From the Big Screen:
This Week’s Best Bets:
There’s so many good, collectible titles this week that we can almost forgive the studios for the duds they sent us this week (see above). In alphabetical order:
“Beyond the Hills” (2016 — Romania): With this arresting drama based on notorious real-life events, Cristian Mungiu mounts a complex inquiry into faith, fanaticism, and indifference. At a desolate Romanian monastery, a young novice nun, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), reunites with her former companion Alina (Cristina Flutur), who plans to take her to Germany. But Voichita proves unwilling to abandon her calling, and Alina becomes increasingly desperate to reclaim her devotion, putting the outsider at odds with the monastery’s ascetic priest — and precipitating a painfully misguided, brutal attempt to save her soul. A naturalistic tragedy with the dark force of a folktale, anchored by the fraught dynamic between cinema newcomers Flutur and Stratan (who shared the best actress prize at Cannes), “Beyond the Hills” bears powerful witness to individuals at cross-purposes and institutions ill-equipped to help those most in need. On DVD and Blu-ray, with 2K digital transfer, approved by director Cristian Mungiu, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. From The Criterion Collection.
“Black Venus” (2010): Between “The Secret of the Grain,” winner of three César Awards, and the Cannes triumph of “Blue Is the Warmest Colour,” Abdellatif Kechiche made “Black Venus,” a stark portrait of the life of Saartjie Baartman, also known as the “Hottentot Venus.” Baartman was taken from South African home as a 21-year-old and shipped to Georgian London, where she would be caged and exhibited as a freak show. Presented semi-nude, her physique — especially her large buttocks — was the source of much curiosity. But as her “fame” spread, so too did her exploitation. Centered on a remarkable performance by Cuban actor Yahima Torres as Baartman, Black Venus provides a bleak but barbed exploration of sex, science, race, colonialism and social attitudes. With optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment.
“The Bloodthirsty Trilogy” (1971-74 — Japan): Inspired by the runaway success of the British and American gothic horror films of the sixties, Toho studios brought the vampiric tropes of the Dracula legend to Japanese screens with “The Vampire Doll” (1970), “Lake of Dracula” (1971) and “Evil of Dracula” (1974) — three spookily effective cult classics collectively known as “The Bloodthirsty Trilogy.” In “The Vampire Doll,” a young man goes missing after visiting his girlfriend’s isolated country home. His sister and her boyfriend trace him to the creepy mansion, but their search becomes perilous when they uncover a gruesome family history. “Lake of Dracula” begins with a young girl suffering a terrifying nightmare of a vampire with blazing golden eyes. Eighteen years later, the dream is revealed to be a hellish prophecy when a strange package containing an empty coffin mysteriously turns up at a nearby lake. In “Evil of Dracula,” a professor takes up a new post at an all-girls school only to discover the school’s principle conceals a dark secret and the pupils are in grave danger. Abounding with images of dark thunderous nights, ghostly mansions and bloody fangs, Michio Yamamoto’s trilogy emphasises atmosphere and style and is sure to please both fans of classic gothic horror and Japanese genre cinema. On Blu-ray, with high definition presentation transferred from original film elements, with uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio. From Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment.
“Death Smiles on a Murderer” (1973): A haunting and dreamlike gothic horror/giallo hybrid, “Death Smiles on a Murderer” is a compelling early work from the legendary sleaze and horror film director Joe D’Amato, here billed under his real name Aristide Massaccesi. Set in Austria in the early 1900s, the film stars Ewa Aulin as Greta, a beautiful young woman abused by her brother Franz (Luciano Rossi) and left to die in childbirth by her illicit lover, the aristocrat Dr. von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi Stuart). Bereft with grief, Franz reanimates his dead sister using a formula engraved on an ancient Incan medallion. Greta then returns as an undead avenging angel, reaping revenge on the Ravensbrück family and her manically possessive brother. Presented here in a stunning 2K restoration, D’Amato’s film is a stately and surreal supernatural mystery which benefits from an achingly mournful score by Berto Pisano, several shocking scenes of gore, and a typically sinister performance from Klaus Kinski as a morbid doctor. On Blu-ray, with new 2K restoration from the original camera negative and original Italian and English soundtracks with uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio. From Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment.
“Graduation” (2016 — Romania): Blending rigorous naturalism with the precise construction of a thriller, this Cannes award–winning drama from Cristian Mungiu sheds light on the high stakes and ethical complexities of life in contemporary Romania. As his daughter nears high-school graduation, Romeo (Adrian Titieni), an upstanding doctor, counts on her winning a competitive scholarship that will send her to university in England. But when an injury sustained during a sexual assault compromises her performance on an important exam, Romeo’s best-laid plans for her threaten to crumble, leading him to seek favors in a world that runs on backscratching and bribery. Suffused with quiet dread, “Graduation” takes a humane and deeply ambiguous look at how corrosive rampant corruption is to moral convictions. On DVD and Blu-ray, with 2K digital master, approved by director Cristian Mungiu, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. From The Criterion Collection.
“Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters”
(1985) Paul Schrader’s visually stunning, collagelike portrait of the acclaimed Japanese author and playwright Yukio Mishima (played by Ken Ogata) investigates the inner turmoil and contradictions of a man who attempted the impossible task of finding harmony among self, art, and society. Taking place on Mishima’s last day, when he famously committed public seppuku, the film is punctuated by extended flashbacks to the writer’s life as well as by gloriously stylized evocations of his fictional works. With its rich cinematography by John Bailey, exquisite sets and costumes by Eiko Ishioka, and unforgettable, highly influential score by Philip Glass, “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” is a tribute to its subject and a bold, investigative work of art in its own right. On DVD and Blu-ray, with new, restored 4K digital transfer (Blu-ray) and restored high-definition digital transfer (DVD) of the director’s cut, both supervised and approved by director Paul Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. From The Criterion Collection.
“Savannah Smiles (Collector’s Edition)”
(1982) Savannah (Bridgette Andersen) is the precocious six-year-old daughter of a busy politician who is consumed by his re-election campaign. She decides to run away from home and sneaks into a car driven by two escaped convicts, Alvie (Mark Miller) and Boots (Donovan Scott), in a crazy comedy of errors. Hiding in an abandoned house, the two bumbling crooks initially try to hold the adorable Savannah for ransom to obtain a hefty reward for her return, but an unexpected bond grows among Savannah, Alvie and Boots, creating a surrogate family they have never known before. Their relationship is tested when the convicts, now seen as kidnappers, must choose between their freedom and their new friend in this classic comedy. Written and produced by the film’s star Mark Miller (“A Walk in the Clouds”), “Savannah Smiles” features an all-star supporting cast that includes Academy Award-nominee Pat Morita, Michael Park, John Fiedler, Fran Ryan and Golden Globe-winner Peter Graves and boasts a brand new 2K transfer from a 35mm print from the Library of Congress. In a Blu-ray/DVD Combo with original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray). From MVD Rewind.
From TV to Disc:
“Gunsmoke: The Thirteenth Season, Volume One” and “Gunsmoke: The Thirteenth Season, Volume Two” (1967-68) continue the adventures of U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon (James Arness) alongside the loyal Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), sexy saloon proprietress Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) and lovable Deputy Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis). The 13th season of television’s beloved Western follows Dillon as he corrals dangerous outlaws and deals with problems of the Wild West: epic gunfights, brawls, cold-blooded murderers and bank robbers. Volume 1 is a four-disc set with 15 episodes, Volume 2 is a three-disc set with 10 episodes. From CBS/Paramount … “Hostages: Season 1” (2013 — Israel) is a two-disc set with 10 episodes. When four masked men violently break into the Danon family home, taking them hostages, the family of four will be shaken to the core and their lives will change forever. In season one, the kidnappers demand that Yael, the matriarch of the family and a brilliant surgeon, kill the Israeli Prime Minister during a routine surgery. If the Prime Minister does not die, Yael’s family soon will. Desperate to save her family but keep her patient alive, Yael uses her wits to delay the decision until the last possible moment. During this terrifying time in which the kidnappers and hostages are bound together, a tangled web of secrets and lies are revealed. From Kino Lorber … “The Loud House: It Gets Louder – Season 1, Volume 2” (2016) is a two-disc set with all 13 episodes of the chaotic animated family comedy in which Lincoln Loud is an 11-year-old boy who lives with 10 sisters. With the help of his right-hand man Clyde, Lincoln finds new ways to survive in such a large family every day. From Nickelodeon/Paramount.