Well, it’s a small week this week in terms of titles, but it seems like every release is either a notable film or a deluxe edition or some combination of both. Take a look!
Empire of Light – Sam Mendes’ latest film didn’t exactly light up the awards circuit like some critics thought it would, but it did garner an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography and a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination for Olivia Colman. And while I don’t want to get too technical here, if Roger Deakins doesn’t win for Best Cinematography, it will be a crime. This is one of the most beautifully lit and shot movies I’ve seen in a long time. Every scene looks like something out of a postcard; it’s really impressive. Meanwhile, the film is billed as a love letter to the movie theaters of yesteryear, which is a bit misleading. Yes, it takes place in a movie theater in England in the 1980s, but really the film is about people’s connections in turbulent times, with some deep messages about racism and mental health mixed in to really shake things up. Olivia Colman is wonderful, as is the entire supporting cast, and really the only knock I have on an excellently-crafted film is that it just seems to get sadder as its goes. This isn’t a feel-good film, that’s for sure. That said, it is a really polished and powerful movie, a strong drama with interesting characters and great performances, and it is definitely worth a watch.
Dazed and Confused – Richard Linklater has gone on to become a respected Hollywood director who makes all different kinds of films, but perhaps his most loved movie remains his debut, Dazed and Confused. For my money, this coming-of-age high school comedy is a touch on the overrated side. I like it just fine, but honestly, it’s not one of my personal favorites. The cast is great, of course, giving us Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Jason London, Joey Lauren Adams, Rory Cochrane, Cole Hauser, and Adam Goldberg, most of them before they were famous. But I find the film to be one of the lesser high school comedies for me; I enjoy it, but it’s just never landed at the top of my favorites lists. Still, there’s no denying the fan following the movie has, and now the Criterion Collection will make those fans happy with their new 4K Ultra HD (plus Blu-ray) edition. As usual, Criterion has done an absolutely masterful job of presenting the movie, with a new 4K digital restoration of the director’s cut (supervised and approved by director Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel). You get the film on 4K Ultra HD on one disc and then you also get the film on Blu-ray on another disc along with the special features. This special features include an audio commentary with Linklater, a making-of documentary, archival featurettes, interviews, an essay booklet, and more. The 4K restoration looks and sounds terrific, too. While this is a low-budget film that’s now three decades old, the colors pop more than I’ve seen before, the print is very clean, and image clarity is sharper than before. The surround soundtrack isn’t exactly and aural feast (more due to the film’s real world setting than anything else), but it does utilize the surround channel to give the movie a true ambience. It’s really a terrific package. If you are a bigger Dazed and Confused fan than I am, this is by far the best version of the movie on home video yet.
The Magnificent Seven (4K Ultra HD) – Yul Brynner. Steve McQueen. Charles Bronson. Robert Vaughn. Eli Wallach. While those names don’t carry the same weight nowadays as they once did, just the idea of these five actors (along with the lesser known Horst Buchholz and Brad Dexter) in a tough-as-nails western should be enough to get you excited. Shout Factory brings us the 4K Ultra HD debut of The Magnificent Seven this week (which also includes the film on Blu-ray), bringing one of the greatest westerns ever to home video audiences in the best way possible. Brynner and McQueen lead the charge of seven guns-for-hire who are hired to protect a small Mexican village from a band of raiders, and while the pay is next to nothing, each man has a different reason for coming along. Each of the seven actors is terrific, and each character gets their own moment in the spotlight. All of that is capped by some wonderful action sequences in the tradition of the grandest westerns. The film has been remastered for the 4K Ultra HD release, and it looks and sounds astounding considering the film is 60 years old. That classic Technicolor vibrance is on full display here, the print is completely unblemished, and the imagery looks as crisp as if it was shot yesterday. You also get a nice collection of extra features, including two commentaries, a making-of documentary, several featurettes, and more. This version of The Magnificent Seven on home video is — dare I say it? — truly magnificent!
Magnificent Warriors – There are not one but two films this week with the word ‘magnificent’ on the title, and I have to say that while Magnificent Warriors is the much lesser-known of the two, I enjoyed it almost as much. Now, if I told you I just watched a great movie set during World War II where a lone hero wearing a leather jacket and sporting a bullwhip took on an army of imperialist stormtroopers, you’d assume I was referring to Indiana Jones, no? Well, I’m not, but clearly this is a movie that was wearing its Indy inspiration on its sleeve. Starring a young Michelle Yeoh, Magnificent Warriors takes place during Japan’s occupation of China on the dawn of World War II and sees Yeoh as a singular hero who helps a small town oust the Japanese soldiers who want to build a chemical weapons plant there. Ultimately, though, it’s not the plot that sets the film apart, it’s the action, of which there is plenty. We get martial arts galore, car chases, explosions, sieges, and even a plane dogfight, almost all of which is anchored by Yeoh and her cohorts, Richard Ng and Derek Yee Tung-Sing. The film is a lot of fun, and some of the action scenes are truly exceptional. Magnificent Warriors has been released on Blu-ray by 88 Films, who has been releasing super high quality collector’s editions of Asian action films for quite a while now. You get the film on Blu-ray, gorgeous packaging, a full-color booklet, an audio commentary, two interview featurettes, a poster, and more. Fans of Asian action cinema should absolutely track this one down!
Giovanni’s Island – This week’s requisite anime release comes from the same studio that created Ghost in the Shell, although it’s a completely different kind of movie. This film takes place in the aftermath of World War II, own a small Japanese island, where a pair of young brothers find themselves uprooted when Soviet military forces take over. One of the boys forms a friendship and a bond with Tanya, the daughter of the Russian commander, which is threatened when the Japanese residents might be forced to leave their homes. While there are some other more famous anime movies that deal with similar topics, I found Giovanni’s Island to be a solid little movie that focuses on friendships and relationships in troubling times, rather than trying to turn it into action fare or something like that. It might not be for everyone, but fans of films like Grave of the Fireflies will probably enjoy it quite a bit.
Philosophy in the Boudoir (Eugenie) and Justine (4K Ultra HD) – Blue Underground has two new 4K Ultra HD rereleases out this week, for two of their most notorious titles: Philosophy in the Boudoir (also known as Eugenie) and Justine. Both films are based on original novels by the Marquis de Sade (whose name the word ‘sadism’ is derived from, if that give you some context) and both were directed by Jess Franco, the infamous Italian director who made his name with shocking and over-the-top exploitation films. They also both deal with innocent young women forced into situations filled with sexual exploitation, so these movies are not for the faint of heart. And I’ll be honest, they’re not exactly my cup of tea. But that’s okay, they don’t have to be for me to relay the high quality of these releases for fans. Both films were released on Blu-ray in the past few years and now get brand new 4K Ultra HD releases with restored and remastered picture quality. Philosophy in the Boudoir (Eugenie) co-stars Christopher Lee and includes multiple extra features, including several interview featurettes, a poster and stills gallery, an audio commentary, and more. Meanwhile, Justine co-stars a nicely over-the-top Jack Palance, and it also includes a wealth of extra features including audio commentaries, multiple interview featurettes, an alternate cut of the film, and more. The 4K restorations are quite impressive, bringing us top-notch picture quality with vibrant colors and sharp details. If you are a Jess Franco fan or a fan of exploitation cinema, these two releases are among the highest quality I’ve seen in the genre.