Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is the Pick of the Week

Jim Jarmusch's 1999 quirky action classic starts off a new week of interesting releases.
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Legendary and celebrated indie director Jim Jarmusch is the type of filmmaker that you can't place in a certain box. Every film he makes has a style and craft that is pretty unique. Yes, they can be offbeat, slow, and low-brow, but that is what makes them striking and highly original. One of his best and most accessible films, the 1999 take on the modern hit-man Ghost Dog; The Way of the Samurai, definitely represents the eccentricity that Jarmusch is famous for.

In one of his signature roles, the great Forest Whitaker plays a Zen, contract killer working for an incompetent mob. He lives his life based on the ancient codes and morals of the samurai, which means to live in peace and tranqulity, without violence and destruction. However, his perferred isolation and stoicism is cut short as he finds himself targeted by the Mafia and all of the choas and madness all around him. In this case, he is on a collison course to eventual tragedy as he tries to defend himself without breaking his own personal code.

As with most Jarmusch films, Ghost Dog isn't a film for everyone. It's idiosyncratic sensibilites will put off most film watchers. That's unfortunate because they usually tend to miss out on compelling and nontypical storytelling with a sense of flair that most filmmakers would choose to ignore. He also gets a career-best peformance from Whitaker, who adds to his already remarkable roster of amazing characters to which he always brings focus and intensity. There is also a great supporting cast, including Henry Silva, Cliff Gorman, Isaach De Bankolé, and a very young Camille Winbush; melancholic cinematography by the late, great Robby Muller; and an incredible score by RZA that adds to the overall mystique that the film still brings. 

As usual, the folks at Criterion take really good care of some of Jarmusch finest work by providing a new 4K restoration and terrific new and vintage supplements, such as an isolated music track; new Q&A with Jarmusch; new (virtual) conversation between Whitaker and Bankole moderated by film scholar Michael B. Gilliespie; new interview with casting director Ellen Lewis; new interview with Shifu Shi Yan Ming, founder of the USA Shaolin Temple; Flying Birds: The Music of “Ghost Dog,” a new video essay on RZA’s score by filmmaker Daniel Raim; The Odyssey: A Journey into the Life of a Samurai, a 2000 making-of program; deleted scenes and outtakes; archival interviews, and trailer. There is a booklet with new essays by by critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Greg Tate, an interview with Jarmusch from 2000, and quotations from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by the early 18th-century monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Fans of Jarmusch and film in general should definitely add this one-of-a-kind film to their collection. It's a must-have!

Other notables releases

Moonstruck (Criterion): Cher, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, and John Mahoney star in Norman Jewison's classic 1987 romantic comedy about a Brooklyn widow (Cher) who is engaged to her gullible boyfriend (Aiello), but has an affair with his intense younger brother (Cage).

Silent Running (Arrow): The great Bruce Dern stars as a botanist who has spent eight years on a space freighter preserving the only botanical specimen left from Earth under huge domes. When he receives orders to destroy the project and return home, he rebels and hijacks the freighter, which sends him to Saturn. He has only the trees, gardens, and two robots as his companions.

Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection: A massive ten-disc set containing 20 cult-classic produced from the famous Hammer Studios in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Includes titles such as The Revenge of Frankestein, Cash on Demand, Stop Me Before I Kill!, The Gorgon, Die! Die! My Darling!, and Creatures the World Forgot.

It's a Wonderful Life 4K: A new steelbook edition of Frank Capra's legendary 1946 holiday classic starring the great James Stewart as George Bailey, the small-town man who comtemplates suicide when everything gets too much for him. As he prepares to jump, a guardian angel interferes to show him what life would be like if he was never born.

Relic-:A daughter (Bella Heathcote), her mother (Emily Mortimer), and her grandmother (Robyn Nevin) are haunted by a manifestation of dementia and grief that takes over their family's residence.

Grace of My Heart: Allison Anders directs Illeana Douglas in this 1996 indie classic about the career and romantic life of Denise Waverly/Edna Buxton (Douglas), who sacrifices her own singing career to write songs for other artists during the 1960s pop scene.

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