"Nightmare Alley" (1947)

June 2021

A Memorable Descent into Hell in a Pristine BD Transfer

The Criterion Collection 1078
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In Nightmare Alley, Stanton “Stan” Carlisle is a self-proclaimed selfish heel—but, as played by Tyrone Power, you can’t take your eyes off him. Power took on this complicated character in an effort to prove that he could be more than a matinee idol. He succeeded—his multilayered performance was worthy of (though didn’t win) an Oscar. But Darrell F. Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox, didn’t like the film, didn’t promote it, and let it die a box-office failure and a write-off. Now it’s recognized by many film critics as a masterpiece, an A-list film disguised as a B movie, the darkest of films noirs.

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"The Furies"

May 2021

Classical Mythology on the Range

The Criterion Collection 435
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Director Anthony Mann, a native of San Diego, long wanted to film Shakespeare’s King Lear as a Western. He had a plan for a final film, but died before it could get off the ground. Earlier Westerns, however, gave nods to the Bard of Avon, and the earliest example is The Furies (1950). Mann’s first A-list film, it was based on the popular novel of that title by Niven Busch, whose earlier novel Duel in the Sun had been filmed in 1946. Busch had already cowritten the scripts for The Westerner (1940), The Postman Always Rings Twice, and many other films. Like Mann, he strove to break away from the good-guys-in-white-hats Western to tell stories of greater psychological depth in which no character is wholly good or bad.

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"The Naked City"

March 2021

A City of Eight Million Stories

The Criterion Collection 380
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

“There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”

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"The Parallax View"

February 2021

Alan J. Pakula’s Masterpiece of Paranoia on BD

The Criterion Collection 1064
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

The Parallax View (1974) is the second of what has been called director Alan J. Pakula’s Paranoia Trilogy, bracketed by Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976). Although each film deals with a conspiracy, only the last is based on historical events.

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"Minding the Gap"

January 2021

Raw and Riveting Documentary About a Lot More than Skateboards

The Criterion Collection 1061
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

While best known for their restorations of classic films, once in a while The Criterion Collection deems something recent worthy of its attentions—such as Minding the Gap (2018), the first feature-length film to be directed by Chinese-American cameraman Bing Liu. It’s less “a skateboarding movie” than a riveting documentary on the lasting effects of domestic abuse.

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"Moonstruck"

December 2020

The Moon, Magic, and Perfection in the Air

The Criterion Collection 1053
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Canadian Norman Jewison made some fine films in his 41-year career as a director, including The Cincinnati Kid (1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), A Soldier’s Story (1984), and Agnes of God (1985). But Moonstruck (1987) stands out as a masterpiece of romantic comedy, a film so perfect I find no fault in it.

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"The Hit"

November 2020

A Slow-Burn, Murderous Road Trip Through Spain

The Criterion Collection 469
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Stephen Frears directed The Hit in 1984, shortly before making what many consider his best-known film, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). In The Hit, Willie Parker (Terence Stamp), a London gangster, turns court evidence on his four co-conspirators. Flash forward ten years -- Willie, living the life of Riley in Spain, has a hacienda with a spectacular view, a fabulous book collection, and goes on bicycle rides accompanied by an inept bodyguard.

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"Brute Force"

October 2020

Prison-Reform Agitprop ca. 1947

The Criterion Collection 383
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In these weeks and months following the death of George Floyd, we’ve heard a lot about prison reform and police brutality. The issue has been around a while -- witness this 1947 film from director Jules Dassin and producer Mark Hellinger. But there’s a huge difference between the prison-reform controversy of the 1940s and today’s: Few Black faces are seen among the prisoners in Brute Force, who are mostly white. The themes, on the other hand, are all too familiar.

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"The Comfort of Strangers"

September 2020

Terror Lurks in the Shadows of Venice

The Criterion Collection 1041
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
***

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

In The Comfort of Strangers (1990), Colin (Rupert Everett) and Mary (Natasha Richardson) are on holiday in Venice, trying to define their relationship. Mary wants a firmer commitment; Colin is happy with the loose arrangement they’ve had so far. In early scenes, they frankly address their differences -- or rather, Mary addresses, Colin deflects. Seemingly by accident, they run into a married couple, Robert (Christopher Walken) and Caroline (Helen Mirren), who live in a luxurious, Byzantine-style apartment. Robert tells them much of his history and acts as a tour guide; Caroline’s part in this story grows more gradually.

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"The War of the Worlds"

August 2020

A Sci-Fi Classic Reborn on Criterion BD

The Criterion Collection 1037
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
*****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
*****

Extras
****1/2

H.G. Wells’s science-fiction novel The War of the Worlds was first serialized in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897, and published in hardcover by William Heinemann the following year. In the 122 years since it has appeared in numerous versions, including several films. But the 1953 version directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal, though freely adapted from Wells’s story, has proven the most iconic and durable. Nearly 70 years after its release, The Criterion Collection’s bang-up edition informs us that it’s a classic that will remain in the repertory.

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