Never before on disc in the U.S., Criterion presents a new 4K digital restoration partially funded by the Film Foundation and mastered with supervision by Grover Crisp. The American disc debut features two DVDs and one Blu-ray and each format includes the film and all the supplements, including two documentaries: the feature-length 2005 Elio Petri: Notes About a Filmmaker (on the life and career of the director) and the 50-minute Investigation of a Citizen Named Volonté (on actor Gian Maria Volonté). Also includes an archival interview with Petri from 1970, a 2010 interview with composer Ennio Morricone, and a new interview with film scholar Camilla Zamboni, plus trailers and a booklet with essays and notes.Il Generale della Rovere (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD), previously released as a Criterion DVD, gets a new edition and a Blu-ray debut from Raro, which specializes Italian classics and genre rediscoveries. This 1959 drama, one of Roberto Rossellini’s last commercially-targeted pictures, is inspired by a true story and it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Vittoria De Sica stars as an Italian con man in World War II who profited in the margin between desperate Italian families and the German Gestapo who essentially policed the country. It’s a richly drawn drama of an opportunist whose conscience is reignited and De Sica’s performance is a model of understatement and ambiguity. The new edition, mastered from the 35mm negative, offers both the theatrical cut and a longer director’s cut, mastered with more clarity than the earlier Criterion edition (the added scenes are of noticeably lower clarity) and presented in a windowboxed 1.37:1 aspect ratio that presents the entire negative image but has caused some controversy (the film was released in a tradtional 1.66:1 ratio). Both Blu-ray and DVD feature a video essay by film critic Adriano Aprà and video interviews with Renzo Rossellini Jr. (mostly repeating clips from the video essay), Aprà and Aldo Strappini, who oversaw the digital transfer and restoration.
It’s been called the greatest video store in the country. Bernardo Bertolucci not only frequented the store while shooting Little Buddha in Seattle, he praised the store and its cinema treasures to a sold-out audience at the film’s Seattle premiere. Bertrand Tavernier explored the entire laserdisc section and gushed over the selection of Cy Enfield and William Whitney tapes with store employees in his 1997 visit. Quentin Tarantino, a video store veteran in his own right, paid tribute by walking from downtown Seattle to the store’s University District location: his personal pilgrimage to the video Mecca.
And in addition to stocking a magnificently curated rental library of movies on home video, Scarecrow in its heyday brought such guests as Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, John Woo, Monte Hellman, Nicolas Roeg and Seijun Suzuki to Seattle for glorious retrospectives.
The films got their long-awaited release this week and true to their track record of Blu-ray releases of archival classics, they are terrific-looking editions of well-crafted Hollywood movies. At least the few I’ve watched since they arrived the other day (I sampled through the rest).
Being a Tyrone Power fan, I first grabbed The Black Swan (1942) (Fox, Blu-ray), Fox’s bid to make their handsome romantic lead into an Errol Flynn-style swashbuckling hero. It shouldn’t have been a good fit – Power is more at home as the glib, arrogant golden boy (who evolves over the course of the film) or brooding as the earnest, driven young visionary – but he brings a bit of both the flashy arrogant and the brooding hero to the role. His Jamie Waring is clearly unfulfilled as a pirate captain pillaging Spanish colonies and ships, but he’s not so sure he’s any happier when he teams up with Captain Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar), the former pirate king appointed by Britain to take over as Governor of Jamaica. It sets him against his former, more savage partners in pillage, especially Billy Leech (George Sanders in a wild red beard), and his outlaw instincts don’t fit into polite society. Complicating matters is his nearly fatal attraction to Lady Margaret Denby, daughter of the former Governor, played with flashing eyes and furious temper by Maureen O’Hara.It’s based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, who also wrote The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, and it’s kind of a poor cousin to those in terms of both story and action, but what Technicolor glory! They set sail against Maxfield Parish skylines and battle in a riot of indigos and royal blues and crimson reds with flourishes of gold. Sturdy Henry King directs and the disc carries over the commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer and actress Maureen O’Hara from the DVD.
Before The Black Swan, King directed Power in the western Jesse James (1939) (Fox, Blu-ray), with Power in classic brooding mode and Henry Fonda as brother Frank in Hollywood’s romanticized take on the outlaw. Randolph Scott plays a sympathetic sheriff and Henry Hull, Nancy Kelly, Slim Summerville, John Carradine, and Jane Darwell costar. It’s another Technicolor beauty and the disc features two Fox Movietone News featurettes.
Argo: Extended Edition (Warner, Blu-ray) offers both the original theatrical version and a longer edit that adds about nine minutes of previously unseen footage to the film that took home the Academy Award for Best Film. Ben Affleck directs and takes the lead as CIA agent Tony Mendez, the man who concocted a plan that involved creating a fake Hollywood movie production as cover to sneak six Americans, hiding in the Canadian embassy, out of Iran in plain sight. It’s a savvy picture that takes a few liberties with the historical record to create a nail-biter of an escape thriller and the class act of the week’s deluxe editions. While it never manages the complexity of Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s real-life American covert operation drama from the same year, it is a solid, well-made film with personality, humor, drama, tension, and a superb sense of time and place.
The added footage mostly fills out Tony’s family life, with phone conversations with his wife (Taylor Schilling, who was almost absent in the original film) and son showing the tensions of their separation, and this edition adds an extra disc of featurettes and interviews in addition to the fine supplements of the original Blu-ray release (filmmaker commentary, a “Picture-in-Picture: Eyewitness Account” audio-visual commentary, the 2004 Canadian documentary “Escape from Iran: The Hollywood Option” among others). The box also includes a 64-page hardcover booklet with photos and film notes, a replica Tony Mendez ID badge (with Affleck’s mug shot), and 16″ x 20″ map of Tehran with notes on the film, and a mini-poster of the fictional “Argo” that served as the operational cover. Also includes an UltraViolet digital HD copy.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – The “Rich Mahogany” Edition (Paramount, Blu-ray) doesn’t add any additional footage – in fact, it’s the same version that was released as Best Buy Exclusive a few years ago – but it does have timing on its side. Which makes it both a promo for the upcoming sequel and complement purchase for fans of Ferrell’s earlier, funnier films. Ferrell is perfectly glib as a well-coiffed and self-involved San Diego newscaster in the glory days of 1970s local TV anchormen, where men are crude, newsteams rumble and the weatherman (Steve Carell) has the intellectual depth of a dust bunny. This two-disc set features two versions of the film (with commentary director Adam McKay, Ferrell and his cast), the alternate Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie (an incoherent feature made entirely out of deleted scenes and subplots), deleted scenes, featurettes, outtakes, table reads, cast auditions, and the recording session for “Afternoon Delight,” plus a Ron Burgundy appointment book (much of filled in with crayon) and a package of 12 collectible Anchorman trading cards. Stay classy!
Fox still has the rights to Marvel’s X-Men characters and they desperately want a juggernaut as successful as Marvel’s Avengers line-up, and for this one they brought in James Mangold, who stages some impressive scenes but can’t overcome a busy script. Jackman is still a great Wolverine, a tormented killer who wants nothing more than a life of peace, and Rila Fukushima stands out as Yukio, a loyal soldier to Yushida who respects Logan and his warrior code. The rest tends to get mired in complications and a now-familiar third act cascade of betrayals and revelations.
The DVD featuring the theatrical version of the film. The standard Blu-ray also includes the nearly hour-long documentary “The Path of a Ronin” and an alternate ending, plus a set tour of X-Men: Days of Future Past and a Second Screen app. The “Unleashed Extended Edition” features the theatrical edition on Blu-ray 3D disc, standard Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD and the extended, unrated version (which runs 12 minutes longer) on a standard Blu-ray with commentary by director James Mangold.The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, Cable On Demand) brings the first book in Cassandra Clare’s series of young adult fantasy adventures to the screen in hopes of launching a new franchise. Their hopes have been met, if only just – the film was successful enough to announce a second installment starting production in 2014. The first film establishes the secret world of demons beneath the city of New York and the teenage heroine (Lily Collins) who discovers that she comes from a long line of Shadowhunters, half-angel warriors that protect the human world from the demons. So, you know, it’s a young adult mythological quest film, a Harry Potter meets Twilight with urban Lord of the Rings flourishes, with a seemingly normal girl discovering a legacy of magic and power and a world of wonder and danger. Plus a hot young warrior boy (Jamie Campbell Bower, a veteran of both the Twilight and Harry Potter series). Which makes it perfect for 14-year-old girls. The rest of us can skip it. Lena Heady is the mom kidnapped by demons, Jonathan Rhys Meyers the bad guy, and Robert Sheehan the mortal boy dragged along the adventure.
This eight-episode run begins with Walt (Bryan Cranston), the one-time high school chemistry teacher who evolved from desperate cancer victim to superstar meth cook to ruthless Godfather of his domain, out of the meth business, or so he thinks. His DEA agent brother-in-law finally figures out that Walt was the mystery meth kingpin he’s been chasing all this time and the investigation stirs the violence back up with a vengeance. Of course, it all comes back home to family and friends. No one is untouched by Walt’s actions.
Cranston won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series three years running for his performance and the acclaim is well deserved, and not just for creating the most quietly intimidating character on TV. His evolution, and the rationalizations that accompany every step of his transformation, have been so nuanced over the five seasons that the change only looks jarring when put up against the first season. Yet that underlying arrogance and cruelty has been there from the first episode, buried under the self-pity and bitterness, and it drives his final resurrection for revenge.
The Sopranos set the bar for how to end this kind of epic cable drama of corrupted anti-heroes and Breaking Bad, in its way, meets the standard. Vince Gilligan expanded his final season in a compromise with AMC but he maintained his commitment to the arc of Walt’s story. There’s no redemption when you’ve crushed so many lives under the boot of your ambition, but that doesn’t mean Gilligan doesn’t give us one last moment to root for the bad guy when he goes after folks who are even worse.
Eight uncensored episodes with commentary on every episode by Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston joined by members of the cast and crew, plus four featurettes, an alternate ending, deleted and extended scenes, 16 episodes of “Inside Breaking Bad,” the “Mythbuster Breaking Bad” special, and more supplements.
Of course, you may have been waiting all this time for Breaking Bad: The Complete Series (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD). Not only do you get all 62 episodes in one set, you get an exclusive documentary chronicling the production of the final season, a Pollos Hermanos apron and all the supplements from previous seasons (of course), and it comes in a collectible replica barrel just like the ones that Walter used. Only smaller. And filled with discs instead of meth.
Knightriders (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) is easily the gentlest film ever made by George Romero, a romantic story of gypsy bikers who create a kind of traveling Renaissance faire built around the chivalric ideal of an Arthurian court. There’s a streak of the Camelot story played out all in modern times, but on a more intimate, human scale which Romero uses explore the dynamics of idealists in the real world who play-act their fantasies in a communal setting. Ed Harris took his first leading role as Billy, the benevolent king of the troupe and the man who created this scruffy nomadic community and struggle to hold on to his singular vision as the troupe grows. He’s a moral rock but also unbending and at times fanatical in his devotion to the code, which takes its toll on the individuals who joined this collective ideal for reasons of their own.
Tom Savini, Romero’s special effects artist and a memorable biker co-star of Dawn of the Dead, is quite striking as the charismatic “dark knight” Morgan, who has no investment in the Arthurian ideal but likes the spirit of competition and the charge of jousting on cycles, and Brother Blue is the troupe’s Merlin, a medical doctor dropout turned shaman and storyteller, but the entire cast meshes in the most naturalistic ensemble of Romero’s career. He’s so devoted to their stories that he lets the film run on the long side and fudged some of the practical details and decisions for the sake of dramatic moments, but he’s committed to keeping their shows firmly in the world of permits and insurance and first aid tents and making accommodations to modern society a matter of degree where opinions differ. The stunt work is excellent but down to earth, executed with a mix of circus showmanship and gearhead sportsmanship. Getting rough is part of the deal, but it’s all in fun.
For all the medieval throwback of clashing swords, suits of armor and knights on motorbikes, Knightriders isn’t a fantasy. It’s a modern film about the difficulties of sustaining an idealistic alternative to the material world, sixties values meeting human nature, and Romero views it with optimism. The folks that this band attracts are not all of one mind, but they are ultimately bound by a sense of community and commitment to an ideal.
The Blu-ray debut is mastered with vivid color (it brings out the rich greens of the forest scenes that set the idyllic tone of the film) and a clean image with only minor signs of wear. It looks great and features the commentary track recorded by director George Romero, actors Tom Savini, John Amplas, and Christine Romero, and film historian Chris Stavrakis for the Anchor Bay DVD release over a decade ago plus vintage video footage of the motorcycle stunt riding. Exclusive to the disc are three new interviews with Romero, Savini and Ed Harris, who has nothing but good memories of the film and pride for his performance.
Documentarian Chris Marker and cinematographer Pierre Lhomme shot Le Joli Mai (Icarus, DVD, VOD), a portrait of Paris conducted through random interviews with ordinary citizens and minor celebrities on the streets in May, 1962, just after the cease-fire that ended the war in Algiers. With a portable handheld camera, they take an informal survey of what’s on the minds of a cross-section of Paris inhabitants while the film segues into more political territory for the final section. An early piece of direct cinema from an idiosyncratic filmmaker (Marker made this non-fiction epic concurrently with his experimental science-fiction short La Jetee), it’s quite a snapshot of a place and time and it comes to DVD after a new restoration and revival brought it back to American cinemas after fifty years. Simone Signoret narrates the English language version, but this edition also includes the original French soundtrack, with narration by Yves Montand. Both feature English subtitles. Check out Glenn Erickson’s review for more detail.
It’s a basically a tongue-in-cheek James Bond movie with globetrotting old pros proving that they aren’t too old for this s**t. They outsmart and out-act their younger counterparts while tracking down a weapon too dangerous to trust to governments (yet okay to for a paranoid nutcase like Malkovich, who carries around a stick of dynamite for emergencies), and for this one they are joined by Catherine Zeta-Jones (as a Soviet agent) and Anthony Hopkins (as the mad scientist who created the bomb). Korean star Byung-hun Lee makes a colorful addition to the cast and Neal McDonough, David Thewlis and Brian Cox co-star.
There’s a lot of big set pieces, crashing cars and explosions propping up a flimsy plot just so we can enjoy the company of these scene-stealing vets playing in the action movie sandbox. Willis tosses off quips with his lopsided grin, Malkovich mugs around like an escaped lunatic with an arsenal of booby traps and Mirren combines a gift for cold-blooded mayhem with regal authority: a class act in a silly, busy, loud comic book action movie. Which should tell you all you need to know about it.
This season, which opens in the fall of 2007, takes on the rebuilding of the city and the influx of outside money and insider politics to shape the city in a different image against the interests of many of the citizens. It also continues the series-long investigation into the cover-up of police misconduct in the weeks following the hurricane with Melissa Leo’s attorney taking on the police department, which forms the most dramatic story of the season.
But as before, this is a grand quilt of a show embracing all aspects of New Orleans life and culture, and creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer continue to offer a complex, politically-relevant show that explores the city by engaging with the culture and the controversies of New Orleans through the experiences of characters at all levels of society. Music plays a defining role in the series, and along with the rich array of New Orleans music (old-style jazz, R&B, rock and roll, brass brand, traditional chanting, and more) and the stories of musicians trying to sustain careers in difficult times, there are guest appearances by Fats Domino and the Neville Brothers, among others. And New Orleans food and restaurant culture is explored through the story of a chef (played by Kim Dickens), who returns home from New York this season to open a new restaurant with a partner she doesn’t completely trust in a storyline that was developed with Anthony Bourdain, who joined the show as a contributing writer this season. The ensemble also includes Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, handi Alexander, Rob Brown, David Morse, Jon Seda, and Steve Zahn, among others. A short fourth and final season will run on HBO at the end of 2013.
Ten episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus commentary on five episodes, select music commentary, and three featurettes. The Blu-ray includes two additional interactive features about the music and culture of New Orleans.Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 5 (Paramount, Blu-ray) opens with the conclusion of the Season Four cliffhanger that left the Klingon Empire hanging in the balance, brings back Denise Crosby as a cunning Romulan commander, guest stars Leonard Nimoy in the memorable two-part galaxy-threatening “Unification,” and concludes with another cliffhanger, this one involving Data’s decapitated head, Mark Twain, and a visit to 1890. Other highlights include the first appearance of the rebellious and angry loner “Ensign Ro”(Michelle Forbes), “The Game,” in which an addictive toy makes the Enterprise crew mind slaves but for Wesley and a guest starring Ashley Judd, and “I, Borg,” where the crew befriends an orphaned Borg soldier while plotting to infect the entire Borg colony with a virus. On the other hand, Worf’s son Alexander returns in this season (when will they learn: children and starships don’t mix!).
The familiar themes and formal elements are all here – the quiet, graceful formality of Ozu’s style, the “tatami mat position” of his camera (about 36 inches from the floor, as if viewed from the position of a person seated cross-legged on a floor mat), the themes of familial responsibility and sacrifice – executed with the sureness of a master at the peak of his powers. But it’s also a resolutely modern portrait of post-war Japan, where western fashion defines the business culture and traditional dress is reserved for home, and careers and success increasingly dominate the lives of the rising generation. The painterly images bring the past and present together and the still life compositions have a serenity contradicted by the collision of cultures. It is sublime and one of the masterpieces of Japanese cinema.
Previously available on DVD from Criterion, this new Blu-ray+DVD Combo is mastered from a new 4k film transfer and digital restoration, which upgrades the image significantly, and features commentary by Ozu scholar David Desser and three documentaries: the feature-length profile of the life and career of Ozu “I Lived, But” from 1983, the 40-minute tribute “Talking With Ozu” from 1993, and the 45-minute “Chishu Ryu and Shochiku’s Ofuna Studios” from 1988, all carried over from the previous DVD release. The accompanying booklet features an essay by critic David Bordwell (updated from the original version featured in the DVD release).Assault on Precinct 13: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) isn’t John Carpenter’s first feature but it’s the first real John Carpenter film, with his themes and sensibility in rough but recognizable form. Ostensibly an urban crime thriller of street gangs gone wild, it plays like a cross between a Howard Hawks western and a zombie siege film that meets in a desolate Los Angeles no man’s land of a nearly abandoned neighborhood. A small group of people—cops, criminals, civilians and office workers—find themselves suddenly under siege by a nearly faceless gang in a nearly vacant police station.
Carpenter turns his dingy set into a claustrophobic cage and builds the tension as the gang takes out the besieged members one by one, forcing the survivors into the corner for a last stand. The acting is hardly Oscar material, but Carpenter fills his characters with real character and his smart, dramatically strong sense of visual design and tight pacing pulls the film together as it continues. For all the exposition dealt out in the opening half hour, it’s become an almost abstract act of violence by the end, motivations long forgotten by the attackers and survival the only thought on the minds of the dwindling survivors. And this is Carpenter’s first film shot in Panavision, his format of choice for the rest of his career.
This isn’t documentary, it is historical pageant, with scenes staged for each room along the journey. We glide back and forth in time as we cross the threshholds from one room to another, moving from contemporary patrons appreciating the masterworks on the walls to a carpenter constructing coffins for the dead of World War I, from visits with Catherine the Great to eavesdropping on Cold War era curators discussing to the difficulties in preserving the heritage in the face of a Soviet government intent on rewriting history, and finally dancing through a 19th century ballroom in a finale suffused with a luxurious nostalgia that is as poignant as it is ambiguous.
Our guide is a spindly time traveler (Sergey Dreyden) who flits through history as if at home in other eras, and the camera is the kino-eye of our narrator (Sokurov himself). The handheld camera floats through the world as the distant observer, taking in grand long shots filled with figures or the cavernous spaces of sparsely populated rooms, and moves in to commune with the characters and take in the minute details of individual paintings and sculptures. It’s a delirious piece of cinema, a metaphor for the transporting power of artifacts and art and historical preservation to sweep us into the past, and a work of filmmaking as graceful as ballet. There is nothing else like this.
The screenplay (based on graphic novel) is silly, mind you, but no more so than most action films today and less so than many, and it’s packed with enough twists and turns and car chases and shoot-outs and explosions to keep the film careening in overdrive. But who knew that Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg would make such a fun buddy team without losing the essence of their screen charms? Denzel is wary and cagey, with an easy confidence and a quiet strength that suggests he’s always calculating his options and his odds, while Wahlberg is the earnest, boyish junior partner who throws himself into every situation with unflagging optimism and partner loyalty. They’re freelance crooks who hire out to drug kingpin Edward James Olmos, mind you, but in the company of such a corrupt collection of characters they look pretty good. That’s not the whole story, of course, and I won’t spoil it for you (it’s not all that surprising but it’s more fun to stumble across yourself), just let you know that the bank job they pull to double cross their own boss unleashes a lot of complications very quickly.
We’re not talking about Tarantino cleverness here, mind you, despite the flashback opening and the wise-guy banter, and director Baltasar Kormákur, an Icelandic import who previously directed Wahlberg in Contraband, doesn’t sweat the silliness, or the fact that there aren’t really any good guys to be had here. He just moves it along so fast that you don’t have time to ponder them. It has as runaway energy befitting a plot that seems to be spinning of control of our heroes (if we can call them that) and the energetic charge of seventies drive-in picture with better production values from a director who has a way with staging a set piece for maximum spectacle in minimalist environments.
Details on the supplements here, where you can also enter to win a copy of the Blu-ray+DVD Combo edition from Cinephiled.The World’s End (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD, On Demand), the third film in the “Cornetto” trilogy by friends and collaborators Edgar Wright (director and co-writer) and Simon Pegg (star and co-writer), is cheeky fun, another offbeat collision of genres, but this one leans heavier on the satire of Pegg’s disappointed loser than on genre satire. Pegg plays the classic BMOC, the popular kid with a gang of followers who peaked in college and never went anywhere once school ended and real life began. Now he wants to simply relive his glory days with his old buddies (Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan), the former followers who have moved on with their lives and left Pegg behind.
The film lives up to its title, which ostensibly refers to the final drinking establishment in “the golden mile,” a succession of twelve pubs in their old college town. But not too long into their pub crawl the film shifts into something else, a mix of body-snatcher invasion movie and last stand against an insidious invasion (between pints, of course). This is more ambitious than Wright and Pegg’s previous pairings, daring to go a little darker and take on the arrested adolescence and the frustrations of adult accommodation, and it’s far smarter than most of what passes for comedy in theaters today. I still prefer their first two films, with their manic energy and wicked satire, but there’s something surprisingly grounding in this film’s defiant cry of individualism in the face of conformity.