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Criterion Announces December 2014 Releases

Some Christmas present options for the cinephile in the family.
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In December, Criterion offers new 2K digital restorations of Liliana Cavani's bizarre love story, The Night Porter, and Terry Gilliam’s time-travel fantasy, The Time Bandits. It also welcomes to the collection Todd Haynes' acclaimed second feature, Safe. The latest addition to the Eclipse Series is Kinoshita and World War II, a five-film set of Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita's early work, which includes collects Port of Flowers, The Living Magoroku, Jubilation Street, Army, and Morning for the Osone Family The Night Porter (#59) out Dec 9 in Blu-ray & DVD Editions In this unsettling drama from Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani (Ripley’s

All That Jazz Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Lord of the Dance

Bob Fosse’s crowning directorial achievement shines in the Criterion spotlight.
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Joe Gideon is tired. Tired of women, tired of choreography, tired of drugs, and yet inexplicably driven to continue pursuing all of them, to the detriment of his health. As a legendary Broadway director, he’s at his peak but so burned out that he struggles to remind himself “it’s showtime” as he drugs himself awake each day for more rehearsals leading up to the debut of his new musical. As Gideon, Roy Scheider nails the world-weary lead character, especially impressive given that he was directed by the character’s thinly veiled inspiration, Bob Fosse. Fosse’s immense talent for choreography is on

Criterion Announces November 2014 Releases

Get your Xmas shopping for the movie fan in your life done a month early.
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In November, the Criterion Collection offers a new restoration of Michelangelo Antonioni's L’avventura. Debuting in the collection are two westerns by Monte Hellman The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind, two classic comedies in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night and Sydney Pollack's Tootsie and a collection of 14 documentaries in Les Blank: Always For Pleasure. The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind (#734/735) out Nov 14 in Blu-ray & DVD Editions In the mid-sixties, the maverick American director Monte Hellman conceived of two westerns at the same time. Dreamlike and gritty by turns, the two films would prove their

Insomnia (1997) Criterion Collection Review: An Influential Thriller

Psychological thriller spins a tale without darkness.
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I sat down to write this upon the day of hearing of the passing of Robin Williams. He took a big chance in a serious role in the Christopher Nolan 2002 remake of this 1997 Norwegian film. Nolan's follow-up to Memento was a dark tale of madness. The movie poster shows the dark silhouetted faces of Al Pacino and Robin Williams. That is all you need to know about the differences between these films. Insomnia as directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg is unblinkingly bright. So much so that it hurts. There was never a doubt in my mind it would be

Persona (1966) Criterion Collection Review: An Absolute Must-have

A great film that should be watched and revered by any serious cinephile
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Everyone agrees that Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest director’s of world cinema. Almost no one disagrees that his films can be difficult to watch and even more so to understand. I’ve long held the theory than when Americans say that they do no like foreign language films they really just don’t like Bergman. Even if they’ve never heard his name or watched his films, his style of intellectual, arty, often-incomprehensible cinema is exactly the sort of thing that turns people off from non-Hollywood movies. I’ll admit that while I do hold the director in the highest esteem, and

Criterion Announces October 2014 Releases

Which one are you most interested in owning?
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In October, the Criterion Collection offers new digital restorations of Orson Welles' F for Fake documentary and George Sluizer’s Dutch thriller, The Vanishing. They also add to the collection John Ford's take on Wyatt Earp and the O.K. Corral, My Darling Clementine, and Federico Fellini's international breakthrough, La dolce vita. Last but not least, The Complete Jacques Tati is a six-film set that collects previous Criterion titles, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Mon oncle, PlayTime, and Trafic My Darling Clementine (#732) out Oct 14 in Blu-ray & DVD Editions John Ford takes on the legend of the O.K. Corral shoot-out in this

Persona (1966) Criterion Collection Review: Chilling, Strange, and Metaphysical

Bergman outdoes himself with an influential tale of identical madness.
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In my own opinion, no other film in history has garnered so much critical analysis as Ingmar Bergman's 1966 masterpiece, Persona. It remains a film unlike no other that continues to one of the most chilling, strange, and metaphysical films ever made. Is it a film about two women's psychological neurosises? Or, is it a tale about the switching of personal identities? Maybe it's both, or something much creepier. Whatever it is, it remains one of my favorite films of all-time, one that I constantly watch, especially to uncover its many smoldering mysteries. It also a study of transcendental acting,

Hearts and Minds (1974) Criterion Collection Review: A Riveting Documentary of the Vietnam War

This 40-year-old documentary feels as relevant today as ever, and is one that I will not soon forget.
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The Academy Award-winning Hearts and Minds is the most riveting war documentary I have ever seen. The raw footage and the interviews that director Peter Davis has collected here tell an incredible story. And while it would seem to be an impossible task to tell the story of the war in Vietnam without taking sides, much of Hearts and Minds is beyond politics. The most gripping material in this film comes from the people who never had a voice, the Vietnamese themselves. What are the politics of watching your son being shot by the very soldiers who are there to

Criterion Announces September 2014 Releases

Go back to (film) school with these upcoming releases.
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In September, David Lynch makes his debut in The Criterion Collection with his memorable feature-length debut, Eraserhead. Two adaptations of classic literature also get added to the Collection: Roman Polanski's take on Shakespeare's Macbeth and Jack Clayton's The Innocents, based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Available for the first time in the U.S. on DVD or Blu-ray is Serge Bourguignon's Sundays and Cybèle, the 1962 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film. Last but not least, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fears Eats the Soul gets a high-definition upgrade to Blu-ray. Eraserhead (#725) out September 16 in

Like Someone in Love Criterion Collection Review: An Authentic Illusion

Iranian filmmaker creates vision of Japanese intimacy.
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Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kariostami has spent a lifetime constructing films meant to blur the line between creator and audience. Emerging in the 1960s during the first new wave in Iranian cinema, Kariostami received international acclaim following the Iranian Revolution with a series of films more reflective of life under the newly imposed Islamic rule, including The Koker Trilogy and its depiction of life in the Middle Eastern countryside. Over the past decade he has abandoned traditional filmmaking techniques in favor of suppler, more compassionate approaches evident in 2012’s Like Someone in Love. Set in Japan—one of only two movies Kariostami

Riot in Cell Block 11 Criterion Collection DVD Review: Stuck in Folsom Prison

By removing any pointless embellishments and focusing on the action, Siegel weaves a tale that is as authentic as can be.
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Directed by Don Siegel, the 1954 movie Riot in Cell Block 11 offers a gritty, authentic look at the prison system and the chaos behind a riot. The picture was shot in Folsom State Prison in California with several real inmates and guards filling in background roles. Producer Walter Wanger had also been in jail and relied on his experiences to charge his passion for the film. Now presented by the good people at Criterion Collection, Riot in Cell Block 11 sheds light on an issue that still doesn’t get a lot of press. The treatment of the convicts forms

Il Sorpasso Criterion Collection Review: An Endearing, Incisive Road Movie

Risi's film is simultaneously breezily fun and slyly satiric, a film full of immediate pleasures and more thought-provoking asides.
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The comedy of Dino Risi’s road movie Il Sorpasso hums along beautifully, just like the gorgeous Lancia Aurelia convertible one of its main characters drives. A prime example of the Commedia all’italiana movement that evolved partly as a response to Neorealism, Risi’s film is simultaneously breezily fun and slyly satiric, a film full of immediate pleasures and more thought-provoking asides. It also features two great performances from Vittoria Gassman as the uninhibited Bruno and Jean-Louis Trintignant as shy law student Roberto, who gets roped into a road trip crisscrossing Rome and its surrounding areas after Bruno comes into his apartment

Master of the House Criterion Collection DVD Review: As Boring as it is Important

For film buffs and those interested in movie history, it is essential.
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As a self-confessed film buff, I have to admit that my knowledge is severely lacking when it comes to silent films. I’ve seen a couple of Charlie Chaplin movies, some Buster Keaton shorts, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Nosferatu. That’s about it. I’ve tried a few others like The Birth of a Nation and about half of Metropolis. The thing is, I generally find silent films difficult to watch. Like various kinds of great art, silent films take a certain amount of education and practice to appreciate. Decades of fast-paced, dialog-driven movies have led me to expect a

The Hidden Fortress Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Gold Standard

Kurosawa and Mifune team up for another classic.
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A long time ago in a country far, far away, esteemed director Akira Kurosawa filmed a grand adventure that took the unorthodox approach of framing the action through the perspective of the lowliest of peasants rather than gallant heroes. While those sniveling peasants eventually encounter and join a noble warrior and a princess in hiding, their initial misadventures add a light and comedic touch to a story that could have easily been staged as a conventional epic drama. George Lucas readily admits to being influenced by the film as a basis for the original Star Wars, drawing a direct parallel

Ran Criterion Collection DVD Review: Akira Kurosawa's Final Masterpiece

Kurosawa uses Shakespeare's King Lear to make a statement about mankind and the folly of war.
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Ran is Kurosawa’s last masterpiece from a man who made many. He made three more films afterwards, but none came close to the size and scope of Ran. Financing had been hard for Kurosawa to raise in his later years. Since Red Beard in 1965, he was making one film every five years and at the age of 75, Ran was quite likely to be his last, so he pulled out all the stops to make as glorious a spectacle and a statement as he could, and he succeeded mightily. He returned to Shakespeare, transporting the story’s setting to 16th

Kagemusha Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: And a Thief Shall Lead Them

"The only crime is pride." ― Sophocles, Antigone
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From his debut as a director with Sanshiro Sugata (1943) through to Red Beard (1965), director Akira Kurosawa averaged releasing one film a year. That's an impressive run even before taking into account how many were widely acclaimed the world over. However, Kurosawa began to have trouble raising money for projects with Japanese studios. He headed to the United States but didn't complete a film. The winter weather derailed his attempt to shoot The Runaway Train and then, according to Donald Richie's account in The Films of Akira Kurosawa, he got himself fired from Tora! Tora! Tora!likely due to clashes

Criterion Announces Their June Releases

Forget that summer vacation. You are going to be spending that money on Criterion discs.
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This June finds The Criterion Collection delivering an impressive roster of titles. Out June 7 Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (#95) stars Jane Wyman as a wealthy widow torn between following her heart for a younger man (Rock Hudson) of lesser means and the expectations that her children and society place upon her. The new edition comes with: New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray Audio commentary featuring John Mercer, coauthor of Melodrama: Genre, Style, Sensibility, and film scholar Tamar Jeffers-McDonald Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992), a groundbreaking essay film about the actor by Mark

Tess Criterion Collection Review: Polanski's Vision of Victorian England

Roman Planski's Tess is a beautifully shot adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel about Victorian England.
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Tess is an unforgettable film, and one of the finest of Roman Polanski’s career. The fact that it lost to Ordinary People for Best Picture surprises me, but the movie was not completely ignored by the Academy. Tess was nominated in six categories, and won in three: Art Direction, Cinematography, and Costume Design. In watching the newly released Criterion Blu-ray, I believe that it holds an additional appeal today that may not have been apparent back in 1979. Thirty-five years later, Tess is more than just a great movie. It is an example of a filmmaking style that seems to

King of the Hill (1993) Criterion Collection Review: Soderbergh Goes Mainstream (Or Does He?)

There's a lot more than first meets the eye to King of the Hill.
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For those who insist on dividing Steven Soderbergh’s filmography into the reductive “one for me” and “one for them” categories, King of the Hill likely represents Soderbergh’s first foray into mainstream filmmaking. Superficially, they’re right — it was his first studio film and its coming-of-age tale set in Depression-era St. Louis is certainly more accessible than Sex, Lies, and Videotape or Kafka. But — as is generally the case when it comes to Soderbergh — there’s a lot more than first meets the eye to King of the Hill. Sure, there’s some burnished sentimentality in the film; Soderbergh himself admits

The Fantastic Mr. Fox Criterion Collection Review: It is Quote-Unquote Fantastic

It's absolutely worth upgrading to this Criterion disk.
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Like most great directors, Wes Anderson has created a very distinctive style for his films. They live in a world that is not quite real. It's a world filled with pastel colors and 1960s rock and roll. Where quirky characters do things that aren’t quite realistic, but neither are they unbelievable. Where every child has parental issues, and every parent is funny, adventurous, and sad. It is a world in which every scene, no matter how small or short, is filled with the tiniest of details, all distinctive to the director’s style. Wes Anderson films are like retro live-action cartoons

Jules and Jim Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Seminal French New Wave Love Triangle

Truffaut's Jules and Jim is a brilliant rendering of a love triangly gone awry.
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The greatest literature is often inspired by true events, and the story behind Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962) is a perfect example. The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which was written by Henri-Pierre Roche in 1953. Roche was 73 years old at the time Jules and Jim was published, and it was his first book. I think every would-be writer might find that little bit of trivia inspiring, but for Truffaut Jules and Jim was also an irresistible story. His film was hailed as an instant classi, and has just been released as

Naked Lunch Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Enter the Interzone

As unique today as it was when it was released.
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By incorporating elements of William S. Burroughs' life into the screenplay, David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is not a straight adaptation of Burrough's classic Beat novel but more a story about its making. Cronenberg has created a captivating hallucinatory tale reminiscent of the book by retaining some stylistic and thematic elements. In New York City 1953, Bill Lee (Peter Weller) works as an exterminator killing bugs, but his jobs are difficult to complete because his wife Joan (Judy Davis) shoots up the poisonous bug powder. While sitting around with a couple of writer friends, Hank and Martin (stand-ins for fellow Beat
Terence Davies plumbs his Liverpool upbringing in 1992’s brilliantly dense The Long Day Closes, a film that is as much about the transience of growing up as it is about the joy of it. The picture is coated in certain melancholy and, sure to Davies’ style, eschews the linear narrative in favour of shards of memory, music and feeling. Thanks to the good people at Criterion Collection, The Long Day Closes is now available on Blu-ray (there’s a DVD version in the package too). The transfer vividly pulls Davies’ world of gray and brown into focus. The working class environs

La vie de bohème (1992) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Aki Kaurismäki Does Tragedy and Comedy Equally Well

Finnish great Aki Kaurismäki spins his tonally flexible take on Paris bohemian life.
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The Film Finnish great Aki Kaurismäki’s take on Paris bohemian life, La vie de bohème, doesn’t end well for its characters — how could it? It’s based on Henri Murger’s collection of stories Scènes de la vie de bohème, which provided the basis for opera La Bohème, which in turn inspired Rent, and if you’ve seen anything in this pipeline, you know there’s some consumptive death in the cards. What’s remarkable about Kaurismäki’s version is the balancing act of tones he achieves. Fans will no doubt be familiar with the filmmaker’s canny ability to bring deadpan humor and deep melancholy

Grey Gardens (1976) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An S-T-A-U-N-C-H Classic

A landmark documentary film receives a gorgeous Blu-ray upgrade.
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The Film A landmark in documentary filmmaking and possibly the most well known work from the school of direct cinema, the Maysles Brothers’ Grey Gardens is fascinating, hilarious, disturbing and uncomfortable. It’s about as incisive a portrait as you could get of crumbling aristocracy, but it’s even more remarkable as a deeply empathetic, humanist picture of living life in the face of crushing disappointment. The subjects — mother and daughter duo Big and Little Edie Beale, reclusive cousins of Jackie Onassis — are irresistible, and Little Edie’s unabashed showmanship for the camera has understandably made her a cult icon. The

City Lights Criterion Collection Review: Well Received and Slightly Defiant

The first dramatic comedy by Chaplin teaches us how to see clearly despite the blinding lights.
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The Criterion Collection has returned to the well again this month. They are releasing the fifth film in their Charlie Chaplin series. I've shared my thoughts on Modern Times, The Great Dictator and The Gold Rush in previous reviews. By not releasing the films in chronological order, the exposure to the arc of his career is very disjointed. We've seen the mature Chaplin films including talkies and the final evolution of his Tramp character. Only one has given us a glimpse into the early years of the character - The Gold Rush (1925). I thought it was time to explore

The Uninvited (1944) Criterion Collection DVD Review: Who 'Ya Gonna Call?

The first American film to take ghosts seriously gets the elite treatment.
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In today's era of mishmash horror moviemaking - wherein there's a new Paranormal Activity flick released every other year - it's almost hard to believe that there was once a point in time when Hollywood, along with the rest of the world, didn't take the concept of ghosts likely. Nevertheless, it's true: prior to the final days of World War II, movies featuring "spooks" were usually contributions to the comedy genre - and nary an apparition ever turned out to be anything but a fellow masquerading as a specter as the film in question drew its own conclusion. But this

John Cassavetes: Five Films Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Independent Spirit

An enlightening collection of the seminal works from the godfather of American independent film.
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Whether or not you enjoy the directorial efforts of John Cassavetes, it’s impossible to overlook his contribution to the rise of American independent film. In an era when it was virtually unheard of to operate outside of the studio system, Cassavetes did so multiple times, and to wide acclaim, virtually crafting the blueprint for all manner of scruffy auteurs who followed in his wake. Thanks to Criterion’s Blu-ray release of this essential box set, five of his strongest works are now available for viewing in high definition, and they’re well worth your time. Cassavetes operated on both sides of the

I Married a Witch Criterion Blu-ray Review: Veronica Lake Bewitches, Bothers, and Bewilders

Love can be a witch if you're Veronica Lake.
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Halloween may be over, but any time is a good time for a new Halloween classic to mix in with your films next year. I’ve waited over a decade for Criterion to put out Veronica Lake’s bewitching classic, I Married a Witch. Thankfully, Criterion has taken my advice (yes, I’m claiming it), and the movie itself makes up for any deficiencies in bonus content.Jennifer (Veronica Lake) is a Salem witch burned at the stake by the founding member of the Wooley clan (Frederic March). Before her death she places a curse on the Wooley men, dooming them to a life

La Notte Criterion Collection DVD Review: They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore

A slow-burn Italian relationship drama that leaves you hanging.
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La Notte is definitely a film from a different era where plots were not entirely clear until the third act, stories were primarily driven by dialogue and characterization, and the one-line pitch/synopsis of the movie makes it sound positively dull. It examines people and relationships and raw humanity, without special effects or hyperbole -- just unsettling honesty. This is a cerebral kind of film on which viewer opinions tend to be very divided between being touching and engaging or outright boring. I also realized while watching this Italian-dialogue English-subtitled story that most of the movies I watch with subtitles are

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