"Riot in Cell Block 11"

April 2014

Riot in Cell Block 11Prison Reform: A Hot Topic in Both 1954 and 2014

The Criterion Collection 704
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Prison reform is a contemporary issue, with state and federal governments hotly debating its solution. Prisons are overcrowded, often due to the incarceration of prisoners who have committed mere misdemeanors, and the imprisonment of so many has become a very expensive proposition. But Criterion's release of Riot in Cell Block 11 reminds us that prison reform isn't a new issue.

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"Inside Llewyn Davis"

March 2014

Inside Llewyn DavisAn Intimate Portrait of New York's Coffee Houses in 1961

Sony Pictures 42859
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
***1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Set in the Greenwich Village folk-music scene of the early 1960s, Inside Llewyn Davis is a black comedy about the fading coffee houses of the time. There are no clinking glasses and buzzing conversations as in the jazz clubs; everyone at the coffee house is respectful and quiet, saving it all until the applause at the end of a number. At the time the movie takes place, I was in Boston hearing Odetta at the coffee houses there, and I can confirm that the reverential tone of Inside Llewyn Davis is spot on.

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"The Hidden Fortress"

March 2013

The Hidden FortressBlu-ray Does Justice to Kurosawa’s Depth-of-Field Shots

The Criterion Collection 116
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

The Hidden Fortress is one of director Akira Kurosawa's most accessible gems. In 1958 it put him back in favor with Japanese audiences and grossed quite a bit of money, but it became popular in the West only when George Lucas identified it as one of his inspirations for Star Wars. Renewed familiarity with the black-and-white classic uncovers an excellent action-adventure movie that was practically a textbook on the use of widescreen and anamorphic lenses.

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"Tess"

March 2013

TessA Sweeping Romance with a Charismatic Star

The Criterion Collection 697
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

The later 1970s seem to have been just the right time for epic film romances. Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon in 1975, Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven in 1978, and Roman Polanski's Tess in 1979. All of the movies presented sweeping landscapes of the countryside in which they were filmed, but it was Polanski's movie that had the best plot and character development.

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"Foreign Correspondent"

February 2014

Foreign CorrespondentEspionage with Alfred Hitchcock in 1940

The Criterion Collection 696
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Foreign Correspondent (1940) shares honors with Rebecca (also 1940) as being one of Alfred Hitchcock's first American movies. But perhaps it's really the first because Hitchcock felt that David O. Selznick had micromanaged Rebecca in such a way that it lacked the usual Hitchcockian humor and was really apart from his oeuvre.

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"Rififi"

January 2014

RififiGrandfather of Heist Films Gets the TLC Criterion Treatment

The Criterion Collection 115
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

The Hollywood blacklist created a paranoid time in Tinseltown when noted directors, screenplay writers, actors, and technicians could not be hired if they were suspected of having anything to do with the Communist party. Many were falsely accused and driven out of work, and some wrote under pseudonyms. Director Jules Dassin, interviewed in 2000 by Criterion in an extra included on this new release of Rififi, is still emotional about his blacklist history.

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"Throne of Blood"

January 2014

Throne of BloodCriterion Doubles Up

The Criterion Collection 190
Format: Blu-ray and DVD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***1/2

Criterion gives us two for one twice over with the release of Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood. First, they've stopped doing double inventory by putting both the Blu-ray and DVD versions in the same package. Judging by the press announcements for future 2014 releases, dual-format editions are to become a standard feature. Second, and probably not to become standard, is that Throne of Blood includes two different sets of subtitles, one by Japanese-film translator Linda Hoaglund and the other by Kurosawa expert Donald Richie.

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"The Uninvited" (1944)

October 2013

The UninvitedTaking Ghosts Seriously

The Criterion Collection 677
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
****

Just in time for Halloween, Criterion, who brought us Eyes Without a Face last week, has released The Uninvited, a classic black-and-white ghost story directed by Lewis Allen in 1944. It's considered the first Hollywood film to take ghosts seriously and not explain them as the result of manmade parlor tricks.

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"Eyes Without a Face"

October 2013

Eyes Without a FaceGeorges Franju’s Movie Is Scary, but the Real Horror Lies in Reality

The Criterion Collection 260
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Tired of watching the same old titles for Halloween entertainment? Just in the nick of time, Criterion has released a rare oldie (1960) that ought to chill you to the bone, along with an extra feature that is positively horrifying. Eyes Without a Face was dubbed in English and released in the US as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. This is the first time I've seen the French original.

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"The Devil’s Backbone"

August 2013

The Devil's BackboneA Gothic Ghost Story Masterpiece

The Criterion Collection 666
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Most moviegoers know Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006), which won three Academy Awards and was nominated for three additional ones. The Devil's Backbone, from 2001, is considered a twin to Pan's Labyrinth, but it is not generally known to American audiences, no doubt because its screening at the Canadian International Film Festival was right before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Immediately after that catastrophic event, film producers were soft-pedaling any releases that contained violence.

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