín. Rounding out the package are a trailer and a booklet with a new essay by film historian Jonathan Owen.
2 from Criterion
Wildlife (U.S., 2018)
Montana, 1960. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a golf pro who leaves his unhappy wife (Carey Mulligan) and son to go fight forest fires. The film marks the directorial debut of actor Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), who adapted Richard Ford's novel with co-writer Zoe Kazan (Meek's Cutoff). Extras on the Criterion Blu-ray are all interviews: new ones of Dano and Kazan (25 mins.); Mulligan, Gyllenhaal and cinematographer Diego García (16 mins.); production designer Akin McKenzie and costume designer Amanda Ford (45 mins.;) Dano, editor Matthew Hannam and composer David Lang (27 mins.); and, onstage at Lincoln Center in New York City in 2018, Dano and Ford (27 mins.). The foldout leaflet has an essay by critic Mark Harris.
Husbands (U.S., 1970)
John Cassavetes directs himself in this bittersweet buddy movie co-starring Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara about a trio of New York suburbanites who ditch their wives and fly to London, unsuccessfully trying to chase the fountain of youth. Extras on the Criterion Blu-ray include an audio commentary by film critic Marshall Fine; interviews with producer Al Ruban (25 mins.) and actress Jenny Runacre (18 mins.); a new video essay by filmmaker Daniel Raim featuring vintage audio of Cassavetes talking about working with actors (13 mins.); a half-hour vintage making-of ; and a half-hour episode of The Dick Cavett Show from 1970 with Cassavetes, Gazzara and Falk (see above). The booklet has an essay by filmmaker Andrew Bujalski.
1 boxset from Powerhouse
John Ford at Columbia, 1935-58 (U.S., 1935/55/58)
On its Indicator label, British distributor Powerhouse has released a nicely curated boxset of four movies (two in black-and-white, two in Technicolor) that the great John Ford made for Columbia Pictures — and, perhaps surprisingly to fans of Stagecoach and The Searchers, none is a western. One is a comedy from the mid-1930s called The Whole Town's Talking; the other three are dramas (to varying degrees) from the mid- and late-1950s on a variety of themes: The Long Gray Line (on the military), The Last Hurrah (municipal politics) and Gideon's Way (the British police). Three of the films have been restored in 4K for this new collection; The Last Hurrah, restored in 2K, makes its Blu-ray debut; three have their original mono audio and The Long Gray Line its original stereo track; all have new and improved English subtitles; all come in their own keepcase, each with a substantial illustrated booklet. Do note that the discs are code-locked to Region B, so if you're not in the U.K. or Europe you'll need an all-region player to watch them.
Gideon's Day (U.K./U.S., 1958)
Twenty-four hours in the life of London detective and family man George Gideon, played by Jack Hawkins. The Blu-ray has both the British and American title sequences of the film (in the U.S. it was called Gideon of Scotland Yard) and two audio commentaries: a new one by historian Charles Barr and one from 1987 with the movie's cinematographer, Freddie Young, adapted from an interview for the British Entertainment History Project. Three new featurettes follow: a half-hour appreciation by Film London chief executive Adrian Wooton, a 9-minute video essay by Ford biographer Tag Gallagher, and a rambling 6-minute interview with script supervisor Elaine Schreyeck. From 2014, critic Leonard Maltin spends three minutes introducing the film, and from 1957 we get four minutes of silent footage of Ford, pipe in mouth and cap on head, being shown around London’s National Film Theatre by director Lindsay Anderson. There's also a four-minute locations tour, a trailer and gallery of 17 publicity images to complete the package. The booklet, amply illustrated, runs 40 pages.
The Long Gray Line (U.S., 1955)
Another Irish-American story, this time the true one of lifelong West Point army officer Marty Maher, played by Tyrone Power, shot in CinemaScope. Maureen O'Hara co-stars as Maher's wife. Mary. For extras, there's a new audio commentary with film historians Diana Drumm, Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme, a new video essay by Tag Gallagher (17 mins.), 6 minutes of Leonard Maltin from 2014, an odd little 1955 short done by the cast to promote U.S. Savings Bonds (10 mins.), a trailer and a 17-image gallery. The booklet runs 40 pages.
The Last Hurrah (U.S., 1958)
Spencer Tracy plays an Irish-American mayor running for a fifth and final term in a New England city (unnamed, but it's supposed to be Boston). He's opposed by an informal coalition of Protestants, bankers, a newspaper publisher and even a Roman Catholic cardinal, all bent on reform and vowing to weed out corruption. Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp and John Carradine share the screen. Extras on the new Blu-ray (the first time the film has appeared in that format) include an abridged and narrated Super-8 version that was made for home viewing (it's only 20 minutes long), a new 7-minute video essay by Tag Gallagher, a 5-minute appreciation by critic Leonard Maltin from 2014, the movie's original theatrical trailer, and a gallery of 23 promotional images. The 32-page booklet has a new essay by film historian Imogen Sarah Smith, some original thoughts from Ford on Tracy and his role in the movie, a piece on the director by his screenwriter Frank S. Nugent, an overview of contemporary critic's reviews of the film, and a list of film credits, including cast and crew.
The Whole Town's Talking (U.S., 1935)
In this comedy of mistaken identity, Edward G. Robinson plays a humble clerk at an ad agency who's a dead ringer for a bank robber on the run (Robinson has both roles, in split screen). Jean Arthur co-stars. Extras include a new appreciation by film historian Sheldon Hall (22 mins.), a new appreciation of Arthur by critic Pamela Hutchison (18 mins.), a new video essay by Tag Gallagher (6 mins.), a 1941 radio adaptation (52 mins.) and a gallery of 19 promotional images. The 36-page booklet includes an extract of the original source story from 1932.
1 from Second Run
Curling (Canada, 2010)
For his fifth feature film, New-Brunswick-born writer-director Denis Côté (Vic + Flo ont vu un ours) took a familial approach and cast Quebec actor Emmanuel Bilodeau and, in her screen debut, Bilodeau's eldest daughter, Philomène. They play Jean-Francois and Julyvonne Sauvageau, a taciturn father and shy daughter whose reclusive life together in rural Quebec gets upended one winter's day when the 12-year-old discovers a pile of dead bodies in the woods. Who are they, and should the police be notified? Reflecting Côté's spare, uncompromising script, the Sauvageaus are as much a mystery as the new situation they face; the austere wintry setting is more menacing than picturesesque; and the socio-economic reality is simply inescapable: papa barely makes ends meet as a maintenance man at the local motel and his home-schooled daughter itches for a better life someplace else. For its world debut on Blu-ray, Curling sports a new transfer (approved by Côté) on a region-free disc. British distributor Second Run have added two extras: a new interview with the director, plus his 2015 experimental fiction short "Que nous nous assoupissions" (May We Sleep Soundly) (15 mins.). The accompanying 24-page booklet includes an essay by the Canadian Film Institute's executive director, Tom McSorley. If you're curious what Côté has been up to lately, check out his latest film, Wilcox, an hour-long, dialogue-free portrait of a fictional drifter, winner of the special jury prize last year at Montreal's RIDM documentary festival. Watch the trailer here and, if you're in Canada, the whole thing here.
2 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
Kwaidan (Japan, 1964)
Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi (1916-1996) is renowned for two monumental films: the 1959-61 trilogy The Human Condition and 1964's Kwaidan. The latter is the most haunting, an anthology of four ghost stories from Japanese legend evocatively titled "The Black Hair," "The Woman of the Snow," "Hoichi the Earless" and "In a Cup of Tea." On Blu-ray, U.S. distributor Criterion was first off the mark in 2015 with a sumptuous 2K restoration of the original 183-minute director's cut. On the new Blu-ray, part of its Masters of Cinema series and code-locked to region B, British distributor Eureka! has carried over Criterion's restoration and substituted its own extras, dropping the American audio commentary and adding a new half-hour interview with critic Kim Newman about the film and its inspiration, the Japanese folk tales collected by late-19th-century author Lafcadio Hearn. There's also a new video essay by film historian David Cairns (36 mins.) and, as on the Criterion disc and Eureka's 2006 DVD of Kwaidan, three original theatrical trailers (two in colour, one in black-and-white); gone is the image gallery from the old DVD. Eureka's Blu-ray is also impressively packaged in a hardbound case, with a 100-page illustrated book (re-jigged from the DVD release) that includes Hearn's four stories used in the film and a Q&A with Kobayashi from 1993, the last interview he gave.
Rio Grande (U.S., 1950)
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara star in the third of John Ford's 'Cavalry Trilogy' of classic movie westerns, after 1948's Fort Apache and 1949's She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Set in the late 1870s, Rio Grande stars John Wayne as Kirby Yorke, a U.S. Cavalry officer posted to the border with Mexico, and Maureen O'Hara as his ex-wife, a feisty Irish lass named Kathleen. The film was famously made only as a contractual prerequisite for Republic Pictures agreeing to back Ford's subsequent movie with Wayne and O'Hara, the 1952 Irish romance The Quiet Man. On the new Blu-ray from Eureka!, part of its Masters of Cinema series and code-locked to Region B, Rio Grande looks radiant in a new transfer by film preservationists at Paramount Pictures and comes with two audio commentaries: a new one by author Stephen Prince and an old one, scene-specific, by O'Hara herself (recorded for a DVD release by Artisan in 2002). Extras include an 11-minute video essay by Tag Gallagher, a 21-minute making-of by critic Leonard Maltin from 1993 (previously available on the barebones Blu-ray that U.S. distributor Olive Film released in 2012) , a 19-minute lookback with O'Hara from 2002, and a trailer. The booklet has two new essays, a transcript of a vintage interview with Ford, and excerpts of a conversation with actor Harry Carey, Jr. For the first print run, the package comes enclosed in a cardboard slipcase.
1 from Sony
Little Women (U.S., 2019)
For her second film as a director (after 2017's Lady Bird), actress/writer Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) took on a passion project: yet another (the eighth) screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel Little Women. This time the March family are played by Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame), Florence Pugh (of TV's The Little Drummer Girl), Eliza Scanlen (of TV's Sharp Objects), Laura Dern (Marriage Story) and Meryl Streep (yes, the one and only), with Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) as the girls' love interest, "Laurie" Laurence. Nominated in six major categories at the Academy Awards, Gerwig's film came away with only one win, for best costume design. Her critically praised picture is far more than a costume drama, however, and that Gerwig herself was not even nominated as best director was a sign that sexism is still rife in Hollywood, even in the #MeToo era. For its dual-format (Blu-ray/DVD) edition of the film, packaged in a cardboard slipcase, Sony has included five video featurettes on Alcott, Gerwig and the making of the film, totalling 47 minutes: they're titled "A New Generation of Little Women" (13 minutes), "Making a Modern Classic" (9 mins.), "Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art" (9 mins.), "Hair & Make-Up Test Sequence" (3 mins.), "Little Women Behind the Scenes" (3 mins.) and "Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott" (10 mins.).