A quick note to all you film buffs and home video enthusiasts out there who received a little extra money (or, dare we suggest, a Movies Unlimited gift certificate?) in their stocking this Christmas season: the coming year will offer ample opportunities for you to spend your Yuletide gains on new DVD and Blu-ray releases from the fine folk at the Criterion Collection. For those of you unfamiliar with Criterion, the company is known for in putting out special editions of important classic and contemporary Hollywood and world cinema titles. These collector’s items often come loaded with unique features–audio commentaries, interviews, documentaries, companion booklets, and more–not included in general release versions of the movies.
The following is a sampling of upcoming Criterion releases for the first quarter of 2015 (for a more complete list of available Criterion titles, please check out our retail site):
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)(DVD and Blu-ray) – Rainer Werner Fassbinder adapted his stage play into this highly stylized film which relates the complex love affair between a stuck-up fashion designer who divorces her husband and the young, beautiful model who has aroused her passions. Their romance, however, is soon revealed as an exercise based on power, contempt, and mistrust. Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, and Irm Hermann star. Includes interviews and the bonus documentary Role Play: Women on Fassbinder (1992). In German with English subtitles.
Le Ciénaga (2001)(DVD and Blu-ray) – The title of writer/director Lucrecia Martel’s acerbic domestic drama refers both to its marshy northern Argentina setting and the morass of emotional troubles that drag down middle-aged Mecha and her family, who spend a stifling summer at their rundown vacation home there. Graciela Borges, Mercedes Moran, and Martin Adjemian star. Includes an interview and the theatrical trailer. In Spanish with English subtitles.
My Winnipeg (2007 )(DVD and Blu-ray) – Commissioned to make a documentary about his hometown by the city fathers of Winnipeg, cinema poet Guy Maddin concocted this one-of-a-kind feature that blends eccentric history and hypnotic dreams. Touring the Canadian provincial capital–located at the “dead center” of North America–through memory and imagination, Maddin spins wry and mysterious yarns about sleepwalkers, frozen racehorses, and a soap opera starring his mother. Includes deleted scenes, the bonus shorts Spanky: To the Pier and Back (2008), Sinclair (2010) and Only Dream Things (2012), a deleted scene, and the theatrical trailer.
The Palm Beach Story (1942) (DVD and Blu-ray) – Preston Sturges displays his magic touch for the screwball comedy genre once again with this hilarious and frantic delight. Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) encounters an entourage of zany characters–among them “The Weenie King” and the train-riding, shotgun-toting “Ale and Quail Club”–after she leaves inventor hubby Tom (Joel McCrea) in an unconventional quest to fund his latest and greatest “big idea” by marrying a Florida millionaire! Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor co-star. Includes interviews and a 1943 Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast.
The Sword of Doom (1966)(Blu-ray; DVD available now) – Which is truly evil, the weapon or the man who wields it? In director Kihachi Okamoto’s vivid, exciting, and violent action drama, a swordsman (Tatsuya Nakadai) possessed of a sadistic fighting style is pursued by the brother of a man he killed during a fencing match. Training the vengeance-seeking young man is a bushido master (Toshiro Mifune) determined to lead his charge to victory. With Michiyo Aratama, Yuzo Kayama. Includes audio commentary and the theatrical trailer. In Japanese with English subtitles.
An Autumn Afternoon (1963)(Blu-ray; DVD available now) – The final film by acclaimed director Yasujiro Ozu follows in his tradition of heartfelt dramas examining the changing roles of an increasingly Westernized Japanese family life in the 20th century. Post-WWII Tokyo is the setting for this intimate look at a father preparing for his only daughter’s wedding. Chishu Ryu, Shima Iwashita, and Mariko Okada star. Includes audio commentary, a featurette, and the theatrical trailer. In Japanese with English subtitles.
A Day in the Country (1936)(DVD and Blu-ray) – When a Parisian merchant opts to take his brood on a Sunday outing into the countryside, his grown daughter gets coaxed into a fateful seduction by a handsome local. Jean Renoir’s lovely and lyrical take on the Guy de Maupassant story, intended as part of an uncompleted portmanteau project, stars Sylvia Bataille, Georges D’Arnoux, and Andre Gabriello. Includes featurettes, outtakes and screen tests. In French with English subtitles.
Don’t Look Now (1973)(DVD and Blu-ray) – Following the death of their daughter, distraught couple Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland) travel to Venice on vacation where they encounter an elderly psychic plagued by visions of their dead child. When John begins experiencing paranormal flashes of his own, the lovers soon find their lives spiraling out of control. Director Nicolas Roeg’s intense drama, based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier, co-stars Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania. Includes “making of” documentaries, featurettes and the theatrical trailer.
Every Man for Himself (1980)(DVD and Blu-ray) – Returning to commercial narrative filmmaking, but remaining characteristically defiant, French director Jean-Luc Godard crafted a telling look at the tension between the desires for companionship and freedom. An arrogant TV producer (Jacques Dutronc) must sort through his ties with the women in his life, including his wearied reporter girlfriend (Nathalie Baye) and an unapologetic hooker (Isabelle Huppert). The two-disc set includes the bonus short films Le Scenário (1979) and Godard 1980 (1980), featurettes and the theatrical trailer. In French with English subtitles.
Fellini Satyricon (1970)(DVD and Blu-ray) – Taking Petronius’ 1st-century satire as a springboard to comment on the decadence of contemporary youth, Federico Fellini crafted a visually stunning epic following the diverse and debauched escapades of Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller) as they drift through an Ancient Rome unbounded in its excesses and degeneracy. Max Born, Alain Cuny, and Capucine co-star. 129 min. Includes an audio commentary, “making of” documentaries, featurettes and the theatrical trailer. In Italian with English subtitles.
Watership Down (1978)(DVD and Blu-ray) – This is no cute and cuddly kiddie tale à la Beatrix Potter. With their warren teetering on the brink of destruction, a small band of brave rabbits undertakes a perilous journey to find a new home. Heading for the safety of an area known as Watership Down, the travelers overcome many obstacles, ultimately facing a violent showdown against a fascist community of fellow rabbits led by a despotic ruler. The stirring adaptation of Richard Adams’ best-selling novel features the voices of John Hurt, Ralph Richardson, Denholm Elliott, and Zero Mostel. Includes storyboard comparisons, featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.
Cries and Whispers (1972)(DVD and Blu-ray) – In late 19th-century Sweden, a terminally ill woman is looked after by her two sisters and the family’s maid. Each woman’s views on mortality and life’s meaning are eloquently depicted on the screen this acclaimed drama from master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, Harriet Andersson and Kari Sylwan star; with Oscar-winning cinematography by Sven Nykvist. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, the documentary Ingmar Bergman: Reflections on Life, Death and Love with Erland Josephson (2000), an interview with Andersson; a 2001 introduction by Bergman and the theatrical trailer. In Swedish with English subtitles/Dubbed in English.
Gates of Heaven (1978)/Vernon, Florida (1981)(DVD and Blu-ray) – One of the funniest and most bizarrely touching documentaries ever filmed, “Gates of Heaven,” Errol Morris’ tribute to “puppy love,” looks at the operators and customers of California pet cemeteries, interviewing folks whose concern for their dogs, cats, birds, and other creatures is truly eternal. Then, Morris journeys to the sleepy Southern hamlet of “Vernon, Florida,” where he chats with such resident eccentrics as a dedicated turkey hunter, a verbose preacher, and a lackadaisical hunter for a memorable slice of oddball Americana. Includes the short film “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” (1980), featuring Morris, and bonus featurettes.
Hoop Dreams (1994)(DVD and Blu-ray) – The acclaimed, one-of-a-kind documentary details 4 1/2 years in the lives of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two Chicago teens who are counting on their basketball skills to bring them out of the inner city and into college and, ultimately, big money with the NBA. Follow their triumphs and tragedies on and off the court as they cope with personal, family and academic problems while playing in pursuit of their dreams. Includes an audio commentary; deleted scenes; the documentary Life After ‘Hoop Dreams, a music video and the theatrical trailers.
Ride the Pink Horse (1947)(DVD and Blu-ray) – Disillusioned ex-GI Lucky Gagin (Robert Montgomery, who also directed) blew into a dusty New Mexico border town, looking for a fast score by running a blackmail scheme on local crime boss Frank Hugo (Fred Clark). Unfortunately, the racketeer’s not about to cooperate, and the would-be shakedown artist quickly finds himself in over his head. Long-demanded film noir co-stars Thomas Gomez, Wanda Hendrix, Art Smith, and Andrea King. Includes an audio commentary, a featurette; and a 1947 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast starring Montgomery, Hendrix and Gomez..
The Soft Skin (1964)(DVD and Blu-ray) – Aging publisher Pierre Lacheney (Jean Desaily) put his seemingly happy marriage on the line when he fell into a casual affair with gorgeous stewardess Nicole Chomette (Françoise Dorleac). As his feelings for her intensify, however, Pierre’s infidelity proves to have shattering consequences. François Truffaut’s moody and memorable effort co-stars Nelly Benedetti and Sabine Haudepin. Includes an audio commentary and featurettes. In French with English subtitles.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)(DVD and Blu-ray) – Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (“Gates of Heaven”) tackles a much more serious subject in this engrossing true crime story that follows the unforgettable 12-year struggle of Randall Adams, an Ohio man who was convicted and placed on Death Row for the 1976 killing a Dallas, Texas policeman, to prove that he was innocent. Interviews, filmed re-enactments, old movie clips and a Philip Glass score make for a unique real-life drama. Includes interviews and a 1989 NBC News report on (SPOLER ALERT!) Adams’ exoneration and release from jail.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)(DVD; Blu-ray available now) – Director Monte Hellman’s acclaimed road drama features rock stars James Taylor and Dennis Wilson as two car-obsessed wanderers in a ’55 Chevy who are challenged to a cross-country race by Warren Oates and his brand-new GTO. Their race turns into a rambling odyssey fueled by an offbeat series of encounters along the way. With Laurie Bird, Alan Vint; look for Harry Dean Stanton as a hitchhiker. Includes an audio commentary, a featurette; interviews, outtakes, the theatrical trailer and a screenplay booklet.
Vampyr (1932)(DVD only) – One of the earliest and best vampire-based horror films, Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s moody, dreamlike thriller centers on a traveler whose stay at an isolated castle is beset by a series of hauntingly surreal visions–including a shadow that seems to move on its own, a scythe-wielding figure, and a horrifying dream of being buried alive. Julian West and Maurice Schultz star. The two-disc set includes an audio commentary, the documentary Carl Th. Dryer, a radio broadcast featuring Dryer, and a companion booklet. In German with English subtitles.