"En hiver la terre pleure  /  Le soleil, froid, pâle et doux  /  Vient tard et part de bonne heure  /  Ennuyé du rendez-vous."             - Victor Hugo

03.2021

3 from Powerhouse

Things Change (U.S., 1988)

In a detour to more light-hearted terrain, American writer-director David Mamet (House of Games, Oleanna) goes for warmth and the odd chuckle in this wry comedy of mistaken identity set in the Mob world of the lakeside casino resort town of Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada-California border. Eighty-year-old Don Ameche stars as Gino, a Chicago shoeshiner who accepts an offer he can't refuse: to take the murder rap for a gangster in return for a sizeable payoff when he gets out of prison. Before he's to appear in court, Gino is put in the care of a low-level Mafioso named Jerry (played by Joe Mantegna), who takes him for a "last weekend" of R&R at Lake Tahoe. When Gino is mistaken by local hoods as a big-time Don, his fortunes rise, and so do Jerry's. But will they be found out? Now on Blu-ray for the first time, Things Change sports a pristine transfer on a region-B disc and has four new featurettes on the film's production: Mamet, feet up on his work desk and wearing a beret, reminisces for 21 minutes; Mantegna, gone grey but in fine voice, talks for 29; composer Alaric 'Rokko' Jans gives us the score for 17; and British comedian Rob Deering chatters on about Mamet and the movie for 10. The accompanying illustrated booklet runs 32 pages and includes extracts of interviews with Mamet and Ameche.

Twentieth Century (U.S., 1934)

Carole Lombard and John Barrymore tear up the screen in a screwball comedy about the theatrical world: he plays a mercurial stage director and she's the young actress he makes a star, only to see her debunk for Hollywood. After a surprise reunion aboard the 'Twentieth Century' train to New York, can the spurned Svengali win back his muse? New extras on Indicator's region-B  Blu-ray include an audio commentary and two featurettes; there's also a vintage radio broadcast. The booklet runs 32 pages.

The Criminal Code (U.S., 1931)

In 1931, Boris Karloff was onscreen in 16 (!) movies, including Frankenstein and this prison dramadirected by Howard Hawks, with Karloff reprising his inmate role from the Broadway play. The region-B Blu-ray has a new audio commentary by Nora Fiore, two new half-hour featurettes (on Karloff and the play's many adaptations), audio of a 1997 half-hour masterclass on Hawks by director John Carpenter, an hour-long radio version from 1937, and two galleries with over 50 images. The booklet runs 36 pages.

1 more from the U.K.

A Run for Your Money (U.K., 1949)

The misadventures of a pair of Welsh goldminers slumming it in post-war London gets the Ealing treatment in this comedy notable mostly for its star, Alec Guinesss. He plays a newspaper gardening columnist named Whimple who's conscripted to show the boys around town; South African actress Moira Lister co-stars. The region-B Blu-ray from Network loads straight into a couple of vintage trailers, one for a Benny Hill flick and one for Guinness in the 1952 comedy The Card. There's also an image gallery.

02.2021

1 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

The Last Warning (U.S., 1928)

The final film of German Jewish emigré Paul Leni, The Last Warning is a whodunnit, a thriller, a haunted house mystery. Haunted theatre, actually, since the story takes place on Broadway: five years after an actor mysteriously dies during a performance, the cast is reassembled to restage the same play and try to catch the murderer. Using sets left over from Universal Pictures' 1925 classic The Phantom of the Opera, Leni incorporated sound into the film, as well as releasing a fully silent version; only the latter survives. Audiences today would be hard-pressed to recognize any of the stars, but by name alone they appear very much of their era: Laura La Plante, Montagu Love, Mack Swain, Burr McIntosh, Slim Summerville and others. As for the director, he's better remembered for his earlier films (Waxworks, made in his native Germany, and The Cat and the Canary and The Man Who Laughs, both made in Hollywood) and for his untimely death (Leni died several months after making The Last Warning, of an untreated tooth infection, age 44). Part of the Masters of Cinema series by British distributor Eureka!, the new region-B Blu-ray is sourced from a 4K restoration by Universal and comes with a new audio commentary by horror and fantasy authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, a 10-minute visual essay made in 2019 by New York film historian John Soister, and an image gallery of production and promotion stills. The score by composer Arthur Barrow is in lossless stereo. The accompanying booklet features essays by Barrow and critic Philip Kemp.

1 boxset from Powerhouse

Columbia Noir #2 (U.S.,1947-58)

The latest addition to their Indicator series of curated classics and underrated genre pictures, U.K. distributor Powerhouse's second Columbia Noir boxset includes six American film noirs released between 1947 and 1958 and featuring a range of central characters, from hitmen and private eyes to mobsters and murderers. Three of these movies are new to Blu-ray (The Mob, Tight Spot and Murder by Contract); the other three have already been released on BD in the U.S. The set has newly recorded audio commentaries on each film, six vintage shorts starring the Three Stooges, trailers and image galleries and various other bonus materials, and a 120-page book.

Murder by Contract (U.S, 1958)

In Los Angeles, a hitman (Vince Edwards) balks when contracted to murder a female witness in a criminal trial, before the tables are turned on him. The Blu-ray has a new commentary by film critic Farran Smith Nehme; a short ;trailer commentary by screenwriter Larry Karaszewski from 2020; a short introduction from 2014 by director Martin Scorsese (who cites the film as a major influence on his work); the Three Stooges short "Violence is the Word for Curly (18 mins.); and "Swedes in America" (18 mins.), an Oscar-nominated short presented by Ingrid Bergman.

Affair in Trinidad (U.S., 1952)

Reuniting with Gilda co-star Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth co-produced this box-office hit, a musical noir set in a Caribbean nightclub. The Blu-ray comes with a new audio commentary by film historian Lee Gambin; a half-hour featurette from 2012 featuring Ford's son, Peter; a half-hour documentary from 1951 on life in the West Indies; and an islands-themed Three Stooges comedy from 1939 called "Saved by the Belle" (18 mins.).

711 Ocean Drive (U.S., 1950)


Set in the netherworld of crooked gamblers and directed by Joseph M. Newman, 711 Ocean Drive stars Edmond O'Brien (D.O.A.) as a telephone repairman who helps bookies get an early jump on the results of horseraces and winds up strung up by the Mob. The Blu-ray has a new audio commentary by film critic Glenn Kenny; Newman's half-hour profile from 1945 of The Best Years of Our Lives handicapped actor Harold Russell; and the Three Stooges 1939 short "Three Sappy People" (18 mins), in which they play, you guessed it, telephone repairmen.

Tight Spot (U.S., 1955)

A tale of entrapment by federal law enforcement inspired by the betrayal of real-life mobster Bugsy Siegel by his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, this mid-50s noir stars Edward G. Robinson, Ginger Rogers, Brian Keith and Canada's Lorne Greene. The Blu-ray has a new commentary by film historian Nora Fiore; an hour-long British Film Institute presentation of televised U.S. Senate committee hearings from 1951 into organized crime, including footage of Hill; and the Three Stooges courtroom comedy "Idiots Deluxe," from 1945 (18 mins.).

The Mob (U.S., 1951)

Broderick Crawford (All the King's Men) stars as a detective who goes undercover on the New York City waterfront to flush out union corruption that has led to multiple murders. Ernest Borgnine co-stars. The Blu-ray has a new audio commentary by filmmaker Gina Telaroli; 80 minutes of audio from 2001 and 50 minutes of video from 2009 of Borgnine interviewed onstage in London; and the Three Stooges short "Hot Stuff" from 1956 (16 mins).

Framed (U.S., 1947)


Glenn Ford plays an unemployed mining engineer who gets set up by an unscrupulous couple (Janice Carter and Barry Sullivan) as the fall guy in a bank robbery. The screenplay is by Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle) and cinematography by Burnett Guffey (Bonnie and Clyde) .  The Blu-ray has a new audio commentary by critic Imogen Sara Smith; a half-hour docu-drama on the elderly from 1951 called "The Steps of Age,"  written and directed by Framed screenwriter  Ben Maddow; and the 1958 Three Stooges short "Up in Daisy’s Penthouse" (17 mins).

1 from Criterion

Mandabi (Senegal / France, 1968)

As the Janus Films promo put it, " this second feature by Ousmane Sembène was the first movie ever made in the Wolof language – a major step toward the realization of the trailblazing Senegalese filmmaker’s dream of creating a cinema by, about, and for Africans." The plot is summarized thus: "After jobless Ibrahima Dieng receives a money order for 25,000 francs from a nephew who works in Paris, news of his windfall quickly spreads among his neighbors, who flock to him for loans even as he finds his attempts to cash the order stymied in a maze of bureaucracy, and new troubles rain down on his head." For their new Blu-ray edition, Criterion have transferred Mandabi in a 4K restoration, updated the English subtitles with new ones by Sembène biographer Samba Gadjigo, and supplemented the movie with a number of informative and contextual extras. There's an introduction by film scholar Aboubakar Sanogo (30 mins.); a conversation from 2020 with screenwriter Boubacar Boris Diop and feminist sociologist Marie Angélique Savané (19 mins.); "Praise Song," a new program of outtakes from the 2015 documentary Sembène! featuring interviews with activist Angela Davis, musician Youssou N’Dour, filmmaker and scholar Manthia Diawara, and others (15 mins.); and "Tauw," a 1970 short film by Sembène (27 mins.). The accompanying booklet has an essay by critic Tiana Reid, excerpts from a 1969 interview with Sembène, and a new edition of Sembène's 1966 novella The Money Order, on which the film is based.

2 from Paramount

John Hughes 5-Movie Collection (U.S., 1986-88)

The late John Hughes gets his due with this collection on Blu-ray of some of his best (and best-loved) movies from the 1980s. He wrote, directed and produced three: Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) and She's Having a Baby (1988). The other two were written and produced by Hughes but directed by Howard Deutch: Pretty in Pink (1986) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987; new to BD, with new extras).  Matthew Broderick, Molly Ringwald, Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth McGovern, Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, John Candy, Steve Martin – what's not to love?

Lady Sings the Blues (U.S., 1972)

Diana Ross portrays Billie Holiday in this brooding biopic of a bygone era, when racism and drugs and censorship took their toll on one of the greatest singers of the golden age of jazz. For its new Blu-ray, Paramount have ported the extras from their 2005 DVD but neglected to give them a high-def upgrade: there's an audio commentary by  director Sidney Furie, executive producer Berry Gordy and artist manager Shelly Berger; a making-of (23 mins.) and seven deleted scenes (21 mins.). Want more Billie? Try the new biopic directed by Lee Daniels that's streaming on Hulu: The United States vs Billie Holiday.

01.2021

1 from Criterion

The Ascent (Soviet Union, 1977)

A Soviet war movie that chronicled a people's tragedy and was succeeded by a personal one: such was The Ascent, by Larisa Shepitko. Five years after making it, the Belorussian filmmaker died in a traffic accident, age 41, while scouting locations for her subsequent picture, Farewell, completed the following year by her husband, Elem Klimov, writer-director of Come and See (1985). Like that movie, The Ascent is a set among the Soviet partisans of Belarus in the early 1940s, focusing on the relationship of two soldiers on the run from (and eventually captured by) their country's German occupiers. Shot in black-and-white in the dead of winter and as grim as a windswept steppe, The Ascent is also shot through with Christian imagery, right down to its concluding scene of the execution of one of the men, rendered Christ-like on his scaffold mount flanked by other martyrs to the heroic cause. Powerful stuff. For the Blu-ray, Criterion have upgraded the transfer they used in 2008 on their two-DVD barebones Eclipse set (paired with Shepitko's 1966 debut feature Wings, as shown in the biographical teaser above), using a 4K restoration from 2018 provided by Mosfilm. For extras, film scholar Daniel Bird provides a half hour of commentary for selected scenes, there's a new video introduction by Anton Klimov (son of Shepitko and Klimov), a new 22-minute interview with actress Lyudmila Polyakova, and several archival TV documentary portraits of the director: "Larisa" is a 1980 tribute by Klimov (21 mins.); "A Talk with Larisa" is an hour-long interview that Shepitko gave for German television in 1999, a year after The Ascent won top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival; "Islands," from 2012, features Shepitko's sister and son (40 mins.); and "More Than Love," from 2012, looks at Shepitko and Klimov as a couple on and off the set (39 mins.). Lastly, there's "The Homeland of Electricity," a 39-minute drama Shepitko shot in 1967 but that went unreleased for two decades, shelved by the censors for its unflattering depiction of Bolshevism after the October Revolution of 1917. English subtitles are optional and there's a foldout booklet with an appreciative essay by American poet Fanny Howe.

1 from Powerhouse

Light Sleeper (U.S., 1992)

Paul Schrader's follow-up to his 1990 picture The Comfort of Strangers, Light Sleeper continues in the American writer-director's psycho-thriller vein with a tale of a courier (Willem Dafoe) working for a high-society New York City drug dealer (Susan Sarandon) who gets into trouble with his ex-girlfriend (Dana Delaney) and winds up in jail for murder. Canadian actor Victor Garber co-stars, along with Mary Beth Hurt, Sam Rockwell and David Spade (memorably cast as a "theological cokehead"). The region-B Blu-ray comes with two audio commentaries from 2002: a full one by Schrader and a scene-specific one by Dafoe and Sarandon (18 mins.). Another audio track – an onstage interview that Dafoe gave at the National Film Theatre in London in 1998 – can be played as an alternate commentary (65 mins.). Three featurettes follow: two are new ("The Midlife Movie: Paul Schrader Remembers Light Sleeper" (18 mins.) and "Dear Paul Schrader, Thank You for Light Sleeper" (11 mins.)) and one dates from 2008 and is titled "The BAM Interview with Ed Lachman and Paul Schrader" (31 mins.), A trailer and 41-frame image gallery round out the package, along with a 36-page booklet that includes an archival on-set report on Light Sleeper written for Sight & Sound magazine.

1 from Second Run

Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (Czechoslovakia, 1977)

As the British distributor Second Run puts it, this is "one of the great undiscovered sci-fi movies of the 1970s," and it came from Czechoslovakia. Shot in colour, the film was directed by Jindich Polák, who made the 1963 Czech sci-fi classic Ikarie XB-1, considered a forerunner of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Starting with its unwieldly title, Tomorrow I'll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea is more like a live-action cartoon, "a deliciously demented time-travel romp that manages to be both hilariously silly and impressively ingenious at the same time," the distributor notes. The plot? "In the near-future, time travel has become a possibility, and a group of neo-Nazis hijack a time-ship in order to go back to 1944 to deliver a hydrogen bomb to Hitler and thus secure victory in WWII." Of course, in this satire the joke is on the Germans, with history rewritten in the opening frames as newsreel footage of the German annexation and then invasion of 1938-39 is run in reverse. For its all-region Blu-ray, Second Run have used a new high-def remaster done by the Czech National Film Archive, but unfortunately its time travel from the Communist era has not been a success: the original materials seem to have suffered in storage, with the film coming out the worse for wear. (The BD barely improves, in fact, on the cheap, cardboard-sleeved DVD I picked up a few years back as a freebie insert in a Prague daily newspaper.) Besides a trailer, the disc comes with a lone extra, and it's audio-only: a newly recorded commentary by critics Mike White, Kat Ellinger and Jonathan Owen. The accompanying illustrated booklet has a new essay by writer and filmmaker Graham Williamson, who judges this strange Czech curio to be "something like patient zero for that strain of science fiction cinema which is grand and contemplative rather than kinetic and spectacular." In other words, Back to the Fuhrer, very meta, very droll.