"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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"Lost in America"

August 2017

An Amusing Journey to a Unique Era

The Criterion Collection 887
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Lost in America (1985) is a social satire from a period in American history in which many sought to find themselves, usually by letting go of possessions and exploring their spiritual side. David and Linda Howard (Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty) are about to celebrate David’s pending promotion by buying a bigger house and a Mercedes. Instead, David is fired, and decides that he’s now free and that they should sell the house, Linda should quit her job, and they should go on a quest for truth and fulfillment.

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"Spotlight on a Murderer"

July 2017

An Oddity from an Unexpected Source

Arrow Films AA011/A-TM
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
*

We have the Criterion Collection to thank for a 21st-century interest in French film director Georges Franju (1912-1987). The release of the black-and-white horror film Eyes Without a Face (1959) singled out Franju as a most interesting artist, and his Judex (1963), also reissued by Criterion, also proved worth watching.

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"Rumble Fish"

June 2017

A Much Better Film Than I Thought in 1983

The Criterion Collection 869
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Director Francis Ford Coppola has usually alternated his big blockbuster movies, such as The Godfather (1972), with more personal, insightful, lower-budget offerings such as The Conversation (1974). After Apocalypse Now (1979) and before The Cotton Club (1984), he directed two small films based on novels by S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish (both 1983). Sharing many cast members, the films are quite different. The Outsiders is a color, stylized-by-Hollywood effort; Rumble Fish is more personal, moody, and was shot mostly in black-and-white.

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"Blow-Up"

May 2017

Antonioni’s Homage to Photography and an Iconic Era

The Criterion Collection 865
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

How interesting that one of the most iconic movies representing London’s Swinging ’60s should be filmed by an Italian. Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) was already famous for having directed his trilogy L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962) when producer Carlo Ponti signed him to direct three films in English. These turned out to be Blow-Up (1966), Zabriskie Point (1970), and The Passenger (1975). Zabriskie Point failed on almost every count, and The Passenger was a critical if not a commercial success -- of the three, Blow-Up was the cinematic masterpiece.

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"The Lair of the White Worm"

April 2017

Ken Russell’s Cult Fave on Vestron Blu-ray

Vestron/Lionsgate 6
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

LaserDisc aficionados will fondly remember Vestron Pictures, a film and television studio that provided a large portion of Image Entertainment’s catalog. Lionsgate now owns the Vestron catalog, and has begun reissuing its titles in Criterion Collection-like editions with remastered images and sound, with commentaries and extras that contribute to the viewing experience. Vestron made a steady stream of low-budget, schlock horror movies, but every once in a while strove for greatness and hired someone famous, if outrageous, to direct a film -- someone like Ken Russell.

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"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"

March 2017

Pedro Almodóvar’s Colorful Screwball Comedy on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 855
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was inspired, in part, by La Voix humaine, a 1930 play by Jean Cocteau. The film that brought Pedro Almodóvar international fame, it was the first of his movies I saw, in a small art house in Washington, DC. It blew me away -- here was Bringing Up Baby (1938) or Ball of Fire (1941) given a Spanish flare, brought up to date for 1988, and presented in vibrant, even outrageous color. Nearly 30 years later, I felt the same rush while watching this new reissue, one of the best the Criterion Collection has ever presented.

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"The Asphalt Jungle"

January 2017

John Huston’s Heist Masterpiece on Blu-Ray

The Criterion Collection 847
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

In 1950, John Huston directed The Asphalt Jungle for MGM and set the pattern for virtually every caper/heist movie to follow. Rififi in particular, with its intricate, suspenseful, nearly dialogueless depiction of a theft, owes much to Huston.

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"McCabe & Mrs. Miller"

December 2016

Robert Altman’s Unique Western on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 827
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

American film director Robert Altman loved to bend familiar genres to his own purposes. M*A*S*H (1970) was like no other war movie that had preceded it. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) turned the typical showdown-and-shoot-out Western into a Northwestern, set in the fictional mountain town of Presbyterian Church.

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"Night Train to Munich"

November 2016

Carol Reed Channels Alfred Hitchcock

The Criterion Collection 523
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
***1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
*1/2

Sir Carol Reed (1906-1976) was a British film director best known for three masterpieces: Odd Man Out (1947), The Fallen Idol (1948), and The Third Man (1949). After this brief flash of genius, his films went relatively unheralded until Oliver! (1968), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director.

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