“A Fistful of Dollars: Special Edition” (1964, Kino Lorber) Grizzled stranger Clint Eastwood enters a small Mexican town dominated by two warring families, and offers his peerless talents with a pistol to both sides. An unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai film “Yojimbo” (which itself borrows from Dashiell Hammett’s novel “Red Harvest“), this Italian-Spanish-West Germany production drew international attention to the film careers of Eastwood, director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone and helped to define the style and scope of countless European-made Westerns and eventually, action films around the world that followed; “Fistful” remains an audacious and enormously entertaining film, with bracing violence and sardonic humor that still seem fresh, even after a half-century of carbons. Kino’s Blu-ray offers a 4K restoration and a mix of new and vintage extras ported over from the MGM DVD/Blu-ray, including an interview with Eastwood, commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling and a prologue filmed by Monte Hellman and starring Harry Dean Stanton for a 1975 broadcast on American TV; the new material includes Tim Lucas’s thoroughly researched commentary, an interview with star Marianne Koch, a “Trailers from Hell” clip with John Badham and a brace of outtakes which include Leone and Eastwood acting out the original opening (in which Eastwood steals his iconic serape and kicks its owner into a river).
“The Insult” (2017, Cohen Media Group) A broken gutter and a few thoughtless words quickly escalate a squabble between a Christian mechanic (Adel Karam) and a Palestinian construction foreman (Kamel El Basha) to violence, a vicious legal battle and ultimately, civil unrest, death threats and a child on the brink of death. Oscar-nominated Lebanese film from cinematographer Ziad Doueiri (“Jackie Brown”) details how even a simple dispute can, under the right degree of tension and misunderstanding, devastate both sides to a degree that would seem farcical, were it not happening in the real world almost every single day. Doueiri gets excellent work from his cast – not only from Karam and El Basha, who won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, but also Rita Hayek and Camille Salameh, who plays Tony’s very pregnant wife and combative lawyer, respectively – all of whom lend exceptional intensity (and at the right time, quiet introspection) when the script lapses into occasional didacticism. Cohen’s Blu-ray includes a lengthy interview with Douieri by Columbia University professor Richard Pena.
“Harper” (1966, Warner Archive Collection) It seems like a nothing case taken for easy money – locating a missing millionaire so disliked that even his wife (Lauren Bacall) doesn’t really want him found – but private eye Lew Harper (Paul Newman) still finds himself on the wrong end of some very out-there Angelenos, including Bacall’s hot-to-trot daughter (Pamela Tiffin), her toothy pilot boyfriend (Robert Wagner), , a boozy ex-starlet (Shelley Winters) and her gun-toting husband (Robert Webber), and a faux guru (Strother Martin), all of whom appear to have a score to settle with Harper’s quarry. Screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) refashions Ross MacDonald‘s novel “The Moving Target” as a snarky, sideways look at desperate types on either end of the Los Angeles social spectrum; the city itself looks sleek courtesy of director Jack Smight and DP Conrad Hall, but the real action happens in the city’s grimier bungalows and bars; even Moonfire Ranch (which was built for use in the film) turns out to be a haven for hustlers. Newman has charm and grit to spare, and is clearly relishing the chance to play to his strengths (likable, rough-edged, and determined). Warner Archive’s Blu-ray includes witty commentary by Goldman, who dishes plenty of production anecdotes, and the original (and curious) trailer. Oh, Warner also has the 1975 follow-up, “The Drowning Pool,” which we’ll look at shortly.
“The Bloodthirsty Trilogy” (1970-75, Arrow Video) Icily atmospheric trio of vampire films from Toho, home to Godzilla (and “Yojimbo”), which made a respectable play to forge its own kaidan-eiga (supernatural horror) franchise. Director Michio Yamamoto draws heavily on Hammer’s updated Gothic house style for all three titles, and even directly quotes “Horror of Dracula” for the conclusion of the second film in the series, “Lake of Dracula”; the concluding picture, “Evil of Dracula,” too, takes its cues from the lesser-known “Lust for a Vampire” for its monster-in-a-boarding-school scenario, albeit with a lesser emphasis on overripe exploitation. The best of the lot is probably “Vampire Doll,” which as Kim Newman points out in the excellent informal video essay included on the disc, can be seen as tangentially related to Japan’s long history of vengeful female spirits in folklore and movies (“The Ring,” “Dark Water,” et al) with its tragic, raven-tressed villainess. Arrow’s Blu-ray set includes terrific trailers for all three films, which boil down all the lightning flashes, bared fangs and candlelit trips through darkened rooms into compact spookshows.
“Kaleidoscope” (2016, Shout Factory) What could go wrong, you ask, with a harmless first date between a lonely, middle-aged gardener (Toby Jones) and a woman (Sinead Matthews, “Black Mirror”) he’s just met online? Yes, he has a prison record, and some mother issues, too, but he seems quiet and harmless – that is, until Matthews turns up dead in his bathroom (or does she?) and his mother (Anne Reid) abruptly announces a visit (or does she?) Hallucinatory psychological thriller written and director by Jones’ brother, Rupert Jones, which benefits greatly from an unhurried pace in revealing what may (or may not) be going on in that apartment. The presence of Toby Jones – who can seemingly play anything (Truman Capote, Swifty Lazar, a disembodied Nazi) with sympathy and conviction – is also a plus, especially when the script’s Möbius-strip structure executes its umpteenth reversal to reveal that things are not as they seem (or are they?). Shout Factory’s Blu-ray includes several very brief making-of featurettes and the theatrical trailer.