Summer is heating up, so thank god there are a bunch of totally cool new DVDs and Blu-rays to chill out with. This month we get Blu-ray editions of classics from Roger Vadim, Ken Russell, and Stanley Donen, some weird-ass obscurities that finally get a home video release, plus a whole lot more.
“Barbarella” (Roger Vadim, 1968)
Why You Should Care: Based on a ’60s French science fiction comic book of the same name, “Barbarella” is a hallucinogenic, highly sexualized Italian/French co-production responsible for giving pop behemoths Duran Duran their name, largely inspiring the underrated Roman Coppola movie “CQ” and confirming our suspicions (at the tender age of ten) that we were, in fact, heterosexual (thank you, Jane Fonda and your va-va-voominess). Fonda plays the title role, a go-go-booted space spy who… Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Both because the movie creates its own dreamily psychedelic universe where narrative conventions are largely thrown out the window in favor of glittery visuals and WTF-worthy plot developments (this is a movie where John Philip Law plays an angel for some reason) and because the only thing that really, truly matters is watching Fonda scamper around some excessively outsized sets while in varying states of undress. (For a movie that’s still rated PG it’s outrageously sexy.) The script was co-written by noted satirist Terry Southern and Vadim (director of “And God Created Women”), who was married to Fonda at the time, and the two seem to know what a deliciously campy smorgasbord they’ve cooked up. The movie’s tawdry datedness (it’s like if someone decided to shoot a soft-core porn in a blown-out version of Tomorrowland) is now one of its primary charms and it stands as a testament to the awe-inspiring power of physical sets, which, besides Fonda’s cheeky-sexy performance, is reason enough to watch (or re-watch) the movie. We just can’t believe anyone thought that shag carpeting would survive the ’60s, much less exist in the far off future.
What’s On It: Even though Paramount is making a fairly big deal about the film’s high-definintion debut, there’s nothing on the Blu-ray besides the theatrical trailer. That said, the new transfer gives the movie a heretofore-unseen level of dimensionality and makes the whole groovy experiment even groovier.
Release date: Now via Paramount
“Escape in the Fog” (Budd Boetticher, 1945)
Why You Should Care: Helmed by existential western auteur Budd Boetticher (who directed “Seven Men From Now,” “The Tall T,” “Buchanana Rides Alone,” and “The Cimarron Kid” before going nuts and spending the next decade in Mexico, ostensibly trying to mount a documentary of bullfighter Carlos Arruza), “Escape in the Fog” is a marginal B-movie (its original poster exclaims: “Slipping silently out of the fog… Came murder!”) gifted with a truly intriguing premise. Plucky nurse Eilene Carr (Nina Foch) has a vivid, film noir-y dream (complete with clumps of matted fog) about three men murdering another on the Golden Gate Bridge… and then meets the potential murder victim in real life. Can you imagine? Well, you probably can. From there things become more grandiose, involving an international conspiracy and climaxing in a gunfight that showcases Boetticher’s experience in the western genre. The movie isn’t known for being much of a classic, but it does feature a pair of reliably gripping performances by Foch and noted character actor Otto Kruger. Up until now the movie has existed in the purgatorial in-between land of occasional TCM showings, but the movie is finally being made available for purchase through Sony’s burn-on-demand Sony Choice Collection. Now fans of atmospheric, overlooked film noirs will no longer be slaves to their DVRs!
What’s On It: Well, it being a burn-to-order baby, there’s absolutely nothing on it.
Release date: Out now via Sony Choice Collection
“White Sister” (“The Sin“) (Alberto Lattuada, 1972)
Why You Should Care: How could you resist a movie that featured a poster showing Sophia Loren both as a buttoned-up nun and a wild-haired vixen with the seductive logline: “See her as you’ve never seen her before… wounded by her love for one man and healing the hurt of others?” Well, you probably can’t. Especially when you hear that the movie has an admirably melodramatic plot in which Loren plays a woman whose lover is killed in an oil field accident in Libya (yeah, one of those), which leads her to becoming a nun (pretty standard response to your lover being killed in a Libyan oil field accident) and later, run a hospital in Italy, where she strikes up an unlikely relationship with a roguish Marxist patient (played by Adriano Celentano from “La Dolce Vita”). While not exactly a crown jewel of Loren’s filmography, this Italian-language feature (which also co-starred Fernando Reyes) has never been released (legally) on home video in the United States. (There was an okay-looking Region 2 DVD that came out in 2006. But you would need both a region-free DVD player and a healthy curiosity in world cinema in order to watch it.) This new disc comes from the burn-on-demand Sony Choice Collection service. Just as god intended.
What’s On It: This being a burn-on-demand deal, absolutely nothing (say it again).
Release date: Out now via Sony Choice Collection
“Singin’ in the Rain” (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952)
Why You Should Care: Simply put: it’s one of the greatest, most influential movie musicals of all time. Gene Kelly, who co-directed the movie and also served as its choreographer, plays a silent film star whose shallow leading lady (Jean Hagen) leaves him cold and requires a young ingénue (played by Debbie Reynolds) to recharge his mojo. Besides being hugely influential to this day (“The Artist” borrows whole chunks of its narrative, quite shamelessly), it also seems way ahead of its time – it’s something of a prototypical jukebox musical, appropriating a number of songs from MGM’s musicals of the ’20s and ’30s. Of course, the main thing that people remember from the musical (which, at 103 minutes, is positively spritely for this type of movie) is the titular “Singin’ in the Rain” musical number, which Kelly performed while enduring a 103-degree temperature and can now be seen (in freakishly lifelike auto-animatronic form) a thousand times a day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Central Florida. What makes “Singin’ in the Rain” even more fascinating is the fact that the movie was largely ignored both critically and commercially upon its initial release and has only gained its status as a bonafide classic in the decades since (it was only nominated for a pair of Oscars – Jean Hagen was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Score – it won neither). It is now widely recognized as one of the best American films of all time…
What’s On It: … and befitting one of the best American films of all time, the movie is being re-released in a lavish 60th anniversary package, which includes, amongst other things, a 48-page hardcover book featuring never-before-seen memos and photos, a custom full-size umbrella (of course), and theatrical poster reproductions, along with a bunch of actual special features – commentary tracks, a new documentary called “Singin’ in the Rain: Raining on a New Generation” (which kind of sounds dirty come to think of it), a 1996 PBS documentary on MGM musicals, a making-of documentary, outtakes, stills, and galleries. You will be awash in extras.
Release date: July 17th via Warner Bros.
“Altered States” (Ken Russell, 1980)
Why You Should Care: A freaky-deaky genre masterpiece from the perpetually overlooked genius Ken Russell (and based on the only novel by seminal playwright Paddy Chayefsky), it is the ultimate bad trip. William Hurt, in his big screen debut, stars as a cavalier psychology professor studying abnormal psychology through the use of a “sensory deprivation tank.” While the tank starts off a purely psychological trip, it ends up changing the scientist physically (and spiritually), with increasing intensity. “Altered States” had an infamous production frequently fraught with difficulty – Chayefsky took his name off of the project (it is credited to Sidney Aaron, Chayefsky’s real first and middle name) and “Bonnie and Clyde” director Arthur Penn, who was originally slated to helm the project, quit after clashing with Chayefsky. (John Dykstra, one of the original visionaries behind the “Star Wars” special effects, also parted ways with the production.) While initially met with solid (if unspectacular) critical notices, it has grown into a can-you-fucking-believe-it genre classic, one that still exerts its influence over current popular culture (among other things: J.J. Abrams’ twisty sci-fi series “Fringe” is a love letter to “Altered States,” down to the casting of Blair Brown, in a key role). One person that loved the film right off the bat was John C. Lilly, a physician, neuroscientist and philosopher whose experiments with psychedelic drugs (mostly LSD) partially inspired Chayefsky’s original novel and screenplay, although took umbrage over not personally being asked to be involved in the film. It remains a beautiful and unsettling journey through madness (and to the horrors on the other side).
What’s On It: A wonky theatrical trailer. That’s it. Talk about scary. Although we should point out that the new DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does a great job of replicating the “Megasound” sound that the movie was released with (it was a gimmicky, short-lived surround system developed by Warner Bros. as an alternative to “Sensurround”).
Release date: Out now via Warner Bros.
Also out in July: “The Devil’s Needle and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption,” a collection of “archival rareties” from Kino (out now); 1944’s “Cover Girl” makes its high-definition debut from boutique distributor Twilight Time (out now); Criterion is re-releasing some Collection favorites on Blu-ray – Jim Jarmusch’s “Down by Law” (July 17th) and Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan” and “Last Days of Disco” (both July 24th) while also releasing last year’s Aki Kaurismaki wonder “Le Havre” (July 31st) as well as the Eclipse box set “Jean Gremillon During the Occupation,” a collection of films by the little-known French filmmaker (July 24th); terrific Hammer horror movie “Twins of Evil” comes to Blu-ray (July 10th); 1956’s original (and still, some consider, best) “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” duplicates itself on Blu-ray (July 17th); 1972’s original “Burke & Hare” also comes to Blu-ray (July 17th); the film that made Martin Scorsese a powerful force in American film, “Mean Streets,” finally comes to Blu-ray (July 17th); the underrated Robert Rodriguez/Kevin Williamson sci-fi romp “The Faculty” is being released on Blu-ray (July 24th); “Subway Stories,” the made-for-HBO anthology film that featured sections by Jonathan Demme, Ted Demme, and Bob Balaban (among others) with a cast that included Denis Leary, Anne Heche, Bonnie Hunt, Jerry Stiller, Lili Taylor, Steve Zahn and Michael Rapaport, comes out via burn-on-demand imprint Warner Archive (out now); Jean Renoir’s antiwar masterpiece “Le Grande Illusion” makes its high-definition debut with a newly resored print (July 31st); and 1986’s “Band of the Hand,” directed by Paul Michael Glaser and starring John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Lang (we can’t make this stuff up), which sounds like a Southern Fried “Miami Vice,” aka “fucking incredible” (out now).