A scene from ‘Cyrano’ courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Originally posted May 6, 2022
This week’s releases include an almost great film; a misfocused period fantasy; a loyal adaptation; the worst roommates; a breakthrough action movie; a sordid mystery; and a dreamlike homage.
Small town girl Kimi (Eiko Koike) and her glamorous, big city roommate, Lana (Maho Nonami), share a Tokyo apartment (2 bedroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen, hence the titular abbreviation). They already have their little disagreements, but when it comes to light that they are competing for the same movie role, their fights escalate from arguments to all-out power tool battles.
It’s long been suggested the movie business is a cutthroat industry, where you have to be willing to do anything to get ahead. These two girls are vying for the same part, but they have nothing in common — except for, perhaps, their distaste for each other. Kimi moved from a small town to the big city to pursue her acting dream, while maintaining her rural virtues. Lana, on the other hand, is more wild with expensive tastes and no qualms about using her feminine wiles to get what she wants. There’s no mystery about how they feel about each other as audiences are privy to their inner thoughts, which are typically in stark contrast to what they actually say to each other as they exchange fake niceties. The physical altercation is passionate and extreme, involving food, appliances and decorative blades, only to end in the most poetic manner — and all wholly contained within the apartment.
Special features include: commentary with Maho Nonami & Eiko Koike (subtitled); making-of featurette; Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival interviews; premiere screening interviews; duel production briefing; video message for theatre audience; screening at Kudan Kaikan interviews; photo gallery; and trailers. (Unearthed Films)
Come Drink With Me (Blu-ray)
When the Governor’s son is taken hostage by bandits, a mysterious swordsman named Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) is hot on their trail to ensure the son’s release. What the bandits don’t realize, however, is that Golden Swallow is actually a woman, and that the hostage is her brother. Determined to set him free, no matter how many goons she has to fight her way through in doing so, she is aided in her quest by a drunken beggar (Yueh Hua) who may have a closer connection to the bandits’ leader than he initially lets on.
Long before Ang Lee brought the wuxia genre oversees, it was thriving in China. In 1966, Director King Hu broke new ground with this high-flying, sword fighting tale. The mythical action in this picture is almost non-stop as both sides battle for their goals. The arrival of Golden Swallow doesn’t change the fighting dynamics at all as she outmatches all of her opponents, frequently taking on multiple attackers at once. Of course, it couldn’t be more personal for her, giving her even more drive to defeat all those who stand in between her and her brother. Using a variety of weapons and anything at their disposal in other instances, the combat is beautifully choreographed, whether someone is being pummeled or flying through the air. Not surprisingly, this is considered one of Shaw Brothers’ greatest and most influential action masterpieces.
Special features include: commentary by film critic and historian Tony Rayns; interviews with stars Cheng Pei-pei, Yueh Hua and Chen Hung-lieh; “Talk Story with Cheng Pei-pei”; “Cinema Hong Kong: Swordfighting”; image gallery; and trailers. (Arrow Video)
Cyrano (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) dazzles with both ferocious wordplay and brilliant swordplay, but is convinced that his appearance makes him unworthy of the love of his devoted friend, Roxanne (Haley Bennett), who has fallen in love at first sight with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).
Cyrano’s tale is undoubtedly a tragic one as he lends his deepest feelings of love and devotion to another man to woo the woman they both adore. This is a beautiful film adaptation with a great cast. Dinklage, in particular, could not have made a better title character as his commanding presence demands attention and respect, while his physical differences provide an inner uncertainty of Roxanne accepting his romantic interest. Unfortunately, the film has a significant flaw that makes it nearly unwatchable — it’s a musical adaptation. The song elements are shoehorned into the narrative, interrupting moving exchanges and altering the story’s tempo. In spite of everyone’s wonderful voices, the picture works much better if you fast-forward through the musical interludes.
Special features include: “An Epic Adventure: The Making of Cyrano.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
The King’s Daughter (Blu-ray & Digital copy)
Known as The Sun King, Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) is the most powerful and influential monarch on the planet. Obsessed with his own mortality and the future of France, Louis turns to his spiritual advisor, Père La Chaise (William Hurt), and the royal physician (Pablo Schreiber) to help him obtain the key to immortality. Believing a mermaid (Fan Bingbing) contains a force that grants everlasting life, Louis commissions a young sea captain (Benjamin Walker) to search the seas and capture the mystical creature. Further complicating his plans is his estranged daughter, Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario), who returns to court with an abundance of elegance and an inherent defiance of authority. With a rare solar eclipse approaching, Louis will discover where his daughter’s true loyalties lie as he races against time to extract the mermaid’s life-giving force.
The film’s title doesn’t really reflect the core of the narrative, which has much more to do with Marie’s relationship with the mermaid than her estranged father. In fact, the mermaid’s plight is much closer to the story’s centre and her character is far more provocative in spite of her inability to speak. The king is clearly a selfish man, viewing everyone and everything as a means to his ends as he prepares to sacrifice his daughter and the mermaid for his own gain. In the meantime, Marie’s modest upbringing allows her to fall in love with the sailor and view the pageantry of court as an overindulgent absurdity. In the end, it feels like much was left on the table and opportunities were missed to explore more interesting elements with greater depth.
Special features include: deleted scenes; and “Cast Reflections on The King’s Daughter.” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (4K Ultra HD)
At the turn of the 19th century, visionary scientist Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) embarks on an obsessive quest to conquer the mysteries of human mortality. But his hubristic bid to create life out of death goes hideously wrong, and succeeds only in begetting a deformed monster (Robert De Niro). Horrified by what he has wrought, the scientist attempts to destroy his creation, but fails. Rejected by his creator and shunned by the world of man, the tormented creature swears vengeance against Frankenstein and his family. As the monster begins to enact his murderous revenge, Victor must face a terrible reckoning with the tragic consequences of attempting to play God.
Released in 1994, this is often considered the definitive adaptation of the book of the same name. Though it did take some liberties and modify certain elements to make it better suited for a film audience, the narrative remains one of the closest to the original source material. Branagh’s affinity for classic stories and transporting audiences to another time is very much prevalent with this picture as he draws audiences into Victor’s tale. In spite of his terrible actions, the monster is afforded some room for empathy as the blame for his existence and lethal behaviour lie primarily with his creator, who first fails to comprehend the enormity of his experiment and then waits too long to confront its consequences. It’s a very well-acted film that does an excellent job bringing the story to life, particularly with the unexpected casting of De Niro as the creature.
Special features include: commentary by film historians Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains; interviews with composer Patrick Doyle, costumer designer James Acheson and make-up designer Daniel Parker; “Mary Shelley and The Creation of a Monster”; “Dissecting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”; “Frankenstein: A Liberal Adaptation from Mrs. Shelley’s Famous Story for Edison Production (1910)”; original trailers; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Laz Marquez. (Arrow Video)
Night Creatures (Blu-ray)
In the 18th century, a Navy captain and his sailors investigate the rampaging “marsh phantoms” terrorizing a coastal town, but their search is hindered by Reverend Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing) and a horrifying curse.
This movie is adapted from a series of pirate books, though it doesn’t have a lot in common with its source material. Nonetheless, it’s still an interesting thriller about a secret society on the verge of being found out by the newly arrived authorities. The Navy comes to the town by chance, but they’re quick to take on the case. The narrative’s mysteries aren’t terribly difficult to figure out, but they do fuel an enticing conflict with a period fitting ending that may have been different in a more contemporary version. However, the most difficult scenes to watch are the exploitation of a captive coloured man as they tease him with alcohol and force him to dance for a swig. It’s incredibly demeaning and adds nothing to an otherwise engaging story.
Special features include: commentary with film historian Bruce Hallenbeck; “Pulp Friction – The Cinematic Captain Clegg”; “The Hammer Must Fall: Peter Cushing’s Changing Directions”; “Brian with Bowie”; “The Making of Captain Clegg”; “The Mossman Legacy: George Mossman’s Carriage Collection”; still gallery; and theatrical trailer. (Scream Factory)
To Sleep So as to Dream (Blu-ray)
When private eye Uotsuka (Shiro Sano) and his sidekick Kobayashi are approached by an aged former actress, Madame Cherryblossom (Fujiko Fukamizu), to go in search of her kidnapped daughter Bellflower (Moe Kamura), their investigations lead them to the studios of the mysterious M. Pathe company. Here Uotsuka has a strange vision in which he comes face to face with the beautiful star of a 1915 chanbara film that appears to have no ending. From then on, things begin to get a little strange…
This dream-like film is a bit puzzling at first, until audiences realize it’s both an homage to early silent cinema and detective stories from the ‘50s. Uotsuka and Kobayashi’s services are retained and they’re provided instructions for a ransom drop, only to be drawn further into the mystery with additional hints and strange encounters with a forgotten era. The sleuths mull over each cryptic clue, the answer leading them deeper into a forgotten world — whether they go willingly or under duress. It’s an enchanting love letter to these two genres, seamlessly combining them in a single narrative. This is also the first time the film has been released on home video outside of Japan, restored under the supervision of director Kaizô Hayashi.
Special features include: commentary by Japanese film experts Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp; commentary with director Kaizo Hayashi and lead actor Shiro Sano recorded in 2000; “How Many Eggs?”; “Talking Silents: Benshi Midori Sawato Talks”; “Midori Sawato Performs ‘The Eternal Mystery’”; “The Restoration of To Sleep So as to Dream”; “Fragments from Japan’s Lost Silent Heyday”; image gallery; trailers; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by David Downton (Arrow Video)