"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
1 from Second Run
Black Peter (Czechoslovakia, 1964)
Miloš Forman's feature debut Black Peter (aka Peter and Paula) is insouciant, sexy and full of dark humour. An early classic of the Czech New Wave, the movie marked a move away from the Communist cheerleading of '50s cinema, offering a more personal and irreverent view of human nature in all its flawed glory. Ladislav Jakim stars as Peter, a young man in a provincial town who is hired to watch out for thieves in a grocery store, but who doesn't do a very good job. He meets Paula (Pavla Martinková), they go on a date, and their afternoon swim is interrupted by a loutish bricklayer (Vladimír Poucholt) and his buddy, who make a play for Paula. Will Peter win the day and the affections of his newfound love? Will he make peace at home with his overbearing father (Jan Vostrčil)? Will he, finally, learn to smile? Cast with professional and non-professional actors and shot cinéma-vérité style, Black Peter won top prize at the 1964 Locarno International Film Festival, but despite this auspicious debut the movie has been a rather neglected part of the Forman canon, at least to foreign audiences. Until now, the film was only available on DVD in the Czech Republic; the all-region disc that Filmexport Home Video released way back in 2005 had optional English subtitles for the movie but none on the plentiful extras (over an hour's worth). With its new all-region Blu-ray (also available on DVD), British distributor Second Run not only upgrade the black-and-white visuals (with a new 4K restoration by the Czech National Film Archive) and audio (Czech LPCM 2.0 Mono, on the BD), and offer optional subtitles, but also provide some English-friendly extras. There'sa new audio commentary by film historian Michael Brooke, a new 15-minute interview with Martinková, a half-hour of vintage footage of Forman talking about his early Czech films, including Black Peter, and a trailer. Completing the package is a 20-page booklet with a new essay by author Jonathan Owen.
2 from K-Films Amérique
Combat au bout de la nuit (Québec, 2016)
Tuktuq (Québec, 2018)
2 from '60s Britain
It Happened Here (U.K., 1964)
King of Hearts (U.K, 1966)
1 from Criterion
A Matter of Life and Death (U.K., 1946)
2 from Twilight Time
Let's Make Love (U.S., 1960)
George Cukor directs Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand in this musical comedy about a New York actress who falls for a French billionaire. The CinemaScope visuals are still a thrill, even if the story is slight and the acting feels forced. Tony Randall co-stars; Milton Berle, Gene Kelly and Bing Crosby have cameos. No extras on the Blu-ray, but you can listen to the jazz tunes (by Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen) as a separate track.
Take a Girl Like You (U.K., 1970)
New to Blu-ray, this 1970 adaptation of the Kingsley Amis novel stars Hayley Mills as Jenny Bunn, a pretty young Northerner who moves to a London suburb to teach primary school and finds herself awash with handsome suitors (Oliver Reed, Noel Harrison et al). The multi-talented Jonathan Miller, of Beyond the Fringe fame, directs. No extras on the Blu-ray, but there is the option of listening to Stanley Myers' musical score as an isolated track.
1 boxset from Second Sight
Berlin Alexanderplatz (West Germany/Italy, 1980)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's sprawling, 14-part miniseries on the underworld of the Weimar Republic first aired on Western German TV in 1980. Co-produced with the Italian TV network RAI, it's a 15-hour adaptation of Alfred Döblin's novel from 1929 and tells the tale of a murderer named Franz Biberkopf. Portrayed on screen by Günter Lamprecht, Franz gets released from prison and tries to make a living any way he honestly can in Depression-era Berlin, buffeted between the nascent Nazi movement, the Communists, and a return to criminality. He's torn romantically, too, between two prostitutes, an old flame named Eva (Hannah Schygulla) and a young one named Mieze (Barbara Sukowa). New to Blu-ray (at least, in an English-subtitled edition), the series looks a whole lot better than it did when Second Sight last released it, on DVD, in 2007, alongside a similar set that Criterion made available in the U.S. market. Extras now are a mix of old (e.g., a 65-minute documentary on the series by editor and confidante Juliane Lorenz, from 2007) and new (including a 110-minute doc by another friend, Danish filmmaker Christian Braad Thomsen, from 2015). Unfortunately missing, but still available in Criterion's DVD release, is the original Berlin-Alexanderplatz from 1931, director Phil Jutzi's early talkie whose screenplay Döblin himself helped adapt. The new Blu-ray boxset does have a 60-page illustrated book. Note that all five discs are code-locked to region B, so outside the U.K. and Europe you'll need an all-region player to screen them.
2 from the British Film Institute
The Children's Hour (U.K., 1961)
Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine star as headmistresses accused of lesbianism at a private school for girls. William Wyler directs this adaptation of Lillian Hellman's 1934 play; James Garner (Maverick) co-stars. The region-locked BFI Blu-ray sports an excellent transfer akin to the one U.S. distributor Kino used on its BD in 2014. Unlike that barebones release, however, the new one comes with an optional audio commentary (by critic Neil Sinyard), a stills gallery and trailer, a DVD copy and a 28-page booklet.
The Knack ... and How to Get It (U.K., 1965)
Oy! Beatles mythmaker Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night, Help!) directs another funromp through mid-1960s London. Extras on the BFI Blu-ray once again improve over Kino's U.S. release (from 2016); the new visuals and sound are better, too.) Besides a new audio commentary by Neil Sinyard, there are close to two hours of special features: some vintage (two shorts and featurette from '66 and '67), some new (including an hour-long interview with Lester). There's also a DVD copy and a full-colour booklet.
1 from Paramount
Forrest Gump (U.S., 1994)
The latter half of the 20th century was an amazing time to be an American, as Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) can tell you. The down-home Alabama boy lived it all: he met Elvis Presley and JFK, served in Vietnam, played ping-pong with the Chinese, and struck it rich as an early investor in Apple. Oh, and joy of joys, he had a baby with his childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Robin Wright). Robert Zemeckis won an Oscar for directing this '90s hit, Hanks won for best actor, and the movie itself won best picture. Now, eight-and-half years after its first iteration on Blu-ray, Forrest Gump is being released in ultra-high-definition, but the 4K treatment delivers surprisingly uneven results: sometimes the visuals are impeccably crisp, sometimes they're so scrubbed of grain as to seem unnatural, and colours sometimes "pop" so much they distract. For extras, you get the same extensive offerings as the old Blu-ray set, on two discs, including a pair of commentary tracks. You can also download the movie using the enclosed digital copy code.
2 from Eureka! starring Sidney Poitier
No Way Out (U.S., 1950)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) wrote and directed this drama about a young doctor (Sidney Poitier, in his screen debut) who's accused of murder by a white racist (Richard Widmark). The big extra on the region-locked British Blu-ray (part of Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema series) is a two-hour documentary called All About Mankiewicz that aired on French TV in 1983; he's interviewed extensively by critic Michel Ciment. There are also two vintage Fox Movietone newsreels, a trailer and the optional audio commentary (by noir scholar Eddie Muller) from Fox's 2006 DVD. The booklet has a new essay by critic Glenn Kenny.
The Defiant Ones (U.S., 1958)
Sidney Poitier is back, this time opposite Tony Curtis, as a Negro prisoner who escapes from a prison van chained at the wrist to a white racist. Directed by Stanley Kramer and awarded an Oscar for the (appropriately) black-and-white cinematography of Sam Leavitt, the movie culminates in a mad dash for a moving freight train that would rescue the two escapees from the clutches of sheriff (Theodore Bikel) and posse. Extras on the region-locked Eureka! Classic disc are slim (a 20-minute interview with critic Kim Newman and a trailer), the visuals are fine if unrestored, and the stereo sound is lossless and clear.
1 from Criterion
Manila in the Claws of Light (Philippines, 1975)
A harrowing glimpse by director Lino Brocka into the Philippines of the 1970s, Manila in the Claws of Light tells the story of a young fisherman (Bembol Roco) who travels to the capital, Manila, in search of his disappeared girlfriend (Hilda Koronel). Finding work in construction, he soon descends into a brutal and violent world of corruption and prostitution. Long unavailable but now restored in 4K through Martin Scorsese"s World Cinema Project, the film comes to Blu-ray and DVD via New York distributor Criterion. The major extras are two documentaries: Signed: Lino Brocka (1987), by Christian Blackwood (84 mins.), and “Manila” ... A Filipino Film (1975), featuring Brocka, Roco and Koronel (23 mins.) There's also a a short video introduction to the film by Scorsese and an new interview with critic Tony Rayns (19 mins.). The booklet has an essay by U.S. film scholar José B. Capino. Note that Manila in the Claws of Light is also available in the U.K. in a double-feature edition released last year with Brocka's 1976 follow-up Insiang (about a wayward teen, played by Koronel). The British Film Institute set (one Blu-ray, two DVDs) is region-locked but comes with even more extras than the Criterion.
1 from Disney
Peter Pan (U.S., 1953)
This 1953 reimagining of the classic J.M. Barrie play and novel – about the adventures of a boy named Peter Pan who just won't grow up – is one of the first Disney animated movies I ever saw, and it's still a highly entertaining romp. Yes, it does indulge in racist stereotypes of Native Americans in the characters of Tiger Lily and her father, an "Indian chief," and that will turn some viewers off today. But as an important artifact of '50s animation Peter Pan remains essential viewing, not least for the pleasure of seeing Captain Hook, Wendy Darling and The Lost Boys light up the screen. On Blu-ray for the second time, five years after Disney's "Diamond Edition," the new "Anniversary Edition" of Peter Pan is part of Disney's "Signature Collection." It sports the same scrubbed transfer (purists will lament the lack of film grain), lossless 7.1 audio and almost all of the supplements as before, with a couple of minor additions: a scant quarter hour of new interviews and briefsing-alongs. The package also offers a DVD and a digital download code.