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Lone Wolf and Cub Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Manga Comes to Life

Chanbara film series is aided by the screenwriting of the manga series creator, Kazuo Koike.
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As the shogun executioner, Ogami Itto has a comfortable gig until he falls from grace and endures the death of his beloved wife. Facing almost certain death at the hands of his enemies, the dreaded Yagyu clan, he’s forced to flee and gives his toddler son a choice: die at his hand or join him in a life of hardship on the “demon road”. With no home, no money, and no seeming future, the father becomes an assassin for hire and stays on the move, pushing his son around the countryside in a rickety cart from one misadventure to the

The Executioner Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Introduction to a Spanish Filmmaking Giant

Criterion shines a light on a filmmaker not so well-known in the English-speaking world.
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Even among dedicated English-speaking cinephiles, the name Luis García Berlanga might not immediately spark a glimmer of recognition. The great Pedro Almodóvar, who ranks Berlanga up there with Luis Buñuel among Spanish filmmakers, offers a few theories why in his brief appreciation on the Criterion Collection’s newly released disc of The Executioner (El Verdugo). One possibility: Berlanga’s films often feature extended scenes of overlapping dialogue — some have likened him to proto-Robert Altman — which can be tricky to subtitle. Whatever the reason, Berlanga’s films have had basically no representation on Region 1/A home video up to this point, so

Valley of the Dolls Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Laughter, Tears, and a Mountain of Dolls!

The Criterion Collection releases the best camp melodrama out there!
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America was a bit of a mess in the 1960s, not just on the national stage but at the local cineplex as well. By the time the decade was over, the Hollywood studio system as audiences knew it was dead - killed by a man who could “talk to the animals” of all things. But Hollywood limped to the finish line with the tortured tale of three lovely ladies and their struggles with fame and addiction in Valley of the Dolls. Dolls, as campy then as it is now, receives a shot of respectability this week with its premiere on

Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog Review: Completely Worth Your Time

Shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire owe much to how Dekalog lets stories play out.
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Watching the episodes of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog reminds me of how few auteurs there are anymore. Part of it is probably the current trends in how movies are made and distributed that make it harder to be an artist with a voice. In many ways, the most creative works are happening on television. FX, HBO, Showtime, AMC, and even Starz are allowing creators the freedom to tell long stories however they please. In 1988, a year before ABC let David Lynch loose with Twin Peaks, Kieslowski told ten hour-long, relatively linked short stories on Polish TV. The episodes predate his

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Early Masterwork

A wonderful tale of love and loss at the Kabuki theater.
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Kiku (Shotaro Hanyagi) is the adopted son of Kabuki royalty in Tokyo. As the presumed heir to this theatrical throne, he is constantly lavished with acclaim. The mouths that herald his praises come with two faces and out of the other, they spit ridicule. Even Kiku’s father-in-law cannot bring himself to tell him how poorly he acts. Late one night, he walks with Otoku (Kakuko Mori), nursemaid to Kiku’s brother's son, who finally tells him the truth - he stinks! Instead of lashing out in anger, Kiku’s is filled with gratitude that someone is finally willing to speak to him

A Taste of Honey Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Taste of Adolescence

Tony Richardson's tale of the sweet and sour gifts life delivers to us.
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A renaissance in British cinema erupted in the 1960s; known as the Free Cinema and instigated by directors Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, and Karel Reisz, British cinema of the era espoused fantasy for gritty realism. These "kitchen sink dramas" dealt with the uncertainty and futility of living poor in England. Richardson's own A Taste of Honey, out today on DVD and Blu via Criterion, depicts these issues with the faintest glimmer of a silver lining. Jo (Rita Tushingham) is a young teen struggling to find some stability with her flight, man-obsessed mother (Dora Bryan). Jo soon falls for a kind

Woman in the Dunes Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Digging out a Life in Sand

Hiroshi Teshigahara's enigmatic, hypnotic tale of a man trapped is equal parts Twilight Zone and Kafka, and completely absorbing.
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Every night, the woman shovels sand from the bottom of a hole, which gets carted up by a rope pulley, and hauled away. She lives at the bottom of a deep pit, and every night the sand builds up. If she leaves off for more than a couple of days, the sand will get everywhere, and eventually the house will collapse, and she will die. Her husband and daughter were killed by the sand. So she digs, each night, for most of the night. She sleeps during the day, nude, sometimes not even under a blanket, since sleeping with the

Speedy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The End of an Era

Harold Lloyd hits a comedy home run in his last silent film.
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Not only is "Speedy" the title character played by Harold Lloyd in his last silent film and last appearance as his The Boy/Glasses Character, but it also describes the fast-paced lifestyle that was overtaking New York City at the end of the Roaring '20s. Railroad businessmen want to buy out Pops (Bert Woodruff), the grandfather of Speedy's girlfriend's Jane (Ann Christy), so they can make use of the track on which his horse-drawn streetcar runs. Naturally, it will fall onto to Speedy to save the day. He is a clever fellow, but only seems to put his mind to making

The Immortal Story Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Marvel of Deep Emotion and Haunting Spareness

A minimalist, but soulful depiction of lost souls in the 19th century.
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We all knew that Orson Welles was mad, but we also knew that he had the ability to make cinematic works of art that transcend any genre. After his legendary 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane, he felt that he could do anything, but after he changed film history with Kane, he started to feel the slump of Hollywood. This is definitely no apparent more than when he made 1948's flop, The Lady from Shanghai, that kind of signaled the beginning of the end of his gifts as director/writer/actor extraordinaire. However, he made a comeback, a sort-of experimental one, as he started

The In-Laws (1979) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: So Funny It Never Wears out Its Welcome

Run in a serpentine pattern to get yourself a copy.
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While there's a lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching that goes on whenever a sequel or remake is announced in Hollywood, it's rather surprising anyone bothers since it's long been a business model, and not just with movies, to try and replicate a success. What's even more surprising is when a winning formula is found that isn't repeated, such as the pairing of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in Arthur Hiller's The In-Laws (1979), a recent addiction to the Criterion Collection. Rather than the typical clashing of families with different personality types, Andrew Bergman's very funny script turns that idea on

La Chienne Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Early Renoir is a Delight

Criterion does a masterful job of bringing an early sound picture to live.
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Life has not gone well for Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon). He works as a cashier for a hosiery company and is generally despised by his colleagues. In an opening scene, they openly mock and scorn him for being a wet blanket and for having to run home to his wife instead of going out on the town with them. The wife, too, rather deplores Maurice and spends nearly every moment of her time on screen berating him. The only pleasure the poor fellow gets from life is painting and even that is spat upon by his wife who declares he

Le Amiche Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Antonioni Drains the Passion from Melodrama

This middle-period entry from the Italian master hints at what's to come, but stands on its own as an interesting work.
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It’s tempting to label Michelangelo Antonioni’s fourth feature film Le Amiche a transitional work, as it shuns Neorealism and embraces melodrama like some of his earlier work, but also moves toward the aggressively modernist sensibilities that would define subsequent masterpieces like L’Avventura, La Notte and Red Desert. While it’s true that Le Amiche only obliquely studies interpersonal alienation, it’s also more than just a bellwether for the more experimental work to come. With its long, meandering takes and restrained performances, it acts like a melodrama that’s had the passion slowly drained out of it, and stands on its own as

The Naked Island Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Japanese film explores the travails of a poor farming family without the use of dialogue.
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Kaneto Shindo’s film about the daily struggles of a poor farming family has one major hook: a total absence of dialogue. Filmed in black and white on a rocky speck of an island off the coast of Japan, the film initially plays more like a documentary than a narrative film until a tragic event unfolds in the final act. Up until that point, the daily monotony of hardscrabble farming life wears out its welcome as a film subject long before its allotted time is over. The family consists of a middle-aged man, his younger wife, and their two young sons.

Barcelona Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Innocent Imperialists Abroad

Whit Stillman's winning romantic comedy about politics set in late Cold War Spain.
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The first thing to get about Barcelona is the movie is sympathetic to its protagonists. Fred and Ted are cousins who haven’t seen eye to eye on anything since Fred stole Ted’s kayak when they were 10 - though Fred says he was only borrowing it, and the thing was a death trap anyway. They bicker. Ted, an expatriate living in Barcelona, is full of pretension and self-consciousness. Fred is a naval officer, sent to Spain ahead of the fleet to plan recreation. He wears his uniform everywhere, is proud of it, and will be damned if all of Barcelona

Brief Encounter Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Small but Poignant

A far cry from David Lean's big epics, but sometimes small is just as beautiful.
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Christ, David Lean knew how to compose a shot. I swear you could take all of his movies, put them in a pile, shuffle them up, and no matter what scene came up, you could make a stunning poster out of the image. We tend to think of his later, grand pictures like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago when we think about David Lean’s stunning images, but Brief Encounter proves he could create something epic out of little things as well. Filmed in 1945 in the final vestiges of the European stage of

The American Friend Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Tense Blend of Suspense and Character Study

An unusual, but beautifully made neonoir from one of film history's greatest directors.
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There have been a few cinematic adaptations of famed author Patricia Highsmith's stories, such as 1951's Strangers on a Train, and 2002's Ripley's Game, but director Wim Wenders' 1977 acclaimed thriller, The American Friend, stands above the pack. It is one of Wenders' more accessible and entertaining films, in which the narrative flows with uncommon grace and suspense. It also contains one of iconic actor Bruno Ganz's best performances, where he inhabits every since he's in. In the film, Ganz portrays Jonathan Zinnermann, a terminally ill German everyman who gets involved in an elaborate murder plot concocted by the quirky

The Emigrants / The New Land Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Profound Cinematic Experience Like No Other

Jan Troell's masterful epic saga receives the deluxe Blu-ray treatment.
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There have been many films about the dangerous journey of immigrants to America, the land of prosperity and new beginnings, such as El Norte (1983) and Sin Nombre (2009). However, I think none of them really possess the devastating and stark power as Director Jan Troell's epic masterpieces, The Emigrants (1971) / The New Land (1972), which were praised unanimously by critics and worldwide. It isn't difficult to see why; the entire saga is beautiful, authetic, and a profound cinematic experience like no other. Adapted from a novel by Vilhelm Moberg, it stars film legends Max von Sydow and Liv

Bitter Rice Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Beauty of the Downtrodden

1940s Italian film marries social commentary about the lower class with rewarding drama and romance.
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Long before Dino De Laurentiis was a noted Hollywood producer, he produced Italian films such as this 1949 drama. Interestingly, his director on this film, Giuseppe De Santis, also had a deep appreciation of U.S. culture and Hollywood film techniques, although he maintained strong convictions about how his films should stake their own Italian identity both thematically and visually. His subject matter for Bitter Rice fully expresses those ideas as he wrings beautiful scenes out of a story set amongst poor farm workers. As the film reveals, every year scores of Italian women would leave home to find temporary work

Night and the City Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Jules Dassin's Marvelous London Noir

Add this movie to your collection by whatever means necessary.
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Based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Kersh, although director Jules Dassin claims never to have read it, Night and the City tells the story of Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), a con man who wants “to be somebody,” but isn't because he's not as smart as he thinks he is. The Criterion Collection presents both the U.S. version with a score by Franz Waxman and the UK version, which is five minutes longer, and has a score by Benjamin Frankel. This London noir opens with Harry on the run through darkened streets and shadowy alleyways, likely a

Jellyfish Eyes Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Surprisingly Unsurprising

Takashi Murakami’s first film is fun for the whole family but sorely lacking his usual artistic iconoclasm.
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The most surprising thing about unconventional artist Takashi Murakami’s first feature-length directorial effort is that it is entirely conventional. Based on my experience with his artwork, I expected a surreal, incoherent, but visually dazzling film, but instead found the film to be a straightforward and family-friendly update on the kids with critters movies popularized in the 1980s by the likes of E.T. and Gremlins. The film is more homage than trailblazer, which seems like a missed opportunity for the visionary Murakami. The story follows a tween boy as he moves to a new town with his recently widowed mom and

Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Glimpses into the Heart of the Artist

Come gather 'round people and watch one of the greatest documentaries ever made.
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By the time Bob Dylan toured England in the Spring of 1965, he’d released five albums (two of which went platinum), scored a couple of number one hits, been covered by such luminaries as Joan Baez and The Byrds, written some of the greatest songs in popular music, and became the voice of a generation. Critics loved him, fans mobbed him, and journalists followed him about, asking him an endless supply of inane questions. Though he started out writing protest songs and was heavily involved in causes such as the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement, by this point

A Special Day Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Special Performances from Italian Screen Legends

Italian stars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni play against type in this beguiling drama.
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The setup for this Italian film is deceptively simple, but belies the impact of the performances by its two stars, screen legends Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Playing against type, their characters meet by chance in their otherwise vacant apartment building and spend the entirety of the film and their day getting to know each other. Loren is a resigned and harried housewife, tired of the grind of caring for her oaf of a husband and ungrateful brood of kids but unable to find any escape. Mastroianni plays a persecuted journalist about to be shipped off for both his liberal

The Honeymoon Killers Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Striking Portrait of Isolation

A one-and-done feature from Leonard Kastle, The Honeymoon Killers subverts expectations of exploitation.
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The only film ever directed by opera composer Leonard Kastle, The Honeymoon Killers wears its influences on its sleeve, but never feels derivative or carbon-copied. The story, based on the real-life “lonely heart” killings by Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, is pure exploitation fodder, and while Kastle’s film acknowledges the luridness, it also dabbles in kitchen-sink realism and rhythms of alienation that recall some of the French New Wave. Kastle doesn’t gawk at his twisted subjects, instead opting to make their social and romantic hopelessness deeply felt. The Honeymoon Killers also might have the best backstory of a “one-and-done” filmmaking

Two Days, One Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Devastatingly Beautiful

Marion Cotillard gives an intense, subtle performance in this moving drama.
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In the industrial town of Seraing, Belgium, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has been on sick leave from her manufacturing job after a nervous breakdown. In her absence, her coworkers realize they can cover her shift by collectively working slightly longer hours. Just as Sandra is ready to return to work, she finds out that the bosses have given her coworkers a choice - they can either return to their normal shifts and have Sandra come back to work, or they can continue working the longer shifts and receive a €1,000 bonus. By accepting the bonus, Sandra will no longer be employed.

The French Lieutenant's Woman Criterion Collection Review: Parallel Tales Rooted in Forbidden Passions

The dual roles played by Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons provide each of them the opportunity to portray desperation, longing, and tortured vulnerability.
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Based on the John Fowles novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman tells parallel tales rooted in forbidden passions and the complexity of human emotions.Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons play the central characters in both narratives. The foundational story is set in the Victorian-era where Charles (Irons) is an upper-class English gentleman engaged to Ernestina (Lynsey Baxter). Soon after their engagement, they see a woman, Sarah (Streep), at the end of a jetty in danger of being thrown into the water due to a storm that is brewing. When Charles makes efforts to go help Sarah, Ernestina stops him by explaining that

My Beautiful Laundrette Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Film Stands the Test of Time

A groundbreakingly potent depiction of bleak social commentary
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When discussing some of the most influential LGBT films, Stephen Frears' 1985 modern classic My Beautiful Laundrette usually is one of the most talked about, because it doesn't just address the unforunate issues of homophobia, but also the brutal, sometimes tragic aspects of racism, social status, and cultural differences. One of the reasons why it remains such an influential film is because it showcases a same-sex relationship that is both tender and unusual. It is no wonder why this is considered, along side The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons, one of his very best cinematic creations. The story centers on Omar

Limelight Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Chaplin's Coda

Age must pass as youth enters.
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My Chaplin journey hasn't been linear. I didn't start with the silent shorts and work my way through The Kid (1921) and onto A Countess From Hong Kong (1967). It was a rambling journey that went forwards and backwards through highlights of his spectacular career with Criterion including Modern Times, The Great Dictator, City Lights, and The Gold Rush. In many ways the other films were reflections and parables of the times Chaplin was living in. The newest Criterion Blu-ray release is Limelight from 1952. It's subtitled "in his human drama" and this film is his most personal story. The

Here is Your Life Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Engrossing and Enervating Debut

The first feature film from Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell has its visual merits, but it's bogged down by a leaden narrative.
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A film that’s both engrossing and enervating at turns, Here is Your Life kicked off the feature-film career of Swedish director Jan Troell, an art house sensation in the ’70s with breakthrough duo The Emigrants and The New Land. The multi-talented Troell directed, shot, edited, and co-wrote the screenplay for Here is Your Life, based on one of a series of semi-autobiographical novels by Eyvind Johnson, and though Troell’s camerawork and editing are often inventive, the film never really breaks free from its novelistic shackles. After his father falls ill, teenager Olof (Eddie Axberg) is forced to leave his sickness-ridden

The Killers (1946) / (1964) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Intriguing Double Feature

A great opportunity to see how artists and craftsmen handle the same material and obtain different results.
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Like taking a comparative literature class, The Killers from the Criterion Collection offers a great opportunity to see how artists and craftsmen handle the same material and obtain different results. In this instance, the source is Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers," which first appeared in a 1927 issue of Scribner's Magazine. An audio version of the story read by Stacy Keach is available as an extra and it tells of two hitmen who go to a diner looking to kill Ole Andreson, a Swedish boxer who frequents the place. When Ole doesn’t show, the men leave. Frequent Hemingway character

Five Easy Pieces Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: One Easy Role to Nicholson's Stardom

Nicholson breaks out in this early headlining role.
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A year removed from his breakout supporting turn in Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson moved to headliner status in this 1970 character study. Filmed during a time when character studies weren’t exactly prevalent in Hollywood, director Bob Rafelson’s film helped to lead a shift in the industry that paved the way for subsequent ‘70s greats. That’s not to say it holds up well, as it now seems to be a dated relic of a bygone era. Nicholson’s character Bobby Dupea is introduced as a lackadaisical oil-field worker, content to toil away in his job during the day and blow his pay

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