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Good Morning (1959) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Japanese Master's Flatulent Comedy

One of the great filmmakers of the 20th century fills his domestic comedy with wistfulness, charm...and fart jokes.
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Comedy doesn't tend to get the respect of drama in movie writing. Like horror, its effectiveness depends on whether or not the audience laughs - it demands, when done right, an immediate physical response. It's hard to write oneself out of having laughed at a comedy a writer doesn't want to enjoy for whatever reason, or to write oneself into praising a comedy that didn't raise a yuck. Dramas have more stuff for writers to write about, and writers are the ones who make the lists of what's important in cinema and what isn't. I've seen reviews of 1959's Good

Buena Vista Social Club Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Cuban Musicians Get the Recognition They Deserve

A landmark and infectious documentary about the joy of Cuban music and the great individuals who brought it to life.
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When it comes to music, there are many styles and cultures: Mexican, Spanish, Portugese, etc. However, Cuban music seems to be for only certain tastes, and even sadder, the singular individuals who created it have become virtually forgotten. Thankfully, Wim Wenders' 1999 influential documentary, Buena Vista Social Club, gives new life to these all-but-ancient musical talents and gives the recognition they extremely deserve. It is also a documentary of how music, in general, can be a lifelong desire and reason for living. Wenders' camera and the legendary Ry Cooper, along with his son Joachim, travel to Cuba to find and

Tampopo Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Endearing, Sensual, and Tasty Experience

Sweet, sexy, and hilarious food for thought.
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Some of the best films about food not only include food itself, but the reasons why it is essential, especially when it comes to culture, love, and satisfaction. Films about food can be entertaining, delectable, and hypnotic, such as Babette's Feast (1987), Big Night (1996), and Like Water For Chocolate (1994). However, as great as those films still are, I think Juzo Itami's 1985 classic, Tampopo, outshines them all. It is an endearing, sensual, and tasty 114-minute experience at the movies. Although the film is centered on the titular character Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), it is really a series of vignettes

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Vote for Pedro

Pedro Almodóvar's career-defining, groundbreaking dark screwball comedy gets the Criterion treatment ‒ and is just as awesome as you'd expect it to be.
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There are few films which can combine failed romances, hysteria, spiked gazpacho, the fine art of voiceover acting, and get fully away with it. And, truly, Pedro Almodóvar is only one filmmaker in the world who could pull such a feat off, which he does flawlessly in his breakout hit, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios. Effectively managing to mix the classic Hollywood screwball comedy with the esoteric humanity of Jean Cocteau and the artistic stylings of Alfred Hitchcock, Almodóvar's acclaimed, award-winning tour de farce returns to delight once more as part of the Criterion Collection ‒ and

45 Years Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Art of Quiet Devastation

Charlotte Rampling does extraordinary work in the third feature from British filmmaker Andrew Haigh.
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The camera never strays far from Charlotte Rampling in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, and for good reason. In this elegant, if slightly hermetic, study of the suddenly visible fissures in a long-tenured marriage, Rampling’s extraordinarily expressive face traverses all the emotion that’s sublimated in Haigh’s script, an adaptation of David Constantine’s whisper of a short story. Rampling stars as Kate Mercer, who’s planning a 45th anniversary party for her and her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), when he receives a major piece of news about an old girlfriend. At first, the revelation pokes at the seeming sturdiness of their quiet life

Canoa: A Shameful Memory Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Harrowing, but Important

A visceral and eye-opening docudrama of sheer true-life horror.
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In this day and age, politics have become a horror show, meaning that corruption and savagery usually comes first, and humanity in dead last. We have to deal with it on a everday basis; it tears up apart, and it continues to divide us, sometimes with really dire consequences. Director Felipe Cazals' chilling 1976 masterwork, Canoa: A Shameful Memory, shows us why. The film depicts, in docu-style, the horrifying event/incident that took place in the village of San Miguel Canoa during the year of 1968, where an innocent group of five university students were attacked and lynched by many of

Cameraperson Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Beautiful, Sad, Wonderful

Cameraperson tells the story of one filmmaker through the dozens of movies she's shot.
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Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I’ll lie in bed at night and think about all the different houses and apartments I’ve lived in. I’ll mentally walk through each room, picturing what it looked like and describing them as if to a friend. Sometimes the rooms are very clear to me - I can picture it as if I'm there. Sometimes they are more fuzzy and I have to think really hard about what they looked like. Sometimes I can’t remember them at all. There is one house I briefly lived in on Grand Lake whose guest bedrooms are a mystery

Cameraperson Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: No Better Film Experience Last Year

A soulful and illuminating document of the human experience.
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When it comes to human honesty, there is no better genre of film stronger than the documentary. In a time where special effects, explosions, CGI, and even 3D basically dominate the box office, it is very refreshing to know that some movies would rather deal with reality and what the world is really like. Director Kirsten Johnson's fascinating 2016 film, Cameraperson, shows us what being human truly means to be. In this brilliant snapshot, or series of tableux, Johnson captures in real time, stories of people, places, and things. Whether it is a young boxer in his first match in

Heart of a Dog Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Moving Meditation from a Singular Artist

Laurie Anderson's essay film sees her moving comfortably between abstractions and personal revelations.
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Can a film permeated with thoughts on death be playful? Can it be uplifting? Can it be equally cerebral and emotional, its two sides not merely coexisting but helping to inform the other? Can a film in which a person is almost wholly absent tell us innumerable amounts about the filmmaker’s relationship with that figure? In Heart of a Dog, the wondrous second feature film from multidisciplinary artist Laurie Anderson, the answer to all of the above is a resounding "yes." A deeply personal essay film narrated by Anderson in the kind of bemused monotone that features in spoken-word pieces

Lone Wolf and Cub Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Manga Comes to Life

Chanbara film series is aided by the screenwriting of the manga series creator, Kazuo Koike.
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As the shogun executioner, Ogami Itto has a comfortable gig until he falls from grace and endures the death of his beloved wife. Facing almost certain death at the hands of his enemies, the dreaded Yagyu clan, he’s forced to flee and gives his toddler son a choice: die at his hand or join him in a life of hardship on the “demon road”. With no home, no money, and no seeming future, the father becomes an assassin for hire and stays on the move, pushing his son around the countryside in a rickety cart from one misadventure to the

The Executioner Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Introduction to a Spanish Filmmaking Giant

Criterion shines a light on a filmmaker not so well-known in the English-speaking world.
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Even among dedicated English-speaking cinephiles, the name Luis García Berlanga might not immediately spark a glimmer of recognition. The great Pedro Almodóvar, who ranks Berlanga up there with Luis Buñuel among Spanish filmmakers, offers a few theories why in his brief appreciation on the Criterion Collection’s newly released disc of The Executioner (El Verdugo). One possibility: Berlanga’s films often feature extended scenes of overlapping dialogue — some have likened him to proto-Robert Altman — which can be tricky to subtitle. Whatever the reason, Berlanga’s films have had basically no representation on Region 1/A home video up to this point, so

Valley of the Dolls Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Laughter, Tears, and a Mountain of Dolls!

The Criterion Collection releases the best camp melodrama out there!
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America was a bit of a mess in the 1960s, not just on the national stage but at the local cineplex as well. By the time the decade was over, the Hollywood studio system as audiences knew it was dead - killed by a man who could “talk to the animals” of all things. But Hollywood limped to the finish line with the tortured tale of three lovely ladies and their struggles with fame and addiction in Valley of the Dolls. Dolls, as campy then as it is now, receives a shot of respectability this week with its premiere on

Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog Review: Completely Worth Your Time

Shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire owe much to how Dekalog lets stories play out.
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Watching the episodes of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog reminds me of how few auteurs there are anymore. Part of it is probably the current trends in how movies are made and distributed that make it harder to be an artist with a voice. In many ways, the most creative works are happening on television. FX, HBO, Showtime, AMC, and even Starz are allowing creators the freedom to tell long stories however they please. In 1988, a year before ABC let David Lynch loose with Twin Peaks, Kieslowski told ten hour-long, relatively linked short stories on Polish TV. The episodes predate his

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Early Masterwork

A wonderful tale of love and loss at the Kabuki theater.
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Kiku (Shotaro Hanyagi) is the adopted son of Kabuki royalty in Tokyo. As the presumed heir to this theatrical throne, he is constantly lavished with acclaim. The mouths that herald his praises come with two faces and out of the other, they spit ridicule. Even Kiku’s father-in-law cannot bring himself to tell him how poorly he acts. Late one night, he walks with Otoku (Kakuko Mori), nursemaid to Kiku’s brother's son, who finally tells him the truth - he stinks! Instead of lashing out in anger, Kiku’s is filled with gratitude that someone is finally willing to speak to him

A Taste of Honey Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Taste of Adolescence

Tony Richardson's tale of the sweet and sour gifts life delivers to us.
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A renaissance in British cinema erupted in the 1960s; known as the Free Cinema and instigated by directors Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, and Karel Reisz, British cinema of the era espoused fantasy for gritty realism. These "kitchen sink dramas" dealt with the uncertainty and futility of living poor in England. Richardson's own A Taste of Honey, out today on DVD and Blu via Criterion, depicts these issues with the faintest glimmer of a silver lining. Jo (Rita Tushingham) is a young teen struggling to find some stability with her flight, man-obsessed mother (Dora Bryan). Jo soon falls for a kind

Woman in the Dunes Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Digging out a Life in Sand

Hiroshi Teshigahara's enigmatic, hypnotic tale of a man trapped is equal parts Twilight Zone and Kafka, and completely absorbing.
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Every night, the woman shovels sand from the bottom of a hole, which gets carted up by a rope pulley, and hauled away. She lives at the bottom of a deep pit, and every night the sand builds up. If she leaves off for more than a couple of days, the sand will get everywhere, and eventually the house will collapse, and she will die. Her husband and daughter were killed by the sand. So she digs, each night, for most of the night. She sleeps during the day, nude, sometimes not even under a blanket, since sleeping with the

Speedy Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The End of an Era

Harold Lloyd hits a comedy home run in his last silent film.
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Not only is "Speedy" the title character played by Harold Lloyd in his last silent film and last appearance as his The Boy/Glasses Character, but it also describes the fast-paced lifestyle that was overtaking New York City at the end of the Roaring '20s. Railroad businessmen want to buy out Pops (Bert Woodruff), the grandfather of Speedy's girlfriend's Jane (Ann Christy), so they can make use of the track on which his horse-drawn streetcar runs. Naturally, it will fall onto to Speedy to save the day. He is a clever fellow, but only seems to put his mind to making

The Immortal Story Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Marvel of Deep Emotion and Haunting Spareness

A minimalist, but soulful depiction of lost souls in the 19th century.
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We all knew that Orson Welles was mad, but we also knew that he had the ability to make cinematic works of art that transcend any genre. After his legendary 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane, he felt that he could do anything, but after he changed film history with Kane, he started to feel the slump of Hollywood. This is definitely no apparent more than when he made 1948's flop, The Lady from Shanghai, that kind of signaled the beginning of the end of his gifts as director/writer/actor extraordinaire. However, he made a comeback, a sort-of experimental one, as he started

The In-Laws (1979) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: So Funny It Never Wears out Its Welcome

Run in a serpentine pattern to get yourself a copy.
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While there's a lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching that goes on whenever a sequel or remake is announced in Hollywood, it's rather surprising anyone bothers since it's long been a business model, and not just with movies, to try and replicate a success. What's even more surprising is when a winning formula is found that isn't repeated, such as the pairing of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in Arthur Hiller's The In-Laws (1979), a recent addiction to the Criterion Collection. Rather than the typical clashing of families with different personality types, Andrew Bergman's very funny script turns that idea on

La Chienne Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Early Renoir is a Delight

Criterion does a masterful job of bringing an early sound picture to live.
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Life has not gone well for Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon). He works as a cashier for a hosiery company and is generally despised by his colleagues. In an opening scene, they openly mock and scorn him for being a wet blanket and for having to run home to his wife instead of going out on the town with them. The wife, too, rather deplores Maurice and spends nearly every moment of her time on screen berating him. The only pleasure the poor fellow gets from life is painting and even that is spat upon by his wife who declares he

Le Amiche Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Antonioni Drains the Passion from Melodrama

This middle-period entry from the Italian master hints at what's to come, but stands on its own as an interesting work.
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It’s tempting to label Michelangelo Antonioni’s fourth feature film Le Amiche a transitional work, as it shuns Neorealism and embraces melodrama like some of his earlier work, but also moves toward the aggressively modernist sensibilities that would define subsequent masterpieces like L’Avventura, La Notte and Red Desert. While it’s true that Le Amiche only obliquely studies interpersonal alienation, it’s also more than just a bellwether for the more experimental work to come. With its long, meandering takes and restrained performances, it acts like a melodrama that’s had the passion slowly drained out of it, and stands on its own as

The Naked Island Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Japanese film explores the travails of a poor farming family without the use of dialogue.
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Kaneto Shindo’s film about the daily struggles of a poor farming family has one major hook: a total absence of dialogue. Filmed in black and white on a rocky speck of an island off the coast of Japan, the film initially plays more like a documentary than a narrative film until a tragic event unfolds in the final act. Up until that point, the daily monotony of hardscrabble farming life wears out its welcome as a film subject long before its allotted time is over. The family consists of a middle-aged man, his younger wife, and their two young sons.

Barcelona Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Innocent Imperialists Abroad

Whit Stillman's winning romantic comedy about politics set in late Cold War Spain.
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The first thing to get about Barcelona is the movie is sympathetic to its protagonists. Fred and Ted are cousins who haven’t seen eye to eye on anything since Fred stole Ted’s kayak when they were 10 - though Fred says he was only borrowing it, and the thing was a death trap anyway. They bicker. Ted, an expatriate living in Barcelona, is full of pretension and self-consciousness. Fred is a naval officer, sent to Spain ahead of the fleet to plan recreation. He wears his uniform everywhere, is proud of it, and will be damned if all of Barcelona

Brief Encounter Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Small but Poignant

A far cry from David Lean's big epics, but sometimes small is just as beautiful.
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Christ, David Lean knew how to compose a shot. I swear you could take all of his movies, put them in a pile, shuffle them up, and no matter what scene came up, you could make a stunning poster out of the image. We tend to think of his later, grand pictures like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago when we think about David Lean’s stunning images, but Brief Encounter proves he could create something epic out of little things as well. Filmed in 1945 in the final vestiges of the European stage of

The American Friend Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Tense Blend of Suspense and Character Study

An unusual, but beautifully made neonoir from one of film history's greatest directors.
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There have been a few cinematic adaptations of famed author Patricia Highsmith's stories, such as 1951's Strangers on a Train, and 2002's Ripley's Game, but director Wim Wenders' 1977 acclaimed thriller, The American Friend, stands above the pack. It is one of Wenders' more accessible and entertaining films, in which the narrative flows with uncommon grace and suspense. It also contains one of iconic actor Bruno Ganz's best performances, where he inhabits every since he's in. In the film, Ganz portrays Jonathan Zinnermann, a terminally ill German everyman who gets involved in an elaborate murder plot concocted by the quirky

The Emigrants / The New Land Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Profound Cinematic Experience Like No Other

Jan Troell's masterful epic saga receives the deluxe Blu-ray treatment.
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There have been many films about the dangerous journey of immigrants to America, the land of prosperity and new beginnings, such as El Norte (1983) and Sin Nombre (2009). However, I think none of them really possess the devastating and stark power as Director Jan Troell's epic masterpieces, The Emigrants (1971) / The New Land (1972), which were praised unanimously by critics and worldwide. It isn't difficult to see why; the entire saga is beautiful, authetic, and a profound cinematic experience like no other. Adapted from a novel by Vilhelm Moberg, it stars film legends Max von Sydow and Liv

Bitter Rice Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Beauty of the Downtrodden

1940s Italian film marries social commentary about the lower class with rewarding drama and romance.
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Long before Dino De Laurentiis was a noted Hollywood producer, he produced Italian films such as this 1949 drama. Interestingly, his director on this film, Giuseppe De Santis, also had a deep appreciation of U.S. culture and Hollywood film techniques, although he maintained strong convictions about how his films should stake their own Italian identity both thematically and visually. His subject matter for Bitter Rice fully expresses those ideas as he wrings beautiful scenes out of a story set amongst poor farm workers. As the film reveals, every year scores of Italian women would leave home to find temporary work

Night and the City Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Jules Dassin's Marvelous London Noir

Add this movie to your collection by whatever means necessary.
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Based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Kersh, although director Jules Dassin claims never to have read it, Night and the City tells the story of Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), a con man who wants “to be somebody,” but isn't because he's not as smart as he thinks he is. The Criterion Collection presents both the U.S. version with a score by Franz Waxman and the UK version, which is five minutes longer, and has a score by Benjamin Frankel. This London noir opens with Harry on the run through darkened streets and shadowy alleyways, likely a

Jellyfish Eyes Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Surprisingly Unsurprising

Takashi Murakami’s first film is fun for the whole family but sorely lacking his usual artistic iconoclasm.
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The most surprising thing about unconventional artist Takashi Murakami’s first feature-length directorial effort is that it is entirely conventional. Based on my experience with his artwork, I expected a surreal, incoherent, but visually dazzling film, but instead found the film to be a straightforward and family-friendly update on the kids with critters movies popularized in the 1980s by the likes of E.T. and Gremlins. The film is more homage than trailblazer, which seems like a missed opportunity for the visionary Murakami. The story follows a tween boy as he moves to a new town with his recently widowed mom and

Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Glimpses into the Heart of the Artist

Come gather 'round people and watch one of the greatest documentaries ever made.
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By the time Bob Dylan toured England in the Spring of 1965, he’d released five albums (two of which went platinum), scored a couple of number one hits, been covered by such luminaries as Joan Baez and The Byrds, written some of the greatest songs in popular music, and became the voice of a generation. Critics loved him, fans mobbed him, and journalists followed him about, asking him an endless supply of inane questions. Though he started out writing protest songs and was heavily involved in causes such as the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement, by this point

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