"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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"The Killers"

August 2015

Four Versions of Hemingway's Tale for the Price of One

The Criterion Collection 176
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers" was first published in 1927, in Scribner's Magazine. It was made into a theatrical film twice, in 1946 and 1964. The Criterion Collection offers on this Blu-ray not only both of those versions, but also a 1956 student version by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, as well as Hemingway's story, read by Stacy Keach. These sorts of bonuses greatly add to one's knowledge of the feature films, and are what make Criterion so worthwhile and popular.

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"Ride the Pink Horse"

July 2015

A Film Noir with Redemption

The Criterion Collection 750
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

We usually associate films noirs with urban locations -- cities with streets that glisten in the rain, tall buildings casting long shadows. But, as film historian Imogen Sara Smith, author of In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City, points out in an enthusiastic interview on this Criterion Collection edition of Robert Montgomery’s Ride the Pink Horse (1947), that’s not always the case.

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"Odd Man Out'

June 2015

Carol Reed’s First Masterpiece Gets the Blu-ray Treatment

The Criterion Collection 754
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Odd Man Out, directed by Carol Reed and first released in 1947, is not your ordinary crime movie. With its blend of German expressionism, the poetic realism of 1930s France, and cinematographer Robert Krasker's moody black-and-white photography, it's hard not to think of it as a British film noir.

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"Sullivan's Travels"

April 2015

This Preston Sturges Masterpiece Still Entertains

The Criterion Collection 118
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

Sullivan's Travels opens with the last scene from a movie that director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is showing to his studio bosses as an example of a socially responsible film. Sullivan has apparently been making comedies and feels that he should go for something deeper. Against everyone's advice, he decides to go out in the world dressed as a hobo, to do research on the poor so as to accurately portray them in his projected film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel and Ethan Coen paid tribute to Sullivan's Travels' writer and director, Preston Sturges, and Sullivan by using this as the title for their movie starring George Clooney, made in 2000.)

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"The Soft Skin"

April 2015

Truffaut Channeling Hitchcock

The Criterion Collection 749
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

When it was first shown in 1964, The Soft Skin (French title: La peau douce) was a big flop. Audiences who had cheered for François Truffaut's previous films -- The 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960), and Jules and Jim (1962) -- didn't know what to make of a typical love-triangle story. I remember being somewhat cold to it myself. But history has been kind to the movie; it has acquired a following among cinema fans, and we can now see that though its story might be typical, its execution is anything but ordinary.

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"Mark of the Devil"

March 2015

A Notorious Exploitation Movie Receives a High-Def Makeover

Arrow Films AV002BL
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

One of the most notorious exploitation movies ever made, Mark of the Devil was released in 1970 in the United States with the marketing slogan "Rated V for Violence." It was further hyped as "Positively the most horrifying movie ever made," and filmgoers received vomit bags along with their ticket stubs.

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