By Alex Sitaras
This month (and most months), the Criterion Collection has a few notable home media releases we’d like to share. First up, Éric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales are receiving a long-awaited Blu-ray upgrade. Rohmer’s complex look at the human psyche in relation to love, lust, and intimacy is on gratuitous display in the Six Moral Tales, exploring marriage, affairs, and companionship through his six stories. I’ve found that the Six Moral Tales are a bit more cerebral than the carefree A Summer’s Tale and the passionate A Tale of Winter which have made the collection of films more difficult to enjoy for me, though I’m looking forward to giving the Six Moral Tales another go.
A film new to the Criterion Collection is John Sturges’s The Great Escape. The film is a prison escape film, taking place in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. One might recall the film was referenced in last year’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood when showing Rick Dalton audition for the lead role, and the film is also known for its impressive stunt work. In The Great Escape Steve McQueen plays the lead, a daredevil who tests his limits at the camp, frequently attempting escapes and being troublesome to the guards. McQueen is joined by an ensemble cast of James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Donald, and more. Criterion’s release of The Great Escape is chock-full with extras including not one, but two, audio commentaries, a documentary about the real-life escape, a look at the inspiration of Steve McQueen’s character, and interviews with actors from the film. Being that The Great Escape clocks in at almost 3 hrs, buyers of the Blu-ray have a lot of content to watch for the first time or rediscover in Criterion’s release.
Lastly from Criterion, we wanted to highlight the Scorsese Shorts release. The collection of shorts features five short films that Scorsese directed in the early part of his career, starting from the mid-1960s when he studied film at NYU. Scorsese Shorts includes ‘Italianamerican’, a look at Scorsese’s parents, and acts as precursor to themes related to Italian American culture and family that permeate through his films. Also included is ‘The Big Shave’, a critique of America’s involvement in Vietnam. As far as extras, Scorsese Shorts features a conversation between Scorsese and critic Farran Smith Nehme as well as a discussion between Ari Aster & The Safdie Brothers, noted Scorsese enthusiast and a duo whose films are strongly influenced by Scorsese.
Looking at two Ethan Hawke films that piqued my curiosity, A Midnight Clear and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead are receiving US Blu-ray releases for the first time from Shout! Factory. A Midnight Clear (dir. Keith Gordon) takes place near the end of World War II as a German platoon agrees to surrender after staging a fake battle to protect their honor. What follows is tragic, of course, and also a somber look at warfare and its mindlessness.
Also portraying an event gone wrong is Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The film is Lumet’s last feature film, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a finance executive, Andy, who embezzled from his firm and Ethan Hawke as his brother Hank who is tasked with paying child support following his divorce. When Andy tries to escape to Brazil, he enlists the help of Hank to rob their parents’ jewelry store. To complicate matters (because why not), Hank is in an affair with Andy’s wife. I’ve not seen the film but Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead looks to be a blast and it’ll be a pleasure to see something ‘new’ from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.