Saturday, December 03, 2016
Saturday Night at the Movies
Blu Xmas: Best re-issues of 2016, Part 1
By Dennis Hartley
Since it’s now post Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Tuesday Afternoon and Wednesday Morning 3am, I thought I’d toss out gift ideas, with my picks for the best Blu-ray reissues of 2016. But first, a gentle reminder. Any time of year you click a link from this weekly feature as a portal to purchase any Amazon item, you help your favorite starving bloggers get a nickel or two in the creel. Most titles are released concurrent with an SD edition, so if you don’t have a Blu-ray player, don’t despair. So here you go…in alphabetical order:
Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years (Apple Deluxe Edition) – I missed the (limited) theatrical run of Ron Howard’s 2016 Beatles documentary because I was sidelined by knee replacement surgery, but happily the powers-that-be have expedited its release to home video just in time for Christmas. As a Beatle freak who has seen just about every bit of Fab Four documentary/concert footage extant, I approached Howard’s film with a bit of trepidation (especially with all the pre-release hype about “previously unseen” footage and such) but was nonetheless pleased (if not necessarily enlightened) by what he’s managed to put together here. The title pretty much says it all; this is not their entire story, but rather a retrospective of the Beatles’ career from the Hamburg days through their final tour in 1966. As I inferred, you likely won’t learn anything new (this is a well-trod path), but the performance clips are enhanced by newly restored footage and remixed audio. Despite the familiar material, Howard makes the nostalgic wallow feel fresh and fun. The Deluxe Edition is worth the investment for fans; in fact, I found the bonus features more interesting than the main film! The 64-page booklet caps this set off nicely.
The Man Who Fell To Earth 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Studio Canal Region “B” Blu-ray*) – If there was ever a film and a star that were made for each other, it was director Nicolas Roeg’s mind-blowing 1976 adaptation of Walter Tevis’ novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the late great David Bowie. Several years after retiring his “Ziggy Stardust” stage persona, Bowie was coaxed back to the outer limits to inhabit Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien from a drought-stricken planet who crash-lands on Earth. Gleaning our planet as a water source, Newton formulates a long-range plan for transporting the precious resource back to his home world. In the interim, he becomes an enigmatic hi-tech magnate (kind of makes you wonder where Bill Gates really came from). A one-of-a-kind film, with excellent supporting performances from Candy Clark, Rip Torn and Buck Henry. The Studio Canal Edition has a gorgeous new 4K transfer, a second disc packed with extras, and a bonus CD of “Papa” John Phillips’ soundtrack. Lionsgate will be releasing the domestic version of this set in January; it’s currently available for pre-order on Amazon at a decent discount (click on title above for details).
*Note: Region “B” requires a region-free Blu-ray player (but they’re getting cheaper!).
Only Yesterday (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) – Written and directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies), this is one of Studio Ghibli’s more understated animes (as well as one of its most visually breathtaking). A woman in her late 20s takes a train ride through the countryside and reflects on the choices she has made throughout her life, from childhood onward. It is a poetic and moving humanist study that I would hold up alongside the best work of Ozu. The disc includes several “behind the scenes” mini-docs.
To Live and Die in L.A. Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory) – Essentially a remake of The French Connection (updated for the 80s), this fast-moving, tough-as-nails neo noir from director William Friedkin ignites the senses on every level: visual, aural and visceral. Fueled by an outstanding soundtrack by Wang Chung, Friedkin's vision of L.A. is painted in contrasts of dusky orange and strikingly vivid reds and blacks; an ugly/beautiful noir Hell rendered by ace DP Robby Muller (who has worked extensively with Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch). Leads William Peterson (as an obsessed treasury agent) and Willem Dafoe (as his criminal nemesis) really tear up the screen with star-making performances (both were relative unknowns). While the narrative adheres to many familiar “cop on the edge” tropes, there’s an undercurrent of weirdness throughout that makes this a truly unique genre entry (“The stars are God’s eyes!” Peterson’s girlfriend shrieks at him at one point, for no apparent reason). Friedkin co-adapted the screenplay with source novel author Gerald Petievich. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray sports a print sourced from a new 4K scan that is a noticeable improvement over MGM’s from a couple years back, as well as new and archival interviews with cast, crew and composers.
Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy (The Criterion Collection Box Set) – From the early 1970s onward, few names have become as synonymous with the “road movie” genre as German film maker Wim Wenders. Paris, Texas and Until the End of the World are probably the most well-known examples of his mastery in capturing not only the lure of the open road, but in laying bare all the disparate human emotions that spark wanderlust. But fairly early in his career, he made a 3-film cycle (all starring his favorite leading man Rudiger Vogler) that, while much lesser-known, easily stands with the best of the genre. Criterion has reissued all three of these previously hard to find titles in a wonderful box set. 1974’s Alice in the Cities (my personal favorite of the three) stars Vogler as a journalist who is reluctantly saddled into temporary stewardship of a precocious 9 year-old girl. His mission to get her to her grandmother’s house turns into quite the European travelogue (the relationship that develops between the two in the course of their journey is very reminiscent of Paper Moon). In Wrong Move (1975), Vogler is a writer in existential crisis, who hooks up with several other travelers who also carry their share of mental baggage (it’s the darkest of the trilogy; Wenders based it on a Goethe novel). Kings of the Road (1976) is a Boudu Saved from Drowning-type tale with Vogler as a travelling film projector repairman who happens to be in the right place at the right time when a profoundly depressed psychologist (Hanns Zischler) decides to end it all by driving his VW into a river. The two travelling companions are slow to warm up to each other, but they have plenty of time to develop a friendship at 2 hours and 55 minutes (i.e., the film may try the patience of some viewers). If you can stick with it, though, you’ll find it rewarding…it “grows on you”. All three films have been given the usual meticulous Criterion restoration, showcasing Robby Muller’s beautiful cinematography.
2016 Blu-ray reissues previously reviewed and also recommended:
Dr. Strangelove (Criterion Collection)
The Manchurian Candidate (Criterion Collection)
Culloden (BFI Region “B” Blu-ray)
More reviews at Den of Cinema
digby 12/03/2016 05:00:00 PM