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Summertime Blus Part Two: Best BD re-issues of 2019 (so far) By Dennis Hartley @denofcinema5

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Saturday Night at the Movies

Summertime Blus Part Two: Best BD re-issues of 2019 (so far)

By Dennis Hartley

Since we’re halfway through 2019 (already?) I thought I’d apprise you of some of the latest and greatest Blu-ray reissues I’ve picked up so far this year. Any reviews based on Region “B” editions (which require a multi-region Blu-ray player) are noted as such; the good news is that multi-region players are now more affordable! Picking up where we left off last week in Part I, in alphabetical order:

Hedwig and the Angry Inch   (Criterion Collection) – It’s your typical love story. A German teen named Hansel (John Cameron Mitchell) falls for a G.I., undergoes a less than perfect sex change so they can marry, and ends up seduced and abandoned in a trailer park somewhere in Middle America. The desperate Hansel opts for the only logical way out…he creates an alter-ego named Hedwig, puts a glam-rock band together, and sets out to conquer the world. How many times have we heard that tired tale? But seriously, this is an amazing tour de force by Mitchell, who not only acts and sings his way through this entertaining musical like nobody’s business, but directed and co-wrote (with composer Steven Trask, with whom he also co-created the original stage version). Criterion’s image and audio quality is outstanding; extras are plentiful and enlightening.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (The Criterion Collection) – This was the feature film debut for director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale, the creative tag team who would later deliver Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Sort of a cross between American Graffiti and The Bellboy, the film concerns an eventful “day in the life” of six New Jersey teenagers. Three of them (Nancy Allen, Theresa Saldana and Wendy Jo Sperber) are rabid Beatles fans, the other three (Bobby Di Cicco, Marc McClure and Susan Kendall Newman) not so much. They all end up together in a caper to “meet the Beatles” by sneaking into their NYC hotel suite (the story is set on the day the band makes their 1964 debut on The Ed Sullivan Show). Zany misadventures ensue. Zemeckis overindulges on door-slamming screwball slapstick, but the energetic young cast and Gale’s breezy script keeps this entertaining romp moving along. Criterion’s 4K remaster is superb, and extras include two shorts that Zemeckis made while a film student at USC.

The Landlord  (Kino-Lorber) – Hal Ashby’s 1970 social satire follows the travails of a trustafarian (Beau Bridges) who buys a run-down Brooklyn tenement, with initial intentions to evict current residents and renovate (much to the chagrin of his blue-blood parents, who scoff at his “liberal views”). The landlord’s sincere but awkward attempts to “relate” to his black tenants is sometimes milked for laughs, other times for dramatic tension-but always rings true-to-life. Top-notch ensemble work, featuring Lou Gossett (with hair!), Susan Anspach (hilarious as Bridge’s perpetually stoned and bemused sister) and Diana Sands. The scene where Pearl Bailey and Lee Grant get drunk and bond over a bottle of “sparkling” wine is a classic. Ashby and screenwriter Bill Gunn’s observations about race relations in America are dead-on (and still timely). Image transfer is sharp. Extras include interviews with Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, and producer Norman Jewison.

Mikey and Nicky  (Criterion Collection) – You could call Elaine May’s 1976 mob drama the anti-Godfather. In fact, its verité-style portrayal of two mobbed-up pals in a desperate quandary is so workaday that it even makes suburban dad Tony Soprano look like some stylized hoity-toity version of a “gangster”. May’s film is “a night in the life” of Nicky (John Cassavetes), a low-rent bookie who has used up all the good graces of some very serious made guys and now fears for his life. Holed up in a cheap hotel room and on the verge of a breakdown, he calls on his pal Mikey (Peter Falk) to help him brainstorm out of his mess. A long dark night of the soul lies ahead. The loose, improvisational rawness in many scenes may grate on some (especially those unfamiliar with Falk’s previous collaborations with Cassavetes; the pair had by then developed a unique shorthand and that takes some acclimation). Ned Beatty is on hand as an exasperated hit man. The new 4K scan of the film looks true-to-life (much of it was photographed using available light).

Someone To Watch Over Me   (Shout! Factory) – This crime thriller may be one of director Ridley Scott’s less-heralded (if not nearly forgotten) films but is one of my favorite neo-noirs of the 80s. The 1987 release stars Tom Berenger as a married NYC police detective from a working-class neighborhood who is assigned to bodyguard a Manhattan socialite (Mimi Rogers) after she becomes a key witness in a murder case. Initially, their relationship is strictly professional, but…well, you know. Granted, the narrative may be somewhat familiar, but the film is stylish, sumptuously photographed (by Steven Poster), and well-acted (Berenger and Rogers have great chemistry, and Lorraine Bracco is a standout as Berenger’s wife). The transfer is gorgeous. Extras include interviews with Poster and screenwriter Howard Franklin (no commentary track).

Stranger than Paradise  (Criterion Collection) – With this 1984 indie classic, Jim Jarmusch established his formula of long takes and deadpan observances on the inherent silliness of human beings. John Lurie stars as Willie, a brooding NYC slacker who spends most of his time hanging and bickering with his buddy Eddie (Richard Edson). Enter Eva (Eszter Balint), Willie’s teenage cousin from Hungary, who appears at his door. Eddie is intrigued, but misanthropic Willie has no desire for a new roommate, so Eva decides to move in with Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark), who lives in Cleveland. Sometime later, Eddie convinces Willie that a road trip to Ohio might help break the monotony. Willie grumpily agrees, and they’re off to visit Aunt Lotte and Eva. Much low-key hilarity ensues. Future director Tom DiCillo did the black and white photography, evoking strange beauty in the stark, wintry, industrial flatness of Cleveland and environs. Criterion’s restoration is beautiful. Extras include commentary by Jarmusch and Edson, and Jarmusch’s 1980 color feature debut Permanent Vacation (also restored).

Year of the Dragon   (Warner Brothers) – This brutal, visceral crime thriller/culture clash drama from 1985 is one of writer-director Michael Cimino’s most polarizing films. Co-written by Oliver Stone and based on Robert Daley’s novel, Cimino’s follow-up to his critically drubbed 1980 epic Heaven’s Gate (no pressure!) divided both critics and audiences with its uncompromising take on gang violence, the international drug trade, and ethnic stereotyping. Mickey Rourke stars as a decorated NYC police captain newly assigned to Chinatown who embarks on a single-minded mission to bust up the various criminal enterprises run by the powerful neighborhood triads (by any means necessary). Rourke’s combative “cop on the edge” (also a Vietnam vet) is equal parts Popeye Doyle and Archie Bunker; his casual racism suggests that he may have not been the ideal political choice for this posting. Rourke really pulls out all the stops. John Lone also does a great turn as his sociopathic nemesis, a politically savvy rising star in the Chinese mob. The film has garnered a cult following over the years (guilty). As usual, Warner skimps on extras (there’s a commentary track by Cimino), but image and sound quality are tops.

Zachariah   (Kino-Lorber) – Originally billed as “the first electric western”, George Englund’s 1971 curio barely qualifies as a “western”, but it certainly is plugged in, turned-on and far out, man. Perhaps a more apt title would have been “Billy the Kid vs Siddhartha”. No, seriously-it is (allegedly) based on Herman Hesse’s classic. Well, there is a protagonist, and he does go on a journey…but that’s where the similarities end. Still, I think it’s a hoot, with a screenplay concocted by members of The Firesign Theater (who later fled in horror from the finished product). It does have its moments; mostly musical. My favorite scene features the original James Gang (Joe Walsh, Dale Peters and Jim Fox) rocking out in the middle of the desert as our hero (John Rubinstein) makes his grand entrance (it presages a scene in Blazing Saddles, where Sherriff Bart tips his hat to Count Basie and orchestra as they perform amidst the sagebrush). Also look for Country Joe and the Fish and fiddler Doug Kershaw. Don Johnson co-stars. Not for all tastes, but cult movie buffs will enjoy it. Great transfer and enlightening new interview with Rubinstein.

Film buffs may want to check these out on Amazon Prime day, Monday the 15th to see if there’s a deal for these collector’s discs.

Summertime Blus Part I, with reviews of eight more new blu-rays here.

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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— Dennis Hartley

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Thanks !

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