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Criterion Collection Tag

The first of Barnes & Noble’s half-off Criterion Collection sales ends tonight/tomorrow morning at 3am EST. So no time to waste picking up some favorite titles–unless, of course, you want to save your pennies for November, which is usually when the second installment falls. (Check Amazon for price matches besides.)

The Black Stallion (1979): “Family films” often means movies I put on for the kids on the little TV upstairs while I sip martinis and watch something more stimulating on the big TV downstairs. But first-time director Carroll Ballard’s masterpiece, produced by Francis Ford Coppola the same year his legendary Apocalypse Now was released, is one for everyone, with the simple appeal

I don’t do holiday gift guides. Not my bag. But–’tis the season and everyone’s having big sales from now until the end of the year, so rather than be Scrooge about it, feel free to stuff your stockings with new releases from these distributors, many of them the smaller ones that are keeping our beloved physical media alive in the age of streaming.

81yV+5YPyuL._SL1436_Despite our practically being neighbors here in Brooklyn, Big World Pictures is a label previously unknown to me. Not anymore, as I was recently showered with some of its foreign film acquisitions. Chief among them is an Eric Rohmer comedy-drama, A Summer’s Tale (1996), the story of a music-minded mathematician, Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), juggling three appealing women while vacationing in Brittany. Which will he choose for something more lasting…and which will have him? It’s never clear-cut in a languidly paced but somehow always compelling Rohmer film, the sort of movie I appreciate more in my middle years than I did when I was Gaspard’s age, when I bought the infamous line uttered by Gene Hackman

Let’s get crazy with a roundup of new, recent, and upcoming releases on Blu-ray and DVD…

SD 1Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours: A hospital-set “Killer Double Feature” on DVD has received a slight upgrade on Blu-ray, and Visiting Hours (1982), the  lesser of the two movies, has been madeover with some interesting new interviews, with producer Pierre David and screenwriter Brian Taggert, both veterans of north of the border “Canucksploitation,” and co-star Lenore Zann, whose eventful career took her from a hooker

Fresh from poring over Warner Home Video’s JFK box, I tucked into an equally welcome Blu-ray set devoted to another figure who has loomed large in our cultural consciousness, James Dean: Ultimate Collector’s Edition. Another sturdy, handsomely presented offering, with a commemorative book, poster reproductions, and other material you’d expect to find in an UCE, the set chronicles the meteoric ascent and shattering fall of an actor who walked in the footsteps of John Garfield, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando and exited the epitome of the young American male in the flush but anxious years following World War II. So brief–dead in a car crash at age 24, Dean received not one but alas two posthumous Oscar nominations (the only actor to have two such accolades) for two of his three films, his first, East of Eden (1955), and his last, Giant (1956). So iconic–it was his second film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), that cemented an image

Here in the Northeast, spring has been in the air–and out of it, too. So it’s still a good time to stay in, draw from the new release pile, and write some capsule reviews. Look forward to more in the coming weeks. Let’s start with the scariest movie I ever saw, with a concept that still gives me the willies–and reminds me that the cold has its uses.

91_BD_box_348x490That, of course, would be The Blob. I wrote the blog essay linked above in 2008, when the movie turned 50; it’s 55 this year, and the Criterion Collection (man does not live on Bergman and Tarkovsky alone) has ported over its fine DVD, commentary-and-memorabilia engulfed edition to Blu-ray. The added resolution (save for one bum reel that couldn’t be redone, not that it’s terrible) raised my hackles again–that all-devouring, pulsing mass has an existential dread to it that a horde of walking dead can’t equal in my consciousness. (The whole scene in the doctor’s office…brrr.) The DIY teens-in-trouble movie that surrounds it

Amidst the 2012-2013 theatre season in New York comes a new column about the scene, long overdue. And Dw Dunphy, at least, is happy about it–he created this delightful graphic for it somewhere toward the end of the 2011-2012 one, and is probably wondering why it never opened, as it were.

We’ll begin “Exit” with entrances. Next spring Tom Hanks, who hasn’t set foot on a Manhattan stage since 1979, completes a fruitful filmic partnership with the late Nora Ephron by starring in her screenplay-turned-play Lucky Guy, about the tabloid reporter Mike McAlary. (Heirs of the Pulitzer-winning New York Daily News columnist, who died in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail was playing in theatres, are indeed lucky guys; Dan Klores’ bio-play The Wood had an Off Broadway run last fall.) With his more theatrically experienced bosom buddy Peter Scolari as co-star, Hanks isn’t the only star to hoof it to the Great White Way this season. Look for Tony winner Scarlett Johansson, in a revival (the third one in eight years) of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hit Tin Roof. (Williams is “catnip” for actresses–Chicago audiences enjoyed Diane Lane in a well-received return of the less traveled Sweet Bird of Youth, which I hope will be migrating east.) And Shia LaBeouf will join stage vet Alec Baldwin in a Broadway mounting of Orphans, a hit Off Broadway in the 80s, and in 1987 a film with Albert Finney and Matthew Modine. Career rehabbing? Sure, but on paper LaBeouf is well cast as a troubled street youth.

JAKENumerous stars are already in play. Jake Gyllenhaal’s sagging film career got a bit of a boost with End of Watch, and in his New York stage debut he’s doing pleasing work in the Roundabout’s Off Broadway production of If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, which, given that unwieldy title, everyone calls “the Jake play.” Except it’s not–he’s part of a tight-knit quartet of actors, and disappears

At Barnes & Noble, Christmas comes twice a year for movie buffs, when the store holds its popular half off sale on all Criterion Collection Blu-rays and DVDs. With one week remaining on its fall sale, here’s five recommendations. (And, what the hell, a few more, sight unseen, like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and David Fincher’s The Game, and two favorites from last year, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success. Criterion’s enshrinement of Michael Cimino’s perplexing, fascinating, and maligned Heaven’s Gate, due later this month, may be the cinematic reclamation event of the year.)

For your consideration:

David Lean Directs Noël Coward. Lean’s classic Lawrence of Arabia has finally made it to Blu-ray in its 50th anniversary year, and, to paraphrase Monty Python, there has been much rejoicing. But there is a case to be made for the greatness of the earlier work that stands in the shadows of Lawrence and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and this box set, which celebrates the pairings of the former film editor and the playwright-turned-screenwriter, weighs in

Not that I’d see it, or any other movie, in converted 3D, but I love Titanic (1997). It was however hardly the first word on the disaster, whose centenary is marked today. Dave Kehr recently noted that barely had the ship touched bottom in 1912 when survivor Dorothy Gibson co-wrote and starred in the one-reel Saved from the Titanic, and the retellings–including an oddball German propaganda piece in 1943, a glossy Hollywood production in 1953 with Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Wagner, various TV movies, and an unmemorable if Tony-winning Broadway musical–have continued in the wake of James Cameron’s Oscar winner. A new one, from Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes, concludes tonight on ABC. You probably know the ending.

My high school English teacher, Charles Haas, is the co-author of five books related to the sinking and co-founder of the Titanic International Society. When I was a student he served as an adviser to 1980’s Raise the Titanic. I doubt the filmmakers used much of what he imparted–save for John Barry’s score it’s pretty terrible, squeezing the pulp from Clive Cussler’s ripping yarn–but in the years since he’s been to the wreck twice (awesome) and as I recall appeared in Cameron’s IMAX documentary Ghosts of the Abyss (2003). His touchstone was Walter Lord’s enthralling history of the disaster, A Night to Remember (1955), which we read–happily–in class. (John McPhee and Robert Caro are just two great nonfiction writers said to have been inspired by Lord’s nimble prose, which was itself encouraged by the surprise success of the 1953 movie.)

Mr. Haas must have screened the 1958 film version for us. I was already steeped in it, me and my dad having watched it numerous times on Channel 9’s “Million Dollar Movie” in New York. It was only in 1994, when the Criterion Collection released it on laserdisc, that I realized it was

Two more shopping days until Christmas? No sweat–still time to hop on over to your favorite big box retailer and pick up a few DVDs and Blu-rays. Or, better yet, hope for a gift card, take advantage of the aftersales, and stock up on a few recent titles for yourself. (And while you’re at it, buy a Blu-ray player if you haven’t already done so. Changed my life.)

Blu-ray is the only way to properly enjoy The Rocketeer (1991), which has been trapped in an indifferent, non-anamorphic DVD since forever. Cleaned up and hi-deffed he’s flying high again, as is his director, Joe Johnston, who had a much bigger hit this year with the similarly retro Captain America: The First Avenger. So you’d think this Blu-ray, touted as a “20th Anniversary Edition,” would be a real love fest, right? Wrong–other than a standard-def trailer, it’s barren of supplementary content. You’ll learn more about the movie and its fraught production from Wiki than you will from this disc, which is a bummer for the legion of fans who’ve embraced it over the years. (So why did it flop? With apologies to the underappreciated Billy Campbell, history might have been kinder had Disney prevailed

It’s Thanksgiving week…and so we give thanks to Barnes & Noble, which in July and November has a half-off sale on all Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-rays. Perfect for Christmas stocking stuffing and Christmas season wallet preservation, or, of course, self-indulgence…and I tend to gorge every year. (For all the Criterions I own, I always find more I want to own every fall and summer.)

There was some trepidation earlier this year when the beloved brand announced a Hulu Plus channel online–was Criterion throwing aside us collectors for streaming? Nope, just advertising the spectacularly produced musculature of its physical media (the Hulu versions seem barren of supplements) and perhaps previewing titles to come. (Is Criterion putting out, so to speak, David Hamilton softcore from the 80s? The stuff I watched on Cinemax after midnight is now art? Really? When?) The discs have continued as usual…and next year begins with the “biggest” release of them all, as Criterion looses its DVD and Blu-ray of Godzilla (1954) on the world.

Meanwhile, here’s eleven 2011 releases worth adding to your shopping bag before today (that’s right, today) rolls over into Tuesday and you have to wait until 2012 for another round of bargain shopping.

Broadcast News (1987). As James L. Brooks’ lousy How Do You Know was tanking in theaters last winter the movie that is line-for-line his best resurfaced, rescuing it from a prior poor DVD transfer. (Which reminds me that Holly Hunter’s other 1987 classic, Raising Arizona, is also finally available in a version that does it justice.) I hadn’t seen it in years until I tuned into a

Diabolique (The Criterion Collection, 1955)

I Saw the Devil (Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2010)

Separated by 55 years a legendary French chiller and a recent Korean gut-wrencher made for an excellent late-night double feature. Warning: If you do the same, don’t count on sleeping afterwards.

The Stories: You may not have seen Diabolique, but chances are you have felt Diabolique–reflected in dozens of movies made afterwards (Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and the play adaptation Deathtrap are just the tip of a sharp iceberg), it’s surely one of the most influential films ever made. Two subsequent TV redos and the shallow 1996 remake, with Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani, are mere footnotes to the experience.

Screenwriters Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac adapted their own novel, which Hitchcock was eager to film. Beating him to the punch was Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose earlier masterpieces about morally sticky situations, Le Corbeau (1943) and The Wages of Fear (1953), have also been given the Criterion treatment. (Hitchcock turned their next novel into 1958’s Vertigo, no slouch, either.) Clouzot turns the screws very deliberately in this story of a loveless triangle. The tyrannical Michel (Paul Meurisse, a familiar face in Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime thrillers) runs a crumbling boarding school owned by his fearful wife, Christina (played with an aching fragility by the director’s Brazilian-born wife, Vera). His schoolteacher lover, Nicole (a key early role for the great Simone Signoret), doesn’t have much use for him, either, so bound by contempt they decide to do him in. The plan, which involves the institution’s brackish pool, goes swimmingly–but, in accordance with the film’s trailer and closing credits, which ask audiences not to reveal the final twist, I’ll do better and not spoil the middle ones, either. Suffice it to say that we’re tightly bound to the two women throughout.

I Saw the Devil gets right in your face with the cinema of complicity. The director, Kim Ji-woon, has made some of the top Korean films in recent years, notably the chilling A Tale of Two Sisters (badly remade here as The Uninvited) and the jaunty “kimchi Western” The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Here he takes on the revenge saga, a staple of the nation’s celluloid renaissance, and casts Choi Min-sik, the star of the best-known example, 2003’s Oldboy, as a merciless serial killer. Kyung-chul murders the daughter of a retired police chief, whose secret agent fiance, Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun, a regular in Kim’s movies), vows to catch him. This he does–but rather than apprehend him, or kill him outright, the cop stuffs a sensor down the killer’s throat and tracks him via GPS, stepping in to administer ferocious beatings when the fiend is about to transgress. As Soo-hyun tries to figure out how best to punish a villain who admits to neither pain nor fear we’re drawn into Kyung-chul’s weird termite existence (which includes an extended visit to his cannibal friend and his kitchen facilities) and the detective’s mental and spiritual anguish at sinking to his level. At 141 minutes Soo-hyun has a lot of time to take care of the taunting Kyung-chul, though not forever; there is, let’s say, a time element regarding that sensor, and a movie that takes its sweet time detailing every atrocity kicks into high gear when the killer finds a way out of their aversion therapy.

Yes, my Popdose peers in music and TV submitted their 2010 lists weeks ago. But I figure it’s not the new year until you remember to date your checks with it (if you’re still using checks, that is) and I’m not there yet. My other excuse I’ve been way too busy seeing movies and watching DVDs, etc., to write about them.

What’s with the “etc.?” Thanks to a Christmas gift from the Mrs. I’ve gone Blu, as in Blu-ray. She won’t be thanking me when yet another mountain of discs gathers around my desk, though I assure her that their packaging is smaller and thinner and they won’t injure the kids as much as when they collapse on top of them. (“Special Editions again?” the nurse asked when I checked my daughter into the ER for the fourth time.) Oh, and the DVD is dead. Did you hear?

Gotta admit I’m a little fuzzy on this whole “UltraViolet” thing, which, with its emphasis on “clouds” and files rather than players and physical media suggests that Skynet will soon be rumbling to life and sending a mercenary robot from the future

I heard my first Christmas song on the radio on Friday, and you know what means: the absolute hell of seasonal shopping. But Barnes and Noble is making it easier for movie lovers, by holding its twice-annual 50% off sale on DVDs and Blu-rays from the Criterion Collection, the Bentley of distributors. I hesitate to call this a “gift guide,” as it’s (almost) too good to waste on Aunt Sally or cousin Jane–scoop up a few for yourself, and indulge your inner auteur.

But you’ll have to act fast, as the sale ends today, Nov. 22. To help with your quick decision-making, here’s a rundown on some recent Criterions, listing special features and a few thoughts on each title (the video and audio are exemplary on all, and the aspect ratios are as intended, so buy with confidence regarding those factors). Missed the sale? Not to worry; it’ll be back next June or July, so bookmark this list for safekeeping and remember that my birthday is in summer, hint hint.

DVD and Blu-ray (2009)

Merry fucking Christmas. I’d love to see the look on grandma’s face when she pops this one into the player, what with its dead kid, genital

Note to self: Sentiment outranks everything else when picking a Best Foreign Language Film winner in the Oscar pool. I’m not-so-secretly pleased that the stone-cold, auteurist-approved White Ribbon didn’t blue-ribbon it, despite critical hosannas. But my favorite, A Prophet (Un prophète), didn’t make it, either.

The Criterion Collection has an agreement with IFC Films to put some of its more noteworthy acquisitions on DVD, and so we have Matteo Garrone’s outstanding Gomorrah. I reviewed the film back in March. Earlier this year I didn’t feel ready to commit to a proper Top 10 list for films released in 2008, but having seen just about everything worthwhile since then, I’d certainly slot in Gomorrah.

Gomorrah is frightening in the best sense: Moral,” I wrote. Garrone’s adaptation of a searing bestseller leaves the capos and capers behind to concentrate on how syndicate control pervades Italian society at every level, and reaches outward. It tells five stories of pitiless corruption, with the only exposition coming afterwards. I likened it to a “waking nightmare” for the middlemen, workers, and impressionable kids caught in the crossfire, and I left the theater uneasy.

The film comes to DVD in a standard two-disc package or as a Blu-ray. In standard format the first disc is dedicated to the movie, with a new HD digital transfer that squeezes every seamy drop of life from Marco Onorato’s widescreen framing, a theatrical trailer, and new subtitles. Complementing the feature is a thorough booklet essay by Chuck Stephens that explores the history of the Camorra system, the seismic impact of the book (whose author, Roberto Saviano, has been obliged to live under police protection since its publication), and how Garrone makes use of Neapolitan architecture and plays off the works of Federico Fellini, Francesco Rosi, and Michelangelo Antonioni.

After a more than a decade in Hollywood 33-year-old Robert Redford broke through as a major star in 1969’s smash hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But he had two other key roles that year. One was in Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, a Western whose social consciousness is embedded in his multi-hyphenate career. The other, Downhill Racer, defines a facet of his screen personality, and has received the Criterion Collection treatment on standard DVD.

Outside of Butch Cassidy and The Sting, Redford has always been one of the most introspective stars—not for him the more declarative, chest-beating style of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, or other actors of his remarkable generation. He’s inwards, not outwards. Cautious—and, in the eyes of some critics, vague, or timid. (Brad Pitt, the star of Redford’s A River Runs Through It and co-star in Spy Game, was once called “the new Robert Redford,” but it’s as difficult to imagine Redford appearing in True Romance, Twelve Monkeys, and Inglourious Basterds as it is thinking of Pitt for The Way We Were, The Great Gatsby, or Out of Africa.) But these qualities are all pluses for the character of skier David Chappellet, who takes his place on the U.S. Ski Team, but is far from a team player.

Truth is, the close-to-unlikable Chappellet is a bit of a prick, whose dedication to his ego rivals his commitment to his sport. As the team heads to Europe he’s thoughtless to his teammates, and the women who drift through his life (principally Camilla Sparv, who in real life was a former wife of Paramount Pictures chief Robert Evans, and in this film is a challenge to any athlete’s “self-denial”). The head coach, well-played as always by Gene Hackman, is irritated by his attitude, as he tries to keep the team together and rattles his tin cup looking for funding. Plot is minimal in a script written by novelist James Salter—the only hint we get at what drives, and also deforms, the restless, self-defensive Chappellet is a tense visit with his father (non-professional Walter Stroud), a flinty Coloradoan who grouses that he doesn’t get the point of winning without compensation.

A 201-minute Belgian film described as a “domestic 2001” could inspire reams of pretentious criticism, but I found Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) pretty easy to relate to. Dielman, a widow, lives a narrow, routine-dominated existence, given over entirely to domestic tasks and responsibilities, which over the course of three days we observe in real time. She makes the beds, cooks the meals for her and her mopey teenage son (whose questions about his father and other niggling subjects she deflects), minds a neighbor’s baby, and does the shopping. Between 5-5:30pm she turns a trick, to keep the finances afloat. One day, she finds herself with a free hour, with nothing to due but ruminate—and her carefully regimented life crumbles.

As a stay-at-home dad with various tasks to complete on any given weekday, Jeanne, I hear you. (I prostitute myself by writing DVD reviews). How things change; I was in no way the target audience when the film premiered. Directed by the 25-year-old Chantal Akerman, Jeanne Dielman was written by Danae Maroulacou, produced by Evelyne Paul and Corinne Jenart, edited by Patricia Canino, photographed (strikingly, in the unforgivably tight spaces of Dielman’s apartment) by Babette Mangolte…80 percent of the crew were women, at a time when the film industry was almost exclusively male. The star, Delphine Seyrig (from Last Year at Marienbad, which bends time and space in different ways), was an ardent feminist, committed to exploring the life and contradictions of the non-working woman. I doubt anyone realized that the next generation would breed John Dielmans.

Gender politics aside, the film can be appreciated for the sheer chutzpah of its craft. Think Tarantino goes in for long takes? Watch—and watch, and watch—as Dielman goes about her daily drudgery, including the unsexy sex.