A photographer with visions, a double dose of an acting legend, and the release of one of the greatest cult TV series all made the cut.
The start of every year always brings with it an abundance of top 2022 lists in the lead-up to the Academy Awards. Virtually every outlet will be trotting out the same collection of titles in various orders. The tributes to Everything Everywhere All at Once, Top Gun: Maverick, and The Fabelmans have been endless; and while there’s nothing wrong with paying tribute to the many highlights that represented the year before in film, I thought a list of a different sort was in order.
One of the top boutique home video labels around today, Kino Lorber has consistently put the collector first in their curating of titles. Last year was an especially fruitful one for the Kino fan with even more obscure selections and forgotten classics given new life. With an output as strong as any which came before, I couldn’t help but spotlight some of my top Kino releases of the last year.
Eyes of Laura Mars
One of Faye Dunaway’s most compelling post-Network, pre-Mommie Dearest efforts is this stylish, provocative thriller that continues to be rediscovered. In Eyes of Laura Mars, Dunaway plays a highly acclaimed fashion photographer who begins to experience visions of murders before they happen. What’s more, each of the victims is someone she knows, leading her to believe that she will be the killer’s ultimate target. Based on an earlier script by John Carpenter, Eyes of Laura Mars offers up a tantalizing mystery while also capturing the pulse of late 70s New York. Some critics at the time complained that the film bordered on exploitation when it came to the sexual and violent nature of certain scenes. Looking at the film today, however, it’s hard not to applaud the world of Laura Mars as one that’s both alluring and dangerous.
I had never heard of this small, but touching film, which tells the story of the elderly Alice Hargreaves (Coral Browne), whose bond with Lewis Carroll (Ian Holm) became the inspiration for the author’s most famous work. The barely released Dreamchild is many things: an elegiac tale, a love story, an examination of childhood, and even a showcase for Jim Henson’s workshop. The beauty of the film looks at how, as people, we are defined by the memories we possess with a script that seamlessly alternates between fantasy and reality. Dreamchild also exhibits the best traits of British independent filmmaking of the day, making it even more of a shame that the film remains as underrated as it ever has been. Nevertheless, Kino’s release more than does right with this charming, curious, and poetic tale.
Night Gallery Seasons 2 & 3
The ultimate cult classic horror anthology is now finally on Blu-Ray thanks to the release of seasons 2 & 3 of the 70s series. Described by host/creator Rod Serling as “a quick run through a cemetery,” the show featured Serling in the titular gallery next to a macabre painting or statue which then led into one (sometimes) Serling-written tale of horror or suspense. It’s hard to find one element of Night Gallery that stands out most since each is integral to its popularity with fans. The cut-and-paste feel is endearing, the mix of old stars and young up-and-comers is fun (everyone from Vincent Price to Sally Field makes appearances), and the way the show blends stories of horror with sci-fi, fantasy, and even dark comedy has never been replicated. A favorite of filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro (who shows up here on many of the commentary tracks), Night Gallery remains as entertaining and groundbreaking as ever.
Despite its European ancestry, it’s sometimes easy for some to forget that film noir was not a creation of Hollywood. This trio of French-set noir titles reinforces this with a collection of films that beautifully present a melding of classic noir with the new wave style of filmmaking. The “cat and mouse”- driven Speaking of Murder and revenge thriller Witness in the City are both intoxicating pieces of French noir that would please any fan. However, the true highlight of the set remains Back to the Wall, a carefully woven story of a husband (Gerard Oury) who sets out to catch his cheating wife (Jeanne Moreau) by anonymously blackmailing her. Directed by Edouard Molinaro, Back to the Wall never stops as it offers up one suspenseful twist after another. Featuring one of Moreau’s best turns, and mixing romance with passion in a way that only the French can, the title alone makes the set worth getting.
One of the most underrated collaborations in the film world remains that of writer Richard Russo, director Robert Benton, and actor Paul Newman. The trio teamed up twice for a pair of films in the 90s, which were both rich in texture and nuance. Based on Russo’s acclaimed novel, 1994’s Nobody’s Fool sees Newman star as Sully, a man who comes face to face with some of the choices he’s made in his past. Benton gently directs an Oscar-nominated Newman in a movie filled with the kind of old-school charm, wit, humor, and pathos any cinephile could love.
Four years later, the team reunited again for Twilight. Based on Benton and Russo’s original script, Newman stars as Harry, a retired L.A. detective who gets pulled into a crime of the past involving his wealthy friends (Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon). This 1998 noirish thriller’s throwback qualities are a joy for any genre fan, while Newman is slick and more than game in one of his final leading roles.
All titles are now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.