"A Matter of Life and Death"

August 2018

A Blu-ray Gem from Criterion

The Criterion Collection 939
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****1/2

Released in 1946 in the UK as A Matter of Life and Death and in the US as Stairway to Heaven, this postwar film is a unique jewel of cinema that operates on many different levels and succeeds on all of them. Its creators, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who together wrote, produced, and directed it, had been approached by Jack Beddington, head of the UK Ministry of Information’s film commission, to make a movie that would soothe the frayed feelings between the UK and the US at the end of World War II. This genius partnership came up with A Matter of Life and Death, which, below its surface of romantic comedy, explores more serious matters.

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"The Addiction"

July 2018

A Different Kind of Vampire Film

Arrow Video AV-152-TM
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Have you ever thought of Christopher Walken as a vampire, or of vampirism as an allegory for addiction? Renegade director Abel Ferrara, best known for Bad Lieutenant, had the idea back in 1995 when he created The Addiction, a black-and-white cult favorite.

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"Moonrise"

June 2018

The Criterion Collection Tries to Resurrect Frank Borzage on BD

The Criterion Collection 921
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
**1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
**1/2

I seldom listen to music when driving my little bright-red 2008 Toyota Yaris. There, old-time radio is king, and for the past month I’ve been listening to The Chase and Sanborn Hour, with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. This variety show, broadcast from 1929 to 1948, ran the gamut from humor to drama to pop song to opera arias sung in their original languages. From 1937 to 1939 the show was hosted by Nelson Eddy, but listening today, I wonder what all the excitement was about: Eddy bleats his top notes, shamelessly ruins bonbons from Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, and sings the most racially insensitive rendition of “Shortnin’ Bread” ever. One day, when Eddy was on vacation, he was replaced by baritone Donald Dickson, whose voice was worthy of the Metropolitan Opera -- where, indeed, Dickson sang in the mid- to late 1940s.

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"Killer Klowns from Outer Space"

May 2018

A Cult Classic Gets a Classy Revival

Arrow Video
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****1/2

Maybe you’re not afraid of clowns, but you may be after watching Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), a unique cult favorite that this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. Or you’ll appreciate this movie’s outright wackiness and dark humor. Or both. Written by the Chiodo Brothers -- Stephen, Charles, and Edward -- and directed by Stephen, it’s a skillful mix of stop-motion animation and live action -- the seams are hard to spot.

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"King of Jazz"

April 2018

A Glorious Restoration from Universal/NBC and Criterion

The Criterion Collection 915
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Today, Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) is mostly remembered as the man who commissioned and first performed George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But in the 1920s he was a superstar comparable to such contemporaries as Babe Ruth (1895-1948). He sold a million copies of every new record, and his frequent diets were front-page news. Whiteman was on the portly side, and didn’t seem to mind critics and fans who called that to everyone’s attention. He was dubbed the “King of Jazz,” yet his music was more dance-hall pop spiced with some jazz elements -- Whiteman himself called it “symphonic jazz.” He and his band, the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, led the way to the swing styles of the 1940s. Whiteman’s name was also descriptive of who he was and whom he worked with: although the musicians who created and led jazz itself were black, the faces of the virtuosos in Whiteman’s band were all those of white men -- no African-Americans, and women performed only as singers or dancers.

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"Tom Jones"

March 2018

Rollicking Richardson

The Criterion Collection 910
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In 1963, director Tony Richardson set the cinematic world on its ear with his irreverent film Tom Jones. Looking back, it seems unlikely that any historical genre movie could have brought Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, to such heights of hilarity. Richardson did it by playing against type and treating this work from the mid-18th century as a risqué (for 1963) ribald comedy, complete with sight gags.

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"Pulp"

February 2018

Gangsters, 1972 Mediterranean Style

Arrow 02.11.2017
Format: BD and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

It’s a delight to watch certain actors at work, regardless of the material, and for me Michael Caine has always been such an artist, using his charming voice, Cockney accent (almost always), and relaxed style to create unforgettable characters. He’s been at it a long time -- his first role was in 1956 -- and has been nominated for an Academy Award six times, and won twice, both times for Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Hannah and Her Sisters (1987) and The Cider House Rules (1999).

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"Barry Lyndon"

January 2018

Criterion’s Best-Looking Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 897
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

I first saw Barry Lyndon in its original theatrical release, in December 1975. I thought it was merely okay -- a muted tapestry on which to hang a barrel of cinematic tricks. What a difference 42 years has made! In no small part thanks to this splendid transfer from The Criterion Collection, I now view Barry Lyndon as Stanley Kubrick’s (1928-1999) masterpiece.

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"The Big Knife"

December 2017

Hollywood Corruption, 1955 Style

Arrow Academy AA1HA-TM
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
***

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

The recent allegations of sexual misconduct by Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and others have come as no shock to film fans. Hollywood’s long history of scandal stretches all the way back to its beginnings in the early years of the 20th century. Rather than being shocked, we’re more likely to see such abuses as just another stumble for Tinseltown. Sad.

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"The Breaking Point"

September 2017

Second Filming of a Hemingway Novel Scores on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 889
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

The Breaking Point (1950) was Warner Bros.’ second stab at Ernest Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not. The better-known earlier version (1944), which shared its title with the novel, featured the onscreen chemistry of Humphrey Bogart and 19-year-old Lauren Bacall. I believe that The Breaking Point is just as good, and one of the best films ever made by its star, John Garfield.

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