*indicates that this title is also available for rent, purchase, or viewing through streaming sources.
“Party Girl” (1995, Fun City Editions*) Breezy comedy from the ’90s indie scene fueled largely by the effervescent presence of Parker Posey as a New York scenester who discovers that boundless energy and impeccable fashion sense can’t keep her afloat (especially after she’s arrested for selling liquor at her rent party) and so turns to her godmother for a job at her staid library. Any confectionery lightness in the story is buoyed by the charming bite of the dialogue by co-producer Harry Birckmayer and director Daisy von Scherler Mayer, whose depiction of twenty-something city life in all its diversity and bravado remains both appealing and accurate. With Guillermo Diaz, Omar Townsend, and (briefly) Liev Schreiber, and a soundtrack loaded with ’90s-era club sounds (Tom Tom Club, Deee-Lite, Ultra Nate); Fun City’s Blu-ray features a 4K restoration of the original 16mm negative, as well as commentary by Jake Fogelnest and lengthy interviews with Posey, von Scherler Mayer, Birckmayer, and music supervisor Bill Coleman, who discuss their inspiration for the film, the influence of the NYC club scene, and its status as the first feature streamed on the internet, among other subjects. An abundance of BTS production material rounds out the excellent set.
“Unman, Wittering and Zigo” (1971, Arrow Video*) Ad man David Hemmings takes a job as a teacher at a British boys’ school, where the students inform him that the position became available after they murdered his predecessor. Little-seen British thriller, based on the radio play by Giles Cooper, may be too ambiguous for those seeking school-sadism thrills, but the script by novelist/playwright/world-class cad Simon Raven makes the growing threat of the boys’ predatory behavior and its impact on Hemmings’ life and marriage to Carolyn Seymour unsettling without resorting to overtly graphic material. Geoffrey (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) Unsworth’s cinematography and Michael J. Lewis’s score do much to support the slow boil on the viewer’s nerves: Arrow’s Limited Edition Blu-ray – which marks the first Stateside home video release for this title – includes commentary by Kim Newman and Sean Hogan, an appreciation by Matthew Sweet (not the musician), a recording of Cooper’s original play, and a retrospective featurette with cast members Seymour, Michael Howe, and Michael Cashman (now a member of the House of Lords).
“The Great Train Robbery” (1979, Kino Lorber*) Entertaining comedy-adventure with Sean Connery as a 19th century gentleman thief in pursuit of gold bars transported across England on a heavily guarded train. Michael Crichton adapted his own novel – based on a real train robbery – and directed with considerable verve and an eye for both period detail and exciting set pieces (the best of which finds Connery narrowly escaping what looks like real peril as he clambers across the moving train) and cheeky comedy, which is bolstered considerably by Connery’s charm and the presence of Lesley-Anne Down and Donald Sutherland as his clever accomplices. Modern may find “Train Robbery” slightly more sluggish than the high-octane, high-tech 21st century variant; all others will appreciate Crichton’s careful pace during the mechanics of the robbery and Geoffrey Unsworth’s final stint as cinematographer. Kino’s reissued Special Edition Blu-ray includes vintage commentary by Crichton and promotional material (trailers and TV Spots).
“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” (2022, Zeitgeist Films*) Composer turned director Pierre Foldes adapts three stories by Haruki Murakami to address issues of loss, both national and personal, via unique and stylized animation. The format is perhaps one of the best ways to address Murakami’s often surreal work: though live-action has worked well for films like “Drive My Car,” Foldes’ take, which uses live footage of actors whose heads have been replaced by 3D models and then animates them in a painterly 2D format, strikes the right balance between grounded reality and the odd pull of a complex dream. The stories, too, weave between connection – news coverage of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake literally uproots a married couple, who pursue separate experiences with vaguely magical elements, while the husband’s elderly, friendless coworker finds himself enlisted by a six-foot talking frog in a fight against the source of another impending earthquake, a monster earthworm attuned to human behavior. Any hints of twee or arch observation from the plot or animation style are undone by the emotion buried at the heart of the stories; Zeitgeist’s DVD features is English-dubbed (the voice cast is very good) and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.
“Arsene Lupin Collection” (1957-1962, Kino Lorber*) Three French caper films featuring Maurice Leblanc’s gentleman thief, who debuted in serialized literary form in 1905 and has since expanded his influence to a long-running manga and animated series (“Lupin III”), television (Netflix’s “Lupin”) and numerous features. Two of the three films on Kino’s Blu-ray set star Robert Lamoureux as Lupin, and his matinee idol looks and bearing do well in transferring the roguish charm of Leblanc’s portrayal to screen. The plots are minor considerations – Lupin is challenged by Kaiser Wilhelm II to steal a valuable jewel in “The Adventures of Arsene Lupin” and must steal a painting in three parts that leads to treasure in “Signed Arsene Lupin” – and both films coast largely on Lamoureux’s performance and directors Jacques Becker and Yves Robert’s talents for pacing and visual style. Lupin is not only absent but also apparently dead in Eduoard Molinaro’s “Arsene Lupin vs. Arsene Lupin,” but Jean-Claudy Brialy and Jean-Pierre Cassel are on hand as his sons, who compete to steal an array of valuables. The tone here is blithe and somewhat self-parodying, with nods to silent comedies that, depending on your preferences, will either endear or annoy, though the presence of Francoise Dorleac and an array of French stars (Francophiles, take note) in bit parts lend additional sparkle. Kino’s Blu-rays are subtitled and look for the most part exceptionally good, though only a long trailer for the third film is included an extra.