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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

Swing Time Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Fine Film

A charming film that gets so many things right it's easy to overlook its flaws and just enjoy it.
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Swing Time is the sixth of ten films that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appeared in together. It has great songs by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Dorothy Fields, great dance performances by Astaire and Rogers, and a plot that will make you tell others the film has great songs and great dance performances. Swing Time opens with John "Lucky" Garnett (Astaire) about to get married and leave show business for a hometown sweetheart Margaret (Betty Furness), but manager Pop (Victor Moore) and the other fellas in his dance act are against it. They distract Lucky long enough so the

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Criterion Collection Review: Visually Stunning and Aesthetically Engaging

A beautifully curated addition to the Criterion Collection.
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In 2001, writer, director, and star John Cameron-Mitchell and composer and lyricist Stephen Trask took their cutting-edge musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and adapted it for the big screen. The musical which began its journey in the ballroom of the Jane Hotel in New York is now a part of the Criterion Collection. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the story of Hedwig, who is born Hansel and raised as a boy in Berlin, Germany. After Hansel begins a romantic relationship with American, Sgt. Luther Robinson, Hansel starts to see a way to escape the confines of Eastern Germany.

Let The Sunshine In Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Love Is...Brutally Human

There's no sunshine in Claire Denis's low-key and bleak anti-romantic comedy about the absurdity of what we do for love.
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For most people, love is a constant slope towards madness and eventual pain. We crave it, but sometimes, when it's not the type that we desire, we throw it away. Basically, adult relationships are messy, complicated, and according to celebrated director Claire Denis' 2017 bleak comedy, Let The Sunshine In, brutally human. With an amazingly complex and subtle performance by the usually compelling Juliette Binoche, Denis paints a frustratingly truthful portait of love that most directors couldn't or wouldn't touch. Binoche brilliantly plays Isabelle, a divorced but successful painter in Paris, whose frequent demands for love belittle her ultimate desire:

Diamonds of the Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Story of Youth Under Fire with a Brilliantly Fractured Eye

A startling and very tense debut from the most unflinching director of the now-ancient Czechoslovak New Wave.
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There are many similarities between Luis Bunuel and underrated auteur/director Jan Nemec. They both use surrealism to dictate the often limitless boundaries of human behavior. When it comes to their films, you don't really know which is reality, and which is fantasy. However, you want to watch their cinema repeatedly to uncover more details that missed the first time around. While Bunuel depicts human behavior with a satirical edge, Nemec directs his films with surrealist details, but which a more serious viewpoint, especially when it comes to war and how it affects people in a certain time and place. This

The Kid Brother Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Comedic Gem

Harold Lloyd's slapstick masterpiece gets a fantastic upgrade from the folks at Criterion.
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I’m not too familiar with the work of Harold Lloyd, and The Kid Brother is actually the first film of his that I’ve seen in its entirety. Of course, now that I’ve finally experienced one of his films, it makes me want to go and seek out what else he has done. The Kid Brother is a hysterical comedy from the silent era, and also one that has a strong emotional core and a few exciting action scenes. It’s the perfect genre blend of a movie, one that is hard to come by in modern Hollywood. Lloyd plays Harold Hickory,

The Magnificent Ambersons Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Flawed Masterpiece, but Still a Worthwhile Film

The Criterion Collection has stacked this beautiful release of Welles's troubled second production with a plethora of extras.
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Before getting into the history of the film: the mangling by the studio, the likely deliberately destroyed edited footage, and all of that intrigue, first we have to see the movie itself: The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles's follow-up to his explosive debut Citizen Kane. Based on a novel by Booth Tarkington about the downfall of a noveau riche mid-Western family, The Magnificent Ambersons has elements of drama and comedy and some sense of tragedy, but most of all it is the portrait of a changing country, and world. George Amberson, the only son of Isabel and heir to the fortune,

Shame Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Harrowing, Nightmarish Bergman Masterpiece

As unflinchingly honest and unforgiving as a film can ever get.
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War is Hell. They're have been many films that tackled the often difficult subject of war, and its effects on humanity. And arguably none come more terrifying and brutal than Ingmar Bergman 1968's stunner, Shame. Although less remembered than some of his other films, such as The Seventh Seal, Persona, and Cries and Whispers, it's no less harsh and bleak, as well as unflinchingly honest and unforgiving as a film can ever get. Bergman mainstays and film legends Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow star as Eva and Jon Rosenberg, former musicians who escape the city engulfed in a civil

The Princess Bride Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: As Good As You Wish

So well crafted, it is equally one of the best comedies, one of the best adventures, and one of the best love stories.
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Based on the novel by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay, Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride is a fantasy adventure filled with humor and romance that became an instant classic in the hearts of many who saw it. When a young boy (Fred Savage) is sick in bed, his grandfather (Peter Falk) comes over to continue a family tradition by reading him The Princess Bride. The young man is not overly thrilled about having to sit through a romance, but he gives his grandfather the benefit of the doubt. The film then cuts to the book's story introducing the

Mikey and Nicky Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Elaine May Should Be Unanimously Acclaimed

A very underappreciated masterpiece of toxic masculinity and bleak relationships.
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When it comes to underappreciated figures of film, none are more legendary and important than Elaine May. After a successful series of improvisational comedy routines from the 1950s with the late, great Mike Nichols, she later developed a career as a very talented director and screenwriter with a deft and savage eye for complicated relationships. Even with brilliant films such as A New Leaf (1971), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), and her 1976 masterpiece, Mikey and Nicky, she continues to be often overlooked, because apparently, filmmaking only belongs to men. This should never be the case, because when talking about May,

A Dry White Season Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Truly Gripping Cinema

An unflinching and sadly relevant drama of violence and ongoing oppression.
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Racism is one those things that just doesn't seem to go away. Every day you turn on the news to find more unarmed black men being shot by white cops; white people calling the police on innocent black people, and the underestimation of Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, it has gotten much worse, especially ever since an orange someone was elected President. The violent consequences of prejudice is mostly directed to the wrong groups, and director Euzhan Palcy's 1989 film, A Dry White Season, shows how that hate is definitely universal, meaning that it doesn't just happen in the movies. Based

A Story from Chikamatsu Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Tale Worth Watching

Criterion continues their welcome attention to the works of director Kenji Mizoguchi with this superb new Blu-ray release.
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When an adulterous nobleman learns that his wife is rumored to be carrying on an affair with a member of his staff, he seeks to punish both of them. Sure, it’s fine for the man to brazenly step out on his wife, but when the smallest hint of initially untrue impropriety is leveled against her, his righteous indignation speaks volumes about the vast gender morality imbalance. There’s also the matter of his continued noble status, as his failure to punish his perceived transgressors carries the risk of loss of his esteemed title. With that setup in place, director Kenji Mizoguchi

Shampoo Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Head and Shoulders Above the Rest

Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn relive the swinging '60s in the mid-'70s.
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Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this film is Warren Beatty’s glorious hair. Playing a Beverly Hills hairdresser/lothario named George, Beatty wields long locks styled to such excess that they’re seemingly a special effect. Thankfully, the rest of the film is worthy of the majestic mane, delivering a sharply humorous exploration of sexual politics against a backdrop of real politics set during the timeframe of Nixon’s 1968 election. George is a talented hairdresser who dreams of opening his own shop, but lacks the means to make it happen. He has a girlfriend named Jill (Goldie Hawn), but also engages in

A Raisin in the Sun Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Wonderfully Acted Film

A masterpiece adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's eternal play about the conflicts of Black life.
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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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