Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel Beasts of No Nation (2015), a problematic depiction of child soldiers in Africa gets an impressive release on Blu-ray from Criterion. Fukunaga’s skills as cinematographer and director of actors are on full display, but the film falters in its treatment of of some of the moral issues it raises.
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).
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.
Universal’s series of minor B-movies based on Simon & Schuster’s line of fiction and NBC’s long-running radio show called Inner Sanctum gave third-string horror star Lon Chaney Jr. a brief opportunity to get away from the monsters he played in the 1940s. Despite a low critical reputation, these atmospheric little movies are quite entertaining and receive a nice showcase in Eureka’s two-disk Blu-ray set.
Indicator have done their usually exemplary job with a pair of recent box sets – one devoted to the five Fu Manchu movies written and produced by Harry Alan Towers in the late 1960s, all starring Christopher Lee in racial drag; the other showcasing six films from Columbia Pictures rather loosely gathered together and labelled film noir.
Known as the “father of African cinema”, Ousmane Sembene’s films grapple with issues of identity in the complex social and political conditions of post-colonial Africa. His second feature (and first in colour) Mandabi (1968) is a tragi-comedy about a proud man clinging to an outmoded patriarchal role whose life is upended when a nephew working in France sends him a money order for 25,000 francs.
Indicator continue to release exemplary editions of a wide range of movies, from obscure genre titles to classics to exploitation and occasional failed experiments. Recent viewing ranges from Max Ophuls’ exquisite domestic noir The Reckless Moment (1949) to Blake Edwards’ taut thriller Experiment in Terror (1962) and Arthur Lubin’s surprisingly good Gothic romance Footsteps in the Fog (1955).
By the end of his career Luis Bunuel had perfected a style both allusive and precise in its details, giving his work a unique charm fully on display in Criterion’s new Blu-ray set of the final three features: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), The Phantom of Liberty (1974) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977).