“If you can’t get affection at home, you may have to go shopping for it.”
Kino Lorber has once again proven themselves to be the top of the line when it comes to the boutique home video label game. The company’s continued aim of giving new life to a wide assortment of titles across a multitude of genres and eras has never known any bounds. With insightful commentary tracks, retrospective interviews, vintage clips, and stunning transfers for every title, Kino has been the saving grace for a countless number of forgotten films and the legions of fans who love them. In recent times, Kino has branched off into other areas, such as theatrical distribution (most notably bringing the anti-war Jane Fonda film FTA to the screen more than 50 years after President Nixon yanked it from theaters) and earlier this year announced their very own streaming platform, which shows their commitment to all kinds of cinephiles.
But the heart of Kino remains their loyalty to the home video collector. To celebrate another year filled with an array of wildly diverse movies, I thought I’d give a rundown of my top five Kino Lorber releases of 2023.
1. My Man Godfrey
This remake of the 1936 classic starring Carole Lombard and Dick Powell might have slipped through the cracks over the decades due to the original’s reputation as one of the best comedies ever made. It’s a shame since the story of a spoiled heiress who convinces her family to hire a quick-witted butler with a secret or two up his sleeve is more of a triumph than most would assume. June Allyson and David Niven are no match for the aforementioned stars, yet both bring such life and jovial energy to their roles, at times carrying the load when the page-by-page copy of the original’s script temporarily stalls. This version of My Man Godfrey can’t compete with its predecessor, but it wisely never tries; and with enough charm and tender moments to call its own, it doesn’t have to.
Lumped in with the crop of disaster movies that were all the rage in the 1970s, Juggernaut stands alone. The movie tells the story of an ocean liner crossing the North Atlantic that is put on high alert when an anonymous call informs one of the ship’s bosses that a series of bombs placed onboard the vessel is set to be detonated unless demands are met. As is custom with these sorts of films, the cast is loaded with familiar faces including Omar Sharif, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Richard Harris, and David Hemmings. What Juggernaut doesn’t have, however, are the requisite action set pieces featuring people flailing around and property being destroyed. In its place is a realistic look at the simmering tension real terror instills and the silent panic that takes over.
3. Needful Things
Fans of Stephen King have been waiting a long time for this oft-forgotten adaptation of one of his most sprawling tales to be given the proper Blu-ray treatment. The story deals with an intriguing shop owner (Max Von Sydow) who moves to a small Maine town to open an antique shop that has something for everyone at a very specific price. One of the better “the devil is among us” movies, Needful Things‘ post-production and release struggles were legendary with director Fraser C. Heston’s version being severely re-edited for release, only to be hastily reassembled into a 4-hour cut for the movie’s TV broadcast. Amid all the versions is a compelling story full of greed, desire, and the dark side of the human soul as only King could create.
4. Duet for One
Cannon Films made so many atrocious misfires during their stupefyingly long reign, that it’s easy to forget that they actually managed to produce a small handful of genuinely good films. One such example is this drama starring Julie Andrews as a renowned classical violinist, whose career comes to a screeching halt when she’s diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Director Andrei Konchalovsky is never successfully able to shed Duet for One‘s stage origins, but Andrews’ magnificent performance makes up for it. In place of the actress’ sunny persona is a turn full of anguish and heartbreak as she inhabits a woman who feels she is literally disappearing as her condition worsens. It’s a heart-wrenching turn that’s punctuated with an ending that goes for the tears and easily walks off with them.
5. Babes in Toyland
You would be forgiven for not knowing that this 1986 TV movie version of the classic fairy tale story ever existed. NBC bankrolled a remake of the name tale about a young girl (Drew Barrymore) who finds herself transported from present-day Cincinnati to the magical town of Toyland where she finds herself in an adventure trying to save a maiden (Jill Schoelen) from the clutches of an evil name inventor (Richard Mulligan). Most who know this story are familiar with the 1961 version starring Annette Funicello. But nothing can touch this Babes in Toyland in terms of its cast (Keanu Reeves, Eileen Brennan, and Pat Morita are also present) and camp value. Everything in the 80sBabes in Toyland is so wonderfully overblown, from the acting to the production design, giving off a dizzying feeling of whimsy overload that makes the whole experience feel like quite the trip.
All titles are available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.