"The Soft Skin"

April 2015

Truffaut Channeling Hitchcock

The Criterion Collection 749
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

When it was first shown in 1964, The Soft Skin (French title: La peau douce) was a big flop. Audiences who had cheered for François Truffaut's previous films -- The 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960), and Jules and Jim (1962) -- didn't know what to make of a typical love-triangle story. I remember being somewhat cold to it myself. But history has been kind to the movie; it has acquired a following among cinema fans, and we can now see that though its story might be typical, its execution is anything but ordinary.

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"Mark of the Devil"

March 2015

A Notorious Exploitation Movie Receives a High-Def Makeover

Arrow Films AV002BL
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

One of the most notorious exploitation movies ever made, Mark of the Devil was released in 1970 in the United States with the marketing slogan "Rated V for Violence." It was further hyped as "Positively the most horrifying movie ever made," and filmgoers received vomit bags along with their ticket stubs.

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"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (75th Anniversary Edition)

February 2015

A Handsome Anniversary Edition from Columbia

Columbia Pictures/Sony 44655
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

In 1939, often called the "golden year" for Hollywood, ten movies received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Picture: Dark Victory, Gone with the Wind (the winner), Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. That's a very impressive list, but look at these time-honored 1939 classics that were not nominated: Juarez, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Beau Geste, Destry Rides Again, The Rains Came, Young Mr. Lincoln, Dodge City, The Four Feathers, and Each Dawn I Die. And that's the short list. There are more.

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"The Sword of Doom"

February 2015

An Intense Study in Madness, Samurai Style

The Criterion Collection 280
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Though the Criterion Collection endeavors to add films of all nationalities and styles to its catalog, it has placed special emphasis on Japanese movies, not only on disc, but also in its video-streaming titles available exclusively on Hulu Plus (a real bargain at only $7.99 a month, for all the Criterion you care to view).

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"The Palm Beach Story"

February 2015

A Madcap Romp Restored for Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 742
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Director Preston Sturges establishes the madcap nature of 1942's The Palm Beach Story right at the opening credits with a series of jumbled vignettes accompanied by the Overture to William Tell. There's Claudette Colbert in a wedding gown racing to the altar. But wait! There's Claudette Colbert trussed up and trying to escape from a closet. But wait! That's her again in the wedding gown. Are there two Claudette Colberts? What's going on?

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"It Happened One Night"

January 2015

It Happened One NightThe Granddaddy of Romantic Comedies Goes Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 736
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Frank Capra filmed It Happened One Night in four weeks on a budget of $300,000, with a sixth of that going to Claudette Colbert's salary. Even adjusting for inflation, it's a remarkably small budget as Hollywood goes. No one expected the little film to stay around or be anything important. Surprise! It Happened One Night swept the top-five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay) and became the granddaddy of all romantic comedies. Other comedies have come close, but 81 years down the road there are still none that are better.

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"Safe" (1995)

January 2015

SafeEnvironmental Illness as a Horror Story

The Criterion Collection 739
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

We face chemical exposure every day. We experience it while we're driving, when we're cleaning, when we use pesticides, when we're near smoke or smokers, and when we're dealing with plastics and synthetic fabrics. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) sufferers like me are particularly zoned in to this exposure since we literally feel it in our lungs. Most of us identify the issue and eliminate it from our lives, or at least reduce our exposure. Others, though, have severe psychological triggers that can cause nausea, fatigue, headaches, and skin inflammation, requiring bed rest or hospitalization.

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"Time Bandits"

December 2014

Time BanditsA Favorite Time-Travel Movie Has Never Looked Better

The Criterion Collection 37
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

Since I love fantasy, social-satire, and time-travel films, Time Bandits has long been a favorite movie. It's had a checkered experience on home video: Criterion's previous laserdisc and DVD left something to be desired, as did the Image Blu-ray release. The new Criterion Blu-ray, produced and restored at 2K under director Terry Gilliam's supervision, and with the correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1, solves everything. It's a knockout. I don't give this advice often, but if you love this movie as much as I do, read on and be prepared to put your old version on the eBay auction block.

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"The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind"

December 2014

The Shooting/Ride in the WhirlwindRevisionist Cult Westerns from 1965

The Criterion Collection 734, 735
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In the 1960s producer/director Roger Corman developed a moviemaking machine that gave first opportunities to many budding actors and directors. Monte Hellman was one of the latter, Jack Nicholson one of the former. The two teamed up to make two short Westerns, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind. They were made concurrently in six weeks on a low budget, and they featured overlapping casts but different leading men.

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"F for Fake"

December 2014

F for FakeRevisionist Welles

The Criterion Collection 288
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
***1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****1/2

Orson Welles. Mention the name and images come to mind immediately: Welles who made Citizen Kane, a movie that many consider the best one ever made. Welles whose radio version of The War of the Worlds seemed so real that it started panic in the streets. Welles who was married to the incredibly beautiful Rita Hayworth. Welles who mesmerized audiences in The Third Man.

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