Why the Criterion Collection is Worthy of Jazz Hands

If I had three wishes from a genie, one would be for the entire, unabridged Criterion Collection on DVD.

It seems like every cinephile I know has been talking about how excited they are to see Quadrophenia (1979) on Criterion. It came out a few weeks ago and since its release I’ve been marinating on why I love Criterion DVDs to the extent that I do.

Composition:

Criterion is composed of mainly art house films, including foreign films, in both the DVD and Blu-ray format (and Laserdiscs back in the 90s). Many French New Wave, Fellini, Kurosawa, and John Ford titles are available on Criterion, but also brand new selections, such as Life During Wartime and Certified Copy.

There are many Criterion databases, but my favorite one is on IMDb. If you have an inkling that a film might be a part of the Collection, you are probably right.

The special features on each Criterion disc are without a doubt worth exploring. For instance, on the Grey Gardens disc, additional hilarious interviews of the Beales (the doc’s eccentric subjects) are done by the Maysles brothers. Then however, Little Edie and Big Edie interview the Maysles in a brilliantly-executed switcharoo. When special features on regular discs are so often throwaway padding, it truly is a breath of fresh air to see interesting supplemental material on the films we cherish.

Roger Agrees It’s Awesome:

Roger Ebert, in his memoir Life Itself, (which is going to be given the doc treatment by Uncle Marty), mentioned that during his convalescence from throat surgery, he found therapy in watching Ingrid Bergman films on Criterion. He opined that even though he was very familiar with Bergman films (even meeting the master himself several times), viewing the newly crisp contrast between lights and darks in Persona and Through a Glass Darkly was a life-changing experience.

Where to Watch:

You can find dozens of Criterion Collection films on Hulu+, which is Hulu’s premium service. It charges $7.99/month for this upgrade.

Many public libraries offer Criterion Collection DVDs (as well as regular DVDs and sometimes Blu-Ray) for their patrons to borrow. Check your local library’s online card catalog for Criterion DVDs or ask the friendly librarians for assistance.

Despite the $30-$40 price tag, there are probably several items you will want to purchase for easy repeat home viewing. For Criterion collectors watching their budgets, try the Eclipse series. It is a simpler, more streamlined collection, but still veritably awesome.

Stay Updated:

There’s a great Criterion e-newsletter that allows you to stay abreast of Criterion news. I like knowing which films have been selected for the Criterion treatment each quarter, and this is a good way to stay informed.  Criterion has its own blog, Current, which I find authoritative and entertaining.

Another excellent option for Criterion news is to follow its facebook page, which updates regularly but not so much that it becomes irrelevant. There’s also a Twitter page.

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Review: Nobody Walks

Review: Nobody Walks

Yet another film I saw this year at the Sarasota Film Festival, Nobody Walks  follows the the blossoming relationship between Martine, a young film director (Olivia Thirlby) and her audio tech mentor, Peter (John Krasinski). Peter is a guru at sound mixing and has agreed to help Martine add sound to her film project, which follows insects on their day-to-day journeys, much like the David Attenborough feature Life in the Undergrowth. Martine comes to live at Peter’s luxe house during the project, and enjoys privacy in the pool house.

As the duo delve deeper into the mission, Peter begins to find Martine irresistible, even as she denies that she is cloyingly trying to entice him. The two bond over their artful success over mixing her film, which only further cranks up the sexual tension. Peter’s intern, much closer to Martine’s age than his, flirts with Martine and this drives Peter into a crazed frenzy of jealousy, even though he cannot articulate to himself why.

There’s only one problem with this burgeoning love story. Peter is married. With kids. And they all live in the big house in front of Martine’s pool house. Melodrama ensues.

If you are expecting John Krasinski’s character to be anything like Jim on The Office, you will be shocked and amazed. Krasinski has stifled the funnyman shtick in other films – most notable in his directorial/screenwriter debut, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (which I do not recommend).

Olivia Thirlby is one of those faces that seems to make people say “Aaah, where do I know her from?” You may have seen her as Jason Schwartzman’s ex on HBO’s Bored to Death or more recently in the unforgettable Moscow disaster blunder The Darkest Hour. She has some indie cred from films such as Juno, Being Flynn, Breaking Upwards, and The Wackness, but some career missteps as well: No Strings Attached, Dredd 3D (I’m assuming) and did I mention The Darkest Hour?

The effervescent Lena Dunham scribed the screenplay, which I didn’t know until the film’s credits. From an objective viewer standpoint, this was probably a plus as I am such a big Lena fan — her awkwardfest debut Tiny Furniture is over-the-top quirky and squirmy, but easily watchable and endearing.

Much like Peter’s inability to articulate his jealousy, I cannot closely articulate my reasons for not loving the film. It dragged in a few places, even though the runtime is a mere 83 minutes. Several pivotal scenes feel like the “oomph” has been diluted; much more a critique of how the film is shot rather than Dunham’s screenplay. However, the story and dialogue is lackluster, leaving us with a wholly mediocre adventure in suburban infidelity, where nothing new is ventured and nothing new is gained.

Watch the trailer, and catch the film on iTunes on September 6th or in cinemas on October 12th.

Recommendation Level: Barely Recommended (and only as a rental). Sorry, Lena.

Documentary Watch: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Documentary Watch: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Ever see a film that invokes such a level of passion and craving that your mouth begins to water? Jiro Dreams of Sushi is one of those films.

Jiro owns a sushi house in Tokyo’s business district. The sushi bar sells only sushi, no alcoholic beverages, appetizers or side dishes. The sushi rolls and nigiri are grandiose in their simplicity; Jiro uses the finest quality ingredients and old-school methods to bring out the natural flavors of the fish on a diner’s palate. The lack of frou-frou elements or unnecessary garnishes bring the attention back to flavor and technicality;  one patron described the fish as butter melting on her tongue.

Several apprentices discuss Jiro’s mentoring process, including a discussion of the shortest tenure of an apprentice (one day). Both sons marinate over what Jiro was like as a father; one anecdote includes one of the boys not recognizing his father and asking their mother what this stranger was doing in their house (Jiro frequently rose before the boys were up and came home long after their bedtimes). Despite Jiro’s familial shortcomings, his real marriage is to his art in sushi-making, and his family has come to respect this.

The sushi master has two sons, one of whom is being groomed to take over the restaurant after Jiro’s retirement (in line with Japanese custom). His younger son owns another sushi restaurant, using the same style and meticulous clean method as his father, but in a more relaxed atmosphere.

The documentary has a sleepy, dreamlike quality, which is buffeted by whimsical Philip Glass-type soundtrack. At times, you will feel that you are at the bottom of a pool looking up at Jiro & Sons.

A big reveal near the documentary’s end is heart-warming as much as it is startling.  This one plot twist made the rating jump a 1/2 star – you leave the film feeling buoyed (and hungry for sushi).

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is available on Netflix instant and DVD.

Recommendation Level: Strongly Recommended (even if you don’t like sushi).

EXTRA CREDIT — Dining with your eyes.

Famously foodie films  include Babette’s Feast, 9 1/2 Weeks, Julie & Julia, The Cook The Thief His Wife & His Lover, and my personal favorite, Big Night. Big Night is an Italian restaurant that serves one last meal to its faithful few before its possible and likely closing. During the highlight course, one diner sobs at the beauty and divine taste of the food.

If you want to nurture your sweet tooth, re-watch Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Chocolat, Waitress (oh, those pies!).  For foreign films, try Tampopo, Tortilla Soup, Like Water for Chocolate, Mostly Martha, or Eat Drink Man Woman.

Review: The Day

The Day

Review: The Day

The Day is a new post-apocalyptic horror film with a whole host of actors you know from other genre films. I liked it but didn’t love it.

We saw this film at the Sarasota Film Festival in April. The filmmakers were in attendance along with actors Ashley Bell and Dominic Monaghan.  You may remember Monaghan best as the hobbit Merry from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and as Charlie on Lost. He was affable during the post-viewing Q&A – maybe even endearingly goofy. It was clear that he enjoys interaction between the audience/fans and himself, and I always respect an actor for this. Similarly, Ashley Bell (the tortured young girl from The Last Exorcism) was incredibly gracious toward the audience and her experience on the film.

X-Men’s Iceman Shawn Ashmore  and Shannyn Sossamon round out the principal cast.  Michael Eklund continues his run of creepy roles as the chief of predatory clan. Eklund brings a feral quality to the role that other actors would have spoiled by overacting, lack of nuance, or an overindulgence in the cheese quotient.

The basic premise is a devastated earth yields little fuel, animals, or food for the remaining human race. Survivors band together to scavenge what they can to subsist, but ruthless clans of predators have picked off many of these intrepid human remnants. Five somethings are being tracked by one of these clans, and rather than run and be picked off one-by-one by the ruthless trackers, they hole up for a final stand in an old farmhouse and prepare for battle.

Luckily, this protypical siege film is pretty true to its genre and premise. It’s straightforward in that if the premise sounds appealing to you, you will probably like it. If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, it likely isn’t. The Day does not pull its punches.

The “preparing for battle” montage was probably my favorite scene of the movie. Cornered without arms, the quintet use ingenious methods to cobble together weapons and traps for their would-be assailants (who of course are expected to arrive at dark).  The gore is not over the top, but do know that most of the combat is of the hand-to-hand variety, and a female is tortured practically to the point of losing consciousness.

As for the shooting aspects, the film was beautifully shot in a muted palette.  The colors of the world have bled out with the last bastion of humanity, and it adds a really gritty atmosphere to the film. You may even forget from time-to-time that the film was shot in color because the landscape is utterly gray and dreary.

The filmmakers were coy when an audience member asked what caused the apocalypse, but they seemed to insinuate it was possibly environmentally-related. It seemed they didn’t want you to question to “why” or “how” of their set-up, but just get immersed in it. I think this is partially folly – while I get they are not trying to make a Message Film, trying to analyze the plot beyond what was shown on-screen was not rewarded.

WWE Studios is distributing the film. According to VideoETA, the DVD is slated for a November release if you don’t catch it in its limited theatrical run.

The trailer is here, but I would advise against seeing it; the trailer reveals a fairly significant and unanticipated spoiler than I was glad not to know going into the movie completely blind.

Recommendation Level: Recommended (if you are a fan of the genre).