This one is coming up late, due to Criterion jam packing a ton of releases on Friday, right while I was finishing up the original post. I think they wanted to mess with me, which is very funny. But being the premier (and only) site that gives you the best coverage of Hulu Plus movies, I don’t mind taking the time at all. I’m hoping it has nothing to do with the recent shake-up going on that Josh just reported on the other day (here), and with Hulu wanting to be bought because of financial problems stemming from multiple sources, this makes one wonder what’s going to happen to the Criterion Collection and their deal with Hulu. I’m crossing my fingers that whoever buys the service, be it Amazon, Google or Yahoo (who is the frontrunner), it doesn’t ruin the deal in place for Criterion and its films. Here’s to hoping.
But that won’t stop me from giving you the information you’re looking for when it comes to new releases. And again, if you’d like to help us out with this series and you want to sign up, use our referral link right here. It helps every time you do.
As I write this, the sad news that Peter Falk has passed away made me look at what films I could discuss from the collection that he was in. As ‘luck’ would have it, so to speak, two films were added today, about a half hour ago to the page, one of which is within the collection and one that I hope to see join the ranks down the line. The first, A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is a film by the one and only John Cassavetes which is featured on the amazing Five Films collection. One of the great dramas of the 1970′s, Nick (Peter Falk) and Mabel (Gena Rowlands) are a married couple who are deeply in love but can’t show one another the way they feel. We see the turmoil from Mabel and her family being torn apart in one of the premier American independent films. We then get Mikey and Nicky (1976). Cassavetes stars as Nick, who is convinced a hitman is after him and locks himself into his apartment. He calls his only friend in the world Mikey (Peter Falk), who comes over and convinces him to get out of town and their journey is pretty great stuff, going by foot and by bus, showcasing a movie theater, a cemetery, a bar and much more. All the while an actual hitman is gathering information and looking for Nick. Directed and written by Elaine May (who also did a small film called Ishtar, which deserves much more love than it gets) and I see it a forgotten classic. Maybe this is a hint at things to come?
We also get two more films from Cassavetes’ Five Films collection. We get Faces (1968) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Faces is a no-nonsense look at a disintegrating marriage, shot in beautiful black and white that accentuates the pain these people are feeling. Amazing performances, especially by Seymour Cassel, John Marley and Lynn Carlin. And one of my favorite Cassavetes films, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Ben Gazzara is Cosmo, a gentleman’s club owner who runs into a group of gangsters and is forced to commit a horrible crime to sustain his way of life. An extraordinary film that always packs a punch every time I revisit it.
One of the greatest sports documentaries of all time Hoop Dreams (1994) tells the stories of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two young men who want nothing more than to become professional basketball players. We see them over a five year span, trying to overcome poverty, school work and their family lives on the streets of Chicago. An amazing chronicle of hope, it shows two amazing families trying to achieve the American Dream.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942) is the first of the non-Criterion/Eclipse releases. And what’s exciting is that it’s another Alexander Korda produced film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard that used to be a Warner Bros. film. I should know, because I used to own it when it came out in a comedy collection Warner put out about 6 years ago. Another World War II era film, another satirical take on the Nazis and their invasion of Warsaw, Poland in 1939. Very funny, a bit hammy and understandably a little uncomfortable for people to watch, I think it’s the best use of Jack Benny on the screen. But that’s just my opinion. We’re also getting another Korda produced film, Anna Karenina (1948), directed by Julien Duvivier. Tolstoy’s timeless tale looks beautiful and vibrant and stars the radiant Vivian Leigh in the titular role. This might be the essential version everyone should see and I’m hoping Criterion plans a more extras packed release for this film.
One that we covered all the way back on episode 53, John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) is still one of my favorite westerns of all time and it was a star making performance for the Duke himself, John Wayne. It took Wayne 10 years to get out of the small time after bombing previously with a Ford film (The Big Trail) and boy did he hit it out of the park. One of the iconic characters in westerns, Wayne’s Ringo Kid is electrifying on screen and when we’re introduced to him in grand fashion. One of the greats and Criterion did wonders with the print.
The Ruling Class (1972) is one of my favorite Peter O’Toole performances of all time and I really can’t wait to cover this on The Criterion Cast (which will be sooner than later). O’Toole plays Jack, a man cured of thinking he’s God Almighty but sadly the cure leads him to become Jack the Ripper and is one of cinema’s creepiest performances you’ll ever see. Now considered a cult film, Peter Medak directs this darkly comical tale denouncing the British class system and gives us a look at the aristocracy we don’t tend to see. Somehow a bit of Hollywood musical gets mixed in, but that’s all I’ll say.
One film I’m excited about to see is Richard Robbins’ Street Musicians of Bombay (1994). Better known for being the composer of Merchant Ivory’s films, this is his only feature-length directorial credit. Right below an hour-long, it’s a documentary about street performers on the streets of the Indian city, and we get to see them play and sing their hearts out. And while they only get pennies from a public who doesn’t really care, it sounds like the type of music documentary that interests me most. Overcoming adversity, even when everything is against you. I’m wondering if this will be part of some collection down the line. What’s great is that we’re also getting James Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah (1965) on the page. About a traveling theater group in India during the final days of English rule, this was the film that put Merchant Ivory on the map and shows the comparison between Shakespearean plays and the Bollywood film industry just trumping it at every turn.
Not many women are as stunning as Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman (1956). A film that revolutionized the foreign market because it was such a hit and catapulting Bardot as an international superstar, it shows Bardot as Juliette, an 18-year-old whose appetite for passion needs constant pleasure. Her husband Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is naive and has to sustain multiple beatings and taunting while trying to tame her of her wild ways. A sexy film, one that changed film at the time.
It’s a happy day when there’s another Claude Chabrol film being included on their page. Number 4 on my top 10 list I wrote up when Chabrol sadly passed away, Story of Women (1988), an unflinching look at wartime France that doesn’t shy away from the ugliness. Isabelle Huppert stars as a woman who, in order to give her children a better life, gets involved with the business of abortions and what happens when the Petain government bans abortions. One film that is difficult to watch, but is a look at 1942 France we don’t tend to see at all in film. Hopefully this is a hint down the line for a future Criterion release.
What’s this? A Kenji Mizoguchi film I haven’t seen? The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939) looks to be one I’ll be watching asap. Criticizing Japanese society of the time, Mizoguchi places it in the 19th century but shows a conflict between a father and son over a marriage. The only film he made in 1939, it seems to be another great addition to what Criterion has put out on DVD and on their Hulu Plus page as well.
Winner of the coolest title this week is Hideo Gosha’s Bandits vs. Samurai Squadron (1978). Tatsuya Nakadai stars as a vengeful ex-samurai commanding a gang of outlaws in an attack on the castle of his former master. A simple plot synopsis but that’s all I need to hear to get excited. Gosha is a director I grow to love every time I see a new film by him. Having only seen his lone Criterion release Sword of the Beast, and thankfully for their page, we also have his films Three Outlaw Samurai, Hunter in the Dark and Death Shadows and all are just great action flicks that I was happy to see. You should all too.
Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible Part 1 & Part 2 (1947 & 1958), we see the rise of the terrible dictator in these exquisitely acted films. Somehow making the film during Stalin controlled Russia, it was a planned trilogy and part 2 wasn’t shown until a decade after Eisenstein’s death. It’s sad to know that the third part was destroyed but supposedly some scenes are still available and as usual, I hold out hope that one day someone will find a print of it somewhere.
A film that isn’t in any collection yet, Toshio Masuda’s The Perfect Game (1958) seems to be perfect fit. Compared to America’s In Cold Blood, The Perfect Game deals with delinquency, rape and murder, and for Japan that was some heady stuff at that time. One of his first films, Masuda would go on to make a splash with Rusty Knife (which is featured in the Eclipse set) and later on with Tora! Tora! Tora!, I think it’s essential to always start with a director’s earliest films to see how they’ve grown and I’m hoping we’ll get more Masuda films sooner than later in the collection.
Another Raffaello Matarazzo film from his Eclipse set that just came out, Tormento (1950) is another one I need to catch up with. A woman runs away from her home to get away from her horrible stepmother to be with her lover, a nice man who is just ready to hit it big. When he is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, she must go back for help from her cruel stepmother in order to support her child. Sounds like a feel good movie to me.
We’re getting another Mikio Naruse film with his Ginza Cosmetics (1951). A slice of life film, showcasing an unlucky geisha (Kinuyo Tanaka), over a few days trying to make ends meet to raise her son in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Is this a hint at perhaps another Naruse Eclipse set coming in the future? I can easily seeing that happen and with Criterion acquiring Naruse’s film Mother, we shall see.
Last but certainly not least is one of my favorite films in the Criterion Collection. William Dieterle’s only release within the collection, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) is the tale of one Jabez Stone, an honest and hard-working farmer who has hit hard times and does the unthinkable: makes a deal with the Devil himself. Mr. Scratch, as he’s called in this film, is promised Stone’s soul after 7 years good luck. Happy at first, he realizes the error of his ways and enlists the help of politician and legendary orator Daniel Webster, the only man he believes can get him out of the contract. Forever parodied (memorably by The Simpsons), this film is darkly funny, has one of Bernard Herrmann’s greatest scores and Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch is absolutely brilliant in his portrayal. Still has one of my favorite Criterion covers (I’m a sucker for fully painted ones), this is my essential viewing pick of the week. Until next time, keep on streaming.