New Blu-Rays: BFI, Network, Arrow, Warner, Final Cut

THE WAGES OF FEAR, Henri-Georges Clouzot, director/BFI Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray/DVD) Starring an impeccably cast (and sweaty) Yves Montand, Charles Vanel and Vera Clouzot, this most celebrated of French thrillers is based on the 1950 French novel Le Salaire de la peur, and has acquired a reputation – fully justified – as the great arthouse/action film, and has enjoyed not only a remake by William Friedkin (Sorcerer), but a sort-of-rejigging in Cy Enfield’s exemplary Hell Drivers. Looking at the splendid new BFI Blu-ray in 2017, it is remarkable just how well Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film stands up to the rigours of time, exerting an iron grip throughout its considerable length. The Wages of Fear was critically hailed upon its original release, propelling its director (whose other most celebrated film is Les Diaboliques) to international fame, and is now newly restored in 4K, and released by the BFI in a Dual Format Edition packed with special features. In a squalid South American village, four desperate men are hired by a US oil company to embark on a treacherous journey, transporting a volatile cargo of nitro-glycerine to a massive oil well fire. Friendships and courage are pushed to the limit in this nail-biting thriller by a director would go on to be dubbed the ‘French Hitchcock’.

THE THING, John Carpenter, director/Arrow  The classic Howard Hawks film (ostensibly credited to his associate, Christian Nyby),The Thing from Another World, has long been recognised as one of the most intelligent and authoritative of science-fiction thrillers, so when John Carpenter announced his remake, there was some scepticism, despite the director’s then-impressive track record. That scepticism was soon allayed, as this remake – now with classic status of its own — is an intelligent piece of filmmaking. Admittedly, the newer version perhaps lacks the keen characterisation of the Hawks original, but has a slew of impressive special effects. The Thing sees the director’s regular star Kurt Russell as part of the crew of an Antarctic research facility terrorised by a shapeshifting alien. Showcasing an impressive ensemble cast, a menacing score by Ennio Morricone, and jaw-dropping effects from Rob Bottin, this is an essential purchase for fans of one of the greatest sci-fi horrors put on screen, with the Blu-ray extras including behind the scenes footage, a new documentary, featurettes and a collector’s book.

MANINA THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS DAUGHTER Willy Rozier, director/Eureka Blu-ray  Slowly but surely, the missing sections of European cinema are being uncovered – and even if some of the newly excavated films (such as this deeply obscure item) are hardly undiscovered masterpieces, they are still of considerable interest. The film is basically a love letter to the young Brigitte Bardot, with the camera lovingly recording her bikini-clad form in a drama in which a Parisian student set to recover a lost treasure off the coat of Corsica; Bardot is the alluring siren he encounters.

SCARS OF DRACULA, Roy Ward Baker, director/Studio Canal  While nobody would argue that this is one of Christopher Lee’s most distinguished outings as the vampiric count, the appearance on Blu-ray of a late film in the Hammer canon will still be catnip to aficionados. The company’s well-oiled machine turned out this kind of product with authority, even when the flame of inspiration was burning low. In this new Blu-ray incarnation, it looks considerably more impressive than it did in earlier DVD issues.

DEATH BECOMES HER, Robert Zemeckis, director/Final Cut Entertainment  Admirers of this diverting comic extravaganza may look at the new Blu-ray with some trepidation – will Robert Zemeckis’s film still be as divertingly funny as we originally found it? There is no need for suspense – this is still a highly likeable couple of hours, with the only caveat being a miscast cast Bruce Willis playing against type as a henpecked husband; Willis certainly has comic chops, but not for this kind of role, which needed a Stanley Tucci type Ageing actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) is persuaded to take an elixir which brings her eternal life. Her rival for her husband Ernest’s (Bruce Willis) affections, Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn), has taken the same potion, and when the two of them try to kill each other, their bodies prove to be irritatingly indestructible.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, Jack Arnold, director/Arrow  For many years, Richard Matheson routinely dismissed the classic Jack Arnold, film of his novel The Shrinking Man as a travesty of his work – until he realised just what high esteem the film was now held in, and smoothly finessed his view. With this new Blu-ray, it looks better than ever. Legendary writer Matheson and Fifties creature feature director Jack Arnold delivered a thrilling and innovative sci-fi horror classic, a box office smash. Whilst on a holiday cruise with his wife, young Scott finds himself enveloped by a luminous mist which cover him in a strange, glittery dust. Several months later, he’s accidentally sprayed with an insecticide. Soon, Scott starts shrinking at an alarming rate, and before long he’s thrust into a terrifying world of gigantic cats, spiders and other over-sized pitfalls.

FOUR FILM NOIR CLASSICS, Various directors/Arrow  A highly collectable box set that assembles crystal clear high definition prints of a quartet of the finest entries in the Film Noir genre: The Dark Mirror (1946), directed by Robert Siodmak (The Killers), starring Olivia de Havilland; Secret Beyond the Door (1947) directed by Fritz Lang (The Big Heat), starring Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave; Force of Evil (1948), directed by Abraham Polonsky, and starring the legendary John Garfield; and Joseph H. Lewis’ brutal and brilliant The Big Combo (1955), with Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte. Limited to 2000 copies and packed with superb extras, the Dual Format box set also comes with a highly-collectable hardback book on all the films.

GOD OF WAR, Gordon Chan, director/Well Go  While never being much more than a lively and kinetic entertainment of no great substance, this is still a diverting period piece, which is made with some assurance by its director and stars. 16th century China, the east coast of the country is being attacked by ruthless Japanese pirates from Japan. General Qi Jiguang, who has been attempting to rout the invaders, enlists the help of a younger general to train up soldiers to try different tactics against this relentless attack. They lead a small army in a series of counter attacks, facing adversity at every turn, from corrupt bureaucrats, reluctant villagers, and the seemingly unstoppable and brutal pirates themselves, who outnumber the Ming army by twenty to one. Starring Sammo Hung, Vincent Zhao and Yasuaki Kurata, the director is Gordon Chan (director of The Medallion and Fist of Legend)

MONTPARNASSE 19, director Jacques Becker/Arrow   Released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK for the first time. A biopic charting the final year in the life of the Italian painter Modigliani, this is penultimate film from director Jacques Becker (Le Trou, Touchez Pas au Grisibi), who took over the film when Max Ophuls died. It features a marvellous performance from Gerard Philipe (La Ronde) as the ill-fated painter and Anouk Aimee (La Dolce Vita) as his lover. The end results are both hauntingly beautiful and savagely ironic.

DELIVER US (LIBERAMI), Federica Di Giacomo, director/Network  Initiated as a search for stories on obsession and Director, Federica Di Giacomo found a lot more than she bargained for; a crisis surrounding a shortage of exorcists in Italy. The resulting documentary follows the day to day life of ordinary citizens, constantly dealing with the battle of possession, from violent outbursts to writhing in rebellion, they seek the help they need from Father Cataldo and his weekly mass of liberation.

CÉLINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, director, Jacques Rivette/BFI  How will you respond to Jacques Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating? The film was Rivette’s most substantial commercial hit, and its reputation has grown over the years. If this writer has to admit to being immune to its charms, it’s still is an intriguing dissertation on notions of theatricality and identity set against the actual act of filmmaking and the viewing of films. Previously released by the BFI on DVD, it now comes to Blu-ray, in a new restoration. Special features include a new feature length commentary by Adrian Martin. Céline (Juliet Berto), a magician, and Julie (Dominique Labourier), a librarian, meet in Montmartre and wind up sharing the same flat, bed, fiancé, clothes, identity and imagination. Soon, thanks to a magic sweet, they find themselves spectators, then participants, in a Henry James-inspired ‘film-within-the-film’ – a melodrama unfolding in a mysterious suburban house with the ‘Phantom Ladies Over Paris’ (Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier), a sinister man (Barbet Schroeder) and his child.

STRIKE – THE CUCKOO’S CALLING, Micheal Keillor, director/Warner  Now that the secret is out – and we know it is Harry Potter’s only begetter JK Rowling behind the masculine sobriquet “Robert Galbraith” – we were all obliged to play catch-up with a book that created barely a ripple on its first appearance. In fact, the book was an accomplished piece that deserved its retrospective success — as does the solid TV adaption. As the beleaguered military policeman-turned-private eye Cormoran Strike investigates the apparent suicide of a supermodel, we are granted a measured but subtly involving reworking of crime l mechanisms as the detective moves across a variety of class divides, finding that the police have got things wrong. Strike himself is a distinctive addition to the overcrowded ranks of literary private eyes, perfectly incarnated by Tom Burke as Strike with Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott, leading a cast of acclaimed British character actors.

THE FARTHEST, Emer Reynolds/Screenbound  Put together with considerable skill is this documentary by Irish director Emer Reynolds about the first NASA spacecraft to leave the solar system. An inspired examination of humanity’s cosmic insignificants – the Voyager Space Mission, covering interviews with the spacecraft’s designer, scientists and the data analysers, who still to this day interpret the information Voyager sends back to earth. Sharing their views, opinions and stories help bring this documentary to life. It is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Twelve billion miles away a tiny spaceship is leaving our Solar System and entering the void of deep space – the first human-made object ever to do so.