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The Irishman (2019) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Welcome Addition to Martin Scorsese's Filmography

It's what it is: a fitting bookend to his gangster films.
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Martin Scorsese's epic The Irishman makes a fitting bookend to his gangster films as one mobster tells his story while living out his twilight days at a retirement home, alone because of the life chosen and the decisions made. The film is also poignant because it's likely the last fans will get to see the trio of Scorsese and actors Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci together telling a story of such scale and scope, if not the last story they tell as Pesci had to be coaxed out of retirement. The titular character is Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a

The Hit Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Gem of Film by Stephen Frears

A highly overlooked crime drama full of delicious slow burns and ideas.
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The action film always comes with cliches, meaning that they usually contain car chases, explosions, and non-stop action. Sometimes these elements can taint and drag films of the crime drama category into the realm of familiarity and unoriginality. Thankfully, this is not the case with acclaimed director Stephen Frears' early 1984 effort The Hit, which relies more on character drive and often offbeat palpability. Inspired by a true story of an armed robber turned stool pigeon, the film stars Terence Stamp as Willie Parker, a gangster's henchman turned "supergrass" (informer) who rats out his fellow mobsters. Ten years later, while

Parasite (2019) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Rich Fam, Poor Fam

Bong Joon-ho's Oscar-winning drama gets the Criterion treatment.
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One of the hardest things for a filmmaker to do is blend multiple genres together and do it so seamlessly. The balance of tone and mood can drastically shift once it makes its way from one focus to another, and that tends to lead some films on a downward spiral. But the way Bong Joon-ho handles his latest film, Parasite, is so unique. The blending of dark satire and tense drama is masterful. Bong takes a topic with which he’s familiar (class inequality) and turns it into something that is wonderfully helmed and feels like new territory. Parasite tells the

The Gunfighter Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Price of Fame

A film deserving of recognition thanks to a story that could be told in any genre and a great leading performance by Gregory Peck.
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Set in the Southwest Territory of the 1880s, a Texan named Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck) was known the fastest gun. While this designation has earned him respect, it also causes some to fear him and others to test the legend, a burden that The Gunfighter carries in Henry King's taut western. While en route to Cayenne, Ringo stops off at a saloon. A kid named Eddie (Richard Jaeckel) starts running his mouth. Ringo tries to avoid a confrontation but is forced to kill him. Even though he was in the right, it is suggested he leave town because the kid

Claudine Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Ahead of Its Time

An excellent and truthful depiction of African American life and love that still feels all-too modern.
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In the 1970s, the blaxploitation genre of film exploded, and it was usually centered on stories of masculine black men, fighting against 'The Man', where women were always the side pieces or sexual playthings who were just along for the ride. However, there was a gender reversal where strong black women got revenge against the higher powers that be. This all changed with once-blacklisted director John Barry's marvelous Claudine, a remarkable 1974 portrait of society on hard times, which was one of the very first films to depict, with honesty, the way life treated people, especially African Americans, with a

Pierrot le Fou Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Still Feels Modern and Fresh

Jean-Luc Godard's violent and unpredictable 1965 road movie comes back to Criterion.
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The legendary and unclassifiable filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard is reaching his 90th birthday this year (in just two months from now), and I think that this is a good time to celebrate early by reviewing a film from his past. Although some of the premises of his film are relatively thin, there is enough style, visuality, and of course, politics, to make you forget how unmemorable they actually are. This is the case for his 1965 satirical landmark, Pierrot le Fou, which not only remains one of his most accessible, but also one of the most influential films of the now-bygone

Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project No. 3 Criterion Collection Box Set Review

Scorsese guides viewers through little-known gems from around the world.
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Legendary writer/director and noted film buff Martin Scorsese established The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in 2007 to restore and present classic films from around the world that are little known to U.S. audiences. The latest collection brings together five black-and-white films and one color film that have been painstakingly restored from the best possible elements, a Herculean effort considering their origins in countries with little care for preservation or even outright scorn for cinema. In the case of the film Downpour, the Iranian government purposely destroyed all original elements and known copies of the film, leaving only the director’s

Christ Stopped at Eboli Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Emotionally Captivating

A beautiful film about living in exile and discovering an unknown way of life.
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Listed as one of the 1,001 movies you need to see before you die, Christ Stopped at Eboli is a film of which I wasn’t aware prior to the Criterion Collection announcing it being one of the latest releases they were adding to their catalogue. And that’s a miss on my end, because this is a truly mesmerizing achievement. Apparently, this original, 220-minute television version had been hard to come across for some time, and the only option to watch the movie was to go for the 150-minute cut. It’s a good thing I waited to see the movie as

Beau Travail Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Mysterious, Haunting, and Transformative

Claire Denis' 1999 masterpiece of jealousy, erotic/repressed desire, and personal destruction makes it's long-awaited debut to the Criterion Collection.
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The great and visionary director Claire Denis is one the greatest cinematic poets of our time. She's a provocative and original filmmaker who has crafted an extraordinary oervue of films that offer richly observed and perfectly tuned portraits of cultural alientation and emotional/physical tension. Whether contemplating a father/daughter relationship (35 Shots of Run), the harmful awakenings of women (White Material, Let the Sunshine In), or erotic body horror (Trouble Every Day), she continues to be a singular voice of not just for female filmmakers, but for cinema as a whole. However, her second film, 1999's Beau Travail, is considered to

Town Bloody Hall Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Verbal Battle of the Sexes

An often funny, manic, and sometimes raunchy document of the continuous discussion of gender politics.
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Documentaries, more than any other category of film, successfully (or sometimes unsuccessfully) captures reality at its most uncomfortable means. Whatever the topic is, such as interesting, controversial, and often timely topics on all sides of humanity, you're obviously going to be exposed to different points-of-view, especially in terms of debate. And speaking of debate, the neverending theme of gender politics (whether sexual or otherwise) is always going to come up, at some point. This is the case with Chris Hededus and D.A. Pennebaker's brisk 1979 documentary Town Bloody Hall, which captured for a moment in time, the sometimes toxic elements

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Angela Winkler Is Sensational

A disturbingly relevant thriller that feels eerily modern to today's skewered politics.
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In today's uncilivilzed world where humanity comes second (or dead last) to politics and where the police take the law into their own hands and drag people through the mud just because they believe they can, the media sometimes can be the bad guy too and try to smear people for their own gain. Volker Schlondroff and Margarethe von Trotta's exhaustingly searing 1975 thriller The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, take these elements one step further...closer to reality. It's tale of misued power, individual freedom under fire, and innocent lives lost hasn't dulled its edge one bit. Adapted from a

Taste of Cherry Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Not to Everyone's Taste

Iranian classic finally gets a Criterion Blu-ray release.
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Abbas Kiarostami’s understated film won the prestigious Palme d’Or Award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, leading to its initial Criterion DVD release way back in 1999. After being out of print for a number of years, Criterion is finally bringing the film to Blu-ray this week with new cover art and some new special features. While its methodical pace isn’t for everyone, the film’s concept remains intriguing. The film centers on a middle-aged man named Mr. Badii who is shown driving aimlessly around the outskirts of Tehran, taking nearly the first half hour before revealing the plot. He has

Marriage Story Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Emotionally Brutal and Full of Life

Noah Baumbach crafts a searingly intense and sometimes humorous examination of a very broken marriage.
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I'm not an expert on marriage, but seeing many films about it, I guess I can at least say that from my viewpoint, it can be quite the emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically draining journey. There have been many films, including Faces, Kramer vs Kramer, Shoot the Moon, The Squid and the Whale, and most notably, Ingmar Bergman 1973's masterpiece, Scenes from a Marriage, that have put their own distinctive spin on the subject. I think it's safe to say that director Noah Baumbach's marvelous 2019 film, Marriage Story, is destined to join the ranks of highly accurate and piercingly

Portrait of a Lady on Fire Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Burning Bright

This mesmerizing French film offers a fresh take on artist/muse romance and social class distinction
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Writer/director Celine Sciamma’s latest film is both exhilarating and depressing: spellbinding because of its absolute excellence and disheartening because it illuminates how far American dramas have fallen in comparison to this masterful new French work. It’s immediately evident why the film was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this year, and mind-boggling that it wasn’t nominated in the same category or even outright Best Picture at the Oscars, especially considering that France was instead represented by Les Miserables, a film with both significantly lower critical and popular review scores. Awards aside, the film is an instant classic,

The Cameraman Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Star Begins to Fade

A stealth double feature of Keaton's last two silent films.
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Although a talented filmmaker, Buster Keaton wasn't a great business man and his box-office struggles caused him to sign on with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Cameraman was his first film in his deal with MGM, a decision he's on record as calling "the worst mistake of my life," the title of a chapter from his autobiography, which is included in the accompanying booklet. Although the studio began to exert control over him and his work, he was still able to turn out an amusing picture. Buster is a tintype photographer and falls in love at the sight of Sally (Marceline Day). Upon

An Unmarried Woman Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Bold and Groundbreaking

A still fresh, unapologetically honest portrait of a woman's reawakening.
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As I mentioned in my Pick of the Week recently, the 1970s were a very pivotal time for women. There was the coming of feminism, Gloria Steinem, bras being burned, Mary Tyler Moore, etc. Arguably unlike any other decade, maybe besides the 1980s, women started to have their own say, thoughts, feelings, sexual needs, and boundaries. They didn't let men define them. They were beginning to find themselves. They had careers, children, and independence. They allowed themselves to clip the strings of men and grow their own wings. I think that director Paul Mazursky really took to that seriously with

When We Were Kings Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Marvelous Time Capsule of Muhammad Ali in 1974

Criterion's inclusion of Soul Power makes this a must-own.
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Leon Gast's When We Were Kings documents the "Rumble in the Jungle," the legendary boxing match between undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman against former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. The bout took place in Zaire, Africa (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) on October 30, 1974, and became the world's most-watched live television broadcast at the time with an estimated one billion viewers worldwide. Gast spent two decades editing the film. Promoter Don King was involved in setting up the championship match as well as Zaire 74, a three-day music festival that featured James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, and a

Matewan Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Labor Pains

Not sure the reasons it's taken so long to get John Sayles in the Criterion Collection, but Matewan is certainly a worthy title from his filmography.
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John Sayles' Matewan is a dramatization of the Matewan massacre (1920), a battle that took place in the town of Matewan, West Virginia between coal mine workers and armed agents of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency on behalf of the Stone Mountain Coal Company. As told, it's a compelling story from the workers' point of view. The Stone Mountain Coal Company is the main industry in town and with that monopoly, the company abuses its employees who suffer through brutal working conditions. The miners want to unionize, but the company ships in those even more desperate for work as replacements: African

Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Intro to Italian Neorealism 101

Criterion presents a crash course on the post-war movement with these classics: Rome Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zero.
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In reaction to what many were experiencing in Italy under Mussolini and after World War II, the Italian neorealism movement sprung up in which artists told stories of the common people's struggles. The realism of the films was enhanced by the use of non-actors as well as shooting on location. Alongside works by Luchino Visconti (Ossessione and The Earth Trembles) and Vittorio De Sica (Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves), director Roberto's Rossellini had some of the movement's first and most important releases. Collected and released as Roberto's Rossellini's War Trilogy, the Criterion Collection has given Rome Open City, Paisan, and Germany

Antonio Gaudí Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Tone Poem of Gaudí, Barcelona, and Art

After watching Antonio Gaudí, the viewer will not only want to start looking up flights to Barcelona, but need to learn more about this distinctive artist.
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Antonio Gaudí, a film by Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara (1927-2001), is a tone poem of Gaudí, Barcelona, and art - filled with vibrant color and music. The restored 72-minute film from 1984 is not your typical artist biography. There is barely any dialogue. Or narration. Or biography. Teshigahara instead creates a collage of dazzling images featuring the unique architecture of Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). Teshigahara, the first Asian director to be nominated for an Academy Award and probably best known for his avant garde feature film Woman in the Dunes (1964), started his career in documentary film. Here, he seamlessly melds

Teorema Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Pasolini's Most Accessible Work

This puzzlingly fascinating masterwork from 1968 gets new life.
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The late director Pier Paolo Pasolini was a very controversial filmmaker to begin with. His often taboo-breaking subject matter didn't exactly sit well with most critics and audiences, not to mention censorship laws. However, that's what made him one of the greatest in film history. He did films his way, with provocative themes, such as sex, religion, philosophy, and art, and how they can sometimes coexist in the same surface. His 1968 subversive classic, Teorema, definitely did just that. The film stars the great Terence Stamp as a handsome, and perplexing figure, known only as "The Guest", who mysteriously appears

Tunes of Glory Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Acting Tour de Force

Alec Guinness (with a Scottish brogue) squares off with John Mills in this military drama.
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I have been on a bit of an Alec Guinness kick of late. He’s an actor I knew and loved from epic dramas like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia and of course as the Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films. It has been a true treat then to dive deeper into his filmography and find so many wonderful performances. He was known to me mostly as a dramatic actor and so it has been a delight finding what a charming comedic actor he also was in films like The Man in the

Old Joy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Quite Reflective and Moving

I have nothing but rave things to say about this terrific film.
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Director Kelly Reichardt has become one of my favorite directors. She is one of the very few maverick filmmakers of landscape and how the supposedly promising aspects of the American Dream can shallow you up. Whether it's women trying to forge their own paths through life (Certain Women), danger for settlers in 1840s Oregon (Meek's Cutoff), a drifter and her dog trying to find their places in the world (Wendy and Lucy), or outsiders fleeing their boring lives but not getting very far (River of Grass), Reichardt has a created a singular body of work that has proven that women

Now, Voyager Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Superior Tearjerker

A beloved 1942 Bette Davis classic gets a stellar release from the Criterion Collection.
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With her saucer eyes, unparalled intensity, and unbridled non-vanity, Bette Davis has been and still is regarded as one of the greatest stars in Hollywood history, and rightly so. She always brought her signature style to every role she portrayed, even the lesser ones, with honesty and unapologetic passion. Arguably, her performance in Irving Rapper's celebrated 1942 adaptation of Olive Higgins Prouty's novel of psychotherapy and family dynamics: Now, Voyager, was her at the pinnacle of her gifts, at least until her most cherished role as Margo Channing in All About Eve. She plays Charlotte Vale, a nervous and neurotic

All About Eve Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: All the World's a Stage

The legendary Oscar-winning film arrives in a brand-new 4K restoration, just in time for its 70th anniversary.
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Best Picture Oscar winners don’t always age well, but as All About Eve approaches its 70th anniversary, it’s every bit as entertaining and relevant as ever. The film garnered six well-deserved Oscars out of a lofty total of 14 nominations, including two wins for Joseph L. Mankiewicz as writer and director. The plot is a fascinating study of betrayal, as a young up-and-coming actress named Eve (Anne Baxter) seeks to supplant her idol, aging stage star Margo (Bette Davis). The story should be required viewing for every aspiring actor as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of success, although its

The Circus Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Tramp Plays the Big Top

A delightful romp that finds the Tramp behave in a more enlightened manner as he puts others ahead of himself.
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Made between his classic films The Gold Rush and City Lights, Charlie Chaplin's The Circus presents an entertaining outing for the Tramp who once again finds himself in funny predicaments while saving a young woman from her cruel stepfather. The story behind the scenes is more interesting than the one on screen and is illuminated in the extras Criterion has included. While at a seaside pier, the Tramp finds a wallet and watch has been stashed in his pocket. The crook who placed it there is after him and the police after them both. This leads to not only a

Polyester Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: John Waters' First Big-Budget Film

Polyester introduced the one-time only Odorama card to offend viewers' sense of smell as well as their sense of decorum.
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Polyester, John Waters’ first big budget, mainstream film, was released by in 1981 by New Line Cinema. Its $300,000 budget may give it a high-rent look, but the low-rent appeal is still there, albeit way toned down from early Waters' films like Pink Flamingos and Multiple Maniacs. Divine plays Francine Fishpaw, a sweet, submissive housewife married to Elmer Fishpaw (David Samson), a porno theater owner with a bad toupee. Their kids are juvenile delinquents. Her daughter Lu-lu (Mary Garington) is a slutty girl who causes havoc with her greaser boyfriend Bo-Bo (Stiv Baters). Her son Dexter (Ken King) is a

The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Gentle Ozu Comedy

Grandmaster filmmaker Ozu's minor, observant comedy about the growing differences between a middle-aged married couple.
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The first thing to get used to in an Ozu film is the camera perspective. He never (or at least rarely) does the normal over-the-shoulder shot and counter shot for conversations. Ozu tends to shoot things from a constant upward angle. It has been analogized to a POV from someone sitting, in traditional Japanese style on a mat, legs folded underneath. The view is tilted slightly upward, never straight on or from above. The second element of Ozu's filmmaking that has to be taken into consideration is the secondary nature of the plot. There are stories in all of his

The Koker Trilogy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Rise of Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami’s mid-career trio of films announced him to the international film community
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This series of Iranian films is a trilogy in only the loosest sense, as they don’t share overlapping casts or themes. Their only real common denominators are their writer/director, Abbas Kiarostami, and their filming location of Koker in a remote, rural area of northern Iran. The later films are influenced by the first film, especially since they explore the effects of a devastating earthquake that occurred after the first film, but there is no narrative throughline tying them together. Taken as a whole, they paint a picture of a region in transition, grappling with modernization and disaster recovery as old

The BRD Trilogy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Fassbinder at His Best

With these three films, Rainer Werner Fassbinder tells the history of post-war Germany through the eyes of its women.
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When World War II ended, Germany was due a reckoning. As a nation, they had to come to terms not only with the atrocities of the Holocaust and Nazism but also rebuilding a country wrecked from war. They had to reconstruct the country's infrastructure and economy but its own soul. This new Germany had to decide who it was and what it would become. Of course, they were not alone in asking this question as immediately following their surrender, Germany was split into four districts each ruled by a separate country (Russia, the United States, England, and France). Within a

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