“On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages." - Rumer Godden


1 from Second Run

The English Surgeon (U.K., 2007)

One man's mission to bring succor to a suffering people, the charity work of London neurosurgeon Henry Marsh takes place in a country now very much in the news: Ukraine. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Marsh began deploying his medical expertise and equipment, and above all his compassion, teaming up with a colleague surgeon in Kyiv to give hope to desperate patients and their families underserved by their nation's medical system. This began long before Russia invaded; The English Surgeon was made in 2006-2007. I first saw the 96-minute documentary over a decade ago on PBS, where it aired as part of the POV doc series, and it has lost none of its impact; indeed, it has taken on added poignancy now with the ongoing war.  (Parenthetically, seeing it anew also prompted me to watch a more light-hearted documentary segment about another Englishman in Ukraine: Michael Palin visited Kyiv, Odesa and Chernobyl in the early 1990s for episode 2 of his BBC travel series Pole to Pole.) Extras on U.K. distributor Second Run's all-region Blu-ray of The English Surgeon include new interviews with director Geoffrey Smith (25 mins.) as well as with Marsh (14 mins.), who's now 73 and recovering from cancer, no longer operating but still finding time to visit Ukraine. The accompanying booklet has an essay by film writer Trevor Johnston. Ukrainian speakers take note: the English-language subtitles for Ukrainian dialogue can't be switched off.


1 from Kino Lorber

Soundies: The Ultimate Collection (U.S., 1940-48)

A treasure trove of 1940s jazz, country-and-western, folk and boogie-woogie, this anthology of 200 film shorts of music produced for coin-operated jukeboxes in the U.S. features performances from a who's-who of popular musicians and singers of that time (and of all time): Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Hoagy Carmichael, Nat 'King' Cole, 'Fats' Waller, Dorothy Dandridge, Doris Day, 'Spike' Jones and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, along with less-well-remembered luminaries such as  Harry 'The Hipster' Gibson, Vanita Smythe, Gale Storm and Merle Travis (oh, and also Ricardo Montalbán, later famous for TV's 'Fantasy Island'). Totaling nearly 12 hours, the 25-minute shorts have been newly restored from 35mm and 16mm materials preserved by the U.S. Library of Congress and other archives. Special features on Kino Lorber's all-region, four-disc Blu-ray set include interviews with the films' curators and conservationists at the Library of Congress and National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as with jazz film archivist Mark Cantor, author of 'The Soundies: A History and Catalog of Jukebox Film Shorts of the 1940s.' There's also a seven-minute look at the films' "modes of production" and their logo; and on disc 4, there's a 22-minute short called "Explaining the Chorus Line" and a seven-minute summing up of the anthology. The set comes with a 44-page illustrated booklet with essays by Cantor and film historians Susan Delson and Ellen C. Scott. Swing out, hoe down, shake your booty, shake your blues ... and rock on! 

1 from Criterion

After Hours (U.S., 1985)

A dark comedy from Martin Scorsese, made in a lull while the director of Raging Bull was trying to get The Last Temptation of Christ off the ground, After Hours layers misfortune upon misfortune on its hapless young protagonist, a New York City tech worker named Paul Hackett, played by Griffin Dunne. Short of cash and unable to get home one summer night in Manhattan, Paul has a series of run-ins with denizens of SoHo in their nocturnal haunts: a helpful bartender (John Heard), a suicidal artist's model, two bungling burglars (Cheech & Chong), two underground-artist sculptors (Linda Fiorentino, Verna Bloom), a weirdly nostalgic '60s pop music fan (Teri Garr) and, finally, a maniacal driver of an ice-cream truck (Catherine O'Hara). After Hours is a fever dream of a movie, a love letter to mid-'80s New York, and a departure for Scorsese, aided in the production by legendary British director Michael Powell (Peeping Tom), who wound up collaborating personally, too, by marrying Scorsese's editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. New to Blu-ray, in a double-disc set (one BD, one UHD), the film now gets a long-awaited upgrade in 4K courtesy of The Criterion Collection. Four extras are reprised from Warner's DVD released two decades ago: an audio commentary track featuring Scorsese, Schoonmaker and Dunne, with director of photography Michael Ballhaus and producer Amy Robinson (with some additional remarks recorded this year); a 19-minute making-of called "Filming for Your Life: Making After Hours"; eight minutes of deleted scenes; and a trailer. Besides the 4K restoration approved by Schoonmaker, the only things new, visually, are a 20-minute interview with Scorsese done by writer Fran Lebowitz and an 18-minute appreciation voiced over by costume designer Rita Ryack and production designer Jeffrey Townsend. An accompanying booklet has an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.

1 from Second Run

The Circus Tent (India, 1978)

This 130-minute film by Indian director Aravindan Govindan "explores the ripples created by the arrival of a travelling circus in a remote Indian village," as its current British distributor, Second Run, puts it. Half-documentary, half-fiction, it's an allegorical and poetic film on the transience of human relationships. Working with a real circus troupe and their audience in the riverside village of Thirunavaya, in the state of Kerala on India's Malabar Coast,  Aravindan depicts the magic of athletic illusion in a way that is simply mesmerizing. Restored in 4K and making its world premiere on (all-region) Blu-ray, the movie comes with a new interview with Govindan's photographer son Ramu, an interview at Cannes with actor Jalaja and filmmaker Shivendra Singh Dungarpur (whose 2018 doc CzechMate: In Search of Jiří Menzel I reviewed here), and a 24-page booklet.


1 from Imprint Films

Damage (U.K. / France, 1992)

You'll laugh, you'll cringe. I remember profoundly disliking Damage when it came out in 1992, walking out of the cinema with my then-fiancée before the last reel, so venal were the lead characters and so unbelievable the story. Three decades later, the erotic couplings between the illicit lovers played by Juliette Binoche and Jeremy Irons still make me gape in incredulity – and guffaw, even, not so much out of any prudish nervousness as from simple amazement at the contrived absurdity of it all. Under the direction of Louis Malle (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, Pretty Baby, Au revoir les enfants), this adaptation of Josephine Hart's bestselling novel stars Irons as a British doctor-turned-Tory-MP who has a passionate affair with the enigmatic French fiancée (Binoche) of his happy-go-lucky journalist son (Rupert Graves). Miranda Richardson plays the cheated-on wife and Ian Bannen her doting father. It's a tragedy, but don't except it to end in tears, only one more trip down the viewfinder of the male gaze. Now out on region-free Blu-ray from Australian distributor Via Vision on its Imprint label, Damage sports a new 2K scan and comes with two new extras – an appreciation by film scholar Hugo Frey and an interview with the movie's now elderly editor John Bloom – along with several vintage featurettes, including a making-of and interviews with Malle and Irons. A trailer rounds out the package, and there's a slipcase, too.

1 from Second Run

Twilight (Szürkület) (Hungary, 1990)

The New York TImes sums up this brooding Hungarian movie thus: "It’s the tale of a retired police chief who returns to his work to find a child murderer." Sound promising, mystery fans? Read on, this time via British distributor Second Run: "A seasoned detective investigates a series of child murders, succumbing to an all-consuming and tragic obsession with the case, finding empty solace in his quest for vengeance. What emerges is not a crime story, but a harrowing venture through the darkness of the human soul. Twilight unfolds with breathtaking cinematography and haunting sound design, allowing the mystery to emerge in tantalizingly atmospheric and meditative fashion. Based on writings by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, also the basis for Sean Penn’s impressive 2001 film The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson, György Fehér’s hypnotic, transcendent adaptation is a unique and haunting experience. Fehér’s masterpiece   legendary, long unseen   now makes its world premiere on all-region Blu-ray in a stunning new 4K restoration by the National Film Institute Hungary - Film Archive, supervised and approved by cinematographer Miklós Gurbán. A wealth of extras includes exclusive newly filmed appreciations by filmmakers Quay Brothers (22 minutes), Peter Strickland (14 mins.), James Norton (4 mins.) and critic and author Chris Fujiwara (18 mins.), plus newly filmed interviews with regular Fehér collaborators editor Mária Czeilik (31 mins.) and cinematographer Miklós Gurbán (35 mins.), and a booklet with new writing by filmmaker and curator Stanley Schtinter."