"The movie business is macabre. Grotesque.
It is a combination of a football game
and a brothel."
-- Federico Fellini
Jan 082021
 

The Big Clock (1948) Adapted by acclaimed screenwriter Jonathan Latimer from a novel by the equally renowned crime author Kenneth Fearing, “The Big Clock” is a superior suspense film that classically combines screwball comedy with heady thrills. Overworked true crime magazine editor George Stroud (Ray Milland) has been planning a vacation for months. However, when his boss, the tyrannical media tycoon Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), insists he skips his holiday, Stroud resigns in disgust before embarking on an impromptu drunken night out with his boss’s mistress, Pauline York (Rita Johnson). When Janoth kills Pauline in a fit of rage, Stroud finds himself to have been the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time: his staff have been tasked with finding a suspect with an all too familiar description … Stroud’s very own. Directed with panache by John Farrow, who stylishly renders the film’s towering central set, the Janoth Building, “The Big Clock” benefits from exuberant performances by Milland and Laughton, who make hay with the script’s snappy dialogue. A huge success on its release, it is no wonder this fast-moving noir was remade years later as the Kevin Costner vehicle “No Way Out.” In a high definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation transferred from original film elements from Arrow Video.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella. Melissa McCarthy is masterful in the captivating account, based on a true story, of Lee Israel, a best-selling celebrity biographer in the 1970s and ’80s. When Lee (McCarthy) comes to the realization that she’s no longer en vogue, she spins her art form into a perilous web of lies, deceit and outright crime — by forging letters — to get back on top.

Captain Marvel (2018) Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou. Set in the 1990’s, the film revolves around Carol Danvers, a crack air force pilot. Though trials and tribulations she becomes one of the galaxy’s mightiest heroes and joins an elite outer space military team known as Starforce. Her membership in the Kree military team puts her in danger when Earth becomes hopelessly stuck in battle between two other alien worlds, forcing Danvers to take on the role of Captain Marvel and use her new powers for the greater good. A guilty pleasure, particularly for the film’s sense of humor and a guileless performance by the lovely Larson.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978 — Australia) Tommy Lewis, Freddy Reynolds, Angela Punch McGregor. Fred Schepisi’s internationally acclaimed masterpiece, based on the novel by Thomas Keneally, is the shocking tale of an indigenous man driven to madness and revenge. Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is a young Aboriginal half-caste raised in central New South Wales at the turn-of-the-century, a boy initiated by his tribe but also educated by a stern Methodist minister (Jack Thompson). Looking to gain respectability in white society, Jimmie finds a white bride while performing back-breaking work on local farms, but cannot escape his skin color, suffering ongoing racism and oppression. Discovering that he may not be the father of his wife’s child, Jimmie explodes in a fury of violent revenge and escapes into the bush with his brother Mort, cutting a bloody path of retribution upon the society that has forsaken him. In 1901, the year Australian democracy is born, Jimmie Blacksmith finally faces his fate, and with it the fate of his people. This two-disc set includes the 117-minute international version and the 122-minute Australian version.

Cold War (2018 — Poland) This sweeping, delirious romance begins in the Polish countryside, where Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), a musician on a state-sponsored mission to collect folk songs, discovers a captivating young singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig). Over the next 15 years, their turbulent relationship will play out in stolen moments between two worlds: the jazz clubs of decadent bohemian Paris, to which he defects, and the corrupt, repressive Communist Bloc, where she remains — universes bridged by their passion for music and for each other. Photographed in luscious monochrome and suffused with the melancholy of the simple folk song that provides a motif for the couple’s fateful affair, Pawel Pawlikowski’s timeless story — inspired by that of his own parents — is a heart-stoppingly grand vision of star-crossed love caught up in the tide of history.

The Farewell (2019) by Lulu Wang; Shuzhen Zhao, Awkwafina, X Mayo, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin. A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies. A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer; she struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time. Based on an actual lie.

The Favourite (2018) Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone. In the early 18th century, England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne, and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance to return to her aristocratic roots. When new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, Sarah takes Abigail under her wing as she cunningly schemes to return to her aristocratic roots, setting off an outrageous rivalry to become the Queen’s favorite.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu shot to international prominence with this rigorously realistic Palme d’Or-winning second feature. In 1987, during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, college roommates Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) seek an illegal abortion for Gabita. In unflinching but empathetic detail, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” recounts the events of 24 perilous hours in their lives, culminating in their encounter with a manipulative and menacing abortionist (Vlad Ivanov). With powerful performances that accentuate the characters’ flawed humanity, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is a gutting account of the impossible choices women face when taking control of their bodies means breaking the law.

Hal (2018) Although Hal Ashby directed a remarkable string of acclaimed, widely admired classics throughout the 1970s — “Harold and Maude,” “The Last Detail,” “Shampoo,” “Coming Home,” “Being There” — he is often overlooked amid the crowd of luminaries from his generation. Director Amy Scott’s exuberant portrait explores that curious oversight, using rare archival materials, interviews, personal letters, and audio recordings to reveal a passionate, obsessive artist. Ashby was a Hollywood director who constantly clashed with Hollywood, but also a unique soul with an unprecedented insight into the human condition and an unmatched capacity for good. His films were an elusive blend of honesty, irreverence, humor, and humanity.

The Landlord (1970) Legendary filmmaker Hal Ashby makes his directing debut with this acclaimed social satire starring Beau Bridges as a wealthy young man who leaves his family’s estate in Long Island to pursue love and happiness in a Brooklyn ghetto. When Elgar Enders (Bridges) buys a Park Slope tenement, he fully intends to evict the occupants and transform the building into a chic bachelor pad. But after meeting the tenants, Elgar adopts a “love thy neighbor” policy instead: first he falls head-over-heels for a sexy young go-go dancer … then he begins an affair with the sultry, married “Miss Sepia 1957.” Featuring brilliant performances by Lee Grant in an Oscar-nominated role, Pearl Bailey, Diana Sands, Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Klein, Trish Van Devere, Hector Elizondo, Gloria Hendry and Susan Anspach, and with a potent script by Bill Gunn based on the novel by Kristin Hunter, “The Landlord” is one of the most original and provocative screen comedies to deal with race relations in urban America. Produced by Norman Jewison and shot by Gordon Willis.

Memoir of War (2018 — France) Mélanie Thierry, Emmanuel Bourdieu, Benoît Magimel. Based on Marguerite Duras’s semi-autobiographical novel that follows the famed author as she navigates her way through Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The great novelist, screenwriter, and filmmaker is widely considered one of the leaders of the “Nouveau Roman” literary movement. Her script for Alain Resnais’s 1959 masterpiece “Hiroshima Mon Amour” earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 1961 Academy Awards. In the film, it’s 1944 and Marguerite Duras (Thierry) is an active Resistance member along with her husband Robert Antelme (Bourdieu) and a band of fellow subversives. When Antelme is deported to Dachau by the Gestapo, Marguerite becomes friendly with French Nazi collaborator Rabier Magimel) to obtain information of her husband’s whereabouts. But as the months wear on with no news of Robert, Duras must begin the process of confronting the unimaginable. France’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category for the upcoming 91st Academy Awards.

The Nun (La Religieuse) (1965) Restored in 4K from the original negative, Jacques Rivette’s “The Nun,” initially banned in France, can now be seen in all its revolutionary glory. Adapted from Denis Diderot’s novel, it follows a rebellious nun (played by an incandescent Anna Karina) who is forced into taking her vows. Initially shunted into a restrictive, torturous convent, she eventually moves on to a more liberated one, where she becomes an object of Mother Superior’s (Liselotte Pulver) obsession. Banned for over a year by the French Minister of Information, and not released in the United States until 1971, it slowly became a landmark of the French New Wave, and with this stunning restoration, should also become an object of worship.

Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood (2019) Dir.: Quentin Tarantino; Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Luke Perry. Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing in Hollywood, as former TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore. The ninth film from the writer-director features a large ensemble cast and multiple storylines in a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age.

Road Games (1981) by Richard Franklin; Stacy Keach is Pat Quid, a lone trucker who plays games to keep his sanity on long hauls through the desolate Australian Outback. Jamie Lee Curtis is a free-spirited hitchhiker looking for excitement with a game of her own. And somewhere up ahead is a maniac in a van whose game may be butchering young women along the highway. But when the killer decides to raise the stakes, Quid’s game becomes personal … and the rules of this road are about to take some very deadly turns.

Shoplifters (2018 — Japan) Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Mayu Matsuoka. On the margins of Tokyo, a dysfunctional band of outsiders are united by fierce loyalty, a penchant for petty theft and playful grifting. When the young son is arrested, secrets are exposed that upend their tenuous, below-the-radar existence and test their quietly radical belief that it is love — not blood — that defines a family. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film from Japan.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) Past, present and future collide in darkly satirical fashion. Based on Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1969 novel, this tale of time travel and alien abduction emerged as part of a wave of more cerebral science-fiction films in the late 60s to early 70s, elevating the genre beyond the B-movie fare of previous decades. Upstate New York, 1968: Mild-mannered Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) finds himself “unstuck in time.” Traveling back and forth across the entire span of his existence, he experiences key events of his life in a random order, including his formative years, the firebombing of Dresden and finally, at some undefined point in the future, his surreal adventures on a distant planet. Praised by Vonnegut himself for its fidelity to his novel, “Slaughterhouse-Five” boasts assured direction by George Roy Hill. Hill was a idiosyncratic director, moving from such early films as the pat comedy “Period of Adjustment” to Lillian Hellman’s “Toys in the Attic” to the offbeat “The World of Henry Orient” before hitting the jackpot with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” “Slaughterhouse-Five” followed on that success but was not as enthusiastically received. “The Sting” restored Hill’s position as a bankable director, and he went on to direct several more unusual projects, including the Paul Newman-starrer hockey film “Slap Shot” and an adaptation of John Irving’s “The World According to Garp.” Restored in 4K from the original camera negative, “Slaughterhouse-Five” features a memorable score by renowned concert pianist Glenn Gould. Stars Michael Sacks, Perry King, Valerie Perrine, Ron Leibman and Eugene Roche. From Arrow Video.

They Might Be Giants (1971) Wealthy, retired judge Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) has a most peculiar eccentricity: he believes he is Sherlock Holmes. Betrayed by his scheming brother, “Holmes” comes under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward). As Watson follows Holmes through Manhattan on a search for his elusive nemesis Moriarty, the unlikely pair are drawn into a world of danger and intrigue. Together, they discover an uncommon reality — and a most magical love. Presented in a special expanded version, featuring additional footage not seen in the original theatrical release. Co-stars Jack Gilford, Al Lewis, Rue McClanahan, Kitty Winn, M. Emmet Walsh, F. Murray Abraham, James Tolkan, Eugene Roche.

Transit (2019 — Germany) by Christian Petzold; Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batmann, Maryam Zaree. Fleeing from German-occupied Paris to the port city of Marseille and assuming the identity of a recently deceased writer, a refugee meets a young woman desperate to find her missing husband — the man whose identity he has stolen. Shot and set in 21st century Marseille.

Vice (2018) by Adam McKay. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell. Epic tale of how a bureaucratic Washington insider, Dick Cheney, quietly became the most powerful man in the world. Gov. George W. Bush of Texas picks Dick Cheney, the CEO of Halliburton Co., to be his Republican running mate in the 2000 presidential election. No stranger to politics, Cheney’s impressive résumé includes stints as White House chief of staff, House Minority Whip and defense secretary. When Bush wins by a narrow margin, Cheney begins to use his newfound power to help reshape the country and the world.

And don’t forget the following Criterion releases:

All About Eve (1950) In Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s devastatingly witty Hollywood classic, backstage is where the real drama plays out. One night, Margo Channing (Bette Davis) entertains a surprise dressing-room visitor: her most adoring fan, the shy, wide-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). But as Eve becomes a fixture in Margo’s life, the Broadway legend soon realizes that her supposed admirer intends to use her and everyone in her circle, including George Sanders’s acid-tongued critic, as stepping-stones to stardom. Featuring stiletto-sharp dialogue and direction by Mankiewicz, and an unforgettable Davis in the role that revived her career and came to define it, the multiple-Oscar-winning “All About Eve” is the most deliciously entertaining film ever made about the ruthlessness of show business.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s controversial, 15-hour “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” based on Alfred Döblin’s great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age 34, had already made over 30 films. Fassbinder’s immersive epic follows the hulking, childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to “become an honest soul” amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time.

Betty Blue (1986) When the easygoing would-be novelist Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) meets the tempestuous Betty (Béatrice Dalle in a magnetic breakout performance) in a sunbaked French beach town, it’s the beginning of a whirlwind love affair that sees the pair turn their backs on conventional society in favor of the hedonistic pursuit of freedom, adventure, and carnal pleasure. But as the increasingly erratic Betty’s grip on reality begins to falter, Zorg finds himself willing to do things he never expected to protect both her fragile sanity and their tenuous existence. Adapted from the hit novel “37°2 le matin” by Philippe Djian, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s art-house smash — presented here in its extended director’s cut — is a sexy, crazy, careening joyride of a romance that burns with the passion and beyond-all-reason fervor of all-consuming love.

Blue Velvet (1986) Home from college, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) makes an unsettling discovery: a severed human ear, lying in a field. In the mystery that follows, by turns terrifying and darkly funny, David Lynch burrows deep beneath the picturesque surfaces of small-town life. Driven to investigate, Jeffrey finds himself drawing closer to his fellow amateur sleuth, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), as well as their prime suspect, lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini)– and facing the fury of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a psychopath who will stop at nothing to keep Dorothy in his grasp. With intense performances and hauntingly powerful scenes and images, “Blue Velvet” is an unforgettable vision of innocence lost, and one of the most influential American films of the past few decades.

The Heiress (1949) Directed with a keen sense of ambiguity by William Wyler, this film, based on a hit stage adaptation of Henry James’s “Washington Square,” pivots on a question of motive. When shy, fragile Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland, in a heartbreaking, Oscar-winning turn), the daughter of a wealthy New York doctor, begins to receive calls from the handsome spendthrift Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), she becomes possessed by the promise of romance. Are his smoldering professions of love sincere, as she believes they are? Or is Catherine’s calculating father (Ralph Richardson) correct in judging Morris a venal fortune seeker? A graceful drawing-room drama boasting Academy Award-winning costume design by Edith Head, “The Heiress” is also a piercing character study riven by emotional uncertainty and lacerating cruelty, in a triumph of classic Hollywood filmmaking at its most psychologically nuanced.

House of Games (1987) The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet sat in the director’s chair for the first time for this sly, merciless thriller. Lindsay Crouse stars as a best-selling author and therapist who wants to help a client by making restitution for the money he owes to a gambler. After she meets the attractive cardsharp (Joe Mantegna), her own compulsions take hold as he lures her into his world of high-stakes deception. Packed with razor-sharp dialogue delivered with even-keeled precision by a cast of Mamet regulars, “House of Games” is as psychologically acute as it is full of twists and turns, a rich character study told with the cold calculation of a career con artist targeting his next mark.

Klute (1971) With her Oscar-winning turn in “Klute,” Jane Fonda arrived full-fledged as a new kind of movie star. Bringing nervy audacity and counterculture style to the role of Bree Daniels — a call girl and aspiring actor who becomes the focal point of a missing-person investigation when detective John Klute (Donald Sutherland) turns up at her door — Fonda made the film her own, putting an independent woman and escort on-screen with a frankness that had not yet been attempted in Hollywood. Suffused with paranoia by the conspiracy-thriller specialist Alan J. Pakula, and lensed by master cinematographer Gordon Willis, Klute is a character study thick with dread, capturing the mood of early-1970s New York and the predicament of a woman trying to find her own way on the fringes of society.

Let the Sunshine In (2017 — France) Two luminaries of French cinema, Claire Denis and Juliette Binoche, unite for the first time in this piercing look at the elusive nature of true love, and the extent to which we are willing to betray ourselves in its pursuit. In a richly layered performance, Binoche plays Isabelle, a successful painter in Paris whose apparent independence belies what she desires most: real romantic fulfillment. Isabelle reveals deep wells of yearning, vulnerability, and resilience as she tumbles into relationships with all the wrong men. Shot in burnished tones by Denis’s longtime collaborator Agnès Godard and featuring a mischievous appearance by Gérard Depardieu, “Let the Sunshine In” finds bleak humor in a cutting truth: we are all, no matter our age, fools for love.

1984 (1984) This masterly adaptation of George Orwell’s chilling parable about totalitarian oppression gives harrowing cinematic expression to the book’s bleak prophetic vision. In a rubble-strewn surveillance state where an endless overseas war props up the repressive regime of the all-seeing Big Brother, and all dissent is promptly squashed, a profoundly alienated citizen, Winston Smith (thrillingly played by John Hurt), risks everything for an illicit affair with the rebellious Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) in a defiant assertion of humanity in the face of soul-crushing conformity. Through vividly grim production design and expressionistic desaturated cinematography by Roger Deakins, Michael Radford’s 1984 conjures a dystopian vision of postwar Britain as fascistic nightmare — a world all too recognizable as our own.

Now, Voyager (1942) Nervous spinster Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is stunted from growing up under the heel of her puritanical Boston Brahmin mother (Gladys Cooper), and remains convinced of her own unworthiness until a kindly psychiatrist (Claude Rains) gives her the confidence to venture out into the world on a South American cruise. Onboard, she finds her footing with the help of an unhappily married man (Paul Henreid). Their thwarted love affair may help Charlotte break free of her mother’s grip — but will she find fulfillment as well as independence? Made at the height of Davis’s reign as the queen of the women’s picture and bolstered by an Oscar-winning Max Steiner score, “Now, Voyager” is a melodrama for the ages, both a rapturous Hollywood romance and a poignant saga of self-discovery.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977) In the early 1960s in Paris, two young women become friends. Pomme is an aspiring singer. Suzanne is a pregnant country girl unable to support a third child. Pomme lends Suzanne the money for an illegal abortion, but a sudden tragedy soon separates them. Over a decade later, they reunite at a demonstration and pledge to keep in touch via postcard, as each of their lives is irrevocably changed by the women’s liberation movement. A buoyant hymn to sisterly solidarity rooted in the hard-won victories of a generation of women, “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” is one of Agnès Varda’s warmest and most politically trenchant films, a feminist musical for the ages.

The Story of Temple Drake (1933) Loosely adapted from William Faulkner’s controversial novel “Sanctuary,” this notorious pre-Code melodrama stars Miriam Hopkins as Temple Drake, the coquettish granddaughter of a respected small-town judge. When a boozehound date strands her at a bootleggers’ hideout, Temple is subjected to an act of nightmarish sexual violence and plunged into a criminal underworld that threatens to swallow her up completely. Steeped in Southern-gothic shadows by influential cinematographer Karl Struss and shot through with moral ambiguity, “The Story of Temple Drake” is a harrowing vision of sin and salvation that boasts an astonishing lead performance from the fiery Hopkins, whose passage through the stations of terror, trauma, and redemption is a true tour-de-force of screen acting. High-definition digital restoration.

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2011

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2012

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2013

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2014

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2016

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2017

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2018

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