August Criterion Blu-Rays Announced

And boy am I excited; for we’re finally getting a quality transfer of Pedro Almodóvar’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! Now if we could just get a Criterion of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. But I digress…

Although not a lot of titles, there are five good ones here. I have quite fond memories of Y Tu Mamá También as it was one of the first foreign language films I saw in a theater. Vengeance is Mine was one I used to own (the standard Criterion DVD) until about three years ago. We had a contest here in the third row and someone chose that DVD as their prize, so I had to cough it up. All that Jazz is on my list of shame and one I’ve been meaning to get to for a while – long live the memory of the Scheider! Meanwhile, John Cassavetes Love Streams is one I know next to nothing about.

At any rate, here’s a quick breakdown of August releases from Criterion…

 
 

Special Features:

New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed 3.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Two audio commentaries: a feature-length one with editor Alan Heim and a scene-specific one with actor Roy Scheider
Razzle-Dazzle, a new video essay on the film by critic Matt Zoller Seitz
Episode from 1980 of the television talk show Tomorrow, featuring director Bob Fosse and choreographer Agnes de Mille
New interview with Heim
New interview with Fosse biographer Sam Wasson
Interview excerpts and footage from the set, featuring Fosse and Scheider
Portrait of a Choreographer, a 2007 documentary on Fosse
The Soundtrack: Perverting the Standards, a 2007 documentary about the music in the film
Interview from 2007 with George Benson about his song “On Broadway,” which opens the film
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by theater critic Hilton Als
More!

 
 

Special Features:

New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New audio commentary featuring writer Michael Ventura
New video essay on actor Gena Rowlands by film critic Sheila O’Malley
New interviews with executive producer and director of photography Al Ruban and actor Diahnne Abbott
Interview from 2008 with actor Seymour Cassel
“I’m Almost Not Crazy . . .”—John Cassavetes: The Man and His Work (1984), a sixty-minute documentary by Ventura on the making of Love Streams
Trailer
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Dennis Lim and a 1984 piece by Cassavetes on the film from the New York Times

 
 

Special Features:

New 2K digital restoration, supervised by director Pedro Almodóvar and executive producer Agustín Almodóvar, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New documentary on the making of the film including interviews with Pedro and Agustín Almodóvar; actors Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Loles Léon, Rossy de Palma, and Penélope Cruz; production manager Esther García; editor José Salcedo; and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine
New interview with Almodóvar collaborator and Sony Pictures Classics copresident Michael Barker
Conversation from 2003 between Almodóvar and Banderas
Footage from the film’s 1990 premieres in Madrid and New York
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: A booklet featuring a 1990 piece about the film by Almodóvar, a conversation between filmmaker Wes Anderson and critic Kent Jones, and an interview with Almodóvar from 1989

 
 

Special Features:

New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Audio commentary from 2005 featuring critic Tony Rayns
Excerpts from a 1999 interview with director Shohei Imamura, produced by the Directors Guild of Japan
Trailer and teaser
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Atkinson, a 1994 interview with Imamura by writer Toichi Nakata, and writings by Imamura on Vengeance Is Mine and his approach to filmmaking

 
 
 
 

Special Features:

New 2K digital restoration, 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
On “Y tu mamá también”: Then and On “Y tu mamá también”: Now, two new pieces on the making of the film, featuring interviews with actors Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and Maribel Verdú; Cuarón; cowriter Carlos Cuarón; and Lubezki
New interview with philosopher Slavoj Žižek about the film
On-set documentary from 2001
Deleted scenes
You Owe Me One (2002), a short film by Carlos Cuarón
Trailers
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Charles Taylor and character biographies by Carlos Cuarón

Blu-Ray Review: Couscous (The Secret of the Grain) [2007]

couscous-poster

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche (Blue is the Warmest Colour, Black Venus, Sweat)
Writers: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
Producer: Benoît Pilot
Starring: Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Farida Benkhetache, Abdelhamid Aktouche, Bouraouïa Marzouk, Sabrina Ouazani, Olivier Loustau
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 151 min.
Country: France/Tunisia

 

 
You must excuse me for any hyperbole that may lie within this review. The jumped up raves of a reviewer can distract a reader and take their interest away with it. I must stress however that it has been a while since a film has shook me as hard as Couscous, a quietly captivating drama from the acclaimed director of Blue is the Warmest Colour. It was was a film I heard little about, despite it’s positive reception in 2008, so I arrived at the piece with little preconceptions, although I did bulk somewhat at the lengthy running time.

I hadn’t expected Couscous to be shattering experience, because the film is so subtle in it’s execution. This is a drama of marginal gains which finely drip feeds details to be succulently absorbed throughout as it gently glides towards a stirring climax. The film starts quite innocuously enough as we follow Slimane; a divorced, French-Arabic shipyard worker who decides to follow his dream of opening a couscous restaurant after becoming laid off. He is egged on by his girlfriend’s headstrong daughter, while guardedly criticised by his family and scrutinized by bureaucracy.

What could have easily been a languid and saccharine tale becomes a dense family drama in which director Abdellatif Kechiche dangles the narratives frayed edges with the same delight of a cat owner with yarn. Couscous pours it’s lens not only on the complicated family relationships (Much of film deals with the tense conflict between Slimane’s family and his current beau), but takes an upfront look on themes of immigration, class and infidelity. Kechiche deals with these topics not with a hammer but a wonderfully deft touch. Couscous strength stems from Kechiche’s ability to coax warmth from it’s central community. From the idle chatter from Slimane’s bedsit friends, to the heartening dinner conversations of the family, there is a delicate sense of humanity that contrasts itself against the gloominess of the Port town of Sѐte. We spend so much time with them, we become wrapped in their narratives.
Would you like to know more…?

Fantastic Mr. Fox is out on Criterion BLU

While I got shut out today at Bay St. Video when I went to grab a copy (something about a flux in Canadian distributors) I shall be ordering it online, as I should have in the first place. Here are my kids wanting to remind you all that this Fantastic animated film is very, very, very re-watchable. (And, yes, it is shameless that I post this video so often in these parts…)

Criterion’s February Blu Releases

I’ve waited four years before purchasing Fantastic Mr. Fox; knowing that someday it would hit Criterion. Looks like all the waiting has paid off. We also get a really underrated Steven Soderbergh film that I had the pleasure of seeing late last year. Polanski’s Tess I’m surprisingly not as big of a fan of. However, though Blue is the Warmest Color is currently playing theatrically in my neck of the woods. Seems like another wait for the Blu title to me. Then there are a couple of bonafide classics from Truffaut and Hitchcock.

Feast your eyes…

All the details and features are printed at Blu-ray.com

Criterion Collection Flash Sale (50% off everything)

For the next twenty-four hours at Criterion.com, all in-stock Blu-rays and DVDs will be 50% off the suggested retail price (SRP). Just enter the promotional code FLASHY on your shopping cart page to apply the discount.

If you need some help deciding what to buy, they’ve created a real-time dashboard where you can see top sellers and what’s running low, plus categories like Oscar winners, horror, sci-fi, comedies, romances, and westerns. And we’ll be adding new themes hourly.
The code expires at noon EST tomorrow, so don’t delay!

Cinephilia Française: Children of Paradise (1945)

Within the immense gallery of great French films, Children of Paradise stands out like a grand mural painted with many colors, bold brush strokes, and precise attention to detail. Directed by the great Marcel Carné and written by his regular collaborator Jacques Prévert, it is an ambitious feat of cinema; a period piece set in Paris in the 1820s and ‘30s that seemed to have all the odds against its creation. Its production slowly progressed throughout the German occupation of France during World War II, which made film stock and construction material for the sets in short supply. The project served as a fortuitous hiding place for Resistance fighters who worked throughout the shoot as extras while two more central figures, production designer Alexandre Trauner and composer Joseph Kosma, had to made their contributions covertly due to their Jewish roots (in the cut presented on the Criterion Collection DVD, they share a special title card at the end of the opening credits). Following France’s liberation, the film was finally released in 1945, its three-hour running time split into two parts entitled The Boulevard of Crime and The Man in White due to a restriction on film duration at the time.
Would you like to know more…?

Be careful John Woo…Don’t mess with Master Suzuki

One of the early announcements out of Cannes was that of a new picture on its way from director John Woo. Known for over the top action scenes, fine cheese and crates of doves, Woo will be looking to remake one of the classic films from Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu as part of its centenary celebration. Entitled Day Of The Beast, the film will be an English language take on Seijun Suzuki’s superb 1963 film Youth Of The Beast. Of its many great scenes, one of my favourites is when Jo Shishido’s main character survives being blown up in a house while he’s hanging upside down, manages to swing himself to a gun, fight off two remaining yakuza and then shoot himself free before finishing them both off. How can Woo top that?

Of course, I’m kidding when I tell Woo to tread carefully. I’m not one to believe that the original film can be wrecked by any attempt to remake it. In fact, any attention a remake can bring to an earlier film is definitely welcomed – especially when it’s something by one of my favourite directors. Though he was a studio director – in other words, he had to film whatever script they gave him with whatever cast they gave him – Seijun Suzuki figured out early on how to keep things interesting even when the scripts were standard B-movie fare. Akin somewhat to Hitchcock in viewing the role of the director to be more technical in nature (where does the camera sit, when does it move, how do I frame things, etc.), Suzuki was able to play with storytelling conventions a great deal by adding subtext and context via his images and visual style while avoiding exposition like the plague. The classic story is that Nikkatsu fired him upon seeing his 1967 film Branded To Kill after having warned him to play by the rules (his previous film Tokyo Drifter wasn’t exactly a straight line narrative either). His methods of telling his story made generic plots into interesting ones and I’ve never seen a film of his that didn’t make me broadly smile at something totally unexpected, make me think “Whoa, that was cool…” and yet still convey relevant information about the story or character.

So in anticipation of John Woo’s re-imagining of one of the classic yakuza films, here’s just a few examples of Suzuki’s work:

 

Youth Of The Beast (1963)

 

Gate Of Flesh (1964)

 

Would you like to know more…?