Here’s what’s new to DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD this week.
This hefty 13-disc set—which includes six features and four shorts by the great French director Jacques Demy, two films by his equally great widow Agnès Varda, and countless essays, interviews, and behind-the-scenes documentaries—is the kind release that has made Criterion into the closest thing DVD labels have to a household name. It’s easier to quibble with what’s been left out (Demy’s best short, the fire-engine-red Jean Cocteau adaptation, Le Bel Indifférent, is notably absent) than what’s included, since the set happens to feature two of the greatest musicals ever made in Europe—The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg and the almost unbearably catchy, pastel-colored The Young Girls Of Rochefort—along with the first-ever U.S. release of Demy’s class-conscious 1982 operetta Une Chambre En Ville. Though Michel Colombier’s score for Une Chambre pales in comparison to the work of Demy’s regular composer Michel Legrand (who scored the other five features in this set), the film itself is a singular achievement, crossing garish, colorful stylization with literary melodrama. Also included are Demy’s fairy tale Donkey Skin, his striking debut, Lola, and his best non-musical, Bay Of Angels, a psychologically astute study of compulsive gamblers.
Abbas Kiarostami’s 1999 masterpiece was previously available on a blurry, sepia-toned New Yorker DVD, which had been sourced from an unconverted PAL transfer that made the movie look like it had been shot on video and then wrapped in a cheesecloth. The Cohen Film Collection’s sharp new Blu-ray is a long overdue upgrade, restoring clarity and color (the skies here are actually blue) to the movie’s long landscape shots. Kiarostami’s work gains power through context, which makes the included commentary—by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Kiarostami superfan Jonathan Rosenbaum—a must.
Though The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (Kino Lorber)—Billy Wilder’s mellow, melancholy take on fiction’s most famous detective—was severely compromised by cuts, what remains of the movie is too distinctive to be ignored. Deconstructive, irreverent, but also surprisingly gentle, Private Life portrays Holmes as a lonely man aware of his own iconic status, who knows that he can neither live up to his myth nor ever completely connect with another person. Like the earlier standard-def release, the Blu-ray includes attempts at re-constructing the movie’s many deleted scenes, most of which survive only as stills and bits of recorded dialogue. It’s joined this week by a better-known Wilder movie that also has its roots in classic mystery fiction: the Agatha Christie adaptation Witness For The Prosecution (Kino Lorber).
Omnibus films are notoriously spotty affairs, and 1953’s Love In The City (Raro)—an all-Italian effort, with segments directed by Federico Fellini and Dino Risi, as well as the only screen-directing effort of legendary screenwriter Cesare Zavattini—is no exception. It’s worth checking out, however, for the standout “Attempted Suicide,” directed by a pre-international-acclaim Michelangelo Antonioni—an unforgettable short which disturbingly blends reality and fiction by asking young women to discuss and re-stage their suicide attempts for the camera.
One of Criterion’s earliest releases, the influential Nordic noir Insomnia (Criterion), gets a complete overhaul with a new dual-format edition, whose sharp, light transfer couldn’t look more different from the murky, inky 1999 DVD. Two shorts films by director Erik Skjoldbjærg are also included. Less dramatic, but still welcome, are new Blu-ray editions of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (Tartan)—the first part of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, which also includes Oldboy and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance—and John McTiernan’s playful, tremendously underrated meta-blockbuster The Last Action Hero (Mill Creek). Meanwhile, Ishiro Honda’s kaiju classic Destroy All Monsters (Tokyo Shock) returns to Blu-ray after going out of print for several years.
Olive Films’ release for the week is the 1953 showbiz comedy Forever Female (Olive Films), directed by the eminently forgettable Irving Rapper; like most Olive titles, it’s feature-free. Speaking of which, those with a little extra cash and a multi-region player should consider ordering Too Late Blues (Masters Of Cinema), released by Criterion’s opposite number in the U.K. The American edition of John Cassavetes’ underrated second feature—about a jazz musician who struggles with selling out—was another no-frills Olive release; Masters Of Cinema’s edition, on the other hand, includes a thick, text-packed booklet, a video introduction by the great David Cairns, and a better, crisper transfer.
Rounding out the week’s major retro releases are the self-mocking spaghetti Western Sabata (Kino Lorber)—starring everyone’s third-favorite The Good, The Bad And The Ugly cast member, Lee Van Cleef—and The Scalphunters (Kino Lorber), which was definitely not Sydney Pollack’s best work.
The second feature by cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier (best known for his work with Matt Porterfield) played in only 60 or so theaters, but managed to rack more than its share of champions, including The A.V. Club’s own A.A. Dowd, who capped off his review by declaring that “Revenge thrillers are rarely so resonant, flavorful, or electrifying.”
There’s a confluence of Christopher Nolan-related releases this week. While Criterion is putting out a revamped edition of Insomnia—which Nolan remade in 2002—Transcendence (Warner Bros), the directorial debut of Nolan’s longtime cinematographer and right-hand man Wally Pfister, gets a home video release. Speaking of cinematographers: Heaven Is For Real (Sony) may be church-group treacle, but it isn’t without its pleasures, thanks to the sharp horizontal-line compositions of director of photography Dean Semler, a slumming talent (next film: Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2) whose camerawork is probably better than the movie deserves.
It’s an admittedly underwhelming week for new releases, with Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club (Lions Gate), The Angriest Man In Brooklyn (Lions Gate), and Ron Howard’s concert doc Made In America (Phase 4)—which opened in theaters less than two weeks ago—all making their way to DVD and Blu-ray. A few new titles, however, might entice the more adventurous Redbox patrons of America: Jude Law-as-ex-con crime comedy Dom Hemingway (20th Century Fox), which isn’t without its defenders; Lucky McKee’s All Cheerleaders Die (Image), a remake of his pre-May first feature; and Diego Luna’s well-intentioned biopic Cesar Chavez (Lions Gate), starring Michael Peña in the title role and featuring John Malkovich as a character named Bogdanovich.