The Long Day Closes (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Dual Format) brings Terence Davies autobiographical films to close with the glow of the happiest days of his life. Set in mid-fifties Liverpool, this film covers a year or so in the life of Davies stand-in Bud (Leigh McCormack) a gentle, quiet schoolboy and the youngest in a loving family looked over by an affectionate widowed mother. There’s no traditional story to speak of. Rather, Davies offers snapshots of moments in his life at home, at school (where he is increasingly teased and bullied by bigger boys), at holiday celebrations (with neighbors singing and joking), and at the movies, where the camera lingers on his face, captivated by the screen, and we hear the soundtracks of such films as “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Great Expectations.” Though they clearly have little money, it’s a happy time of life for them and Davies presents it through the glow of warm memory, as if reliving it in his mind. This is a film of exacting textures and delicate moods, sustained in heavenly beams of light and the reflection of warm memories, and this edition, mastered from a restored 2K film transfer supervised by Davies and director of photography Michael Coulter, is astoundingly beautiful.
Features commentary by Davies and Coulter recorded in 2007, a 1992 episode of The South Bank Show profiling Davies and The Long Day Closes, and new interviews with executive producer Colin MacCabe and production designer Christopher Hobbs, plus a booklet with an essay by Criterion’s house writer Michael Koresky (who is also finishing a book on Terence Davies).
Also from Criterion is their Blu-ray upgrade of Jules and Jim (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Dual-Format), François Truffaut’s tale of friendship and love with and intense and reckless Jeanne Moreau between best friends Oskar Werner and Henri Serre, arriving the week that Truffaut would have turned 78. Criterion adds some new supplements to this newly-remastered release.
Million Dollar Baby: 10th Anniversary (Warner, Blu-ray) earned Clint Eastwood his second round of Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture (his first was for Unforgiven, of course), as well as Oscars for Best Actress Hilary Swank and Best Supporting Actor Morgan Freeman. Eastwood stars as Frankie, a craggy old boxing trainer and gym owner who lost his family years ago and now loses his best fighter out of paternal caution. Swank is 31-year-old boxing hopeful Maggie, a dreamer who was lost by her sorry family a long ago. He reluctantly takes her on as a pupil and they slowly become one another’s family, creating a father-daughter bond far stronger than any blood ties. Freeman, who also narrates, is the gym’s caretaker Scrap, a retired boxer who has no regrets. This understated, unpretentious, powerfully told drama is compassionate and affecting but it became the center of a controversy which distracted from the film’s real message: the power of the families we create when blood abandons us, and the sacrifices we make for that love.
The anniversary edition features the same HD video master but upgrades the soundtrack to DTS-HD MA 5.1 and adds two new supplements to the package: commentary by producer Albert Ruddy and “Million Dollar Baby: On the Ropes,” a 26-minute featurette with cast and filmmaker interviews (including Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and screenwriter Paul Haggis). Three featurettes from the previous release (including “James Lipton Takes on Three” with Eastwood, Swank and Freeman, interviewed the day after the 2004 Academy Awards) are carried over.
Justice League: War (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), based on “Justice League: Origins” by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee (which helped kick off the “New 52” reboot of the DC comic book heroes), reimagines the first meeting of the DC superhero stars: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and less obviously Shazam (aka Captain Marvel) and Cyborg. They fight the nihilistic Darkseid here, the most powerful of DC’s villains, but otherwise it follows the familiar “making of the super band” formula: a bunch of solo heroes have to get over themselves and their suspicions of those other guys and work like a team to save the world (and, in the process, their own public image). Quips are crammed in between the spats and battles (voice cast includes Alan Tudyk, Jason O’Mara, Michelle Monaghan, and Justin Kirk), but there’s not much resonance this time around, not after such superior, darker productions as “Batman: Year One,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox,” or the silver age rethink “Justice League: The New Frontier.” It works better as a prologue than an opening act. It’s the first of the DC Animated Universe originals to come from the reboot but likely not the last. In fact, this looks like the launch of a new, integrated DC Universe, just like in the Marvel live action series.
The DVD is a pretty bare bones affair (a two-disc special edition DVD is set for next month) butt the Blu-ray includes three featurettes (including a quasi-commentary “Deconstructing War” with comic artist and DC editor Jim Lee and director Jay Oliva talking over key scenes) and four vintage cartoons, plus a bonus DVD and digital copy among the supplements.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD) – Stage and screen legend John Barrymore takes on the good doctor and his vicious alter ego from the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel in this silent horror classic. Dignified and virtuous as Dr. Henry Jekyll, Barrymore transforms into id incarnate as the lascivious Mr. Hyde with almost no make-up beyond his gnarled, knobby fingers and greasy hair, relying almost solely on a bug-eyed grimace, a spidery body language, and pure theatrical flourish. He tends to be hammy as the leering beast of a thug but brings a tortured struggle to the repressed doctor, horrified at the demon he’s unleashed, guilty that he enjoys Hyde’s unrestrained life of drinking and whoring, and terrified that he can no longer control the transformations. John S. Robertson directs and Nita Naldi co-stars. Mastered in HD from archival 35mm elements, it features a score compiled by Rodney Sauer and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, a 15-minute digest version of the rival 1920 version of the film starring Sheldon Lewis, the 1925 Stan Laurel one-reel parody Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride, and a rare 1909 audio recording of “The Transformation Scene.”
The April Fools (Paramount, DVD) stars Jack Lemmon as the white collar everyman dutifully climbing the corporate ladder until a chance meeting with a French beauty (Catherine Deneuve) at a cocktail party brings home how hollow his life (complete with a social-climbing wife, played by Sally Kellerman) has become. The 1969 satire is another in a long line of sixties films about middle class rebels and has a promising start, thanks largely to the stars and to Stuart Rosenberg’s light touch at satirizing New York society pretentiousness, but it veers into loud, broad comedy. Lemmon is charming as the earnest but out-of-step stockbroker who rebels against the empty values of corporate culture and Deneuve, in her first American film, is lovely but largely enigmatic as the trophy wife of a womanizing CEO (Peter Lawford). The Apartment explored similar themes with more wit and insight and but the two stars are likable as they underplay their plight amidst the craziness. No supplements.
It arrives along with two other Paramount releases from the era: The War Between Men And Women (Paramount, DVD) with Lemmon and Barbara Harris and Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (Paramount, DVD) with Dustin Hoffman.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (Fox, Blu-ray) – Ingrid Bergman is Gladys Aylward, an English maid turned Christian missionary in pre-WWII China, in the Mark Robson directed adaptation of the Alan Burgess novel “The Small Woman,” which was inspired by Aylward’s real life story. Her commitment and determination to save souls and lives in the face of Japan’s imminent invasion wins the respect of the local Mandarin (Robert Donat, continuing the tradition of Caucasians in make-up) and the heart of a Eurasion military colonel (Curt Jurgens). It was Donat’s final film appearance and Robson earned an Oscar nomination for his direction. Features commentary by film historians Nick Redman and Aubrey Solomon and Ingrid Bergman biographer Donald Spoto, Movietone newsreels from the film premiere, and a restoration comparison.
Nicholas Sparks Limited Edition DVD Collection (Warner, DVD) boxes up seven films based on the tear-jerker romances of Sparks just in time for Valentines Day, starting with the very first big screen Sparks adaptation: Message In A Bottle (1999) with Kevin Costner, Robin Wright and Paul Newman. The casts get younger with A Walk to Remember (2002), starring Mandy Moore, and straddles two generations in The Notebook (2004), basically introduced Ryan Gosling to the world and co-stars Rachel McAdams, James Garner and Gena Rowlands. And there’s Nights in Rodanthe (2008) with Richard Gere and Diane Lane (on an old two-sided disc with full screen on one side), Dear John (2010) with Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, The Lucky One (2012) with Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling, and Safe Haven (2013) with Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel. It’s collected in a single volume, seven discs on hinged trays in an oversized case.
Shout Factory upgrades two eighties horror films from director Kevin Tenney in new combo packs: Witchboard (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) and Night of the Demons: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) both come with two commentary tracks by the director and members of the cast and crew, generous new making-of featurettes (“You’re Invited: The Making of Night of the Demons” runs over 70 mintes!) and other supplements.
Also getting the combo treatment, but without the extras, is the double-feature The Beast of Hollow Mountain / The Neanderthal Man (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), a pair of drive-in sci-fi/horror hybrid B-movies from the 1950s, the former with Guy Madison and Patricia Medina and a story by Willis O’Brien, the latter with Robert Shayne and Beverly Garland.
Death Wish: 40th Anniversary (Warner, Blu-ray) also debuts on Blu-ray, along with Two Weeks Notice (Warner, Blu-ray) and City of Angels (Warner, Blu-ray).