Criterion have just released Andrei Tarkovsky’s most personal Film, Mirror (Zerkalo, 1975), in an exemplary two-disk edition. The 2K restoration supplied by Mosfilm has been supplemented with four-and-a-half hours of new and archival documentaries, including a superb feature-length survey of Tarkovsky’s life and work made by his son, Andrei A. Tarkovsky, in 2019.
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Director Bill Duke uses a mixture of film noir and blaxploitation tropes to explore the political complexities of being Black in the U.S. in Deep Cover (1992), his neon-tinted crime drama about an undercover cop (Laurence Fishburne) infiltrating the West Coast cocaine trade, now released in an extras-loaded 4K restoration by Criterion.
Eureka’s new two-disk Blu-ray release Karloff at Columbia is a real treat for fans of the iconic actor. Although it begins with Roy William Neill’s atmospheric period Gothic The Black Room (1935), the bulk of the set is devoted to what became known as the Mad Doctor Cycle, five extremely low-budget sci-fi tinged horrors in which Karloff plays scientists dabbling in research which the establishment frowns on; the authorities’ resistance tends to push him over into madness and murder and mayhem ensue. Long held in low esteem, these cheap movies are all entertaining and Karloff delivers sincere performances no matter how silly the trappings occasionally become.
With their third box set of Columbia Studios films noirs in just over half a year, Indicator again gather together six entertaining B-movies made in the shadow of Cold War paranoia; crime, violence and personal demons evoke a world destabilized by fear, betrayal and uncertainty. As before, the set is packed with commentaries featurettes and short films which illuminate the context from which the features emerged.
A recent Arrow box set showcases yet another regional filmmaker who built a career on determination and very little money. Bill Rebane built his own studio in rural Wisconsin and beginning in the 1960s made a series of genre movies whose reputation echoes that of Ed Wood. The big surprise of the Weird Wisconsin set is that some of them are genuinely effective and entertaining.
Two very different new releases from Criterion explore what it means to to maintain one’s humanity in the face of inhuman systems. Masaki Kobayashi’s overwhelming 9 1/2-hour epic The Human Condition (1959-61) follows a conscientious socialist into the brutal horrors of Japan’s occupation of Manchuria during the Second World War, while Martin Bell’s Streetwise (1984) and it’s sequel Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016) document the lives of homeless kids on the streets of Seattle during the Reagan era and the aftereffects of that experience in later life.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Home-Grown Horrors box set presents three ultra-low-budget regional movies on Blu-ray, really entertaining and looking better than they ever deserved to, and accompanied by surprisingly substantial extras about the fun and frustration of making movies without sufficient resources.
Another eclectic selection of recently watched Blu-rays, from two atmospheric French mysteries starring Jean Gabin as Maigret (1958-59) to the nightmarish horrors of war in Eastern Europe in an adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s controversial novel The Painted Bird (2019), from violence tourism in near-future Brazil in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s Bacurau (2019) to tenderness and violence on the American frontier in Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow (2020) and children faced with the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War in Frank Perry’s Ladybug Ladybug (1965).
With their second pair of releases, the folks at Cauldron Films have again dug deep into the fringes of genre movie-making, this time unearthing Sergio Pastore’s The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972), an Italian giallo from the peak period of that genre, and Tomas Aznar’s Beyond Terror (1980), a Spanish film which begins as a nihilistic story about a gang of vicious criminals and morphs into a supernatural revenge narrative.
Continuing their recent run of classic Hollywood restorations, Criterion have released an excellent edition of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), a sordid story of madness and criminality starring Tyrone Power in his best role as an opportunistic carny who cons his way to the top of respectable society only to plunge back down to the lowest depths. A remarkably grim movie to have been made by a major studio on an A-picture budget, it still remains a potent glimpse of existential horror.