by Rob Vaux Posted: December 12th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
Invoke the phrase “greatest movie of all time,” and you’d better bring your A-game. Film fans don’t take their “bests” lightly; while fleeting passions may prompt easy praise (Avatar anyone?), smart folks know that real quality stands the test of time. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is one of perhaps ten films that you could call the greatest out of the gate without immediately being challenged. An undisputed masterpiece, it not only established the director’s reputation but it changed filmmaking in the process. The good people at Criterion, always mindful of cinema’s legacy, have assembled a Blu-ray copy worthy of its exalted status. Hit the jump for my full review.
The Martin Scorsese who put out The Last Temptation of Christ is not the Martin Scorsese we know today. He had yet to make Goodfellas, and though Raging Bull netted Robert De Niro an Oscar, Scorsese spent much of the 1980’s in the wilderness, making niche films which were considered disappointments, only to secure financing through directing a for-hire hit movie (The Color of Money). Christ was most notable for the controversy it engendered, as it was protested by a number of religious groups, which kept it out of most big chain theaters. Vanya of 42nd Street is a project that transcends its set-up, and acts as a follow-up to Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre. It reunited Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn with a cast (that includes Julianne Moore) that performed Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya on the fly for years. Both have come out from Criterion on Blu-ray, and our reviews of both follow after the jump.
They come sporadically, but are instantly identifiable: Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, Samuel L. Jackson in Jungle Fever. Roles that launch actors into the upper echelons of master thespians, roles that reward the audience with the sense of seeing something terribly unique and profound, roles that could have only been played by one person to create such stunning results. And for David Thewlis — who’d been acting on screen since 1985 — it was Mike Leigh’s 1993 Naked that gave him such a role, a role that made much of the world stand up and notice. Our review of Naked on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Jonathan Demme was one of the brightest spots of filmmaking in the 1980’s. Like early Spielberg, his sensibilities for Americana were funky but authentic. He liked weird people, but not in an ironic or grotesque way. He loves people, and it shows in every bit of his casting. Though the academy would reward him for The Silence of the Lambs, and unintentionally turn him into a serious director for a while, his loosey-goosey charms were never more apparent than in Something Wild, which the Criterion collection has released. It stars Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith, and introduced the world to Ray Liotta. Check out our review of the film on Blu-ray after the jump.
Among film aficionados, the Criterion Collection can be a bittersweet product line: their releases represent the finest selection of international cinema of both yesteryear and today and boast immaculate transfers and packaging to boot, but our wallets are often too sparse to keep up with their vast library and steep prices. If you’ve sobbed yourself to sleep over such dilemmas as I have, the good folks at Criterion and Hulu Plus seem to have heard our cries.
Via a blog announcement on their official site earlier today, Criterion’s Peter Becker revealed that the entirety of the Criterion Collection would become available for streaming to Hulu Plus members–starting now in limited fashion, and expand in a tiered release plan throughout coming months. Members with streaming-compatible devices such as iPhones, iPads and Playstations will also be able to access the collection through those modes. While 150 titles are available at present, Criterion assures that number will quickly swell to 800. Hulu Plus sets its members back $7.99/month and an average Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray is in the vicinity of $30-40. While you won’t get any of the special features, that math still works out to a bargain. [Update: We should also mention that all of Criterion's films available for "Instant Stream" on Netflix will be phased out by the end of the year. The physical discs will still be offered via the service, though.]
In 1983 David Cronenberg’s strange, lyrical, and indelible Videodrome was released, and over 20 years later the question remains “What is Videodrome?” Following up the four films that cemented his reputation as the master of venereal horror (from 1975′s Shivers to 1981′s Scanners), Videodrome was the apex of Cronenberg’s career at that point, as both an experimental film (which his early college films were) and a horror movie. James Woods stars as Max Renn, a cable TV producer looking for the hottest latest and sleaziest new show, and runs across a show that just features people being torture with no plot or explanation. He and his girlfriend Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry) are fascinated by it, but the byproducts of watching it cause Max to hallucinate, and perhaps become a murderer. My review of Criterion’s Blu-ray of Videodrome follows after the jump.
For years now Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai has been ranked as one of the best movies ever made, and is usually considered one of the finest achievement in cinema. In the most recent Sight and Sound poll of the best films ever made, critics ranked it eleventh (its highest charting was in 1982 at #3) while filmmakers ranked it ninth. It’s ranked thirteenth on IMDb.com’s list of the greatest films of all time. Ain’t no denying that Kurosawa and his cast (including Toshiro Mifune) made a masterwork. And my review of The Criterion collection’s Seven Samurai after the jump.
Criterion makes the best DVDs/Blu-rays on the market for art house films. This quality comes with a premium that most are willing to pay, but some cannot afford. Last month, Netflix added 35 Criterion movies to their “Watch Instantly” selection. It’s a smart move by Criterion since their movies can reach a wider audience and drive up demand for physical copies of Criterion films because they still contain fantastic special features. Netflix benefits because it will bring on more film-lovers who can’t afford to check out ever Criterion Collection movie, but still want to see these rare and essential films.
Today, 21 more Criterion Collection films debuted on Netflix’s Watch Instantly and there are some great ones. I’ll list all 21 after the jump, but here are some of my personal favorites that are now available to Netflix subscribers who have at least an $8.99/mo plan: M, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Rules of the Game; and those I’m ashamed I haven’t seen yet: Richard III, Smiles of a Summer Night, Tokyo Drifter, Umberto D., and The Wages of Fear. I have a busy weekend ahead of me.
Hit the jump for the full list of films.
Criterion makes the best DVDs and Blu-rays. Their transfers are impeccable and their special features are fascinating. When you pay the $35-$40 for a Criterion Collection movie, you’re paying a premium but you’re getting your money’s worth. But wouldn’t it be great if you could just pay half that?
You can do that right now. Barnes & Noble is having a special sale where ALL Criterion Collection movies that are currently in print are 50% off their list price (which is what they normally sell for). You probably won’t find another sale like this for probably at least a year so if you’ve been waiting to buy a particular Criterion DVD or Blu-ray, now’s the time. Click here and get yours (but preferably do it after I get mine; I don’t need you taking the last copy of The Seventh Seal on Blu-ray).
Part of what makes Criterion Collection films so valuable, aside from the company’s commitment to the best transfers and special features, is that some times a title will go out of print which makes the film more valuable, both in price and in lording your copy over people that didn’t get one.
“The Third Man” was one of the first Blu-ray titles released when Criterion began their foray into the format on December 18, 2008. Now “The Third Man” is the first title of the Blu-ray line to go out of print which means the only ones left are those that have already been shipped to retailers. If you want to get one, now’s the time as the price will most likely rise among eBay and Amazon sellers in the coming months. I just picked up my copy online from Barnes & Noble for $34.55 (including shipping) which, after searching online, was the best deal I could find. [Thanks to Blu-ray.com for the heads-up]