Allenesque: Five Woody Allen Movies on Blu-ray from Twilight Time

From screwball spoofs to serious dramas, this quintet of features from the one and only comedian/filmmaker offers a variety of stylings.
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Whether you are a collector, purist, enthusiast, or just someone who is trying to get through the work day, there is nothing as gratifying as being able to mark something off of a checklist. And every time Twilight Time issues a classic Woody Allen film on Blu-ray, it gives his fans a chance to experience something just as gratifying. Fortunately for all parties involved, Allen's extensive (and still-expanding, as he has rarely skipped a year without making a movie since 1965) library can come that much closer to being "complete" thanks to Twilight Time's regular releases of the filmmaker's work, five of which I am covering here.

Bananas (1971)

Crafted long before he regularly began to dabble with more dramatic material, 1971's Bananas is true early Allen comedy. Housed in a completely preposterous, utterly meshuga universe, the screwball spoof of Latin American revolutions by way of Wide World of Sports and The Marx Brothers finds Woody in classic neurotic nut form as Fielding Mellish. Falling for an equally loony activist (as played Allen's second ex-wife, comedienne Louise Lasser), Mellish tries to impress the impossible-to-please lass via her political interests. True to early Allen form, this results in Mellish becoming one of Latin America's clumsiest revolutionaries, before accidentally becoming dictator himself!

Featuring one of filmdom's most side-splitting kidnappings ever (to say nothing of that courtroom trial!), Bananas also stars Carlos Montalban, Natividad Abascal, Charlotte Rae, Conrad Bain, and real-life TV personalities Howard Cosell, Roger Grimsby, and Dan Dunphy ‒ the latter of whom play themselves. This Limited Edition release from Twilight Time sports a beautiful MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode direct from the MGM vault, which is accompanied by a DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 soundtrack. An isolated score (this was one of the few Allen movies to have an actual composer ‒ in this instance, the honor goes to Marvin Hamlisch), English (SDH) subtitles, theatrical trailer, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo make up the extras.

September (1987)

Far-removed from the absurd antics of Bananas, September brings us an entirely different side of Woody Allen. Here, Allen's then-partner Mia Farrow as a depressed woman holed-up in a remote country house after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. There, she finds herself the rarely wanted object of desire between her two nearing neighbors: professor Denholm Elliott and writer Sam Waterston. Alas, her visiting bestie (Dianne Wiest, looking quite sexy with a pixie cut) catches the eye of the man she desires most. Naturally, just when you think things can't get any more annoyingly adult, the source of Mia's depression ‒ her mother (Elaine Stritch) ‒ shows up with her husband (a delightfully sublime Jack Warden).

Interestingly, Allen shot September once before with Sam Shepard, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Charles Durning in the roles Waterston, Stritch and Warden would later own. At one point, Annie Hall co-star Christopher Walken wandered into Woody's orbit once again as Peter the writer, but that didn't pan out. Sadly, none of that footage has surfaced, but that won't matter after you see this underrated drama from Orion Pictures on Blu-ray. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the HD print used for this Limited Edition Twilight Time release (courtesy MGM) is stellar throughout, and includes a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack. Extras consist of a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated score, English (SDH) subtitles, trailer, and Julie Kirgo's liner notes.

Alice (1990)

After wowing audiences and critics with the Oscar-nominated Crimes and Misdemeanors the previous year, Woody Allen welcomed fans into the 1990s with this unique romantic fantasy. Still his leading actress, Mia Farrow returns here as Alice: a mousy (and, naturally, neurotic) married mother of two who truly has no control over her own life. Ignored by her rich and dominating husband (William Hurt), Alice is too frightened to meet a handsome musician (Joe Mantegna, gleefully playing a good guy for a change), but her life soon changes after meeting eccentric Chinese herbalist Keye Luke (in a final, subtly perfect film performance) who has many strange and exciting gifts to enhance our protagonist's life ‒ including invisibility!

Also appearing in this fairy tale are the talents of Alec Baldwin (as a ghost), Blythe Danner (as Alice's sister), Judy Davis (as Mantenga's ex-wife), Cybill Shepherd (as a truly loathsome TV exec), Bernadette Peters (cast as a muse, appropriately), Gwen Verdon and Patrick O'Neal (as Alice's parents), with bit parts by Bob Balaban, Lisa Marie, and a comical cameo by Elle Macpherson. This Limited Edition release from Twilight Time boasts another beautiful MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode direct from the MGM library, with a robust DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack. English (SDH) subtitles are included, as is an isolated score in DTS-HD MA 2.0. A theatrical trailer and liner notes by Julie Kirgo conclude the bonus materials for this release.

Husbands and Wives (1992)

It is often said that life imitates art. And anyone who may have gone to see Allen's dark satire Husbands and Wives when it was first released in '92 may agree. Debuting directly after Allen's infamous break-up with Mia Farrow, the quasi-documentary film presents us with two failing marriages. When Gabe and Judy (Woody and Mia) meet friends Sally and Jack (Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack), they're shocked by the latter's strangely happy divorce announcement. Naturally, this leaves Judy uncertain as to the future her own relationship, especially with Gabe's rising fascination with a student (Juliette Lewis) and her interest in a handsome young Irishman (Liam Neeson, back when they still let him keep his accent).

Also featuring the likes of Lysette Anthony, Ron Rifkin, Bruce Jay Friedman, and Blythe Danner, Husbands and Wives met with instant acclaim worldwide upon its release (despite the controversy surrounding Allen's real-life relationship). The movie has aged remarkably well since then, mimicking the often comical (and sometimes double) standards may of us are all too familiar with now. Twilight Time's Limited Edition Blu-ray gives us another beautiful 1080p transfer (this time from the folks at Sony, as this was a TriStar production) with a fine DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack. The usual supplemental suspects ‒ optional English (SDH) subtitles, an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score, a theatrical trailer, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo ‒ are also included.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

The last title included here proved to be Allen's second and final feature with TriStar Pictures, Manhattan Murder Mystery reunited Woody with two former partners: writer Marshall Brickman and actress Diane Keaton. Formed from an early, abandoned draft of Annie Hall itself, the film finds Allen and Keaton as middle-aged couple Larry and Carol Lipton. Following an impromptu meet-and-greet with an elderly couple next door, Carol begins to suspect the husband of foul play after his perfectly healthy wife mysteriously keels over one night. Much to Larry's chagrin, mutual friend Ted (Alan Alda, in top form) acts as Carol's cohort in crime-solving, which Larry is keen to dismiss as little more than paranoia.

But as pieces begin to fall into place, even Larry gets in on the action ‒ however unwittingly! Anjelica Huston plays Allen's (much older) instrument of temptation here (and is damn sexy in doing so), Jerry Adler is the guy next door who may or may not have done it, and there are also bit parts by Ron Rifkin (again) and a very nervous 17-year-old kid named Zach Braff in his first screen appearance as the Lipton's son. Twilight Time gives us yet another beautiful transfer of (yet another) Woody Allen masterpiece courtesy Sony Pictures. Accompanying the feature film is a DTS-HD MA 1.0 audio track, isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score, removable English (SDH) subtitles, original theatrical trailer, and ‒ of course ‒ Julie Kirgo's wonderful liner notes.

All five of these Twilight Time Blu-ray titles ‒ issued by the label between September 2017 and February 2018 ‒ are Limited Edition releases, and are reserved to only 3,000 copies apiece. So get 'em while you can, else you might miss out on some critically acclaimed classic comedies and some criminally underrated dramas alike.

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