"What lunch? The Ferragosto lunch!" - Gianni di Gregorio
1 from Criterion
Exotica (Canada, 1994)
Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan hit the big time in 1994 with his sixth feature, Exotica, focusing on the sad habitués of a seedy Toronto strip club. Bruce Greenwood stars as Francis Brown, a lonely Revenue Canada tax auditor who shows up night after night to gaze at the gyrations of young Christina (Mia Kirshner), a dancer in a schoolgirl costume on whom the club's longhaired DJ (Elias Koteas) has a very bad crush, of which the club's owner (Arsinée Khanijan, Egoyan's wife), who's carrying his baby, is very well aware. Francis, it turns out, is grieving for his young daughter, kidnapped and killed several months before, and gets his niece (Sarah Polley) to substitute for her at home when he's out investigating cases, such as that of a pet shop owner (Don McKellar) he suspects of illegally importing the eggs of exotic birds. Sound convoluted? It certainly is, but somehow the plot hangs together neatly as the intrigue builds, culminating in a big reveal that links all the characters in a shared tragedy. Now restored in 4K, Egoyan's movie gets a prestige home-video release (on Blu-ray and two-disc DVD) via American distributor Criterion. Besides a director's commentary (with composer Mychael Danna) and a new conversation between Egoyan and Polley, the extras include a second feature-length film, Egoyan's 1993 road movie Calendar, set in his ancestral homeland, Armenia. There are also three shorts by the director – "Peep Show" (1981), "En passant" (1991) and, commissioned for the sixtieth anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, "Artaud Double Bill" (2007) – as well as audio of Egoyan, Khanjian, Greenwood and producer Camelia Frieberg giving a press conference after Exotica's screening at Cannes, where it went on to win the FIPRESCI prize.A booklet has an essay by author and filmmaker Jason Wood.
1 from Powerhouse
The Swimmer (U.S., 1968)
In Frank and Eleanor Perry's adaptation of John Cheever's 1964 satirical short story about the East Coast nouveau riche, Burt Lancaster plays Ned Merrill, an athletic loner with a troubled past who one bright summer's day sets out to swim home to his Connecticut mansion via a series of pools in his rural neighbourhood. Along the way, he meets a number of women he either tries to seduce, who try to seduce him, or who outright reject him. In the end, he finds that home is not a place you can return to so easily; there are ghosts there. Previously released on Blu-ray in 2014 by the U.S. distributor Grindhouse, the movie now comes freshened up for a region-B release by U.K. distributor Powerhouse as part of its Indicator series. It's a transfer of the same restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative that Grindhouse used, but comes with a new audio commentary (by American film writer Justin Bozung) and a veritable tidal wave of extras. There's an isolated music and effects track, a new interview with English comedian and filmmaker Richard Ayoade (11 mins.), a short appreciation by Trailers from Hell's Illeana Douglas (5 mins.), a 2014 interview with veteran actress Marge Champion (18 mins.), Cheever himself reading his short story in 2004 (26 mins.), four minutes of outtakes of the title sequence, a trailer and five TV spots, and six galleries of over 300 images of storyboards, production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, original promotional material and stills. There are also several dozen photos of a deleted scene featuring Barbara Loden, Elia Kazan's wife, who was dropped after the shoot and her part recast (and re-shot by Sydney Pollack) with Janice Rule (The Chase, Missing). The boxset comes with an 80-page liner book with a new essay by English writer Sophie Monks Kaufman, a profile of Cheever, extracts from interviews with the Perrys on the making of the film, and excerpts of reviews of the movie at the time of release. For fans, there's also a limited-edition foldout poster.
1 from Second Run
Desire / All My Good Countrymen (Czechoslovakia, 1958/1968)
Before he emigrated to Austria and West Germany and then New York after the Soviet invasion of 1968, Czech director Vojtěch Jasný had already made his name on the international film scene with two films: The Cassandra Cat, awarded the third-place Jury Prize at Cannes in 1963; and All My Good Countrymen, released briefly in 1968, banned after the Warsaw Pact tanks rolled in, then smuggled out in 1969 and screened at Cannes, where it was awarded a prize for best direction. Countrymen tells the bittersweet tale of a disparate group of Moravian villagers and how their destinies are mapped out from the end of the Second World War in 1945 through the increasingly divisive years of communism from 1948 to 1957 (with an epilogue during the Prague Spring of 1968). The film's attitude of insouciance and its dips into fantasy are what makes it profoundly Czech, and to this day the picture remains Jasný's masterpiece and a hallmark of the Czech New Wave. The new double-disc Blu-ray from British distributor Second Run comes with a big bonus: Jasný's 1958 portmanteau film Desire, four stories set in each of the four seasons and focusing on four stages of life:, from childhood to old age. The discs are all-region, so it'll play on whatever player you use. Image and sound have been restored in 4K high-definition by the Czech National Film Archive. Extras on the Countrymen disc include: a new audio commentary by The Projection Booth podcasters Mike White, Chris Stachiw, and Spencer Parsons; a half-hour introduction to the film that Jasný recorded in 2015; two one-minute clips of Drahomíra Hofmanová and author Peter Hames recorded in 2015; and a 16-minute short by Jasný titled Bohemian Rhapsody with some of the same mummers who appear in Countrymen (the film was intially released but then banned in 1969). The Desire disc comes with a half-hour, English-language interview with Jasný from 1988 and, from 1949, his semi-documentary graduation film It's Not Always Cloudy (68 mins.). Second Run's package includes a 20-page booklet with a new essay by Hames on Jasný and the films.
1 from Powerhouse
Diary of a Mad Housewife (U.S, 1970)
If the American actress Carrie Snodgrass is no longer well-known, it might be because she never really lived up to the early potential she showed in Frank Perry's 1970 film Diary of a Mad Housewife. Snodgrass, who died in 2004, aged 58, always seemed to live in the shadow of the greats. She was Canadian superstar Neil Young's partner in the early 1970s, the inspiration behind his song "A Man Needs a Maid," and mother of their handicapped son, Zeke. She narrowly missed out co-starring as Adrian in Sylvester Stallone's original Rocky; he offered her a percentage of the profits, she held out for a higher wage and was dropped for Talia Shire. And despite many other parts over her 35-year career, Snodgrass never did better than the title role she played in Housewife, opposite Richard Benjamin and Frank Langella as a couple of no-good male chauvinist pigs. Adapted by Perry's wife, Eleanor, from the 1967 novel by Sue Kaufman, the movie was a surprise feminist hit and earned Snodgrass an Oscar nomination as best actress. Censored for television and long unavailable on home video, the film – and Snodgrass – are now getting a bit of a revival thanks to two recent Blu-ray releases of the film: first, a barebones edition that U.S. distributor Kino came out with in 2020, and now a British Blu-ray on U.K. distributor Powerhouse Films' Indicator label. In the latest edition, both the theatrical cut (in high definition) and TV cut (in standard def) of Housewife are provided, the latter albeit in bad shape, sourced from a private VHS taping of a rerun on American TV in 1986. The region-B-coded disc comes with several new extras: an audio commentary on the theatrical cut by actress Rutanya Alda and film historian Lee Gambin, an audio commentary on the TV cut by Frank Perry biographer Justin Bozung, a half-hour interview with the film's (female) editor Chris Innis, and six minutes with Benjamin himself. There's also a short (four-minute) appreciation from 2020 by Trailers from Hell's Larry Karaszewski. Rounding out the audiovisual extras are four radio spots, a trailer and a gallery of 42 original promotional images. The accompanying booklet runs 42 pages and has a new essay by Paula Mejía, a profile of the novelist Kaufman, extracts from interviews with Frank and Eleanor Perry and Snodgress, a look at Snodgress and Young’s relationship, excerpts from contemporary reviews and a list of film credits.
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.
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.