"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings ... Cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn." - John Muir
The Best of 2018
No, the days of physical media are not dead. Far from it, in fact. To end the year, I list my picks for the 10 best Blu-rays, 5 boxsets and 5 DVDs of 2018, along with 9 kudos, 1 disappointment and a wish list for 2019 , in DVD Beaver's annual poll.
1 from Criterion
Panique (France, 1946)
If you're a fan of Sandrine Bonnaire (and what French film buff isn't?) you may remember Monsieur Hire, a wonderfully noiresque drama from 1989 in which she starred opposite Michel Blanc in the title role. Well, did you know that that movie, directed by Patrice Leconte, was a remake? Yes, of Julien Duvivier's post-WWII noir Panique, starring Viviane Romance and Michel Simon. Based on Georges Simenon's 1933 crime novella Les Finançailles de M. Hire, Panique is about a lonely Jewish man in a suburb of Paris who's framed by his neighbours for the murder of a young woman. The movie was an allegory of sorts for the Jew-baiting that went on during the Nazi occupation of France just a short time before, and Duvivier, returning after a decade in Hollywood helming pictures like The Great Waltz, Lydia and The Imposter, worked the cruel story for all its caustic potential. Too bad Panique left audiences and critics underwhelmed – the movie was a flop upon release in 1947 – but time has done it justice. The Criterion Blu-ray (also available in a DVD edition) offers a stellar transfer from a 2K restoration, optional English subtitles (by Duvivier expert Lenny Borger), and a few extras. There's a 21-minute look at "the art of subtitling" by Rialto Pictures founder Bruce Goldstein; a new 16-minute interview with author Pierre Simenon, son of the novelist ; a 20-minute conversation from 2015 between critics Guillemette Odicino and Eric Libiot about Duvivier and the making of Panique; and a re-release trailer (shown above). The foldout leaflet has essays by Borger and film scholar James Quandt.
2 from the British Film Institute
Atoll K (France/Italy, 1951)
A South Seas comedy starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in their final screen appearance, Atoll K (aka Utopia) now comes to high-definition in a 2K restoration. The BFI Blu-ray is awash with extras. There's a new audio commentary by British film historian Glenn Mitchell; three solo comedy shorts by Hardy and another two by Laurel, made in the late 1910s and late 1920s and totalling about 80 minutes; two amateur films of Laurel and Hardy on location in Tynemouth and Scotland, with commentary by Mitchell (15 mins.); two bits of newsreel footage of the duo from 1947 and 1952 (3 mins.); a new, 13-minute video essay by Toronto Silent Film Festival programmer Chris Seguin; a 1957 audio interview of Laurel that can play over the entire film as an alternate track; and the movie's U.S. and German trailers. There's also an accompanying DVD and a 32-page illustrated booklet.
Red White and Zero (U.K., 1967)
A portmanteau portait of '60s Britain, Red White and Zero was adapted from a series of stories by Shelagh Delaney (Charlie Bubbles). The three movies, which play in sequence, are: "Ride of the Valkyrie" (15 mins.), directed by Peter Brook and starring Zero Mostel as an opera singer; "The White Bus" (47 mins.), directed by Lindsay Anderson, edited by Kevin Brownlow, and with Anthony Hopkins in his screen debut; and "Red and Blue" (36 mins.), directed by Tony Richardson and starring his wife, Vanessa Redgrave. Extras abound. Australian film critic Adrian Martin offers an audio commentary for all three shorts; there's an hour-long vintage making of The White Bus"; an appreciation of "Red and Blue" by cinematographer Billy Williams (7 mins.); a look-back by Brownlow (16 mins.); the 1969 animated short "No Arks" (8 mins.) narrated by Redgrave; a DVD and a 32-page illustrated booklet.
1 from Eureka!
Yanks (U.S. / West Germany / U.K., 1979)
Oscar-winning British director John Schlesinger (Billy Liar, Midnight Cowboy, The Day of the Locust, Marathon Man) fulfilled a longheld dream to make a wartime drama in his homeland with this, his ninth feature. But Yanks was a flop with critics and at the box-office. Besides no combat scenes, there was something in the chemistry of lead actors Richard Gere and William Devane (as American soldiers stationed in northern England ahead of D-Day in 1944), and Lisa Eichhorn and Vanessa Redgrave (as the local girls they woo against regulations), that just didn't gel with audiences. No matter; set on the home front instead of in the pitch of battle, Yanks offers a different take on the war movie genre that still holds some understated pleasures. The flop was a blow to Schlesinger, who never got to make a great picture again (unless you count his 1985 spy drama The Falcon and the Snowman or even 1988's Madame Sousatska, starring Shirley Maclaine, which I love). Story writer Colin Welland, who co-scripted Yanks, did manage to land on his feet: two years onward he won the Oscar for best original screenplay, for Chariots of Fire. Previously available only on DVD, Yanks now gets a high-def boost to Blu-ray (with an accompanying DVD) via British distributor Eureka! as part of its 'Classics' series. Extras are rather slim and, unfortunately, not new. Besides a trailer, there's a long archival interview with Schleslinger that you can play as an alternate audio track throughout the film. An illustrated booklet with some new writing completes the package. Do note that both discs are code-locked to European (or all-region) players only.
1 from Paramount
Our Cartoon President: Season One (U.S., 2018)
Priceless if only for the sketch so accurately lampooning Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau (see above), Our Cartoon President is far unkinder to America's own Donald Trump. And quite deservedly so. When he's not mocking Trump every night on CBS's The Late Show, executive producer Stephen Colbert and his team of writers are doubling down over on Showtime with an animated imagining of life inside the White House in all its crazy reality. The Donald, Donald Jr., Eric, Melania and the rest of the president's motley crew of family and friends, pundits and politicos, Russians and rubes, ass-kissers and hangers-on are marvellously sent up in Season One of the series. All 17 half-hour episodes, plus a mid-term election special, are now being released on DVD by Paramount, just in time for Christmas. The more than 80 minutes of extras include an introduction by Colbert himself; commentaries and video introductions by lead animator Tim Luecke and others; a look at the animation process; a table-read by cast and crew of episode 11, about the Russia Investigation; several video clips, and an image gallery.
1 from Twilight Time
Short Night of Glass Dolls (Italy / West Germany / Yugoslavia, 1971)
An American journalist (Jean Sorel) mysteriously collapses and dies in a town square in Prague. But is he really dead? His eyes are wide open but his body is rigid. Perhaps he's just paralyzed? Taken to hospital, the man is examined by doctors, who take his temperature – all normal – and dispatch him anyways to the morgue, where he will be prepared for an autopsy. "I'm alive!" the man silently screams, to deaf ears, "can't you see I'm alive?" The day before, he had been making plans to spirit his girlfriend (Barbara Bach) out of the country. So how did he end up now in cold storage, given up for dead with no hope of escape? Aldo Lado's feature debut is considered one the greats of the Italian giallo genre of horror thrillers. Also known as Malastrana, it was shot in Prague, Ljubijana and Zagreb, with interiors in a studio in Rome, and features fine supporting performances by Mario Adorf, a familiar face from German New Wave cinema, and Ingrid Thulin, one of Ingmar Bergman's regulars. The Blu-ray from Twilight Time comes with a new audio commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Matteo Molinari, as well an optional English dub, optional English subtitles, an English and an Italian trailer, and the choice of listening to Ennio Morricone's score as an isolated audio track. The booklet has liner notes by Julie Kirgo. [Completists, take note: there's an even better Blu-ray on the market. It's by Germany's Camera Obscura and has two audio commentaries, two interviews, two trailers and a gallery of 60 photos. Still want more? You can order the distributor's two-disc set (same Blu-ray, plus a DVD) which adds a 97-minute interview with the director as well as a selection of scenes commented by him, in French. The Camera Obscura discs are code-locked for European players, however, and the optional dub of Glass Dolls is in German, albeit with English subtitles.]
2 from Criterion
The Magnificent Ambersons (U.S., 1942)
On the heels of his debut, Citizen Kane, Orson Welles adapted The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington's 1918 novel about a wealthy Indianapolis family brought low by the arrival of industrialization. The movie met a sorry fate, however, cut mercilessly by RKO, augmented with artless new footage, given a happy ending and released against the director's wishes. On Blu-ray, the new 4K restoration of what remained (the excised footage has never been recovered) looks great. Extras, some revived from Criterion's 1989 laserdisc edition, are extensive: two audio commentaries (by Robert L. Carringer and by James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum); new half-hour interviews with film historians Simon Callow and Joseph McBride; new video essays by scholars François Thomas and Christopher Husted; Welles' witty half-hour appearance on The Dick Cavett Show on ABC in 1970; a half-hour segment from a 1925 silent adaptation of Ambersons; a half-hour of audio from a 1978 American Film Institute symposium on Welles; just over half an hour of audio of interviews Welles gave filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich; an hour-long Mercury Theatre radio play of Ambersons from 1939; an hour-long Mercury Theatre adaptation of Tarkington's novel Seventeen from 1938; and a trailer. The booklet has essays by Molly Haskell, Luc Sante, Geoffrey O’Brien, Farran Smith Nehme, and Jonathan Lethem, and excerpts from an unfinished 1982 memoir by Welles.
Some Like It Hot (U.S., 1959)
The comedy to top all comedies, Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot has it all: gags and gangsters, jazz and hijinks, style and sex. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis plays a couple of struggling musicians in Prohibition-era Chicago who catch a lucky break when they're hired to tour with a Big Band orchestra down to Miami, Florida. Trouble is, it's an all-girl orchestra and our two heroes have to go in drag. When each falls for buxom singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), and when a lovestruck millionaire (Joe E. Brown) starts stalking them, the boys' real identities risk being revealed. On top of that, a mobsters convention comes to town, led by kingpin "Spats" Colombo (George Raft), making a volatile situation even hotter. Restored in 4K, the film now comes to Blu-ray for a second time; MGM had its own in 2011, framed in 1.66:1 and augmented with some different extras. Those on Criterion's widescreen edition (1.85:1) are mostly archival: an audio commentary from 1989 by film scholar Howard Suber; three behind-the-scenes featurettes totalling about an hour (also on the MGM disc); Wilder's hour-long appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1982; a half-hour interview Curtis gave film critic Leonard Maltin in 2001; 10 minutes from an interview Lemmon gave to French TV in 1988; nine minutes of a radio interview with Monroe from 1955; a trailer; and a new discussion on the film's costumes that clocks in at just under 19 minutes. The booklet has an essay by Sam Wasson.
1 from Olive Films
Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's WWII Documentaries (U.S., 1942-45)
After watching German director Leni Riefenstahl's masterful Triumph of the Will, Hollywood director Frank Capra (It Happened One Night) had an idea: why not use Nazi and imperial Japanese propaganda against itself? By re-editing Axis films, newsreels and other material, and framing them with new scripts and visuals that would tell Americans what they were fighting against in World War II, Capra figured he'd help the Allied war effort immensely. And that, he did. The remarkable result was Why We Fight, a series of seven films that Capra, with Russian-German-Jewish director-in-exile Anatole Litvak, made for the U.S. government between 1942 and 1945. Narrated by Walter Huston, with graphics by Walt Disney's animators and reenactments supervised by the U.S. War Department, the series remains a powerful testament to the effectiveness of well-executed public-information campaigns in wartime. The new Blu-ray from U.S. distributor Olive Films includes the first and fifth films of the series – Prelude to War (1942, 52 minutes, winner of an Oscar for best documentary feature) and The Battle of Russia: Part 1 & Part 2 (1943, 76 mins., directed by Litvak alone) – as well as two related documentary features by Capra: The Negro Soldier (1944, 44 mins.) and Tunisian Victory (1944, 75 mins., co-directed by John Huston). There's also a short for U.S. servicemen called Your Job in Germany (1945,13 mins.). [Completists, take note: to see all seven films of Why We Fight, look for the four-disc, all-region DVD set that Delta released in a hard cardboard digicase back in 2005. Now out-of-print, it includes The Nazis Strike (1943, 40 mins.), Divide and Conquer (1943, 56 mins.), The Battle of Britain (1943, 52 mins.), The Battle of China (1944, 62 mins.) and War Comes to America (1945, 64 mins.), as well as The Negro Soldier.
4 from Powerhouse/ Indicator
Georgy Girl (U.K., 1966)
Lynn Redgrave was only 23 when she broke through in film, cast as the lead in Georgy Girl after her older sister, Vanessa, bowed out. She's perfect as a virginal London gal courted not only by her father's unhappily married employer (James Mason) but also by the gadabout boyfriend (Alan Bates) of her bitchy roommate (newcomer Charlotte Rampling). Besides an audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, extras on the new Blu-ray include an alternate audio track of Rampling interviewed onstage at a London screening in 2001 (59 mins.); interviews with art director Tony Woollard (3 mins.), screenwriter Peter Nichols (7 mins.) and editor John Bloom (28 mins.); a featurette on the title track, a pop hit for The Seekers (5 mins.); a radio spot and theatrical trailer; and an image gallery of posters and other promotional material. An accompanying booklet runs 40 pages.
Charlie Bubbles (U.K., 1968)
Charlie Bubbles (Albert Finney) is a successful London screenwriter with a gaping hole in his life: reconciliation with his past. One day he decides to retrace his humble family origins in Northern England, bringing along his secretary (Liza Minnelli, in her screen debut) for the ride up in his Rolls Royce. Written by Shelagh Delaney, independently produced (with additional U.S. backing from Universal) , and directed by Finney himself, the movie mixes whimsical humour, kitchen-sink realism and flights of surrealism to uneven effect; Finney, a major star at the time, never directed again. A big step up from the old bare-bones Fremantle DVD, the new all-region Blu-ray include an audio commentary (by film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams) and a slew of interviews: producer Michael Medwin (3 mins.), cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (9 mins.), first assistant director Terence Clegg (9 mins.), actor Timothy Garland (16 mins.), actress Susan Engel (9 mins.), composer Misha Donat (15 mins.), film programmer Danny Leigh (4 mins.) and writer John Harding (22 mins.); there's also two minutes of test footage for some CCTV camerawork employed early on in the film, a trailer and an image gallery. The 36-page booklet includes vintage reminiscences by Finney and Minnelli.
The Wrong Box (U.K., 1966)
Michael Caine, John Mills, Ralph Richardson and Peter Sellers lead an all-star cast in this murder farce set in Victorian England and revolving around a money scheme called a tontine, in which the last surviving investor gets the big payoff. Besides an audio commentary (by film historians Josephine Botting and Vic Pratt), extras on the Blu-ray include a 1994 onstage interview with Forbes that runs 101 minutes and serves as as an alternate audio track to the movie; there are also interviews with actress Nanette Newman (20 mins.), assistant editor Willy Kemplen (9 mins.), and second assistant director Hugh Harlow (10 mins,); a trailer and an image gallery of vintage promotional material. The 36-page booklet includes an excerpt of the 1889 novel on which the film was based, co-written by Lloyd Osborne and his stepfather Robert Louis Stevenson (yes, of Treasure Island fame).
Age of Consent (Australia, 1969)
An Australian painter (james Mason) moves to an island on the Great Barrier Reef and befriends a teenager (Helen Mirren) who becomes his model, changing his life and his art. One of famed British director Michael Powell's final films, Age of Consent did well at the box office, not least because of Mirren's nude scenes. The new Blu-ray includes two versions of the film: the director's cut (106 mins.) and the studio cut (seven minutes shorter) that was originally released internationally (with less nudity and a different score). Extras are aplenty: an audio commentary by film historian Kent Jones from 2009; audio of an onstage interview Powell gave after a London screening in 1971 (85 mins.) and another he gave with his creative partner Emeric Pressburger in 1985 (106 mins.); a new appreciation by film critic Ian Christie (38 mins.); a 2009 making-of (17 mins.); director Martin Scorsese talking about the film in 2009 (5 mins.); Mirren reminiscing in 2009 (12 mins.); underwater-sequence photographers Ron and Valerie Taylor interviewed in 2009 (10 mins.); plus a trailer and a gallery of 63 original promotional images. Finally, there's The Boy Who Turned Yellow, a 54-minute film that Powell and Pressburger made for the Children's Film Foundation in 1972. The illustrated booklet runs 40 pages.
3 from Eureka!
Lucky (U.S., 2017)
Ninety-year-old Lucky (the late journeyman actor Harry Dean Stanton, of Paris, Texas fame, in his final screen role) lives in a small town north of Los Angeles, where he whiles away the hours at the local diner and bar, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and doobies, reminiscing about his time in the U.S. Navy, singing songs in Spanish. After a fall one day, he's checked out by his doctor (Ed Begley Jr.), who finds nothing wrong with him, just that he's obviously not getting any younger. Lucky knows he's on his last legs, but is philosophical about it: "We come in alone, and we go out alone ... It's beautiful. 'Alone' comes from two words, all-one." This contemplative indie film is a small gem, a meditation on aging that's not only profoundly moving but also wry and amusing. On Blu-ray, it comes with one major extra – Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, a 2012 German TV documentary that runs 76 minutes and is punctuated with Stanton singing – and two interviews: one with director John Carroll Lynch (14 mins.) and the other with writer Logan Sparks and producer Drago Sumonja (27 mins.). Be aware that the disc is code-locked to Region B, so it won't play in standard North American players.
The Last Waltz (U.S., 1978)
In San Francisco in November, 1976, Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull) filmed the farewell concert of The Band, a Canadian-American roots rock group fronted by drummer Levon Helm and singer/guitarist Robbie Robertson, with everyone from Muddy Waters to Bob Dylan along for the ride. The new Blu-ray is by no means perfect, code-locked to British and European players and sourced from the same flawed master as earlier DVD editions by MGM. Sound has improved, however, re-mixed in high-def surround with an optional LPCM stereo track. Extras include two vintage audio commentaries by Scorsese and band members, an archival making-of (23 mins.), a musical outtake (12 mins.), a trailer, a TV spot and a stills gallery, as well as a 100-page (!) book.
Hitler's Hollywood (Germany, 2017)
Hitler's "Thousand-Year Reich" produced roughly 1,000 films between 1933 and 1945, and although many (like Jud Süss), were hateful propaganda, others (like the banned Unter den Brücken) were actual works of populist art. Writer-director Rüdiger Suchsland surveys many of them in Hitler's Hollywood, a 105-minute documentary narrated by actor Udo Kier. Eureka!'s dual-format edition (one Blu-ray, one DVD, each code-locked to Region B) comes with one major bonus: From Caligari to Hitler, Suchland's two-hour doc from 2014 based on Siegfried Kracauer's seminal history of German cinema, first published in 1947. You can listen to the main feature in German or in English, with optional English subtitles; the bonus doc is in German with English subs.
1 from Second Run
Invention for Destruction (Czechoslovakia, 1958)
Visual invention abounds in this wildly imaginative, technically sophisticated and immensely popular adventure tale by Karel Zeman, known in the 1950s as 'the Czech Méliès.' Most striking are the movie's black-and-white design choices, inspired by the linear engravings in Jules Verne's 1986 novel Face au drapeau (Facing the Flag), on which the story is based. The movie is an adventure fantasy about an inventor of a powerful explosive device who's kidnapped along with a young protegé and whisked away on the high seas by pirates, eluding rescuers and finally casting ashore on a volcanic island. The underwater sequences are the best, mixing live action, special effects and stop-motion animation: there's a battle with a giant squid, the looting of a sunken ship and much more. The new Blu-ray from British distributor Second Run is all-region and improves on the first all-region BD issued in Prague three years ago by Bontonfilm and the Karel Zeman Museum with Zeman's The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and Journey to Prehistory. Second Run's disc sports a new progressive (1080p) transfer, lossless audio (LCPM 2.0 mono) and better extras. Like the Czech BD, the new one has both versions of the film: the original in Czech (here with optional subtitles) and the English dub released three years later in the U.S.. Extras include an appreciation by filmmaker John Stevenson (16 mins.); three four-minute featurettes on the film's origins, special effects and restoration; a three-minute restoration demo; a short promo for the Zeman Museum; and a trailer. As a bonus, Second Run also has two short films Zeman made at the end of the 1940s: Inspiration (11 mins.) and King Lavra (30 mins.). The accompanying booket has a new essay by critic James Oliver.
1 from Criterion
Eight Hours Don't Make a Day (West Germany, 1972)
His artistic output was prodigious (close to 50 films and 25 plays) and his life intense and cut short (at age 37, of a drug overdose), and somewhere in between Rainer Maria Fassbinder managed to write and direct for TV. He did two mini-series for German public television: one came late in his career – the colossal Berlin Alexanderplatz in 1980 – and the other eight years earlier, called Eight Hours Don"t Make a Day. A kind of Coronation Street for the German masses, shot in 16-millimetre, it ran for only five episodes — eight hours in all, like the title — over the winter of 1972-73. The commission from the progressive broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundrunk (WDR) was for a family-friendly series that would extol working-class values and "occupy" the "bourgeois genre" that is TV situation dramedy. Well, this was the early '70s, so that made sense, but Fassbinder pushed the boundaries thematically, and though the series today appears rather tame compared to his better-known work (no nudity, no violence, no homosexuality), the director wanted to give it a typical (for him) downbeat ending, at which point WDR reined him in: the mini-series, originally projected at eight episodes, was stopped after five. Eight Hours is set in Köln and portrays a fictional extended family, the Epps: matriarch Oma (Luise Ullrich); her toolmaker grandson, Jochen (Gottfried John); Jochen's new girlfriend, Marion (Hanna Schygulla), who works in advertising at a local newspaper; Jochen's sister, Monika, who's married to a brute named Harald (Kurt Raabe); the widower Gregor (Werner Finck), who opens a kindergarten with Oma; the aspiring factory foremen Franz and Ernst (Wolfgang Schenck and Peter Gauhe); and Jochen's friend and Marion's future beau, Rolf (Rudolf Waldemar Brem). Fassbinder was inspired by the melodramas of Hollywood German emigré Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obession, All That Heaven Allows), but lightens the load with flashes of humour, making Eight Hours digestable for a general, if 'woke', audience. Restored and re-released at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, the mini-series arrives now on home video for the North American market in a two-disc Blu-ray edition (or alternately, a three-disc DVD set) via the New York distributor Criterion. There are two extras: a 2017 reunion documentary, 42 minutes long, featuring interviews with Schygulla and other cast members (but not, unfortunately, Gottfried John, who died of cancer in 2014, age 72), and a new interview with Boston-based film scholar Jane Shattuc (20 mins.). The accompanying pamphlet folds out to a six-page appreciation by Harvard University film scholar Moira Weigel. An additional note: There are two other Blu-rays of Eight Hours on the market, in the U.K. and Germany, both code-locked for Europe and with varying extras and, in the case of the British edition from Arrow Films, a correct running speed of 25 frames per second, versus Criterion's 24.
2 from the U.K.
Daisies (Czechoslovakia, 1966)
In avant-garde filmmaker Věra Chytilová's hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic fable about individual rebellion under Communism, two Czech teenagers, Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), get into all sorts of silly shenanigans, mostly in search of food. Mixing live action and stills, colour and black-and-white, war footage and surreal effects, the 76-minute film was considered so provocative it was immediately banned; Chytilová would make only one more film, Fruit of Paradise, before the Soviets invaded in 1968 and she and other greats of the Czech New Wave were put out of work. Now in an HD remaster, Daisies comes to all-region Blu-ray courtesy of British boutique distributor Second Run. Extras include a new audio commentary by 'Daughters of Darkness' podcasters Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, a previously available commentary by film historians Peter Hames and Daniel Bird, a 2004 Czech documentary on Chytilová by Jasmina Blaževič’ (54 mins.) and a trailer. The illustrated booklet has an essay by Hames. Note that there's another all-region Blu-ray on the market, from German distributor Bildstörung, with somewhat different extras: it has the Hames & Bird commentary plus a half-hour documentary from 2012 on Chytilová and crew (in Czech and English); there's also an audio CD of the soundtrack and a 24-page illustrated booklet in German.
Distant Voices, Still Lives (U.K., 1988)
For his feature debut, divided into two parts, British filmmaker Terence Davies took a searing probe to his troubled family history, cauterizing the wounds of his unhappy childhood on celluloid and thereby entering the annals of British cinema as one of the all-time greats. Distant Voices is a fictionalized account of a violent father (Pete Postlethwaite) and abused but loving mother (Freda Dowie) bringing up their three kids in Liverpool in the 1940s; shot a year later, Still Lives carries their stories forward into the 1950s. Music – jazz, popular song – plays throughout. Now the movie arrives on Blu-ray in two identical 4K editions approved by Davies and released simultaneously in the U.K. (by the British Film Institute) and the U.S. (by Arrow Academy). Each is code-locked to its own region, and each has optional English subtitles. Extras are identical, too: an audio commentary by Davies from 2007; a 2016 video introduction by Observer chief film critic Mark Kermode; a new live Q&A with Davies (32 mins.) and another live interview with him from 2007 (20 mins.); a 2007 interview with the films's art director, Miki van Zwanenberg (7 mins.); just over an hour of archival footage of Liverpool from 1939, 1941 and 1942; an image gallery lasting about six minutes; and two trailers. Both Blu-ray editions have illustrated booklets, but with essays commissioned from different writers.
1 from Olive Films
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (U.S., 1956)
Just in time for Hallowe'en, the best-ever Blu-ray edition of the '50s sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers also comes at a time when America itself seems truly possessed, this time by Trump supporters in red MAGA caps. Kevin McCarthy stars as a California doctor who, with his ex-girlfriend Becky (Dana Wynter) witnesses the quiet invasion of a small town by extraterrestials who substitute themselves for real people. Directed by Don Siegel (The Killers, Dirty Harry) and shot in widescreen black-and-white, the low-budget thriller was an unexpected hit, making its money back six times at the box office. There have been two Blu-ray editions of the film until now, one in Germany and one from Olive Films in the U.S., but neither had any extras. Now Olive has come out with a new BD, part of its Signature series, with extras that are simplyout of this world. There are two audio commentaries (a new one by film historian Richard Harland Smith and an old one by McCarthy and Wynter with filmmaker Joe Dante); a visual essay by Siegel's son, Kristoffer Tabori (12 mins.); five new featurettes (totalling just over an hour) on the making-of the film and its significance in pop culture; an interview with McCarthy from 1985 (7 mins.); a then-and-now locations comparison; a gallery of production material (including the text of an unused opening narration that was to have been read by Orson Welles); a text essay by Canadian film programmer Kier-La Janisse; and a trailer. There are optional English subtitles, in yellow. The digipack comes in a slipcase with an eight-page illustrated leaflet.
1 from Criterion
Andrei Rublev (Soviet Union, 1966)
In the hands of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (Ivan's Childhood, Solaris, Stalker), the story of a 15th-century icon painter is bound to be epic, and Andrei Rublev is certainly that. In the title role, Anatoly Solonitsyn shows why he became Tarkovsky's go-to-actor for his subsequent films: he's simply mesmerizing, giving a performance that is at once methodical and mystical, one of the rare ones to illuminate what it means to be a great artist, to have not only the creative spark to paint well but also the passion to nurture the sacred flame of God-given talent. For the new Blu-ray, Criterion go all-in themselves with a double-disc, slipcovered edition of this cinema classic that features two versions of the widescreen black-and-white film: the long, original one (205 minutes, with non-removable English subtitles) and the shorter, final one (183 mins., with optional subtitles) that Tarkovsky said he preferred. On the latter, Criterion provide a selected-scene commentary from 1998 by Bosnian film scholar Vlada Petrić; The Steamroller and the Violin, Tarkovsky’s 1961 student thesis film (45 mins.); two behind-the-scenes featurettes from 1966 (totalling 24 mins.) showing Tarkovsky at work; a new half-hour documentary on Andrei Rublev by Scottish filmmakers Louise Milne and Sean Martin; a new interview with Chicago film scholar Robert Bird (37 mins.); a new video essay on the movie by Los Angeles documentary filmmaker Daniel Raim (13 mins); and a U.S. re-release trailer. The foldout leaflet has a poster on one side and, on the other, a new essay by New York film critic J. Hoberman and a 1962 essay from the Soviet Screen journal in which Tarkovsky set out what he hoped to achieve with Andrei Rublev: to make "neither a biographical nor a historical film" but instead to explore "the theme of the artist's personality in relationship to his time."
2 from 101 Films
The Grifters (U.S./Canada, 1990)
Jim Thompson's gritty '60s novel about small-time fraudsters gets a disturbing reboot for the start of the '90s under the direction of Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liasons). Angelica Huston and Annette Benning got Oscar nods for their work, as did Frears, but co-star John Cusack was undeservedly passed over. The new Blu-ray, inaugurating British indie distributor 101 Films' Black Label imprint, looks similar but in terms of up-to-date extras bests the BDs released by Optimum, Miramax and Lionsgate between 2009 and 2015. There's a new, feature-length documentary on the film (72 mins.), an illustrated booklet of new essays, and a slipcase. Be warned, however: the disc is locked to region B (U.K. and Europe).
Black Book (Netherlands/Germany, 2006)
Sex is text and subtext of this overlong (146 mins.) big-budget wartime drama set in Nazi-occupied Holland and directed by Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct). Carice van Houten stars as a singer and Jewish resistance operative who becomes mistress to a German general (Sebastian Koch). The new Blu-ray from 101 Films has new interviews with Verhoeven (28 mins.) and cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub (20 mins.), and two more from 2006 with van Houten (23 mins.) and the director (13 mins.). There's also a trailer, an accompanying DVD and an illustrated booklet of essays. Unlike previous BD editions from Sony and Tartan, the discs are code-locked to play on British and European players only.
3 from the British Film Institute
Paris nous appartient (France, 1961)
Being a student in Paris in the late 1950s meant worrying about the Bomb, dodging Red-baiters, welcoming American dissidents, dating your fellow bohemians, maybe putting on a play and, in the case of Anne Goupil (Betty Schneider), heroine of writer-director Jacques Rivette's debut feature, delving into the mysterious death of a Spanish anti-fascist. An early opus of the French New Wave, Paris nous appartient (Paris Belongs to Us) was cobbled together with almost no budget, took several years to release, and passed under the mainstream critics' radar before finally getting its due. At 141 minutes long and in black-and-white, it's easy to see why contemporary audiences might have not known what to make of it, but today the film seems like a revelation. North American viewers already have access to it on Blu-ray; Criterion released a region-A edition in the U.S. in 2016. The new BFI disc, code-locked to the U.K. and Europe, sports the same imperfect 2K restoration by French distributor MK2 but has somewhat different extras that might be worth a double dip for fans. There's a commentary track, for instance, by film scholar Adrian Martin, unlike the Criterion, which had none. There's also an 18-minute interview with critic Jonathan Romney from 2006 (Criterion interviewed U.S. French-film scholar Richard Neupert). There's also a 32-page, illustrated booklet with a new essay by So Meyer, two vintage reviews and two vintage articles. Just like on the Criterion, there's also Le coup du berger (29 mins.), an amusing little comedy about adultery that Rivette made in 1956 and which features cameos by Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Demy and Rivette himself.
Eye of the Needle (U.K., 1981)
Two Canadian greats – Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan – star as fatally mismatched lovers in this WWII spy thriller set in England in the early 1940s, adapted from the Ken Follett novel. The new BFI Blu-ray (code-locked to Europe) includes the same audio commentary as the (region-free) disc released two years ago by Twilight Time; it, too, features the U.S. distributor's Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman with music historian John Burlingame. BFI add an alternate ending (4 mins.), audio of long interview Sutherland gave in 1987 that can be played over the film (73 mins.), three 12-minute wartime propaganda shorts, and a trailer. There's also a 10-page booklet and a DVD (also code-locked to Europe).
The Comfort of Strangers (Italy/U.K., 1990)
For this psychological thriller directed by Paul Schrader (Cat People, Affliction), Harold Pinter adapted Ian McEwan's novella about a young British couple (played here by Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett) who fall into the clutches of an evil-minded husband and wife (Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren) while on a romantic holiday in Venice. It'll give you the creeps. The BFI Blu-ray has a new audio commentary by Schrader, two lengthy audio interviews with the director from 1982 and 1993 to play over the film, and three vintage shorts about Venice from 1918, 1928 and 1964. There's also a trailer, a DVD of the film and with all extras, and a 32-page illustrated booklet. The discs are Region B / Region 2.
4 more from the U.K.
The Collector (U.K./U.S., 1965)
Late in his career, director William Wyler (Wuthering Heights, Mrs. Miniver, Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur) got an Oscar nomination (his last) for adapting John Fowles' debut novel The Collector, with Terence Stamp in the lead role as Frederick Clegg, kidnapper of lovely art student Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar). Restored in 2K, the new Indicator Blu-ray bests the barebones Blu-ray that Image released in the U.S. in 2011 – and it's region-free. Extras are plentiful, starting with two vintage audio interviews with Wyler (83 mins.) and Stamp (92 mins.) recorded at the London Film Theatre in the 1980s; they can be played as alternate audio tracks, as can a separate commentary by critic Neil Sinyard (73 mins.). Next up are new video interviews with Stamp (13 mins.), Eggar (15 mins.) and critic Richard Combs (9 mins.); a vintage promotional quickie on Eggar (2 mins.); and a locations comparison (8 mins.). Lastly, there are trailers, an image gallery and a 40-page illustrated booklet.
Absolution (U.K., 1978)
Buoyed by his Oscar nod for Sidney Lumet's Equus in 1977, Richard Burton followed up with three films in 1978: a supernatural thriller called The Medusa Touch, an African war movie titled The Wild Geese, and Absolution, a whodunnit murder flick set at a Catholic boys' school (Burton plays an unpopular priest who gets his comeuppance). Besides offering two versions of the film (the original theatrical one and a new director's cut, which is 10 minutes shorter), the new Blu-ray from Indicator has an audio commentary by British Film Institute editor Kevin Lyons, three new interviews (with director Anthony Page, actor Dominic Guard and costume designer Anne Gainsford, a trailer, two stills galleries (101 images in all), and a 40-page booklet. The disc is region-free.
Juliet of the Spirits (Italy/France, 1966)
For his first colour feature, lensed by cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo, Federico Fellini cast his wife and muse Giulietta Masina as a wronged woman going through a sexual awakening. New to Blu-ray from British indie distributor Cult Films, this edition is unfortunately as lacklustre as their BD release last month of Fellini's I Vitelloni. Again, this is not a progressive transfer (1080i, not 1080p), so the high-definition comes off as half-hearted; the visuals are also much lighter and horizontally stretched compared to previous DVD editions (Criterion did the last good one, back in 2010 in the U.S.). On the plus side, the English subtitles are optional, the disc is region-free and the two extras provide context and greater understanding of the film: there's an audio commentary by British writer Kat Ellinger and a 15-minute video essay by University of Oxford scholar Guido Bonsaver. There's also a DVD with the same film and extras as on the Blu-ray.
D.O.A.: A Right of Passage (U.S., 1980)
Lech Kowalski's debut rockumentary chronicles the implosion of the notorious Sex Pistols on their one-and-only trip to the U.S., in 1978. The British punk band's much-hyped and ultimately aborted tour of the Southern states culminated in their break-up in San Francisco, and Kowalski caught it all on his 16-mm camera. The film also captures live performances of other punk pioneers of the time: Generation X (featuring Billy Idol), Dead Boys, Sham 69, X-Ray Spex and the unlamented Terry & The Idiots, with additional music and appearances by The Clash and Iggy Pop. The Blu-ray (and accompanying DVD) by Second Sight has a two-hour making-of and a new interview with co-director and music journalist Chris Salewicz, plus a booklet. The discs are code-locked for Europe.