"The Sword of Doom"

February 2015

An Intense Study in Madness, Samurai Style

The Criterion Collection 280
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Though the Criterion Collection endeavors to add films of all nationalities and styles to its catalog, it has placed special emphasis on Japanese movies, not only on disc, but also in its video-streaming titles available exclusively on Hulu Plus (a real bargain at only $7.99 a month, for all the Criterion you care to view).

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"The Palm Beach Story"

February 2015

A Madcap Romp Restored for Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 742
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Director Preston Sturges establishes the madcap nature of 1942's The Palm Beach Story right at the opening credits with a series of jumbled vignettes accompanied by the Overture to William Tell. There's Claudette Colbert in a wedding gown racing to the altar. But wait! There's Claudette Colbert trussed up and trying to escape from a closet. But wait! That's her again in the wedding gown. Are there two Claudette Colberts? What's going on?

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"It Happened One Night"

January 2015

It Happened One NightThe Granddaddy of Romantic Comedies Goes Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 736
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Frank Capra filmed It Happened One Night in four weeks on a budget of $300,000, with a sixth of that going to Claudette Colbert's salary. Even adjusting for inflation, it's a remarkably small budget as Hollywood goes. No one expected the little film to stay around or be anything important. Surprise! It Happened One Night swept the top-five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay) and became the granddaddy of all romantic comedies. Other comedies have come close, but 81 years down the road there are still none that are better.

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"Safe" (1995)

January 2015

SafeEnvironmental Illness as a Horror Story

The Criterion Collection 739
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

We face chemical exposure every day. We experience it while we're driving, when we're cleaning, when we use pesticides, when we're near smoke or smokers, and when we're dealing with plastics and synthetic fabrics. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) sufferers like me are particularly zoned in to this exposure since we literally feel it in our lungs. Most of us identify the issue and eliminate it from our lives, or at least reduce our exposure. Others, though, have severe psychological triggers that can cause nausea, fatigue, headaches, and skin inflammation, requiring bed rest or hospitalization.

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"Time Bandits"

December 2014

Time BanditsA Favorite Time-Travel Movie Has Never Looked Better

The Criterion Collection 37
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***1/2

Since I love fantasy, social-satire, and time-travel films, Time Bandits has long been a favorite movie. It's had a checkered experience on home video: Criterion's previous laserdisc and DVD left something to be desired, as did the Image Blu-ray release. The new Criterion Blu-ray, produced and restored at 2K under director Terry Gilliam's supervision, and with the correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1, solves everything. It's a knockout. I don't give this advice often, but if you love this movie as much as I do, read on and be prepared to put your old version on the eBay auction block.

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"The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind"

December 2014

The Shooting/Ride in the WhirlwindRevisionist Cult Westerns from 1965

The Criterion Collection 734, 735
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In the 1960s producer/director Roger Corman developed a moviemaking machine that gave first opportunities to many budding actors and directors. Monte Hellman was one of the latter, Jack Nicholson one of the former. The two teamed up to make two short Westerns, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind. They were made concurrently in six weeks on a low budget, and they featured overlapping casts but different leading men.

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"F for Fake"

December 2014

F for FakeRevisionist Welles

The Criterion Collection 288
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
***1/2

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****1/2

Orson Welles. Mention the name and images come to mind immediately: Welles who made Citizen Kane, a movie that many consider the best one ever made. Welles whose radio version of The War of the Worlds seemed so real that it started panic in the streets. Welles who was married to the incredibly beautiful Rita Hayworth. Welles who mesmerized audiences in The Third Man.

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"My Darling Clementine"

November 2014

My Darling ClementineWyatt Earp Reinvented in a Western Classic

The Criterion Collection 732
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Wyatt Earp is one of the bigger legends in US western history. Who hasn't heard of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral? He's been a character in movies many times over, and was most recently played by Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp, 1994) and Kurt Russell (Tombstone, 1993). Twenty years on, it looks like we're due for yet another version. Hollywood keeps reinventing the same story. So did Earp.

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"The Vanishing" (1988)

October 2014

The VanishingA Deadly Cat-and-Mouse Game Generates Intense Suspense

The Criterion Collection 133
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
**

Modern audiences have come to equate suspense and horror movies with blood. But when you think about it, the great ones have little of that. Thus it is with the original European version of The Vanishing. The movie builds incredible suspense and brings you to the edge of your seat, but without guns or blood.

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"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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