"And now everything has changed once again. The air of the Close each evening is full of bird song - I've never really noticed it before. Full of birdsong and summer perfumes ...- Michael Frayn

08.2019

1 from Criterion

An Angel at My Table (New Zealand / Australia. U.K. / U.S., 1990)

In her native New Zealand, the author Janet Frame (1924-2004) spent much of her young life shunted in and out of psychiatric institutions, experiences that would come to fuel her remarkable literary imagination. She found her professional calling as a writer in her late '20s and early '30, emigrated to the U.K. in 1956 and then back to New Zealand in 1963, and by the time of her death, of leukemia, in 2004, had produced 11 novels, three collections of short stories, a poetry collection, a children's book and her autobiography, in three parts. Those latter works – indeed, Frame's life itself – in turn became the basis of New Zealand director Jane Campion's second feature film, An Angel at My Table, named after the second instalment of Frame's autobiography. In it, the writer is portrayed at different stages in her life by three actresses: as a child by Karen Fergusson, as a teenager by Alexia Keogh, and as an adult by Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave, Welcome to Sarajevo, Intimacy). Criterion's new Blu-ray of the film has an audio commentary from 2005 by Campion, Fox  and director of photography Stuart Dryburgh; a 10-minute making-of from 2002; six deleted scenes; an audio interview with Frame from 1983 (23 mins.); a stills gallery; and a trailer. The accompanying leaflet has an essay by film critic Amy Taubin and excerpts from Frame’s memoirs.

2 from Powerhouse

'Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg at Paramount, 1930-1935' (U.S., 1930 / '31 / '32 / '34 / '35)

Ah, the Golden Age of Hollywood: a time nearly a century ago when an emigré Viennese director could ennoble himself by adding a "von" to his last name, and when a young actress brought over from Germany could keep her accent and charm the pants off millions. They were the glory years of Josef von Sternberg (born Jonas Sternberg) and Marlene Dietrich (born Marie Magdalene Dietrich), an inseparable duo who made six films for Paramount Pictures between 1930 and 1935 that sealed their status as Hollywood royalty forever. Their first collaboration in the series was Morocco, co-starring Gary Cooper as a soldier in the French Foreign Legion; their last was The Devil is a Woman, a historical melodrama set in fin-de-siècle Spain; and in between came Dishonored, a WWI spy thriller set in Austria; Shanghai Express, a melodrama of a train journey through China; Blonde Venus, in which Dietrich plays a German immigrant cabaret singer opposite Cary Grant; andThe Scarlet Empress, an epic in which Dietrich portrayed Russia’s Catherine the Great. All six films were released in a Blu-ray boxset last year by Criterion; now comes a new and even better set from British distributor Powerhouse, on its signature Indicator label. The discs are code-locked to Region B and come with a wealth of new and archival extras: appreciations, interviews, audio commentaries, rare films, a radio play adaptation, outtakes and deleted audio, and more; highlights include a 1969 feature documentary on the director and a 2012 French one on Dietrich. Restored in 4K (except for Morocco, in 2K), the films have their original mono audio, have been given new and improved subtitles, and are all introduced by von Sternberg's son, Nicholas. The set comes with a 120-page illustrated book.

The Missionary (U.K., 1982)

This unjustly neglected comedy stars Monty Python's Michael Palin as an early-20th century missionary who returns from Africa to tend to the souls of the harlots of east London. Maggie Smith plays the wealthy benefactress into whose sultry clutches he soon falls. Palin wrote the screenplay; the movie was produced by George Harrison's Handmade Films. Trevor Howard, Denholm Elliott, Timothy Spall, David Suchet, Michael Hordern, Graham Crowden and The Rutles' Neil Innes round out the cast. The new Blu-ray on Powerhouse's Indicator Label marks the first time the movie has been available in this format, and also the first time it has been transferred in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1; image and sound have been restored in 2K, too, with the help of director Richard Loncraine (Richard III, Bellmann & True) and cinematographer Peter Hannan. Extras are wide-ranging: there are two audio commentaries (a new one with Loncraine and historian Sam Dunn, and an old one from 2002 with Palin;, a new discussion between Palin and Smith (38 mins.); a half-hour of new interviews with the movie's costume designer, composer, make-up artist and sound recordist; an appreciation by comedian Rob Deering  (22 mins.); two deleted scenes (6 mins.): a trailer; and a gallery of 21 images of vintage promotional material. The soundtrack is in the original mono. This edition is limited to 5,000 copies and comes with a 40-page book that has a new essay by John Oliver, extracts from Palin’s on-location diaries, archival interviews with Palin,  contemporary critics' reviews, archival articles, and film credits.

4 from Eureka!

The Third Wife (Vietnam, 2018)

On a silk farm in rural Vietnam in the late 1800s, a rich landowner (Long Le Vu) takes a 14-year-old girl (Nguyen Phoung Tra My) as his third wife. Visually lush, the film is the directorial feature debut of sound recordist Ash Mayfair. The only extra on the Region-B Blu-ray is a trailer, but the package does come with a booklet and a DVD copy.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Australia, '78)

In the outback of early 20th century Australia, a half-white Aborigine (Tom E. Lewis) goes into hiding after a bloody murder rampage. Adapted from Thomas Keneally's novel, the movie was directed by Fred Schepisi (Plenty, Six Degrees of Separation). The Region-B-locked Blu-ray has two versions of the film – domestic and international (slightly cut) – and a whack of extras, most previously available: commentaries, interviews, documentaries, plus an illustrated booklet and DVD copy.

Used Cars (U.S., 1980)

Kurt Russell plays a shyster used-car salesman competing against the dealer across the street in Phoenix, Az. Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) directs. The new Blu-ray, locked to Region B, borrows extras from U.S. editions by Twilight Time and Shout! Factory: a commentary track, isolated scores, interviews, outtakes, a gag reel, radio spots and more. 

The Incident (U.S., 1967)

Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The West Wing) makes his screen debut as a young hoodlum who, with his buddy (Tony Mussante) runs amok on the New York City subway, terrorizing the passengers (Beau Bridges, Ed McMahon, Donna Mills, Thelma Ritter and Ruby Dee, among others). The Region-B Blu-ray has two audio commentaries, an isolated music-and-effects track, a trailer and a Q&A with director Larry Peerce (Goodbye, Columbus) after a film festival screening in 2017. 

3 more from the U.K.

Ucho (The Ear) (Czechoslovakia, 1970)

Paranoia over state surveillance – and its debilitating effect on intimacy – is the subject of Czech filmmaker Karel Kachyňa's 1970 drama Ucho (The Ear). Radoslav Brzobohatý stars as a Communist Party deputy minister who returns one evening from an official reception with his wife (Jiřina Bohdalová) to find their house unlocked, the electricity cut off and the phone out of order. Soon they suspect there are bugs planted throughout the house to spy on them – the titular "ear" of Big Brother – and that the electronic eavesdropping can mean only one thing: they have fallen out of favour with the powers that be and will soon be arrested. A neglected classic of the Czech New Wave, Ucho was banned upon completion in 1970 and went unscreened until the Velvet Revolution two decades later. Now this powerful, suspenseful film is available to a wide international audience thanks to an all-region Blu-ray from British indie distributor Second Run. The black-and-white movie has been remastered in 4K, improving mightily on Second Run's DVD from 2005, though some scratches and jumps in the source material do reveal its age and rarity. Extras on the disc include a new audio commentary by The Projection Booth podcasters Mike White, Ben Buckingham and Martin Kessler; a 13-minute introduction by critic Peter Hames (the same as on the old DVD); and a 1969 satirical short by Ucho's co-writer, Vlastimil Venclík, called "The Uninvited Guest" (in Czech, "Nezvaný host") that, too, was banned before release; it runs 23 minutes. The accompanying booklet is 20 pages long and has essays by Hames, author/producer Steven Jay Schneider and journalist Graham Williamson.

In Bruges (U.K./ U.S., 2008)

After a botched murder, two Irish hitmen (Colin  Farrell, Brendan Gleeson) are sent by their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to lie low in the Belgian tourist town of Bruges, but get into more trouble of the increasingly violent kind. The feature debut by writer-director Martin McDonagh earned him a Bafta for best original screenplay; Clémence Poésy and Jérémie Renier co-star. On Blu-ray, the new limited edition from U.K. distributor Second Sight (code-locked to Region B) comes in a rigid slipcase that holds two paperback books: the screenplay published by Faber & Faber and a 50-page collection of essays and interviews. Extras on the disc include several previously available special features (a dozen deleted scenes and two extended ones (18 mins.), two making-ofs, a five-minute Bruges tourism promo and a six-minute gag reel, plus several new items, including short interviews with select cast and crew and McDonagh's Oscar-winning half-hour short, "Six Shooter," from 2004.

A Kid for Two Farthings (U.K., 1955)

In the hardscrabble world of 1950s' east-end London, a six-year-old boy named Joe (Jonathan Ashmore) buys a small goat he mistakenly believes is a magical unicorn that will grant him his every wish and those of his Jewish neighbours: the tailor Mr. Kandinsky (David Kossoff), who needs a new steam press, and shop assistant Sam (Joe Robinson), who wants to buy his sexy girlfriend (Diana Dors) a ring. Adapted from his own novel by Wolf Mankowitz, the film was the first in colour by director Carol Reed (The Third Man); Celia Johnson, Lou Jacobi and Sidney James co-star. Extras on the British Film Institute Blu-ray (code-locked to region B) include 90 minutes of archival documentary shorts of post-WWII London markets, street life and sporting events. There's also a new interview with actress Vera Day (17 mins.), a half-hour audio interview with Robinson from 2006, an image gallery (13 mins.). a DVD copy and an illustrated booklet.

07.2019

1 boxset from Criterion

'The BRD Trilogy' (W. Germany, 1979/1981/1982)

At the turn of the 1980s, bad-boy genius director Rainer Werner Fassbinder took an inspired look back at the early post-WWII years of the BRD, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland – or West Germany, as it was known – with three films each centred on a strong-willed woman. First, in 1979, came The Marriage of Maria Braun, with Hannah Schygulla as the wife of a missing soldier (Klaus Löwitsch) who climbs her way out of the war and up the social ladder by marrying a wealthy industrialist (Ivan Desney). It was followed in 1981 by Lola, starring Barbara Sukowa as a singer and hooker at a whorehouse in the bustling Bavarian town of Coburg in 1957 who draws the eye of a haplessly straitlaced bureaucrat (Armin Mueller-Stahl). In 1982, Fassbinder returned with a black-and-white movie, The Longing of Veronika Voss, casting Rosel Zech as a struggling Munich actress who's being blackmailed because of her disturbing Nazi past. Updating its three-DVD boxset from 2003, Criterion now offers all three films in a Blu-ray set of much-improved quality. Maria Braun and Lola have undergone 4K digital restorations (in the process, correcting the overmatting in Maria Braun), while the black-and-white Veronika Voss has been bumped up to regular high-def. Extras remain the same as those from 2003. There are audio commentaries with filmmaker Wim Wenders and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (for Maria Braun), film scholar Christian Braad Thomsen (Lola), and film critic and author Tony Rayns (Veronika Voss). There are interviews with Schygulla, Sukowa and actress Rosel Zech, cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, screenwriter Peter Märthesheimer, film scholar Eric Rentschler and film editor Juliane Lorenz. There's a German TV interview with Fassbinder from 1978 (48 mins.), a feature-length documentary on him from 1992 ("I Don't Just Want You to Love Me," 97 mins.), and German TV program from 2000 (55 mins.) on UFA studios star Sybille Schmitz, who inspired the character of Veronika Voss, and trailers. The 52-page booklet has an old essay by film critic Kent Jones and production histories by author Michael Töteberg.

1 from Second Run

A Blonde in Love (Czechoslovakia, 1965)

In a small Czech factory town that's overwhelming populated by women, lonely young Andula (Hana Brejchová) goes to a dance, spurns the clumsy advances of some visiting soldiers and falls for the shy charms of Milda (Vladimír Pucholt), the pianist from the big city who's hired for the event. After he leaves, will Andula's infatuation last? A classic of the Czech New Wave and winner of an Oscar for best foreign film, A Blonde in Love (or if you prefer, Loves of a Blonde) was directed by Miloš Forman (Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and co-written with Ivan Passer; cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček (Amadeus, Ragtime) shot a lot of it documentary-style. Extras on the region-free Blu-ray from U.K. distributor Second Run include: a new discussion between film historians Mike White, Samm Deighan, and Kevin Heffernan that can be played as an optional audio track; a trailer; a deleted scene (hidden as an easter egg); the second half of an hour-long career retrospective interview that Forman gave in New York in 2000 (the first half is on Second Run's Blu-ray of his debut feature, Black Peter), and a 24-page booklet. Only one problem: in the live performance that accompanies the film's opening credits, the audio of the singer's voice and guitar-strumming is slightly out of sync (it's fine on earlier renditions of the movie, including Second Run's 2011 DVD, Criterion's 2002 DVD and the clip above). Oh, well.

1+1 from Second Sight

When a Stranger Calls (U.S., 1979) / When a Stranger Calls Back (Canada/U.S., 1993)

"Have you checked the children?" asks the stranger on the other end of the phone. "What?" replies the innocent babysitter, Jill (Carol Kane), doing her homework while the kids are upstairs, supposedly asleep. And so begins her ordeal, told in three parts, at the hands of a homicidal loner (Tony Beckley) who drifts violently in and out of her life for the next two decades. Charles Durning co-stars as the detective-turned-PI who hunts the killer down and Colleen Dewhurst is one of his other victims. A hit at the box-office in 1979, Fred Walton's indie horror movie was followed up in 1993 with a made-for-TV sequel on Showtime, with Kane and Durning reprising their roles and Walton again in the director's chair, this time to less success. Both films now fit onto a single, all-region Blu-ray in this new edition from U.K. distributor Second Sight. Extras include a short film called "The Sitter" (1977, 21 mins.) starring Lucia Stralser that was the basis for the first feature, and four new interviews (with Walton, Kane, actress Rutanya Alda and composer Dana Kaproff) totalling about 45 minutes. Second Sight also has a fancier, limited edition that comes with a separate CD of the original film soundtrack plus a 40-page bound booklet, a reversible poster and a slipcase.

4 from Eureka!

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (U.S., 1982)

Robert Altman adapts Ed Gracyzk's play with Sandy Dennis, Cher and Karen Black in the lead roles as members of a '50s-era James Dean fan club that reunites two decades later in small-town Texas. Shot on a single indoor set in Los Angeles by Montreal cinematographer Pierre Mignot (C.R.A.Z.Y.), the movie looks like filmed theatre, only in a good way. Restored in 2012 and tweaked again for the new Blu-ray (code-locked to Region B), it comes with a new audio commentary (by Lee Gambin), two new interviews (with film editor Jason Rosenfield and art director David Gropman, totalling 36 minutes), a trailer and a booklet.

The Cockleshell Heroes (U.K./U.S., 1955)

In December, 1942, leaving the submarine that brought them there, 13 British naval commandos set out in kayaks ("canoes," the English called them) to raid the Nazi-occupied port of Bordeaux. The result was an  operational success (six German cargo ships were badly damaged by the limpet mines the men set) but a tragedy for half the unit (six of the Marines were captured and executed, and two died from hypothermia, and six ships were damaged. In the movie version, released in CinemaScope in1955, Jose Ferrer directed and starred alongside Anthony Newley, Trevor Howard, Christopher Lee and David Lodge; it was a box-office hit. Almost no extras on the Blu-ray (the first ever, though unfortunately code-locked for the U.K. and Europe), just for an interview with film historian Sheldon Hall.

Coming Home (U.S., 1978)

I remember reading a review at the time that said this Hal Ashby movie was "more about coming than coming home," and it's true, there is some memorable sex between Jon Voight (as a paralyzed Vietnam vet) and Jane Fonda (as the unhappy wife of fellow vet Bruce Dern ). On the Region-B Blu-ray, extras include a new audio commentary by author Scott Harrison; the original audio commentary with Voight, Dern and cinematographer Haskell Wexler; and two archival featurettes: "Coming Back Home" (25 mins.) and "Man Out of Time (15 mins.). There's also a booklet with new essays by Harrison and critic Glenn Kenny.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (U.S., 1942)

For his first feature film, director Elia Kazan adapted a bestselling Betty Smith novel about a poor Irish immigrant family ekeing out a living in Brooklyn in 1912. Dorothy McGuire and Joan Blondell star as sisters with very different views on life, the one a struggling housewife and mother, the other a thrice-marriedfree spirit. Newly restored in 2K from a 4K scan for Eureka's Masters of Cinema series, the film is coded Region B for the U.K. and Europe and comes with some previously available extras: an audio commentary by critic Richard Schickel with Elia Kazan, Ted Donaldson, and Normal Lloyd; a making-of, an appreciation of McGuire; and a radio broadcast of the story from 1946, starring Peggy Ann Garner, James Dunn and Joseph Kearns. An illustrated booklet completes the package.

1 boxset from the British Film Institute

Of Flesh and Blood: The Cinema of Hirokazu Kore-eda (1995-2008)

Perceptive dramas about contemporary Japanese families are what filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda is most well-known and respected for, most recently with his 2018 film Shoplifters. Now, with this new four-disc Blu-ray set (all code-locked to Region B), the British Film Institute brings together the top four of Kore-eda's 12 other feature films. First up is his debut, Maborosi (1995), the story of a young woman widowed when her husband is hit by a train; extras include an audio commentary by critic  Jasper Sharp, a half-hour revisit in 2003 of the locations used in the film, a trailer for the collection and another for the film's reissue. Kore-eda returned to the theme of death with his second feature, After Life (1998), an oddly realistic fantasy about people who die and go to heaven and what happens along the way; the movie comes with an audio commentary by Tara Judah, 17 minutes of deleted scenes, a 2003 interview with actress Arata Iura (16 mins.) and a 2013 discussion between Kore-eda and Sharp (47 mins.). The third movie is Nobody Knows (2004), about two young children abandoned in their Tokyo apartment by their single mother; there's an audio commentary by filmmaker Kenta McGrath, seven minutes of B-roll from the shoot, and a trailer, Lastly, there's Still Walking (2008), about a family reunion that goes progressively wrong; the commentary is by author Alexander Jacoby, there's a half-hour making-of and also an onstage Q&A with Kore-eda recorded last April at BFI Southbank (33 mins.), plus a stills gallery and trailer. The set includes a 72-page illustrated book.

06.2019

2 from Criterion

'A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman' (Sweden, 1961/1963/1963)

Three early-1960s dramas by Ingmar Bergman – Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence – get singled out for HD treatment this month by Criterion. Updating its three-DVD boxset from 2003, Criterion now offers a new set featuring 2K digital restorations and uncompressed monaural soundtracks. For extras, there are introductions that Bergman recorded for the films in 2003; observations on each by scholar Peter Cowie, also recorded in 2003; an interview with Andersson from 2012; an audio interview from 1962 with actor Gunnar Björnstrand; an illustrated audio interview with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, recorded in 1981; a poster gallery; original U.S. theatrical trailers; alternate English-dubbed soundtracks; and, just like on the old DVD set, a feature documentary on the making of Winter Light from 1963 called Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (146 mins.) The booklet has an essay by film scholar Catherine Wheatley and an excerpt from The Magic Lantern, Bergman's 1987 autobiography. 

War and Peace (U.S.S.R., 1867)

A masterpiece of Soviet historical cinema, writer-director-star Sergei Bondarchuk's series of four films based on Tolstoy's famous novel was many things: epic, visually stunning, hugely expensive, much-awarded and much-seen, around the world. Now, for its Blu-ray debut, Criterion has digitally restored the films in 2K and divided them onto two discs: Andrei Bolkonsky (147 mins.), Natasha Rostova (98 mins.), The Year 1812 (82 mins.), Pierre Bezukhov (97 mins.). Extras include: "Woina i Mir," a 1966 German making-of documentary in black-and-white (49 mins.); "Making War and Peace," a 1969 Russian making-of (31 mins.); new interviews with the director's son, Fedor Bondarchuk (7 mins.) and with cinematographer Anatoly Pertitsky (14 mins); "Les Sovietiques," a French TV program from 1967 on actress Ludmila Savelyeva (27 mins.);  a new appreciation called "Cold War Classic" by historian Denise J. Youngblood (47 mins.), and a U.S. re-release trailer. The illustratedbooklet has an essay by critic Ella Taylor.

1 boxset from Paramount

'The Godfather Trilogy' (U.S., 1972/1974/1990)

There are humble beginnings and there's the legend. When it was being made, nobody expected The Godfather to be a box-office smash, let alone an all-time classic. It was a low-budget gangster flick of modest pretensions, a hit-or-miss vehicle for some big stars (Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton) and a 50-50 chance for writer Mario Puzo to see if he could successfully adapt his bestselling novel to the big screen. But something about the epic story about crime in America and the way it was handled by director Francis Ford Coppola made for movie magic, and in the end The Godfather walked away with three Oscars, including best picture; it made cinema history (and boffo box office) again two years later with an even better sequel, The Godfather: Part II. Brando, of course, played Don Corleone, a New York mafia boss losing his grip on power in the aftermath of World War II to a new breed of drug-dealing hoodlums keen to take over his lucrative turf. His war-hero son, Michael (Pacino) inherits the business and tries to uphold the family's ill-gotten honour, but at what cost? Paramount is re-releasing the Godfather trilogy now with a bit of new bonus content; the distributor's last boxset was in 2008 ("The Coppola Restoration"), followed in 2017 by individual re-issues of the three films on Blu-ray. The latest set seem a stopgap for what's expected to be a major re-release in 2022, when the original Godfather celebrates its 50th anniversary. Maybe then we'll get the never-before-on-DVD extra we've all been waiting for, sort of: the nearly 10-hour chronological re-edit, The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980, that Coppola did for VHS and laserdisc in 1992. 

2 from Eureka!

Donbass (Ukraine/ Germany, 2018)

First screened last year at Cannes, where Sergei Loznitza walked away with the best-director award in the 'Un Certain Regard' competition, Donbass is a bleak, violent and all-too-real dramatization of Russia's proxy military insurrection in eastern Ukraine in the winter of 2014, especially its effect on the humanity of ordinary people and the social fabric of that country.The Blu-ray from Eureka's Montage pictures is code-locked to Region B and has no extras, unfortunately, except a trailer. 

The Holy Mountain (Germany, 1926)

Nearly a decade before she became (in)famous for making Triumph of the Will, Germany's Leni Riefenstahl made her acting debut in this silent picture, a thrilling Alpine adventure-romance directed by Arnold Fanck. Besides an audio commentary by film historian Travis Crawford and Alijoscha Zimmermann's 2002 score, the one major extra on the new Blu-ray (code-locked to Region B) is Ray Müller's three-hour-long documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, released in 1993. 

3 from Powerhouse

Scum (U.K., 1979)

"Your number, lad, that's all you are, a number!" In a British "borstal" for young offenders, a new boy named Carlin (Ray Winstone) learns the hard way that the under-the-radar troublemaking of another newbie, Archer (Mick Ford), won't get him far. Instead, he rises to the top of the prisoner pile by beating up his rivals, eventually sparking a full-scale riot against the wardens. Originally intended as a BBC teleplay but banned for its graphic violence, Scum was remade into an even more violent feature film by director Alan Clarke and writer Roy Minton. That's the version that's presented on the new Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films, restored in 2K and released as part of the U.K. distributor's Indicator series. The extras positively overflow with new and old interviews of key people involved in the production: writers, actors, director of photography, associate and executive producers, editor, casting director. There's also an audio commentary by Winstone and critic Nigel Floyd, two trailers (one rated 'U' and the other 'X'), and a gallery of 123 images used to promote the film upon its controversial release. The soundtrack is in the original mono. This Blu-ray edition is limited to 8,000 copies and comes with a 80-page illustrated book of new and archival material, plus a double-sided poster.

Black Joy (U.K., 1977)

A naive young man (Trevor Thomas) leaves home in British Guyana for England, settling in gritty Brixton, South London, where he gets into all kinds of (mostly comic) trouble. Anthony Simmons (Four in the Morning) directs, and the R&B soundtrack of hits by the O'Jays, Aretha Franklin and others is super. Extras on the all-region Blu-ray include: a 1997 Interview with Simmons that can be played as an alternate audio track over the film (98 mins.); six interview featurettes (with Thomas and co-stars Floella Benjamin and Oscar James, plus screenwriter Jamal Ali, cameraman Martin Campbell and cinematographer Phil Méheux) totalling about 90 minutes; a three-minute locations featurette called "Benjamin’s Brixton"; a 1954 documentary short by Simmons about east-end London called "Bow Bells" (14 mins.); an image gallery of vintage material; and an original theatrical trailer. The disc comes with a 36-page illustrated booklet.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (U.K, 1987)

The title character of the debut novel of Irish-Canadian writer Brian Moore, Judith Hearne is a middle-aged spinster living in a rooming house in Belfast, pretending to be better-off than she really is and secretly waging a battle with the bottle (she does like her gin). In the movie version, directed by Jack Clayton (The Innocents), the setting shifts to Dublin and Maggie Smith plays the heroine, with Bob Hoskins (Mona Lisa) as her unlikely suitor. Extras on the Region B disc (code-locked for the U.K. and Europe) include a new look-back by Smith, Rudi Davies and Ian McNeice (26 mins.), a commentary of selected scenes by critic Neil Sinyard (33 mins.), an image gallery of vintage promotional material, and a trailer. The disc comes with a 32-page booklet featuring Pauline Kael’s appraisal of the film; an essay on Moore; Clayton interviewed in 1988 about the film; excerpts of contemporary reviews; and a full list of credits.

1 from the British Film Institute

People on Sunday (Germany, 1929)

A summer Sunday in Berlin comes vividly to life in this famous silent film of the Weimar era. People on Sunday: A Film Without Actors was an earlier precursor of any number of Life in a Day -type documentaries and Paris, je t'aime -type anthology films to come. In it, we meet real-life Berliners from various walks of life – a taxi driver, a traveling wine dealer, a record shop sales girl, a film extra, a model – on their day off at a city lake, with invented storylines of romantic intrigue woven in for them to "act". Robert Siodmak (The Killers) directed, with help from Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour), and also wrote the screenplay with Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot), while Fred Zinnemann (Day of the Jackal) served as a production assistant. All were young and inexperienced, but relied on the skill of their director of photography, Eugen Schüfftan (The Hustler), already in his mid-30s, to pull things off. The original camera negative was eventually lost, but the film has survived in various forms over the years and comes reconstructed and digitally restored in 2K by film technicians in Germany and the Netherlands. Extras on the BFI's Region-B disc (code-locked for the U.K. and Europe) include an audio commentary by Adrian Martin, a half-hour documentary from 2000 called "Weekend on the Wannsee"; a 1910 travelogue called "A Drive Through Berlin" (6 mins.), a 1935 British doc called "Beside the Seaside" (22 mins.) and another from 1953 called "This Year - London." There's a choice of two music scores (an old one for piano and orchestra by Elena Kats-Chernin, and a new electronic one by the Icelandic group múm), and the disc comes with a 32-page illustrated booklet.

1 from Second Run

A Case for a Rookie Hangman (Czechoslovakia, 1969)

This surreal and ultimately doomed product of the Czech New Wave got writer-director Pavel Juráček onto the blacklist of the Communist authorities; he never made another film and died just a few months before the regime ultimately toppled three decades later, in 1989. Loosely adapted from the third part of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, it follows a modern-day Gulliver about the Czech countryside after a car accident. With echoes of Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka, the free-flowing story involves a dead rabbit, a pocketwatch, an abandoned house, a drowned lover and an odd bunch of country folk whose weird behaviour he just can't figure out. Second Run's all-region Blu-ray sports a new 4K restoration of this little-known film and comes with a number of extras. There's a podcast with Mike White, Kat Ellinger, Kevin Heffernan and Peter Hames that serves as an alternate audio track for the film; "Josef Kilián" (in Czech, "Postava k podpírání"), an equally strange  1963 short film directed by Juráček and Jan Schmidt (38 mins.);  and two short films written by Juráček and directed by Schmidt: "Cars Without a Home" (1959; 7 mins.)  and "Black and White Sylva " (1961; 29 mins.). There's also a trailer and a booklet with a new essay by film historian Michael Brooke.