This week’s roundup includes reviews of the Blu-ray releases of a trio of vintage films: French master Henri-Georges Clouzot’s anti-Nazi allegory, 1943’s “Le Corbeau,” from the Criterion Collection; 1940’s “Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” from Warner Archive; and “The Amusement Park,” an early work by horror master George Romero. There are also reviews of the 4K/UHD release of the 1982 classic thriller “Poltergiest” as well as the streaming/in-theater releases of the powerful documentary, “Riotsville, USA,” and the unsettling Romanian police drama, “Unidentified.”
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Le Corbeau (Criterion)
In Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic 1943 anti-Nazi fable, a small French town is ripped apart by anonymous letters accusing people of various sins (some real, some not) until the entire populace is caught up in a toxic stew of mistrust and informing on one another. Banned in Vichy France, the film is still potent today (and has unsurprising parallels to current events) and remains a visceral and vividly realized drama that is gripping to the end reveal. Criterion’s usual splendid release includes a beautiful hi-def transfer, an interview with master director and film historian Bertrand Tavernier, and a 1975 French film history documentary featuring Clouzot.
Abe Lincoln in Illinois (Warner Archive)
Although it’s dated quite badly, John Cromwell’s 1940 drama features a superb Raymond Massey portrayal of Honest Abe in the years before he became president: meeting (and losing) the love of his life, becoming a lawyer, entering politics, marrying Mary Todd and—at the end—winning the 1860 election. Massey has the folksy homeliness that Lincoln had by all accounts; his presence helps steady the bumpy ride in Grover Jones’ adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s play. The B&W film looks stunning on Blu; lone extra is a 1940 radio adaptation also starring Massey.
The Amusement Park (Shudder/RLJE Films)
George Romero was known for his zombie trilogy (“Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead”), but his scariest movie might have been one no one knows about: this 55-minute, surreal feature made in 1973, but barely seen after a 1975 festival premiere, concerning the legitimate fears of elder abuse. Memorable visual imagery accompanies this honest and heartfelt plea for tolerance and fair treatment, made on the lowest of low budgets. It’s been lovingly restored in hi-def, and there’s a fine array of contextualizing extras, including an audio commentary, interviews and featurettes.
4K/UHD Release of the Week
Poltergeist (Warner Bros)
“They’re here” is all you need to hear to know what’s coming—this scary, funny and supremely entertaining 1982 thriller about paranormal forces hounding an innocent family in its home in the depths of American suburbia was primarily directed by Tobe Hooper, although the unceasing rumors that producer-writer Steven Spielberg actually helmed some sequernces sure seems possible considering how much of this looks and feels like a Spielberg film. The acting is superb throughout, with Jobeth Williams giving a standout performance as the harried mother, but Craig T. Nelson as the father and Zelda Rubenstein as the ghost whisperer are also good. The film looks spectacularly good in UHD, especially in its dazzling light-dark imagery; extras on the accompanying Blu-ray are a vintage making-of featurette and two-part featurette about paranormal investigators.
In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Riotsville, USA (Magnolia)
In the 1960s, the political and law enforcement establishment, spooked by the civil unrest growing throughout the U.S., actually set up fake towns that were named Riotsville that were used to help prepare the military and police for the next uprising in the inner cities. Director Sierra Pettengill’s powerful documentary cannily utilizes archival footage—yes, the military brass filmed everything—to create a potent counter-narrative to what occurred during that volatile era in order to demonstrate the beginnings of the militarization of the police that has since become ubiquitous in cities across the country.
Unidentified (Film Movement)
Romanian director Bogdan George Apetri, who resides in New York City, returns with his second provocative drama in a matter of weeks, following his disturbing “Miracle”: this film, set in the same small Romanian town (where Apetri incidentally grew up), follows an unorthodox detective looking into a case that’s not his. Apetri adroitly provides bits of pertinent information as the story moves along, until finally we realize just what the obsessed detective is doing. It’s admittedly engrossing, but the antihero (played by Liam Neesonesque actor Bogdan Farcas) is so vile that it’s difficult to stay with him for two hours.
Up, Down, Fragile (Cohen Film Collection)
I’ve never been a Jacques Rivette fan, but he did hit his stride in the ’90s, starting with 1991’s magnificent, four-hour “La belle noiseuse” and the longer but intimate two-part 1993 study of Joan of Arc, “Joan the Maid.” Two of his other ’90s features, “Up, Down, Fragile” and “Secret Defense,” are playing at Quad Cinema in Manhattan on September 20 and 27, respectively, as part of a month-long Rivette retrospective. “Up, Down, Fragile” is a sweetly entertaining look at a trio of women navigating romance and friendship in Paris; “Secret Defense” stars a formidable Sandrine Bonnaire as a scientist searching for the facts behind her father’s death. Both films are too long, as most Rivette films are, but they at least aren’t dull exercises filled with amateurish performances, which these features are happily devoid of.
DVD Release of the Week
Magnum P.I.—Complete 4th Season (CBS/Paramount)
For the 20 episodes that make up the latest season of yet another beloved TV series reboot, the breezy chemistry of actors Jay Hernandez and Perdita Weeks, who are playing investigators Thomas Magnum and Juliet Higgins, makes these familiar stories of murder, blackmail and other crime cases set in always picturesque Hawaii watchable. Extras on this five-disc set include the ubiquitous gag reel as well as deleted scenes from six of the episodes.