New Blu-ray Releases Memories of Murder

Still clinging to physical media like a drowning person clinging to a life preserver? Me too, reader. Me too. Which is why I’ve compiled a round-up of some recent Blu-ray releases you’re going to want to check out.

Memories of Murder

Bong Joon-ho‘s 2003 masterpiece returns, restored by the Criterion Collection. The film remains just as haunting and memorable as it was all those years ago – perhaps even more so now. At the time the film was made, Memories of Murder was inspired by a real series of unsolved murders. In the years since its release the killer has been caught, which makes the film’s unsettling, open-ending ending extra eerie. Memories follows three very different cops – the cocky Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho), who thinks highly of himself and his detective skills; his violent, angry partner Cho Yong-koo (Kim Roi-ha); and Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung), a quiet, methodical, brilliant cop who comes from Seoul to assist with a case. The case involves a series of brutal serial killings targeting young women. The killer strikes on rainy nights, and seems to be unstoppable. Like David Fincher’s Zodiac, which owes a huge debt to Memories of Murder, this isn’t really a murder mystery as much as it is about men who grow obsessed with solving that mystery, only to come up short despite their best efforts. Bong is exacting in how he lets this unfold – he spends most of the time with the cops, but also cuts away to the killer stalking his prey in the rain. One particular sequence, where a young woman realizes she’s being followed and tries to run away – only to run right into the killer – is one of the creepiest scenes ever captured on film. This was only Bong’s second feature film, and the fact that he was able to deliver something like this so early in his career is nothing short of amazing.

Own or Rent?

No question here, this is a must-have. For one thing, Memories of Murder has never been available on Blu-ray here before. For another, Criterion has restored it with Bong’s approval. Like the recent Wong Kar-wai box set from Criterion, there’s been some criticism about the color correcting on this new release – it doesn’t look the same as it did when it arrived in 2003, and the color tones are darker. This may turn off some folks, but again, Bong approved this remaster and cinematographer Kim Hyung Ku supervised things, so I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt since it’s their movie. In addition to that you get a new interview with Bong talking about the real case that inspired the film, and also a new featurette where Guillermo del Toro talks about what makes the film so damn great.

Special Features Include:

  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by cinematographer Kim Hyung Ku and approved by director Bong Joon Ho, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Two 2003 commentaries featuring Bong and members of the cast and crew, plus a new commentary featuring critic Tony Rayns
  • New interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • New interview with Bong about the real-life serial killer who inspired the film
  • Documentary from 2004 on the making of the film
  • Deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary by Bong
  • New interview with film scholar Jeff Smith on the use of sound in Bong’s work
  • Incoherence, a 1994 student film by Bong, with a new introduction by the director
  • Teaser, trailer, and TV spot
  • PLUS: An essay by critic and novelist Ed Park

 

Irma Vep

“Unclassifiable” is probably the best word to describe Olivier Assayas‘s odd, wonderful Irma Vep. A movie about making movies – or rather, trying to make movies and not really getting anywhere – Irma Vep stars jaw-droppingly gorgeous international superstar Maggie Cheung as herself. She’s been brought to France to star in a remake of Les vampires, a French silent crime serial from the early 1900s. But once she arrives on set she finds things falling apart quickly. The director (Jean-Pierre Léau) is obsessed with perfection while also being doubtful of the very material he’s working on, and the costume designer (Nathalie Richard) develops an understandable crush on the star. Cheung is caught in the middle of it all, unable to speak the language and often left behind as crew members speed off for the night. The end result is a film both playful and strange.

Own or Rent?

This is another purchase. Irma Vep is so hypnotic and uncanny that it inspires multiple viewings. It feels like the type of movie to get lost in; even if you’re unsure of exactly what’s happening the film’s atmosphere and tone are so outstanding that you’re swept up in it all. Throw in a new restoration and you have yourself something great.

Special Features Include:

  • New 2K digital restoration, approved by director Olivier Assayas, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with Assayas
  • On the Set of “Irma Vep,” a behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Interview from 2003 with Assayas and critic Charles Tesson
  • Interview from 2003 with actors Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard
  • Musidora, the Tenth Muse (2013), a documentary on the actor who originated the role of Irma Vep
  • Les vampires: Hypnotic Eyes (1916), the sixth episode in Louis Feuillade’s silent-film serial
  • Cinema in the Present Tense, a June 2020 address on the state of cinema by Assayas
  • Man Yuk: A Portrait of Maggie Cheung, a 1997 short film by Assayas
  • Black-and-white rushes for the film
  • English subtitle translation and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Aliza Ma

Nomadland

The recent Oscar winner for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress really is as good as you’ve heard, and maybe better. Chloé Zhao‘s quiet, gorgeous, heartbreaking film follows Fern (Frances McDormand), who works a seasonal gig at Amazon and lives out of her van. She travels the country in a nomadic lifestyle, always moving, always encountering either new or familiar faces. She drifts, and she finds an America that is both terrible and beautiful. There’s been some criticism regarding Nomadland‘s lack of criticism for a company like Amazon, but that’s not what the film is about. Plus, I’d argue that a movie where the main character works at Amazon and still has to live out of a van and go to the bathroom in a bucket is criticism on its own. Zhao excels at finding quiet, reflective moments, and McDormand’s layered, subtle performances anchors it all.

Own or Rent?

Nomadland is currently streaming on Hulu, so you could always just stream it there. But streaming is fleeting, physical media lasts forever. If you’re fond of Nomadland, this should be a purchase. Plus, since it’s technically a Disney title, it helps to show the House of Mouse that physical media still matters – because make no mistake, they’ll phase it out soon if they feel like it.

Special Features Include:

  • The Forgotten America
  • Deleted Scenes
    • Lunch Interrupted
    • A Gift From God
  • Telluride Premiere Q&A with Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao

 

Judas and the Black Messiah

The story of how the FBI targeted Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya, who just took home an Oscar for the role), the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in late-1960s Chicago, is brought to stark life in Shaka King‘s powerful but slightly uneven Judas and the Black Messiah. To get the goods on Hampton, the FBI sends in small-time crook Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). At first, O’Neal is happy to spy on Hampton and the Black Panthers in order to keep himself out of jail. But the closer he gets to Hampton and the movement, the more emotionally conflicted he feels. Kaluuya is fantastic and commanding as Hampton, and his recent awards win makes sense. But I still maintain that the movie really belongs to Stanfield, who brings such a nervous, sweaty, angst-ridden energy to his role that it’s often hard to watch. The script, by King and Will Berson, is at times too muddled for its own good, and there are long stretches where Judas and the Black Messiah feels as if its running on autopilot. And yet, the performances are so phenomenal, and the overall look of the film – via cinematographer Sean Bobbitt – is so remarkable that one can’t help but get swept up in it all.

Own or Rent?

I would suggest renting this one to start if you haven’t seen it yet. For one thing, the film is so emotionally devastating that you might not ever want to revisit it. Then again, if you’re a fan of watching great actors turn in great performances, you might want to buy this from the jump. Let’s leave this one somewhere in the middle. In any case, you should definitely check the movie out.

Special Features Include:

  • “Fred Hampton for the People” – The filmmakers and cast discuss why telling Chairman Fred Hampton’s story is more important now than ever before.
  • “Unexpected Betrayal” – The filmmakers and cast discuss William O’Neil’s complexities and his eventual betrayal of Hampton.

 

Quick Change

Quick Change was a box office failure when it arrived in 1990, but the film has since earned itself a strong cult following. And it’s easy to see why – the movie is just flat-out great. A darkly hilarious trip through the hellscape that is New York City, Quick Change stars Bill MurrayGeena Davis, and Randy Quaid as a trio of bank robbers who think they’ve just pulled off the perfect heist. Unfortunately, getting out of the city with their loot isn’t going to be so easy. As the three travel from one surreal location to the next, their own personal grievances begin to come out, complicating things even further. It’s not exactly a laugh-out-loud comedy, but it is consistently funny in the way it portrays NYC as a place that defies logic; a kind of concrete Twilight Zone where everyone is deranged, hapless, or both.

Own or Rent?

Quick Change has never been on Blu-ray until now, so you should definitely buy this baby. That said, there are sadly zero special features here. On top of that, this is a Warner Archive release, and there’s a rumor going around that Warner Archive is going to start doing away with physical discs to make way for HBO Max. If true, that’s terrible – and it also suggests there’s a very good chance this disc could go out of print in the not-too-distant future. Even more reason to scoop it up now.

Special Features Include:

  • Trailer
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