From the Big Screen:
“Furious 7,” “Love & Mercy” and “Cinderella.” For more information on these and other releases this week, see the Weekly Guide to Home Video Releases.
This Week’s Best Bets:
Before he stunned the cinematic world with the epic “The Decalogue” and the “Three Colors” trilogy, the great Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski made “Blind Chance”
(1981), a compelling drama about the difficulty of reconciling political ideals with personal happiness. The film follows Witek (a magnetic Boguslaw Linda), a medical student with an uncertain future in Communist Poland as he juggles his need to respect his father’s deathbed wishes, his own nebulous political views and his search for love. Kiesowski dramatizes Witek’s journey as a series of different possibilities which — depending on whether or not he gets on a train leaving Warsaw — casts him in similar but altered scenarios, suggesting that chance rules our lives as much as choice. The film was first suppressed and then censored by the Polish government. The folks at The Criterion Collection have restored the missing scenes and here present it on DVD and Blu-ray in its complete original form. In a new 4K digital restoration, approved by cinematographer Krzysztof Pakulski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Extras include an interview with director Agnieszka Holland from 2003, an essay by film critic Dennis Lim, a 1993 interview about the film with Kieslowski, and more. A marvelous and highly recommended addition to your collection.
Polish film director Walerian Borowczyk (1923-2006) — who directed 40 films between 1946 and 1988, mostly in France — created an unsettling body of work highlighted by nightmarish visions, attacks on the status quo, and a large dollop of eroticism (he has been called a “genius who also happened to be a pornographer”). The folks at Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment this week have released two of his 1970s outings that drench the viewer in absurdism and erotica. “Immoral Tales” (1974) was Borowczyk’s first explicitly erotic feature and presents a veritable cavalcade of depravity: cosmic fellatio, transcendental masturbation, blood-drenched lesbianism and papal incest. In four stories — each in a period 100 years further into the past — the director trampled on sexual taboos and mores in mind-blowing ways: from present day teenage lust mimicking the beach scene in “From Here to Eternity” but more explicit, to a pious young girl who turns religious objects and a plate of cucumbers into fetishistic objects, to a nasty take on Lucrezia Borgia and the Hungarian countess Erzsebet Bathory who went to extremes to find a way to stop aging. This collection also adds in the short film “The Beast of Gevaudan” — which was part of Borowczyk’s five-part conception for the film but was pulled and later became the centerpiece of his very notorious and controversial “The Beast.” The Blu-ray/DVD Combo includes an introduction by Borowczyk expert Daniel Bird; “Love Reveals Itself,” a new interview featuring production manager Dominique Duverge-Segretin and cinematographer Noel Very; “Obscure Pleasures: A Portrait of Walerian Borowczyk,” a newly-edited archival interview in which the filmmaker discusses painting, cinema and sex; and more. “The Beast” (1975), also released this week by Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment, wildly re-works the classic Beauty and the Beast story into a very adult fairy tale, a parody of pornographic tropes and an assault on notions of “good taste.” Bestial dreams interrupt the venal plans of a French aristocrat attempting to save a crumbling mansion by marrying off his deformed son, Mathurin, to a horny American heiress, Lucy. But Mathurin seems more interested in his horses than in his bride-to-be, and when she finds out about the story of his 18th-century ancestor Romilda copulating with the titular beast, it sparks to life one of the most outrageous dream sequences in cinema history. The startling film — a huge hit in France that was extensively censored and banned elsewhere — is presented in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo in a new high definition digital transfer of the uncut 98-minute version. Extras include “The Making of The Beast”; “Frenzy of Ecstasy,” a visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk’s beast; an illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and an archive piece by David Thompson, illustrated with original stills; and more.
“American Experience: Walt Disney” (2015) is one of the finest documentaries we’ve seen in recent memory, a film that examines all the facets — strengths and weaknesses — of a true American original, Walt Disney. This documentary offers an unprecedented look at the life and legacy of one of America’s most enduring and influential creative geniuses. From “Steamboat Willie” to “Pinocchio” to “Mary Poppins,” Disney’s movies grew out of his own life experiences. He told stories of outsiders struggling for acceptance and belonging, while questioning the conventions of class and authority. As Disney rose to prominence and gained financial security, his work became increasingly celebratory of the American way of life. He wanted his films to make people feel deeply, yet often buried his own emotions. Aspiring to create great artistic films, he felt he wasn’t taken seriously by the movie industry, and was stung when critics panned his productions. Never satisfied with his previous efforts, he always pushed forward to a “new adventure,” but his attention to detail and quest for innovation frequently meant delays and cost overruns. When his employees organized and went on strike, Disney felt betrayed, not able to understand how people who worked for him could be unhappy; years later he called them “communists” before the House Un-American Activities Committee. A polarizing figure — though true believers vastly outnumber his critics — Disney’s achievements are indisputable. He created one of the most beloved cartoon characters in history, Mickey Mouse; conceived the first ever feature-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”; pioneered the integration of media and marketing with thousands of branded products; and conceived Disneyland, the world’s first theme park and a three-dimensional realization of his own utopian universe. A true artist in every sense of the word. Aired September 14-15, 2015 on PBS. From PBS Distribution.
“All American High Revisted” (2014) is a mesmerizing document of growing up absurd in America. In 1984, young filmmaker Keva Rosenfeld set out to make a movie about the experience of being in high school. He spent a year following the senior class at a typical California school (in Torrance) and edited the footage into “All American High.” Told through the eyes of a visiting foreign exchange student from Finland, the film presented an uncensored view of teens in an era of big hair, conservative politics, and burgeoning sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — but also a world with no smartphones and no Internet — following the high schoolers through their classes, football games and parties. Riikkamari Rauhalathe, the exchange student, puts the lives of American teens into perspective, commenting on their education (the school’s emphasis was on social life, not learning, she asserts); sex (American kids put too much emphasis on sex, and were too afraid of it) and their consumerism. After showings on the film festival circuit, the film was locked away in a storage vault and remained unseen until Rosenfeld came upon it three decades later. In that vault, Rosenfeld also uncovered a review that said the film captured “the values and attitudes of middle-class teenagers who will lead America into the 21st century.” Wondering if this prediction came true, the director set out to locate some of the now grown-up high schoolers and see what some 30 years had wrought. The last quarter of the film tracks down some of those people (including Rauhalathe), bringing the story full circle. A fascinating documentary. From Virgil Films.
A&E’s “The Returned” (2015) is based on the International Emmy-winning French series “Les Revenants,” which focuses on a small town that is turned upside down when the dead suddenly re-appear — not as zombies or vampires or some ghoulish apparition, but full-bodied and minded, just as they were the day they died — some a couple of years earlier, some decades. This brings both positive and detrimental consequences as the returned try to reintegrate into their families and lives. This series is almost a scene-for-scene remake of the original but it lacks the mysterious undertones and atmosphere of the French version. Still, it’s heads and shoulders above “Resurrection,” a much plainer, white-washed middle-American TV series based on a novel with a similar conceit to “Les Revenants” (which, in turn, was based on a French film, “They Came Back”). A&E, however, has declined to renew “The Returned” for a second season (while “Les Revenants” begins its second series this fall). This two-disc set contains all 10 episodes, many of them in uncensored versions not previously shown on TV. From Lionsgate.