New This Week
Marriage Story was my fifth favorite film of 2019, behind 1917, Parasite, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and The Irishman. The first three were previously released on Blu-ray and DVD as were Little Women, Jojo Rabbit, The Joker, and Ford v Ferrari, the other four films comprising the 2019 films nominated for the most recent Best Picture Oscar. Criterion, which has just released Marriage Story, will also subsequently release The Irishman. These two films follow Criterion’s release of 2018 Best Picture nominee Roma as only the second and third films to be granted Blu-ray and DVD releases by Netflix.
In addition to its Best Picture nomination, Marriage Story was nominated for Best Actor (Adam Driver), Actress (Scarlet Johansson), Supporting Actress (Laura Dern), Original Screenplay (Noah Baumbach), and Score (Randy Newman), with Dern winning. The best thing about the film is writer-director’s Baumbach’s incisive screenplay about the breakup of a marriage in which the husband and wife work to retain some sort of normalcy for the sake of their toddler son. Both Driver and Johansson deliver compassionate performances, with Dern at her wicked best as Johansson’s pushy lawyer. Alan Alda and Ray Liotta also have their moments as Driver’s lawyers, with Julie Hagerty as Johansson’s mother the standout among the remaining cast.
Given a 4K digital transfer, the film’s Blu-ray extras include the standard making-of features with interviews from the filmmakers and principal players. One intriguing bonus is the inclusion of the handwritten notes by both Driver’s and Johansson’s characters about the other in the Blu-ray packaging.
Also new from Criterion is another recent film about the breakup of a marriage, although one with a different outcome.
Paul Dano’s Wildlife is the debut work of the acclaimed actor (There Will Be Blood) as writer and director. It was cowritten with his longtime partner, Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick), based on the novel by Richard Ford.
Told from the perspective of the teenager (Ed Oxenbould) who is witness to the strained relationship of his parents (Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal), the young actor carries the film along with Mulligan in one of her best performances as the wife who is all but abandoned by her husband who is off on a menial, albeit dangerous, job for most of the film. Gyllenhaal also delivers a strong performance in his limited role.
Taken from a new 2K digital master, the Blu-ray features a wealth of extras including new interviews with Dano, Kazan, Mulligan, and Gyllenhaal as well as cinematographer Diego Garcia, production designer Akin McKenzie, costume designer Amanda Ford, editor Matthew Hannam, and composer David Lang. Also featured is the 2018 Lincoln Center conversation between Dano and author Ford that appeared on the film’s UK Blu-ray and DVD release.
Kino Lorber continues to be the production company with the most prolific, as well as diverse, home video output of them all. New first-time Blu-ray releases range from Istvan Szabo’s award-winning 1980s Hungarian films Confidence, Mephisto, and Colonel Redl to early 1950s Hollywood adventure films Against All Flags and The World in His Arms.
The three Szabo films have been given stunning 4K digital restorations for their Blu-ray debuts.
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1980, Confidence is a breathtaking love story of a pair of World War II Hungarian resistance fighters married to others who slowly fall in love while posing as husband and wife. Long unavailable in the U.S., this is the film’s first home video release here.
The winner of the 1981 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Mephisto, based on the novel by Klaus Mann, is about an actor (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who, on the brink of World War II, becomes the favorite of an influential Nazi general. Closing his eyes to the horrors around him, he lives only for the stage with his greatest role that of the demon Mephistopheles in the Faust legend.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of 1985, Colonel Redl purports to be the true story of the Russian spy who ultimately caused the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but since it was produced in Soviet-controlled Hungary, it downplays the role of the Russians and instead makes Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose later assassination started World War I, the ultimate villain. Ignore the historical inaccuracies and wallow in the film’s stunning cinematography, along with the performances of Brandauer, Jan Niklas, and Armin Mueller-Stahl as Ferdinand.
Brandauer was himself a leading contender for a 1985 Oscar, albeit for his supporting role in Out of Africa, losing to Don Ameche in Cocoon.
Anthony Quinn, who won the first of his two supporting Oscars for 1952’s Viva Zapata!, is featured in both of the same year’s adventure films new to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. He’s in support of Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara in the former and Gregory Peck and Ann Blyth in the latter. Both films are gorgeous to look at but rather tepid as epics even in their day.
Flynn was already well past his prime and easily outclassed by O’Hara even in his Against All Flags dueling scenes. Peck was no Flynn in a role that called for him to storm the barricades as Flynn once did in The Adventures of Robin Hood and Blyth is about as believable as a Russian princess as O’Hara would be in The World in His Arms.
Warner Archive has released a Blu-ray upgrade of Robert Z. Leonard’s 1940 version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Although long eclipsed by the 1995 TV miniseries and the 2005 theatrical version, this version benefits greatly from a deft screenplay by Aldous Huxley (A Woman’s Vengeance), as well as strong performances by Laurence Olivier as the prideful Mr. Darcy and Greer Garson as the prejudiced Elizabeth, with sterling support from Edna May Oliver, Mary Boland, Edmund Gwenn, and more. The film moves the narrative from Regency to Victorian England ostensibly to make use of the more flowery costumes left over from Gone with the Wind. It was also filmed in black-and-white rather than color after it was discovered that Gone with the Wind used all the technicolor film stock needed to begin filming on schedule.
This week’s new releases include the Blu-ray releases of Oscar nominees Sissy Spacek in The River and Susan Sarandon in Lorenzo’s Oil.