Your This Must Be the Place Must Be This Import

Here's one that's been on my list since this site was just an idea I might start up one day: 2011's This Must Be the Place.  It's the first English language film by Paolo Sorrentino, who previously gave us the excellent Il Divo, but is now better known for those Young Pope/ New Pope shows on HBO.  This Must Be the Place is one of those cases where it's really important which edition you get on disc, and yet almost nobody seems to know or write about it.  So here I go.
Sean Penn stars as Cheyenne, a retired goth rock musician living in Ireland, who travels to America to track down the aged SS officer who had tortured his father.  Atom Egoyan kind of half remade it/ ripped off the same premise with Remember in 2015.  And look, Remember wasn't bad, and certainly one of Egoyan's best late period efforts, but this is operating on a much higher level.  Plus Cheyenne is a really different character; different from Christopher Plummer's and different from anybody.  This Must Be the Place is almost more of a road movie with Penn traveling through the states and encountering a wide variety of colorfully photographed people and places, but with a dark, existential end-point as his ultimate goal is potentially murder.  This allows for a killer supporting cast, including Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton, Judd Hirsch, Fritz Weaver and composer David Byrne of Talking Heads who plays himself and interjects a big ol' musical number into the center of the film.
This Must Be the Place was first released on DVD and BD in the UK from a little label called Trinity Home Entertainment in 2012.  Then we got it here in the US on both formats the following year from Anchor Bay/ Starz.  Good news for us, right?  Well, actually no, because the UK BD is actually pretty essential.  It trumps the US blu in pretty much every department, as we'll explore below.  But let's start with perhaps the biggest one: it includes the original, extended cut, which they refer to as the Cannes Film Festival Cut.  It's about eight minutes longer, and also has several alternate scenes, different voice over, etc; which I'll touch on a little bit more when we get to the special features.  But yeah, every other disc around the world just has the theatrical cut.  And if you still want the theatrical cut, that's available on the UK blu, too.  So that's one big win in Trinity's column already.
1) Anchor Bay DVD; 2) Trinity extended BD; 3) Trinity theatrical BD.
Something surprising, by the way, is that Trinity's two cuts also have two distinct transfers, something other online reviews of the UK blu don't even mention (I'd guess they never thought to compare them).  So let's compare them both to the US DVD, which I've also got my hands on.  The US DVD and the UK theatrical cut are both 2.35:1, while the extended cut is 2.39:1.  But even the two 2.35s have different framing.  Its image is kind of pinched, revealing noticeably more on the sides and even a sliver along the top.  The extended cut doesn't have that pinch, but the extra width brings the extra picture on the sides that the US DVD had.  The colors are also distinctly different, too.  I picked the second set of shots because they illustrate it really well: the extended cut has a greenish/ blue hue, while the theatrical is much more yellow and the DVD is sort of compromised in the middle.  The highlights are also brighter on the theatrical cut, which you really see in the first set of shots, where the spotlight on Byrne is almost blown out.  Naturally both BD transfers are sharper and richer in fine detail than the soft DVD.  Comparing the two blus, the theatrical cut seems just a tiny bit sharper, with the differences in contrast making the distinction at first appear more pronounced than it really is when you take a closer look.

Audio-wise, all three versions have their original 5.1 mixes (and you can switch between voice-overs on the theatrical cut of the blu), both in DTS-HD on the BD.  And all three have optional English subtitles.
Stefania Cella interview
For extras, the US discs are completely barebones, not even the trailer.  But Trinity provides some really welcome material.  First of all, they include the extra scenes from the theatrical and extended cuts.  So if you watched the extended cut, you can watch the scenes exclusive to the theatrical cut separately, and vice versa.  Then they include several deleted scenes that aren't in either cut.  Then there are six brief on-camera interviews with the cast and crew, specifically Sorrentino (he's the longest), Byrne, production designer Stefania Cella, and actors Eve Hewson, Judd Hirsch and Kerry Condon.  And here we do get the theatrical trailer.

So import the dang thing.  Trinity Home Entertainment is not a label that's wound up on my radar much over the years, but they really got it right in this case.

Is No One Going To Do Anything About the State of Mesmer?!

Well, I'm not tagging Mesmer M.I.A. because it is available on DVD from Image.  In fact, it has been since 2000, and it's certainly far from rare, although in recent years it's been inching its way up in price as a long OOP title.  There are also foreign releases, in the UK and Australia, among others.  But they're all barebones discs using the same, crap fullscreen transfer.  And damn it, Mesmer deserves more than this!

I've read enough online reviews to know that many unprepared Alan Rickman fans seem to have stumbled upon this looking for some kind of Snape spin-off movie, or some torrid romance novel breathed to life.  And to a large degree, Mesmer delivers on the latter.  But most of them probably weren't ready for all the incest and sexual abuse.  Because the critical thing to know about this film is that it's written by Dennis Potter, so it's not going to shy away from the dark sides of its story.
And I know, often with Potter films, the disappointment is that they're watered down versions of his superior British television originals.  Like, I see a lot of people talking about how pleasantly surprised they were to discover Steve Martin's musical Pennies From Heaven is actually rather good.  And sure, it is, but the shame is that almost none of these people have seen the fuller and far superior original starring Bob Hoskins.  Once you've had that experience, the only reason to return to Martin's is for some flashier production numbers and maybe nostalgia.  Then you've also got the dueling Brimstone and Treacles, Track 29 vs. Schmoedipus, and god save you if you're only familiar with Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of The Singing Detective.  Or to a lesser degree, Alice and Dreamchild.  But Mesmer is a true 1994 original, the definitive and only version.
On its face, Mesmer tells the true story of Franz Anton Mesmer, the radical 19th century doctor who believed our mental and emotional states directly affected our physical health.  He introduced a lot of ideas, like psychosomaticism, that we still used today, but also some pretty far-out new age shenanigans (yes, he's where we get the word "mesmerize" from).  Indeed, this film is book-ended with Mesmer being brought up in front of a medical board on the charge of being a total fraud.  Chief among his critics is David Hemblen, who you'll recognize from all of Atom Egoyan's best, early films.
But Potter isn't really interested in teaching us history; this just qualifies as a biopic by technicality.  It's a fanciful, bleak, humorous and sly exploration of, you know, whatever was going on inside Potter at the time.  Anton rockets through class, working his magic for everyone from street peddlers to royalty.  He's at once a new age charlatan with some truly crazy treatment plans, and a bit of a medical savior, ahead of his time in a field of struggling experts whose answer to most things was still bleeding their patients and torturing them with leeches.  For some reason, it seems to help when his patients are beautiful young women.  Hmm...
Mesmer embraces the art house, so be ready for mobs of French revolutionaries to behave as a theatrical device rather than realistic rioters, or even for Rickman's face to be super-imposed on the moon.  I wouldn't blame you for being skeptical if you looked up the director.  Roger Spottiswoode has some rather spotty credits (sorry; I couldn't help myself) on his resume... his previous movie was Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.  And I'll admit, a finer director might've wrung some more nuance and subtlety out of this material.  But Rickman's is downright transcendent here, and the string's in this score are doing God's work.  I'm starting to run long, so if you still need to be properly sold on this film, I'll direct you to these vintage reviews from Variety and The Atlantic that really seem to get it.
2000 Image DVD.
So, like I said, Mesmer is presented fullscreen here (1.33:1), though this was of course a widescreen theatrical release.  I'm not even confident that this is open matte, as there doesn't seem like a lot of excessive head room, and the framing looks pretty tight.  Most damning, it's just so dark and soft.  The colors are drab, contrast is low so it feels like someone turned off the lights even when characters are out in the sun, and I bet a lot of detail has been crushed in those blacks.  It looks like what it surely is: an old video master made for tube televisions in the early 90s.  At least there aren't any rolling bars, and surprisingly, it isn't interlaced.  But otherwise, things are pretty sad.

Audio is just your basic 2.0 Dolby track, which is fine.  There are no subtitles, and the only extra is a(n also fullscreen) trailer.  That and an insert listing chapter breaks is all we get.
Mesmer is one of those films I've been waiting decades for an upgrade for.  Anytime a studio like Twilight Time or Kino would announce their monthly releases, I'd check to see if Mesmer was amongst them.  I wasn't expecting a loaded special edition, but you'd think someone would at least get it to us in its proper widescreen.  I gave up really hoping years ago, though.  For some reason, this exotic film just feels doomed to neglect.  Meanwhile, Nail Gun Massacre is getting its fifth remaster, this time on UHD.  And if anybody gets that decision, I do.  But come on, studios, publishers... is really no one going to step up to the plate for this?  Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is on blu-ray, with a 'making of'!  Surely this can get a no frills 2k clean-up?

A To Die For To Die For

Oh boy, when you do true crime black comedy right, you've got an instant masterpiece on your hands.  And yes, 1995's To Die For is a true crime flick.  They don't use her real name, and make a few key changes (particularly the ending) to keep from getting sued, but this is a direct adaptation of the novel by Joyce Maynard, which is unofficially telling the story of Pamela Smart, right down to the juiciest details.  Oh, and fun fact, Helen Hunt had already played Smart in a TV movie a few years before this.  But then Nicole Kidman swooped in and took that crown, quite definitively.
This is easily Gus Van Sant's best work, in no small part thanks to an amazing cast including, of course, featuring Kidman in a real star turn, but also packed with brilliant performances from a young Joaquin Phoenix, Illeana Douglas, Matt Dillon, Casey Affleck, Dan Hedaya, Wayne Knight, Kurtwood Smith, George Segal and David freakin' Cronenberg.  And at least as much credit has to go to Alison Folland, who was an unknown at the time.  She went on to star in the baby dyke flick All Over Me before disappearing into a series of minor roles, which is a real shame because she's pitch perfect in this.  It's beautifully shot, plus we're also getting some of screenwriter Buck Henry's most biting satire since Catch 22 and one of Danny Elfman's greatest film scores in a project that really knew how to use him.  This is just one of those projects where everything fell together into the ideal configuration.
Now, To Die For's been available on anamorphic widescreen DVD since 1998, thanks to a Columbia Tri-Star flipper disc (reissued in 2010 by Image Entertainment).  And it's been available on blu-ray, again from Image, since 2011.  But the smarter move had been to import it from the UK, as Network's BD had the correct audio (more on that below) and at least a vague hint of special features.  But there's only one way to go now in 2024, as Criterion has just released an all-new 4k restoration from the original 35mm OCN in a fuller BD/ UHD combo-pack that finally delivers what we've all been waiting for.
1) 1998 Columbia Tri-Star DVD (wide); 2) 1998 Columbia Tri-Star DVD (full);
3) 2015 Network BD; 4) 2024 Criterion BD; 5) 2024 Criterion UHD.

So, the framing for Columbia Tri-Star's DVD is a bit odd.  Yes, I mean even for the widescreen side.  It's roughly 1.78:1, but with a single pillarbox on the right-hand side, tweaking it to 1.77:1.  I guess they figured it was in the overscan area, so it really didn't matter; but it strikes you now, in the age of modern flat screens.  Anyway, the fullscreen side is a more classic 1.33:1, which just slightly shaves the sides, but is largely open matte, revealing a whole bunch of extra vertical information.  Being a UK disc, Network stuck with the 1.78:1 ratio, sans that weird pillar, with very slightly adjusted framing.  Criterion, of course, mattes it to an exact 1.85:1, while still managing to reveal slightly more on the sides.

The colors for the previous editions are essentially the same as they presumably used the same master.  But Criterion's are a bit warmer and generally smartened up.  I can't declare its accuracy, per se, but Criterion does boast that their transfer is approved by both the director and DP, and I will say, subjectively, it's a more attractive image now, and objectively it's lusher and more vivid.  Detail-wise, Network's blu already looked pretty good, but comparing it to Criterion's, it looks like it had just a touch of edge enhancement (look at the framed photo over Nicole's shoulder in the second set of pics), which Criterion does away with.  And even just comparing the two 1080p BDs, there's less jagged pixelation and grain is rendered more thoroughly.  But then on the Dolby Vision HDR'd UHD, the grain is perfectly rendered, and finer detail is more lifelike - impressive even when judged against other UHDs.
Did I mention something about the "correct audio?"  Yes.  Every disc here has the 5.1 mix (in DTS-HD on everything except the DVD) with optional English subtitles.  But the original US blu-ray from Image only had a stereo track.  You'd be right to say I usually don't care much about 5.1 remixes, but To Die For is a modern enough film that the 5.1 was the original audio mix, so it was a loss for Image's blu (though anyone watching on just a stereo TV or PC would be listening to it folded down, anyway).  So it's nice that Criterion brought it back for US audiences.  Columbia and Network also threw in a separate 2.0 mix (in LPCM on the BD), but Criterion didn't bother, which is perfectly fine.  Oh, and the DVD also had a French dub and set of subtitles.
And did I also say something about "what we've all been waiting for?"  Oh yeah, let's talk extras.  Now the Columbia and Image DVDs all had nothing but the trailer.  And Network didn't have much more.  They threw in several TV spots and stills galleries.  But one stills gallery stood out, because they depicted deleted scenes.  The actual deleted scenes weren't included, but we knew they existed, and Network tried their best to deliver them without actually being able to access them.  But Criterion finally got 'em.  And we're talking over 30 minutes of stuff, from an alternate opening credits sequence to a whole, clever subplot involving a tattoo.  The footage is raw (and interlaced), but fans will still be as happy as a pig in mud to roll around in these.  And Criterion gave us a fun audio commentary, too, by Gus Van Sant himself, along with his DP and editor.  They have some really good info, including some surprising alternate casting potentialities, though they do run low on steam in the final stretch.  I'd say definitely listen to the first half, but if you find yourself getting bored or sleepy, it's okay to shut it off after that - you'll have caught all the good stuff.

This new set also includes the trailer and one of those fold-out "leaflet" booklets with notes by film critic Jessica Kiang.
So yes, this is a real must-have from Criterion.  To Die For has looked alright on home video before, but it's finally gotten the first class treatment it deserves.  A great release for a great film.  Now, maybe Vestron will follow this up with a double feature of 1988's To Die For and its sequel.  Our shelves needs all three standing alongside each other!