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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

The Friends of Eddie Coyle Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Crime, Lowkey, and Unsentimental

Peter Yates' 1973 Crime Drama explores how important, and how expendable, "Friends" can be in Boston's working-class criminal underground.
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Released about a year after Coppola's crime epic, The Godfather, The Friends of Eddie Coyle was seen by some critics as a kind of anti-Godfather when it was released. Both films are about the criminal world and how it suffuses the lives of those in it, but while The Godfather had a sepia-toned romanticism, Peter Yates' film, an adaptation of a George V. Higgins novel, has no room for sentimentality, or glamor. There's not much in the way of violence in the movie, either. It's a crime story, and it's about criminals, and while there's bank robberies, home invasions, gun

Odd Man Out Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Deft and Thrilling Storytelling

An extremely overlooked masterpiece of personal and spiritual redemption.
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There have been many films about personal and conflicted crisis of conscience, such as American Beauty (1999), The Apostle (1997), and Magnolia (1999). However, as wonderful as these films are, I think that director Carol Reed's unjustly overlooked masterpiece Odd Man Out, easily outdoes them all, especially because of its subtle and sensitive depiction of ordinary people caught up in a web of troubles. This was one of Reed's breakthrough films, not just for its deft and thrilling storytelling, but it was also one of the first to address the circumstances of terrorism in human terms. It was adapted for

A Brief History of Time Criterion Collection Review: A Quirky, Idiosyncratic Tribute

A deep examination of a very complex, but legendary visionary
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Everyone knows the story of Stephen Hawking, the iconic physicist, cosmologist, author, and director of research. They also know that he struggles with a rare form of ALS that has afflicted him over many decades, but the coolest thing is that he doesn't let that unfortunate disease keep him doing his life's work. A Brief History of Time is director Errol Morris' quirky, idiosyncratic tribute to Hawking and his controversial ideas. In terms of Morris' other documentaries, including The Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven, and The Fog of War, Brief History ranks up there with those great works, while

The Thin Blue Line Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Paradigm Shift

Errol Morris changes the documentary game in 102 minutes.
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Rarely do you watch a film and actually pinpoint where a genre actually changes. You watch Clerks or Pulp Fiction and see where the genre is being moved forward. You can see in Batman and then again in Iron Man where a genre is being reinvigorated. But in 1988, Errol Morris made The Thin Blue Line and the field of documentaries would radically change. I was surprised that it had taken this long for the Criterion Collection to release this important film on Blu-ray. Documentary. The definition for years was simply to "document reality". The popular documentaries were often nature

Gates of Heaven / Vernon, Florida Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Loving the Absurd

The characters Errol Morris speaks to in his first two films are living embodiments of the old maxim that truth is stranger than fiction.
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“I love the absurd,” says Errol Morris in one of the extras on the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition of Gates of Heaven (1978) / Vernon, Florida (1981). These are the first two films from the director of such notable documentaries as The Thin Blue Line (1988), A Brief History of Time (1991), and the Academy Award-winning The Fog of War: Eleven Lesson from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003), among others. To call the people he interviews in both of these pictures “absurd” is probably an understatement, but it will do. The characters Morris speaks to are true

An Autumn Afternoon Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Master's Final Masterpiece

Yasujiro Ozu left us with one final masterpiece in An Autumn Afternoon, a culmination of many of his favorite themes.
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Before he died of cancer on his 60th birthday in 1963, Yasujiro Ozu left us with one final masterpiece in An Autumn Afternoon, a culmination of many of his favorite themes. The twilight work of many filmmakers often lends itself better to footnotes than introductions, but the remarkably consistent Ozu has a career filled with potential jumping-off points, and his last film is also an excellent first one for Ozu neophytes. I should know — An Autumn Afternoon was my gateway into Ozu’s exquisite cinematic worlds. Frequent collaborator Chishu Ryu stars as Shuhei Hirayama, a widower who comes to accept

Young Mr. Lincoln Criterion Collection DVD Review: Ford's Greatest Overlooked Film

Although it will never be as celebrated as Stagecoach or The Searchers, it is unquestionably one of John Ford's greatest achievements.
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Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) may be the greatest overlooked film John Ford (1894 - 1973) ever made. To call a picture like this “overlooked” would be ridiculous in just about any other case. But Young Mr. Lincoln was one of three movies Ford directed that year. The other two were Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), and Best Picture nominee Stagecoach (1939). Ford’s own films are the competition, and I had no idea of just how good Young Mr. Lincoln was was until a friend gave me the two-DVD Criterion Collection edition of it. The film opens in 1832, where young

The Vanishing (1988) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Thriller as Character Study

A woman's disappearance creates a terrible bond between the man who took her, and the one who lost her.
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The missing person is the greatest motif of the mystery story. Even if the murder story is more common (and perhaps the majority of missing-person stories become murder stories in the fullness of time) the missing-person story contains more questions: not just who did it, but what did they do? What really happened? Is the missing person dead, captured, tortured, or did they even just leave of their own accord? The relationship between the missing and those looking for them can be complicated and fascinating. In one line of The Vanishing, Rex Hofman, after years of looking for the long-missing

The Night Porter Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Nazi Love Story

Its a thin line between exploitation and art.
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Normally I’d say that the space between True Art and exploitation is wide and wandering, but if The Night Porter teaches us anything, it's that the line is actually pretty thin. It's story is pure sleaze - A Nazi SS officer reunites with his former concentration-camp prisoner thirteen years after the war. A sadomasochistic love affair ensues. But in the hands of director Liliana Cavani, it becomes something more - a meditation on love, guilt, and redemption. It reminds me a bit of Boxcar Bertha, a typical Roger Corman B-Grade flick elevated by the talents and artistic brilliance of a

It Happened One Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Original Runaway Bride

Frank Capra's romantic comedy classic shines in new Criterion release.
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It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time in cinematic history when romantic comedies were extremely rare. That all started to change, for better or worse, with the 1934 release of this Frank Capra gem. The film went on to sweep the five major Oscar categories, netting statues for stars Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, director Capra, and screenwriter Robert Riskin, cementing its status as a Hollywood classic. That classic is now 80 years old and was showing its age, so its recent meticulous restoration and new release on Blu-ray offers a completely refreshed take on the film. Colbert

Playtime Criterion Collection Review: Hulot vs. Modernization

Tati's own brilliantly satirical spin on the mechanical age
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As we film buffs know the works of Chaplin, Godard, Dreyer, and Antonioni, we are able to see their versions of the stormy side of human nature, but no one in film history has quite of an effect on presenting the dark side of the mechanical age as legendary French director, Jacques Tati, whose classics somehow tend to get lost in the shuffle, especially talking about movie history. In a way, Tati is the "French Chaplin," since Chaplin's own Modern Times described the new harsh reality of the 1930s Depression era, while adding comical touches to surface the difficult situation.

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

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