"Hold me close, melt my heart like April snow." – Johnny Mathis (Livingston/Webster)
1 from Second Sight
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, 1975)
It started out simply enough: on Valentine Day's in 1900, a girls' school in Australia held a picnic. It took place at a picturesque site in central Victoria called Hanging Rock, an ancient volcanic outcrop north of Mount Macedon. But that afternoon, tragedy stuck: several of the girls set out on an unsupervised outing and never came back. What happened to them remains a mystery, a fiction explored in 1967 by author Joan Lindsay in her celebrated novel Picnic at Hanging Rock and, eight years later, turned into an equally celebrated film that launched the international career of director Peter Weir (Gallipoli, Witness, Dead Poet's Society, The Truman Show). Ethereal, moody, subtly erotic, Picnic remains a classic of Australian cinema, beautifully shot (by Russell Boyd) and hauntingly scored for panpipe (by Gheorghe Zamfir), organ (Marcel Cellier) and orchestra (Bruce Smeaton), with classical interludes by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Powerful stuff. On home video, Picnic has been released many times over the years – on DVD in Australia (Umbrella), France (Gaumont), the U.K. (Pathé, Second Sight), Germany (Kinowelt) and the U.S. (Criterion), and on Blu-ray in Australia (Shock) and the U.S. (Criterion again), with most of the editions an improvement on the last. Now we've entered the era of 4K Ultra High Definition HD, and Second Sight is laying out another Picnic, this time in a choice of two sets of discs containing the director's 1998 cut and the longer, original theatrical cut rendered in high-definition. In the first set, a limited edition that comes in a hard-shell box, you get two 4K UHDs and two region-B Blu-rays, along with a softcover book, the source novel, art cards and more; in the second set, a standard edition, there are just the two 4K UHDs (minus all the physical extras). Second Sight has restored and scanned the film with Weir and Boyd's approval, so it's odd that this edition falls rather short in image quality: namely, the film has been so restored that a lot of its texture, its inherent graininess, has been scrubbed away, leaving the visuals looking just a little too pristine, even waxy in parts. I guess it's a question of taste; you either love "clean" or you don't. Several new extras flesh out the package: there's an audio commentary by film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson; interviews with actress Karen Robson (11 mins.), cinematographer Boyd (11 mins.) and camera operator John Seale (7 mins.); and a visual essay by Thomas Caldwell called "Something Beyond Explanation" (23 mins.) Other extras are ported from Second Sight's 2008 three-DVD set: a two-hour making-of from 2004 called "A Dream Within a Dream," an Australia Council Archival Film Series interview with author Joan Lindsay from 1975 (15 mins.); a half-hour TV documentary called "A Recollection: Hanging Rock 1900," also from 1975; 12 minutes of outtakes; and Picnic's original theatrical trailer (5 mins.)
1 from Paramount
Flashdance (U.S., 1983)
Oh, what a feeling ... again. Jennifer Beals stars as an aspiring ballerina who earns her living in hardscrabble Pittsburgh working as a welder in a steel mill and dancing in a nightclub. English director.Adrian Lyne's movie plays hard on the sex appeal of Beals and the other young female performers, their taut bodies glistening with sweat and their silhouettes moodily lit (cue the smoke machine). Like an extended music video, the story takes a back seat to the soundtrack, with Irene Cara belting out her Oscar-winning title song and Michael Sembelo his Oscar-nominated "Maniac". The dancing is certainly athletic, though Beals doesn't actually do much of it herself (most of her scenes were incarnated by body doubles, so what you're seeing is trick photography). The critics were not kind (Roger Ebert called the movie a shameless ripoff of Saturday Night Fever), but audiences loved it: Flashdance cost only $7 million U.S. to make but grossed over $200 million. Every few years, Paramount comes up with a new Blu-ray for this '80s crowdpleaser; the last time was in 2020: a 4K remastering on BD. For the 40th anniversary and coinciding with a limited re-release in theatres, the studio has now.given the 4K version its own UHD disc (containing just the movie) and packaged it alongside the old BD (containing the previously available extras). The improvement is marginal; unless you own a really big TV, you probably won't notice the difference. The replicated extras are slim: three featurettes of interviews with Lyne and select cast and crew (Beals is a no-show), plus a trailer. The double-disc keepcase is glossy black.
1 from Eureka! Classics
The Bullet Train (Japan, 1975)
Here's the movie that inspired the 1994 Hollywood blockbuster Speed. Except this thriller is set on a train, not a bus, and yes, it's been rigged with a bomb so that if it slows down, everything explodes. Eureka! Classics region-B Blu-ray has two versions of the film: the original Japanese one (152 mins.) and the shorter, export version (115 mins.) that was dubbed in English and given different opening and closing credits and special effects. Most of the extras are new: an audio commentary by Japanese film experts Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp; an interview with British film critics Kim Newman (16 mins.) and Tony Rayns (27 mins.); and an interview with director Junya Satō’s biographers Tatsuya Masuto and Masaaki Nomura (20 mins.). There's also an interview with the director himself from 2016 (25 mins.), as well as two theatrical trailers (short and long). A collector's booklet with an essay by film writer Barry Forshaw completes the package.