"What lunch?  The Ferragosto lunch!" - Gianni di Gregorio

07.2022

1 from Second Run

Larks on a String (Czechoslovakia, 1969)

A satire of the political prison that was Communism at its apogee of power in Eastern Europe, Larks on a String was director Jiří Menzel and writer Bohumil Hrabal's slap at the regime installed by the Soviet invaders the year before, which brought to an end the promise of liberation during the short-lived Prague Spring of 1968. Set in a scrap metal yard where dissidents are interned to be ‘re-educated’, the film was banned by state censors and only made it to screens in 1990, after the Velvet Revolution swept the regime away, and went on to be awarded the grand prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Newly restored in 4K by the Czech National Film Archive, the movie now gets its world premiere on Blu-ray on a region-free disc (with improved English subtitles) from British distributor Second Run. Extras include "Jiří Menzel: 7 Questions," a lookback at the film that Menzel himself shot for the label back in 2011; Menzel in conversation with his filmmaker biographer Shivendra Singh Dungarpur before his death in 2020; a newly-recorded Projection Booth audio commentary with Mike White and Jonathan Owen; Menzel's 1963 short "Our Dear Mister Foerster Died," newly restored; a trailer and a 20-page booklet featuring an essay by author Peter Hames and an introduction by cinematographer Jaromír Šofr.

1 from Criterion

Raging Bull (U.S., 1980)

Directing by Martin Scorsese, acting by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty and John Turturro, editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, black-and-white cinematography by Michael Chapman, a screenplay co-written by Paul Schrader, a soundtrack supervised by Robbie Robertson, sound design by Frank Warner: Raging Bull has a lot of top talent in its corner, all in the service of the true story of Jake La Motta, a middleweight boxer from the Bronx battling demons in and out of the ring. A multiple Oscar-winning picture newly transferred in 4K, Raging Bull now comes to Blu-ray two ways from U.S. distributor Criterion: a double-disc edition (one 4K UHD with the film and commentaries, one BD with the film and full extras) or a single BD with film and extras. Only a couple of those extras are new: video essays by film critics Geoffrey O’Brien and Sheila O’Malley on Scorsese and his movie. The three audio commentaries are old; they were included on MGM's Blu-ray from 2009: one features Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker from 1990; one is a multi-voice track from 2004 with Chapman, Robertson, Warner, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, casting director Cis Corman, Turturro and co-star Theresa Saldana; and the third, also from 2004, features La Motta himself with Schrader and co-writer Mardik Martin. Also from the MGM BD is a 90-minute making-of in four parts called "Fight Night." Rounding out the package are three reminiscences by Scorsese and De Niro recorded in 1980 and 2010; a 1981 Belgian TV interview with Moriarty and La Motta's real-life wife, Vikki; a 1990 interview with La Motta (6 minutes); a 2004 TV program featuring veteran boxers reminiscing about La Motta (11 mins.); and a trailer. The booklet has essays by poet Robin Robertson and film critic Glenn Kenny.

06.2022

1 from Criterion

Shaft (U.S., 1971)

"The cat who won't cop out, when there's danger all about"– that's John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), New York City private detective and hero of director Gordon Parks' early 1970s blockbuster based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection) and his appropriately named co-screenwiter, John D.F. Black (Star Trek). Remade in 2000 and again in 2019 (both times with Samuel L. Jackson in the lead role, supported by Roundtree), the original sees Shaft attempting to solve a murder and kidnapping in Harlem involving the Black and Italian mobs. With J.J. Johnson, Issac Hayes composed the memorable soundtrack, winning an Oscar for his catchy title song. For its re-release on physical media, Criterion have put together a  three-disc Blu-ray package: one 4K BD that has the film alone; one BD with film and extras, including a new interview with Roundtree and an old one with Hayes; and one BD with Parks' 1972 sequel Shaft's Big Score!, an hour-long documentary from 2019, and other extras. The set marks a solid improvement on Warner's old BD from 2012, which was marred by vertically stretched visuals; not included from that edition, however, is a 1973 CBS TV episode of the Shaft series called "The Killing." Along with their new package, Criterion have included a booklet with an essay by film scholar Amy Abugo Ongiri.

2 from Powerhouse

Columbia Noir #5: Humphrey Bogart (U.S., 1947-56)

For its fifth foray into the Columbia Pictures catalogue of film noir, British distributor Powerhouse have assembled another superb boxset on its Indicator label, this time grouped around a single leading man: Humphrey Bogart. They begin with Dead Reckoning (1947), a murder thriller involving demobbed soldiers in the southern U.S., and end with Bogart's final film before he died of cancer, the boxing drama The Harder They Fall (1956), presented here in a 4K restoration. In between are Tokyo Joe (1949), set in postwar Japan; the Syria-set thriller Sirocco (1951), making its world premiere on Blu-ray; the courtroom drama Knock on Any Door (1949), directed by Nicholas Ray; and a rarely seen murder drama called The Family Secret (1951), also making its BD premiere. Each disc in the set is code-locked to region B (UK and Europe) and has numerous extras, ranging from new audio commentary tracks and video appreciations to vintage documentary shorts and image galleries. A 120-page book featuring a new essay by film noir expert Imogen Sara Smith completes the package.

Pastor Hall (U.K., 1940)

Based on the true story of German pastor Martin Niemöller, in the lead-up to World War Two Pastor Hall was deemed too stridently anti-Nazi even for the British public, and so its release was delayed by the censors. When it finally was shown in theatres, in late May of 1940, attitudes had changed, and the movie carried a prologue (for U.S. audiences) by Eleanor Roosevelt, denouncing Hitler and his war machine. Wilfrid Lawson (Pygmalion) stars as the titular hero, a small-town Protestant minister who warns his heedless parishioners about the growing Nazi threat, is arrested and then sent to Dachau, where he dies a martyr to freedom of conscience. Nova Pilbeam, star of Hitchcock's Young and Innocent (1937), co-stars as the pastor's strongwilled daughter, Christine. Exiled German-Jewish dramatist Ernst Toller wrote the 1939 play on which the movie was based, shortly before committing suicide in his adopted country, the U.S. On region-free Blu-ray, Pastor Hall has been restored in 4K and comes with several audio and video extras, new and vintage, and a 36-page booklet.