"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)

 

2 from Powerhouse

The Missionary (U.K., 1982)

 

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

 

2 from Eureka!

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Australia, '78)

 

Used Cars (U.S., 1980)

 

2 more from the U.K.

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

 

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

 

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+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.

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. 

2 from Powerhouse

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 short by Simmons called "Bow Bells" (14 mins.); an image gallery of vintage promotional material; and a 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 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 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.