"Ashes and Diamonds"

September 2021

Poland’s Struggle for Identity as World War II Ends

The Criterion Collection 285
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

When World War II ended, most countries were propelled into an era of freedom. But Poland’s post-war trajectory would lead toward Communism. Working from the acclaimed novel of the same name by Jerzy Andrzejewski, young director Andrzej Wajda fashioned a political thriller that encapsulates this change in a series of events that take place in a single day.

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"History Is Made at Night"

August 2021

Love Conquers All, Even Love at First Sight

The Criterion Collection 1072
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Love at first sight, lasting or not, is a fairly common theme, especially in film, where rules can be easily broken. The romance in the 1937 film History Is Made at Night presents a telling example. It’s the type of movie you can expect from director Frank Borzage, for whom love conquered all. Though not on the level of the director’s other work—A Farewell to Arms (1932), No Greater Glory (1934), or the somewhat revisionist Billy the Kid (1941)—the film is nonetheless an interesting testament to love and features splendid performances by its leads.

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"Pickup on South Street"

July 2021

Pristine BD Transfer of a Classic Film Noir by Samuel Fuller

The Criterion Collection 224
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

The title of this 1953 thriller rolls easily off the tongue, crackling with the promise of adventure and excitement. The film itself provides that and much more. In writing the succinct, hard-hitting screenplay, director Samuel Fuller used his background in journalism to bring to life Dwight Taylor’s original story, based on a rejected filmscript. In my opinion, it’s one of Fuller’s best films.

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"Nightmare Alley" (1947)

June 2021

A Memorable Descent into Hell in a Pristine BD Transfer

The Criterion Collection 1078
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In Nightmare Alley, Stanton “Stan” Carlisle is a self-proclaimed selfish heel—but, as played by Tyrone Power, you can’t take your eyes off him. Power took on this complicated character in an effort to prove that he could be more than a matinee idol. He succeeded—his multilayered performance was worthy of (though didn’t win) an Oscar. But Darrell F. Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox, didn’t like the film, didn’t promote it, and let it die a box-office failure and a write-off. Now it’s recognized by many film critics as a masterpiece, an A-list film disguised as a B movie, the darkest of films noirs.

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"The Furies"

May 2021

Classical Mythology on the Range

The Criterion Collection 435
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Director Anthony Mann, a native of San Diego, long wanted to film Shakespeare’s King Lear as a Western. He had a plan for a final film, but died before it could get off the ground. Earlier Westerns, however, gave nods to the Bard of Avon, and the earliest example is The Furies (1950). Mann’s first A-list film, it was based on the popular novel of that title by Niven Busch, whose earlier novel Duel in the Sun had been filmed in 1946. Busch had already cowritten the scripts for The Westerner (1940), The Postman Always Rings Twice, and many other films. Like Mann, he strove to break away from the good-guys-in-white-hats Western to tell stories of greater psychological depth in which no character is wholly good or bad.

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"The Naked City"

March 2021

A City of Eight Million Stories

The Criterion Collection 380
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

“There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”

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"The Parallax View"

February 2021

Alan J. Pakula’s Masterpiece of Paranoia on BD

The Criterion Collection 1064
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

The Parallax View (1974) is the second of what has been called director Alan J. Pakula’s Paranoia Trilogy, bracketed by Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976). Although each film deals with a conspiracy, only the last is based on historical events.

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"Minding the Gap"

January 2021

Raw and Riveting Documentary About a Lot More than Skateboards

The Criterion Collection 1061
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

While best known for their restorations of classic films, once in a while The Criterion Collection deems something recent worthy of its attentions—such as Minding the Gap (2018), the first feature-length film to be directed by Chinese-American cameraman Bing Liu. It’s less “a skateboarding movie” than a riveting documentary on the lasting effects of domestic abuse.

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"Moonstruck"

December 2020

The Moon, Magic, and Perfection in the Air

The Criterion Collection 1053
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Canadian Norman Jewison made some fine films in his 41-year career as a director, including The Cincinnati Kid (1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), A Soldier’s Story (1984), and Agnes of God (1985). But Moonstruck (1987) stands out as a masterpiece of romantic comedy, a film so perfect I find no fault in it.

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"The Hit"

November 2020

A Slow-Burn, Murderous Road Trip Through Spain

The Criterion Collection 469
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Stephen Frears directed The Hit in 1984, shortly before making what many consider his best-known film, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). In The Hit, Willie Parker (Terence Stamp), a London gangster, turns court evidence on his four co-conspirators. Flash forward ten years -- Willie, living the life of Riley in Spain, has a hacienda with a spectacular view, a fabulous book collection, and goes on bicycle rides accompanied by an inept bodyguard.

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