Yesterday, Criterion announced their stellar April line-up of DVDs and high-definition Blu-rays. We can't say there were too many surprises in the announcement, but they are all really, really great.
A couple of months ago, we rather excitedly speculated that the "wacky owl" clue included in the monthly newsletter was a reference to Brian De Palma's 1981 jaw-dropper "Blow Out," which stars John Travolta as a sound designer who accidentally captures audio evidence of a murder. Well, we now have a date and a totally breathtaking cover to go with our speculation - it'll be hitting on April 26th on a double-disc DVD set and single-disc Blu-ray. As for special features, we were hoping that Criterion would be able to nail down De Palma for a commentary track (as far as we know, he's never done one). Instead, they've supplied the next best thing: an hour-long conversation between De Palma and Noah Baumbach (what, was Tarantino busy?) In addition, there's a new conversation with former crush object Nancy Allen, cameraman Garrett Brown talking about the numerous Steadicam shots (maybe he'll talk about all that footage that was lost from the Philadelphia parade sequence), on-set photos from Louis Goldman, the trailer, plus an "And More!" tag which probably means they'll dig some stuff up before the disc is released. The booklet will include a new essay by Michael Sragow, plus Pauline Kael's original, gushing review from The New Yorker. Aw yeah.
Additionally, April will see the release of Claire Denis' "White Material," which was in theatres stateside last year and most Playlisters can agree, even if it didn't make our year-end list, was one of last year's very best movies. The incredibly moving, visceral film, is equal parts social commentary and siege film (in the mold of John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13"). Part of Criterion's pact with IFC (and teased in their 2011 mega-clue), the DVD and Blu-ray will feature new interviews with Denis and stars Isabelle Huppert and Isaach de Bankole (what, was Christopher Lambert busy?), a new documentary by Denis about the film's 2010 premiere in Cameroon, a deleted scene, and the trailer. Plus, the disc will have new and improved subtitle translations and the booklet will feature a new essay by gnomish critic Amy Taubin.
Also on the April docket is Ken Loach's naturalistic 1969 drama "Kes." Named one of the best British films of the century by the British Film Institute, this film is long overdue on domestic home video (it's been available as an iffy Region 2 DVD from MGM for a while now). It looks like this disc will be worth the wait - with a new documentary on the making of the film featuring Loach, director of photography Chris Menges, producer Tony Garnett, and actor David Bradley; "The Southbank Show: Ken Loach," a 1993 profile of the director feature collaborators and contemporaries like Stephen Frears and Alan Parker; "Cathy Comes Home," a 1967 feature by Loach (with an introduction by film writer Graham Fuller); and the theatrical trailer. The booklet will feature an essay by Fuller and, we can imagine, some pretty pictures too.
But that's not all! Coming to high-definition are a handful of previously released Criterion titles. We'll be getting Blu-ray upgrades of Jane Campion's "Sweetie," Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Circle Rouge," and, somewhat surprisingly, Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." We say "somewhat surprisingly" because it was just released on Blu-ray from Universal. That disc was kind of so-so and we bemoaned, at the time, the lack of extras. Thankfully, everything from the original two-disc smorgasbord will be back. And, we suspect, better than ever.