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    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on May 11th, 2009

    “Your life is defined by its opportunities… even the ones you miss.”

    F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of those great American writers from the classic age. In school most of us were required to read various works from the writer. For many students those works included The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. The original work is a mere 20 page short story. For the last 15 years Hollywood has made one attempt or another to bring the classic story to the screen. The closest anyone got was Ron Howard who expected to bring in John Travolta
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    Overlord

    Posted in Disc Reviews by David Annandale on May 10th, 2007

    Synopsis

    Produced under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum, Stuart Cooper’s unusual film tells the story of a young private (Brian Stirner) undergoing basic training and experiencing premonitions of his death in the days and weeks leading up to the D-Day invasion. This narrative is intercut with extensive archival war footage.

    In the “Mining the Archive” featurette, the remark is made that the film is an excellent showcase for the museum’s collection. This is very true, and is both the…
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    Burmese Harp, The

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on March 29th, 2007

    Criterion has surprised me once again with this beautiful film. It amazes me ow they continue to find these “diamonds in the rough”. Films that couldn’t possibly exist, yet here they are, widely available on the mas market. The Burmese Harp is a Japanese war film that is decidedly anti-war, and features some truly beautiful music.

    At the end of World War II, a group of Japanese soldiers find themselves in Burma, held by British forces as prisoners of war. One soldier from the party has spent his free t…
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    49th Parallel

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on March 7th, 2007

    49th Parallel is a film that I had heard mentioned in passing on occasion, but never really had any practical knowledge of until now. Having now seen the film for myself, I find it to be one of those rare productions that only Criterion seems to be able to find. This is something that I would have never dreamed existed. While the idea of war films told from the Axis point of view are almost commonplace today, such a thing was practically unheard of in 1941, with the United States on the brink of entering World…
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    Yojimbo

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on February 11th, 2007

    Portions of this review were lifted from the previous Criterion Collection edition review.  Now on to the review…

    After making such internationally renowned samurai period films such as Rashomon and The Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa did make another film, Yojimbo, with a decidedly different tone, bordering on dark comedy. The opening shot is of Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune, Throne of Blood), a samurai without a master, who look  at a mountain, and suddenly scratches his head, as if his hair is on too tight.
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    When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on February 10th, 2007

    Let me get this out of the way right up front; I really enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha. Now, I am certainly smart enough to understand that the film was not entirely realistic, and there were some plot developments that pushed suspension of disbelief pretty far, but I wound it charming and entertaining. It was so charming, in fact, that it was often times easy to forget that you were essentially watching a movie about whores. You can romance it all you want, but at the end of the day a Geisha is really nothing mo…
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    Border Radio

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on January 9th, 2007

    Border Radio is an independent film written and directed by Allison Anders, Kurt Voss and Dean Lent. The film serves as more of a curiosity than a great film on its own merits. Released in 1987, the film fell in amongst the wave of indie filmmakers making an impact at the time, including Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. In fact, Anders directed one of the segments in the film Four Rooms, which also featured stories by these two filmmakers, in addition to Alexandre Rockwell. While Tarantino and Ro…
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    Jigoku

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on October 18th, 2006

    Japanese horror films are all the rage these days, with the originals hitting DVD in the States, and the remakes showing up in the theaters. Therefore, it stands to reason that even Criterion would get in on the trend, offering up a film from famed director Nobuo Nakagawa, widely regarded as the father of the Japanese horror film.

    Jigoku is both strange and fascinating. The film tells the story of two friends that are involved in a hot-and-run accident. While one of the young men is cool, calm and collected, the other is wracked with guilt over their actions.
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    Kicking and Screaming

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on August 30th, 2006

    Written By Jeff Mardo

    This is a Parker Posey film, which in itself is enough of a reason for me to check this film out. However, I was surprised to find that Josh Hamilton is here as well. While you may not know the name of Josh Hamilton right away, the two of them worked together in a brilliantly satirical film called The House of Yes; one of my personal favorites. In fact, there are several things that tie these two films together in my mind. While both are very funny and disturbing films, the charm in them both is the tension hi…
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    Canterbury Tale, A

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on August 23rd, 2006

    Synopsis

    Arriving late one night at a village near Canterbury are an English sergeant (Dennis Price), and American one (Sgt. John Sweet) and a landgirl (Sheila Sim). As they leave the train station, Sim is set upon by a mysterious figure who dumps glue all over her hair. The trio become amateur detectives, determined to unmask the “glue man” and their suspicion first falls on Eric Porter, the local magistrate who is consumed by an enormous love for the countryside.

    The film was made in 1944…
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    Equinox

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on June 29th, 2006

    Synopsis

    Four teens hit the wilderness, looking for a Professor Waterman (celebrated SF/fantasy/horror writer Fritz Leiber in a non-speaking role). The professor is missing, but they find an ancient time that turns out to provide the secrets of life, death, and the demons beyond. Said demons want the book back, and our heroes are attacked by one monster after another.

    There are two versions of the film on offer here: the original, titled The Equinox … A Journey into the Supernatural made by a group of monster-loving amateurs (including FX legends-to-be Jim Danforth, Dennis Muren and David Allen) in 1967, and the 1970 theatrical release picked up by producer Jack H. Harris with additional footage shot by Jack Woods (using the same cast). Both versions tell approximately the same story, though there are some significant differences, notably Woods appearing as a demonic park ranger. Either way, though there are plenty of rough edges, the talent of these young filmmakers is pretty evident too, and the special effects are uniformly delightful. And just as this was the effort of young creators influenced by the monster movies of the 50s and Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, it in turn has had its own legacy. See, for instance, the exposition scene concerning the evil book, replicated almost exactly in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Unmissable.

    Audio

    Criterion is not one to mess about creating dubious stereo remixes, and they have not done so here. The mono is clean and as crisp as one could expect in a film made for $6500.00. The music is surprisingly warm, and though the post-synching is obvious, any such flaws are entirely those of the original film, and not the disc itself.

    Video

    The original film is much the rougher of the two, for good reason, given that some of the original material has been lost, and the film was hardly in a preservation vault. The theatrical release looks pretty amazing, all things considered, however. There is still some dirt, and visible grain (but this IS a 16 mm effort), but the restoration work is very impressive, and it is hard to imagine that the movie ever looked better than it does now. The colorus are strong, the blacks are great, and there is no edge enhancement.

    Special Features

    A truly spectacular set of offerings here. Disc 1 had a commentary track for each version of the film. Creators Dennis Muren, Mark McGee and Jim Danforth talk about their version, while the two Jacks Harris and Woods discuss the re-edited version, pointing out where and how and why they made changes. Very informative all around. This disc also has an introduction by the legendary Forrest J. Ackerman.

    Disc 2 has interviews with Muren and some of the cast. The rest of the disc is an archival treasure trove. “Monstrous Origins” has outtakes from the film and test footage of the Taurus animation model. “Zorgon: The H-Bomb Beast from Hell” is a 1972 student film shot in Bronson Canyon with some of the Equinox crew. “Equiphemer” is a HUGE collection of production stills, promotional art and articles (some of which include the creators’ very first appearances as letter writers in the pages of FM). The original trailer and two radio spots are also present and correct. I’ve saved what might be the best for last. Two shorts by David Allen are here (accompanied by essays). “The Magic Treasure” is a charming little fairy tale. But the jewel in the crown here is Allen’s Volkswagen commercial that recreates the climax of the original King Kong. This rarity alone would be worth a disc in itself. Its presence here seals the deal. To top everything off, the accompanying booklet is itself filled with essays. Any self-respecting “monster kid” MUST own this package, as this is, essentially, the ultimate home-movie effort. The one that made good.

    Closing Thoughts

    Never before released on DVD, only spottily available on VHS, this film has, for many monster fans, been too long known only as stills in FM and horror film history books. That it should now appear in such a remarkable edition is a major event.

    Special Features List

    • Audio Commentaries
    • Two Versions of Film
    • Outtakes and Tests
    • Cast and Director Interviews
    • “Zorgon: The H-Bomb Beast from Hell” Short Feature
    • “The Magic Treasure” Short Feature
    • King Kong Volkswagen Commercial
    • Trailer and Radio Spots
    • Production Stills
    • Promotional Stills
    • Articles
    • Introduction by Forrest J. Ackerman
    • Booklet
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    Jimi Plays Monterey/Shake! Otis at Monterey

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on June 28th, 2006

    There was a time when no major groundbreaking events were captured on film. The thing is, it’s sometimes hard to know when something of historical significance is going to occur. Major events such as World War II and the fall of the Berlin wall were planned in advance (so to speak), so it was easy to set-up a camera and capture the event. Spontaneous events, however, were mostly passed over. As technology has progressed, however, it has become easier to capture important and notable moments on the fly. September 11, …
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    Monterey Pop Festival

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on June 20th, 2006

    The 60′s have become something of a caricature of themselves. Take a girl with straight hair and flowers, throw in a “groovy” and a “man”, add some grainy photography, and you’re all ready to go. It is sometimes hard to remember that there was a time when this was not a kitchy formula, it was just the way that it was. This film is so authentically steeped in 60′s hippie culture that it almost doesn’t seem real when the footage starts rolling. Once the film begins to sink in, though, the viewer is completely drawn in …
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    The 39 Steps

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on June 11th, 2006

    OK, I hope I’m not diving into a review that may fall into the “film scholar” category, and thus rule me out of being taken seriously. When there’s a lull in buying new releases, sometimes my wallet gets cabin fever, and so I went out and picked up the Hitchcock set from Criterion, entitled Wrong Men and Notorious Women: Five Hitchcock Thrillers 1935-1946, and includes the previous Criterion releases from Hitchcock, namely Rebecca, Notorious, Spellbound and The Lady Vanishes.
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    Viridiana

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on May 28th, 2006

    As is the case with many of Criterion’s releases, Viridiana is a film that was quite controversial upon its original release, and to some extent, still is today. The film’s namesake is a young woman who is just a week away from taking part in the investiture ceremony, her convent receives a letter from her Uncle, who sends his regrets that he will be unable to attend the event. The convent’s Mother Superior sends Viridiana to see this Uncle, and that’s where the trouble begins.

    The Uncle is a single ol…
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    Virgin Spring, The

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on January 30th, 2006

    Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much from The Virgin Spring. I know that it’s Bergman, but it’s based on an ancient Swedish medieval ballad. If your source material is hundreds of years old and only two pages long, surely there can’t be much to see from the film, can there?

    I could not have been more wrong. Though this may be just under an hour-and-a-half in length, the film is filled with subtext, imagery and several powerful messages. Spring tells the story of a fair maiden who is brutally …
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    The Bad Sleep Well

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on January 7th, 2006

    The Bad Sleep Well reminded me a lot of The Godfather. Both films begin with a large wedding, where the story behind the wedding is more fascinating than the event itself. Both films are also about corruption, what it means to be loyal, and what happens if you do favors for the wrong people. The Bad Sleep Well is particularly meaningful to our modern society, as instead of the subject of the film being gangsters, the focus is on the new heavies on the block… corrupt corporate heads. In the wake of the scandals at Tyco, Worldcom, Enron and others, this 1963 film carries new weight for American audiences.
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    Ran

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on December 18th, 2005

    Synopsis

    Thankfully, as part of Criterion’s desire to be completists of the Akira Kurosawa collection, they have finally decided to release Ran on DVD. For the sake of time, I’ll include my thoughts of the film based on my review of the Kurosawa boxed set, which included a previous version of Ran:

    In Kurosawa’s last outstanding film (inspired by “King Lear”), the aging Lord Hidetora Inchimonji decides to split his power equally among his three sons Taro, Jiro and Saburo. Saburo ques…
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    Kagemusha

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on December 18th, 2005

    Synopsis

    In Akira Kurosawa’s later years, it was almost criminal that a director with his resume was forced to practically beg for financing. Kurosawa was in the midst of a career drought, having made only two movies in almost 15 years with Dersu Uzala and Dodesukaden. This coming after a run of films that has proved influential to even today’s filmmakers. While Kurosawa did have to obtain foreign financing for his movies in later years, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, both of whom cite…
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    Pickpocket

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on December 17th, 2005

    Pickpocket is precisely the kind of film that could never have been made in Hollywood in the 50′s. The Hays Code was a set of morality guidelines that dictated what was and was not acceptable to be shown in motion pictures. Amongst many other things, the code would not allow a criminal to be depicted on screen in such a way as to induce sympathy from the audience. It also said that criminals must always be punished for their actions. (For a complete copy of the code, visit http://www.artsreformation.com/a…
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    Tales of Hoffmann, The

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on December 7th, 2005

    Synopsis

    Three of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fantastic tales were made into an opera by Jacques Offenbach, and that opera was in turn transformed into this 1951 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Robert Rounseville takes the lead as a fictional version of Hoffmann himself. While pining after a ballerina, whose love is being stolen from him by an evil aristocrat, he spins three tales of unrequited and doomed love, where in he falls in love first with an automaton, then a soul-stealing (literally) c…
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    Le Samourai

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on November 9th, 2005

    Synopsis

    Alain Delon is a cool-as-ice contract killer. After pulling off his latest contract, he is picked up by the police on suspicion, but is released for lack of evidence. The gangsters who hired him consider him a liability, however, and attempt to have him killed. He must now evade the police long enough to track down his killers before they get him.

    With minimal dialogue and a stripped-down, no-frills style, director Jean-Pierre Melville delivers a thriller that is a model of efficie…
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    Rebel Samurai – Sixties Swordplay Classics

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on October 19th, 2005

    Criterion doesn’t put out too many box sets, so you know that when they do, it is really going to be something special. Their Brazil set is a benchmark release that all other single-film, multiple-disc sets are measured against. The Wrong Men & Notorious Women – Five Hitchcock Thrillers set is a brilliantly-themed way to showcase five of the director’s most devious films. They have taken that same approach with Rebel Samurai – Sixties Swordplay Classics. The four films in this set, Samurai Re…
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    Samurai Spy

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on October 19th, 2005

    In an odd sort of way, Samurai Spy has the feel of one of the Sean Connery Bond films. The plot seems to be more convoluted than it really needs to be, and there are many scenes that show a character quiet and alone, as they discover a new piece of the plot puzzle for themselves. I would say that parts of the film could be a bit too complex for some American audiences to follow, as so much of the story is driven by Japanese character and clan names. It seems that Criterion anticipated this problem, as they hav…
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    Samurai Rebellion

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on October 18th, 2005

    First and foremost, it is important to note that this is a large, “A” list film. While many samurai movies are low budget stories, everything about this beautiful film is first rate. As you can see by the two hour running time, the story comes first in this piece, with the swordplay coming in later, merely to serve the story.

    And an important story it is. In 1967, World War II was still fresh in the minds of many Japanese citizens. These people, who had never questioned authority in thousands of years, had j…
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