Recently by Dusty Somers

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Masterpiece of Control

Chantal Akerman's 200-minute epic of the mundane flies by like a thriller.
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Who’s in the mood for meatloaf with a side of existential dread? OK, I’m only so glib because writing about Chantal Akerman’s landmark Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a daunting proposition. This 200-minute masterpiece, which largely takes place within the confines of a middle-aged widow’s modest Brussels apartment, isn’t merely a slow-cinema progenitor, and it’s certainly not anything resembling an endurance test. Any film that runs past three hours, particularly one so resistant to narrative norms, is bound to be called “challenging,” but that label just doesn’t apply here. Jeanne Dielman unfolds like a thriller in

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

Police (1985) Blu-ray Review: Pialat's Procedural

Gérard Depardieu is a not-so-brilliant cop with a not-so-successful personal life.
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Police is the second collaboration between Maurice Pialat and Gérard Depardieu, after 1980’s Loulou, in which Isabelle Huppert falls for Depardieu’s moderately charming layabout. One could imagine Depardieu’s character in Police, detective Louis Mangin, thinking he possessed that same kind of sexual charisma. Depardieu’s aggressive performance vaults way past macho swagger as he performs some capital-a Acting, full of weird tics and chair-slamming furor. This can feel at odds with Pialat’s improvisational style, especially loose here. Still, it amplifies the distinct gap between Mangin’s perception of himself and his actual abilities. This is one of those cop stories in which

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man Blu-ray Review: An Awkward Documentary Hybrid

From the department of celebrity death cash-ins: An unnecessary Blu-ray upgrade of a forgettable concert film/biography mash-up.
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We’d already hit capacity overload on the “Fuck 2016” meme by the time Leonard Cohen’s death was announced on Nov. 10, but that didn’t mean the gut-punch of his passing hurt any less. Less than a month before, Cohen had solemnly announced, “I am ready to die” in David Remnick’s exhaustive New Yorker profile, before abruptly reversing course a few days after the interview’s publication at a listening session for his final album, You Want It Darker. “I said I was ready to die recently, and I think I was exaggerating. I’ve always been into self-dramatization. I intend to live

Wagon Tracks Blu-ray Review: Revenge on the Santa Fe Trail

Silent western icon William S. Hart rides onto Blu-ray for the first time.
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William S. Hart was one of the preeminent stars of the silent film era, well-loved for his portrayals of stoic, strong-jawed Wild West heroes. His relative obscurity today isn’t helped by a lack of representation on home video; most, if not all, extant DVD releases of his films are Alpha Video public-domain cheapies. But here comes Olive Films, riding in heroically on horseback with the first Blu-ray release of a Hart film, 1919’s Wagon Tracks, sourced from an original 35mm nitrate print from the Library of Congress. It’s a good choice. Far from an anonymous run-of-the-mill oater, Wagon Tracks is

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

Hannie Caulder (Olive Signature) Blu-ray Review: Rape, Revenge, and Raquel

There are trappings of the subversive in Burt Kennedy's western, but not their convictions.
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An early entry in the rape-revenge subgenre, Burt Kennedy’s western Hannie Caulder requires you to squint pretty hard to read it as a proto-feminist work. The framework is there — Raquel Welch’s titular character wreaks violent vengeance on a trio of men who raped her — but the details don’t really support it, from the way Kennedy films the rape to the way he portrays her assaulters to the repeated narrative beat where Hannie must rely on a man for help. One could easily argue that Kennedy (who wrote the screenplay using the pen name Z.X. Jones) is more interested

Morris From America Blu-ray Review: A Coming-of-Age Story Without the B.S.

Chad Hartigan writes and directs another film with instincts for the low-key.
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Midway through Morris From America, Chad Hartigan’s winning if decidedly minor coming-of-age comedy, 13-year-old Morris (Markees Christmas) is forced to perform a rap he wrote when it’s discovered by his single dad, Curtis (Craig Robinson). Reluctantly, he obliges: “Fuckin’ all the bitches, two at a time / All you can take, for just $10.99 / Mom’s on the pipe and Pop’s on death row / So who gives a shit if I fuck all these hoes.” Curtis is incredulous. “Why are you mad? You curse all the time,” Morris pleads. “I ain’t mad at you for writing those rhymes because

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

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon Blu-ray Review: A Neglected Curiosity Comes to Home Video

A typically odd late-period Otto Preminger film showcases a fine Liza Minnelli performance.
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Otto Preminger’s work in the late ’60s and early ’70s did not do wonders for his critical or commercial reputation, but there’s something compelling about nearly all of the genre-flouting work he made during the period — even if one doesn’t find the films particularly good. Olive Films has done an excellent job of resurfacing a number of these maligned, mostly forgotten films, including the bonkers Elaine May-penned rom-com satire Such Good Friends, dubious racial melodrama Hurry Sundown and star-studded flop Skidoo, and it’s done it again with a long-awaited release of Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon.

After the Fox Blu-ray Review: An Unremarkable Collaboration

Vittorio De Sica, Neil Simon and Peter Sellers are a comedy dream team, right?
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So, you’ve got one of the greatest Italian film directors of all time in Vittorio De Sica, one of the most beloved of all American playwrights in Neil Simon, and one of the chief members of the British comedy pantheon in Peter Sellers. This collaboration must be a surefire classic, or at the very least, a notable misstep among three sterling careers. Except, it’s not. About the only thing remarkable about 1966’s After the Fox is how unremarkable the film is, despite the array of talent on hand. Did I mention it features a (maddening) theme song by Burt Bacharach

Appointment with Crime Blu-ray Review: Tell Crime You'll Need to Reschedule

A stylish opening sequence is not a harbinger of things to come.
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A relatively obscure British crime thriller, John Harlow’s noirish Appointment with Crime (1947) nabs a few style points early on before settling in as a dull programmer that doesn’t so much twist and turn as it does lazily bend around a couple of easily navigable corners. William Hartnell, best known as the first incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, stars as Leo Martin, a professional thief who gets caught when a jewelry smash-and-grab goes wrong, his wrists shattered by a security grate that comes abruptly crashing down. Despite assurances from boss Gus Loman (Raymond Lovell) that he won’t abandon

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

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street Blu-ray Review: Sam Fuller Goes to Germany

Fuller's only feature-directing credit of the 1970s found him infiltrating the ranks of a German crime procedural.
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Half a rollicking, goofy near-parody of noir and half a queasy, German New Wave-inflected portrait of futility, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972) is a singular film from iconoclastic director Samuel Fuller. Dead Pigeon is actually an episode of the (still-running!) German television series Tatort, though it was also granted a theatrical release in several countries, making it Fuller’s only feature-directing credit of the decade. Olive Films presents the restored director’s cut on a stellar new Blu-ray release. Watching Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street will make you wish Fuller had directed an entire season of a crime procedural. His episodic,

Undertow Blu-ray Review: David Gordon Green Thinks About Moving Past Malick

There are hints that the 'George Washington' filmmaker might make a stylistic leap with 'Undertow.'
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The opening sequence of David Gordon Green’s third film, Undertow, portends an interesting stylistic progression for the filmmaker, his Terrence Malick-influenced imagery pushed to a frenetic pace, cut to pieces by jarring cuts, freeze-frames and flashes to negative as teen Chris (Jamie Bell) flees from his girlfriend’s angry father. Set to a propulsive Philip Glass score, it’s a sequence that commands attention, even if it’s more freewheeling pastiche than a genuinely original moment. The rest of Undertow settles into a more staid visual approach, the images struggling to keep up with the operatic grandeur of Glass’s score. While Green’s early

The Diary of a Teenage Girl Blu-ray Review: A Remarkably Forthright Film

The plot might remind one of Andrea Arnold's 'Fish Tank,' but the tone is decidedly different
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Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl isn’t particularly groundbreaking from a visual or formal standpoint; its burnished digital photography and lilting camerawork could belong to any number of Sundance entries. But this adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel is certainly distinctive among American film for its forthright, completely nonjudgmental approach to female sexuality. The plot — in which a teenage girl starts sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend — bears at least passing similarity to Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, but The Diary of a Teenage Girl is nearly a tonal opposite, fraught nerviness replaced with a pleasant inquisitiveness. Diary’s

Everything I Have is Yours DVD Review: A Disjointed MGM Musical Programmer

Husband-and-wife duo Marge and Gower Champion get upgraded to top billing.
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The lone starring vehicle for husband-and-wife duo Marge and Gower Champion, Everything I Have is Yours is several spritely dance setpieces punctuated by long stretches of backstage musical plot contortions, most of them predicated on women’s inherent fragility. Here, it’s apparent why the Champions’ usual movie status was the secondary couple supporting stars like Betty Grable and Jack Lemmon (Three for the Show) or Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson (Show Boat, Lovely to Look At); they’re terrific dancers but not exactly the most charismatic actors. Unlike top-tier backstage musicals that smartly integrate plot and musical numbers, Everything I Have is

The Big Short Movie Review: Adam McKay Tries to Get Serious

Despite its dramatic aspirations, 'The Big Short' is cut from a similar cloth as McKay's bro-y comedies.
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Adam McKay is not the filmmaker to give us a sober, lucid account of the financial crisis of the mid-2000s, and for a while, he seems to understand that in The Big Short, an ingratiating but often quite entertaining adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book of the same name. McKay can’t even dream of approaching the freewheeling energy of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or the way that film’s anarchic satire suddenly went for blood, especially in its chilling final shot. McKay’s examination of wealthy vultures bears some superficial similarities to Wolf, but its DNA is much closer to

Carol Movie Review: A Moving, Gorgeous Melodrama

Todd Haynes builds a deeply felt romance from deferred moments.
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Having already proved himself as the biggest Douglas Sirk fan on the planet, Todd Haynes improves upon the homage/pastiche of Far From Heaven, delivering a full-blooded melodrama in Carol. Far From Heaven is an achingly beautiful film (shot, like Carol, by the great Edward Lachman), but it sits back a bit, the emotions not nearly as expressive as the sublimely saturated color photography. In Carol, as sublimated as the emotions are in a film about lesbian lovers set in 1950s New York, the passion still burns in every frame, thanks both to the yearning, deeply felt performances by Cate Blanchett

Amy Blu-ray Review: The Permeability of Private and Public Footage

Asif Kapadia's documentary on Amy Winehouse transcends the typical with an unusually and uncomfortably intimate collage.
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The narrative beats of Asif Kapadia’s documentary on Amy Winehouse are eminently familiar, tracing a musician’s rise to fame and the subsequent downfall fueled by substance abuse. Like a number of showbiz stories, Amy is possessed by a heartbreaking sense of inevitability. Nonetheless, Kapadia — best known for 2010’s Formula 1 doc Senna — transcends the typical with an unusually and uncomfortably intimate collage of almost entirely pre-existing footage, structured around audio-only interviews with collaborators, friends, and romantic partners. Home video of Winehouse goofing around with childhood friends bleeds into on-air interviews promoting her 2003 debut album Frank, which gives

James White Movie Review: Formally Oppressive, Thematically Thin

There are moments when Josh Mond's directorial debut is bracing and direct, but it trades heavily in cliches about self-destructive behavior.
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For the first 20 minutes or so, James White is an oppressive experience. In its first quarter, nearly every shot of Josh Mond’s feature directorial debut is a close-up or closer, with just a couple medium shots sprinkled in here and there, and in most of them, it’s Christopher Abbott’s bleary visage that dominates the frame. Abbott stars as the titular James, a guy whose shitty run of luck is matched only by his self-destructive impulses. His estranged dad has just died, and when he’s not forcibly ejecting guests out of his mother’s (Cynthia Nixon) Upper West Side apartment during

The Honeymoon Killers Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Striking Portrait of Isolation

A one-and-done feature from Leonard Kastle, The Honeymoon Killers subverts expectations of exploitation.
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The only film ever directed by opera composer Leonard Kastle, The Honeymoon Killers wears its influences on its sleeve, but never feels derivative or carbon-copied. The story, based on the real-life “lonely heart” killings by Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, is pure exploitation fodder, and while Kastle’s film acknowledges the luridness, it also dabbles in kitchen-sink realism and rhythms of alienation that recall some of the French New Wave. Kastle doesn’t gawk at his twisted subjects, instead opting to make their social and romantic hopelessness deeply felt. The Honeymoon Killers also might have the best backstory of a “one-and-done” filmmaking

Yellowbeard Blu-ray Review: A Brutal and Brutally Unfunny Pirate

Half of Monty Python, a gaggle of Mel Brooks regulars, and James Mason waste their time and ours.
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As is the case with a number of cinematic failures, the production history of Yellowbeard is far more interesting than anything that actually made it to the screen. Star and cowriter Graham Chapman’s behind-the-scenes book has the details — among them, the film was partially financed by The Who’s Keith Moon and featured aborted involvement from Adam Ant and an unused soundtrack from Harry Nilsson. These may not seem like scintillating revelations, but compared to the film — well, let’s just say an oral history from Adam Ant on all the roles he didn’t play would probably be a better

Here is Your Life Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Engrossing and Enervating Debut

The first feature film from Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell has its visual merits, but it's bogged down by a leaden narrative.
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A film that’s both engrossing and enervating at turns, Here is Your Life kicked off the feature-film career of Swedish director Jan Troell, an art house sensation in the ’70s with breakthrough duo The Emigrants and The New Land. The multi-talented Troell directed, shot, edited, and co-wrote the screenplay for Here is Your Life, based on one of a series of semi-autobiographical novels by Eyvind Johnson, and though Troell’s camerawork and editing are often inventive, the film never really breaks free from its novelistic shackles. After his father falls ill, teenager Olof (Eddie Axberg) is forced to leave his sickness-ridden

The Pillow Book Blu-ray Review: Peter Greenaway's Idiosyncratic Collage

Eroticism and revenge mingle as aspect ratios shift.
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Peter Greenaway’s 1996 film The Pillow Book is alternately a sensual exploration of memory and a hot-blooded revenge fantasy, but it never fully embraces either, its eroticism often aloof and its violence almost completely suggestive. No one should expect otherwise from the idiosyncratic British director, who indulges his love for stagy compositions and florid production design while only half-committing to a traditional narrative, the film’s tableau-like scenes functioning more as standalone setpieces than components of a fluid story. Greenaway trains the viewer to expect this by plunging almost immediately into a dense collage of images — academy frames, widescreen frames,

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

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

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

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

A Chorus Line Blu-ray Review: A Pale Imitation of the Stage Show ... and of a Passable Movie

A successful film adaptation of "A Chorus Line" was possible. This is not that film.
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The Film A Chorus Line isn’t merely a terrible adaptation; it’s a downright awful movie regardless of its source material’s pedigree. The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1975 stage musical can be clunky and over-earnest in parts, but mostly, it’s a moving look at the compulsion to be an artist. Made a decade later, the movie jettisons most of that art mumbo-jumbo in favor of pumping up a breathless romantic subplot and subs out some of the musical’s most charming songs for a couple of atrocious synthy numbers. Director Richard Attenborough, that frequently acknowledged titan of musical theater, shoots the film’s numbers with

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

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

Carmen Jones Blu-Ray Review: Dorothy Dandridge Sizzles Even if Otto Preminger Doesn't

The first of Otto Preminger's all-black musicals is a little staid, but the lead performance is superb.
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The Film The great, cantankerous, Austrian-American auteur Otto Preminger doesn’t seem like the likeliest candidate to have helmed a film adaptation of an all-black stage musical, but he actually did it more than once, first in 1954 with Carmen Jones and again in 1959 with Porgy and Bess. Rights issues have rendered Porgy and Bess virtually unavailable, but Carmen Jones has just received the Blu-ray treatment from Fox. Watching the film, it’s readily apparent that the musical was not a genre that Preminger had a great touch for, but his social awareness and disregard for controversy were certainly instrumental in

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

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

3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: On the Verge of a New Cinematic World

One of the most fruitful collaborations in cinema is enshrined in Criterion's outstanding box set.
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The FilmsThough their collaborations were largely overshadowed by the scandal of their romance, Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman proved to be fruitful cinematic partners as well, their films together pushing Rossellini into new stylistic territory and giving Bergman some of her most fully realized roles. In the three features included in the latest invaluable Criterion box set, Rossellini is consciously moving away from the neorealism of films like Rome Open City and Paisan (the very films that inspired Bergman to reach out to him, and available in another superb box from Criterion) to a more individually focused, more emotionally internal

A Letter to Three Wives Blu-ray Review: A Bit of a Trifle, but an Enjoyable Trifle

A mildly clever conceit, a capable cast and sure-handed direction make A Letter to Three Wives a genial experience.
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The FilmA mildly clever conceit, a very capable cast and the sure-handed direction of Joseph L. Mankiewicz make A Letter to Three Wives a genial experience, even if the script, an adaptation of John Klempner’s Cosmopolitan Magazine novel, is neither all that trenchant in its depiction of marital strife or urgent in its narrative of possible domestic betrayal. The film doesn’t set out to be a trifle, but it kind of feels like one; only a handful of scenes in this crisscrossing flashback marathon possess that much staying power. Starring Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern and Linda Darnell as good friends

Slacker Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Formally Fascinating, Warmly Hilarious Film

Don't be so apathetic. Get this Blu-ray.
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The FilmRichard Linklater’s Slacker is a film that sounds like a doodle on paper, a fun little experiment from the burgeoning American independent cinema movement in the early ’90s, but the sophomore feature from one of modern film’s unsung chameleons is surprisingly robust, both stylistically and thematically. The concept sounds like the ultimate shaggy dog story — a series of vignettes about mostly twenty-something Austin residents, most of them overeducated and apathetic. The camera doesn’t stay with any one character much longer than five minutes, shifting to someone new when his or her path crosses with the previous focal point.

Me and My Gal DVD Review: A Pre-Code Delight from Raoul Walsh

The film is fantastic; the disc? Well, let's be grateful for what we got, I guess.
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Oh boy, it’s another mixed blessing from the burn-on-demand department, that simultaneous lifter and dasher of cinephile hopes and dreams. I suppose we should be glad Raoul Walsh’s delightful little pre-code cracker Me and My Gal has finally received a DVD(-R) release courtesy of the folks at Fox Cinema Archives, but you can go ahead and add this to the pile of films that deserve a whole lot better than a burned disc and a middling, dusty old transfer. The ever-versatile Walsh would go on to make some of the most accomplished gangster films ever in The Roaring Twenties and

To the Wonder Blu-ray Review: Another Malick Masterwork

Despite what some have said, this is hardly the same old bag of tricks rehashed or a filmmaker devolving into self-parody.
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The Film Terrence Malick’s second film in three years hasn’t been met with quite as much enthusiasm as its predecessor, The Tree of Life, and I fear we’re getting spoiled by this current bout of prolificacy from the filmmaker, who once let two decades pass before making another film. To the Wonder is in a number of ways stylistically similar to The Tree of Life, employing intuitive editing that’s even less bound by narrative structure and amping up the roving, twirling camera so that there’s barely a static shot in the whole film. Malick’s casual naysayers will find plenty of

Niagara (1953) Blu-ray Review: A Decidedly Different Marilyn

At its best, the film is a lurid noir starring Monroe in an unlikely role.
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The FilmIt sometimes seems like director Henry Hathaway wasn’t sure if Niagara was a lugubrious melodrama or a white-knuckle thriller, but the film is at its best when it hints toward a third option: a lurid, blazingly bright film noir starring Marilyn Monroe in perhaps her unlikeliest role ever — a sexually supercharged femme fatale. We’re used to seeing Monroe play flouncy, breathy dimwits, either oblivious to her own sexuality or using it to casually manipulate men. Here, her sexual agency can be downright terrifying, and even though the film eventually undercuts her and its own noirish tendencies, there’s enough

The Life of Oharu Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Mizoguchi's Breakthrough Masterpiece

The Life of Oharu is devastating and gorgeous.
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The FilmThe film that made Kenji Mizoguchi an international sensation and the first in a string of masterpieces that includes Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff, The Life of Oharu is a relentless tale of downward mobility. Mizoguchi often focused on the trials of women in his films, and there’s little but trial for Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka), once an imperial lady-in-waiting in 17th Century Japan, but reduced to a prostitute by the start of the film, attempting to shroud herself in shadow and makeup to obscure her age. Told mostly in flashback, the film chronicles every fall from grace with an

Things to Come Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Overly Didactic Technical Marvel

A sometimes prescient and sometimes naïve examination of the future
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The Film An impressive technical achievement, even if its didacticism threatens to overwhelm all other elements, H.G. Wells’ Things to Come is a sometimes prescient and sometimes naïve examination of the future. Produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies, the film is arguably primarily authored by Wells, who wrote the screenplay based on several of his works, including the novel The Shape of Things to Come. No fan of Metropolis, Wells apparently instructed the production crew to fashion a vision of the future that was the exact opposite of the “robot workers” and “ultra-skyscrapers” of Lang’s film,

Masaki Kobayashi Against The System DVD Review: Angry & Elegant Political Films

Early films from the director of Harakiri reveal a rancorous, politically minded filmmaker.
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Known for his exemplary samurai film Harakiri and three-part World War II humanist epic The Human Condition, Masaki Kobayashi wasn’t afraid to criticize the cultural values of his country, whether medieval notions of honor or more contemporary militarism. In the four films included in the Criterion Collection’s 38th Eclipse set, Kobayashi’s rancorous tendencies are laser-focused on a host of postwar moral turpitude, both small- and large-scale. These three early works and one from Kobayashi’s prime are angry yet elegant, politically charged but not overtly polemical. Leading off the set is Kobayashi’s first major film, The Thick-Walled Room, shot in 1953
The Film The last of Laurence Olivier’s three Shakespeare adaptations, Richard III is unquestionably one of the great Shakespeare films, but its stature might be even more pronounced as one of the great Technicolor films. To call every VistaVision frame of the film ravishing isn’t anywhere near hyperbole — the brilliant colors and sumptuous set design propel the film past mere “staginess” into an overtly artificial baroque fantasy-land that makes the treachery of the lead character all the more unsettling. A hard shift into location shooting for the film’s final segment creates a striking contrast between Richard’s thirst for power

The Kid with a Bike Blu-ray Review: Another Major Work from the Dardennes

Here's a reminder to be grateful for the consistently excellent films of the Dardenne Brothers.
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The Film It's time for yet another reminder to be grateful for the Dardennes, those Belgian masters of unmatched cinematic humanism. Brothers Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne haven't faltered since their 1996 breakout La promesse, and now, it seems like they might be suffering a little from the curse of consistent excellence. People expect the Dardennes to deliver moving, emotionally honest, and socially conscious films about people in crisis, and when they make a note-perfect film about their pet themes like The Kid with a Bike, almost everybody shrugs. But even if The Kid with a Bike seemed to be forgotten

Photographic Memory DVD Review: An Intriguing Essay on Images and Memory

Ross McElwee's fractured, introspective documentary is often appealingly beguiling.
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Documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee has built a well-regarded career on introspection, and it's no different with his latest, Photographic Memory, a diary film that features McElwee's attempts to understand his sullen twentysomething son, Adrian. Like in previous McElwee films, the thesis of Photographic Memory is fractured, sending the film's concerns in seemingly opposing directions. In hopes of better understanding Adrian, McElwee travels to the small French village of St. Quay-Portrieux, where he spent some of his similarly formative years, but there, his attention is refocused on several key figures in his past. Photographic Memory could be an immensely frustrating film

The Insider Blu-ray Review: An Engrossing, Troubling Thriller

Michael Mann is firing on all cylinders in his indictment of corporatization.
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The Film An exceptionally engrossing thriller and a chest-beating indictment of corporatization, Michael Mann's The Insider features the filmmaker firing on all cylinders. Mann's a maximalist; he scarcely lets a scene pass without underscoring its deep, weighty importance whether through imperious music cues, dramatic compositions or slick, polished lighting. But it ends up being a perfect fit for the material; Mann mythologizes the real-life story of corporate intrigue and journalistic frustration without crushing its delicate nuances. That he does so with such a seemingly effortless touch is no small feat. Based on Jeffrey Wigand's whistleblowing on tobacco company Brown &

Pina Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Striking Elegy for an Artistic Giant

Wim Wenders' tribute to modern dance legend Pina Bausch is gorgeous and moving.
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The Film Wim Wenders' gorgeous and touching tribute to modern dance pioneer Pina Bausch is a film birthed out of tragedy. Shortly before Wenders was set to begin production on a documentary about Bausch and her company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, she died unexpectedly. Proceeding with the film, Wenders made something that is far more visceral than the average documentary -- it testifies to Bausch's immense talent by featuring her dancers and friends performing her works, which are alternately gut-wrenching, whimsical and joyous. It's a perfect elegy, encapsulating all the confusing and conflicting emotions that accompany the death of a loved one

Cosmopolis Blu-ray Review: Cronenberg and DeLillo are a Perfect Match

David Cronenberg's adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel is no inert literary exercise.
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The Film Another triumph for David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis sees the director further extending the definition of a “Cronenberg movie” with a dread-entrenched, terribly funny, impossibly slick adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel. Those who only saw a staid, costumed period piece in A Dangerous Method might also mistake Cosmopolis for an inert literary adaptation, but both find Cronenberg working well within his wheelhouse — there’s not just body paranoia in Cosmopolis, but existential and spiritual displacement as well, filtered through the cascading collapse of capitalism. To be sure, Cosmopolis is often relentlessly literary, with large swaths of dialogue taken directly from

This is Not a Film Movie Review: Maybe Not a Film, But a Masterpiece Nonetheless

Under house arrest in Iran, Jafar Panahi made a defiant, playful, heart-rending piece of protest cinema — and much more.
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Jafar Panahi’s defiant, playful, mundane, formally adventurous and consistently surprising This is Not a Film is one of the greatest things I’ve seen this year, whether you want to call it a film or not. I’m delighted it’s been shortlisted for the best documentary Academy Award, even if calling it a documentary doesn’t seem quite right either. Like Panahi’s previous films and those of mentor Abbas Kiarostami, This is Not a Film obliquely explores political ramifications through commonplaces, all the while questioning the power of a cinematic image and dancing on the line between reality and fiction. Yes, it’s a

Jackie Brown Movie Review: Yes, This is Quentin Tarantino's Best Movie

Despite its often little-loved status, Jackie Brown is the standout among all Tarantino films.
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A new Quentin Tarantino movie is generally a cause for excitement, even if the filmmaker is often his own worst enemy, overdoing it on the snark or the violence or another of his numerous self-indulgences. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy the vast majority of Tarantino's work, and I do believe his hip, hyper and referential aesthetic has been a bracing addition to American cinema, no matter how many bad Pulp Fiction imitations he's spawned. And once, he made a pretty much perfect movie, and its name is Jackie Brown. Less flashy and instantly quotable than its predecessors (and

Sound of My Voice Blu-ray Review: A Taut, Controlled Thriller

Brit Marling demands your attention in this transfixing suspense film about a basement cult.
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The Film An impressively controlled and thoroughly transfixing thriller, Sound of My Voice is a film where almost nothing is wasted — no gesture goes unnoticed and only a handful of scenes featuring a federal agent feel superfluous. Clocking in at less than 90 minutes, this is a taut piece of low-budget filmmaking, more focused and ultimately more satisfying than Another Earth, last year’s lo-fi sci-fi starring and co-written by Brit Marling, who also co-stars in and co-wrote Sound of My Voice. Zal Batmanglij directs this time around as opposed to Mike Cahill, but there are unmistakable visual and thematic

Quantum of Solace Movie Review: A Rebooted James Bond Takes Two Steps Backward

After the game-changing Casino Royale, Marc Forster fell back on tired old tropes in Quantum of Solace.
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The second Daniel Craig Bond film is a good reminder that despite a new actor, new visual aesthetic, and new conception of a signature character, it's tough in Hollywood to avoid falling back on hidebound old tropes -- something the James Bond franchise has been guilty of once or twice. After the three steps forward of series reboot Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is two steps backward -- steps so far backward that in some ways, Quantum actually resembles Die Another Day (a convincing catalyst for that reboot) more than it does Casino Royale. Visually, of course, that's not

Eating Raoul Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Equal Parts High Camp and Urbane Comedy of Manners

Paul Bartel's little-known 1982 film is a truly unique comedy.
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The Film A delightful black comedy that’s equal parts high camp and urbane comedy of manners, Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul is a little-known jewel of the burgeoning American independent film movement. A protégé of the Roger Corman school of quick-and-dirty filmmaking, Bartel shot the film in pieces over the course of a year, adding new scenes whenever he had money to shoot. $500,000 and a priceless amount of inspiration later, Eating Raoul emerged. Bartel and Mary Woronov star as Paul and Mary Bland, a milquetoast married couple who lives up to their surname. Paul has recently lost his job at

Die Another Day Movie Review: The Epitome of 007's Descent into Dumb Action Tropes

Pierce Brosnan's final outing as Bond makes it clear why the franchise desperately needed a reboot.
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The final outing for Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, Die Another Day doesn't seem totally execrable -- but that might be mostly due to the severely lowered expectations fostered by the previous three Brosnan entries. All right, GoldenEye is OK, but I doubt it would be remembered nearly as fondly (or much at all) if it weren't for its accompanying video game, which was unquestionably a lot more fun. Brosnan certainly looked the part, infusing the character with equal parts aloof coolness and suave charm, but there's something intangible missing from the character in all of his entries. That

Holy Flying Circus Blu-ray Review: A Docudrama in the Style of Monty Python

While it doesn't approach the inspired lunacy of the Pythons, this fitfully successful film is still worth a look.
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The Film A wildly inconsistent but generally enjoyable docudrama about the controversy surrounding Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Holy Flying Circus overcomes its schizophrenia by embracing it wholeheartedly. Originally aired on BBC4 in 2011, this thing is a hodgepodge of faithful fictionalization, meta asides, surreal interjections, impressions of varying quality and irreverent humor. In other words, it’s like a docudrama as produced by the Pythons themselves, even if writer Tony Roche can’t really hold a candle to the Pythons’ brand of inspired lunacy and never achieves the blistering specificity of the satire of In the Loop, which he co-wrote. In

Diplomatic Courier DVD Review: A Sturdy, if Unremarkable Cold War Thriller

Henry Hathaway's post-WWII suspense film isn't particularly memorable, but it generally gets the job done.
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It’s not particularly stylish and there’s little subtext to Henry Hathaway’s 1952 Cold War espionage drama Diplomatic Courier, but it gets the job done as a sturdy, engaging tale of crisscrossed loyalties and post-WWII mistrust. Nearly everything about the film is on the nose — characters frequently spell out their motivations with explicit detail and the various twists and turns are both telegraphed ahead of time and explicated in follow-up scenes to ensure the audience’s complete understanding. Nonetheless, Diplomatic Courier is solid B-entertainment with a capable cast, and the Fox Cinema Archives burn-on-demand disc gives it a respectable Region 1

Weekend (2011) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Moving, Deceptively Complex Film

I didn't think much of Andrew Haigh's film when I first saw it, but I'm glad I gave it a second look.
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The Film When I first saw Andrew Haigh’s Weekend last year during a blitz of awards-season catch-up, I appreciated its charms but mostly dismissed it as a minor, fleeting work. It was accomplished, well-acted and beautifully photographed, but not what I’d call especially meaningful. I’m glad I got a chance to revisit, courtesy of the Criterion Collection’s very nice Blu-ray, because Weekend is hardly insubstantial fare at all, though its ostensible goals may be modest and its timeframe short. Anchoring the film are two exceptional performances from two relative unknowns, Tom Cullen and Chris New, who star as a pair

Glee The Complete Third Season Blu-ray Review: Lower Your Expectations and Enjoy

While Glee will never be quality television, I found myself enjoying season three more than I had any right to.
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The Show Severely lowered expectations are a major boon to the third season of Glee, a show I’ve long given up on being anything approaching “good.” Revisiting the pilot recently, I was struck by how much potential — satirically, stylistically and to a lesser extent, narratively — the show hinted at in its early days. But now, with the uneven totality of the first season and the truly atrocious second season having demolished those good vibes, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed season three — and not only for trainwreck can’t-look-away reasons either! Let’s be clear: Glee is

La Promesse Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Stunning Breakout from the Dardenne Brothers

The Dardennes' 1996 tale of a boy's moral struggle with his father's illegal-immigration ring is captivating.
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The Film The cinematic worlds of Belgian filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are raw and unadorned, filled with broken people making morally dubious (or worse) decisions. Life tends to be hard. And yet, the Dardennes are not cynics, no matter how ugly the situations they plunge their characters into. Beneath the grime and decay, the ambivalence and ennui, is a genuine compassion and empathy that make the Dardennes some of the great humanist filmmakers. These qualities arrive fully formed in La Promesse, the brothers’ breakout 1996 feature that followed a documentary career and several fiction films. Like much of the

Kidnapped (1938) DVD Review: An Engaging if Forgettable Adventure Film

One of many adaptations of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, this version of Kidnapped is a sturdy adventure tale.
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One of a plethora of film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel of the same name, 1938’s Kidnapped is a sturdy albeit heavily condensed tale of betrayal and loyalty in 18th Century Scotland. Truthfully, the behind-the-scenes goings-on are probably of more interest than the film itself, which is little more than matinee adventure ephemera — the film was initially directed by the great Otto Preminger, but his independent streak didn’t sit well with studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who fired Preminger partway through and replaced him with Alfred Werker. Preminger’s connection with the film probably isn’t enough to warrant a

Lisztomania DVD Review: An Outrageous Biopic from Ken Russell

You may not learn much about Franz Liszt from Russell's defiantly excessive film, but it's a must-see anyway.
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One of the least conventional biopics ever made, Ken Russell’s delirious, hilarious, utterly batshit insane Lisztomania revels in excess like no other Russell work I’ve seen. Those put off by the historical inaccuracies and extensive creative license in Russell’s Tchaikovsky biopic The Music Lovers from five years earlier will likely have their heads exploded by Lisztomania, which doesn’t even bother with the pretense of historicity. Starring The Who frontman Roger Daltrey (also the lead in Russell’s adaptation of Tommy, released the same year) as composer Franz Liszt, Lisztomania is a messy, completely episodic film that vaults from one gleefully vulgar

Way of a Gaucho DVD Review: An Atmospheric, Unconventional Western that Deserves Better

Jacques Tourneur's beautiful 1952 Technicolor western is granted a problematic transfer from Fox Cinema Archives.
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Studio made-on-demand programs like the Warner Archive and MGM’s Limited Edition Collection have been something of a mixed bag for cinephiles — one on hand, it’s allowed a significant number of obscure and/or uncommercial films to get a release they likely wouldn’t have otherwise; on the other hand, it’s offered a dumping ground for studios to shunt a lot of deserving titles into unceremoniously, with hefty price tags and underwhelming transfers as a bonus. Following Warner, MGM, and Sony is Twentieth Century Fox, who’s jumped into the MOD game with their own line, Fox Cinema Archives. Included in the first

The Last Days of Disco Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Witty Look at the End of an Era

Whit Stillman's hilarious, perceptive film offers a genuine look at the bygone past.
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The Film There’s not a hint of irony in Whit Stillman’s 1998 film The Last Days of Disco despite there being plenty of opportunity for it. In Stillman’s cinematic world of the very early ’80s, a band of young, educated Manhattanites are still caught up in disco’s sway, unaware of its imminent expiration, but that isn’t treated as a retrospective character flaw or an opportunity for knowing period-piece mocking of any sort. The characters here are drawn with absolute sincerity, and though Stillman’s trademark mannered dialogue is anything but naturalistic, the film’s refusal to caricature makes it feel immediate and

Chariots of Fire Blu-ray Review: A Fine Presentation for an Overrated Film

The 1981 Best Picture winner isn't an all-time classic, but it remains a worthwhile film.
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The Film Eminently respectable but not exactly cinematically sound, Chariots of Fire is a film whose merits have been considered suspect ever since its 1981 Best Picture win. Arguments that it’s a shoddily made piece of middlebrow inspirational pap aren’t wholly misguided — director Hugh Hudson’s pacing is stilted and his camera rarely captures a sense of kinetic physicality like it ought to — but the film isn’t totally without merit. Colin Welland’s multilayered script uses an awkward framing device, but performs a capable job of developing the crosscutting stories of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams in distinct but thematically

Singin' in the Rain: 60th Anniversary Edition is the Pick of the Week

One of the greatest American musicals ever made gets a Blu-ray release, and it's not the only Hollywood classic to get a high-def upgrade this week.
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Far and away the most popular American film musical ever made, Singin' in the Rain lives up to its reputation. It may not be the greatest musical in the canon -- as far as this humble opinion goes, that would be another Comden and Green joint, Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon -- but I'm afraid you better not bother with the genre if Singin' doesn't get to you. There's Gene Kelly's infectious performance as fading silent film star Don Lockwood, Donald O'Connor's breathtaking physicality as accompanist Cosmo Brown, Debbie Reynolds's sweet optimism as aspiring actress Kathy Selden, the gorgeous Technicolor,

The Outside Man (1972) DVD Review: A Contemplative Mob Thriller

French and American cinematic sensibilities come together in this enjoyable crime film.
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An enjoyable conflation of French gangster cool a la Melville and reinvented 1970s American noir, the little-known The Outside Man offers up a languid take on mafia hits and gun-toting car chases. There’s little that can ruffle the nonchalance of French hit man Lucien Bellon (Jean-Louis Trintignant), even as his mission to kill a prominent Los Angeles mobster goes to shit in the first few minutes of the film. Director Jacques Deray opts for an unfailingly deliberate pace and drops us right into the action without a bunch of background exposition. For the most part, the storytelling strategy works, offering

Gray's Anatomy & And Everything is Going Fine Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Spalding Gray and Steven Soderbergh Double Feature

Criterion releases two films offering divergent perspectives on the late monologist.
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The extraordinarily talented monologist Spalding Gray gets a pair of releases from the Criterion Collection this month. Both films are directed by the ever-eclectic Steven Soderbergh, and offer a pair of divergent perspectives on the man, whose razor-sharp wit, ironic view of the world, and remarkable storytelling skills are on full display in both. Gray, who is believed to have committed suicide in 2004, had a knack for trenchant social observation filtered through a deeply personal, almost stream-of-consciousness structure, and the effect is captivating. First up is 1996’s Gray’s Anatomy, a filmed version of Gray’s 1993 monologue about his struggles

Frank Sinatra Film Collection DVD Review: Ol' Blue Eyes at His Most Mediocre

It's a good value for the money, but this repackaging of 10 previously released DVDs is fairly underwhelming.
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Despite the fact he’ll always be more famous as a singer than an actor, Frank Sinatra often excelled on the silver screen. Given the right project and the right director, Sinatra’s limited range could stretch, and he could deliver vital performances, both comedic and dramatic. Perhaps it’s no surprise many of his best films were helmed by strong auteurs with a distinctive vision — Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running, Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s On the Town. Unfortunately for this new 20th Century Fox 10-film repackaging of Sinatra’s work, all of those

La haine Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Seething Portrait of a Vicious Cycle

Mathieu Kassovitz offers up no easy answers in his compelling, unsettling 1995 film.
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The Film Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 triumph La haine doesn’t pull any punches — it’s right there in the title, which literally translates to Hate. That's an inflammatory moniker, but Kassovitz means it. The film’s social ills aren’t ascribed to misunderstanding or miscommunication; rather, there’s a seething anger that pulses through every frame. The result is a work with a solitary focus — a focus that doesn’t attempt to answer sociological questions, but dislodge and shove them into our faces with unsettling force. Set in the projects on the outskirts of Paris, where police violence and murdered immigrants were the norm,

The Innkeepers Blu-ray Review: A Carefully Crafted Genre Exercise

Indie horror filmmaker Ti West's latest has much to admire, but ultimately feels like a formal exercise.
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The Film One thing’s for sure about indie horror filmmaker Ti West — he’s a superb craftsman with an astute compositional eye. Every frame of his latest film, The Innkeepers, feels carefully assembled, and the way his camera glides and tracks through its environments creates a sense of visual poetry often unseen in modern slashers. There’s one thing I’m not sure about though — whether West has much esteem for the genre he’s working in. Like previous cult fave House of the Devil, which put a spin on the babysitter-in-peril trope, The Innkeepers mines shopworn scenarios and characters and plunks

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Essential Collection of Avant-Garde Treasures

Criterion goes for broke in this thorough and fascinating collection of 24 films from the experimental artist.
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The Films There isn’t much experimental film represented within the Criterion Collection library, but when the good folks there do decide to highlight an avant-garde filmmaker, they go for broke. Following up 2010’s sterling three-disc Blu-ray set featuring the films of Stan Brakhage, Criterion offers up A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, a varied collection of 24 films Frampton made from 1966 to 1979. This is probably an even more audacious release than the Brakhage collection — Frampton’s films often aren’t as immediate or visually breathtaking as the hand-painted, hand-scratched kaleidoscopes of color seen in a number of Brakhage works. They can

Saving Grace (1986) DVD Review: An Unsentimental Look at True Religion

Robert M. Young's gently comedic drama about a reluctant pope avoids the pitfalls of many "inspirational" films.
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A gently comedic drama about finding religious fulfillment in action rather than ceremony, the little-seen 1986 film Saving Grace is testament to the intelligence of director Robert M. Young. There are a number of elements here that could easily push the film into territory too melodramatic or too artificial — there’s a glowering villain who holds sway over an entire village, a budding romance between a celibate man of the cloth and his beautiful landlady, the death of a child in a pivotal moment of action — but Young knows when to pull back, introducing these story threads without feeling

Domain (2009) DVD Review: A Magnetic Lead Performance Saves a Muddled Script

Béatrice Dalle's unraveling performance is the centerpiece of Patric Chiha's 2009 film.
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Béatrice Dalle’s extraordinary ability to sensually descend into madness will be forever enshrined in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue, a film that wouldn’t have one-tenth the magnetic pull without her. Dalle’s performance is similarly the centerpiece of Patric Chiha’s Domain, a moody, uneven relationship study — and the similarities don’t end there. The film revolves around the relationship of Dalle’s Nadia, a brilliant but unstable mathematician, and her 17-year-old nephew Pierre (a nicely natural Isaïe Sultan). Pierre is just beginning to embrace his homosexuality, and his increasingly devoted relationship to Nadia never dips into overtly inappropriate territory. But the incestuous intimations

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Blu-ray Review: Both Extremely and Incredibly Shameless

Stephen Daldry's maudlin sensibility meets Jonathan Safran Foer's irrepressible preciousness.
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The Film I’m not sure if it’s the nauseating amount of precious quirk or the hammering lack of subtlety that’s to blame for the agony that is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, 2011’s black sheep of the Best Picture contest. Taken on their own, either one would probably be enough to torpedo the most well-intentioned of movies; combined together here, they’re an unstoppable force of shamelessness. With a script by Eric Roth based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel of the same name (not terribly well-received, but it’s hard to imagine it’s worse than the film), Extremely Loud & Incredibly

David Lean Directs Noel Coward Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Four Distinctly British Films From a Fruitful Partnership

David Lean's first four films are presented here in glorious Blu-ray editions sourced from the 2008 BFI restorations.
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Before his name became synonymous with the widescreen epic, David Lean began his directorial career working closely with playwright Noël Coward to create a series of distinctly British films about ordinary people surrounded by or recovering from war. Collected in a fantastic box set by the Criterion Collection, these four films feature stunning transfers created by using the BFI’s 2008 restorations and showcase Lean’s deft ability to pair striking images with Coward’s sparkling wit. The films included are: In Which We Serve (1942)Before becoming a director, Lean worked primarily in the film business as an editor, and just before helming

The Sitter Blu-ray Review: A Formless Mass of Unfunny

David Gordon Green's career takes another tumble with this aggressively half-assed Jonah Hill vehicle.
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The Film With every new David Gordon Green film, there’s generally a round of bewildered bemoaning about the transformation of the Malick-like auteur behind films like George Washington into a purveyor of broad, boneheaded comedy. Frankly, I think it’s time to give up the ghost on the career path we anticipated a decade ago — Green seems satisfied making mainstream comedies and who are we to hold it against him? But even with the diminished expectations that generally accompany the work of latter-day Green, The Sitter is pretty fucking terrible. A shapeless mass of tossed-off crudeness and unearned sentiment, the

Conversation Piece DVD Review: A Probing Penultimate Film from an Italian Master

Luchino Visconti re-teams with Burt Lancaster for an excellent character-driven chamber piece.
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Luchino Visconti’s second-to-last film, Conversation Piece (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno) is a sure-handed, character-driven chamber drama that may not reach the sumptuous, melodramatic heights of Visconti’s best-known work, but certainly comes from the hand of the same probing filmmaker. At the film’s center is Burt Lancaster, playing a wealthy, retired, unnamed professor cloistered in his massive Roman palace, surrounded by art and books. A decade after playing the aristocrat in Visconti’s The Leopard, Lancaster here is a man whose life has nearly been mummified — we never see him leave the palace, his memories of his late wife

Sinful Davey DVD Review: Pleasant But Hardly Memorable Adventure Comedy

John Huston's 1969 obscurity features John Hurt in his first leading role.
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By no means the worst John Huston picture you’ll ever see, but certainly nowhere near his top tier of work, 1969’s Sinful Davey is an intermittently amusing adventure comedy that never coalesces into anything truly memorable. Reportedly altered without Huston’s input after poor testing, the film doesn’t seem to possess the raw materials for a much better work anyway. Its greatest asset is a game John Hurt, starring here in his first leading role as Davey Haggart, a Scotsman desperate to live up to legacy of his highwayman father — or at least, the man he assumes is his father;

The Visitor (1963) DVD Review: A Nuanced Look at Romance

Raro Video releases another from the overlooked Antonio Pietrangeli, although the transfer leaves something to be desired.
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An increasingly nuanced and complex portrayal of the things we do for security and love, Antonio Pietrangeli’s The Visitor (La Visita) is a small masterwork. Following up their superb release of Pietrangeli’s Adua and Her Friends, Raro Video presents another solid DVD from this criminally little known Italian filmmaker. Unfortunately, a non-anamorphic transfer makes it a little harder to recommend this disc. The film opens with government employee Pina (Sandra Milo) meeting bookstore clerk Adolfo (François Périer) at the train station in her small provincial town. The film sketches out a few bare details — this is their first meeting;

3 DVD Review: A Playful Menage a Trois

Director Tom Tykwer follows up the deadly dull The International with a coolly ironic take on modern relationships.
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After one entirely dull, far too self-serious attempt at a big-budget Hollywood crossover in The International, it's nice to see German director Tom Tykwer follow up with a more idiosyncratic vision. That would be 3, a not entirely successful but nonetheless wholly engaging film about a couple at a crossroads, and the man who enters their individual lives independently. Perhaps Tykwer's greatest asset here is his sense of playfulness -- despite its metaphysical and philosophical underpinnings, 3 isn't weighed down by metaphor, even though it engages in a good deal of it. Tykwer's best-loved film, Run Lola Run, is immensely

Bullhead Movie Review: Oscar-Nominated Drama as Meat-Headed as Its Protagonist

An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Bullhead possesses a crippling lack of insight into its steroid-addled protagonist.
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After spending its first act setting up a rote narcotics syndicate narrative -- freshened ever so slightly by cattle hormones acting as the illicit product -- Michael R. Roskam's Bullhead takes a turn for the intimate. Abandoning the finer details of its cop-killing conspiracy plot, the film homes in on the inner life of hulking Belgian cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) and seems to promise some grand insight into his steroid-addled, belligerent character. Roskam would've been better off sticking to clichéd drug plotting. Bullhead, nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, takes a turn toward the unbearable with

Special Treatment DVD Review: Prostitution and Psychotherapy Overlap in Underwhelming Film

Strong performances, including a turn by the great Isabelle Huppert, make the film worthwhile, but its script lets the actors down.
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There's a promising movie in the middle of Special Treatment, a low-key comic drama that's at turns too programmatic in the beginning and too muddled in the end. Lead turns from the brilliant Isabelle Huppert and a very good Bouli Lanners tend to be the saving grace during the underwhelming spots; unsurprisingly, the film's at its best when the two are onscreen together. Huppert stars as Alice Bergerac, a high-class Parisian prostitute willing to cater to her client's individual needs, whether that be a rote schoolgirl fantasy, buttoned-up housewife domination, S&M, or simple elegance. She requires a 10-session commitment, payment

The Bed Sitting Room DVD Review: Post-Nuclear British Satire Hits the Mark

Richard Lester's adaptation of the Spike Milligan and John Antrobus play is a sharp piece of surrealism.
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An absurdist minor masterpiece, Richard Lester's The Bed Sitting Room in many ways follows in the same vein as Lester's How I Won the War from two years earlier. How I Won the War has an undeniably higher profile, mostly due to the presence of John Lennon in a non-Beatles role, but The Bed Sitting Room has a far sharper command of the non sequitur. How I Won the War's inanity turns tedious quickly, but The Bed Sitting Room is a bright, coherent piece of filmmaking, even if its characters are anything but. It certainly doesn't hurt that Lester is

2012 Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Short Films Review: A Mixed Bag of Nominees

Time travel humor, estranged friends, and adoption struggles are among the subjects of the 2012 Oscar-nominated live-action short films.
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Before the 84th Academy Awards take place on Feb. 26, you still have time to catch up with some of the lesser-known nominees, including the short films. Beginning Feb. 10, ShortsHD will be screening the Oscar-nominated animated shorts, documentary shorts and live-action shorts in separate programs at more than 200 theaters across the country. While the live action category isn't quite as strong as the animated line-up, there are worthwhile entries from veterans and independents alike. The five nominees are: Pentecost by Peter McDonald and Eimear O'KaneA football-loving Irish lad (Scott Graham) may be separated from his true passion after

2012 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films Review: Five Strong Nominees Vie for Gold

A pair of beautiful and idiosyncratic Canadian films, one ode to books and one to tall tales, and Pixar's latest compete.
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No matter how much of an Oscar completist you are, by the time February rolls around, it's usually the short films that remain on most people's to-see list. Fortunately, ShortsHD has made it much easier to catch all the nominees in one place since 2006, by screening them together in theaters around the country. Over 200 theaters will feature animated shorts, live-action shorts, and documentary shorts in separate programs beginning Feb. 10. Now the hardest part of Oscar preparation is deciding whether it's worth it to watch Madonna's new movie to round out your costume design obligation. This year, the

Halls of Anger DVD Review: Turgid Race Drama Enlivened by the Performances

Despite featuring a muddled stew of ideas on race relations, performances from Calvin Lockhart and a young Jeff Bridges elevate the material.
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A racial drama lacking the stylistic bravado to match its potentially incendiary subject matter, Halls of Anger retains any kind of profile these days for the early appearance of a pre-Last Picture Show Jeff Bridges. Bridges' quietly intense performance is a clear bellwether of things to come, but he's not the only one to show great potential. Lead star Calvin Lockhart pulls off a nice balancing act as Quincy Davis, an ex-basketball player and dedicated educator tasked with keeping order as the vice principal at an inner-city school. The role is often little more than the kind of well-mannered, neutered

Busting DVD Review: '70s Buddy Cop Film Elevated By Elliott Gould

Not exactly a forgotten masterpiece, Peter Hyams' debut feature still has plenty going for it.
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As far as little-seen '70s buddy cop films go, Peter Hyams' Busting isn't as bizarrely transgressive as Richard Rush's Freebie and the Bean or as relentlessly downbeat as Robert Culp's Hickey & Boggs. It certainly feels like less of a discovery than those two films, but there's plenty to stick around for -- especially if you're a fan of Elliott Gould in his sardonic prime. Like the aforementioned films, Busting straddles the line between ironic distance and hard-hitting bleakness, but comedy tends to rule the day, even if many of the film's implications are less than cheery. Gould's Det. Keneely

The Moment of Truth Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Heady Symphony of Sound and Image

Francesco Rosi's bullfighting film is an intimate and immediate experience.
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The Film Francesco Rosi doesn’t waste his time on extraneous details in The Moment of Truth, a lean symphony of sound and image — the roar of the crowd and the blood of a bull mingling in a heady, gripping mixture. Using mostly nonprofessional actors and mostly real bullfights, Rosi crafts an intimate, immediate portrait of a torero’s (real-life bullfighter Miguel Mateo) unlikely rags-to-riches rise. By reducing moments outside the ring to their barest essentials, Rosi focuses all our attention on the fights, with the ferocious bull bearing down and our gaze rigidly fixed on the present. Bullfighting is nasty

The Overcoat DVD Review: A Genre-Bending Satire from the Age of Neorealism

Alberto Lattuada's overlooked The Overcoat is a smart blend of bureaucratic satire, tragicomic character piece and surrealist fantasy.
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Made when the Italian Neorealist movement was still prominent, Alberto Lattuada's The Overcoat sounds like a prime example of the genre -- poor city clerk toils for years and years to save up enough money to purchase a coat, but only days later the coat is stolen and he's left exposed to the harsh elements. Cursorily, there are thematic similarities to Vittorio De Sica's quintessential Neorealist work Umberto D., released the same year in 1952, but Lattuada's film is an entirely different breed -- a curious blend of sharp bureaucratic satire, tragicomic character piece and surreal fantasy. With its instantly

Traffic Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Thrilling and Uncompromising Look at the War on Drugs

Steven Soderbergh's seemingly opposite sensibilities mix marvelously in this four-time Oscar winner.
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The Film One of the predominant narratives used in describing Steven Soderbergh's career is that he's a director capable of helming both slick Hollywood product (Erin Brockovich, the Oceans films) and more idiosyncratic, decidedly uncommercial fare (Schizopolis, Full Frontal). Of course, this is terribly reductive and hardly accounts for the way both sensibilities tend to overlap throughout his filmography -- perhaps most apparent in 2000's Traffic, a nuanced and complex portrait of the war on drugs that's paced like a breakneck thriller without resorting to simpleminded sentiment or moralizing. In many ways a close cousin to Soderbergh's most recent film,

Eat This New York DVD Review: Jumbled Restaurant Documentary Proves Unsatisfying

Displaying many of the same problems -- only magnified -- that plagued 2011's Page One: Inside the New York Times, this 2004 effort from the same filmmakers underwhelms.
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There are two movies duking it out in Andrew Rossi's and Kate Novack's Eat This New York, a 2004 documentary on the New York restaurant scene just being rereleased on DVD. Rossi and Novack made 2011's generally well-received Page One: Inside the New York Times, an enjoyable but largely unenlightening doc that revealed a lack of focus and deficient story editing, i.e. why did no one realize media columnist David Carr should have been the movie? Similar problems plague Eat This, a much rougher effort that oscillates between the underdog tale of aspiring restaurateurs Billy Phelps and John McCormick and

The Moon in the Gutter Blu-ray Review: Ponderous Movie; Worse Blu-ray

An utterly underwhelming high-def disc of Jean-Jacques Beineix's similarly lackluster sophomore feature.
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The Film After his art house crossover hit debut feature Diva, Jean-Jacques Beineix followed it up with The Moon in the Gutter, a noirish fantasy that was mostly eviscerated by critics following its 1983 Cannes debut. Although it has gone on to become something of a cult item, I think it's safe to say the doubters were right about this one. While Beineix succeeds in capturing some ravishing images when he allows the scope of his surreal moments to expand, the film is mired in ponderous plotting and never tips over into weird enough territory to sustain it. Apparently, Beineix

Sid & Nancy Blu-ray Review: Grotesque and Sublime Doomed Love

Alex Cox's anarchic, funny and beautiful evocation of the punk era gets a solid Blu-ray upgrade.
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The Film I had to laugh when reading the back of the newly released Fox/MGM Sid & Nancy Blu-ray, which describes Alex Cox as an "award-winning writer/director," marked with an asterisk and a footnote that reads, "1986: Critics Award, Sao Paulo International Film Festival." You have to dig pretty far to find awards mentions for Cox, a director whose work has seldom resonated with the mainstream and who didn't last long in the major studio-produced film business. But while he still had a place at the Hollywood table, Cox didn't back down from the defiant energy that characterizes much of

I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive DVD Review: Study of Post-Adoption Scars Falls Flat

Father-and-son team Claude and Nathan Miller hamstring their promising film with structural issues and a cop-out ending.
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There are some severely displaced feelings at the center of I'm Glad My Mother is Alive, a 2009 French film fresh off a limited U.S. release. Co-directed by veteran Claude Miller and his son Nathan, this fluid examination of troubling post-adoption scars is generally engaging but structurally suspect, and it cops out big time with a meant-to-be-shocking climax that diverts its lead character onto a much less interesting path than he was previously on. Anchoring the film is a steely-eyed performance by Vincent Rottiers as Thomas, given up for adoption as a toddler along with his infant brother by barely

Sabu! Criterion Collection DVD Review: Adventures With The Immensely Charming Child Star

The undeniable charisma of Sabu is on full display in this collection of three of his first four films.
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Plucked from obscurity as an elephant handler in southern India and vaulted to international stardom largely by the efforts of British producer extraordinaire Alexander Korda, Sabu was the very definition of a natural. Looking at the three early films included in Criterion's latest Eclipse set Sabu!, it's impossible not to be drawn in by the young actor's unflagging charisma. Never mind that he hadn't even seen a movie before beginning his career or initially performed his lines in memorized phonetic English -- Sabu had the intangible quality of an irresistible screen presence, and he elevates the sometimes thin material seen

Stars and Stripes Forever Blu-ray Review: A Deadly Dull Biopic

The Blu-ray treatment is superb for this never-before-released-on-DVD biopic, but it's too bad the movie's not better.
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The Film John Philip Sousa occupies an undeniably important place in American music history, and Henry Koster's 1952 Technicolor biopic makes sure we don't forget it, stamping it on our collective brains with a worshipful portrait that doesn't end with the film's occasional fawning narration. These days, biographical films, especially those about artists, tend to be wearying foil-stamped templates, dotted with object lessons about the seductive pleasures of booze, drugs, and miscellaneous other vices. Somehow, one can't see "March King" Sousa falling prey to anything so crass; in fact, the composer's life was ostensibly so normal, Koster and screenwriter Lamar

Come Have Coffee With Us DVD Review: Italian Sex Comedy Subverted

Alberto Lattuada's 1970 film is a slyly satiric jab at the inflamed male libido.
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A bitterly ironic and slyly subversive Italian sex comedy, Alberto Lattuada's Come Have Coffee With Us mostly succeeds in spite of its languishing pace. Ugo Tognazzi stars as Emerenziano Paronzini, a middle-aged tax inspector who senses an opportunity when a wealthy naturalist dies, leaving behind three daughters. None of the three are conventionally attractive, but Emerenziano marries the oldest, Fortunata (Angela Goodwin), anyway -- ostensibly for the money. As the film proceeds, that inherited wealth becomes much less of an issue, and Emerenziano's appetites are clearly directed elsewhere, including the other two daughters, Tarsilla (Francesca Romana Coluzzi) -- lanky, with

Behind the Mask (1946) DVD Review: Inert Pulp Adaptation

There's little to recommend about this uninspired B-picture about pulp magazine star The Shadow.
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One of a number of films based on pulp magazine hero The Shadow, Behind the Mask (also known as The Shadow Behind the Mask) is the second of three films to star Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston, a wealthy playboy who crusades as masked proto-superhero The Shadow at night. Richmond is a credibly smarmy womanizer, but he's the only thing that sort of works in this Monogram B-picture. The dreadful screenplay by George Callahan based on Walter B. Gibson's stories isn't given any life by Phil Karlson, who would go on to direct some crackling low-budget noirs like Kansas City

Under Fire: Journalists in Combat Movie Review: Slapdash Production Values Undermine Compelling Content

The subjects of Under Fire are compelling storytellers, but they're surrounded by stylistic clutter in this Oscar shortlisted doc.
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Oscar shortlisted documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat has one major factor in its favor -- its subjects are all seasoned journalists with the storytelling skills to prove it. At its core, Under Fire is simply journalists recounting their battlefield experiences. The extraneous stylistic punches come off as unnecessary and unfinished, while the psychologizing of the journalists -- courtesy of producer and psychiatrist Anthony Feinstein -- fails to create a convincing overarching argument. But when director Martyn Burke allows his subjects to just sit in front of a black backdrop and tell of the horrors they witnessed, it's captivating. The

The Music Lovers DVD Review: A Spirited Symphony of Excess

Ken Russell's film about Russian composer Tchaikovsky is no tired biopic.
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The first theatrical feature in Ken Russell's series of unconventional composer biopics, The Music Lovers must be a frustrating experience for sticklers for historical accuracy and Tchaikovsky purists. But thank God he didn't make a stuffy, narratively driven depiction of the 19th Century Russian composer's life. The hidebound biopic genre could use more of Russell's verve and trademark stylistic excess. Kicking off a particularly fertile decade for Russell -- it would be immediately followed by controversial masterpiece The Devils and the sublime Broadway musical adaptation The Boy Friend -- The Music Lovers hits the high points of Tchaikovsky's (Richard Chamberlain)

The Sleeping Beauty DVD Review: French Provocateur Catherine Breillat Re-imagines the Fairy Tale

Breillat's second fairy tale adaptation proves to be a good fit with her pet theme of sexual awakening.
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French director Catherine Breillat's depictions of sexual awakening can be shocking -- consider the seemingly out-of-nowhere conclusion to her 2001 film Fat Girl, a confounding is-it-real-or-not jolt that exults in the terror and wonder of blossoming sexuality. Lately, Breillat has turned her attention to the realm of fantasy, where she's adapted Charles Perrault's Bluebeard and this year's The Sleeping Beauty. As one might expect, Breillat's interpretation of The Sleeping Beauty isn't a stodgy old rendering, but neither is it as nakedly brazen as her work can be. Whimsical, dark and tinged around the edges with themes of sexual exploration, Breillat's

Rushmore Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Wes Anderson's Best Film Dazzles in High-Def

Criterion upgrades their early release of Anderson's sophomore feature.
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The Film By and large, there's been quite a backlash against the films of Wes Anderson, and even though I'm a fan, I'll admit it's not entirely undeserved. I don't buy the idea that his specific brand of highly designed twee dysfunction is subject to steeply diminishing returns (his weakest film, The Life Aquatic, sits right in the middle of his filmography), but it is true that actual human emotion can get squeezed out by all the overtly manufactured elements of Anderson's style. But that's not at all the case with Rushmore, Anderson's sophomore feature and in my estimation, the

Identification of a Woman Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Futile Search for Romantic Fulfillment

An exploration of modern love, Antonioni's late-period film is a worthy effort if not as obviously masterful as some of his earlier work.
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The Film Among those disinclined to enjoy films without a clear story arc, well-defined conflict, and a resolute conclusion, the films of Michelangelo Antonioni would likely be enemy number one. A sort of lazily dismissive shorthand for the difficulties of art cinema has sprung up around Antonioni's name (see also: Andrei Tarkovsky) but it misses the fact that his films are generally engaging and densely packed with ideas, even if not traditionally fulfilling. That said, the late-career Identification of a Woman is probably not the best place for an Antonioni neophyte to begin. By most accounts, it's not one of

Kuroneko Criterion Collection DVD Review: Expressionistic Horror in Feudal Japan

Kaneto Shindo's film is a psychologically wrenching ghost story.
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A spooky, poetic Japanese ghost story, Kuroneko is the kind of film that captivates you by virtue of an astonishing opening scene and doesn't let up from there on out. The matter-of-fact grimness of Kuroneko's opening minutes is replaced by a much more otherworldly aesthetic in the rest of the film, but both types are showcases for the deft visual storytelling of Kaneto Shindo. As the feudal era-film opens, we see a band of roving samurai enter a secluded house, take their fill of food and drink and then systematically gang-rape the two women inside, Yone (Nobuko Otawa) and her

Le Havre Movie Review: Another Low-Key Delight from Aki Kaurismäki

Impeccable composition, glorious art direction and a charming, fantasy-tinged tale make Aki Kaurismäki's latest a must-see.
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Aki Kaurismäki's films often require the viewer to get on a specific wavelength in order to appreciate the wry tone he cultivates. His latest, Le Havre, is an excellent place to begin to get accustomed, as Kaurismäki weaves a warm, fantasy-tinged tale that's easy to appreciate and immensely charming. Applying a light touch to the knotty issue of European immigration, Le Havre is hardly a substantial take on its subject matter, but it's not trying to be. Instead, we get a lovely, melancholy story that's more about mood and characterization than big issues. André Wilms stars as Marcel Marx, a

Leap Year (2011) DVD Review: A Painful Portrait Of Isolation

An unflinching story of loneliness, set almost entirely in a small Mexico City apartment.
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There's not much respite for Laura (Monica del Carmen), the plain freelance journalist who's onscreen nearly every second in Michael Rowe's measured, thoroughly disheartening Leap Year. Save for the film's opening scene where Laura eyes an attractive man oblivious to her longing in the grocery store, the entire film takes place inside her drab Mexico City apartment. There's some significant cognitive dissonance going on here, as Laura's descriptions of her life to people on the phone (steak dinners, relocation to Switzerland) are fantastic substitutes for reality (beans straight from the can, masturbating while watching her happily domestic neighbors). All the

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Blu-ray Review: An Epic High-Def Upgrade

While not one of the Coen Brothers' best, O Brother looks incredible on Blu-ray.
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The Film A bit of a trifle compared to more exactingly crafted Coen Brothers films, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is enjoyable, but lacks the odd specificities that make a Coen film really shine. What we get instead is possibly the broadest film the brothers have made (leaving aside easily bottom-tier Coen Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers), populated with a stable of hayseed caricatures. The film is still plenty fun thanks to the way leads George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson embrace their cartoonish characters, but there's a good reason the film's T-Bone Burnett-curated soundtrack easily outpaced the

The Phantom Carriage Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Spooky Silent Cinema That Transcends Genre

The father of Swedish cinema directs a film that obsessed Ingmar Bergman, and might do the same to you.
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The Film Victor Sjöström's intensely atmospheric, technically brilliant The Phantom Carriage was highly influential on the career of Ingmar Bergman, who would go on to cast Sjöström in several of his films, including Wild Strawberries. It's not difficult to understand why Bergman was so taken with the film and why Sjöström is considered the father of Swedish cinema. The Phantom Carriage is moody and spooky, but it's no mere genre film. Sjöström penetrates the human soul and captures some of the most stunning images of the silent era with his emotionally wrenching morality tale. Legend has it that the last

Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The True Origins of the French New Wave

Often unsung, Claude Chabrol's debut films reveal his early mastery of the craft.
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The Films The French New Wave evokes thoughts of two films above all others -- François Truffaut's and Jean-Luc Godard's earth-shattering debuts The 400 Blows and Breathless. And while these unquestionably occupy the "shot-heard-round-the-world" slot of the movement, they're not the originators of the nouvelle vague. Rather, it's the perpetually unsung Claude Chabrol's complementary and contradictory pair Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins that take that honor, released in the late '50s months ahead of The 400 Blows. One of the Cahiers du Cinéma gang, Chabrol was the first critic of the influential bunch to make the jump into feature

Dressed to Kill Blu-ray Review: Brian De Palma Conflates Sex and Death

Despite its borrowed elements from Psycho, Dressed to Kill isn't a mere Hitchcock rip-off.
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The Film Exhibit A of the "Brian De Palma just rips off Hitchcock" trope has to be Dressed to Kill, which lifts settings, plot twists, and character types whole cloth from Psycho. But that mere description doesn't account for the often-thrilling stylistic virtuosity De Palma displays. Yes, Dressed to Kill can be clumsy, tawdry, and in one particularly tone-deaf moment, oddly racist, but more often, it's elegant, erotic, and terribly effective at pulling the strings of terror. It's not quite the masterpiece that De Palma's follow-up Blow Out is, but Dressed to Kill remains a high point of De Palma's

Orpheus Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Cinematic Magic from a Familiar Tale

Jean Cocteau's version of the Orpheus myth is a stunningly beautiful film.
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The Film Jean Cocteau had a knack for applying a distinct surreal stamp to familiar tales. He did it in Beauty and the Beast, which persists as one of the most fantastical fantasy movies ever made, and he did it with his Orphic Trilogy, which transformed the myth of Orpheus into visual poetry. One of the Criterion Collection's first box sets was Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy, but a recent licensing expiration led it to go out of print. Fortunately, Criterion retained the rights to the trilogy's centerpiece, Orpheus, which they have re-released in a stunning new Blu-ray edition. Jean Marais stars

The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara DVD Review: Diverse Dispatches from the Japanese New Wave

Koreyoshi Kurahara's name may not ring many bells in the West, but it ought to.
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Watching the five films in Criterion's latest Eclipse offering, The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara, one gets the sense that Kurahara was a filmmaker with wildly diverse interests. The films in the set careen from tightly wound noir to jazzy, anarchic buddy movie to erotic art house fantasy -- and yet, each seems to be the work of a master of the genre. We're not talking about a "jack of all trades, master of none" situation here. Kurahara didn't just dabble; he embraced every genre shift with gusto. Working at Nikkatsu studios in the 1960s, Kurahara was a prominent figure

La Rabbia DVD Review: A Politically-Charged Italian Oddity

Pier Paolo Pasolini and Giovannino Guareschi square off.
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Differing opinions don't get much more diametrically opposite than those put forth in La Rabbia or The Anger, a two-part polemic helmed by legendary filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and journalist Giovannino Guareschi. Pasolini and Guareschi -- well, let's just say they don't agree on much, offering up vastly divergent diagnoses for the world's ills in their respective segments, each of which run a little over 50 minutes. Comprised entirely of documentary and newsreel footage, accompanied by a stream of running commentary written by the filmmakers, La Rabbia features imagery of the tumultuous 1950s and early 1960s, complete with military oppression,

The Big Lebowski Blu-ray Review: Not Quite a Gutterball, but Close

The Dude shouldn't have to abide in this lackluster, DNR-heavy high-def transfer.
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The Film There's no film in the Coen Brothers' oeuvre quite like The Big Lebowski, which seems to have generated as many fans because of its ethos as it has for its supreme quotability. The Big Lebowski isn't nearly my favorite Coen film, but it certainly rivals Raising Arizona for the one I pop in the most. Maybe it's something about The Dude's unflappably laid-back demeanor that makes it one of those movies you can watch just about whenever; maybe it's the fact that nearly every episodic scene is a tightly packed comedy capsule. Talk to 10 different Lebowski lovers,

The Battle of Algiers Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Political Powder-Keg

Intelligent and visceral, Gillo Pontecorvo's gritty and unflinching film is one for the ages.
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The Film The Battle of Algiers doesn't simply tack on a cinema verité veneer to achieve a sense of realism; it lives and breathes gritty reality, so much so that one has to constantly remind oneself it isn't actually a documentary. Some screenings of the film had a disclaimer attached at the head noting that not a single foot of film was from documentary sources, and it's understandable why. More than a stylistic flourish, the raw immediacy that pulses through every frame has ensured it's unassailable status as a political masterpiece. The film recounts the struggle of the Algerian people

Donnie Darko 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review: Nothing New to See Here, Folks

The theatrical cut is well worth revisiting, but this re-packaging of material is hardly anything to get excited about.
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The Film A bona fide cult classic and champion of the home video era after a disastrous post 9-11 limited theatrical run, Donnie Darko is well worth revisiting. Known for its mysterious qualities and inscrutability that's driven plenty of passionate theories and explanations on Internet forums, it's been a go-to mind-blower for the last decade. It'd been a few years since I'd seen Donnie Darko -- the 2004 director's cut -- and I opted for the theatrical cut for this viewing. Whereas the director's cut amps up the mindfuck sensibility with interludes that further explain the internal logic of fictional

Wedding Daze Blu-ray Review: Agreeably Low-Key Rom-Com

Charming, if rote, Wedding Daze is better than it looks.
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The Film For a movie about a spontaneous marriage proposal, the stakes feel pretty low in Wedding Daze, essentially a direct-to-video 2006 film that somehow managed to snag a Blu-ray upgrade. And actually, it's the film's low-key nature that helps it become a rather charming, if hardly earth-shattering little comedy. An approach that tried harder would likely flatten the very thin premise. Written and directed by Michael Ian Black, Wedding Daze (which was originally titled The Pleasure of Your Company and later, The Next Girl I See) begins with a disastrous marriage proposal by Anderson (Jason Biggs) to girlfriend Vanessa

Leon Morin, Priest Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Sex and Religion on the Mind

Jean-Pierre Melville directs and Jean-Paul Belmondo stars in a film that's somewhat atypical for both.
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The Film Léon Morin, Priest is a somewhat atypical film for director Jean-Pierre Melville and star Jean-Paul Belmondo, at least when compared with the most iconic work of both. A moody, sometimes playful tale of sexual repression and religious debate, the film is set against the backdrop of the German occupation of France during WWII, with Belmondo starring as the titular priest. Belmondo had recently made the jump to stardom, and his rakish charm and good looks might seem at odds with the character of a priest, but work perfectly as Léon Morin, who doesn't go out of his way

The Myth of the American Sleepover Movie Review: Naturalism and Awkwardness in Equal Measures

A film that feels truer than most about the teenage experience, Myth is hindered somewhat by its self-conscious cast.
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It's to writer/director David Robert Mitchell's credit that he takes the concerns of his teenage characters seriously in his debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepover. Anyone for whom high school is in the rearview mirror will likely recognize many of the preoccupations -- the politics of slumber party invitations or the all-consuming crush on an absolute stranger -- as ultimately inconsequential, but that doesn't mean they seem that way at the time. Mitchell imbues his film with a wistful, even elegiac tone as summer winds down and an extensive cast of characters navigates one night of parties and

Make Believe Movie Review: Teen Magicians Vie for Glory

Cut from the same cloth as similar documentaries before it, Make Believe is still a fairly charming film.
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Somewhere, there's a stack of embarrassing pictures of me as a kid, dressed in one of my dad's suit coats and standing behind a cardboard podium, wand in hand and preparing to unleash a new set of magic tricks from some big pre-fabricated set. I never got very far with the magician ambitions -- I blame it on never mastering the fake thumb prop -- but the interest I had as a kid still lingers somewhere. That means I'm fairly predisposed to enjoying Make Believe, a new documentary executive produced by the directors of The King of Kong: A Fistful

Park Row DVD Review: Samuel Fuller's Energetic Ode to the Newspaper Business

Park Row comes to DVD for the first time ever.
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I bet I'd have a hard time finding a journalist who wouldn't have a soft spot for Samuel Fuller's Park Row, a paean to newspapers that reaches an almost propagandistic level of fervor. Before becoming a filmmaker, Fuller worked as a journalist, and Park Row is smeared with the press ink of authenticity. It's an undeniably personal film, and the energy that lends the film helps it overcome its occasional cornball moments. Using a mostly unknown cast, working on a shoestring budget, Fuller tells the tale of Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans), reporter for The Star, one of the many competing

Adua and Her Friends DVD Review: A Moving Italian Drama

Adua and Her Friends reveals why director Antonio Pietrangeli should be more well known in the United States.
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Antonio Pietrangeli isn't a particularly well-known filmmaker within the United States, but his wonderful 1960 film Adua and Her Friends suggests that shouldn't be the case. The blurbs on the DVD from RaroVideo peg Pietrangeli as a member of the Italian Neorealism movement, but Adua isn't really a Neorealist film. Its content -- regular people beleaguered by an oppressive societal construct -- certainly fits broadly within the category, but its form, which teeters on the edge of melodrama and is backed by a jazzy score -- decidedly does not. In addition, the film is populated with a starry cast at

The Misfits Blu-ray Review: An Overlooked American Classic Looks Stunning In High-Def

The last film of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable is more than a mere career footnote.
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The Film With the powerhouse combination of writer Arthur Miller and director John Huston behind the camera and the star power of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift in front, The Misfits seems like it should be a stone-cold classic. Chances are, it's more likely known for being both Monroe and Gable's last film -- he died of a heart attack just days after filming completed and her overdose-induced death came several years later before she could finish another project. But The Misfits shouldn't be regarded as a mere career footnote for anybody involved, as its tale of midlife

The Horse Soldiers Blu-ray Review: One of John Ford's Lesser Films

The Horse Soldiers is an acceptable genre film, but mostly undistinguished among John Ford's body of work.
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The Film John Ford elevated the western from sturdy B-picture to bona fide art form with his 1939 film Stagecoach, and would build a career on westerns that transcended genre conventions and explored human nature like The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ford's 1959 film The Horse Soldiers is not one of those films. His only full-length crack at a Civil War film, The Horse Soldiers features a steady directorial hand and several impressive action set pieces, but with so many great Ford pictures to choose from, it's doubtful this one will be coming of the shelf

Some Like It Hot Blu-ray Review: A Timeless Comedic Classic Impresses on Blu-ray

Billy Wilder's 1959 film is an American classic -- and it's not even his best film!
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An enduring classic that's often considered one of the finest American comedies ever made, Some Like It Hot is a testament to the greatness of director Billy Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond. Some Like It Hot features a perfect balance of visual and verbal gags, impeccable pacing, and a willingness to push the envelope that ensures its guys-in-drag plot doesn't feel even a bit dowdy today. And this isn't even Wilder and Diamond's best film together! (That would be The Apartment, which was their next project. Let's get that Blu-ray cracking, folks.) The Film Jack Lemmon and Tony

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Blu-ray Review: Effective, if Dated, Political Paranoia

John Frankenheimer's thriller is anything but subtle, but remains a classic nonetheless.
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The Film Political thrillers don't get much more famous than The Manchurian Candidate, John Frankenheimer's entry into the pantheon of Cold War paranoia films. But rather than the implicit threat of communism glimpsed in scores of '50s American films, the villain here is American fanaticism, paired with a blunt evocation of McCarthyism that could hardly be less subtle. Still, for all the clumsy tendencies and the conspiracy hokum found in George Axelrod's script, based on the novel by Richard Condon, the film earns its classic status with tense atmospherics, sly humor and a collection of strong performances. The film takes

Summer Children DVD Review: A Lost Film is Found Again

This previously unreleased rarity features gorgeous cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond
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Never properly released after it was shot in 1965, Summer Children was recently unearthed by producer Jack Robinette and finally premiered at the 2011 Slamdance Film Festival. Now on DVD, the film would probably be little more than a stilted oddity were it not for the impressive early work of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who would go on to shoot Robert Altman's stunning McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For most of the rest of the people involved, this would be their high point. Director James Bruner and writer Norman Handelsman would never direct

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