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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Criterion Collection Additions for April

This April, Jackie Chan adds two films to the Criterion Collection with a double-bill edition of his action-comedy classics Police Story and Police Story 2. Both have been newly restored in 4K. The jaw-dropping set pieces fly fast and furious in these breathtakingly inventive action comedies. These are the two smash hits that made Jackie Chan a worldwide icon of daredevil spectacle. The director/star/one-man stunt machine plays Ka-Kui, a Hong Kong police inspector. While the phenomenal Maggie Cheung (in a star-making role) plays the much-put-upon girlfriend, May. Of course, the films are packed wall-to-wall with astoundingly acrobatic fight choreography, epic explosions, charmingly goofball slapstick, and awesomely 80s electro soundtracks. Police Story and Police Story 2 set a new standard for rock-'em-sock-'em mayhem that established Chan as a performer of unparalleled grace and daring who has influenced a generation of filmmakers, from Hong Kong to Hollywood.

The Special Editions of the two films include 4K digital restorations, alternate 5.1 surround and English-dubbed soundtracks, a Hong Kong-released version of Police Story 2, new programs on Chan's screen persona and action-filmmaking techniques featuring author and New York Asian Film Festival cofounder Grady Hendrix, archival interviews with Chan and actor and stuntman Benny Lai, a television program from 1964 detailing the rigors of Peking-opera training, akin to the education that Chan received as a child, a Chan stunt reel (which is worth purchasing alone), trailers, a new English subtitle translation, and more!

Elia Kazan's, A Face in the Crowd stars Andy Griffith as a boisterous folk hero turned TV demagogue. The film chronicles the rise and fall of Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes (Griffith), a backwoods entertainer discovered in an Arkansas drunk tank by a local radio producer (Patricia Neal). His charisma and cunning soon shoot him to the heights of television stardom and cultural phenomenon. Neal's character realizes too late that she has created a monster social influencer. Directed by Kazan from a screenplay by Budd Schulberg, the incisive satire features an extraordinary debut screen performance by Griffith, who masterfully plays an uncharacteristically sinister role. Although a flop on its initial release, subsequent generations have marveled at its eerily prescient diagnosis of the toxic intimacy between media and politics in American life. This special edition features a new, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, a new interview with Ron Briley (author of The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan), a new interview with Andy Griffith biographer Evan Dalton Smith, a 2005 documentary, Facing the Past featuring actors Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, screenwriter Budd Schulberg, and film scholars Leo Braudy and Jeff Young, and the film's trailer.

One of the most visionary films of the Czechoslovak New Wave is Jan Němec's Diamonds of the Night. The harrowing and lyrical debut feature, established Němec as the most uncompromising visionary among the radical filmmakers of his era. Adapted from a novel by Arnost Lustig, Diamonds closely tracks two boys who escape from a concentration-camp and flee into the surrounding woods where the brute realities of survival coexist with dreams, memories, and fragments of visual poetry. Along with visceral camera work by Jaroslav Kučera and Miroslav Ondříček (two of Czechoslovak cinema's most influential cinematographers) Němec makes inventive use of fractured editing, elliptical storytelling, and flights of surrealism as he strips context away from this bare-bones tale, which evokes the dizzying plight of consciousness lost in night and fog. The haunting and hallucinatory film will make its first appearance on home video in a new 4K restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on Blu-ray. Additional bonuses include an interview with director Jan Němec from 2009, Němec's 1960 student thesis A Loaf of Bread based on a short story by Arnost Lustig, a short documentary on Lustig from 1993, a new interview with film programmer Irena Kovarova, a new video essay on the film's stylistic influences by scholar James Quandt, and a new English subtitle translation.

Australian auteur Gillian Armstrong will join the Criterion Collection with her award-winning, coming-of-age classic, My Brilliant Career. Director Armstrong drew on teenage author Miles Franklin's novel, a celebrated turn-of-the-twentieth-century Australian coming-of-age story, to brashly upend the conventions of period romance. Headstrong young Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis, in a star-making performance), bemoans her stifling life in the backcountry where her writerly ambitions receive little encouragement. When a handsome landowner (Sam Neill), disarmed by her unruly charms, begins to court Sybylla, she must decide whether she can reconcile the prospect of marriage with the illustrious life's work she has imagined for herself. Suffused with generous humor and a youthful appetite for experience, My Brilliant Career is a luminous portrait of an ardently free spirit. "Director Approved" special edition features a new 2K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on Blu-ray, an audio commentary from 2009 featuring Armstrong, a new interview with Armstrong, an interview from 1980 with actor Judy Davis, a new interview with production designer Luciana Arrighi, and the film's trailer.

Also included in the April additions are two beloved Jim Jarmusch films: the minimalist masterpiece Stranger Than Paradise and the taxicab odyssey Night on Earth (both making their Blu-ray debuts. With Stranger than Paradise Jarmusch established himself as one of the most exciting voices in the burgeoning independent-film scene. He is a road-movie poet with an affinity for Americana at its most offbeat. Jarmusch follows rootless Hungarian émigré Willie (John Lurie), his pal Eddie (Richard Edson), and his visiting sixteen-year-old cousin Eva (Eszter Balint) as they drift from New York's Lower East Side to the snowy expanses of Lake Erie and the drab beaches of Florida. Some how the trio always manage to make the least of wherever they end up. Structured as a series of master-shot vignettes etched in black and white by cinematographer Tom DiCillo, Stranger Than Paradise is a nonchalant masterpiece of deadpan comedy and perfectly calibrated minimalism.

Night on Earth is about a multitude of strangers in five taxi cabs in five different international cities. Jarmusch assembled an extraordinary international cast of actors (including Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Beatrice Dalle, and Roberto Benigni) for this quintet of encounters between cabbies and their fares. The transitory tales are of urban displacement and existential angst spanning time zones, continents, and languages. Night on Earth winds its course through scenes of uproarious comedy, nocturnal poetry, and somber fatalism, set to a moody soundtrack by none other than Tom Waits. Jarmusch's lovingly askew view of humanity from the passenger seat makes for one of his most charming and beloved films, and a freewheeling showcase for the cosmopolitan range of his imagination.

The "Director Approved" Blu-ray special editions includes a high-definition digital restoration supervised and approved by Jarmusch, a 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, a 2007 selected-scene commentary from director of photography Frederick Elmes and location sound mixer Drew Kunin, a Q&A with Jarmusch from 2007, a 1992 Belgian television interview with Jarmusch, plus a booklet featuring essays by authors and critics Thom Andersen, Paul Auster, Bernard Eisenschitz, Goffredo Fofi, and Peter von Bagh, the lyrics to Tom Waits's original songs from the 1991 film, Jarmusch's first full-length feature Permanent Vacation from 1980 (presented in a high-definition digital restoration supervised by the director), a 1984 German television program featuring interviews with cast and crew, behind-the-scenes Super 8 film, U.S. and Japanese trailers, plus a booklet featuring Jarmusch's 1984 "Some Notes on Stranger Than Paradise," and more. How? I don't know, but Criterion really goes out of their way to make their release of a film the most complete as possible. If it's on Criterion, there's no reason to get any other version. Period.

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