"Summer was our best season." - Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)
The best of the August releases
2 from Second Run
People of the Mountains (Hungary, 1942)
This tragedy of a Hungarian woodcutter and his family who are forced from their home by a rapacious landlord in (Romanian) Transylvania is highly evocative. The score has rhapsodic echoes of Canteloube's 1920s' Chants d'Auvergne, the cinematography evokes the vistas of John Ford (along with the capitalist exploitation he depicted in The Grapes of Wrath), the setting and location shooting have roots in the German 'Bergfilme' of Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstahl, and the slice of life of labourers harks back to leftist films of the 1930s like Mexico's Redes and is said to have inspired the Italian neo-realists. Yet People of the Mountains (also known as People on the Alps) is uniquely central European, not least in its nationalist theme of Hungarian "purity". The new, all-region DVD offers a rare opportunity to see a picture that's revered in its homeland but little seen outside. There are no extras but there is a highly informative, 16-page book. In it, film scholar John Cunningham delves into director Istvan Szots' career, Hungary and Romania's strained relations, and the controversy that erupted in 2012 when Hungary tried to re-bury the story's pro-fascist author, Jozsef Nyiro, in Transylvania.
The Shop on Main Street (Czechoslovakia, 1965)
In a small town in Slovakia in 1942, an old Jewish lady who runs a button shop takes on a "assistant" who, unbeknownst to her, is actually there to "Aryanize" the place – i.e. prepare for taking over after she and the rest of the town's Jews are sent off to Nazi death camps. This seriocomic take on fascism and the Holocaust won the Oscar for best foreign-language film (the country's first) in 1965, and its (Polish) star, Ida Kaminska, was nominated for best actress. (An interesting Canadian footnote: The film's co-director/screenwriter, Jan Kadar, went on to make Lies My Father Told Me, in Montreal in 1975.) Now released under the British title The Shop on the High Street, the all-region Blu-ray (also available on DVD) comes with a 40-minute appreciation by film scholar Michael Brooke, a vintage American press kit viewable on screen, and a 16-page booklet. A step up from the no-extras American DVD issued by Criterion in 2001, the new edition has punchier sound (especially evident in Zdenek Liska's score), but visuals are a mixed bag: more information in the frame, higher contrast (with loss of detail in the greys) and, unlike the smooth-looking Criterion, some scratches and debris (despite a new 2K restoration).
1 from Disney
The Jungle Book (U.S., 2016)
No, this is not that Jungle Book – not Disney's animated musical comedy from 1967, which was a classic. This is the new Jungle Book – made for today's kids, part live-action, part CGI. Rudyard Kipling's collection of stories from the late 19th-century needs another update, apparently, and why not? Enjoy. The two-disc set (Blu-ray and DVD) comes with a half-hour making-of, two featurettes and an audio commentary by director Jon Favreau, the man who helmed Elf and the Iron Man and Avengers movies.
2 from Criterion
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (2015)
The life of Swedish-born superstar Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Joan of Arc, Stromboli, Notorious) gets sympathetically reviewed in this two-hour documentary largely based on her personal archives. Alicia Vikander does the voiceover from Bergman's diaries; daughter Isabella Rossellini and her siblings, as well as actresses Liv Ullmann and Sigourney Weaver, fondly reminisce about the special kind of woman Bergman was. Though there's no mistaking how career came before kids, the hagiography is all a tad too laudatory for my taste. Extras run over an hour on the Criterion Blu-ray (also available on DVD). There's an interview with director Stig Björkman, clips of Super-8 home movies "shot by Bergman" (just how, when she's in a lot of the shots herself, we'll never know), several deleted and extended scenes, a music video of the film's theme song, a clip from Bergman's first screen appearance in Sweden in 1932, and, most alluringly, outtakes from a 1936 film which clearly show that her skills at flirting with the camera – and her co-star – were already well-developed. The leaflet folds out into a poster and the text (by feminist film scholar Jeanine Basinger) insists on calling Bergman an "actor" ; there's also a euphemistic howler about how Bergman was fond of "maintaining forward motion in her relationships, renewing the privilege of love as she needed to," meaning she sure did get around. All that's missing is Billy Bragg singing Woody Guthrie's "Ingrid Bergman" – watch it here.
Woman in the Dunes (Japan, 1964)
A teacher from Tokyo (Eiji Okada) treks across enormous sand dunes by the ocean, hunting for bugs to add to his collection. Missing the last bus home, he spends the night in a tiny house at the base of one giant dune that's inhabited by a lonely young widow (Kyoko Kishida). In the morning, he wakes to find the rope ladder is gone and that he's trapped. Panic turns to attraction and eroticism eventually leads to escape – almost. Adapted by Kobo Abe from his bestselling novel of the same name, Hiroshi Teshigahara's movie runs 147 minutes and is a visual feast. It was shot full-frame (1.33:1) in black and white by cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa and has an idiosyncratic score by prolific modern composer Toru Takemitsu (Kaidan, Ran). Extras on the Criterion Blu-ray (also on DVD) draw from the DVD boxset of this and two other Teshigahara films that Criterion released in 2007. There's a half-hour visual essay by Toronto film scholar James Quandt, a 2007 documentary on Teshigahara and Abe, and four half-hour films by Teshigahara (the last of which, a 1965 portrait of a teenage-girl, Ako, was made as part of an omnibus collection produced by the National Film Board of Canada). There's also a 30-page booklet (stapled, not the foldout format Criterion otherwise seems to favour these days); it has an essay on Woman in the Dunes and the transcript of a 1978 interview with the director taken from a French book on the history of Japanese film from 1959 to 1984.
2 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
Sweet Bean (Japan/France/Germany, 2015)
Screened last year at Cannes and TIFF, Sweet Bean is an intergenerational ode to the power of love, forgiveness ... and pastry. The English-language title could just as well be Sweet Being, as the old lady at the centre of the story – a leprosy survivor who makes the best sweet-bean filling in Tokyo – takes joy in the simple pleasures of life, like the blossoms in the cherry trees around her. Before she dies, she passes on her recipe to a dorayaki (red-bean-pancake) maker, who shares it with one of the schoolgirls who comes in regularly to his humble shop. If you have a sweet tooth, this movie is for you. The British Blu-ray is region-coded for Europe, so it won't work on a standard North American player – pity, because there's no high-def option on disc here (the Kino edition is DVD-only). The visuals are simply stunning, however, and the Blu-ray comes with a 35-minute interview with the director, Naomi Kawase (Still the Water). There's also an illustrated booklet, generous at 32 pages, with more from critic Philip Kemp.
Conversation Piece (Italy/France, 1974)
As a wealthy expat American professor, Burt Lancaster is perfectly content living out his retirement in his posh palazzo in Rome. Then the 1970s catches up with him: a pushy marchesa (Silvana Mangano) rents the apartment upstairs for her troubled young lover (Helmut Berger), and things change. Pot-smoking, loud music, a naked threesome, a beating – it's all too much for the professor. A collector of 18th-century group portraits called "conversation pieces," he becomes the patsie in this new family portrait. Luchino Visconti was old and in a wheelchair when he directed this, his penultimate movie, a small-scale version of what he did with Lancaster in 1963's The Leopard. Warning: the dialogue is arch and the mix of Italian and English dubbing rather awkward. As for the new two-disc (Blu-ray/DVD) edition from Britain, it's region-locked for Europe; the main extra is an hour-long French documentary on Visconti from 2013 (not available on the U.S. Blu-ray by Raro Video).
The best of the July releases
5 from Twilight Time
Zelig (U.S., 1983)
A gem from Woody Allen's 1980s period, Zelig was ahead of its time: a faux documentary, newsreel-style, ostensibly from the 1920s and '30s, follows an everyman named Leonard Zelig who has the rare ability to become the exact likeness of famous people – everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Adolf Hitler. Zelig is a "human chameleon," and his disorder eventually sends him to hospital, where he meets psychiatrist Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow), who vows to cure him but, in the end, falls in love with him instead. Allen was making a satire of celebrity, of course, and of its power to twist minds and delude the public into believing in false heroes. On Blu-ray, the movie's period charm looks even more authentic than ever – as real as Zelig, anyway. Typical for Allen's back catalog, the disc's only extra is a trailer, plus Twilight Time's usual option of listening to the score as an isolated (dialogue-free) track. Like all Twilight Time releases, this one is available exclusively on the label's U.S. website, and is limited to 3,000 units.
The Black Stallion Returns (U.S., 1983)
Freckle-faced Kelly Reno returns as the adventurous youth Alec Ramsay in this sequel to 1979's The Black Stallion. Not as magical as the original, nor as frightening, the sequel has an Indiana Jones feel to it as Alec ventures to Morocco to rescue his beloved horse from a sheikh and winds up riding in a do-or-die race in the desert. Teri Garr stars again as a Alec's loving mom. No extras on the Blu-ray save for a trailer and isolated score track.
The Gang's All Here (U.S., 1943)
Busby Berkeley's first full-length musical in Technicolor is spectacle at its purest, taking an ordinary story of a young soldier smitten with a New York City nightclub singer (Alice Faye) and turning it into a camp extravaganza. And there's Carmen Miranda, "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat," and Benny Goodman leading his orchestra. The region-free Blu-ray replicates the extras on the Region-B-locked disc issued in 2014 by Britain's Eureka! Masters of Cinema (also on Fox's 2007 Alice Faye Collection DVD boxset): two audio commentaries, a 20-minute doc on Berkeley, a five-minute deleted scene and a trailer. There's also (from the old DVD), Alice Faye's Last Film: We Still Are! (24 mins.).
The Russia House (U.S., 1990)
Adapted by Tom Stoppard from John Le Carré's novel, The Russia House stars Sean Connery as a British publisher in Moscow who's dragooned into spying on the Soviet Union; Michelle Pfeiffer is the love interest, with Russian accent. Filmed on location. The Blu-ray's only extra (besides a trailer and isolated score) is a featurette called Building the Russia House – not unfortunately, the documentary made for BBC Omnibus in 1992.
Miss Sadie Thompson (U.S., 1953)
Nice to see Rita Hayworth looking so marvelous on Blu-ray again this year. In January came 1946's shimmering Gilda, courtesy of The Criterion Collection. Now, from Twilight Time, there's the widescreen colour feature Miss Sadie Thompson – and in eye-popping original 3D, no less. Hayworth struts her stuff (and sings) on an island in American Samoa, and the sailors are all agog. Based in Somerset Maugham's story "Rain". The disc's extras are a new audio commentary and, replicated from Sony's The Films of Rita Hayworth DVD boxset from 2010 (and its 2013 single re-issue of Miss Sadie), there's a trailer and a short introduction to the film by actress Patricia Clarkson.
A dark fantasy about love and mating
The Lobster (Greece/Ireland/Netherlands/U.K./France, 2015)
Written and directed by Greeks (Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou), shot in Dublin and southwest Ireland, with dialogue in English and French and a cast of global A-listers (Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw), The Lobster is very much an international art-house production. It's also a terrifying one, a nightmare vision of what purgatory would be like if you were punished for, like Garbo, simply wanting to be alone. The story is dystopic: In a time that could be the present day, single people are brought to a chic resort hotel by the sea and given 45 days to pair up, otherwise they will be turned into animals. The catch is the couples must be a perfect match; theirs must be a mating of kindred souls, not just a half-hearted "marriage" of convenience. Farrell's character, David, a widowed architect who's as meek as he is resourceful, decides if he doesn't make it he'd like to be a lobster (he loves the ocean), but as the 45 days tick down he tries to break free, fleeing to the woods to join the "loners" hiding there, who have a strict code of their own: no mating. When Weisz's character comes into the picture, David must make a choice: love her or stay forever alone. The movie blends sexual profanity, cruelty and violence in the service of what really amounts to an elaborate joke, a satire on monogamy, and the audience is presumably meant to laugh once they "get it." The deadpan delivery of the dialogue is deliberate, and the repeated use of dramatic classical music –especially the fourth-movement staccato from Shostakovich's famous String Quartet No. 8 – is incisive. Part Ex Machina, part 1984, part Bridget Jones's Diary, The Lobster was awarded the jury prize (runner-up) at Cannes, where "weird" movies are all the rage. Fans and collectors, take note: Canadians get the movie on home video two weeks before the U.S. release, and Toronto distributor Mongrel (and its Quebec affiliate Métropole) have it in two editions: a collector's edition Blu-ray digipack that's limited to 2,000 copies across Canada, and a regular edition (Blu-ray or DVD) in ordinary cases. The disc contents are the same (including optional French dub and subtitles, and a digital copy card); only the packaging is different. The collector's edition comes in an attractive minimalist slipcase and, as the distributor cutely teases, includes a postcard of "one animal of our choosing" (There are five in all; I got the dog.) Extras run 43 minutes: two making-ofs and interviews with Lanthimos and actress Ariane Labed (who plays the sexy maid in the film, and bridges the worlds of hotel and forest). There's no short film as a bonus, however; in France, both DVD and Blu-ray have Lanihimos' Necktie, from the 2013 international collection Venice 70: Future Reloaded, as well as four postcards that are different from the Canadian ones.
2 from Criterion
Nuit et brouillard (France, 1953)
Alain Resnais' half-hour documentary on the Nazi death camps in Poland caused a sensation when it premiered in 1955, only a decade after the Liberation. And its images – black-and-white archives and contemporary colour footage from Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek, presaging Claude Lanzmann's epic Shoah – are still haunting today. The big extra on the Blu-ray, a welcome upgrade from Criterion's old DVD edition of 2003, is a 99-minute French interview from 2009 with historian Sylvie Lindeperg, who talks about France, the Holocaust and Night and Fog – it's informative, though slow-going. Also new is a 15-minute interview about the film with Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing). Salvaged from the old DVD is a five -minute radio interview with Resnais from 1994, but unfortunately not included is the option of listening to Hanss Eisler's score as an isolated track.
The New World (U.S./U.K., 2005)
A film to change your perception of the early "conquest" of North America, Terrence Mallick's The New World is a thing of great and terrifying beauty. Colin Farrell is Captain John Smith, Q'orianka Kilcher is Pocahontas and the story – a mix of historical fact and fiction – takes place in Jamestown, Virginia in the early 17th century. Besides offering all three versions of the film – first cut (2:30), theatrical cut (2:15), and extended cut (2:52, restored in 4K) – Criterion's two-disc set bests New Line's 2009 single Blu-ray of the extended cut with just over two hours of new extras. There are interviews with cast (Farrell and Kilcher) and crew (producer, production designer, costume designer, editors), a discussion of the differences between the three versions of the film and a booklet. Like the older Blu-ray, there's also an 82-minute documentary on the film that was made during production; it's split into 10 chapters.
Another cool-jazz biopic
Born to Be Blue (Canada/U.K./U.S., 2015)
The spring of 2016 brought biopics of a pair of "cool jazz" trumpet legends to movie theatres: Miles Davis (MIles Ahead, with Don Cheadle) and Chet Baker (Born to Be Blue, with Ethan Hawke), and predictably, given the subjects, both dramas are as much about booze and drugs and career comebacks as the music itself. Chet doesn't show up in MIles' movie, but Miles does in Chet's, and both films take a present-meets-past approach to connecting the dots of the musicians' troubled lives. Born to Be Blue has its own distinctive style – a mix of black (and blue)-and-white for the "vintage" years of the 1950s, colour for the "down-and-out" years of the 1960s. The movie also has the distinction of being Canadian-made: it was shot in Sudbury, Ont. by Toronto director Robert Budreau (who made That Beautiful Somewhere, which would make a great title for a cool-jazz record). The DVD is distributed by Entertainment One and has an optional French dub; there is no Blu-ray.
2 from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
Buster Keaton: Complete Short Films, 1917-23
Buster Keaton (half the time with Fatty Arbuckle and Al St. John) comes to life in 2K high definition is this new set of all his short films. With this four-disc Blu-ray boxset (code-locked for British and European players), Eureka! bests its decade-old but region-free DVD set and offers some competition to the five-disc Blu-ray set that Kino released in the U.S. in May. Visuals and sound on all of the collection's 32 shorts improve, all the extras from 2006 are carried over (including Joseph McBride's audio commentaries), the 184-page (!) booklet is still there (though of course smaller, to suit the Blu-ray packaging), and so is the audio of Keaton at a party in 1962. New to this set is a video essay by Scottish filmmaker and critic David Cairns and , as with the Kino, a newly discovered alternate version of The Blacksmith (1922) with four minutes of previously unreleased footage, and more.
Cocoon (U.S., 1985)
Ron Howard's science-fiction fantasy has a group of aliens come to Earth and offer the residents of a Florida retirement home a bid at eternal life. The seduction is unintended but ultimately is as enticing as it is disruptive – and the laughs follow. An all-star cast of some of Hollywood's veteran greats – Don Ameche (who won an Oscar for best supporting actor), Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton – propel the picture along, as do the visual effects (awarded another Oscar). The British Eureka! disc (alas, region-locked) improves on the American all-region Blu-ray that Fox issued in 2010 (now out of print). It has better visuals, all the same extras (director's commentary, five featurettes, TV sports and trailers) and adds a trailer for the movie's 1988 sequel, Cocoon: The Return, a booklet and the option of listening to James Horner's score as an isolated track.
The best of the June releases
45 Years (U.K., 2015)
Charlotte Rampling has "the look," a kind of penetrating stare out of blue-green eyes hooded by arching upper lids that can seduce, unsettle and calm in equal measure. A documentary about her was made a few years back called The Look, and the title summed up her essence: everything about her is exuded by those eyes. Now 70, Rampling has lost nothing of the power to beguile, and paired with another legend of British cinema, Tom Courtenay, was perfectly cast by director Andrew Haigh (Weekend) in her latest picture, 45 Years. She plays a long-married Englishwoman, Kate Mercer, whose certainties are thrown into disarray with the revelation – on the eve of the couple's 45th wedding anniversary – that her husband, Geoff, has a secret. On a hike in the Swiss Alps in 1962, his German girlfriend fell into a crevasse and died; as a witness, Geoff was questioned by police. Now a letter arrives from there saying her body has been found, and Geoff has to explain to Kate why he's been notified as "next of kin," because at the time of her death, he and the German girl were thought to have been married. It's something Geoff and Kate have never talked about, and slowly Kate gets deeper into the truth, ferreting out old letters and pictures of the girl that Geoff has squirrelled away in the attic of their country house, probing with subtle questions his behaviour and feelings. Their week leads to the big day in the local village hall when they and all their friends celebrate the couple's 45 years together – 45 years that now, it seems to her, began with a lie of omission. Their 45 years of "love" now, in her mind, are thrown into deep doubt. Be warned: the movie's pace is as slow-moving as a glacier at the centre of the back-story, and there's only so much "look" from Rampling that a casual viewer can take before begging for more exposition in the plot, more outright drama and less baleful introspection. Courtney's mumbling and rather dotty portrayal of old Geoff begins to grate. It's a very middle-class kind of English tale, full of long looks and abnegation and sense of duty and keeping up appearances, and in the end it's rather hard to understand what the fuss about a tragedy that happened over 45 years ago is all about, how it can matter anymore, why Kate and Geoff are so worked about it all. One feels like giving these hand-wringers a swift kick in the rear and telling them to just get on with things. For her performance, Rampling got an Oscar nomination as best actress (and won at Berlin, along with Courtenay as best actor, a feat they repeated at the London Critics Circle Film Awards), so I suppose there is something to admire about her less-is-more technique; when all is said and done, the eyes have it. There are no extras on the Métropole Blu-ray release (also available on DVD); you can find a director's commentary and short onstage Q&A with cast and crew on the British Blu-ray and DVD released by Artificial Eye.
5 from Twilight Time
Inserts (U.K., 1975)
Sorry about the lack of audio in the clip above, but I couldn't find any other decent excerpts of Inserts on the Web. Kind of appropriate, though, since the movie is set in the era of Hollywood's transition from silent to sound, the early 1930s. And because it's an X-rated picture about the porn industry, the only other people archiving clips of it online today are the money-shot people themselves. So admire the silk gowns, the vintage film camera and lighting equipment, the casual drinking and drug-taking and nudity, and imagine the pithy dialogue between Richard Dreyfuss (as Boy Wonder, the director, famous in the silent era but now reduced to shootng porn to make a living), Bob Hoskins (his slimeball producer Bic Mac), Jessica Harper (Big Mac's guileless girlfriend, Cathy Cake), Veronica Cartwright (actress with syringe, Harlene) and Stephen Davies (Rex, the callow stickman). Though limited by a single, cheap-looking set, the movie has a certain perverse rhythm of its own; it chugs along in fits and starts on the strength of the performances. It's also interesting to see what Dreyfuss was up to in 1975 besides Jaws. Apart from a trailer, there are no extras on the Twilight Time Blu-ray, but you can listen to the score free of dialogue as an optional isolated audio track. Again, appropriate.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (U.K., 1959)
Peter Cushing is Sherlock Holmes, André Morell is Dr. Watson and Christopher Lee is Sir Henry Baskerville in this Hammer Films adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic whodunnit. It comes nearlymidway between the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce version of 1939 and what Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke did with it for British TV in 1988. The extras on the disc are a mix of new (15 minutes with mask maker Margaret Robinson, two audio commentaries, an isolated music-and-effects track) and previously available (13 minutes with Lee and 21 minutes of audio of him reading from the original book, plus a trailer).
The Panic in Needle Park (U.S., 1971)
Memorable as Al Pacino's screen debut in a leading role, this Love Story for New York drug addicts, written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and directed by Jerry Schatzberg, is, like a lot of American movies from the jaded post-Woodstock era, a bit tedious to watch today. Still, like a good high, it has its moments. Unusually, the new Blu-ray includes the score (by Ned Rorem) that was recorded for the movie but never used; you can listen to it as an isolated track, with some text-based notes as background. Besides a trailer, the other two vintage extras were previously available only on the awful-looking British DVD by Second Sight: 25 minutes with Schatzberg and cinematographer Adam Holender, and 10 minutes with Didion.
The Member of the Wedding (U.S., 1952)
Fred Zinnemann directed this Stanley Kramer production of novelist Carson McCullers' coming-of age story set in the deep South; Julie Harris plays tomboy Frankie Adams and Ethel Waters her housekeeper, Berenice Sadie Brown. Previously available on DVD in MGM's Stanley Kramer Film Collection boxset from 2008, on Blu-ray the film comes with all the old extras (an audio commentary and short documentary by McCullers' biographer, an introduction and short doc by Kramer's widow and actor Kevin Spacey), plus a new audio commentary (with singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, of all people) and an optional isolated score track.
Romeo is Bleeding (U.K./U.S., 1993)
An over-the-top and thoroughly enjoyable neo-noir, Romeo is Bleeding never made it big at the box office but is a cult favourite with fans. Two big reasons: Gary Oldman, who plays the crooked New York cop Jack Grimaldi, and luscious Lena Olin, as the crazy Russian mafia hit-lady Mona Demarkov. You might also enjoy mob boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider), Grimaldi's lovely wife, Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) and his mewling little tramp, Sheri (Juliette Lewis). The plot? Jack sells insider-information on witness protection, Mona is the interloper the mob wants him to kill, and things escalate from there. Don't take any of it seriously; the critics did, and the joke was on them. No extras on the disc, save for a trailer and isolated score.
2 from Criterion
La chienne (France 1931)
Maurice (Michel Simon) is a Paris bank clerk unhappily married to Adèle (Magdeleine Berubet) and smitten with Lulu (Janie Marèse), a prostitute he rescues from her pimp boyfriend Dédé (Georges Flamant). He's also an amateur painter, and soon Lulu and Dédé wind up swindling him by selling his art for high prices under a fake name and pocketing the profits. Jean Renoir's second sound film was marked by tragedy: 23-year-old Marèse died in a car crash a few weeks after shooting wrapped, and it was Flamant at the wheel. The Criterion Blu-ray (or two-disc DVD set) sports a newly restored 4K transfer of the movie and has new English subtitles. There are two big extras: a 95-minute conversation between Renoir and Simon that was shot for French TV in 1967 by Jacques Rivette, and a new restoration of Renoir's first sound film, the hour-long On purge bébé, from 1931. There's also a new interview with Renoir scholar Christopher Faulkner (25 mins.) and three minutes of Renoir introducing the film for French TV in 1961. An eight-page foldout insert rounds out the package: there's an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau on one side, and, on the other, a full-page charcoal sketch (by French comics artist Blutch, who also did the cover) of Maurice painting his indifferent muse.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (U.S., 1941)
What if you died and went to heaven only to learn you weren't dead after all? That's the premise of the comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan, as well as a host of re-makes through the years, including Warren Beatty and Buck Henry's 1978 hit Heaven Can Wait, which was based on the original stage play of the same name, by Harry Segal (nothing to do with Ernst Lubitsch's 1943 film). The 1941 production stars Robert Montgomery as Joe Pendleton, the "dead" man, who after a flying accident is given a second (and eventually third) chance in life by his heavenly custodian, Mr, Jordan (played by Claude Rains, who would star the following year in Casablanca). The great Evelyn Keyes (Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister in Gone with the Wind) plays the love interest, Betty Logan. Extras on the Criterion Blu-ray (also available on DVD) are mostly audio: an hour-long Lux Radio Theatre version of the movie from 1942, with surprise guest Cary Grant in Montgomery's role; and an 80-minute interview with Montgomery's actress daughter, Elizabeth (Bewitched), from 1991. There's also a new half-hour video conversation between two experts (Michael Sragow and Michael Schlesinger), a trailer, and an eight-page foldout leaflet with an essay by New York film critic Farran Smith Nehme.
And an arthouse classic from Eureka! Masters of Cinema
Edvard Munch (Sweden/Norway, 1974)
At three hours and 41 minutes, Peter Watkins' TV mini-series on the Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch ("The Scream") might not be everybody's idea of a good time. But if you're into art, and trust the opinion of Ingmar Bergman, who called Watkins' film "a work of genius," then hunker down and enjoy. Focusing on a formative decade (1884-94) in the young artist's career, the docudrama begin in Oslo (then called Kristiania), where Munch has an ill-fated affair with a married woman and is savaged by art critics and his own father for his very much ahead-of-his-time experiments with form. Then it's on to Berlin, where the artist falls in with the iconoclastic Swedish playwright August Strindberg. Along the way, with voiceover narration by Watkins and direct-to-camera "interviews with non-actors commenting on Munch as if direct from the TV news archives, the movie flashes back on scenes from the artist's awful childhood, when he lost his mother and sister and nearly died himself at a young age. It's all bleak but beautiful – like his art, gripping stuff. With this Blu-ray, British distributor Eureka! upgrades its previous Masters of Cinema series double-DVD set from 2007. It's not a new transfer, but there's more grain visible in the 16-mm frame, better colours and black levels, and the original mono audio now rendered in lossless (not the faux-stereo bump-up that was on the old DVD). No extras to speak of, but there is the same 80-page illustrated booklet, full of reproductions of Munch's paintings.