A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
Where’s it on? Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray
The titular metaphor at the heart of Elia Kazan’s debut feature, that of a resilient tree punching its way through tenement pavements in its reach for the sun, may want for subtlety but is offset by the filmmaker’s tender empathy for the impoverished Nolan clan that populates his film’s cramped spaces. Kazan, himself the son of Greek parents, held the immigrant experience close to his heart, choosing Betty Smith’s 1943 novel for his first assignment at Fox after notable Broadway success. Following an Irish-American family in turn-of-the-century Williamsburg, it’s an unashamedly sentimental melodrama in the Fordian tradition. Kazan’s theatrical experience pays dividends in the stellar performances, not least from 12-year-old Peggy Ann Garner, who earned a Juvenile Oscar for her central turn as the aspirational Francie Nolan.
Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
Where’s it on? Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray
A small-scale wonder from Robert Altman makes its long overdue UK Blu-ray debut this week courtesy of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema imprint. Adapted from the play by Ed Graczyk, which Altman also directed on Broadway, the brilliance of the film lies less in its writing than in the director’s astonishing formal razzamatazz. Taking place on a single set, with the action jumping back and forth between two reunions (one in the mid-50s, the other in the mid-70s) of female James Dean fans in small-town Texas, the film ekes a present-tense melancholy from its formal collisions of space and time. Altman’s blocking, of both cast and camera, speaks to a tension between the limitations of stage and screen, overcome in a magnificent editorial scheme by collaborator Jason Rosenfield. Usually spoken of as a minor work in the Altman canon, it’s way too good for that.
One Deadly Summer (1983)
Where’s it on? Cult Films Blu-ray
A sweaty, sun-blasted neo-noir in the tradition of Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981), One Deadly Summer interrogates the legacies of male violence in a small French town. Directed by Jean Becker, son of the great Jacques (Le Trou, 1960), and starring an electric Isabelle Adjani as the young woman out to avenge her mother’s rape, the film takes its noir tropes as a starting point for something altogether more fascinating. An array of voiceovers and perspective switches afford a Rashomon-like approach to narrative (“Who can say what happened? We each only see our bit”), while its historical, political abuses play out with all the pungent pulp of a proto-Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Written off at the time of release as mere exploitation, like the best noirs – neo or otherwise – it speaks to far darker truths.
The Doors (1991)
Where’s it on? StudioCanal 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray
The 90s was a helluva decade for Oliver Stone, marking an insanely fertile period of formal experimentation across seven features. The Doors was first out the gate in 1991, the same year he released his defining picture, JFK. It would be a misnomer to describe this film as restrained, but even its most gonzo stylistic quirks pale in comparison to those that would follow with the likes of Natural Born Killers (1994), U Turn (1997) and Any Given Sunday (1999). Never one of his most beloved pictures, the biopic of Jim Morrison and co arrives newly restored on 4K UHD this week, with a spectacular Dolby Atmos track its most significant addition. The film lives or dies by your mileage with Val Kilmer’s lead performance, which oscillates between the ludicrous and sublime. The performance set-pieces remain electric (especially given the new mix), but it’s Stone’s stylistic shamanism that deserves a closer look, especially in the context of what would follow.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Where’s it on? 20th Century Fox 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, iTunes
The best blockbuster of 2019 thus far becomes its most impressive home video release, especially in the jaw-dropping 4K UHD incarnation. An adaptation of the serialised manga by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel had been a passion project of writer-producer James Cameron for well over a decade, only dropped from his schedule when his attention turned to Avatar (2009) and its upcoming sequels. If news of the directorial reins being passed to Robert Rodriguez hardly inspired optimism, the decision to dampen his own tendencies towards glib neo-exploitation and effectively ventriloquise Cameron pays huge dividends both here and in the franchise’s potential moving forward. JC’s clunky way with dialogue isn’t entirely tempered, but it’s more than offset with a patient, inhabited approach to world and character building, with set-pieces that speak to a master’s guiding hand. A reference quality release in 4K, with an Atmos track to put even the most high-spec kit through its paces.