An autumn harvest
My picks of the bumper crop of new releases on home video.
Holiday in Spain, AKA Scent of Mystery (U.S., 1960)
Now here's a real curio: A European road movie (starring a young Denholm Elliot) that was shot in an odd aspect ratio ("Cinerama") and that long ago was shown in theatres with scents pumped into the air (the short-lived "Smell-O-Vision" process). Holiday in Spain, aka Scent of Mystery, spins a rather circuitous tale of a British mystery writer (Elliot) who gets driven around sunny Spain by a laconic chauffeur (Peter Lorre) and inadvertently uncovers a plot to kill an American heiress (Elizabeth Taylor, in a surprise cameo at the end). Rather silly on the whole, the movie flopped big-time in theatres back in 1960 – twice. First, the Smell-O-Vision gimmick malfunctioned (audiences were supposed to smell things like roses and freshly baked bread that they were seeing on screen, but the sprays didn't work properly), then the film was re-cut into an almost incomprehensible version and re-released to equal disdain by audiences. Its pedigree had promised a surefire hit: The film was produced by Mike Todd Jr. (This is Cinerama, Around the World in Eighty Days) and directed by Jack Cardiff, a renowned cinematographer famous for his work with Powell & Pressburger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus) and who, as director, was nominated for an Oscar for his hit adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers the same year he did Scent and Holiday. In the end both versions of the Spanish debacle ended up being forgotten – until now. Cinerama restorer David Strohmaier has made the best of the damaged film elements available (one negative, two prints) and succeeded in "reconstructing" Holiday in Spain for the high-def age. The two-disc set – one Blu-ray with the film and extras, one CD with the original Scent soundtrack – comes with a 36-page booklet that's a full-colour reproduction of the original souvenir program distributed to cinemagoers when Scent was first screened. Nearly two hours' worth of extras include new interviews, a restoration demo, missing scenes, a locations tour, a gallery of eight Cinerama movies, and an audio commentary. The only thing missing are some scratch-and-sniff cards – maybe next time. Sold exclusively at screenarchives.com, a U.S. distributor.
Four silent classics from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
British distributor Eureka! continue to impress with their Masters of Cinema series of international cinema. These four titles – two from Germany, two from Hollywood, and all from the silent era – came through the mailbox just before winter arrived. Watch the trailers or, in the case of the American ones, watch the whole film online. What you won't get are all the extras that MoC throws into their dual-format (Blu-ray/DVD) packages, including extensive colour booklets that are works of scholarly literature in their own right. (Be aware, though, that all their discs are coded for Europe, so you'll need the right player to make them work.)
Spione (Germany, 1928)
Fritz Lang got a jump on James Bond with this spy thriller rich in gadgets and derring-do. With a 69-minute doc about the film and 40-page booklet.
The Thief of Bagdad (U.S, 1924)
Douglas Fairbanks starred and produced, Raoul Walsh directed, and in this edition Carl Davis scores and conducts. A pricey film backthen; simply priceless now.
Diary of a Lost Girl (Germany, 1929)
American actress Louise Brooks became the "it" girl of 1929 when German director G.W. Pabst snagged her for Pandora's Box and this reform-school shocker.
Intolerance (U.S., 1916)
D.W. Griffith's three-hour epic of four civilizations: Babylon and Judea, medieval France, urban America. Restored with two other features and a doc.
Three Japanese animated classics by Studio Ghibli, plus a new doc
The revered Japanese production house Studio Ghibli has been making children's movies since 1985. The three animés featured here were issued simultaneously in North America by Disney in fine new combo editions (Blu-ray and DVD) with plenty of extras and the option of English, French and Japanese dubs. All three films were written and directed by the studio's co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, who retired this year, leaving the studio's future in doubt. Cinemagoers can check out the documentary on Studio Ghibli that played at the RIDM. (The trailer has no subtitles, but the movie itself has English ones.)
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki, 13, is a nice little witch on a broomstick who delivers things around town for a baker friend. Then, uh-oh, her power to fly evaporates. Will she ever get it back?
The Wind Rises (2013)
Japan's highest-grossing film of 2013, this period biopic looks at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a famous inventor of fighter planes used in World War II.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
In medieval Japan, a forest is decimated by clearcutting and mining, and the gods take revenge with the help of a prince and his protegé, a girl raised by wolves.
Kingdom of Dreams & Madness (2013)
A year in the life of Ghibli Studios. Spend two hours with co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and their animation teams.
Four vintage features – two American, two British – from Twilight Time
The November offerings from U.S.. boutique label Twilight Time are as rich as ever, a mix of movies licensed from MGM, Columbia Pictures, Film Four and others that sport fine hi-def visuals, new audio commentaries, new liner notes, and a choice of isolated scores, a TT speciality. Here are four that caught my eye. They're on sale at www.screenarchives.com and are limited to 3,000 copies each.
Judgment at Nuremberg (U.S., 1961)
Stanley Kramer and Abby Mann do justice to the Nuremberg Trials with an all-star cast led by Maximilian Schell and Spencer Tracy. There are no new extras over the decade-old DVD, however.
Bunny Lake is Missing (Britain, 1965)
Great title. 22-year-old Carol Lynley posed nude in Playboy the year she starred in this thriller by Otto Preminger about a mom and her abducted child. But just forget that.
Birdman of Alcatraz (U.S., 1962)
Burt Lancaster stars in this prison drama about real-life killer Robert Stroud, who became a bird expert while in solitary confinement. On the Blu-ray, you can isolate Elmer Bernstein's score.
When the Wind Blows (Britain, 1986)
Nuclear holocaust hits the English countryside. Includes a 90-minute doc on director Jimmy T. Murakami, who brought the graphic novel to the screen.
And a whole lot more from the U.S., Europe and Japan
L'avventura (Italy, 1960)
There's something about Monica. I know that director Michelangelo Antonioni was a genius, and his compositions on screen were often breathtaking. But surely it was also the allure of the women he cast in his films, especially the beautiful blond Monica Vitti, that got audiences breathing harder. Here she is in widescreen black-and-white in L'avventura, my favourite Antonioni movie, a story of alienation and doomed love amid the Mediterranean yachting crowd of the early 1960s. Vitti plays a young socialite named Claudia whose best friend, Anna (played by dark-eyed brunette Lea Massari) goes missing during a stop-off on a deserted volcanic island. She remains missing for the rest of the film, and her absence brings her boyfriend, Sandro (handsome Gabriele Ferzeti) into the sights of lonely Claudia. The couple eventually drift into each other's arms like unmoored skiffs in open water, until a climax back on land sows doubt and leaves their future open-ended. Haunting stuff. In image and sound, the Blu-ray is a big step-up from Criterion's old double-DVD set from 2001, but there are no new extras except for a video appreciation by French director Olivier Assayas; it was made in France in 2004 and re-edited by Criterion now to show clips from L'avventura in high-def.
Withnail & I (Britain, 1987)
This British cult classic by writer director Bruce Robinson stars Richard E. Grant (whom younger audiences will know from this season of Downton Abbey) and Paul McGann as a couple of down-and-out London actors in 1969 whose respite at a cottage in the countryside turns into a rain-soaked disaster buoyed only by booze and the duo's nihilist wit. British distributor Arrow Video have put in a lot of love and labour into this restored and remastered edition on Blu-ray and DVD: a limited-edition box set that comes with four archival documentaries, two audio commentaries (one old, one new), two new interviews (with the film's production designer and a film expert), and a 200-page illustrated book. As a bonus, you also get How to Get Ahead in Advertising, Robinson's follow-up feature comedy (again with Grant). Note that the discs are region-locked for Europe, so you're out of luck if you have a standard North American player.
Maleficent (U.S./Britain, 2014)
Angelina Jolie stars as the forest fairy Maleficent in this, the Disney studio's new live-action update of Sleeping Beauty, its animated classic from 55 years ago. The themes of good and evil are as engrossing as ever and handled intelligently, as are the very real CGI effects (love those moss-covered tree warriors). The Blu-ray/DVD edition comes with five featurettes spread over half an hour, and five brief deleted scenes totalling about seven minutes. There's also a slipcase, plus a code to download a digital HD copy of the film.
Sleeping Beauty (U.S., 1959)
Set to the ballet music of Tchaikovsky, Walt Disney's adaptation of the famous fairy tale is many things but most of all a work of art of the hand-inked animation kind, the last the studio would do (no wonder – it took six years). The movie first made it to Blu-ray in 2008 and was a stunner. This new combo edition (Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy) looks and sounds great, too, but it has very little in the way of new extras and in fact has dropped a whole lot of the old ones from six years ago. There's something Maleficent about that, really.
The Vanishing (Netherlands/France, 1988)
A classic of the psycho-horror genre, this Dutch-French movie by the late George Sluizer scared me half to death at its premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival in the summer of 1988 – and it still scares me now. A tale of a holiday gone terribly wrong, it'll make you think twice next time you pull off the highway to get gas and refreshments. Rex and Saskia, a young Dutch couple very much in love and vacationing in France, are separated for a few brief moments at just such a roadside rest stop – a few moments that turn into an eternity when Saskia goes missing, victim of a psychopath named Raymond who's a family man gone bad. Raymond eventually goads Rex into meeting with him and finding out the truth, and the nightmare deepens. Terrifying stuff. I can't say I like what I see in the new Blu-ray, though: Criterion's upgrade from its 2005 DVD edition is slightly zoomed-in and lighter, with a blue-ish cast. Extras improve, however: a 20-minute interview with Sluizer last May (just four months before he died, age 82), and 15 minutes with Johanna ter Steege, who played Saskia.
Youth of the Beast (Japan, 1963)
I was reminded of Seijun Suzuki the other day during a screening of the new Belgian movie Tokyo Fiancée, a comedy about a French tutor who suspects that her Japanese student's family are yakuza – gangsters. The association is played for gags in that flick, but back in the yakuza genre's heyday in the 1960s, violence and depravity were all the rage, no more so than in the visionary work of the maverick director Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill). Youth of the Beast stars Jô Shishido as an ex-cop who comes between two rival Tokyo gangs in his quest to avenge his murdered partner. Shot in ultra-widescreen Nikkatsuscope, the picture is a riot of colour, odd camera angles, fantasy and visual inventiveness. The Blu-ray/DVD set from British label Eureka! Masters of Cinema comes with a trailer, a 26-minute video essay by scholar Tony Raynes, and a 36-page illustrated booklet. The discs are coded for Europe, so you'll need the right player to play them.
Animal Farm (Britain, 1954)
England's first animated film had a secret agenda: It was funded by the CIA as anti-Soviet propaganda. That fact was only revealed two decades after the film's release – by the shadowy spook who swung the deal, future Watergate conspirator Howard Hunt. And it would surely have displeased the story's originator, the great George Orwell, whose novel's ending was changed for the film. Still, the satire of a farm taken over bit-by-bit by tyrannical pigs bent on total domination still resonates today. Issued in the U.S. 10 years ago on DVD with plenty of extras, the movie is now available in a new edition from British distributor Network with extras of its own; the disc is hard-coded for Europe, however, so North American viewers beware.
Roger & Me (U.S., 1987)
In his feature debut, Michael Moore followed what he now calls his cardinal rule: Don't make a documentary, make a movie. Roger & Me was the writer/director/performer's take-down of the titans of General Motors who turned his hometown of Flint, Michigan into a ghost-town of the auto industry. For Warner's new Blu-ray, Moore recorded a new audio commentary, and there's also a trailer, just like on the 2003 DVD. But fans are out of luck: There's still no Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint, the 23-minute sequel Moore made for PBS in 1992.
Million Dollar Arm (U.S., 2014)
Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame does Don Draper Lite in this Disney flick that combines baseball and cricket in one international feel-good sports story. Lake Bell, the star (and writer/director/co-producer) of last year's wryly funny In a World, is the love interest. Hamm's plays an L.A. sports agent who thinks marketing young cricket amateurs as pro baseball pitchers will be the next big thing. Available on Blu-ray or DVD, the movie comes with a few featurettes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending.
Once Upon a Time in America (Italy/U.S, 1984)
Sergio Leone's gangster movie starring Robert De Niro was a four-hour epic when it first screened at Cannes. It was then re-edited and cut nearly in half for the U.S. market. Later, for TV and home video, it got bumped back up to close to four hours. Finally, in 2012, an "extended director's cut" (251 minutes) screened at Cannes, and that's what now on Blu-ray from Warner. It's a two-disc set; the second is the same BD from 2011 with the 229-minute cut. Both discs have a making-of, commentary and trailers. The collector's edition adds a 32-page book.
Le dernier des injustes (France/Austria, 2013)
Claude Lanzmann's latest documentary on the Holocaust runs 220 minutes. Overkill? Not if you respect the work of the veteran French director, who's best known for his 1985 masterpiece, Shoah, which clocked in at nearly 10 hours. This one is built around a long interview Lanzmann did in 1975 with one of the surviving Jewish elders of Theresienstadt concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Extras are mercifully slim on the DVD from Toronto distributor VSC: just a quick Q&A with the director (4 minutes) and a trailer.
Les dimanches de Ville-Avray (Sundays and Cybèle) (France, 1962)
An absolutely haunting piece of early '60s French cinema, Serge Bourguignon's tale of the platonic yet strangely seductive friendship between a war veteran (Hardy Krüger) and a coquettish pre-adolescent girl (Patricia Gozzi) in rural France won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film in 1963. Besides new interviews with cast and crew, the most welcome extra on Criterion's Blu-ray and DVD is Le sourire (1960), a 21-minute documentary about Buddhist monks that won Bourguignon the Palme d'Or for best short film.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Germany, 1920)
Scaaaary ... in a German expressionist kind of way. In Robert Wiene's classic horror flick, a carnival hypnotist gets a sleepwalker to commit murder. The 77-minute feature cast a long shadow back in the '20s and still does today, inspiring animators and other filmmakers with its crazy sets, dream sequences and mesmerizing characters. Just in time for Hallowe'en, the region-locked Blu-ray/DVD set from British label Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema series has a commentary, an hour-long doc, short video essay and 44-page booklet.
The Gang's All Here (U.S., 1943)
And you think Lady Gaga is outrageous – just wait until you watch Carmen Miranda sing "The Lady in the Tutti-Fruitti Hat." This wartime musical was Busby Berkeley's first in colour, and Miranda and stars James Ellison and Alice Faye sing the soldier-meets-showgirl story backed by Benny Goodman and the swinging tunes of Harry Warren. The region-locked Eureka! Masters of Cinema Blu-ray from the U.K. is a big improvement over the U.S. Fox DVD from 2007; it has a new commentary, 20-minute doc, deleted scene, trailer and 36-page booklet.
Casting By (U.S., 2013)
I love a good documentary about Hollywood. Stars, directors, producers, composers, even writers – the good ones all get profiled eventually. Casting directors have been the exception, however, until now. This feature doc by Tom Donahue centres on Marion Dougherty, who launched the careers of Clint Eastwood, Glenn Close and many others, all of whom testify here to her talent to spot talent and her uphill battle to get casting direction named an Oscar category. The DVD from First Run Features has a six-film trailer gallery.
La Bamba (U.S. 1987)
The Buddy Holly Story (U.S., 1978)
As any rock-'n-roll history book will tell you, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens died young, between gigs, in the same airplane crash. These two biopics get to the lives behind the legends, with the stars' original tunes covered on the soundtrack (and on screen) by Los Lobos, Gary Busey (as Holly in the earlier film) and Marshall Crenshaw (as Holly in the later one). Released within a month of each other, the limited-edition Blu-rays (3,000 copies each) from Twilight Time come with isolated scores, commentary tracks, trailers and illustrated booklets.
Salvador (U.S., 1986)
James Woods stars as a war photographer and Jim Belushi plays his sidekick in director Oliver Stone's take on the bloody civil war in El Salvador and the American government's role in it. The screenplay, which Stone wrote with the film's real-life hero, Richard Boyle, got an Oscar nod. Updating the 2001 DVD, Twilight Time preserves almost all the extras – a making-of (one hour), deleted scenes (half an hour), director's commentary, two trailers – and adds Georges Delerue's score as an isolated track. Dropped is a 46-photo gallery, but some are in the six-page booklet.