"It will not always be summer. Build barns." - Hesiod
The best of the November releases
Kes (U.K., 1969)
Kes is short for kestrel, and a kestrel is a kind of bird, a predatory bird, a falcon. Kes is also a classic, one of Britain's best-loved and critically acclaimed films, ranked No. 7 in the British Film Institute's top 100 U.K. films of the 20th century. Directed by Ken Loach, co-written with Barry Hines from his novel A Kestrel for a Knave, the film stars David Bradley as Billy Casper, a lonely Yorkshire lad who is bullied at school, ignored at home, beaten in both, and desperately yearning for a friend. He finds one in "Kes," a hatchling that he takes from its nest, keeps as a pet and eventually trains. Their relationship turns Billy's life around, at least temporarily, until tragedy strikes. Kes was a sleeper hit in England when it was released in 1969. Its international career, however, was initially hindered by the characters' strong Yorkshire accents, especially in the U.S., despite an alternate soundtrack that was dubbed in to help water down the dialect. Only with time was the movie deemed a classic. Criterion issued a superb Blu-ray of Kes in 2011 in the U.S. that included the alternate soundtrack as an extra, along with Loach's TV movie Cathy Come Home from 1966. The new British Blu-ray from Eureka! Masters of Cinema doesn't have that extra film and is code-locked for European players, but it does have the alternate soundtrack and many other extras: two hours of new interviews with Bradley, producer Tony Garnett, cinematographer Chris Menges, continuity girl Penny Eyles, composer John Cameron, actor Bernard Atha and kestrel advisor Richard Hines; an hour of excerpts from a reunion of cast and crew at the 2006 Bradford Film Festival; and a 70-minute interview with Loach onstage at London's National Film Theatre in 2002. There's also the film's original trailer and an illustrated booklet.
Taxi Driver (U.S., 1976)
Robert De Niro is Travis Bickle, a troubled ex-Marine who drives a night cab in mid-1970s New York City. Along the way, he meets a Democratic campaign organizer (Cybill Shepherd), a pre-teen prostitute (Jodie Foster) and her pimp (Harvey Keitel). Martin Scorsese directs, and it all ends in a bloodbath. But you knew this already, right? This is Sony's third release of Taxi Driver on Blu-ray and although most of the extras are intact (except for an interactive script-to-screen feature and the old DVD's NYC locations map, both quite useful), the transfer has not been upgraded to the new ultra high-definition format. Still essential viewing after all these many years.
Ben Hur (U.S., 2016)
Not one of the best of November, but certainly one of the best box-office flops of the year. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, a Russian-Kazach better known for vampire movies (Night Watch, Day Watch), it's a remake of the 1959 classic starring Charlton Heston. That one was made for $15 million and made 10 times more in theatres upon release. The new version cost $100 million but earned only $94 million, and only one-quarter of that here in North America. Still enjoyable for the 10-minute chariot race, and seeing Morgan Freeman as a sheik with dreadlocks. There's over an hour of featurettes and music videos on Paramount's Blu-ray/DVD edition.
3 from Olive Films
Macbeth (U.S., 1948/50)
Orson Welles's low-budget, expressionistic take on Shakespeare's Macbeth flopped badly on initial release in 1948. "MURDER!" screamed the headline in Life magazine, "Orson Welles doth foully slaughter Shakespeare." The strong Scottish accents were a problem for American audiences; Welles was forced to remove them and cut the picture down to 85 minutes for its (equally unsuccessful) re-release in 1950. Now, in the digital era, comes another re-release. For its Signature series of value-added Blu-rays, Olive improves on its barebones BD of the 1948 Macbeth, issued in 2012, by adding a richer transfer as well as a wealth of extras on a second disc. There's the 1950 version of the film, restored in high-def; an audio commentary by Joseph McBride (1948 version only); an interview with Welles expert Michael Anderegg (12 mins.); a conversation by directors Carlo Carlei and Billy Morrissette about adapting Shakespeare to the screen (8 mins.); excerpts from Welles' 1937 stage production of Macbeth (7 mins.); an interview with Peter Bogdanovich (10 mins.); an interview with film restorer Robert Gitt (8 mins.); and a brief history of Republic Pictures (7 mins.). There's also an attractive monochrome slipcase and eight-page glossy booklet that has an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum (also available digitally).
'Pimpernel' Smith (U.K, 1941)
In this WWII British thriller, Leslie Howard updates the Scarlet Pimpernel he played in the wonderful 1934 film of the same name, adapted from Baroness Orczy's famous novel. Here, he's English archeologist Horatio Smith, sent on a mission to rescue refugees from Nazi Germany. The final scene (above) had me thinking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with President-elect Donald Trump as the pompous fat German and Barack Obama as his brave-faced victim. Says the general: "You've become a great nuisance to me, professor – almost an obsession – but everything comes to an end ... The epoch of the council chamber is over." Answers the professor: "You will never rule the world, because you are doomed ... Tonight you will take the first step along a dark road from which there is no turning back. You will have to go on and on, from one madness to another, leaving behind you a wilderness of misery and hatred, until at last you are lost and destroyed." No extras on the Blu-ray, not even a trailer.
Carrington (U.K., 1995)
Emma Thompson plays the early 20th-century painter Dora Carrington and Jonathan Pryce is the writer, almost 13 years her senior, who became the love of her life, Lytton Strachey. Told in six chapters spanning the years 1915 to 1932, this very English biopic is by turns an homage to platonic friendship (Strachey was gay), an exploration of sexual ambiguity (Carrington is boyish and wants to make love to him), a melodrama about domestic life (the couple move in together, then she marries another man), a tale of deception and betrayal (Carrington cheats on her husband), an internationalist romp (Venice and the Spanish Civil War figure prominently), and ultimately a tragedy (after Strachey falls ill and dies, Carrington commits suicide). Thompson fans will also enjoy her adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, made the same year as Carrington and directed by Ang Lee. The sole extras on the Carrington Blu-ray are a vintage making-of with cast and crew (about 11 minutes) and a trailer.
2 from Twilight Time
Moscow on the Hudson (U.S., 1984)
Since his suicide in 2014, it's been hard not to feel a pang whenever Robin Williams pops up on late-night TV. Harder still to watch some of his old movies without confusing the actor with the comic misfits he has played. There's Mrs. Doubtfire, of course, and Popeye, and T.S. Garp and John Keating. But let's also remember Vladimir Ivanov, the Soviet musician who brings a bit of Moscow to the Hudson when, on an official visit to New York City, he decides to defect. The communist-bashing was much of its time but director Paul Mazursky handles it with a light touch, bringing out the poignancy without descending into bathos. The film looks great on Blu-ray and the twin commentaries (by Mazursky and Twilight Time's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo) add a lot to the pleasure. There's an isolated score, too.
I Want to Live! (U.S., 1958)
Susan Hayward's performance in I Want to Sing! might seem over-the-top today, when Kirsten Stewart and other icons of non-acting are all the goût du jour. But in 1958, Hayward's bravura turn as Barbara Graham, a wrongfully convicted murderer on California's Death Row, won her an Oscar – not least because capital punishment was a gutsy subject to address on screen. Under the direction of Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music), Hayward channels this true story by emoting all the way to the gas chamber. On the new Blu-ray, Johnny Mandel's jazz score really pops (even in mono); you can listen to the entire soundtrack in isolation, boosted in one segment by Wise's restoration expert Mike Matessino, who offers some commentary. The only other extra is the film's original theatrical trailer.
The best of the October releases
Café Society (U.S., 2016)
Café Society is 80-year-old Woody Allen's 47th film and is set in the bygone era of "America's century," the 20th – specifically, 1930s Hollywood and New York. The past is Allen's comfort zone. His next movie, the one he started filming in September with Kate Winslet, will be another American story from yesteryear, set on New York's Coney Island in the 1950s. Some of Allen's best movies are rooted in this penchant of his to dig into the archives looking for inspiration for a good story that tells timeless truths. Radio Days, Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway, Midnight in Paris – all were typical Woody Allen in vintage mode. And so it is with Café Society. The story? Poor boy (Jesse Eisenberg) meets ambitious girl (Kirsten Stewart), is heartbroken when she marries her boss (Steve Carrell), takes up with beautiful divorcée (Blake Lively), marries her, has kids, meets his ex again years later and has to decide if he still holds a candle to her. Sounds schmaltzy? Maybe. But with the luminous cinematography of Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor) giving the film a Gatsby-like glow, Allen manages to steer clear of bathos and keep his characters and their love entanglements real and engaging, There's sadness and melancholy, but also maturity and hope. The Blu-ray looks great and the lossless surround sound makes the 1930s jazz soundtrack (Rodgers & Hart tunes, mostly) really pop. The Canadian edition from Mongrel Media has an optional French dub but no extras; the American one by Lionsgate has a photo gallery and some red-carpet footage from Café Society's premiere. (In May, it opened the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in May, at which host Laurent Lafitte publicly scolded Allen for "not being convicted for rape in the U.S." – another story entirely). Also available on DVD.
It's a Wonderful Life (U.S., 1946)
At Home Depot the other day, I was startled by an automated life-size Santa that suddenly lit up and started swaying to Christmas music ... in October. Yes, it's that time of year again, and once again, the buildup to December 25 has started way too early. Maybe even earlier than usual, judging by another marketing move: the latest Blu-ray release of that old Yuletide chestnut, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. The last time Paramount put the movie out on BD, the date was November 3, 2009. The new "Platinum Anniversary Edition" (70 years after the film's theatrical release, in 1946) comes a few weeks earlier still, on October 11. That makes it a bit of a curio, frankly, what with Hallowe'en around the corner, no snow on the ground and our minds far from mistletoe or presents under the tree. How strange it seems at this time of year to watch George Bailey (James Stewart) try to jump off that bridge in Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve, only to be rescued by his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), who shows him how unhappy life in his small town would have been like if he'd never been born. You know the story: George would never had met and married Mary (Donna Reed); they would never have had their adorable children, Tommy, Pete and little Zuzu; there would have been no-one to stand up to the rapacious banker, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore); no-one would have saved George's brother, Harry, from drowning. On the other hand, watching the movie in October does make you see it in a more objective light, more as a work of cinematic art than simply a Christmas TV perennial. The new edition doesn't add much to the package, unfortunately. We get the same old Blu-ray transfer (also available on DVD) of the film in its original black-and-white as well as a still-unnecessary colourized version (of which Stewart and Capra, incidentally both disapproved). For extras, there's the same old 23-minute making-of hosted by TV's Tom Bosley (of Happy Days fame); the same old trailer in high-def; thesame old Dolby Digital mono sound (with optional French and Spanish dubs). All that's new is half a dozen art cards showing old vintage posters of the movie – strictly collectors' fare. Still, if you don't have the old one already, this new edition won't disappoint; it's a wonderful as the movie has ever been and is likely to get.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Hong Kong/Taiwan/China/U.S., 2000)
If you were browsing through Netflix this year looking to watch a martial arts movie and came across the new film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, you might have wondered why you missed it in theatres when it came out. Well, it wasn't in theatres – not here, anyway; only in China, where it was made, and Brazil. This, despite the fact the movie was filmed in English for the international market; Chinese audiences had to watch a Mandarin dub. You may not even have realized it was the sequel to the original (and much more widely distributed) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a box-office mega-success upon its release in 2000 and winner of multiple Oscars for best foreign-language picture, cinematography, score and art direction (director Ang Lee was also nominated and so was the movie, for best picture). There were spin-offs, too – a TV series, a video game, a comics series – and of course multiple iterations of the movie on DVD and Blu-ray, the last in 2010. Now comes another transfer for home video, and like the movie and its sequel and spinoffs, there are different ways to view it. Sony has put three new editions on the North American market. The priciest is the "Supreme Cinema Series" limited edition: a 4K ultra-high-definition disc in a clear case that also contains a 24-page booklet. Second is a Blu-ray edition sporting the same 4K restoration and lossless Dolby Atmos audio as the pricier edition but with the lower resolution of the Blu-ray format (perfectly fine to my eyes, actually). In the U.S., you can also get a two-disc, dual-format edition (4K UHD and Blu-ray). All three editions also include a printed code you can enter on Sony's website to download an "Ultraviolet" digital HD copy of the movie for free. Extras are the same on all editions. Some are new: six deleted scenes totalling close to eight minutes; three half-hour interviews with Lee, writer-producer James Schamus and editor Tim Squyres; a 19-minute making-of; and music videos of Coco Lee's "A Love Before Time" in English and Mandarin. The other extras are ported over from the 2010 Blu-ray: one audio commentary track by Lee and Schamus plus another by cinematographer Peter Pau; and a 14-minute interview with star Michelle Yeoh. One mistake: the discs' packaging says there's also a theatrical trailer, but in fact there is none included; instead, there is a photo gallery.
The Executioner (Spain/Italy, 1963)
I like it when Criterion surprises me with a film out of nowhere. The Executioner isn't exactly out of nowhere; it's well-known in Spain, where it somehow evaded the censors during the Franco years and is now considered a classic. To me, watching this black comedy produced the same surprise factor as discovering the sublime slapstick of France's Pierre Étaix; it was harder to keep up with the rapid-fire dialogue and subtitles, but still a revelation. The movie is built around a central joke: a lowly undertaker's assistant (Italian star Nino Manfredi) gets dragooned into becoming an executioner of the fascist regime, but is so terrified of killing that he refuses to do the dirty deed. It's a story of a little guy caught up in big events he can't control; the only reason he's named an executioner in the first place is because he's meant to succeed his father-in-law (Spanish screen veteran José Isbert). And his father-in-law only wants him to take over so that the family can keep a new apartment that comes with the job. The ending will have you thinking of every walk-to-the-gallows scene you've ever seen in the movies – Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing came to my mind – except here the roles of condemned man and executioner are oddly reversed, to great tragicomic effect. Manfredi, who bears some resemblance to Marcello Mastroianni, carries the main load in this Italian-Spanish co-production; the only other Italian in the cast is Guido Alberti, as the prison director who ultimately takes the reluctant executioner in hand and leads him to the death chamber. The Criterion Blu-ray (also available on DVD) offers a new, restored 4K digital transfer of this widescreen black-and-white film, with the original mono audio and a peppy score by Miguel Asins Arbó. Extras include a short introduction by filmmaker Pedro Almadóvar, a new one-hour appreciation of the film's legendary director Luis García Berlanga, and a half-hour Spanish TV program about the film from 2012. The 12-page foldout insert has an essay by Scottish critic/filmmaker David Cairns.
2 from Twilight Time
Runaway Train (U.S., 1985)
Jon Voight and Eric Roberts got Oscar nominations as two escaped convicts stowed away on a train that goes out of control in Alaska. Rebecca de Mornay is the lone railway worker who can help them. Andrei Konchalovsky (Maria's Lovers; brother of Nikita Mikhalkov) directs; the screenplay is adapted from an original by the great Akira Kurosawa. The Twilight Time BD is all-region and has a new commentary track with Roberts and two film historians. If you don't care for that, then go for the British BD from Arrow Films that has a 40-minute interview with Voight and 45 minutes more with Roberts, Konchalovsky and actor Kyle T. Heffner; the disc is code-locked for the U.K. and Europe, however.
Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (U.S., 1964)
Southern spinster Bette Davis goes murderously mad in this gothic thriller directed by Robert Aldrich, following up on his late Davis vehicle, 1962's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead, Mary Astor and Bruce Dern co-star. The new Blu-ray has greatly improved visuals and sound over the decade-old Fox DVDs, and retains all the extras: an audio commentary by film blogger Glenn Erickson (aka DVD Savant), an isolated score track, a 22-minute making-of, 13 minutes of Dern reminiscing, a 5-minute short, plus a teaser, trailer and TV spots. There's also a new commentary track by film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros, plus an eight-page booklet.
The best of the September releases
3 from Criterion
Dekalog (Poland, 1988/89)
Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996) was the acclaimed Polish director who in the early 1990s took a detour to France and Switzerland and gave us The Double Life of Véronique and the Three Colours trilogy (Blue, starring Juliette Binoche; White, with Julie Delpy; and Red, with Irène Jacob). Just before that, in 1988, with the writing on the wall for Communism in his country and the rest of the Eastern Bloc , Kieslowski made a remarkable 10-part series for Polish television called Dekalog.
The 10 one-hour films were loosely based on the 10 Commandments, and two of the episodes from the middle of series were subsequently expanded to feature length for widescreen projection in Polish theatres. Set in and around a high-rise "workers' paradise" housing project in Warsaw's north end, the films explore a range of human behaviour, good and bad: acts of greed, lust and murder, failures of conjugal love, misplaced father worship, and more. The first nine episodes are dramas, generally bleak; the last, about two brothers who mishandle the inheritance of their father's stamp collection, is a dark comedy that has the last laugh.
(My own appreciation of these films – and the Kieslowski phenomenon in general – rose a notch last March when I attended an homage to the late filmmaker co-sponsored by the Polish consulate at l'Espace Memoria, near where I live in the Plateau Mont-Royal. One of the guest speakers, a Frenchman named Alain Martin, maintains a website dedicated to Kieslowski and his oeuvre, and has published five glossy colour books on his work, which if you read French are simply must-haves.)
Now, on the heels of their re-release in theatres across North America (including Montreal's Cinéma du Parc, through Sept. 20), the 10 Dekalog films have come to home video in 4K high definition, thanks to New York speciality distributor The Criterion Collection. It's long awaited by Kieslowski fans and a huge upgrade from the out-of-print DVD boxset that another New York distributor, Facets, first put on the market in 2000. This is not Deklog's first time on Blu-ray; the Polish label TVP beat Criterion to the punch in 2015, but with improper aspect ratios (all widescreen) and only one extra (a feature documentary about Kieslowski), it's an easy pass. On the Criterion edition, the 10 films are spread across three discs, with two extended theatrical versions of episodes 5 and 6, titled A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, in widescreen. A fourth Blu-ray disc comes loaded with extras: three hours of new and archival interviews with the Dekalog's various casts and crew, a new half-hour appreciation by New York film scholar Annette Insdorf, and almost an hour of interviews with Kieslowki, including a 20-minute except of a 1995 documentary on Dekalog and a 23-minute audio recording made in London in 1990. There's also a nice booklet with an essay and capsule reviews by Canadian scholar Paul Coates, and excerpts from Kieslowski on Kieslowski, a 1994 book of interviews with the director.
One important note, however: Another 4K Blu-ray edition of the Dekalog came on the market a month after Criterion's, and it's even better. The nine discs (four Blu-rays, 5 DVDs) in British distributor Arrow's boxset show the movies at their correct speed; because of North America's different frames-per-second standard in high-def, Criterion's Dekalog actually runs 4% slower than originally broadcast, which is a serious issue for film purists. The Arrow dual-format edition also shows more information in the frame of all the movies (Criterion's are slightly cropped), has a wider array of extras (including several other Kieslowski films such as The Calm, plus two feature-length video appreciations), and a 128-page book. Two drawbacks, though: The set doesn't include the full theatrical versions of Killing and Love, and the discs are code-locked "B" for Europe, which means they won't work in regular North America "A" players.
Valley of the Dolls (U.S., 1967)
Jacqueline Suzann's novel, about three young women and their ups and downs in show business in New York and Los Angeles, was a huge bestseller. They made a movie of it, the movie was panned, and audiences loved it anyway, to the tune of $50 million. Chiefly interesting today for one of its lead actresses – Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski's wife, murdered in 1969 at age 26 – the movie is now a '60s curio of sex-and-drugs camp ("dolls" are slang for barbiturates, not to mention "babes" in general). The new Blu-ray gives the film all-star treatment, porting some of the extras from Fox's 2006 two-disc DVD set and adding some new ones: interviews, documentaries, original screen tests, trailers, TV and radio spots.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (U.S., 1970)
How bad was Valley of the Dolls? Well, so bad that they shot a parody of it, with Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill!) in the director's chair. This time, the heroines are an all-girl rock band, busting out all over L.A. with their transexual manager. There's lesbian sex, plenty of parties and oodles of drugs, and an ultra-violent ending inspired by the Tate murder. A recipe for box-office success? You bet! The "sequel" raked in $40 million. Main reason to watch today: Roger Ebert, who'd go on to glory as America's most famous movie critic, co-wrote the screenplay. In Film Comment, he called Beyond the Valley of the Dolls "pure movie without message." The Blu-ray has plenty of extras, new and mostly old.
3 from Eureka, Masters of Cinema
Early Murnau: Five Films, 1921-1925
Before he came to Hollywood in the mid-1920s and made the innovative silent-with-sound movie Sunrise, and only a few short years before his tragic death in 1931 at age 41, F.W. Murnau was known in his native Germany as the Expressionist genius who made the Dracula movie Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror, and the Goethe adaptation Faust, as well as several other remarkable silent films. Those "others" now get their first-ever Blu-ray release: Schloss Vogelöd, or The Haunted Castle (1921); Phantom (1922); Der letzte Mann, also known as The Last Laugh (1924); The Grand Duke's Finances (1924); and Tartuffe (1925). The boxed set's three discs are code-locked for Europe but will work on an all-region player, which collectors of films of this era, I expect, already have. The movies all sport new, high-definition transfers that mark a big improvement over earlier DVD editions of the films released by the same British distributor, Eureka, in its prestige Masters of Cinema series. Besides a new, 16-minute video essay by filmmaker and critic David Cairns, all the set's extras have been ported over from the DVDs: two 41-minute documentaries on The Last Laugh and Tartuffe, an audio commentary on The Grand Duke's Finances, and a half-hour, 2008 German video piece on Murnau's early films called The Language of Shadows. The booklet that accompanies the set is 100 pages long.
Paths of Glory (U.S., 1957)
As a 30-year-old director who'd made only one feature film, the commercial flop The Killing, Stanley Kubrick had trouble getting anyone interested in his next project, the anti-war movie Paths of Glory. Then Kirk Douglas signed on as star, and the green light was switched on. Adapted from Humphrey Cobb's novel about the court martial and execution of three French soldiers in WWI, the black-and-white movie features Douglas as the commanding officer who defended the men at trial. Contrasting battlefield and courtroom, it's hard to say where the fighting is more fierce; in the end, hypocrisy and lies win the day. Though code-locked for Europe, the new Blu-ray from the U.K. is as fine visually as the one Criterion released in 2010 in the U.S., has a lossless stereo soundtrack (Criterion's was the original mono) and different extras, all new: three video interviews with film experts Peter Kramer, Richard Ayoade, Richard Conbs totalling 50 minutes, a new audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin and the option of watching the film listening only to the music and special effects as an isolated track.
Fedora (France/West Germany, 1978)
Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) was near the end of his long and illustrious career when he made his penultimate picture, Fedora. It was a return of sorts to the theme of aging celebrity he made in 1950 with Sunset Boulevard, and with that film's male lead, William Holden, back in the starring role. Has-been Hollywood producer Barry 'Dutch' Detweiler travels to the French Riviera to try to hire a former lover and screen goddess, the enigmatic Fedora (played by Marthe Keller ... and Hildegard Knef), for his next picture, and gets more than he bargained for. To my ears, the arch dialogue grates and the thin plot is overly drawn out, but Wilder completists will want to see it. The new British Blu-ray is code-locked for Europe (you'll need a Region B or all-region player to watch it), but improves on the barebones Blu-ray that Olive released two years ago in the U.S. with the addition of several deleted scenes, a restoration comparison and a booklet. Missing, however, is Swan Song: The Story of Billy Wilder's Fedora, a 90-minute documentary found on other Blu-rays of the film (in France and Germany).
2 from Twilight Time
Eye of the Needle (U.K, 1981)
I'm very happy to see this intimate little war thriller finally on Blu-ray, not least because it stars two Canadians. Kate Nelligan plays the wife of an RAF amputee on a remote Scottish island in 1940; Donald Sutherland is a German spy trying to rendezvous with a U-boat and pass on vital information about the Allies' eventual invasion at Normandy. They meet, there's a hint of romance, and the secrecy, intrique and deception ultimately turn tragic. The Blu-ray is strong visually and the lossless sound heightens Miklós Rózsa's score, which can also be heard as an optional isolated track. For extras there's a trailer and, new to this edition, an audio commentary by music historian Jon Burlingame and Twilight Time's film historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (she also does the write-up in the six-page booklet). Missing is the film's alternate, 90-second "happy ending" that was available on the old European DVD edition; it would have made a nice extra.
9 to 5 (U.S., 1980)
Lest anyone call this feminist comedy dated, let them remember what women have had to endure with 2016's poster child for misogyny, Donald Trump, who may qualify as an even worse boss than the one depicted in this movie by Dabney Coleman. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomin and Dolly Parton (in her screen debut) suffer through the unwanted attentions of their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" employer but eventually get their revenge by kidnapping him and blackmailing him into making their office at Consolidated Companies a better, more equitable place to work. From the catchy C&W title tune sung by Parton to the reversal-of-fortune ending, the movie's a hoot. One new extra on the Blu-ray: an audio commentary by screenwriter Patricia Remnick and Twilight Time's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (who pens an essay for the six-page booklet). Lots of extras ported over from the decade-old DVD, too.
1 from Disney
Beauty and the Beast (U.S., 1991)
It made close to a half a billion dollars at the box office, spawned a Broadway musical, two sequels and a TV series, and next March will reach new audiences in a live-action version starring Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey). Indeed, in the quarter-century since its release, Disney's animated musical Beauty and the Beast has lost none of its power to entertain, inspire and ... make wads of cash. Based on the 18th-century French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the movie follows the adventures of bookish young Belle as she frees her inventor father from the clutches of a wicked Beast in his country castle and discovers the creature is actually a spellbound prince looking for his own true love. The 25th anniversary edition two-disc set (Blu-ray and DVD) comes six years after the movie's first Blu-ray release, the "Diamond Edition." Like the previous one, the new edition has three versions of the film (theatrical; extended, with an audio commentary; and "work in progress," from two months before the film's original release). But the new edition drops the 3D theatrical version that was on the last one (I guess that fad has passed), along with most of the older extras. In their place are a few new featurettes totalling about a hour and 22 minutes of songs with text you can sing along to.
A French TV mini-series about WWII
Résistance (France, 2014)
The French TV mini-series Résistance – six one-hour episodes set in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940 – aired on TF1 in the summer of 2014. It was a commissioned work, timed to lead up to the 70th anniversary of the Liberation in August 1944, and so carries a whiff of official history. It's the opposite, say, of the penetrating critique of French collaboration that was Marcel Ophuls' 1969 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity. And at six hours, it nowhere near approaches the subtlety and depth of the phenomenal French TV series Un village français, whose 60 one-hour episodes stretched over six seasons from 2009 to 2015 on France 3. Yet Résistance passes the test of worthwhile drama and entertainment, aided by a big budget and a star cast: Belgian actress Pauline Burlet in the lead as a young Resistance member; veteran French actor Richard Berry as her father; the luminous Fanny Ardant as an aristocrat who backs the cause; and many more. Loosely based on the wartime activities of the actual clandestine organization Le Groupe du musée de l'Homme, the series intertwines the stories of students who distribute an underground newspaper called Résistance, rescue shot-down British airmen and assassinate German soldiers; their allies in anti-fascist circles both high and low; and the collaborators and occupiers who try to rat out these "unpatriotic" citizens and shut their network down. The series now comes to DVD with optional English subtitles in a three-disc set code-locked for Europe by the British distributor Eureka Entertainment. You can find it on Amazon.co.uk for $35. If French isn't a problem , you can alternately spend $20 for the French-only Blu-ray edition sold on Amazon.ca and Amazon.fr.
And finally, a new documentary on music and learning
Talent Has Hunger (U.S., 2016)
Besides the sublime cello music of Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and many other composers, the attraction of a documentary like Talent Has Hunger is that it spans seven years in the lives of a group of exceptional young people – a kind of 7 Up or Boyhood for the classical-music set. The latest film of New York writer-director Josh Aronson, whose deafness doc Sound and Fury was Oscar-nominated in 2000 and was followed by a sequel in 2006, Talent Has Hunger chronicles the creative highs (and some lows) of four students of master cello teacher Paul Katz (of the Cleveland Quartet) at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. One Canadian angle: the kids attend summer music camp at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, in Alberta. Extras on the DVD from First Run Features include a 12-minute interview with the director, excerpts of three cello lessons by Katz (another 12 minutes), and several text-based biographies. For deeper background, you can also read the online press kit.