We have another great week of releases, with a beautiful combination of current hits and classic films. There are so many interesting choices and the only problem is finding time to watch them all. Included with this week’s releases we also have two Best Picture winners and another Best Picture nominee making their first blu-ray appearances.
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): Released as part of the Criterion Collection this week, this is the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s two film versions of this title. Not to be confused by the 1956 “The Man Who Knew Too Much” starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, this is one of Hitchcock’s British films from before he journeyed to Hollywood. A British couple, along with their daughter, are vacationing in Switzerland. They become friends with a French spy who is murdered, but before he dies he passes on government information that the young couple must now take to England. In order to keep the couple from passing along the message, a group of criminals (headed by the great Peter Lorre) kidnap their daughter.
- To Rome With Love (2012): This latest offering from writer/director Woody Allen takes place in Rome (obviously), and this romantic comedy is broken up into four smaller tales. Although this film lacks a high level of brilliance, it is still a fun, entertaining film with plenty of Woody Allen style laughs. As always in an Allen movie, “To Rome With Love” boasts a sensational cast, including Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandra Mastronardi, Greta Gerwig, and for the his first appearance in over five years, Wood Allen himself.
- How Green Was My Valley (1941): There is so much that can be said about this Best Picture winner from 1941. Directed by John Ford and starring Maureen O’Hara, Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp, Barry Fitzgerald and Roddy McDowall, “How Green Was My Valley” is the entrancing tale of the Welsh family’s trials and tribulations while living in a small coal town. In total, this film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning five of them, including one of director John Ford’s four Best Director Oscars.
- Sleeper (1973): This is a second Woody Allen film this week, and bares no resemblance to the first. “Sleeper” is a slapstick romantic comedy about a man who goes in for routine surgery in 1973, but wakes up 200 years later in a dictator ruled country that no longer resembles America. It is a wildly comedic film that references and pays tribute to all kinds of early film comedians, as well as H.G. Wells for writing the original story on which it is based. Along with Allen, this film also stars longtime Allen collaborator, Diane Keaton.
- Taken 2 (2012): In “Taken” (2008), Liam Neeson’s daughter (Maggie Grace) was kidnapped and he had to take on every bad guys he could find in order to get her back safely. In “Taken 2″, they take his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) in order to get revenge for the first film. Although “Taken 2″ didn’t receive positive reviews, if you liked the action of the first (and don’t care about the plot) the odds are that you’ll enjoy this film as well.
- Gentleman’s Agreement (1947): This classic Best Picture winner from director Elia Kazan is a must see for all. It tells the story of a journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to show the anti-Jewish prejudice in upper class New York. “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three, and stars Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield and Celeste Holm, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
- Hannah And Her Sisters (1986): Imagine, three Woody Allen films making their blu-ray debuts on the same day! This is a Best Picture nominee that has long been considered one of Allen’s best films. The story revolves around the intertwining personal lives of an extended family over the course of two years. Starring Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Daniel Stern, Max Von Sydow and Diane Wiest, “Hannah And Her Sisters” was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three, including Best Supporting Actor for Michael Caine and Best Supporting Actress for Diane Wiest.
- The Tin Drum (1979): Another Criterion Collection film, “The Tin Drum” is the Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language Film from 1979. Directed by Volker Schlondorff, it tells the story of a young boy with superior intellect, who on his third birthday chooses to stop growing. As WWII begins, his family is torn apart as he remains a spectator to the world, never setting his toy drum down for a moment. I have long tried to understand the allure of this film, but unfortunately I am at a loss. At moments the film is interesting, but more often I find myself disturbed and irritated. The scenes depicting the changing times, especially within the boys household, are unique, but as the boy grows into a teenager he still seems to have the simplicity of a child mixed with a sexual appetite of a teen. These are the scenes that I find distressing and unnecessary in their detail.
- Wild River (1960): Elia Kazan directs this drama film starring Montgomery Clift as a government employee who has to remove an elderly woman from their land, after building a dam that will prevent devastating floods in the surrounding towns. He thinks it will be easy to convince her to leave, but is unaware of the enormous task ahead of him. Co-staring Lee Remick and Jo Van Fleet, this is an insightful film that boasts strong performances from the entire cast.