Full transparency: all Blu-rays reviewed were provided by Criterion, Kino Lorber, and 88 Films US.
Happy holidays, everyone! ‘Tis the season for merriment, goodwill to your fellow man, and watching people beat the living hell out of each other, or at least it is on “Physical Media Isn’t Dead, It Just Smells Funny.” There’s something in the air within the world of physical distribution. It seems that the time has come for balletic martial arts and high-octane action films to get their time to shine. On this month’s episode, we have three labels and all of them have brought some of the greatest films featuring fast and furious fists and a symphony of squibs.
New to the round-up this month we have 88 Films US, a label that specializes in martial arts films from the golden age of the medium. Their contribution is the workers’ rights-infused Shaw Brothers film directed by legend Chang Cheh, Disciples of Shaolin, starring the charismatic Alexander Fu Sheng. Kino Lorber doubles down this month with Mei-Chun Chang’s follow-up to the thoroughly entertaining Dynasty with Revenge of the Shogun Women, another collaboration with the 3-D Film Archive and their initiative to seemingly bring you eye-popping action whenever they can. Kino Lorber has also decided to grace us with an HD and 4K release of John Woo’s American debut film, the 1993 film Hard Target, starring Jean Claude Van Damme’s mullet and Wilford Brimley’s Cajun accent (along with Jean Claude Van Damme and Wilford Brimley). For such an occasion I had the opportunity to sit down with CMCL PhD candidate and all-around lovely person Jessie Balzer to discuss what makes Jean Claude Van Damme compelling and just what is going on with Lance Henrikson’s physical performance in this film. Finally, for my pick of the month, I swing back around to Criterion’s November release of the staggering Once Upon a Time in China: The Complete Films boxset — a must-own for anyone even vaguely interested in exploring the world of Hong Kong action cinema.
Limber up and get ready for a month of grace, violence, and doves making welcome appearances into the frame.
Also out this month…
The opportunity to make the main feed episode all about action was too good to pass up, but this meant that other films in my roster didn’t really have a home there. This was unfortunate considering that the three other films I got to lay my eyes on could have all qualified as my pick of the month under normal circumstances. So what I present to you are three certified bangers from Kino Lorber.
I love it when a film defies categorization. It makes me giddy thinking about how nothing like it quite exists and if it does, it’s in rare and welcome company. You could call Alan Arkush’s (the director behind the cult classic Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) film Get Crazy a music movie, sure. However you wouldn’t quite be capturing the unbridled anarchic energy bursting through the screen like bass through thin floorboards. Get Crazy is a New Year’s Eve film taking place on the eve of 1983. The owner (Max Garfield of Nashville fame) of a small historic venue called the Saturn Theater — which aims to keep the tickets cheap so teens and young adults can actually afford to go see the shows (a novel idea, I know) — comes down with a mysterious illness while his weaselly nephew and heir apparent (Miles Chapin) is ready to sell to Colin Beverley (Ed Begley Jr.) and his two yes men. Colin wants that venue in his grasp and demolished by any means necessary. It’s up to Neil Allen (a fresh-faced Daniel Stern) and Willy Loman (Gail Edwards) to put on the best New Year’s Eve show the world has seen while their boss fights for his life and the Saturn Theater is under constant attack.
That description barely scratches the surface of what Get Crazy is. Even if you took away the incredible soundtrack featuring artists Lou Reed, The Ramones, Fear, and Sparks (comin’ on through with the title song) and the performances from actors and musicians alike doing their best parody takes on famous folks (though Lee Ving of Fear shows up playing a part called “Piggy” and it’s not that different from their own persona), you’d still be left with a crackling piece of zany comedy which fires off gags, jokes, surprisingly high-stakes stunts, and broad satire faster than you can ask, “Wait, is Malcom MacDowell doing a Mick Jagger impression?” The closest thing I can compare this movie to is the 1988 film Tapeheads starring John Cusack and Tim Robbins, which is another film with surreal wall-to-wall comedy, musical performances, and acting from some music-adjacent faces. Honestly, this would make a dynamite double feature with that if you were looking to get your fix of musical comedies where all the jokes don’t land but you’re happy to be there anyway.
Packed to the brim with features including a 2K master approved by director Allan Arkush; audio commentary from Arkush, director Eli Roth, and filmmaker/historian Daniel Kremer; a new feature-length documentary called The After Party, which features interviews with a good chunk of the cast and crew; a “Trailers From Hell” segment with Arkush; three world-premiere music videos from Sparks and Lori Eastside and The Nada Band; and fictional biographies of the film’s fictional bands provided by podcasters in a featurette called “Fan Fiction with No Dogs in Space,” you can pick up Get Crazy from Kino Lorber.
I have been on a mission to explore the films of Ernst Lubitsch for quite some time and this winter I finally had the chance to begin viewing and understanding why he’s one of the greats of both humor and drama. While I still haven’t gotten around to the biggies like Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be, I’ve still started to glean how concerned he is about complex, painful, but ultimately beautiful relationships between people in unideal circumstances. Broken Lullaby illustrates such a picture with the soul and anguish of someone who feels close to the material. A French violinist and WWI soldier (Paul Renard as played by Phillip Holmes) has returned home victorious but traumatized by the death of a German soldier he himself killed. After making a confessional and having enough information to find the German soldier’s family to make amends, Paul becomes entangled in the lives of the grieving family while keeping the secret that he is the one who slayed their son. The entanglement is so deep that he develops a romance with the soldier’s fiancée Elsa (Nancy Carroll) and has the father (played by Lionel Barrymore) questioning the hypocrisies of war.
And that’s what this film really wants to hammer home: the double standards nations apply to other nations at a time of unrest and distrust. One scene in particular stuck out, when Lionel Barrymore pushes back against his friends as they question his decision to let a Frenchman into their life so shortly after the dust of conflict has settled. It’s powerful. The film smartly plays its cards in a way that allows it to crescendo to a catharsis films today so rarely allow themselves to have (the 2014 war film Phoenix comes to mind) and leaves you with a beautiful image and sounds that will surely stick with you.
The Blu-ray contains a trailer and an audio commentary from film historian Joseph McBride, author of How Did Lubitsch Do It? It can be found through Kino Lorber.
Honestly, I don’t know what I can say about this New Hollywood noir masterpiece by Robert Altman, starring Elliot Gould at his absolute hottest, with a score by John Williams that recapitulates the same theme song in different styles (and boy do they come up with A LOT of different styles), shot by the legend Vilmos Zsigmond, and with a script that pretty much picks up Phillip Marlowe’s story right where 1946’s The Big Sleep left off in the most bizarre way possible (it’s even written by Leigh Brackett, the co-writer of The Big Sleep). All I can say is:
“It’s OK with me.”
With audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas; a featurette with Robert Altman and Elliot Gould; a featurette featuring the work of Vilmos Zsigmond; a discussion with David Thompson on Robert Altman; a featurette with Tom Williams on Raymond Chandler; Maxim Jakubwski on “Hard Boiled Fiction,” a 1973 article from the publication American Cinematographer; a “Trailers From Hell” segment with Josh Olson; and numerous TV and theatrical spots as well as two theatrical trailers. Please pick up the legendary The Long Goodbye from Kino Lorber.
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.