A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD, Netflix), written and directed by California-based and Iranian-born filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour, is a genre film with a fresh approach and a distinctive cultural texture: a vampire movie from a female director who stirs American movie references into her stylized Iranian street drama.
The Girl (as she is identified in the credits), played by Sheila Vand (Argo), walks the streets (and at one point rides a skateboard) of the ominously-named Bad City in a chador, but underneath wears a striped blouse that could have been borrowed from Jean Seberg in Breathless and her basement room is adorned in pop music posters. Arash (Arash Marandi), the son of a heroin addict father in debt to a drug-dealing pimp, seems to model himself on James Dean, right down to the white T-shirt, black leather jacket and blue jeans. (The pimp, meanwhile, who fashions himself an East LA gangbanger.) Of course they cross paths and The Girl, who exercises a measure of morality in choosing her meals, allows him to woo her. Why not? They’ve both already robbed the same gangster (she took jewelry and his CDs, he grabbed the cash and the drugs).
Shot in high-contrast black-and-white widescreen almost entirely at night, A Girl Walks Home is like an Iranian film noir by way of a crime drama with supernatural edges. Amirpour uses the widescreen format to present a stripped-away landscape, devoid of bystanders (giving it a ghost town atmosphere) and prowled by predators, criminals, hookers, and other society drop-outs. It was produced in the United States, with night-shrouded California locations transformed into the suburbs and industrial outskirts of an Iranian town by the loaded name of Bad City and a cast speaking Farsi, and financed in a decidedly American manner: production funds were raised in an IndieGoGo campaign. And there are also two rather familiar Persian-American faces in supporting roles: Marshall Manesh (Ranjit in How I Met Your Mother) and Pej Vahdat (Arastoo Vaziri in Bones). The brief glimpse of nudity will likely keep it from screening in Iran but had a good festival run and a theatrical release.
Blu-ray and DVD, in Farsi with English subtitles, with a substantial collection of featurettes, including an onstage Q&A with director Ana Lily Amirpour conducted by Roger Corman and an interview with Amirpour and actress Sheila Vand, plus deleted scenes and a booklet with a graphic novel version of the film.
It’s previously been available through Cable On Demand and VOD and it is now also available to stream on Netflix.
See the trailer at the end of the post.
Escape from New York: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) – “Plissken? I heard you were dead.” “Call me Snake.” Maybe it’s not John Carpenter’s best film, but it’s one of his most fun and the premise is irresistible: in the future, Manhattan has been turned into a high security island prison and Liberty Island is the guard station. When Air Force One is hijacked by an American revolutionary outfit (this may be what the future looks like from 1981, but these yahoos look more like holdovers from the early seventies), the American President (Donald Pleasance) crash lands in the middle of no man’s land and becomes a bargaining chip for the reigning king of the outlaws (Isaac Hayes), who runs the place like a gangland Godfather.
Kurt Russell hisses out a B-movie Clint Eastwood impression as Snake Plissken, a one-time war hero turned notorious criminal and his arrival at Liberty Island in cuffs makes him the only hope they have of rescuing POTUS before very bad things start to happen. What exactly isn’t important. It’s a deadline that Plissken has to meet if he wants out alive, which is how head of security Lee Van Cleef, Plissken’s nemesis turned wary ally by circumstance, guarantees his cooperation. As he navigates the feral streets to rescue the President, he picks up a motley, not completely trustworthy crew (including Harry Dean Stanton as the weaselly Brain, Adrienne Barbeau as his pistol-packing lover, and Ernest Borgnine as a big-band loving cabbie). But Russell is the revelation. He was best known for Disney comedies at the time and Carpenter had to push the studio to accept him in the lead. He delivers.
Carpenter’s dark, garbage-strewn streets lit by bonfires and headlights makes for inspired art direction and his synthesizer score is suitably minimalist and moody. Shot for a song in the rougher parts of St. Louis (doubling for the Big Apple) with simple but bold model work (some of it created by James Cameron in his Roger Corman days) and striking computer graphics, it’s a hoot, yet behind the colorful personalities of the prison yard gang is a sardonic crack about the state of modern urban America lost to poverty, runaway crime, and gangs that rule the inner city. This really was a product of its time.
Escape from New York is both a marvelously scruffy film and a well-produced piece of dystopian cinema superbly shot by Dean Cundey in Carpenter’s beloved Panavision widescreen. The new 2k digital master, scanned from the inter-positive struck from the original negative, doesn’t take anything away from that. It gives shows the squalor in much greater detail, and the clarity helps give definition to the nocturnal imagery. This is, after all, a film that takes place mostly on the streets at night.
MGM released the film on Blu-ray a couple of year ago but it was a bare-bones affair with none of the extras from the terrific DVD special editions. This two-disc edition features the two previously available commentary tracks—a thoroughly entertaining track with director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell chatting away like old (“By the way, both of our ex-wives are in the movie”) and a second track by producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves covering more technical material—plus a third newly-recorded commentary track with co-star Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey, looking back with over thirty years’ hindsight. Barbeau has a lot of affection for the film and for Carpenter, to whom she was married at the time.
There are also five new interview featurettes on the second disc. “Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape from New York” featuring interviews with visual effect DP Dennis Skotak and matte artist Robert Skotak, “Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with Composer Alan Howarth” (who collaborated with Carpenter on the score), “On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape from New York” with still photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, “I Am Taylor: An Interview with Actor Joe Unger,” and “My Night on Set: An Interview with Filmmaker David DeCoteau.”
Carried over from the previous DVD release are the complete ten-minute robbery sequence that Carpenter cut from the film (it was meant to be the opening scene) with optional commentary by Carpenter and Russell, the vintage promotion featurette “Return to Escape From New York,” trailers, and a gallery of stills, posters, and promotional art.
The River (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – After a frustrating tenure with Hollywood, Jean Renoir decided to return home to France, but he took a detour before his homecoming and made his magnificent color feature debut with a multinational production in India. Based on the memoirs of Rumer Godden, The River follows the story of three teenaged girls (British Patricia Walters, American Adrienne Corri, and half-Indian Radha) coming of age in 1920s Bengali. Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, and Arthur Shields are the adults. Shot entirely on location in India by Claude Renoir, it is a gorgeous and graceful film, a melancholy meditation on the flow of life. It is one of his most lyrical and serene features
Criterion originally released the film on DVD in 2004, mastered from a new restoration by the Academy Film Archive (in part funded by The Film Foundation). This Blu-ray debut and new DVD edition has been remastered in HD from the same restoration. The colors are about the same but it has improved clarity and sharpness.
New to this edition is the hour-long documentary Around the River, an English language production from 2008 made by Arnaud Mandagaran, and the new video essay Jean Renoir: A Passage Through India by writer Paul Ryan. Carried over from Criterion’s fire DVD release in 2004 is the eight-minute introduction to film by Jean Renoir, a 2004 video interview with director Martin Scorsese discussing the restoration, and excerpts from a 2000 audio interview with producer Ken McEldowney. There’s also the trailer and a fold-out leaflet with an essay by film scholar Ian Christie and notes by Renoir.
Silent Ozu – Three Crime Dramas (Eclipse 42) (Criterion, DVD) is an apt companion piece to Criterion’s set of silent Ozu comedies through their Eclipse line. It’s a triple feature of Ozu noir, so to speak, though these films—Walk Cheerfully (1930), That Night’s Wife (1930), and Dragnet Girl (1933)—are more intimate character pieces than the violent spectacles of their American cousins. Review to come.
Fortitude (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD), a British-American co-production set on a remote Norwegian island in the Arctic circle, shot largely on location in Iceland, and featuring an international cast, begins as a murder mystery and turns into something closer to biological horror. The town of Fortitude is called “the safest place on Earth” for its almost non-existent crime (the local cops are kept busy with search and rescue operations) and the island governor (Danish actress Sofie Gråbøl) has announced a new multi-million dollar project to attract tourists when a local biologist (Christopher Eccleston) is discovered brutally murdered in his home. As the island Sheriff (Richard Dormer) fumbles around the investigation, Britain sends their own man, an American working for Scotland Yard (Stanley Tucci), to “help” with the case, which puts everyone’s backs up. In this town, it seems everyone has dark secrets and ulterior motives. What makes it different from other British small town mysteries is that no one really cares about those pasts. Fortitude is a place where people start again and no one asks questions.
Tucci is not the star per se—he’s not even necessarily the first among equals in the ensemble—but he stands out in an excellent cast as a guarded professional whose appearance on the island is so sudden that the locals wonder how British authorities found out so fast and why they fast-tracked their man into the case. There’s a ruthless drive under his cool-headed exterior—he puts a kid through unimaginable pain to ask questions that may not even help the investigation—that sets him even farther afield of the locals, who all have their issues but are always protective of their own. Dormer’s gruff Sheriff is both protagonist and suspect and his hostility to Tucci’s DCI just makes him more suspicious. The island Governor is equally suspect as she courts investors for the island’s proposed glacier hotel, a project potentially threatened by a report that the murdered biologist was working up.
This show has a big cast and a lot of stories, including a young boy whose mysterious illness may be connected to a recently uncovered fossil and the sudden spate of polar bear attacks. The discovery of an ancient parasite, released from the frozen remains of prehistoric creatures by opportunistic fossil hunters, turns the murder mystery into a biological thriller with horror movie dimensions: this parasite turns its hosts violent before killing them. Call it Nordic Noir, with dark shadows of suspicion in a blinding white landscape. It features a superb cast (Michael Gambon, Luke Treadaway, Sienna Guillory, and Verónica Echegui also stand out), a novel setting, a slow-burn mystery, and a fascinating story that roots the viral horror in a real world setting.
The series is a production of Britain’s Sky Atlantic that played in the U.S. on the cable channel Pivot, which few people are even aware of, let alone watch. So even with uniformly good reviews, this show hasn’t been seen much stateside. This disc release is the first chance many viewers will have to see the show. A second series has been announced.
12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus a half-hour featurette on the making of the series with cast and crew interviews. The four discs are stacked two-per-tray on a short spindle.
Also new and notable:
Cake (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), starring Jennifer Aniston as a woman dealing with chronic pain and addiction issues, was supposed to be her bid for Oscar glory but she had to settle for a Golden Globe nomination.
Taken 3 (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) sends Liam Neeson back into action when his family is once again targeted, and this time he’s out for revenge. Or something like that.
Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (Strand, DVD, VOD) is a Spanish road movie about an English teacher (Javier Cámara) who, in 1966, heads off to Almeria with the hopes of meeting John Lennon and picks up two hitchhiking runaways along the way.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
On Friday, April 24, two new films arrive on Cable On Demand the same day they debut in theaters. Adult Beginners stars Nick Kroll and Rose Byrne as grown siblings reunited when his start-up goes belly-up and he moves in with his married sister, where he becomes the live-in nanny for her three-year-old son.
The comic caper film The Forger stars John Travolta as a veteran thief and art forger who wants to pull one last job as a family affair with his father (Christopher Plummer) and son (Tye Sheridan) as his heist crew.
And on VOD on Friday, same day as theaters, is the cross-dressing comedy After the Ball (VOD) with Portia Doubleday.
Classics and Cult:
Breakin’ / Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Blind Woman’s Curse (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray, DVD)
Little Sister (Zusje) (Facets, DVD)
Ghoulies / Ghoulies II (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
The Wicked Lady (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Blue Sky (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Cooley High (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Dance With Me, Henry (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Firewalker (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bio-Dome (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Doc (Timeless, DVD)
TV on disc:
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Series (Cinedigm, DVD, Digital HD)
The Mystery of Lord Lucan (Acorn, DVD)
New Tricks: Season 11 (Acorn, DVD)
Nature: The Last Orangutan Eden (PBS, DVD)
Everly (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hit By Lightning (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Little Accidents (Anchor Bay, DVD)
Like Sunday, Like Rain (Monterey, DVD, VOD)
Deep in the Darkness (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bleaching Black Culture (Cinedigm, DVD, VOD)
One Million Dubliners (Kino Lorber)
Mysteries of the Unseen World (Virgil, Blu-ray 3D+2D, DVD)
Aftermath (Freestyle, DVD, VOD)
Sweet Lorraine (Garden Thieves, DVD, VOD) Thursday, April 23
Supremacy (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Marine 4: Moving Target (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
First Period (Screen Media, DVD)
Jonah Lives (Wild Eye, DVD)
Where is the Love (Alchemy, DVD)
The Walking Deceased (ARC, DVD)
Spyfall (Camp Motion Pictures, DVD, Digital)
Kill, Granny, Kill! (Camp Motion Pictures, DVD, Digital)