"Behind the glass wall snow is falling." - Simon Mawer
3 from Eureka!
A Fistful of Dynamite (aka Duck, You Sucker!) (Italy / Spain 1971)
Italian writer-director Sergio Leone took up the theme of the Mexican revolution of the 1910s for this, his last Western. James Coburn stars as John Mallory, an Irishman expert in explosives, who's enlisted by Mexican outlaw Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) to help to rob a big bank. When the duo discover that the bank has been repurposed by the Mexican army as a jail for hundreds of political prisoners, they free them and go on the run. Shot in widescreen Techniscope in Andalusia, Spain (as well as briefly in Dublin, Ireland), the movie is also memorable for its haunting theme song, "Sean, Sean" (radio audiences in my city, Montreal, remember it as the 1970s jingle for popular rock station CHOM-FM). The new two-Blu-ray set on Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema label has two restorations of the film, one American (done by MGM) and the other Italian (by the Cineteca di Bologna); the first is in English and the second (with a decidedly yellower cast) is in Italian. Each clocks in at around 157 minutes, with a slight cut by British censors concerned by cruelty to animals (a 6-second shot of horses tripping was removed). On the MGM restoration disc, there's a choice of two title cards (A Fistful of Dynamite, as the film was called in the U.K., and Duck, You Sucker!, as it was called in the U.S.) and several extras: two audio commentaries (by filmmaker Alex Cox and film historian Sir Christopher Frayling); two new interviews (with critic Kim Newman, for 21 mins., and author Austin Fisher, for 12 mins.); two old interviews (with Frayling, for 22 mins., and with MGM head archivist John Kirk, for 6 mins.); several radio spots (4 mins.) and an extended trailer (4 mins.). On the Italian restoration disc, you get several archival featurettes: an interview with screenwriter Sergio Donati (7 mins.); a 12-minute look at film's various versions; a 6-minute tour of the Leone exhibit at the Autry National Center Museum of the American West, in Los Angeles; a 10-minute look at the film's locations then and now; and four stills galleries totalling 40 minutes. The discs are code-locked for British and European players and come in a hardbound slipcase with a 60-page book featuring interviews, essays, artwork and more.
Ironweed (U.S., 1987)
Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep both got Oscar nods for their sobering portrayals of a couple of down-and-out alcoholics in Depression-era Albany, N.Y., in this adaptation of William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel directed by Argentina's Héctor Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Besides a trailer (and a booklet), there are no extras on the new double-disc (Blu-ray/DVD) release by Eureka! Classics. The discs are code-locked for Britain and Europe.
What's New Pussycat? (U.S. / France, 1965)
Woody Allen made his screen debut as actor and writer of this mid-1960s satire of sexual obsession shot in France and headlined by Peter O'Toole, Peter Sellers, Romy Schneider and Ursula Andress (Richard Burton also appears, in a cameo). The title sequence and Tom Jones' song are memorable. Besides a trailer (and a booklet), the new region-B-locked Blu-ray by Eureka! Classics has an audio commentary by film critics Emma Westwood and Sally Christie.
1 from Second Sight
The Amazing Mr. Blunden (U.K., 1972)
Just after the end of the First World War, an impoverished London family receives an unexpected Christmas visit from a stranger calling himself Blunden. The old man offers the Allens a chance to move to the country and take over the running of a palatial home, Langley Park, left empty after a terrible fire almost a century before, its owners now untraceable by lawyers for the estate, which Mr. Blunden (played by Laurence Naismith) says he represents. Overcoming their fear that the house may be haunted, the widow Mrs. Allen (Dorothy Alison) and her children – Lucy (Lynn Frederick), Jamie (Garry Miller) and baby Benjamin – move in, and, sure enough, the ghosts come out. They're friendly ghosts, siblings like the Allens, one named Sarah (Roselyn Landor) and the other Georgie (Marc Granger), and soon the kids find a magic book that tells them how to travel back in time to right the wrongs that led to the tragic fire. They proceed to do so, with unexpected results. Directed by Lionel Jeffries with the same sensibility he brought two years earlier to a better-remembered adaptation, of Edith Nesbit's novel The Railway Children, the movie is a neglected classic, and for its Blu-ray debut (twice delayed since 2016) the film has been newly scanned from the original negative and code-locked for players in Britain and Europe. Extras all focus on actors: there's a new audio commentary by Landor and fellow cast members Madeline Smith and Stuart Lock, moderated by critic Kim Newman (their voices play over the film's original audio, unfortunately downgraded to digital stereo from DTS mono and as a result rather sibilant and echoey); new interviews with Landor, Smith and Mark Gatiss of Doctor Who and Sherlock (again with the hissy audio whenever a clip of Mr Blunden is shown); and an onstage Q&A at the British Film Institute in 2014 with Landor, Smith and fellow cast member Marc Granger. There are also several extras on paper: a booklet, a foldout poster with new artwork and, as a bonus for readers, a paperback of the novel on which the film was based, Antonia Barber's The Ghosts, long out-of-print but reproduced for this edition and housed alongside the disc case in a hard slipcover.
1 from Criterion
Until the End of the World (Germany / France / Australia, 1991)
I remember Until the End of the World, German director Wim Wenders "ultimate road movie," as a bit of a high-gloss mess when I first saw it at the Outremont Theatre in Montreal upon release. But what I and other viewers were underwhelmed by at the time was a compromise, a condensed version of the movie forced on Wenders by his distributors. Now, years after a full-length director's cut was made available to home-video audiences in Europe, North American viewers can settle in to watch it on Blu-ray, courtesy of Criterion. The movie is a wild ride, shot in nine countries for a then-unheard budget for a niche film — $23 million — and with a pop soundtrack of new tunes by Lou Reed, R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Daniel Lanois, Depeche Mode and others. Set in 1999, on the eve of the new millenium, the story follows a young Frenchwoman named Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin) who lucks into a bag of cash from a bank robbery, has some of it stolen by an enigmatic American drifter (William Hurt), and then, with a German private detective (Rudiger Vogler) and her ex-lover, a novelist (Sam Neill), follows Hurt's character around the world trying to get to the bottom of his secret. It turns out his mother (Jeanne Moreau) has gone blind, and his scientist father (Max von Sydow) is developing technology in a secret laboratory in the Australian Outback that will help her see again — not only what's physically around her, but also her dreams. Sound fantastic, far-fetched, fanciful? You're right: it takes some suspension of disbelief (and patience) to enjoy Until the End of the World. Because the film is long (close to five hours), for its Blu-ray debut (in a 4K restoration approved by the director) Criterion has spread it over two discs, the better also to accommodate the lengthy extras. They begin with a new video introduction by Wenders (14 mins.), followed by a 1991 documentary short by Uli M Schueppel that shows Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recording the movie's theme song, “(I’ll Love You) Till the End of the World” (18 mins.); there are also 30 minutes of deleted scenes. The soundtrack gets profiled again with two new interviews, one with Wenders (16 mins.), the other with him and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne (8 mins.). On disc 2, the extras continue with two more interviews with Wenders, vintage this time, a half-hour one from 2001 and another from 1993 where he talks about shooting in Australia (7 mins.). Finally, there's an hour-long Japanese making-of that looks at the movie's high-definition video sequences. The movie's trailer is also provided, as well as a booklet, which has essays by critics Bilge Ebiri and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.
1 from Sony
Where's My Roy Cohn? (U.S., 2019)
If you're following the impeachment of Donald Trump and wonder how the U.S. ever wound up with such a man as president, you'll find some answers in this documentary about Roy Cohn. Notorious for baiting Communists and targeting homosexuals in the McCarthy era (he was the bullying Republican congressman's chief counsel), Cohn was a New York lawyer and Mob associate who got in early with Trump and helped him wangle his dodgy real-estate deals, including Trump Tower. They shared a disdain for blacks, "malcontents" and "fags," played fast and easy with laws and regulations, and counted the political operative Roger Stone among their many unscrupulous friends. Cohn was eventually disbarred for getting a dying multimillionaire client to make him a beneficiary in his will, among other offences. That same year, 1986, Cohn died of AIDS; it turned out he'd been a secret "homo" all his life. A little over three decades later, mired in the Russia investigation into his election and looking for a way out, Trump would exclaim to his aides: "Where's my Roy Cohn?" Oddly, despite its title, the new documentary never explains this, instead giving a rather workaday portrait of a despicable man and the powerful people whose rise he furthered and, in the case of Trump, did not live to see crash and fall (if indeed, post-impeachment, that's what's coming). Extras on the Sony DVD (also available on Blu-ray, in the U.S.) include an audio commentary with director Matt Tyrnauer (Studio 54) and co-producer Marie Brenner (of Vanity Fair magazine), and a Q&A with Tyrnauer.
1 from Criterion
Cold War (Poland / U.K. / France, 2018)
Five years after winning an Oscar for Ida, about a Catholic nun in 1960s' Poland who learns she's actually a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, Polish-British director Paweł Pawlikowski made another remarkable black-and-white movie that explores conflicting loyalties in his homeland during the post-WWII Communist years. Cold War begins in the late 1940s and ends in the early 1960s and follows the on-again, off-again love life (based on that of the filmmaker's own parents) of Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a melancholy pianist who co-directs a folk-music choral ensemble, and Zula (Joanna Kulig), a beautiful but troubled young singer who joins the troupe. Probing themes of passion, abandonment, exile, dissidence and repression – leavened by a gloriously poignant soundtrack of traditional songs, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Chopin and Bach – the 88-minute film is an aural and visual epic of intimacy that moves in an ever-tightening circle between Poland, France, Yugoslavia and Poland once again, where cruel destiny has its final word. Extras on the Criterion Blu-ray (also available on DVD) include a friendly conversation (37 mins.) between Pawlikowski and filmmaker Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu, recorded earlier this year in Sarajevo; a half-hour news conference with cast and crew at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival (where the filmmaker was awarded the best-director prize); and two making-ofs, one Polish and the other French, of about 15 minutes each. There's also a trailer and a foldout leaflet with an essay by Time magazine film critic Stephanie Zacharek.
3 from Eureka!
Werewolf (Poland / Holland / Germany, 2018)
It's early 1945 and amid the German retreat from occupied Poland a group of children are rescued by the Red Army from the Gross-Rosen labour camp complex in Silesia and driven to safety in an abandoned villa in the middle of a nearby forest. They have not found a haven, however – far from it. Soon they are terrorized anew by a pack of German Shepherd guard dogs let loose by their masters and hungry for fresh prey. Then a couple of stray Russian soldiers show up and torment them, followed by a rogue SS officer who comes out of hiding to wreak more havoc. Is it OK to exploit the Holocaust for thrills, making starving kids the innocent victims of horror? Polish writer-director Adrian Panek obviously thought so, but you be the judge. As for the home-video release of Werewolf (in Polish, Wilkolak), on this dual-format release (one Blu-ray, one DVD, both code-locked for U.K. and European players) from Eureka!'s fledgling Montage label there's almost nothing to devour in the way of extras – just a trailer. There is a 14-page booklet, though, and it has a thoughtful essay by British film critic Anton Bitel.
The African Queen (U.S. / U.K., 1951)
Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn take a trip up the Ulanga River in German East Africa in 1914 and, under a hail of enemy bullets, fall in love. Bogart plays Charlie Allnut, the no-nonsense captain of a small riverboat grandly called the African Queen, and Hepburn is Rose Sayer, a British missionary whose spirit of adventure lands her in the more turbulent waters of romance. John Huston directed this classic adaptation of the C.S. Forester novel, shot in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff in the U.K and, under much more arduous conditions, on location in Uganda and the Congo. Hepburn later detailed it all in her 1987 memoir, The Making of the African Queen, or: How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind. A huge improvement in the extras department over the U.S. Blu-ray that Paramount released in 2010, the new Region-B edition from Eureka! Masters of Cinema offers the same hour-long 2010 making-of called 'Embracing Chaos' and adds a previously available audio commentary recorded in the 1990s by Cardiff. Other audio extras include: an optional track of the film's score by Allan Gray (aka Józef Żmigrod), an interview with Huston at London's National Film Theatre in 1981 (88 mins.); a half-hour discussion in 2010 at London's National Film Theatre with Huston's daughter, the actress Anjelica Huston, and script supervisor Angela Allen; and an hour-long Lux Radio Theater adaptation from 1952 with Bogart and Greer Garson.There are also three video interviews: with critic Kim Newman (19 mins.), film historian Neil Sinyard (16 mins.) and the film's co-screenwriter Peter Viertel (18 mins.). Lastly, besides a trailer, there's a substantial, 60-page book and a hard case.
Der Golem (Germany, 1920)
For his 1931 screen adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, director James Whale cribbed from a German masterpiece that was barely 10 years old: Paul Wegener's silent horror film Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came Into the World). The German movie itself was based on an old Jewish legend about a monster created in 16th-century Prague to protect the Jews from anti-Semites. On the new Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, the film comes in two versions: one clocking in at 76 minutes that was released for the German market (delivered here with optional English subtitles for the German intertitles) and the other cut to 60 minutes for the American market (shown here with the original English intertitles). The German version has been newly and wonderfully restored in 4K and has an optional new audio commentary by film historian Scott Harrison; the American version looks much cruder, relying on a 1970 duplicate negative of poorly preserved source material. Extras include two new video essays – by critics David Cairns and Anne Billson (26 mins.) and by documentary filmmaker Jon Spira (11 mins.) – and an audio essay by film historian R. Dixon Smith (15 mins.). There's also a split-screen comparison between restorations of Der Golem in 1995 and 2018 (22 mins.) and a choice of four scores: for the German version, a piano score by Stephen Horne, an electronic version by Lukasz "Wudec" Poleszak and one for a chamber ensemble by Admir Shkurtaj; and for the American version, one for violin, viola, accordian and trumpet by Cordula Heth. The 28-page booklet has reprints of illustrations from the original 1915 novel by Gustav Meyrink.
1 from Second Run
The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (Japan, 1987)
American documentary film superstars Michael Moore and Errol Morris count this unusual Japanese film by Kazuo Hara as inspirational and one of their all-time favourites. Five years in the making, it follows a veteran of Japan's WWII vicious occupation of New Guinea named Kenzo Okuzaki who tracks down – and violently punishes, vigilante-style – the men responsible for executing two soldiers in his old unit. The all-region Blu-ray (also available on DVD) from British distributor Second Run sports a new HD remaster of the film and comes with a new half-hour interview with the director and 40 minutes of him giving a masterclass at the 2018 London Open City Documentary Festival. A 20-page booklet completes the package.
3 from the British Film Institute
Yentl (U.K / U.S., 1983)
From the late 1960s to its final realization in the early 1980s, Barbra Streisand's mid-career passion project was a musical screen adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story (and later play, with Leah Napolin), Yentl the Yeshiva Boy. Streisand was all-in on the project: as co-writer (with Jack Rosenthal), co-producer, director and star. She left the music to Michel Legrand, who went on to win an Oscar for his score with songs like "Papa, Can you Hear Me?" and "The Way He Makes Me Feel"; Streisand herself picked up a Golden Globe for best director, the first woman to do so. The story is a gender-bender: Streisand portrays a young shtetl Jew in early 20th-century Poland who, after the death of her religious-instructor father, crossdresses in order to take up a now-public education in Talmudic law normally reserved for men. At school she befriends a young scholar (Mandy Patinkin) and his fiancée (Amy Irving), gets entangled in a love triangle with them, and ultimately decides to emigrate to America. The BFI's new edition of the film is a little unusual. Though identical in content to the U.S. Blu-ray that Twilight Time released in 2014, it is split between two discs, one a Blu-ray and the other a DVD, both code-locked for British and European players. On the Blu-ray are the film's theatrical (133 mins.) and director's cut (137 mins.), an audio commentary for both by Streisand and fellow wunderkind co-producer Rusty Lemorande, 17 minutes of deleted scenes, a trailer and a 9-minute image gallery. On the DVD are the rest of the extras: an introduction by Streisand, half an hour of rehearsal footage , eight minutes of deleted songs with storyboards, and seven-minute featurettes. An illustrated booklet completes the package.
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (France, 1967)
I laughed the first time I saw (and heard!) Jacques Demy's Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. Was it a musical comedy or an opera? Why was there so much recitative, why so little ordinary speech? It seemed absurd at the time. It still does, but also delightful, and Catherine Deneuve never looked lovelier, it's true. First released on Blu-ray (with mostly different extras) in the U.S. by Criterion in 2017, the film now gets freshened up on a region-B disc by the BFI. There's a new audio commentary by film critic David Jenkins; a new visual essay by BFI programmer Geoff Andrew (19 mins.); a 1993 documentary by Demy's soulmate, the filmmaker Agnès Varda (63 mins., also available on the Criterion edition); a 2015 video interview with Deneuve (7 mins.) and three audio interviews playable as alternate commentary tracks: Legrand in 1991 (71 mins.), Demy in 1982 (76 mins.), and Gene Kelly in 1980 (76 mins.). There's also an original theatrical trailer, a restoration trailer and a 32-page illustrated booklet.
Moulin Rouge (U.K., 1952)
Moulin Rouge, John Huston's Technicolor biopic of French Post-Impressionist painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. is a joyful potboiler of late 19th-century gaiety. Winner of the Silver Lion at the 14th Venice International Film Festival, the movie stars José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec (and, in a double role, the artist's father) and Zsa Zsa Gabor as the nightclub singer Jane Avril. The score of waltzes and can-cans by Georges Auric (Roman Holiday, Lola Montès), isclearly and exuberantly expressed in the BFI's liner PCM 24-bit soundtrack. The BFI's dual-format edition (one Blu-ray, one DVD copy) sports a new restoration and comes with a veritable chorus line of extras: a new audio commentary with script supervisor Angela Allen and the BFI's Vic Pratt and John Ramchandani; 18 silent minutes of vintage Paris street scenes from 1900 to 1925; 20 minutes of vintage newsreels and cartoons from 1895 to 1915; a 1974 British animated short on Lautrec (6 mins.) and a 20-minute image gallery. The illustrated booklet runs 24 pages.
1 from Paramount
Catch-22 (U.S., 2019)
Based on novelist Joseph Heller's 1961 bestseller, this satiric mini-series stars George Clooney (who also co-produced) as an upwardly mobile U.S. Army Air Force lieutenant in World War Two named Scheisskopf (literally, in English, Shithead) who's equally hated by the men under his command, not least a battle-shy bombardier named John Yossarian (Christopher Abbott). Dropping bombs under the flak of enemy artillery over Mussolini's Italy is not Yossarian's idea of the best way of staying alive, but he's caught in a "Catch-22": if he were to claim insanity for wanting to bail out of his duties as a serviceman, the army won't believe him, because only a sane man would want not to die. First aired last May on Hulu (and on Citytv NOW, in Canada), the six one-hour episodes now get a physical media release by Paramount in a slipcovered two-DVD set (no Blu-ray, alas). Extras include a three-part making-of as well as deleted scenes and outtakes.
1 from Powerhouse
Secret Ceremony (U.K., 1968)
Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum star in Joseph Losey's psycho-thriller about an aging London prostitute (Taylor) who meets a strange young woman (Farrow) who reminds her of her long-dead daughter. Then Mitchum, as the creepy stepdad, shows up, and things get really weird. Pamela Brown (I Know Where I'm Going!) and Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India) co-star. Released on its Indicator label, the new Blu-ray from the U.K. Powerhouse Films comes with a whack of extras: an optional audio commentary with film historians Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; a quarter-hour French TV look at Losey from 1968; Losey's son, Gavrik, talking about the film for half an hour; 18 minutes of additional scenes from the film's TV version; a trailer; a gallery of 138 promotional images of the film; a brief appreciation by the online 'Trailers from Hell' series' Larry Karaszewski (3 mins.); and a 40-page booklet that includes Losey's own writing on Secret Ceremony and a look at the 1960 source novella by Argentine writer Marco Denevi.
1 from K-Films Amérique
Havana, from on High (Canada / Venezuela / Spain, 2019)
In his latest film, Montreal documentary filmmaker Pedro Ruiz (Philémon chante Habana, La dérive douce d'un enfant de Petit-Goâve, Animal tropical à Montreal) takes us on an 80-minute journey into unseen recesses of Cuba's capital city. From the press notes: "Nestled above a decaying district of Havana is a secret village, hidden from the clamour of the streets below. These makeshift houses are inhabited by Arturo, Tita, Pedro, Lala, Roberto, José, Reynol, Juan, Alejandro, María and Omar. Like many other residents in Central Havana, they have been forced upwards by the chronic shortage of housing. From their perch atop the city, they bear witness to a society in full historical transformation after more than 60 years of revolutionary government." The DVD from Montreal's K-Film Amérique offers identical versions of the Spanish-language film: one with English subtitles and credits, the other with French. In both, unfortunately, the subtitles can't be removed. No extras on the disc except for trailers of two other fine Quebec movies distributed by K-Films: Étienne Desrosier's 2017 architecture documentary Luc Durand Leaving Delhi and Une femme, ma mère, Claude Demers' new cinematic essay (in black-and-white) about the mother he never knew.