"The Lair of the White Worm"

April 2017

Ken Russell’s Cult Fave on Vestron Blu-ray

Vestron/Lionsgate 6
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

LaserDisc aficionados will fondly remember Vestron Pictures, a film and television studio that provided a large portion of Image Entertainment’s catalog. Lionsgate now owns the Vestron catalog, and has begun reissuing its titles in Criterion Collection-like editions with remastered images and sound, with commentaries and extras that contribute to the viewing experience. Vestron made a steady stream of low-budget, schlock horror movies, but every once in a while strove for greatness and hired someone famous, if outrageous, to direct a film -- someone like Ken Russell.

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"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"

March 2017

Pedro Almodóvar’s Colorful Screwball Comedy on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 855
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was inspired, in part, by La Voix humaine, a 1930 play by Jean Cocteau. The film that brought Pedro Almodóvar international fame, it was the first of his movies I saw, in a small art house in Washington, DC. It blew me away -- here was Bringing Up Baby (1938) or Ball of Fire (1941) given a Spanish flare, brought up to date for 1988, and presented in vibrant, even outrageous color. Nearly 30 years later, I felt the same rush while watching this new reissue, one of the best the Criterion Collection has ever presented.

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"The Asphalt Jungle"

January 2017

John Huston’s Heist Masterpiece on Blu-Ray

The Criterion Collection 847
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

In 1950, John Huston directed The Asphalt Jungle for MGM and set the pattern for virtually every caper/heist movie to follow. Rififi in particular, with its intricate, suspenseful, nearly dialogueless depiction of a theft, owes much to Huston.

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"McCabe & Mrs. Miller"

December 2016

Robert Altman’s Unique Western on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 827
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

American film director Robert Altman loved to bend familiar genres to his own purposes. M*A*S*H (1970) was like no other war movie that had preceded it. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) turned the typical showdown-and-shoot-out Western into a Northwestern, set in the fictional mountain town of Presbyterian Church.

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"Night Train to Munich"

November 2016

Carol Reed Channels Alfred Hitchcock

The Criterion Collection 523
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
***1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
*1/2

Sir Carol Reed (1906-1976) was a British film director best known for three masterpieces: Odd Man Out (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948), and The Third Man (1949). After this brief flash of genius, his films went relatively unheralded until Oliver! (1968), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director.

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"Chimes at Midnight"

October 2016

Bigger-than-Life Falstaff from Orson Welles on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 830
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
**1/2

Extras
***1/2

William Shakespeare was a hero to Orson Welles, who spent much of his career trying to make definitive film versions of the plays. Welles directed an excellent Othello (1951), and his experimental Macbeth (1948) was a flawed masterpiece -- in both, he played the title role. But his greatest homage to the Bard was Chimes at Midnight (1965), which gives a different view of the story of Falstaff and Prince Hal in being a pastiche of parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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"Carnival of Souls"

September 2016

The Indie That Wouldn’t Die Finds New Life on Criterion Blu-Ray

The Criterion Collection 63
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Carnival of Souls isn’t one of the black-and-white classics Criterion is known for. It’s a cult indie film that became a horror favorite when Roger Ebert re-screened and reviewed it in 1989, 27 years after its initial release. But considering its history, singular locations, and magnificent camera work, it’s one of the best editions that Criterion has produced. Its many secrets and wonders are revealed through insightful commentaries and a generous set of extras.

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"Here Comes Mr. Jordan"

August 2016

James Gleason Scores Lots of Laughs in One of His Bigger Roles

The Criterion Collection 819
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

It’s likely that Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), the first film based on Harry Segall’s 1938 play Heaven Can Wait, is probably less well known to contemporary audiences than Warren Beatty’s 1978 remake, which reverted to the play’s title. Then there’s film director Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (1943), which was based on an entirely different play by Leslie Bush-Fekete and was the reason the 1941 film bore a different title.

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"In a Lonely Place"

July 2016

Psychotic and Vulnerable: Bogart in One of His Greatest Roles

The Criterion Collection 810
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

In a Lonely Place (1950) contains one of film noir’s most often quoted speeches: “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

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"Only Angels Have Wings"

June 2016

Barranca and Bananas on an Excellent New Criterion Release

The Criterion Collection 806
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Howard Hawks (1896-1977) had a long and distinguished career in Hollywood, and those in the know rate him as one of Tinseltown’s greatest directors. The general public, not so much. Perhaps that’s because Hawks made films in so many different genres -- Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941, nominated for an Oscar), Ball of Fire (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), The Thing from Another World (1951), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Rio Bravo (1959), Rio Lobo (1970) -- even this partial list (Hawks directed 47 films) is quite diverse, and the films themselves lack any obvious signature of director as auteur. In going to see Hawks’s movies, audiences were more interested in the stars than the director. One thing these films have in common is that, regardless of genre, Hawks always elicited the very best performances from his actors -- another reason they were more memorable than himself.

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