While some movies about the African-American experience are embarassing and downright stereotypical, there are others that realistically transcend the bad taste, to tell truthful stories of the issues and obstacles that face people of color. Director Daniel Petrie's brilliant 1961 adaptation of celebrated author/playwright Lorraine Hansberry's eternal play, A Raisin in the Sun, is definitely one of the seminal films of all-time. It takes place mostly in a cramped Chicago apartment that houses the Younger family: Lena (Claudia McNeil), the strong and proud matriach; her son Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier), an ambitious but often reckless man; his wife Ruth (Ruby
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A masterpiece adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's eternal play about the conflicts of Black life.
Screwball comedy masks an insightful examination of the class divide in the wake of the Great Depression
At a glance, My Man Godfrey appears to be a typical formulaic production from Hollywood’s golden age. Headlined by two huge stars and fellow Oscar nominees for this film, William Powell and Carole Lombard, the film focuses on an upper-crust family in New York City, with all their trappings of success and opulent parties on full display. However, this is far from a standard wealthy family, and that’s where the film proves its originality. Based on his novel and featuring a screenplay co-written by Eric Hatch, the film is a comedic social critique examining the class divide between the homeless
A grainy, authentic look at New York youth during the dying days of Punk.
Films about women by women are pretty rare these days. These are stories about women taking control of their lives and reinventing themselves. Most filmgoers miss out of the opportunity to see and relate to characters who turn out to be just like them; characters who are just as self-absorbed, rebellious, and determined just like everyone else. Thankfully, there is director Susan Seidelman's landmark 1982 grassroots classic, Smithereens, which shows us what we're missing in film: the feminist touch. It also paints a low-key, but documentary-like portrait of the grim, desparate side of underground New York in the early '80s.
Fans of the genre will do themselves a favor if they plan a stop at Dragon Inn.
King Hu's second entry into the Criterion Collection is Dragon Inn (1967), his first film after leaving the Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong King and moving to seek greater artistic liberties as a director in Taiwan. Set against a backdrop of political intrigue, writer/director Hu does very well with both job duties, creating visually interesting action sequences that blend into an entertaining story. Set in 1457 A.D. during China's Ming Dynasty, eunuchs led by Cao Shao-qin (Bai Ying), who is “unsurpassed in the martial arts,” seize power. This gives them control over two espionage agencies, the Eastern Depot and the
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Portrait of the Artist As a Fascinating Man
Director Paul Schrader crafts a daring, spellbinding biography of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.
Yukio Mishima carved out a career as an esteemed playwright and author before ending his life by taking over a military facility and performing seppuku, a ritualistic form of suicide. Paul Schrader's daring film traces his life by having actors perform vignettes from some of Mishima's most famous works, painting a brilliant picture of this intriguing man. The film is notable not just for its subject but for its structure. After a brief color intro, it moves to black and white for the story of Mishima's childhood, then shifts to color for multiple vignettes that represent later stages of his
Ken Russell's controversial adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's controversial novel gets a maginficent release from Criterion.
It's difficult not to compare the time in which Ken Russell adapted Women in Love (1969) to the time in which D.H. Lawrence wrote the novel and the film are set (1920). Both periods were times in which Britain’s social norms were changing. The film’s setting, just after World War I, finds the Victorian-era moral codes along with the staunch upper classes crumbling. The film was made at the height of the sexual revolution when young people were once again throwing off the chains of their parents' moralizing for newfound freedom. It is impossible then to view the film’s story
Fassbinder's mythic performance fuels this vicious depiction of West German's social malaise.
When the legendary Rainer Werner Fassbinder died in 1982 at the age of 37, he really did leave behind an amazing body of work. He lived a hard life of drinking and drugs, but that didn't stop him from making films about human fragility and emotion. Also, he didn't just direct films. He also acted in many of them. His boorish, devil-may-care persona began with his 1969 feature debut, Love is Colder than Death, but it didn't reach its apotheosis until one year later in director Volker Schlondorff's controversial 1970 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's 1918 debut play, BAAL. Fassbinder brilliantly
French director Louis Malle launched his award-winning career with this spellbinding crime thriller.
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
Kon Ichikawa's remake of a '30s movie dresses a stagey plot in innovative cinematic stylings.
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
A movie star reflects on his life and the compromises he made to get there.
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
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.
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
It's an amusing adventure filled with Terry Gilliam's humor and sensibilities that showcases his directorial aesthetic.
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
Pabst's 1931 mine disaster film is swiftly paced, beautifully shot, and a heartfelt plea for comradeship between nations.
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,
A harrowing, if slightly polished, depiction of the sheer horrors of war.
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
Criterion's new edition of the classic '80s film is packed with hours of fascinating bonus features.
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
An important look at unchecked power, racism, nativism, and violence though the eyes of a dictator.
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 is a groundbreaking yet underrated romantic gem for the history books.
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
Documenting the Newport Folk Festival at the height of the folk revival, Festival is a feast for music fans.
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
The film excels at creepy atmosphere, but the included source novel is the more entertaining story.
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
A quiet, but powerful mediation on the Western crossroads and the women who inhabit them.
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
A must own for any fans of David Lynch.
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,
It's hard to care about Sid and Nancy when they care so little about themselves and those around them.
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
A captivating Cold War political thriller that resonates stronger today than it has in years.
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
Matthau plays a disgruntled spy out for comedic payback against his boss.
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.
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.
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
Federico Fellini's fever dream exploration of Rome gets the Criterion Collection treatment, and it's lovely.
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
One of the great filmmakers of the 20th century fills his domestic comedy with wistfulness, charm...and fart jokes.
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.
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
Sweet, sexy, and hilarious food for thought.
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