Kenneth Branagh, as well as Emma Thompson, constitutes positive reinforcement of our recent cinematic memories. But flash backwards to 1989 and Henry V (Shout! Factory, 1/27) was the film that introduced the pair (married from August 1989 through October 1995) to domestic audiences. Branagh’s Henry V ushered in a whole decade of revisionist takes on Shakespeare by Branagh as well as other directors (Richard Loncraine to Al Pacino to Michael Almereyda).
Henry V contains the St. Crispin’s day speech: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile.” Fairly serious in its depiction of royalty and warfare, Branagh’s version has flourishes of magical realism such as Derek Jacobi, as the Chorus or a sort of narrator, who starts out the film by walking and talking the audience through a modern theater stage, only when he opens the back door we are thrust into the early 15th century. Another change of pace to the seriousness surrounding Henry’s conquest of France occurs when we are swept into the boudoir of Katherine, the French princess who Henry will marry if he’s victorious. Katherine (Thompson) and her handmaiden practice English although the entire comedic scene proceeds in French with the pair making fun of the sound of the English syllables.
Henry V won one Oscar® for Costume Design, and Branagh was nominated for Best Actor and Best Director (losing to Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot and Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July). Henry V also contains a killer tracking shot of the battlefield that goes on for many minutes. Look for Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane (Falstaff), Ian Holm, Paul Scofield and 15-year old Christian Bale among the talented cast.
Some other Shout! Factory (and their division Timeless Media Group) Blu-rays worthy of adulation released in the last month include: Fitzcarraldo, from Werner Herzog, complete with locations that include Machu Pichu and two commentary tracks, one in English the other in German with English subtitles. The native Indians who worked as extras on the film seriously told Herzog that they would kill Klaus Kinski, who was abusive on the set to everyone, gratis. Stingray: The Compete Series – 50th Anniversary Edition, follows the adventures of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol. People who grew up watching this British underwater show are now aging adults into Doctor Who. The catch is that the cast, which features a stern captain and a sea goddess among others, are puppets. The technique is known as Supermarionation, created by Gerry Anderson (Thunderbirds, Space: 1999) who also provides select commentary. Imagine Team America but without the political content aimed at kids of all ages.
The Trip to Italy (IFC Films, 12/23/14) continues the traveling escapades of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, with director Michael Winterbottom back at the helm. The Italian countryside provides the background and the comic duo swap impersonations of other actors with aplomb. Locations include Liguria to Capri to Pompeii where Brydon does his “little man in a box” ventriloquist act to an ashen corpse in a glass display case. A repeating musical motif from Gustav Mahler just makes this trip all the more lyrical. In no way does Trip to Italy outshine The Trip, the original template, but it’s almost as good and that’s good enough. If you’re familiar with The Trip you know that the imitations Coogan and Bryson perform are second to the shots of regional cuisine.