Immersed in Blu-Ray: Criterion, Disney, WB, Twilight

There’s plenty of movie watching on Blu-ray this summer from our good friends at Criterion, Disney, Warner Bros., and Twilight Time.

The Criterion Collection

A Hard Day’s Night (1964, Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD)

Relive the manic fun and excitement of Beatlemania in this gorgeous 50th anniversary edition of their debut film directed by Richard Lester: a pioneering mockumentary in glorious black-and-white, which predates the music video, and touts a new 4K digital restoration supervised by Lester.  Plus there are three audio options: a monaural soundtrack as well as newly created stereo and 5.1 surround mixes supervised by sound producer Giles Martin at Abbey Road Studios, presented in uncompressed monaural, uncompressed stereo, and DTS-HD Master Audio.  I had the pleasure of interviewing producer Walter Shenson back in the ’80s when the VHS came out. My how far we’ve come. Also, great timing in light of the upcoming mono vinyl set of Beatles albums to be released Sept. 8 and 9.

The Essential Jacques Demy (6-film box set, Dual Format Blu-ray/DVD)

Speaking of ground-breaking, Criterion has also released a must-own box set of movies by Jacques Demy, a member of the New Wave who was unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, thriving on self-conscious formalism to turn storybook romances on their head. The six movies represented here from the sixties to eighties run the gamut from musicals to melodramas (Lola, Bay of Angels, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Donkey Skin, and Une chambre en ville). The set features new 2K digital restorations of all six films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks

My personal favorite is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which also celebrates a 50th anniversary and boasts a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. I still vividly recall watching this pop opera composed by Michel Legrand on a memorable afternoon when I was nine. It was my first triple feature (which also included Georgy Girl and Any Wednesday). I was entranced by the music, the kaleidoscope of colors, and,  of course, by Catherine Deneuve. What a gutsy movie! But the bittersweet romance of two doomed lovers gets better with age, though I wish directors would stop ripping off the iconic opening of the falling rain.


Tarzan (1999) 

Directors Chris Buck (Frozen) and Kevin Lima (Enchanted) found a way of adapting Edgar Rice Burroughs beloved tale as a thrilling and romantic Disney musical/adventure.  Glen Keane’s supervision of Tarzan (voiced by Tony Goldwyn) was supreme, and the introduction of the innovative Deep Canvas painting and rendering software program allowed artists to produce a painterly-looking 3D background. Deep Canvas also helped Tarzan glide on the vines like a surfer, earning an Academy Sci-Tech award in 2003.

Meanwhile, Tarzan also contained Academy Award-winning music for (Best Music, Original Song, “You’ll Be In My Heart”).  Bonus features include: Deleted Scenes; “You’ll Be In My Heart” Music Video Performed By Phil Collins; “Strangers Like Me” Music Video Performed By Phil Collins; “Trashin’ The Camp” Studio Session With Phil Collins & ‘N Sync; The Making of the Music; Tarzan Goes International; Original Phil Collins Song Demo; Audio Commentary; DisneyPedia: Living In The Jungle; From Burroughs To Disney; Early Presentation Reel.

Bednobs and Broomsticks (1971)

This enchanting Mary Poppins-like hybrid of  live-action and animation  is filled with sorcery, music, and adventure. Angela Lansbury (Beauty and the Beast) stars as an apprentice witch who reluctantly takes on three orphans during World War II. Together with con-man David Tomlinson (Mary Poppins, The Love Bug), they save England from a Nazi invasion. The winner of the best Visual Effects Oscar also contains lovely songs by the Sherman Brothers.

Bonus features include: Music Magic: The Sherman Brothers; Deleted & Extended Scenes; David Tomlinson Recording Session; The Wizards of Special Effects; Theatrical Trailers; Disney Song Selection; Sing Along With The Movie.

Warner Archive Collection

Kismet (1955)

Vincente Minnelli directs one of the last MGM musical extravaganzas, based on the Broadway hit with his usual visual flair (though production head Dore Schary had to promise to let him make his pet project, Lust for Life , as an inducement). Howard Keel (Kiss Me Kate) stars as a street poet who’s targeted by kismet for a strange set of circumstances involving his daughter (Ann Blyth), her suitor Caliph (Vic Damone), Wazir (Sebastian Cabot) and his favorite wife (Dolores Gray).

While Minnelli was more interested in set design, Jack Cole’s choreography shines along with the songs by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest (Song of Norway), including ”Not Since Nineveh,” “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” and “Stranger in Paradise.” Kismet is presented in glorious CinemaScope (2.55.1) with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. Special features include The Battle of Gettysburg short subject, the classic cartoon The First Bad Man, two excerpts from The MGM Parade TV series, the outtake song sequence “Rahadlakum,” an audio-only bonus outtake song “Rhymes Have I,” and the theatrical trailers for both the 1944 and 1955 versions.

Hit the Deck (1955)

Another of MGM’s last musicals, Hit the Deck has three singing swabbees (Tony Martin, Vic Damone, Russ Tamblyn) falling for three very different femmes  (Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller) while on shore leave.  Based on the Broadway musical and adapted from the play Shore Leave, offers such snappy Vincent Youmans tunes as Miller’s alluring barefoot turn as “The Lady from the Bayou,” Martin’s heart-fluttering  ”More Than You Know,” and the male leads’ rousing rendition of “Hallelujah.” Produced by Joe Pasternak, with choreography by the great Hermes Pan. Looks nice in CinemaScope (2.55.1)  and sounds terrific in 5.1  DTS Audio.

Twilight Time

The Man From Laramie (1955)

The last of the five Anthony Mann/James Stewart Westerns takes a King Lear turn, beautifully photographed in CinemaScope by Charles Lang, which looks dazzling and viewed for the first time in 2.55.1 for the first time since its initial release, courtesy of a new 4K digital transfer from the original camera negative by Grover Crisp and the team at Sony.

Stewart, who’s less deranged, is determined to avenge the death of his brother and stumbles into a hornet’s nest of family dysfunction when he encounters the troubled Waggoman clan (Donald Crisp and his two “sons” — mad dog Alex Nicol and loyal foreman Arthur Kennedy . It’s full of brutal violence with Stewart being dragged by a rope or having his hand shot with a six-gun while being held down. It’s the perfect culmination of this dark collaboration.

The Mechanic (1972)

Speaking of collaborations, this is perhaps the best of the Michael Winner/Charles Bronson movies, a tense psychological thriller about the deadly partnership between a hardened hit man and a ruthless newbie played by Jan-Michael Vincent. Like The Color of Money, it’s about contrasting codes of conduct and generational differences in one’s profession.  Memorably lensed by Richard Kline with a fine score by Jerry Fielding; and scripted by Lewis John Carlino (Seconds). Featuring audio commentary with Kline and film historian Nick Redman.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX

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