"in Just- / spring / when           the world is mud- / luscious the little / lame balloonman / whistles          far          and wee"           - e.e. cummings

05.2024

1 from Criterion

Anatomie d'une chute (France, 2024)

In their marriage and in their lopsided professional lives, writers Sandra (Sandra Hüller) and Samuel (Samuel Theis) are going through a rough patch. She's successful, he's not, she's had an affair, he's seeing a psychiatrist, and their idyll of a mountainside home in the French Alps is about to implode: the day after they have a fierce argument, Samuel falls from his workspace two stories to his death. Coming back from a walk with his guide dog Snoop (aka Messi), the couple's preteen son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), half-blind from a car accident several years before, finds the body lying in the bloodied snow. The family tragedy soon plays out in court, with Sandra accused of murder and Daniel a key witness. Will the defence's case, led by a longtime family friend (Swann Arlaud), win the day, or will the state's pitbull prosecutor (Antoine Reinartz) ultimately prove Sandra's guilt? Writer-director Justine Triet won an Oscar for the original screenplay she wrote with collaborator Arthur Harari, and was also Oscar-nominated (as best director) along with Hüller (as best actress) and the film itself (as best picture). Now on Blu-ray and DVD from U.S. distributor Criterion, the mostly English-language, two-and-a-half hour movie comes with several extras. There's a half-hour interview with Triet in which she talks with great enthusiasm of the artistic process she and her team went through on the shoot, a half-hour of alternate and extended scenes with optional commentary by Triet, audition footage of Graner and Reinhartz (8 mins.), rehearsal footage of Hüller and Graner (26 mins.), an interview with Messi's trainer Laura Martin, and a trailer. For the movie's few French-language scenes, as well as the extras, there are optional English subtitles. The slim foldout booklet has an essay by New Yorker magazine critic Alexandra Schwartz.

1 boxset from Powerhouse

'Columbia Noir #6: The Whistler' (U.S., 1944-48)

For a film buff in search of diversion, it can be fun sometimes to screen the also-rans of Hollywood film noir period, those "B movies" that – for want of a plausible plot, a tight script, a strong cast and a larger-than-average budget – never quite rose above mediocrity. Far from enjoying the lofty status of A-movies like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity, or of B-movie classics like Kiss Me Deadly and Detour, these middling crime dramas of the 1940s and '50s would have stayed in the vaults indefinitely if late-night TV and home video hadn't rescued them from well-deserved obscurity. Over the last several years, in lovingly curated boxsets on its Indicator label, U.K. distributor Powerhouse has been re-releasing the good and the not-so-good of these B movies made at Columbia and Universal, two of Hollywood's top production studios of the film-noir era. Now comes volume 6 of the Columbia noirs, this time not a disparate mix but a collection called The Whistler. Adapted from the CBS radio series of the same name, seven of the eight one-hour films star journeyman actor Richard Dix (Cimarron, It Happened in Hollywood), who a year before his death at age 56 was replaced in the eighth, The Return of the Whistler, by Michael Duane. Linking each episode is the Whistler character himself, seen only in shadow, heard in the first and final moments of the picture (and sometimes midway through), whistling a haunting tune, wryly commenting on what's to take place and moralizing on the fates of the heroes and villains on screen: a contract killer, a fraud artist, a kidnapper and so on. (The voice was that of Otto Forrest, uncredited). Often, the dialogue can sound laboured, the plot "twists" are telegraphed a mile away, the sets creak from overuse, but there's something charming in just how hard everyone is working to make silk purses out of sows' ears, never really succeeding. Collected on four Indicator Blu-ray discs coded for region B, the eight films – The Whistler, The Mark of the Whistler (unlike the others, transferred here in upscaled standard definition rather than high def), The Power of the Whistler, Voice of the Whistler, Mysterious Intruder, The Secret of the Whistler, The Thirteenth Hour, and The Return of the Whistler – are augmented with a range of extras. These include newly recorded commentaries, critical appreciations, multiple stills galleries and two archival short films, "It's Your America" (1945, 36 mins.) and "It's Murder" (1944, 9 mins.). Rounding out the boxset is a 120-page book featuring a new essay by Video Watchdog blogger Tim Lucas, an extract from the autobiography of William Castle (director of four of the eight Whistler films), an archival article on the popularity of the Whistler radio show, archival interviews with Dix, and new writing on the two short films.

04.2024

1 from Criterion

 

Werckmeister Harmonies (Hungary/Germany, 2000)

In 39 long takes, Hungarian director Béla Tarr (Sátántangó, The Turin Horse) and his co-director and editor Ágnes Hranitzky adapt a 1989 novel by László Krasznahorkai about a village that's turned upside down one winter by the visit of a traveling showman, whose circus act features a rotting stuffed whale and a sinister off-screen personage called the Prince. A local cobbler named Lajos (played by German actor Lars Rudolph), is enchanted by the whale, seeing the beast as proof the cosmos is glorious by design, but the rest of the assembled folk aren't so sure, and soon a mob gathers and things turn to violence. The black-and-white cinematography looks dazzling in the 4K restoration supervised by Tarr that U.S. distributor Criterion now brings to region-free Blu-ray and 4K UHD. Extras on the discs include Tarr's first feature film, the kitchen-sink drama Family Nest (1979, 106 minutes), an interview with the director by film critic Scott Foundas (21 mins.), and a trailer. The booklet has an essay by film programmer and critic Dennis Lim.