"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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"Bicycle Thieves"

May 2016

Vittorio De Sica’s Landmark Film: Still Very Moving

The Criterion Collection 374
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

Immediately after World War II, Italy’s film industry was a shambles. The studios were gone, good film stock was hard to find, and there was little money. There were independent directors and producers, however, some of them men of genius who established a new style that would not only make film more affordable but take it in a new direction. The style of this movement became known as neorealism, which was similar to the style of verismo that had preceded it in literature and opera. (Verismo was the Italian version of the late-19th-century shift toward naturalism, in operas such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci.) The scripts would be slices of the lives of working-class people, and would be shot on location -- no movie sets -- often with non-actors or those making their debuts. If a well-known actor was employed, he or she would be cast dramatically against type.

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"My Own Private Idaho"

April 2016

Van Sant's Cobbled-Together Masterpiece

The Criterion Collection 277
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

My Own Private Idaho (1991) was director Gus Van Sant’s third feature film, cobbled together from several different earlier sources, two screenplays, a story, and Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Many have found its fragmented structure irritating, but every time I watch it, I find that these glimpses into the lives of Mike Waters and Scott Favor add up to a masterpiece.

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"Gilda"

March 2016

Rita Hayworth at Her Best

The Criterion Collection 795
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Rita Hayworth is Gilda. Gilda is Rita Hayworth. They’ve become synonymous -- to mention either name in conversation conjures up the other. Her entrance, tossing her hair and saying “Me?,” has become iconic. The movie changed Hayworth’s image overnight in 1946 -- from healthy, all-American girl next door to Hollywood’s reigning sex symbol, an accolade she enjoyed for a little less than a decade. She then moved on to more matronly roles, then to alcoholism, and finally to Alzheimer’s.

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"The American Friend"

February 2016

Suspense and Murder from Wim Wenders and Criterion

The Criterion Collection 793
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Patricia Highsmith, in her novels centered on Tom Ripley, created in him a character who is smooth, suave, educated, pseudo-sophisticated, evasive, seductive, psychotic, and extremely dangerous. Matt Damon, John Malkovich, and Alain Delon have successfully portrayed Ripley on screen. In Wim Wenders’s The American Friend (1977), Dennis Hopper portrays Ripley as more of a rough-and-tumble mad dog -- a clever man with a temper and a persistent habit of doing bad things. The German director, too, had been persistent in his attempts to option a Highsmith novel to film. When it became clear that none were available, Highsmith gave Wenders Ripley’s Game, then not yet published.

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"In Cold Blood"

January 2016

Art Imitates Life in Flawless Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 781
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Based on the book of the same title -- described by its author, Truman Capote, as a “nonfiction novel” -- the film In Cold Blood is grim, gritty, probing, and brilliant in every way. Director Richard Brooks, who wrote the screenplay, managed to express in it his opposition to the death penalty in ways so subtle that many missed the point. Brooks’s insistence on using relatively unknown actors paid off. Robert Blake as Perry Smith, and Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock, are brilliant in the roles, and the fact that they looked very much like the killers they portray helps underline Brooks’s documentary style.

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"Kwaidan"

December 2015

Masaki Kobayashi’s Japanese Ghost Stories

The Criterion Collection 90
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

The four Japanese folk tales that comprise Kwaidan (1964) followed a curious path in becoming this iconic film by director Masaki Kobayashi. The stories had been passed down through generations by word of mouth in Japan when Greek-Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) first heard them, and published them in English versions edited to make them appeal to Western audiences. They were also translated back into Japanese as Hearn adopted a Japanese name, Yakumo Koizumi. Eventually, director Kobayashi and his screenwriter, Yôko Mizuki, adapted and expanded four of Hearn’s versions.

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"The Honeymoon Killers"

November 2015

Mahler and Murder

The Criterion Collection 200
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

This 1969 film, shot on a shoestring, won the attention of such luminaries as François Truffaut, who declared it his favorite American film. It’s based on the true story of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, lovers who, in the late 1940s, killed as many as 20 women. They were dubbed “The Lonely Hearts Killers” because they met most of their victims through lonely-hearts ads. Now it’s Craigslist, eHarmony, or one of the other dating websites. Back then it took more time -- you had to write a letter, mail it, and wait for a response.

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"Day for Night"

October 2015

François Truffaut’s Valentine to Movies Is a Winner on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 769
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

François Truffaut (1932-1984) achieved recognition in 1959 with his first feature film, The 400 Blows. After that, his career went up and down, albeit with more hits than misses. In the US of the 1960s and 70s, he was largely considered an "art house" director, and film critics and connoisseurs revered his films more than did the general public. One thing that shines through many of his works was his intense love of movies. This message was so clear that another lover of movies, Steven Spielberg, cast him as an actor in his Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

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"Night and the City"

September 2015

The Criterion Collection 274
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Were it not for the notorious Hollywood blacklist, Night and the City (1950) might not have been made -- and surely not by veteran director Jules Dassin. Dassin had been in the Communist Party for a few years, but had resigned well before this. Nonetheless, he was outed, put on the list, and told to get to London as soon as possible to start filming Night and the City, beginning with the most important and expensive scenes so that 20th Century Fox would have enough financial investment to want to complete the project.

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