"An Unmarried Woman"

July 2020

Jill Clayburgh’s Radiance and Depth

The Criterion Collection 1032
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

After establishing shots of New York City set to composer Bill Conti’s jaunty main theme, we discover a jogging couple: Erica (Jill Clayburgh) and Martin (Michael Murphy). She’s happy and carefree; he’s quarrelsome, nervous, withdrawn. When he steps in some dog poop and begins having a conniption, she placates him, and they then run home to make love. There we’re introduced to their 15-year-old daughter, Patti (Lisa Lucas), and this well-to-do family’s domestic life. It all looks perfect. Later, as Erica and Martin are taking a walk, he trembles as he tells her, “I’m in love with another woman.”

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"Matewan"

June 2020

John Sayles’s Vision of 1920s West Virginia Rings True

The Criterion Collection 999
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Independent filmmaker and screenwriter (and novelist) John Sayles has been interested in depicting social injustice in most of his films, and in none so prominently as Matewan (1987), based on a massacre that took place on May 19, 1920, in Matewan, West Virginia. On that date, coal miners organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) confronted 12 agents from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, who were working for the mine owners. The mayor, two citizens, and seven agency men were killed, and others were wounded.

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"Torso"

May 2020

Classic Italian Thriller Gets the Ultimate BD Treatment

Arrow Video AV171
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****1/2

Films in the Italian genre called giallo, or yellow -- we call them horror thrillers -- were prominent in Italy in the early-to-mid 1970s, and predated and inspired such American slasher films as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). The word giallo originally referred to popular Italian mystery novels that were published in cheap paperback editions with yellow covers. A genuine giallo film is a murder mystery containing gratuitous nudity, sex, violence, and lots of graphic gore. Although giallo and slasher movies have much in common, the latter are more about “howdunnit, who’s next”; the giallo, despite its lurid trappings, is more a whodunnit steeped in mystery.

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"So Dark the Night"

April 2020

A Minor Gem Worth Your Time

Arrow Academy AA040-TM
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

COVID-19 has turned just about every man, woman, and child into a movie buff. By now, many have been through the classics and are surfing frantically for movies they pick by title or star. Such a search can be an adventure, but you’d best be prepared that streaming Netflix or Amazon can uncover some real clunkers. Last night I watched After Darkness -- a waste of my time and Kyra Sedgwick’s talent. But turning to a stack of unwatched B movies on disc, I uncovered So Dark the Night (1946), a nifty noir whodunit based on a story by Aubrey Wisberg and directed by Joseph H. Lewis. This succinct (70 minutes) detective procedural set in France has a very twisty ending.

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"The Fugitive Kind"

March 2020

Brando Smolders on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 515
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Amid a long string of successes from playwright and screenwriter Tennessee Williams came this third-time’s-the-charm effort. Its origins date back to an early Williams play, Battle of Angels, which closed during its trial run in Boston, in 1940. Seventeen years later, after much rewriting and rethinking by Williams, Orpheus Descending, based on Battle of Angels, premiered on Broadway in 1957. Reviews were unflattering, and it closed two months later. Nonetheless, a film version was made: The Fugitive Kind (1960).

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"Fail-Safe"

February 2020

Taut Suspense Scores on BD

The Criterion Collection 1011
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

After 1949, when the USSR began testing nuclear weapons, the US ramped up its own nuclear program. The Cold War had begun. The American public was indoctrinated with information about what would happen if an enemy exploded a nuclear bomb within the US, and about how the armed services would retaliate. Though scientists said the results would be catastrophic, government officials came up with a program, aimed at children and parents, that used an animated film starring a turtle named Bert. It gave false assurances that all would be hunky-dory if kids just ducked under their flimsy school desks and covered their heads with their hands -- the famous “duck and cover” program.

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"Now, Voyager"

January 2020

Bette Davis at Her Peak on Criterion Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 1004
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Olive Higgins Prouty wrote several novels that revolved around the aristocratic Vale family of Boston, Massachusetts. Most popular of these was Now, Voyager (1941), which was quickly optioned by Warner Bros. as a vehicle for Bette Davis, then at the height of her career and the reigning star of popular “women’s movies.” The film was released the following year, ably directed by Irving Rapper (Deception, The Glass Menagerie), and with Davis getting admirable support from Gladys Cooper, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, and Franklin Pangborn. Ever since, it has been considered a classic.

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"The Daytrippers"

December 2019

Stunning Ensemble Acting Makes for a Memorable Trip

The Criterion Collection 1001
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Every once in a while, a low-budget picture delivers a quality of entertainment seldom achieved by well-funded studio efforts. Such is director Greg Mottola’s gem, The Daytrippers (1996), shot on a budget of $50,000 on free locations, including cast members’ apartments. It succeeds on the strength of Mottola’s wittily intelligent script, and a dream cast of palpable charisma and amazing ensemble acting. The actors also improvised some dialogue, which only serves to make a good thing better.

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"Cluny Brown"

November 2019

“Squirrels to the Nuts” -- Cluny Brown Arrives on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 997
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
**1/2

A skewering of the British class system, and a paean to the joys of finding one’s place in life, Margery Sharp’s best-selling novel from 1944 seemed to cry out for a movie version, and in 1946 it got The Lubitsch Touch -- it was Ernst Lubitsch’s final completed film. Book and film are set in 1938 London, at the time of Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland. Although Sharp, writing at the height of WWII, obviously knew of the later consequences of this action, here Hitler is something of a joke, and the invasion an only potentially horrible event that takes second place to her main characters’ preservation of social decorum.

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"Fists in the Pocket"

October 2019

Lou Castel’s Memorable Portrayal of a Serial Killer in the Making

The Criterion Collection 333
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Dysfunctional families have always been great fodder for makers of film and television. You can scarcely watch a TV comedy show these days that doesn’t revolve around a screwed-up family. And filmmakers have found that dysfunctional families can be things of terror.

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