"Judex"

June 2014

JudexA Magical and Bizarre 1963 Homage to Silent Film

The Criterion Collection 710
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

I first encountered the work of French director Georges Franju when I reviewed Eyes Without a Face (1960) last October. This month, along came Judex (1963), to shed more light on this man who liked to populate realistic settings with magical, often bizarre events.

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"Red River"

June 2014

Red RiverJohn Wayne and Montgomery Clift on the Chisholm Trail

The Criterion Collection 709
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Red River has always been one of my favorite Westerns. I'd put it up there at the top with Shane, The Big Country, Duel in the Sun, and High Noon. Director Howard Hawks wasn't really a specialist in the genre, though he ably directed everything from dramas (Scarface) to comedy (Bringing Up Baby) to science fiction (The Thing from Another World). But I think he got everything -- well, almost everything -- right in telling a tale of the first cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail.

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"Touch of Evil"

June 2014

Touch of EvilReconstructing an Orson Welles Masterpiece

Universal 61171738
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Has there ever been a sleazier cinematic heavy than Police Captain Hank Quinlan? As played by Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, Quinlan looks 100 pounds overweight, has several days' growth of scraggly beard, and wears clothes, especially an old overcoat, that look like they've been not only slept in, but eaten in as well. Add the raspy voicing and you have a character that you'd not even want to shake hands with. Add Welles directing himself (and everyone else), and you have genius at work.

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"Ace in the Hole"

June 2014

Ace in the HoleAnything for a Story

The Criterion Collection 396
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Ponder this: between 1944 and 1955, Billy Wilder wrote and/or directed Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), A Foreign Affair (1948), A Song Is Born (1948), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), and Some Like It Hot (1955). That's quite a run. It's not just that most of these movies are considered great films; it's that they were all so popular that even most moviegoers who haven't seen them have still heard of them.

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"Double Indemnity: 70th Anniversary Limited Edition"

May 2014

Double IndemnityA Brilliant Edition of One of America's Greatest Films

Universal 61120920
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Just about everyone concerned with this special edition of Double Indemnity credits it with being the first film noir -- the one everybody else imitated. It's a brilliant and entertaining movie that's perfectly paced; it never drags or lets up on the tension. A lot of this effect is due to the excellent screenplay by director Billy Wilder, partnering with pulp-fiction writer Raymond Chandler. Together they spiked-up James M. Cain's novella to make it a much more compelling narrative.

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"Riot in Cell Block 11"

April 2014

Riot in Cell Block 11Prison Reform: A Hot Topic in Both 1954 and 2014

The Criterion Collection 704
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Prison reform is a contemporary issue, with state and federal governments hotly debating its solution. Prisons are overcrowded, often due to the incarceration of prisoners who have committed mere misdemeanors, and the imprisonment of so many has become a very expensive proposition. But Criterion's release of Riot in Cell Block 11 reminds us that prison reform isn't a new issue.

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"Inside Llewyn Davis"

March 2014

Inside Llewyn DavisAn Intimate Portrait of New York's Coffee Houses in 1961

Sony Pictures 42859
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
***1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Set in the Greenwich Village folk-music scene of the early 1960s, Inside Llewyn Davis is a black comedy about the fading coffee houses of the time. There are no clinking glasses and buzzing conversations as in the jazz clubs; everyone at the coffee house is respectful and quiet, saving it all until the applause at the end of a number. At the time the movie takes place, I was in Boston hearing Odetta at the coffee houses there, and I can confirm that the reverential tone of Inside Llewyn Davis is spot on.

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"The Hidden Fortress"

March 2013

The Hidden FortressBlu-ray Does Justice to Kurosawa’s Depth-of-Field Shots

The Criterion Collection 116
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

The Hidden Fortress is one of director Akira Kurosawa's most accessible gems. In 1958 it put him back in favor with Japanese audiences and grossed quite a bit of money, but it became popular in the West only when George Lucas identified it as one of his inspirations for Star Wars. Renewed familiarity with the black-and-white classic uncovers an excellent action-adventure movie that was practically a textbook on the use of widescreen and anamorphic lenses.

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"Tess"

March 2013

TessA Sweeping Romance with a Charismatic Star

The Criterion Collection 697
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

The later 1970s seem to have been just the right time for epic film romances. Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon in 1975, Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven in 1978, and Roman Polanski's Tess in 1979. All of the movies presented sweeping landscapes of the countryside in which they were filmed, but it was Polanski's movie that had the best plot and character development.

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"Foreign Correspondent"

February 2014

Foreign CorrespondentEspionage with Alfred Hitchcock in 1940

The Criterion Collection 696
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Foreign Correspondent (1940) shares honors with Rebecca (also 1940) as being one of Alfred Hitchcock's first American movies. But perhaps it's really the first because Hitchcock felt that David O. Selznick had micromanaged Rebecca in such a way that it lacked the usual Hitchcockian humor and was really apart from his oeuvre.

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