Flicker Alley releases two more collections of classic silent comedies. Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies 1916-1917 (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD) collects the greatest run of comedy shorts in Chaplin’s career in newly restored and remastered editions, and The Mack Sennett Collection: Vol. One (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray) collects 50 comedy shorts from Sennett’s studios, from 1909 to 1933 and his early sound comedies. I’ll be exploring these in a later feature but until then, know that these are superb editions.
Favorites of the Moon: 30th Anniversary Edition (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, is a deadpan satire of modern life and social hypocrisy with characters, rich and poor alike, from a lively Paris suburb whose lives criss-cross and tangle with one another.
There’s a pompous police chief who spies on citizens and plays at high society sophistication, a jealous weapons expert who fixes handcuffs for Paris policemen and sells bombs to terrorists when he’s not stalking his girlfriend, a robber teaching his young son the business, a schoolteacher with a streak of anarchy, prostitutes, hobos, and others winding through the stories. Along with the location, the characters are connected by a painting and a set of fine porcelain dishes that were created in the 18th century and are sold, stolen, and otherwise passed around through the comic episodes.
There is no central story. It’s really more of a busy set of actions that wind back around and mirror each other in comic portraits of hypocrisy, and it is practically wordless for most of the running time, with few dialogue scenes and the action playing out as a cheeky silent comedy. It’s directed by Russian ex-patriate filmmaker Otar Iosseliani, who clearly prefers the streetwise criminals to the corrupt rich and middle-class folks, for they at least have no illusions about what they do. Co-writer Gerard Brach was a regular collaborator with Roman Polanski, Jean-Jacques Annaud, and Claude Berri, but this is more reminiscent of the later films of Luis Bunuel: densely-woven, satirical, whimsical, deadpan, and utterly savage in the way it undercuts the pretensions of its characters. The cast is a mix of professionals and non-actors, including the debut of future French screen star Mathieu Amalric.
In French with English subtitles, with commentary by film critic Philip Lopate, who seems to be winging it through the track. Clearly he’s a sharp critic who knows his subject, and he has some interesting insights, but it could have used a little more organization. Also comes with an accompanying booklet with and essay by Giovanni Vimercati.
See the trailer below.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD), Alfonso Cuaron’s return to Mexico after his initial sojourn in Hollywood, recharged his ambitions and his creative juices. Ostensibly a coming of age drama by way of a sex comedy, it’s vivid, thoughtful, political and unapologetically raw. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna star as best friends, two sex obsessed, dope smoking teenage boys who head for a (fictional) hidden beach with a sexy, worldly, and older (than them, anyway) Spanish woman (Maribel Verdu).
Working class Bernal and rich kid Luna are utterly unselfconscious in their portrayal of boys on their last blast of irresponsible fun, bringing just a touch of tension to their screen friendship, while Verdu emerges as the heart and soul of the picture. Under her smiling front of confidence and fun-loving impulsiveness she is sad and lost and she thrives on the unbridled energy and naïve innocence of the immature, cocky, sex mad boys. Her sexual favors are not favors at all, but a desperate attempt to lose herself, if only for a few moments, in simple physical pleasure (and brief it is, much to her unfulfilled frustration).
Framing the giddy teenage explosion of energy are the comments of an omniscient narrator, whose ironic insights offer background color and flash-forward reality checks, while the political and social tensions of modern day Mexico are glimpsed in the periphery of their road trip. That’s a lot to cram into a coming of age film and Cuaron does it deftly, thoughtfully, and with sharp, aggressive style, and it feels honest. As Luisa tells the boys, “Sometimes you’re complete a**holes, but basically you’re both pretty cool guys.” Like all road movies, this is a journey to self, and Cuaron both celebrates and mourns the passing of their youth. His next film was a very different kind of coming of age tale: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Criterion’s special edition is available in Blu-ray+DVD Dual Format and two-disc DVD only editions, both mastered from a new, restored 2K digital film transfer supervised by director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki and approved by director Alfonso Cuarón, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. There are two new featurettes on the making of the film with new and archival interviews with director Alfonso Cuaron, director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, cowriter Carlos Cuaron, and actors Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, and Maribel Verdu. “Then” is shorter and features interviews recorded during the production of the film and “Now,” which runs about 40 minutes, looks back on the film with all new interviews conducted for this piece. Also new is a short interview with philosopher Slavoj Zizek discussing the politics and themes of the film.
Carried over from the DVD release a decade ago is the short film You Owe Me One (2002) by Carlos Cuarón, a lighthearted Spanish-language documentary shot on the set of the production, and three deleted scenes. The accompanying booklet features essay by critic Charles Taylor and character biographies by co-writer Carlos Cuarón.
Also new from Criterion is John Cassavetes’ Love Streams (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD) and Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, DVD), both with supplements and booklets.
Man Hunt (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) – Fritz Lang, whose mother was Jewish, fled Nazi Germany in the early thirties. The true story is mired in legend, but the short version is that Lang went to France and then to Hollywood while his wife Thea von Harbou stayed behind and joined the Nazi propaganda machine. Lang made the first of many anti-Nazi dramas in 1941, before the rest of Hollywood had geared up for movies about the war. This thriller, based on a novel by Geoffrey Household, is a twist on “The Most Dangerous Game,” only this time the game is Hitler and the apolitical big game hunter, one Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon), is captured and tortured by the Gestapo (embodied by George Sanders at his most arrogant). The grueling escape and paranoid existence as he hides out from Nazi spies back in English transform Thorndike into a patriot. It is a vivid thriller and Lang is more interested in the personal journey than the political message, yet they twine nicely here as Lang twists the stakes of Thorndike’s ordeal. Joan Bennett, in the first of her four leading roles in Lang films, is the cockney streetwalker (they can’t actually say so but the implication is clear) who helps him hide out in London, and John Carradine is superb as sinister Nazi agent shadowing Thorndike through England.
The Blu-ray debut features, of course, Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score (which is by Alfred Newman, the music director for 20th Century Fox), plus supplements carried over from the earlier DVD release: commentary by Lang biographer Patrick McGilligan and the featurette “Rogue Male: The Making of Man Hunt.” And there is a booklet with another fine essay by Julie Kirgo (I am so jealous of that gig!).
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume 3 (Warner, Blu-ray) collects 50 more animated shorts from the golden age of Warner Bros. cartoons on two Blu-ray discs. As in the first two volumes, it’s a curated collection of the best, the most unusual, and the stand-out releases from the studio. Bug Bunny dominates once again, including “Hair-Raising Hare” (with a Peter Lorre parody and “such an innnn-teresting monster”), “Slick Hare” (with Elmer Fudd serving animated Bogart and Bacall caricatures), and the bullfight farce “Bully For Bugs,” plus plenty of Daffy, Porky, Sylvester, and Tweety shorts, the terrific Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog cartoon “Steal Wool,” and stand-alones like “High Note” (a note on a page of music gets drunk and wanders all over the staff) and “Nelly’s Folly” (with a singing giraffe), both of which were nominated for an Oscar. Fans still don’t get their complete collection but it’s another stand-out selection.
There is commentary on just over half of the cartoons and the wealth of supplements (all in standard definition) includes the 2008 feature-length documentary Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices, the 1975 made-for-TV documentary The Boys from Termite Terrace and the new half-hour That’s All Folks! Tales from Termite Terrace, plus addition short documentaries and “Behind the Tunes” featurettes.
Batman: Assault on Arkham (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), the latest in the superb run of DC Universe Original Movies, isn’t really a Batman story. This intnroduces the Suicide Squad, a team of supervillains recruited by the government and sent on missions too dangerous for their own agents (with the threat of instant death by remote control as incentive to stay on mission). Deadshot (voiced by Neal McDonough) takes the lead here, a villain with heroic tendencies and a dedicated patriot who takes the mission seriously, if only out of professional pride. His team includes Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang, King Shark, Black Spider and Harley Quinn, who is completely unhinged, and their target is The Riddler (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler), who threatens to sell of state secrets. Kevin Conroy, who first voiced Batman in the animated series of the 1990s, returns to the role and Troy Baker takes on The Joker for this chapter.
This is the first DC Universe Original Movie that is not based on a run of comics but rather on a video game. Nonetheless, it maintains the high quality of previous direct-to-disc animated superhero features and it embraces the PG-13 with some gnarly violence (one character gets his head blown off) and scenes of sexual activity.
The Blu-ray and DVD special editions include a featurette on Harley Quinn, bonus animated episodes of the TV shows “Justice League Unlimited,” “Young Justice,” “The Brave and the Bold,” and “The Batman,” and a sneak peak at the upcoming DCU animated feature “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.” The Blu-ray also includes commentary and the featurette “Arkham Analyzed: The Secrets Behind the Asylum.”
Also new and notable:
Magnificent Doll (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) and That’s My Man (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) offer the home video debuts of two features directed by Frank Borzage. More on these in a later column.
We Won’t Grow Old Together (Kino Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) is the American home video debut of Maurice Pialat’s 1972 drama with Marlène Jobert and Jean Yanne.
Riff Raff / Raining Stones (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) is a double feature of naturalistic comedies with social commentary from filmmaker Ken Loach, the former about construction workers in London (the accents are so thick that it played with subtitles in American theaters), that latter about a financially-strapped father trying to buy a dress for his daughter’s First Communion. Also from Twilight Time is The Secret of Santa Vittoria (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), a World War II comedy with Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani. Both feature Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
The second wave of Kino Lorber Studio Classics starts rolling out. It includes John Huston’s western The Unforgiven (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn, William Wyler’s The Children’s Hour (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) with Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine, and two Charles Bronson action thrillers: Breakheart Pass (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD), based on the Alistair MacLean’s western-era conspiracy adventure, and Mr. Majestyk (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD), from an original screenplay by Elmore Leonard.
Tinto Brass: Maestro of Erotic Cinema Four-Disc Set (Cult Epics, Blu-ray) collects four features from the 21st century—Cheeky! (2000), Black Angel (2002), Private (2003) and Monamour (2005) plus the documentary Tinto Brass: Master of Erotic Cinema—packed into a Blu-ray case with a thick booklet featuring an interview with the director and a detailed filmography.
Motel Hell: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack) gives the special edition treatment to the cult horror comedy about a hotel proprietor (Rory Calhoun) who turns his guests into ingredients in his smoked meat business. New to this edition is commentary by director Kevin Connor (moderated by filmmaker Dave Parker), the interview featurette “It Takes All Kinds: The Making of Motel Hell,” and an interview with cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth, with additional supplements carried over from the previous DVD release.
Also new from the Scream Factory line is the underwater horror Leviathan (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) with Peter Weller and Richard Crenna. It includes bonus interviews.
The Toxic Avenger (Troma, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) celebrates its 30th anniversary with a Blu-ray debut. Mastered from a new high-definition master, it features new commentary by the stars, a new introduction by director Lloyd Kaufman, and new video interviews with actors Jennifer Babtist and Mark Torgel, along with the supplements (including Kaufman’s original commentary track) carried over from the previous DVD release.
Also from Troma is the Blu-ray debut of Bloodsucking Freaks (Troma, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), also with new supplements, including commentary by and an interview with filmmaker Eli Roth and previously unseen footage.
Turtle Power: The History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount, DVD, VOD, Digital HD) is timed for the Michael Bay big screen feature reboot but this is about the scruffy beginnings and unexpected success of the indie comic book that leapt into TV, movies, toys and other merchandising.
Like Water For Chocolate (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, Digital HD)
The Girl in a Swing (Scorpion / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Careful, He Might Hear You (Scorpion / Kino Lorber, DVD)
A Summer Story (Scorpion / Kino Lorber, DVD)
The Flintstones (1994) (Universal, Blu-ray)
Hercules: Special Edition (1997) (Disney, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Tarzan: Special Edition (1999) (Disney, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks: Special Edition (Disney, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers (Disney, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (Disney, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Rush Hour 2 (Warner, Blu-ray)
The Avengers (1998) (Warner, Blu-ray)
War Films Triple Feature: Attack / Attack on the Iron Coast / Beach Red (Shout Factory, DVD)
The Wild Geese (Severin, DVD)
Santa Sangre (single-disc edition) (Severin, DVD)
Escape to Grizzly Mountain (Shout Factory, DVD)
Black Angel (2002) (Cult Epics, Blu-ray)
DEVO: The Men Who Make The Music (MVD, DVD)
Grindhouse Trailer Classics Volume 1 (Intervision, DVD)
Mondo Magic (Massacre Video, DVD)
Sorceress (Scorpion / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Martial Arts Movie Marathon Vol. 2 (Shout Factory, DVD)
Tropic of Desire / Fantasy World (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Purely Physical / Cathouse Fever (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Cry Wilderness / In Search of Bigfoot (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
Ultimate Pleasure / I Am Always Ready (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection Vol. 4 (Impulse, DVD)