08.2017

3 from Twilight Time

The Emperor in August (Japan, 2015)

The last day of Japan's military regime before its surrender at the end of World War Two is shown in big-budget detail in this modern film co-written and directed by Masato Harada (Chronicle of My Mother). Based on the novel by Kazutoshi Handô, the movie is a re-make of the 1967 film Japan's Longest Day and stars Masahiro Motoki (Departures) as Emperor Hirohito, Koji Yakusho (13 Assassins) as War Minister Korechika Anami and Tsutomu Yamazaki (Tampopo) as Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki. The only extras on the limited-edition Blu-ray are the audio option of listening to Harumi Fuki's score as an isolated track, and a couple of theatrical trailers.

The Long, Hot Summer (U.S., 1958)

Paul Newman and his soon-to-be bride Joanne Woodward star, along with Orson Welles, in this adaptation of a pair of William Faulkner stories set in deepest Mississippi. Newman plays a drifter who comes to town and disrupts the lives of a genteel family. Extras include an isolated music track, a vintage making-of (22 mins.), a Fox Movietone newsreel and a trailer. There's also an illustrated booklet with essay by Julie Kirgo.

Suddenly, Last Summer (U.S./U.K., 1959)

Elizabeth Taylor plays a young socialite whose aunt (Katharine Hepburn) hires a surgeon (Montgomery Clift) to do a lobotomy on her daughter to "cure" her of the anguish she suffered from seeing her brother suddenly die on vacation in Europe. The movie is based on Tennessee William's one-act play. For extras, the Blu-ray only has an isolated music track and a trailer. Julie Kirgo wrote the liner notes for the booklet.

4 from Indicator

The Deadly Affair (U.K., 1966)

Acting by James Mason, Maximillian Schell, Harriet Andersson and Simone Signoret; direction by Sidney Lumet; singing by Astrud Gilberto; a screenplay based on John Le Carré's first novel, a Cold War spy drama – with all that, how come I've never head of this exciting movie? Like all of Indicator's releases, the Blu-ray is region-free (as is the DVD, also enclosed)  and has a swatch of extras. There's an audio commentary, archival audio of Mason interviewed onstage in London in 1967 (48 mins.) and of Lumet in 1983 (89 mins.), a new look at screenwriter Paul Dehn (17 mins.), a short new interview with the film's camera operator, a short locations tour, a trailer and an image gallery, plus an illustrated booklet.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (U.K, 1972)

Alan Bates and Janet Suzman play a husband and wife in Bristol trying to make the best of life with a severely handicapped child in this adaptation of Peter Nichol's 1967 Tony Award-winning play, a dark comedy. Indicator's video edition marks the movie's first time on Blu-ray (there's also a DVD enclosed) and besides being all-region it comes with several extras: an audio commentary by director Peter Medak and film historian Sam Dunn, and two new interviews with Suzman and Nichols totalling 37 minutes. There's also a booklet of essays and production material, including a look at the original stage production of Joe Egg.

The Reckoning (U.K, 1969)

Nouveau-riche London executive Michael "Mick" Marler (Nicol Williamson, electric) takes his Jaguar up to Liverpool to visit his dying father, but is too late: dad is already dead. His body is covered in bruises; was it foul play? A revenge fantasy that plays up the family's Irish heritage, director Jack Gold's thriller is dark, brooding and sexy. Extras on the region-free Blu-ray (and DVD, also enclosed) include three new interviews: with writer, journalist and broadcaster Matthew Sweet (20 mins.), actor Tom Kempinski (3 mins.) and second assistant director Joe Marks (4 mins.). There's also a trailer, an image gallery and a 32-page illustrated booklet that includes writings by Gold and critic Kenneth Tynan.

The National Health (U.K., 1973)

Another Jack Gold film (and another Nichols script), this satire of the British public-health system contrasts a rundown London hospital with a spanking new one portrayed in a daytime soap opera. The cast includes Lynn Redgrave and Carry On cast member Jim Dale, as well as a young Bob Hoskins (in only his second screen role). Extras on the region-free Blu-ray (and DVD, also enclosed) include a new audio commentary by Dale, a new interview with Nichols (24 mins.), a trailer and an image gallery. There are also new English subtitles, and a booklet with an essay and contemporary reviews and articles. 

1 British punk classic from Criterion

Sid and Nancy (U.K., 1986)

Two things first. 1) The origin of that name, Sid Vicious: In the early 1970s, John Simon Richie, aka John Beverly, went to vocational school in London, where he met John Lydon, who had a pet hamster named Sid; one day the hamster bit his friend "viciously," and from then on Lydon called his friend Sid Vicious. 2) The girlfriend: Nancy Spungen was a free-spirited  Jewish girl from Philadelphia who fell in with Sid after he became bassist for Lydon's punk band The Sex Pistols; she got him into hard drugs; they moved to New York City, and in late 1978, according to police, Sid attacked her violently and stabbed her to death with his hunting knife. Sid & Nancy is the semi-fictionalized story of the couple's tumultuous, 19-month relationship, culminating in Sid's death by heroin overdose several months after Nancy's death, before he could be brought to trial for her murder. In the film, Sid is played (and sung) by Gary Oldman and Nancy by Chloe Webb; Andrew Schofield plays Lydon, better known as the Sex Pistols' lead singer Johnny Rotten, who, incidentally, had no involvement with the film and panned it on release as a wildly inaccurate farce that "celebrates heroin addiction." Criterion's 4K transfer on Blu-ray and DVD was supervised by cinematographer Roger Deakins and, along with a remastered soundtrack, improves immensely on the Blu-ray that MGM put out in 2011. Extras include a new interview with director Alex Cox (Repo Man); a half-hour making-of from 1987 called "England's Glory" ; an archival interview with the Sex Pistols; two audio commentaries; a phone interview with Sid Vicious from early 1978; a trailer; and more. There's also an 18-page booklet.

2 Japanese films from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

Anatahan (Japan, 1953)

Joseph von Sternberg (The Blue Angel) made his final film in a Japanese studio in 1953 and re-cut it in 1958. It tells the true story of shipwrecked sailors on Anatahan island at the end of World War Two who discover a beautiful young woman (Akemi Negishi, in her screen debut) living in their midst. Coming three months after their U.S. Blu-ray debut via Kino, both cuts look and sound almost identical in their  British iteration for Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema series. Extras are identical, too, with one major addition: a new, 45-minute interview with Asian film expert Tony Rayns. There's also a booklet and a DVD of the 1958 cut . The discs are code-locked for European players.

The Mourning Forest (Japan/France, 2007)

Mourning the death of her son, a young nurse named Machiko (Machiko Ono) takes a senile old widower named Shigeki (Shigeki Uda) on a drive out to the country. The car breaks down and Shigeki wanders into the forest by the road, apparently searching to reconnect with the spirit of his late wife. Machiko follows after, looking for him. Directed by Naomi Kawase (Still the Water; Sweet Bean), the movie now comes to Blu-ray in a dual-format, code-locked edition that includes a DVD but no video extras. There is a stills gallery and a booklet which reproduces the director's statement from the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie won the Grand Prix. 

1 from Olive

The Stranger (U.S., 1946)

Orson Welles directs and stars in this B-movie espionage thriller set in small-town Connecticut just after the end of the Second World War. Welles plays a Nazi war criminal who marries a beautiful American (Loretta Young) and settles down in an incognito job as a college professor. Then an investigator with the U.N. War Crimes Commission (Edward G. Robinson) comes to call. This is the third time since 2011 that The Stranger – a big box-office success back in Welles' day, and the first Hollywood movie to include actual footage of the Holocaust death camps – has been released on Blu-ray in North America. Unfortunately the visuals here are less crisp and the image is cropped, although there are far fewer scratches on the frames than before. The disc is also short on extras: there's a new audio commentary by Nora Fiore (improperly edited over the soundtrack) and a text essay by Jennifer Lynde Barker, as well as a trailer.

07.2017

1 Czech classic from Second Run

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Czechoslovakia, 1961)

The great Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman (1910-1989) got out his whole bag of tricks – live-action photography, meticulously hand-drawn animation and mind-blowing matte work – for this adaptation of the late-18th-century tales of the fictitious German nobleman Baron Munchausen, a buffoon and a braggart whose self-reported exploits including travelling to the Moon. The major extra on British distributor Second Run's brilliant-looking all-region Blu-ray release is a feature documentary from 2015 on Zeman's life, work and influence, with interviews with Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Koji Yamamura and others (102 minutes). There's also a new appreciation by film historian Michael Brooke (36 mins.), six featurettes on Zeman and his films (totaling 22 mins.), and a promo spot for the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague (right downtown by the Charles Bridge, worth a visit). Everything has optional English subtitles. The Blu-ray comes with an illustrated booklet containing a new essay by critic Graham Williamson. 

3 vintage American films from Indicator

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (U.S., 1953)

Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, wrote the screenplay and lyrics of this musical fantasy about a boy (Tommy Rettig) who hates taking piano lesson so much that he dreams he and 499 other boys (the "5,000 fingers" of the title) are being tyrannized by a mad music teacher (Hans Conried) who forces them to play an enormous piano, endlessly. A flop on release in 1953, the film is today regarded as a quirky classic very much ahead of its time. The new all-region Indicator Blu-ray from England easily bests the bare-bones American BD that budget label Mill Creek Entertainment released around the same time last year. Indicator's has lossless audio, optional subtitles and a plethora of extras: an audio commentary with film historians Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton; a new documentary short called Father Figure; a new interview with Steve Rowland, son of director Roy Rowland; a short introduction by Karen Kramer, widow of producer Stanley Kramer; a 15-minute short of interviews from 2007 called Dr. T. on Screen; two looks at the musical score (A Little Nightmare Music and Crazy Music); a short commentary and appreciation by Joe Dantefrom 2013; the original theatrical trailer; an Image gallery of on-set and promotional photography; and a booklet with a new essay by artist Peter Conheim as well as critics' (mostly negative) reviews of the film upon release and (also negative) articles written about it at the time. There's also an accompanying DVD.

Mickey One (U.S., 1965)

Warren Beatty stars as a stand-up comic on the run from the Mob in this drama directed by Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde). Inspired by the French New Wave, the picture was scored by Big Band jazzman Eddie Sauter and shot in widescreen black-and-white by Robert Bresson's cinematographer, Ghislain Cloquet. In its Blu-ray debut (with an accompanying DVD, which is also all-region), the movie comes with a lot of extras: new interviews with star Alexandra Stewart (18 mins.) and Penn's son, Matthew (19 mins.); audio of an on-stage interview Penn gave in 1981 in London; a short commentary by Joe Dante from 2013; a trailer; an Image gallery; and a booklet featuring a new essay by journalist Nick Pinkerton as well as reviews and articles about the film upon release.

Castle Keep (U.S., 1969)

Sydney Pollack directed this dark comedy set in France in the waning days of World War Two. Burt Lancaster plays a U.S. Army major who billets his small company of soldiers in a castle in the Ardennes forest. Each of the men finds something to care about there, whether it be the castle's art treasures, a local baker's wife or a prototype Volkswagen Beetle. Then the Germans arrive. New to Blu-ray (with an accompanying DVD, also all-region), the movie is buttressed by several extras: audio of Lancaster interviewed onstage in London in 1972; a new interview with actor Tony Bill (18 mins.); a half-hour Interview with author William Eastlake from 1968; an original theatrical trailer; and a booklet with a new essay by critic Brad Stevens as well as reviews and articles.

3 American movies from Twilight Time

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (U.S., 1972)

For his fourth film as writer/actor/director, Woody Allen took a pop psychology bestseller by Dr. David Reuben and turned it into a hit comedy on the theme of – what else? – sexuality. In a series of sketches, Allen sends up Shakespeare and Fellini, Masters and Johnson, TV's What's My Line? and crossdressing, and does a most memorable turn as a human sperm in a white body suit (complete with tail) who's discharged headlong, Fantastic Voyage-style, during coitus. Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Louise Lasser, John Carradine, Lynn Redgrave co-star, and Gene Wilder plays a doctor in love with a sheep. The Twilight Time Blu-ray has a trailer and the option of watching the film listening to Mundell Lowe's score as an isolated track. Besides a booklet, there are no other extras. 

The Crimson Kimono (U.S., 1959)

Samuel Fuller (House of Bamboo; The Naked Kiss) wrote and directed this late '50s film noir that follows two Los Angeles cops (James Shigeta and Glenn Corbett, both in their screen debut) as they investigate the murder of a stripper in the city's Little Tokyo district. Tensions mount when the partners fall for the same girl (Victoria Shaw). Twilight Time include a half-hour documentary and a 10-minute appreciation that Sony had in its 7-DVD boxset of Fuller's movies in 2009: Sam Fuller Storyteller and Curtis Hanson: The Culture of The Crimson Kimono. There's also an isolated music track (score by Harry Sukman), two trailers and a booklet with linear notes by Julie Kirgo.

Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn ('73/'74)

2 musicals for the price of 1, on a single Blu-ray. Adapted from Mark Twain's classic adventure stories and shot in rural Missouri, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were produced by Reader's Digest, adapted by the Sherman brothers of Disney fame (who wrote the songs), and released one after the other in the early 1970s. Freckle-faced redhead Johnny Whitaker (Family Affair) plays Tom and Jeff East is Huck. Extras include two audio commentaries on Tom Sawyer, isolated scores for both films, trailers, a vintage promotional featurette, some quick discussion between the Shermans and arranger/conductor John Williams, and a six-page booklet.

1 war movie from the DEFA Film Library

Held for Questioning (East Germany, 1982)

Wrongful arrest doesn't get more harrowing than in this East German war drama from the early 1980s. Sylvester Groth (Inglourious Basterds, Deutschland 83) plays a young POW in 1945 who's picked out of the crowd at a railway station in Poland and fingered for being an SS death-camp guard. He professes his innocence, to no avail, and is thrown into jail, first in solitary, then in with other (very guilty) German prisoners. Adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel by Hermann Kant and directed by Frank Beyer (Carbide and Sorrel, Naked Among Wolves), the movie was pulled from international distribution (it was supposed to be the DDR's official submission to the Oscars) for fear of offending the Polish regime. On DVD, the movie looks and sounds all right but not great, and includes a 10-minute new interview with screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase; if you pop the disc in your computer, you can also access some text bios and a very informative essay by Beyer about the movie's genesis and production. There's no trailer for this film, not even on on YouTube, but there is TV documentary (above) in which Beyer is interviewed at a couple of points: starting at 1:08:40 (talking about East German cinema's domestic star system) and again at 1:16:35 (about the restrictions of official censorship). There are no subtitles for the German, but you get the gist, nicht?

3 early German classics from Eureka! Masters of Cinema

Der müde Tod (1921)

In Fritz Lang's silent Der müde Tod (aka Destiny), Death gives a young woman (Lil Dagover) three chances to save the life of her fiancé by time-traveling across the globe: to ancient Persia, Imperial China and 17th-century Venice. Like the Blu-ray that Kino issued in the U.S. a year ago, the Masters of Cinema edition sports the very same German restoration of the film, new orchestral score and a (slightly different) audio commentary track by Tim Lucas. The new edition adds a 15-minute video essay by David Cairns, a 44-page booklet and a DVD. Both discs are code-locked to Region B (Europe). 

Westfront 1918/Kameradschaft ('30/'31)

Georg Wilhelm Pabst (Pandora's Box; Diary of a Lost Girl) broke into the sound era at the start of the '30s with these two anti-war/brotherhood-of-nations movies. The first is set in the German trenches of the Western Front in 1918; the second shows the rescue of French miners by German ones after an underground explosion. As extras, UCLA scholar Jan-Christopher Horak introduces both films for about a quarter-hour each. There's an illustrated booklet with an essay by British historian Philip Kemp. The Blu-ray and DVD in this dual-format edition are code-locked Region B (Europe). 

3 movies from the British Film Institute

My Beautiful Laundrette (U.K., 1985)

Daniel Day-Lewis and co-star Gordon Warnecke broke Queer Cinema ground playing childhood friends who become lovers in this unusual story set in South London – unusual, because Day-Lewis's character, Johnny, is a white fascist skinhead and Warneke's character, Omar, is a first-generation Pakistani. They find common ground in a rundown laundromat that Omar's rich uncle (Saeed Jaffrey) has asked him to fix up and run. Things comes to a head when the uncle finds out about their relationship. Written by Hanif Kureishi (London Kills Me) and directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), My Beautiful Laundrette was a domestic and international hit when it was released in 1985, at the height of the Thatcher era. The new British Blu-ray offers much more variety in the way of vintage extras than the collection of new interviews that Criterion had on its BD release in the U.S. two years ago. First up is Typically British, a 77-minute survey of British cinema that Frears made with Michael Dibb and Charles Barr in 1994. Then there's I'm British But ..., a half-hour personal documentary from 1989 by Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha. There's also Mensahib Rita, a 19-minute short on the theme of racism, directed by Prathiba Parma from 1994, and a 25-minute featurette from 2015 in which Warnecke reminisces about Laundrette. Finally, as an alternate audio track, you can listen to a Q&A with Frears, Kureishi, and producers Sarah Radclyffe and Tim Bevan that was recorded for a screening of the movie at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1986. There's also an illustrated booklet and a DVD copy of the film with all the extras.

Diabolo menthe (France, 1977)

Known in English as Peppermint Soda, Diane Kurys's autobiographical debut feature looks at two very different Jewish sisters (Éléonore Klarwein and Odile Michel) struggling through their teens in Paris in the early 1960s. The Blu-ray has optional English subtitles. Extras include a trailer, a half-hour nterview with Kurys from 2008, and three minutes more with the director as she explores her collection of photographs and production materials. There's also an isolated music and effects score, and an illustrated booklet with a new essay by Sophie Mayer and Michael Brooke.

The Orchard End Murder (U.K., 1981)

One summer in bucolic Kent, a young woman is murdered in an apple orchard while her boyfriend, oblivious, competes in a cricket match across the road. Not your cup of tea? Then try the main extra on the disc, a 25-minute documentary about a real-life British fairground knife-thrower who went by the the improbable name of Wally Shufflebottom. Christian Marnham wrote and directed both films, and he offers a video commentary on each. Tracy Hyde, the victim in Orchard End, is interviewed, as is actor David Wilkinson. There an illustrated booklet and accompanying DVD.