Criterion November 2021 Slate Includes Three 4K Titles

The Criterion Collection has announced its slate of November 2021 titles, including 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc releases of Citizen Kane, Mulholland Dr. and Menace II Society, plus a regular Blu-ray release of Federico Fellini’s La strada, and a Blu-ray boxed set of the Once Upon a Time in China films from Hong Kong in the 1990s.

When the Criterion Collection Aug. 11 announced its initial slate of 4K titles heading to disc, it highlighted Citizen Kane as leading the batch of six 4K films. Well, according to Criterion’s Aug. 16 announcement of its November 2021 lineup, it turns out its first 4K disc will actually be director David Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Dr. on Nov. 16.

In Mulholland Dr., blonde Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) has only just arrived in Hollywood to become a movie star when she meets an enigmatic brunette with amnesia (Laura Harring). As the two set off to solve the second woman’s identity, filmmaker Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) runs into ominous trouble while casting his latest project.

Criterion’s Mulholland Dr. comes in a combo pack with one 4K Ultra HD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR, while the second disc is a regular Blu-ray with the film and special features. The 4K version includes a new digital restoration supervised by Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

Extras include interviews from 2015 with Lynch, Deming, Watts, Harring, Theroux, composer Angelo Badalamenti, production designer Jack Fisk, and casting director Johanna Ray; on-set footage; a deleted scene; the film’s trailer; and a booklet featuring an interview with Lynch from the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch.

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Citizen Kane follows on Nov. 23. The 1941 masterpiece directed by and starring Orson Welles tells the story of the rise and fall of a newspaper magnate whose efforts to reshape America are trumped only by his desire to recapture the lost innocence of his youth.

Criterion’s edition will be a combo pack containing the film on a 4K disc with Dolby Vision HDR, and three regular Blu-ray Discs containing the film and a slew of bonus materials. The film itself boasts a new 4K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. A standalone three-disc Blu-ray edition without the 4K disc also will be offered.

Extras include three audio commentaries — from 2021 featuring Welles scholars James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum; from 2002 featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich; and from 2002 featuring film critic Roger Ebert. Also included will be The Complete Citizen Kane, a rarely seen feature-length BBC documentary from 1991; new interviews with critic Farran Smith Nehme and film scholar Racquel J. Gates; a new video essay by Welles scholar Robert Carringer; a new program on the film’s special effects by film scholars and effects experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt; a new documentary featuring archival interviews with Welles; interviews with actor Joseph Cotten from 1966 and 1975; The Hearts of Age, a brief silent film made by Welles as a student in 1934; television programs from 1979 and 1988 featuring appearances by Welles and Mercury Theatre producer John Houseman; a program featuring a 1996 interview with actor William Alland on his collaborations with Welles; a selection of “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” radio plays featuring many of the actors from Citizen Kane; the film’s trailer; and deluxe packaging, including a book with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri.

The set also includes interviews from 1990 with editor Robert Wise; actor Ruth Warrick; optical-effects designer Linwood Dunn; Bogdanovich; filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Henry Jaglom, Martin Ritt and Frank Marshall; and cinematographers Allen Daviau, Gary Graver and Vilmos Zsigmond.

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Also due Nov. 23 on 4K disc is directors Albert and Allen Hughes’ 1993 film Menace II Society, a fatalistic, unflinching vision of life and death on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1990s. There, in the shadow of the riots of 1965 and 1992, young Caine (Tyrin Turner) is growing up under the influence of his ruthless, drug-dealing father (Samuel L. Jackson) and his loose-cannon best friend, O-Dog (Larenz Tate), leading him into a spiral of violent crime from which he is not sure he wants to escape, despite the best efforts of his grandparents and the steadfast Ronnie (Jada Pinkett).

The film will be available as a 4K Ultra HD combo pack with a Blu-ray, and as a standalone Blu-ray, with a new 4K digital restoration of the directors’ cut of the film, supervised by cinematographer Lisa Rinzler and co-director Albert Hughes, with 7.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The original 2.0 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD master audio, also is offered. The 4K edition includes one 4K disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR, and a regular Blu-ray with the film and special features.

Extras include two audio commentaries from 1993 featuring directors Albert and Allen Hughes; “Gangsta Vision,” a 2009 featurette on the making of the film; a new conversation among Albert Hughes, screenwriter Tyger Williams and film critic Elvis Mitchell; a new conversation among Allen Hughes, actor and filmmaker Bill Duke, and Mitchell; an interview from 1993 with the directors; deleted scenes; a film-to-storyboard comparison; the film’s trailer; and an essay be film critic Craig D. Lindsey

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Among Criterion’s non-4K titles for the month, Nov. 2 sees the release of a Blu-ray Disc edition of director Federico Fellini’s 1954 film La strada, which launched both himself and his wife and collaborator Giulietta Masina to international stardom. Masina plays Gelsomina, loyal companion to the traveling strongman Zampanò (Anthony Quinn), whose callousness and brutality gradually wear down her gentle spirit. La strada was the winner of the very first Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film.

The La strada Blu-ray includes a new 4K digital restoration, undertaken in collaboration with The Film Foundation and the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It also includes an alternate English-dubbed soundtrack, featuring the voices of Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart.

Extras include audio commentary from 2003 by Peter Bondanella, author of The Cinema of Federico Fellini; an introduction from 2003 by filmmaker Martin Scorsese; Giulietta Masina: The Power of a Smile, a documentary from 2004; Federico Fellini’s Autobiography, a documentary originally broadcast on Italian television in 2000; the film’s trailer; and an essay by film critic Christina Newland.

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Due Nov. 16 will be the six-disc Once Upon a Time in China: The Complete Films Blu-ray collection.

One of the pinnacles of Hong Kong cinema’s 1990s golden age, the “Once Upon a Time in China” series set a new standard for martial-arts spectacle and launched action star Jet Li to international fame.

Against the backdrop of China in the late nineteenth century, one man — the real-life martial-arts master, physician, and folk hero Wong Fei-hung—emerges as a noble protector of Chinese values as the country hurtles toward modernity. The set includes 1991’s Once Upon a Time in China, plus its 1992 sequel, the third and fourth films from 1993, and the fifth film from 1994. The first three films boast 4K digital restorations, while the latter two have 2K restorations. All are presented with their original Cantonese theatrical-release sound mixes in uncompressed monaural or stereo

Also included is 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America with a 2K digital transfer featuring 5.1 surround DTS-HD master audio and monaural Cantonese soundtracks, along with a stereo Mandarin track with the voice of actor Jet Li.

Extras include new interviews with director Tsui Hark, film workshop cofounder Nansun Shi, editor Marco Mak, and critic Tony Raynsl; excerpts from audio interviews with Li conducted in 2004 and ’05; deleted scenes from Once Upon a Time in China III; a documentary from 2004 about the real-life martial-arts hero Wong Fei-hung; From Spikes to Spindles, a 1976 documentary about New York City’s Chinatown featuring uncredited work by Tsui; excerpts from a 2019 master class given by martial-arts choreographer Yuen Wo-ping; archival interviews featuring Tsui and actors John Wakefield, Donnie Yen and Yen Shi-kwan; behind-the-scenes footage for Once Upon a Time in China and Once Upon a Time in China and America; a making-of program from 1997 on Once Upon a Time in China and America; film trailers; and essays on the films by critic Maggie Lee, and cinematic depictions of Wong by novelist Grady Hendrix.

Criterion Announces Its First 4K Disc Slate Will Include ‘Citizen Kane’

The Criterion Collection is finally making the leap to 4K Ultra HD. The boutique Blu-ray and DVD distributor Aug. 11 announced its first slate of six titles in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format will be highlighted by Citizen Kane in November.

Other Criterion 4K Ultra HD Discs to be released in the coming months include Menace II Society, The Piano, Mulholland Dr., The Red Shoes and A Hard Day’s Night.

Each title will be available as a combo pack containing a 4K disc of the film and a regular Blu-ray of the film with bonus materials. Select films will be presented in Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos.

Additional release details and street dates will be announced shortly.

Director Orson Welles’ landmark Citizen Kane, which debuted in cinemas in 1941, was Criterion’s first Laserdisc release 37 years ago. The film has received a number of DVD and Blu-ray releases from Warner Bros. in the interim.

 

The Transformers: The Movie — 35th Anniversary Edition

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Animated;
$29.98 UHD BD Steelbook;
Rated ‘PG’;
Voices of Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Eric Idle, Orson Welles, Susan Blu, Neil Ross, John Moschitta Jr., Gregg Berger, Corey Burton, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen.

Loaded with some great retrospectives and a beautiful 4K transfer, Shout! Factory’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of the 1986 animated “Transformers” movie is quite a revelation that should excite fans of the franchise, especially those who prefer the classic animated series to Michael Bay’s live-action versions.

In two seasons of the original “Transformers” cartoon based on the popular Hasbro toy line, none of the characters ever died as a result of the never-ending war between the Autobots and Decepticons. They could be severely damaged, but were quickly repaired. At the end of the first season, the entire Decepticon faction fell into a pit of lava, only to be back at full strength without explanation at the start of the next season.

Suffice it to say, storytelling sophistication isn’t one of the prime requirements for a show designed to showcase toys to kids, even though the adventures seemed like fantastic entertainment to their core audience.

So it was quite a shock when The Transformers: The Movie hit theaters in 1986 and spent the first third of its running time wiping out most of the original toy line. In fact, some kids were absolutely traumatized by the infamous death of the beloved Autobot leader Optimus Prime, so much so that Hasbro and Sunbow Productions had to revise plans in the following year’s G.I. Joe: The Movie to kill off Duke (a plot point not enacted on screen until 2013’s live-action G.I. Joe: Retaliation).

By eliminating its older characters to introduce characters from the new toy line, The Transformers: The Movie essentially serves a pilot for the show’s third season, which kicked off about a month after the film hit theaters.

As obvious as the commercial reasons were for swapping out the characters, the fact that a kid’s show was willing to brutally kill off so much of its cast on-screen, including its most popular character, actually made it seem edgy. Contributing to this reputation is the fact that this is an animated movie in which several characters use swear words in a way the show would never have gotten away with.

On top of that, the animation is beautiful, a budgetary step up from a cartoon series that was already visually distinctive. It’s easy to see why the animated movie remains a favorite among “Transformers” in an era of live-action adaptations that seem to sideline the characters in favor of relentless action scenes.

The Transformers: The Movie has received several home video releases through the years, with Shout! Factory, which has released most of the “Transformers” TV shows on DVD the past few years, giving the film a long-awaited U.S. Blu-ray release in 2016 for its 30th anniversary.

For its 35th anniversary, the film has received a new, pristine 4K transfer of the film, which is certainly a definitive presentation. While there are some flaws in the print, it’s clear these are the result of the original animation and film elements, and not part of the remastering process (though high-def tends to make them a bit more noticeable; the introduction of Hot Rod and Daniel has been noticeably blurry in every single home release of the film dating back to VHS).

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Shout! Factory’s new 35th anniversary Steelbook 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack (4K and regular Blu-ray combo packs in standard packaging will arrive Sept. 28) includes two discs. One offers the film in 4K resolution with HDR in the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio common to movie theaters and HDTVs. The other disc has the film in the 4:3 format of old televisions.

The film was actually animated with television in mind and then cropped for movie theaters, so the 4:3 presentation actually provides more of the overall image, though it’s not as if anything important was cropped out.

The movie is rather notorious for being the final film recorded by Orson Welles, who died five days after his final voice session (and about 10 months before the film’s debut), after complaining to his biographer that he was “playing a toy in a movie about toys who do horrible things to each other.”

Welles played Unicron, the planet-sized Transformer now considered a seminal figure in “Transformers” lore, and the bad guy that didn’t make it into the Michael Bay movies until 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight. (And to Welles’ point about playing a toy, the planned Unicron movie toy was canceled due to cost and production issues, and the character wouldn’t have a toy released at retail until 2003; Hasbro this year released a deluxe giant Unicron collectible that it crowdfunded at nearly $600 per pledge).

While the film is better known for its association with Welles, it was also the final film for Scatman Crothers, who voiced Autobot Jazz throughout the show’s run. (Interestingly enough, while Jazz is one of the few original characters to survive this film, he’s actually the only Autobot who doesn’t survive the first movie of Michael Bay’s live-action franchise that debuted in 2007.)

The other major contribution to the film’s legacy is its music: Vince DiCola provides the score following his work on Rocky IV, while Stan Bush’s song “The Touch” (originally written for the movie Cobra) has practically become an anthem for the franchise (though it didn’t make it into a live-action “Transformers” movie until 2018’s Bumblebee).

Non-“Transformers” fans might recognize “The Touch” as the song mangled by Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler character in Boogie Nights that he records for his attempted post-porn career debut album (and possibly implied, within the world of the film, to have been written by John C. Reilly’s Reed Rothchild character, mentioned early in the film to be an aspiring songwriter).

DiCola and Bush are among the many talking heads reflecting on the film in “’Til All Are One,” the 46-minute retrospective documentary made for the 2016 release that carries over here. The piece also includes fascinating anecdotes from several of the film’s voice cast and production team, who are quite up front about the series’ origins as a not-too-subtle toy commercial.

Carried over from the Sony BMG 20th anniversary DVD are the feature commentary with director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and voice actress Susan Blu (Arcee); and the featurettes “The Death of Optimus Prime” and “Transformers Q&A.” These were on the 2016 Blu-ray as well.

The Blu-ray also includes previously released trailers and TV spots.

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New to the 2021 edition is a feature-length storyboard version of the movie, using the original storyboard sketches assembled to match the audio of the film. Presented separately are a number of deleted sequences presented in storyboard form, with clips from the movie spliced in to show where the scenes would have gone in the final film.

The 2016 Blu-ray had just a couple of storyboard sequences. The extended storyboard fight between Optimus Prime and Megatron from the 2016 version is presented in the deleted scenes on the 2021 version, with a few modifications. Where the 2016 version was all storyboards, with film audio for the parts that made it into the final version and music for the deleted parts, the new version splices actual film clips in between the deleted storyboards, which are presented in silence.

There’s also a gallery of new character artwork by Matt Ferguson, for the promotional art of the new Blu-ray.

Finally, the 10-minute featurette about Stan Bush, including acoustic performances of “The Touch” and “Dare,” and produced for the 2016 Fathom events theatrical re-release, is included on the new Blu-ray.

All the extras are contained on the regular Blu-ray disc in the combo pack. The 4K disc includes just the commentary.

Legacy extras that were on the 2016 Blu-ray but have been dropped for the new version include the “Cast & Characters” featurette from the old Sony DVD, plus featurettes about the 2016 restoration and box art.

The Steelbook package also includes four cards containing scene stills from the film.

Mank

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Netflix;
Drama;
Rated ‘R’ for some language.
Stars Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross, Sam Troughton, Toby Leonard Moore, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tom Burke, Charles Dance.

David Fincher’s Mank is as much a rebuke of the politics of Hollywood as it is a peek behind the scenes at the creative process that led to Citizen Kane, which is often regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

The film’s look and feel is definitely an homage to Kane, from its black-and-white photography, to the framing of specific shots, to a time-shifting narrative structure, and a sound mix that seems to emulate classic films. The only thing Fincher seemingly didn’t do was crop the film to a 4:3 aspect ratio.

The docu-drama focuses on the career of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who won an Oscar co-authoring the Kane screenplay with Orson Welles. In the film, Mank (Gary Oldman) works on the Kane script while recovering from a car accident at a retreat in California’s Mojave Desert, and recounts to those around him who inspired the characters in it, leading to flashbacks to the events in question.

Citizen Kane, of course, is famously based on publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, played here by Charles Dance and Amanda Seyfried. For Oldman’s Mank, Hearst’s coziness with Hollywood generated enough resentment to inspire him to pick him apart in his screenplay.

The inciting event in particular seems to be the 1934 California gubernatorial election, in which Hearst and Hollywood backed Republican incumbent Frank Merriam over the Democrats’ nominee, socialist author Upton Sinclair. Mank sympathized with Sinclair’s anti-poverty positions and took offense to Hearst’s bankrolling of propaganda films by MGM, Mank’s home studio.

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Fincher’s depiction of classic Hollywood will be catnip for film fans, particularly viewers with an affinity for Citizen Kane, but also history buffs in general. On the other hand, ruminations about Mank’s health, his alcohol dependency and frictions between him and the studio system tend to drag on a bit.

The depiction of Hollywood’s attempt to exert its influence over voters is one of those “the more things change, the more they stay the same” kind of moments, and certainly gives the film a timely quality despite its period setting. While some might see Mank’s moral stance as a left-wing defense of the little guy against the big bad corporate machine, it’s hard not to look at the unseemly alliance between Hearst and MGM chief Louis B. Mayer and not see parallels with the media and entertainment establishment’s distaste for Donald Trump (despite whatever message Fincher intended to relay).

The film’s relationship between politics and screenwriting in some ways brings to mind another recent film about a legendary screen scribe, 2015’s Trumbo, about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Oldman’s attempts to capture the affectations of a mid-20th-century Hollywood screenwriter are in many ways similar to Bryan Cranston’s efforts to do the same as Trumbo.

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The other aspect of Mank that will have historians poring over it is the question of how much of the Citizen Kane screenplay can actually be attributed to Welles. Mank seems to want to give most of the credit to its title subject, depicting Welles as a collaborator who earns a contractual credit but mostly calls to check in on Mank’s progress and edits the final product for being too long.

The screenplay for Mank was originally written in the 1990s by Jack Fincher, David’s father who died in 2003. He based the premise on an article from the 1970s that questioned whether Welles had anything to do with the Kane screenplay, a notion at Welles supporters have attacked vociferously.

The subject of the making of Citizen Kane was previously the focus of the 1999 HBO movie RKO 281 (a reference to Kane’s production number). However, that movie focused more on the collaboration between the two men, and attributed the rancor toward Hearst more toward Welles, while Mank, played there by John Malkovich, wanted to ease up — a stark contrast to Oldman’s version. Interestingly, the RKO 281 DVD is actually included as a bonus with some Citizen Kane boxed sets.