Although separated by fifteen years, the Depression and World War Two, Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1948) have quite a bit in common, stylistically and thematically; each centres on an outsider character brought low by guilt, who ultimately finds redemption through self-knowledge, and each uses richly Expressionistic black-and-white photography to create a feverishly claustrophobic atmosphere to trap its protagonist in a seemingly hopeless situation.
Quiet, contemplative character-based science fiction movies feel like a refreshing oasis in a desert of big, loud, empty franchise blockbusters. James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019), Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s Ad Astra (2018), Sion Sono’s The Whispering Star (2015) and Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) provide satisfaction on many levels.
A new three-disk Blu-ray from Criterion showcases three fantasies by the great Czech animator Karel Zeman, whose unique, inventive style creates a child-like sense of wonder in even the most jaded viewer. The superb restorations provided by the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague are supplemented with some terrific extras, including an excellent feature-length documentary about Zeman’s career and four of his early short films.
In the past few years Kino Lorber has become one of the most prolific disk producers with a remarkably varied catalogue representing every imaginable genre. Here, I look at a half dozen KL releases by a range of interesting directors – Robert Fuest, Ken Russell, Alain Robak, Harold Becker, Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah.
With Hammer Vol. 4: Faces of Fear, Indicator continue to prove themselves one of the finest companies producing exceptional Blu-ray editions of a wide variety of genres. This new set includes three of the studio’s finest features, each very different from the others, plus an interesting misfire. As always, there’s an almost overwhelming quantity of supplementary material to provide background and critical assessments for each film.
Revisiting movies from the early 1970s, I recently watched Howard W. Koch’s rather ugly cop feature Badge 373 (1973), with Robert Duvall as a rule-breaking, racist misogynist NYC detective; Willard (1971), Daniel Mann’s adaptation of Stephen Gilbert’s dark horror novel Ratman’s Notebooks; and two features by George Roy Hill, his faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) and his most personal, and best, film The Great Waldo Pepper (1975).
This year’s New Year’s Eve movie binge with my friend Steve spanned from ’50s 3D Red Menace sci-fi to ’70s blaxploitation horror to a political thriller about right-wing apocalyptic political paranoia which, while dating from 1972, suggested the atmosphere of the coming 2020 presidential election year.