"Chimes at Midnight"

October 2016

Bigger-than-Life Falstaff from Orson Welles on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 830
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
**1/2

Extras
***1/2

William Shakespeare was a hero to Orson Welles, who spent much of his career trying to make definitive film versions of the plays. Welles directed an excellent Othello (1951), and his experimental Macbeth (1948) was a flawed masterpiece -- in both, he played the title role. But his greatest homage to the Bard was Chimes at Midnight (1965), which gives a different view of the story of Falstaff and Prince Hal in being a pastiche of parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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"Carnival of Souls"

September 2016

The Indie That Wouldn’t Die Finds New Life on Criterion Blu-Ray

The Criterion Collection 63
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Carnival of Souls isn’t one of the black-and-white classics Criterion is known for. It’s a cult indie film that became a horror favorite when Roger Ebert re-screened and reviewed it in 1989, 27 years after its initial release. But considering its history, singular locations, and magnificent camera work, it’s one of the best editions that Criterion has produced. Its many secrets and wonders are revealed through insightful commentaries and a generous set of extras.

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"Here Comes Mr. Jordan"

August 2016

James Gleason Scores Lots of Laughs in One of His Bigger Roles

The Criterion Collection 819
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

It’s likely that Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), the first film based on Harry Segall’s 1938 play Heaven Can Wait, is probably less well known to contemporary audiences than Warren Beatty’s 1978 remake, which reverted to the play’s title. Then there’s film director Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (1943), which was based on an entirely different play by Leslie Bush-Fekete and was the reason the 1941 film bore a different title.

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"In a Lonely Place"

July 2016

Psychotic and Vulnerable: Bogart in One of His Greatest Roles

The Criterion Collection 810
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

In a Lonely Place (1950) contains one of film noir’s most often quoted speeches: “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

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"Only Angels Have Wings"

June 2016

Barranca and Bananas on an Excellent New Criterion Release

The Criterion Collection 806
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Howard Hawks (1896-1977) had a long and distinguished career in Hollywood, and those in the know rate him as one of Tinseltown’s greatest directors. The general public, not so much. Perhaps that’s because Hawks made films in so many different genres -- Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941, nominated for an Oscar), Ball of Fire (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), The Thing from Another World (1951), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Rio Bravo (1959), Rio Lobo (1970) -- even this partial list (Hawks directed 47 films) is quite diverse, and the films themselves lack any obvious signature of director as auteur. In going to see Hawks’s movies, audiences were more interested in the stars than the director. One thing these films have in common is that, regardless of genre, Hawks always elicited the very best performances from his actors -- another reason they were more memorable than himself.

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"Bicycle Thieves"

May 2016

Vittorio De Sica’s Landmark Film: Still Very Moving

The Criterion Collection 374
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

Immediately after World War II, Italy’s film industry was a shambles. The studios were gone, good film stock was hard to find, and there was little money. There were independent directors and producers, however, some of them men of genius who established a new style that would not only make film more affordable but take it in a new direction. The style of this movement became known as neorealism, which was similar to the style of verismo that had preceded it in literature and opera. (Verismo was the Italian version of the late-19th-century shift toward naturalism, in operas such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci.) The scripts would be slices of the lives of working-class people, and would be shot on location -- no movie sets -- often with non-actors or those making their debuts. If a well-known actor was employed, he or she would be cast dramatically against type.

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"My Own Private Idaho"

April 2016

Van Sant's Cobbled-Together Masterpiece

The Criterion Collection 277
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

My Own Private Idaho (1991) was director Gus Van Sant’s third feature film, cobbled together from several different earlier sources, two screenplays, a story, and Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Many have found its fragmented structure irritating, but every time I watch it, I find that these glimpses into the lives of Mike Waters and Scott Favor add up to a masterpiece.

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"Gilda"

March 2016

Rita Hayworth at Her Best

The Criterion Collection 795
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Rita Hayworth is Gilda. Gilda is Rita Hayworth. They’ve become synonymous -- to mention either name in conversation conjures up the other. Her entrance, tossing her hair and saying “Me?,” has become iconic. The movie changed Hayworth’s image overnight in 1946 -- from healthy, all-American girl next door to Hollywood’s reigning sex symbol, an accolade she enjoyed for a little less than a decade. She then moved on to more matronly roles, then to alcoholism, and finally to Alzheimer’s.

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"The American Friend"

February 2016

Suspense and Murder from Wim Wenders and Criterion

The Criterion Collection 793
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Patricia Highsmith, in her novels centered on Tom Ripley, created in him a character who is smooth, suave, educated, pseudo-sophisticated, evasive, seductive, psychotic, and extremely dangerous. Matt Damon, John Malkovich, and Alain Delon have successfully portrayed Ripley on screen. In Wim Wenders’s The American Friend (1977), Dennis Hopper portrays Ripley as more of a rough-and-tumble mad dog -- a clever man with a temper and a persistent habit of doing bad things. The German director, too, had been persistent in his attempts to option a Highsmith novel to film. When it became clear that none were available, Highsmith gave Wenders Ripley’s Game, then not yet published.

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"In Cold Blood"

January 2016

Art Imitates Life in Flawless Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 781
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Based on the book of the same title -- described by its author, Truman Capote, as a “nonfiction novel” -- the film In Cold Blood is grim, gritty, probing, and brilliant in every way. Director Richard Brooks, who wrote the screenplay, managed to express in it his opposition to the death penalty in ways so subtle that many missed the point. Brooks’s insistence on using relatively unknown actors paid off. Robert Blake as Perry Smith, and Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock, are brilliant in the roles, and the fact that they looked very much like the killers they portray helps underline Brooks’s documentary style.

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