"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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"The Blob"

April 2013

The Blob'50s Sci-Fi Fave in Radiant Color

The Criterion Collection 91
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

"It creeps and leaps and glides and slides . . ." It's hard not to like a villain from outer space that can be described in a Burt Bacharach-Mack David title song, and it's easy to overlook The Blob's deficiencies, given such an earnest presentation. If it's not a great horror story or an A-list science-fiction thriller for you, The Blob is a slice of Americana and a time capsule to the long past 1950s. In spite of its cheesy special effects (or perhaps because of them), it has become a cult favorite.

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"Badlands"

March 2013

BadlandsOne Sumptuous-Looking Crime Spree

The Criterion Collection 651
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

In 1973, Badlands established Terrence Malick as a new director to be noticed and launched the careers of Martin Sheen (Kit) and Sissy Spacek (Holly). It was Malick's first feature film, based on a killing spree by teenager Charles Starkweather that occurred in the late 1950s. Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, fled Lincoln, Nebraska, after Starkweather killed Fugate's mother, stepfather, and two-year-old stepsister. While on the run, Starkweather killed seven additional victims but was caught and sent to the electric chair on June 25, 1959. Fugate protested that she had been Starkweather's captive, but the court didn't buy it and found her guilty as an accessory. She served 17 years in prison.

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"Africa: Eye to Eye with the Unknown"

March 2013

AfricaBBC Earth Documentary Is One of the Best of Its Kind

BBC Earth
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****1/2

Extras
****

Have you ever wondered what the black rhinos and elephants do after dark down by the watering hole? Puzzle no longer, as the newest BBC Earth documentary, Africa: Eye to Eye with the Unknown, uses special new starlight cameras to show you. Spoiler alert: it turns out that rhinos aren't really loners all the time, and that they can even go a little crazy by the light of the moon. One truly trips out. Elephants, not to be outdone, have their own sort of post-hippie love fest.

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"On the Waterfront"

February 2013

On the WaterfrontNo Matter What the Aspect Ratio, Brando's Performance Towers

The Criterion Collection 647
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

The Criterion Collection has consistently brought us the best extras to contribute to a fuller enjoyment of its feature films. But for On the Waterfront, the company has outdone itself, bringing us three different versions of the movie. To clarify, it’s exactly the same cut presented in three different aspect ratios: 1.66:1 on the main Blu-ray Disc, and 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 on a second Blu-ray.

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