"Rififi"

January 2014

RififiGrandfather of Heist Films Gets the TLC Criterion Treatment

The Criterion Collection 115
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

The Hollywood blacklist created a paranoid time in Tinseltown when noted directors, screenplay writers, actors, and technicians could not be hired if they were suspected of having anything to do with the Communist party. Many were falsely accused and driven out of work, and some wrote under pseudonyms. Director Jules Dassin, interviewed in 2000 by Criterion in an extra included on this new release of Rififi, is still emotional about his blacklist history.

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"Throne of Blood"

January 2014

Throne of BloodCriterion Doubles Up

The Criterion Collection 190
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

Criterion gives us two for one twice over with the release of Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood. First, they've stopped doing double inventory by putting both the Blu-ray and DVD versions in the same package. Judging by the press announcements for future 2014 releases, dual-format editions are to become a standard feature. Second, and probably not to become standard, is that Throne of Blood includes two different sets of subtitles, one by Japanese-film translator Linda Hoaglund and the other by Kurosawa expert Donald Richie.

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"The Uninvited" (1944)

October 2013

The UninvitedTaking Ghosts Seriously

The Criterion Collection 677
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Just in time for Halloween, Criterion, who brought us Eyes Without a Face last week, has released The Uninvited, a classic black-and-white ghost story directed by Lewis Allen in 1944. It's considered the first Hollywood film to take ghosts seriously and not explain them as the result of manmade parlor tricks.

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"Eyes Without a Face"

October 2013

Eyes Without a FaceGeorges Franju’s Movie Is Scary, but the Real Horror Lies in Reality

The Criterion Collection 260
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Tired of watching the same old titles for Halloween entertainment? Just in the nick of time, Criterion has released a rare oldie (1960) that ought to chill you to the bone, along with an extra feature that is positively horrifying. Eyes Without a Face was dubbed in English and released in the US as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. This is the first time I've seen the French original.

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"The Devil’s Backbone"

August 2013

The Devil's BackboneA Gothic Ghost Story Masterpiece

The Criterion Collection 666
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Most moviegoers know Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006), which won three Academy Awards and was nominated for three additional ones. The Devil's Backbone, from 2001, is considered a twin to Pan's Labyrinth, but it is not generally known to American audiences, no doubt because its screening at the Canadian International Film Festival was right before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Immediately after that catastrophic event, film producers were soft-pedaling any releases that contained violence.

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"Seconds"

August 2013

SecondsFirst-Rate Sleeper Gets the Recognition It Deserves

The Criterion Collection 667
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Director John Frankenheimer enjoyed a strong series of hit movies in the early 1960s: All Fall Down, Birdman of Alcatraz, and The Manchurian Candidate (all 1962), Seven Days in May, and The Train (both 1964). This incredible track record preceded Seconds in 1966, based on the novel by David Ely and starring Rock Hudson. It was not well received. Some theorize that Rock Hudson fans didn't want to see their favorite romantic comedy star in anything serious, and people who weren't into Rock Hudson simply passed on it.

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"Babette's Feast"

July 2013

Babette's FeastA Dinner Made with Love That Changes Lives

The Criterion Collection 665
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

When Babette’s Feast comes up in casual conversation, most people will say it's the ultimate film about food, but I think it's really about love and the human spirit. Food and spirit merge during the meal that Babette prepares, and it manifests itself as love for all mankind.

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"Things to Come"

June 2013

Things to ComeUtopia According to Wells

The Criterion Collection 660
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

H. G. Wells (1866-1946) wrote his most important science-fiction novels early in his career. The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, and The Island of Doctor Moreau were from that period -- the fiction that led to Wells being called "the father of science fiction." Jules Verne had previously been accorded the same honor. But Wells wrote much more than science fiction; he authored contemporary novels, histories, essays, and social commentary. And in 1936 he authored the screenplay for Things to Come, based in large part on his book, The Shape of Things to Come.

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"Richard III"

May 2013

Richard IIIA Classic Restored to Glory

The Criterion Collection 213
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

The recent discovery of Richard III's skeleton has called into question past assessments of his character and appearance. A facial reconstruction shows a young man of almost feminine beauty. There has been lots of speculation, but two things are certain: Richard III reigned but two short years and died a violent death at Bosworth Field in 1485. The wounds on his skeleton show that he was struck with many blows, including two extremely severe knocks to the head, lending credence to Sir Laurence Olivier's portrayal of his death, which shows dozens of soldiers pummeling the downed monarch.

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"Jack Reacher"

April 2013

Jack ReacherA Pristine Blu-ray Reveals an Entertaining Crime Procedural

Paramount 7922916
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
*****

Extras
***1/2

Werner Herzog. He’s a film director extraordinaire, having directed both documentaries (Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World) and fiction adventures (Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Rescue Dawn, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans). He has staged opera at Bayreuth and La Scala, written over 50 film scripts, produced over 20 titles, and has worked in many aspects of film, including sound. This everyman has also acted, and in Jack Reacher, we find him perfectly cast as the Zec, a man who has sacrificed his fingers over the years, proving that he’s willing to go to any length to survive.

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