10 Blu-rays for Summer Viewing

Looking for some great classics to purchase? Here are 10 notable releases this year that all look stunning.

An Autumn Afternoon (Criterion)

How many final films are great? Not as many as you think, but Yasujiro Ozu’s last movie from 1962 serves as his summary statement:  loneliness, love, and sacrifice. Widower (Ozu favorite Chishu Ryu) encourages his grown daughter (Shima Iwashita) to move out on her own and find a husband before she becomes embittered like the daughter of one of his drinking buddies. The signature Ozu visual style  – short takes, stationary camera, low angles, cut-aways to the outdoors for poetic punctuation — is elegant and even more colorful. His concern about the future of middle-class Japan is also very poignant. Includes insightful audio commentary by David Bordwell (Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema) and excerpts from the ’78 French TV program, Cine regards ( “Yosujiro Ozu and The Taste of Sake“).

The Band Wagon (Warner Home Video)

At long last, my favorite musical (#70 in the latest BBC poll of 100 American greats) is now available on Blu-ray. Vincente Minnelli always made personal films about love and art, perfection and compromise, and this musical from 1953 is especially significant as a mid-life crisis movie for Fred Astaire. And beneath the “That’s Entertainment!” veneer of fun, remains a dark commentary on the Hollywood musical in decline and to what degree it can break free from its conventions to be more relevant in post-war America.  From the hyper-kinetic opening of “A Shine on Your Shoes” to the loneliness of “By Myself” to the romance of “Dancing in the Dark” to the nightmarish “The Girl Hunt,” Minnelli and his troupe make a new kind of meta-musical. Available as a standalone or in “The Musicals: 4 Movie Collection” along with Calamity Jane, Kiss Me Kate (in 3-D or flat), and Singin’ in the Rain.

Five Easy Pieces (Criterion)

The Jack Nicholson star was born in Bob Rafelson’s searing drama of alienation from 1970. It’s as if all of the hope and idealism of the ’60s come crashing down on Bobby Dupea, an upper middle-class non-conformist who’s never found fulfillment. From piano prodigy to oil rigger to drifter, he’s become ambivalent,  irresponsible, and sad (which is how acting teacher, Jeff Corey, described the actor).  Some have even drawn parallels with Some Came Running.  The standout, of course, is the legendary diner scene, in which Dupea explodes at a strict waitress unwilling to make substitutions. It says it all.

The Killers (Criterion)

Here are both brutal adaptations of Ernest Hemingway’s short story: the Robert Siodmak original from 1946 and the Don Siegel remake from 1964 (too violent for TV). They’re two shades of noir: shadowy black and white and sunny color, and told from two points of view (Edmond O’Brien’s insurance investigator and Lee Marvin’s killer). “What makes a man decide not to run? Why all of a sudden he’d rather die?” Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner shine in the first version and Marvin and Angie Dickinson erupt in the second (a prelude to Point Blank).

Limelight (Criterion)

Charlie Chaplin’s underrated 1952 tribute to his roots: the London music hall and a bygone era full of pain and longing. He’s famously paired with Buster Keaton but gives the spotlight to Claire Bloom, a melancholy ballerina. Made at a time when Chaplin was under attack for his ideology, the film scarcely got distribution. But Chaplin proved he was anything but washed up during this mid-life crisis.  Includes two shorts: A Night in the Show (1915) and the uncompleted The Professor (1919).

Munich (Universal Home Ent.)

With Bridge of Spies opening Oct. 16, it’s a great time to revisit Steven Spielberg’s underrated spy thriller from 2005 about the secret Israeli squad assigned to assassinate the 11 Palestinians believed to have planned the 1972 Munich massacre of 11 Israeli athletes. Vengeance takes a personal toll in this bold movie. Starring Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, and Geoffrey Rush, and part of Rick Carter’s cycle of post-9/11 allegorical production design.

The Palm Beach Story (Criterion)

Part of Preston Sturges’ beloved “cockeyed caravan,” this screwball delight from 1942 explores a marriage in crisis as Restoration comedy, with resourceful Claudette Colbert and flummoxed Joel McCrea. From New York to Florida with the Ale and Quail Club, the Weenie King, and scene-stealing  Rudy Vallee, nobody packed more physical humor and verbal wit in a single movie than Sturges.  Includes the director’s World War II propaganda short, Safeguarding Military Information, and interviews with Bill Hader and James Harvey.

Paper Moon (Masters of Cinema)

Peter Bogdanovich’s wistful Depression-era con comedy from 1973 coincided with The Stingbut is more emotionally and thematically satisfying. And the inspired father-daughter casting of Ryan O’ Neal and Tatum O’ Neal (at 10, the youngest to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar) proved to be a stroke of genius. The pair blaze through the Midwest: stealing, swindling, and selling the moon to every hapless dreamer they come across. Beautifully shot in black and white by  László Kovács. Includes feature-length commentary by Bogdanovich and three video pieces on the making of the film, featuring interviews and outtake footage. Available only as a UK/region B disc.

Stalag 17  (Masters of Cinema)

Billy Wilder’s World War II POW comedy starring Oscar winner William Holden and Otto Preminger still made the director twinkle when he regaled Cameron Crowe in Conversations with Wilder(Knopf). It’s solid, middle-tier Wilder, with a great ensemble cast (Neville Brand, Robert Strauss, Peter Graves, Harvey Lembeck) and a wonderful allegory about the McCarthy era. J.J. Sefton (Holden), the cynical, wise-cracking loner is suspected of being an informant. Includes new New video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard. Newly available as a UK/region B release.

The Sunshine Boys (Warner Bros. Archive Collection)

George Burns made a remarkable, Oscar-winning comeback opposite Walter Matthau in this memorable Neil Simon adaptation from 1975 (expertly directed by Herb Ross). Estranged vaudevillians are brought together for a TV special with Richard Benjamin caught in the middle, trying to understand what kept them together for 43 years and inevitably split them up.  Includes commentary by actor/director Benjamin, Jack Benny and Walter Matthau makeup test, and Phil Silvers screen test.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Clips, Crafts, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers

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