"Dracula" (1979)

October 2014

DraculaFine Blu-ray Transfer Sheds New Light on Langella's Portrayal

Universal 61131593
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Here's another film in time for Halloween. I've been waiting eagerly for Universal to release John Badham's Dracula on Blu-ray. Though I like the camp of Bela Lugosi, the menace that Christopher Lee provides in the Hammer films, the overall Ruisdael-like look of Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre, and the multilayered performance of Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, it is this 1979 version that I find most satisfying overall (by coincidence, Herzog's film and this one were both released in 1979: Herzog's in January, Badham's in July).

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"The Innocents"

October 2014

The InnocentsA Chilling Ambiguity from Criterion

The Criterion Collection 727
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Halloween is just about here again, and Criterion has celebrated by releasing a near-perfect edition of one of cinema's greatest ghost stories.

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"Macbeth" (1971)

September 2014

MacbethA Bloody and Entertaining Macbeth from Roman Polanski

The Criterion Collection 726
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

Thespians often refer to Shakespeare's quest-for-power masterpiece as "bloody Macbeth," a name that Roman Polanski took to heart in creating his masterful, moody, and suspenseful film version in 1971. There's already plenty of blood in the stage version. Macbeth sees a "dagger of the mind" that turns bloody, and Lady Macbeth spends a portion of the last part of the play trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands. There's a lot of talk about blood here and there.

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"All That Jazz"

September 2014

All That JazzArt Imitates Life

The Criterion Collection 724
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Not many directors would take a heart attack as inspiration for an autobiographical movie, but not many directors were like Bob Fosse, a song-and-dance man and choreographer with a very dark side. In All That Jazz he created a most entertaining movie about his life that only he could have made.

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"Vengeance Is Mine"

September 2014

Vengeance Is MineChronicling a 78-Day Killing Spree in Japan

Criterion Collection 384
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Japanese director Shôhei Imamura stopped relating to actors and spent a lengthy part of his career knocking out documentaries for Japanese television. After eventually making peace with his attitudes and opinions, he made his feature-film comeback with 1979's Vengeance Is Mine, based on a bestselling novel by Ryūzō Saki, who in turn based his book on actual events. A real-life Japanese serial killer, Akira Nishiguchi (1925-1970), dispatched five victims from October 18 through December 29, 1963. For the book, Saki renamed him Iwao Enokizu, and Imamura kept this name for his movie, casting Ken Ogata in the role.

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"Insomnia" (1997)

July 2014

InsomniaA Different Kind of Thriller

The Criterion Collection 47
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

Insomnia was the first feature film for director and screenwriter Erik Skjoldbjærg, and it was so admired that Christopher Nolan did a US remake. That excellent version is probably best known to North American audiences, since it starred box office favorites Al Pacino and Robin Williams. Nolan's version is quite good, but the original has much to offer as well.

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"Judex"

June 2014

JudexA Magical and Bizarre 1963 Homage to Silent Film

The Criterion Collection 710
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

I first encountered the work of French director Georges Franju when I reviewed Eyes Without a Face (1960) last October. This month, along came Judex (1963), to shed more light on this man who liked to populate realistic settings with magical, often bizarre events.

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"Red River"

June 2014

Red RiverJohn Wayne and Montgomery Clift on the Chisholm Trail

The Criterion Collection 709
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Red River has always been one of my favorite Westerns. I'd put it up there at the top with Shane, The Big Country, Duel in the Sun, and High Noon. Director Howard Hawks wasn't really a specialist in the genre, though he ably directed everything from dramas (Scarface) to comedy (Bringing Up Baby) to science fiction (The Thing from Another World). But I think he got everything -- well, almost everything -- right in telling a tale of the first cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail.

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"Touch of Evil"

June 2014

Touch of EvilReconstructing an Orson Welles Masterpiece

Universal 61171738
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Has there ever been a sleazier cinematic heavy than Police Captain Hank Quinlan? As played by Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, Quinlan looks 100 pounds overweight, has several days' growth of scraggly beard, and wears clothes, especially an old overcoat, that look like they've been not only slept in, but eaten in as well. Add the raspy voicing and you have a character that you'd not even want to shake hands with. Add Welles directing himself (and everyone else), and you have genius at work.

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"Ace in the Hole"

June 2014

Ace in the HoleAnything for a Story

The Criterion Collection 396
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Ponder this: between 1944 and 1955, Billy Wilder wrote and/or directed Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), A Foreign Affair (1948), A Song Is Born (1948), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), and Some Like It Hot (1955). That's quite a run. It's not just that most of these movies are considered great films; it's that they were all so popular that even most moviegoers who haven't seen them have still heard of them.

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