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Elevator to the Gallows Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Ruthless People

French director Louis Malle launched his award-winning career with this spellbinding crime thriller.
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Louis Malle’s directorial debut is notable for numerous reasons. He was only 24 years old at the time, fresh off a three-year stint working at sea with famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau where he only had to “direct fish”, as he was frequently fond of recounting. He had no real pull in the film industry, and yet was able to land the already established actress Jeanne Moreau to star, as well as jazz titan Miles Davis to contribute a totally improvised score. His best accomplishment: the resulting film is a resounding success, largely thanks to his sure-handed direction of its mesmerizing

An Actor's Revenge Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Kabuki Costumes in Modernist Cinema

Kon Ichikawa's remake of a '30s movie dresses a stagey plot in innovative cinematic stylings.
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Yukinojo, the kabuki female impersonator who gets the titular vengeance in Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge (1963), is a tough sell for a cinematic character. Heavily made up both onstage and off, never once dropping his female gestures and high-pitched voice, Kazuo Hasegawa's performance is definitely deeply committed. This, which according to the title card early in the film was his 300th film performance, is also a remake of a popular film from the '30s, also starring Kazuo Hasegawa. A Kazuo Hasegawa in his early 20s playing a female impersonator so mesmerizing that the most beautiful woman in Edo (Tokyo

The Hero Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Long Train Ride into the Soul of an Artist

A movie star reflects on his life and the compromises he made to get there.
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Arindam Mukherjee (Uttam Kumar), an enormously famous movie star, boards an overnight train from Calcutta to Delhi to receive a national award. There, he meets an interesting cast of characters including Aditi Sengupta (Sharmila Tagore), a young journalist who edits a modern women’s magazine. She is contemptuous towards egotistical movie stars like him, but decides to secretly interview him as an expose to draw in readers. She wanders over to him in the dining car pretending to want an autograph for her niece and because she’s pretty and the journey is long, he begins talking to her freely. Over the

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival (Remastered) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

While the video upgrade and single extra aren't worth a double-dip, this three-disc set is a must-own for fans of classic rock and the '60s.
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Previously released from Criterion in 2009, The Complete Monterey Pop Festival collects three D.A. Pennebaker film's: Monterey Pop, Jimi Plays Monterey, and Shake! Otis at Monterey. That version was previously reviewed at this site. On the weekend of June 16-18, the Monterey International Pop Music Festival helped usher in the "Summer of Love". Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and his team captured the event, which was edited down to 79 minutes. The participants included The Mamas and the Papas (John Phillips was one of the co-founders), Canned Heat, Simon & Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Eric

Jabberwocky Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Frabjous Film! Callooh! Callay!

It's an amusing adventure filled with Terry Gilliam's humor and sensibilities that showcases his directorial aesthetic.
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After co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Terry Gilliam returned to the Dark Ages for his first solo outing, Jabberwocky, a fantasy tale inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem of the same name. It's an amusing adventure filled with Gilliam's humor and sensibilities that showcases his directorial aesthetic. Those expecting a sequel to the Python's madcap comedy classic will be disappointed, like many of the characters who live in the world of Jabberwocky. A deadly monster roams the forest as the audience and a fox hunter (Terry Jones) find out in the opening scene. Dennis (Michael Palin), not Holy Grail's

Kameradschaft Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Cry for Cooperation

Pabst's 1931 mine disaster film is swiftly paced, beautifully shot, and a heartfelt plea for comradeship between nations.
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It's difficult to separate Kameradschaft from its historical context. Released in 1931, this story of cooperation between French and Germans in a mining disaster on the border came out just two years before the Nazis gained electoral power in Germany. It was a time of street fighting and political instability, and apparently not a time when German audiences wanted to see a heartfelt plea for international community (according to the Luc Sante essay that accompanies this Criterion Collection release, it played to empty houses on release). Director G.W. Pabst's film was a cry in the dark, unheard and unheeded. So,

Westfront 1918 Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Unglamorously Shows War the Way That It Is

A harrowing, if slightly polished, depiction of the sheer horrors of war.
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When depicting war, no other medium can do it as mercilessly as film. War movies can be as dire and depressing as real-life war, especially when showing the emotional and physical toll that can inflict on soldiers. There are those as savage as Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, Oliver Stone's Platoon, and Elem Klimov's very disturbing Come and See. Then there are those as highly emotional as Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line and Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. However, director G.W. Pabst's 1930 early sound film, Westfront 1918, is a mixture of both. The film centers on four infantrymen: Karl (Gustav

The Breakfast Club Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Don't You Forget About These Bonus Features

Criterion's new edition of the classic '80s film is packed with hours of fascinating bonus features.
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While The Breakfast Club is justifiably revered as a classic teen film, primarily due to the involvement of masterful writer/director John Hughes, its insightful approach to teen angst makes it just as timely today as it was the ‘80s. Hughes understood more than any of his contemporaries that teens aren’t just stereotypical comic fodder, they’re universally relatable when treated as complex characters. In Criterion’s expansive new Blu-ray release, hours of bonus features delve into the production details and legacy of this important work. The setup of the film is so simple that it seems more like a play. Five high

General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

An important look at unchecked power, racism, nativism, and violence though the eyes of a dictator.
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General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait is the 1974 documentary film by Barbet Schroeder. Schroeder, who is known for such films as Bar Fly and Single White Female, began his filmmaking career making documneteries. In 1974, Schroeder struck a deal with a television network who was making one-hour shows about heads of state around the world. The network agreed to let him make his film first and in return give them enough footage from the shoot to turn it into a one-hour show. Schroeder and his crew traveled to Uganda to document the notorius Amin who had been in power

Desert Hearts Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Unsung Queer Classic

Desert Hearts is a groundbreaking yet underrated romantic gem for the history books.
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I never wanted Desert Hearts to end. I didn’t want to leave behind the breathtaking scenery of the desert and I definitely wanted to see more of the chemistry between the two leads. Desert Hearts is an intimate yet flawless gem that captures forbidden love that is apolitical yet groundbreaking during its time of release because it was the first film about a same-sex relationship between two women that isn’t tragic. While LGBTQ+ films that have a political agenda are meant to be told, Desert Hearts is proof that those aren’t the only stories that should be told. Based on

Festival (1967) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Better Than Woodstock

Documenting the Newport Folk Festival at the height of the folk revival, Festival is a feast for music fans.
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In the early part of the 20th Century, various folklorists, including John Lomax, wandered about the country documenting the songs of the people - folk music. They sought out cowboys and prisoners, former slaves and sharecroppers, and recorded them. In 1952, Harry Smith compiled his favorite songs from these recordings and created The Anthology of American Folk Music. This album reached the ears of folks like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger who recorded some of those songs and started the Great American Folk Revival which hit its peak in the early 1960s. In 1959, music promoter George Wein, who’d had

Vampyr Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Come for the Film, Stay for the Book

The film excels at creepy atmosphere, but the included source novel is the more entertaining story.
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Although Vampyr was released way back in 1932, it isn’t the first vampire film, as it was released after the better-known Nosferatu and Dracula. It does have a fascinating production story though, perhaps more interesting than the film itself. The film was co-written and directed by Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, but due to the nearly non-existent Danish film industry he produced the film in France in German, French, and English languages. All audio was dubbed after filming, but Dreyer filmed all dialogue scenes with his actors speaking in each of the three languages so that their mouth movements would

Certain Women Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Truly Amazing Film

A quiet, but powerful mediation on the Western crossroads and the women who inhabit them.
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When it comes to filmmaking, from the past to the present, it is always men at the forefront. However, and rightly so, women have been very important and essential to cinematic storytelling. And then there is the matter of American independent cinema, which has been quite the match for female filmmakers, and director Kelly Reichardt is one of the most astute and easily influential of the "Female New Wave." With her 2016 miracle of a movie, Certain Women, she continues to make it crystal clear that her unique approach to craft and substance sublimely haunts film. Adapted from three short

David Lynch: The Art Life Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: With Chemicals, He Points

A must own for any fans of David Lynch.
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I remember my first encounter with a David Lynch film was in 2004 during my Introduction to Film class at Butte Community College in Oroville, CA. As part of the curriculum, we were required to watch Lynch’s debut film, Eraserhead, of which I wasn’t aware until then. I remember being disturbed by the movie, and a lot of my classmates walked out shortly after the film had started. I stayed, and I ended up falling for this odd film, even though I had trouble eating chicken afterward because of one particular scene. I swore I wouldn’t watch the film again,

Sid & Nancy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: They Did It Their Way

It's hard to care about Sid and Nancy when they care so little about themselves and those around them.
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Director/co-writer Alex Cox's Sid & Nancy tells the story of the short, tragic love affair between Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb deliver fantastic performances, but unfortunately the characters are so selfish and self destructive, it's hard to care about them when they care so little about themselves and those around them. Opening with Nancy's dead body being removed from New York City's Chelsea Hotel and Sid charged with her murder by the NYPD, the film flashes back to about a year earlier in the UK. Sid has recently gotten the job as

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Assassination, She Wrote

A captivating Cold War political thriller that resonates stronger today than it has in years.
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Based on Richard Condon's novel of the same name, John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate is a captivating Cold War political thriller about enemies of the United States trying to takeover the country from the inside, an idea that resonates stronger today than it has in years due to allegations regarding the election of President Trump. Opening in Korea 1952 during the war, a group of U.S. soldiers get into a battle where Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) earns the Medal of Honor. His stepfather is U.S. Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), an anti-Communist fighter who claims the government is infiltrated with

Hopscotch Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Matthau Supremacy

Matthau plays a disgruntled spy out for comedic payback against his boss.
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Hopscotch is a conundrum. It’s a comedic but still realistic spy movie filmed in the waning days of the terrifying Cold War. It’s a sleek caper that expects us to accept a rumpled, elderly lead actor as the dashing hero. It’s an international jaunt between multiple countries that could have been resolved within Washington, D.C. It’s a throwback that feels like a ‘60s film in spite of its 1980 release date. Inconceivably, it all works, leading to a totally satisfying romp that proves to be just as much fun for viewers as it does for its clearly delighted star. Walter

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Criterion Collection) Blu-ray Review: A Stealth Double Feature

This release allows viewers to see Hitchcock at the early stage of career on his way to becoming a legendary director.
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The Criterion Collection's release of Alfred Hitchcock's third feature, The Lodger (1927), is actually a stealth double feature of Hitchcock and actor Ivor Novello as it includes their film Downhill (1927) as an extra. The Lodger, considered the first “Hitchcock” film, even by the man himself, tells of a mystery revolving around a serial killer working the streets of London. It has many story and visual elements that populate Hitchcock's filmography. Based on the novel of the same name by Marie Belloc Lowndes, the film opens, a young woman found murdered along the river. She is the seventh golden-haired victim

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Masterpiece of Control

Chantal Akerman's 200-minute epic of the mundane flies by like a thriller.
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Who’s in the mood for meatloaf with a side of existential dread? OK, I’m only so glib because writing about Chantal Akerman’s landmark Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a daunting proposition. This 200-minute masterpiece, which largely takes place within the confines of a middle-aged widow’s modest Brussels apartment, isn’t merely a slow-cinema progenitor, and it’s certainly not anything resembling an endurance test. Any film that runs past three hours, particularly one so resistant to narrative norms, is bound to be called “challenging,” but that label just doesn’t apply here. Jeanne Dielman unfolds like a thriller in

Roma (Criterion Collection) Blu-ray Review: Rome, I Love You

Federico Fellini's fever dream exploration of Rome gets the Criterion Collection treatment, and it's lovely.
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In the opening text prior to the start of Roma, we get a detailed explanation of how the original version of Federico Fellini’s movie had scenes that were shortened for international release by him, producer Turi Vasile, and screenwriter Bernardo Zapponi. Some footage never made it past the production documentation phase, and, therefore, has never been seen by the general public. I kind of wish there was a way for us to see everything that Fellini had captured, because Roma is a gorgeous look at Rome and the people living in it during a certain period of time. Fellini doesn’t

Good Morning (1959) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Japanese Master's Flatulent Comedy

One of the great filmmakers of the 20th century fills his domestic comedy with wistfulness, charm...and fart jokes.
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Comedy doesn't tend to get the respect of drama in movie writing. Like horror, its effectiveness depends on whether or not the audience laughs - it demands, when done right, an immediate physical response. It's hard to write oneself out of having laughed at a comedy a writer doesn't want to enjoy for whatever reason, or to write oneself into praising a comedy that didn't raise a yuck. Dramas have more stuff for writers to write about, and writers are the ones who make the lists of what's important in cinema and what isn't. I've seen reviews of 1959's Good

Buena Vista Social Club Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Cuban Musicians Get the Recognition They Deserve

A landmark and infectious documentary about the joy of Cuban music and the great individuals who brought it to life.
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When it comes to music, there are many styles and cultures: Mexican, Spanish, Portugese, etc. However, Cuban music seems to be for only certain tastes, and even sadder, the singular individuals who created it have become virtually forgotten. Thankfully, Wim Wenders' 1999 influential documentary, Buena Vista Social Club, gives new life to these all-but-ancient musical talents and gives the recognition they extremely deserve. It is also a documentary of how music, in general, can be a lifelong desire and reason for living. Wenders' camera and the legendary Ry Cooper, along with his son Joachim, travel to Cuba to find and

Tampopo Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Endearing, Sensual, and Tasty Experience

Sweet, sexy, and hilarious food for thought.
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Some of the best films about food not only include food itself, but the reasons why it is essential, especially when it comes to culture, love, and satisfaction. Films about food can be entertaining, delectable, and hypnotic, such as Babette's Feast (1987), Big Night (1996), and Like Water For Chocolate (1994). However, as great as those films still are, I think Juzo Itami's 1985 classic, Tampopo, outshines them all. It is an endearing, sensual, and tasty 114-minute experience at the movies. Although the film is centered on the titular character Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), it is really a series of vignettes

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Vote for Pedro

Pedro Almodóvar's career-defining, groundbreaking dark screwball comedy gets the Criterion treatment ‒ and is just as awesome as you'd expect it to be.
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There are few films which can combine failed romances, hysteria, spiked gazpacho, the fine art of voiceover acting, and get fully away with it. And, truly, Pedro Almodóvar is only one filmmaker in the world who could pull such a feat off, which he does flawlessly in his breakout hit, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios. Effectively managing to mix the classic Hollywood screwball comedy with the esoteric humanity of Jean Cocteau and the artistic stylings of Alfred Hitchcock, Almodóvar's acclaimed, award-winning tour de farce returns to delight once more as part of the Criterion Collection ‒ and

45 Years Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Art of Quiet Devastation

Charlotte Rampling does extraordinary work in the third feature from British filmmaker Andrew Haigh.
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The camera never strays far from Charlotte Rampling in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, and for good reason. In this elegant, if slightly hermetic, study of the suddenly visible fissures in a long-tenured marriage, Rampling’s extraordinarily expressive face traverses all the emotion that’s sublimated in Haigh’s script, an adaptation of David Constantine’s whisper of a short story. Rampling stars as Kate Mercer, who’s planning a 45th anniversary party for her and her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), when he receives a major piece of news about an old girlfriend. At first, the revelation pokes at the seeming sturdiness of their quiet life

Canoa: A Shameful Memory Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Harrowing, but Important

A visceral and eye-opening docudrama of sheer true-life horror.
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In this day and age, politics have become a horror show, meaning that corruption and savagery usually comes first, and humanity in dead last. We have to deal with it on a everday basis; it tears up apart, and it continues to divide us, sometimes with really dire consequences. Director Felipe Cazals' chilling 1976 masterwork, Canoa: A Shameful Memory, shows us why. The film depicts, in docu-style, the horrifying event/incident that took place in the village of San Miguel Canoa during the year of 1968, where an innocent group of five university students were attacked and lynched by many of

Cameraperson Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Beautiful, Sad, Wonderful

Cameraperson tells the story of one filmmaker through the dozens of movies she's shot.
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Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I’ll lie in bed at night and think about all the different houses and apartments I’ve lived in. I’ll mentally walk through each room, picturing what it looked like and describing them as if to a friend. Sometimes the rooms are very clear to me - I can picture it as if I'm there. Sometimes they are more fuzzy and I have to think really hard about what they looked like. Sometimes I can’t remember them at all. There is one house I briefly lived in on Grand Lake whose guest bedrooms are a mystery

Cameraperson Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: No Better Film Experience Last Year

A soulful and illuminating document of the human experience.
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When it comes to human honesty, there is no better genre of film stronger than the documentary. In a time where special effects, explosions, CGI, and even 3D basically dominate the box office, it is very refreshing to know that some movies would rather deal with reality and what the world is really like. Director Kirsten Johnson's fascinating 2016 film, Cameraperson, shows us what being human truly means to be. In this brilliant snapshot, or series of tableux, Johnson captures in real time, stories of people, places, and things. Whether it is a young boxer in his first match in

Heart of a Dog Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Moving Meditation from a Singular Artist

Laurie Anderson's essay film sees her moving comfortably between abstractions and personal revelations.
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Can a film permeated with thoughts on death be playful? Can it be uplifting? Can it be equally cerebral and emotional, its two sides not merely coexisting but helping to inform the other? Can a film in which a person is almost wholly absent tell us innumerable amounts about the filmmaker’s relationship with that figure? In Heart of a Dog, the wondrous second feature film from multidisciplinary artist Laurie Anderson, the answer to all of the above is a resounding "yes." A deeply personal essay film narrated by Anderson in the kind of bemused monotone that features in spoken-word pieces

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

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