Category: Criterion Discovery

Criterion Discovery: Badlands

Background Badlands (Spine #651) is the debut film of famous auteur Terrence Malick and stars Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Warren Oates. Malick currently has two films in the collection, Days of Heaven (Spine #409) and The Thin Red Line (Spine #536), with a third, The New World (Spine #826), on the way. Story Drawing on the 1958 midwestern killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, Terrence Malick tells an ethereal and impressionistic story of yearning, murder, and young love gone sour. Badlands follows Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a charming and sociopathic James Dean look-a-like, as he...

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Criterion Discovery: Cries and Whispers

Background Cries and Whispers (Spine #101) is a 1972 drama written and directed by legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman and starring Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, and Kari Sylwan. Bergman is a favorite of the Criterion Collection and presently has over twenty films in the collection, including Persona (Spine #701) and The Seventh Seal (Spine #11). Story Cries and Whispers, like many of Bergman’s films, is steeped in a sort of deathly dread. The movie begins in a room painted in a striking, bloody crimson. Though Cries is a remarkably understated and quiet film, from the beginning there is an...

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Criterion Discovery: Mulholland Dr.

Background Mulholland Dr. (Spine #779) is a 2001 psychological-horror film written and directed by notorious auteur David Lynch, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Currently, Lynch has only one other film in the collection: Eraserhead (Spine #725). Story It begins with a car crash. A woman (Harring) stumbles from the smoldering wreckage of a limousine into a lush Los Angeles apartment, wholly bewildered. There, she finds perky and wide-eyed Betty (Watts), and together they embark on a hazy, surreal journey for identity and that elusive fiction known to most as the truth. As is the norm for a Lynch artwork,...

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Criterion Discovery: The Thin Red Line

Background The Thin Red Line (Spine #536) is a 1998 ensemble war film directed by Terrence Malick and based on James Jones’ 1962 novel of the same name. Malick has two other films in the Criterion canon: Badlands (Spine #651) and Days of Heaven (Spine #409). Story World War II is a veritable fountain from which filmmakers have been drawing ideas since the war itself actually happened. Whether it be The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan, or Inglorious Basterds, it seems that artists never grow tired of the grand narrative of the Axis versus the Allies. However, Malick’s The...

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Criterion Discovery: The Seventh Seal

Background The Seventh Seal (Spine #11) was directed by Ingmar Bergman and was released in 1957. Bergman is a favorite of Criterion, with over twenty films in the collection including Persona (Spine #701) and Autumn Sonata (Spine #60). Story Bergman paints a nightmarish portrait of a disillusioned Crusades soldier, Antonius Block (played by Max Von Sydow), who plays chess with the physical manifestation of Death in order to stay alive while the Black Plague ravages the society around him. The Film In The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman captures fear in a way few directors have before. During the Middle Ages...

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Criterion Discovery: The Double Life of Veronique

Background The Double Life of Veronique (spine # 359) is a 1991 drama directed by Krzysztof  Kieslowski, starring Irene Jacob. It was his international breakthrough, and acts almost as a predecessor to his Three Colors Trilogy. Kieslowski has four other films in the Criterion Collection: Three Colors:Blue (Spine #588), Three Colors:White (Spine #589), Three Colors: Red (Spine #590), and Blind Chance (Spine #772). Story In The Double Life of Veronique, two identical women living in two different countries are profoundly bound to each other. The film is many things. It is a shattered mirror, it is a hazy dream with a...

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Criterion Discovery: A Hard Day’s Night

Background  A Hard Day’s Night (spine #711) is a 1964 musical-comedy directed by Richard Lester and starring The Beatles. It is Lester’s only film in the Collection. Story The Beatles, who play themselves,  get into a series of wacky misadventures while on the way to a live television performance. From a modern perspective, the decision to make a film about The Beatles starring the band as slightly fictionalized versions of themselves fascinates me. The fact that the characterizations are so down-to-earth alongside the fact that the group would have been going on long trips to play concerts all the time...

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Criterion Discovery: Godzilla (1954)

Background Godzilla (Spine #594) is the 1954 Ishiro Honda film that started the “Kaiju” sub-genre. Theatrically released in 1954, and subsequently re-released to American audiences with an English language audio-track and new footage in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, Honda’s Godzilla saw its initial Criterion release on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 24, 2012. Godzilla is currently the only Ishiro Honda film to receive inclusion in The Criterion Collection. Both the Japanese and American versions of the film are included in this release. Story Godzilla is the original monster movie. Set in Japan as a parable on the...

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Criterion Discovery: Breaking the Waves

Background: Breaking the Waves (spine #705) is a 1996 drama directed by Lars von Trier. Von Trier’s other films in the Collection include The Element of Crime (spine #80), Europa (spine #454), and Antichrist (spine #542). Story: Newlywed Bess (Emily Watson) maintains her faith (despite the puritanical and patriarchal church to which she belongs) after her husband Jan (Stellan Skarsgard) is paralyzed in an oil rig accident. The Film: Breaking the Waves is over two-and-a-half hours long, but to me it boils down to a single shot: Bess in bed with her brand-new husband Jan on the night after...

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Criterion Discovery: Seven Samurai

Background: Seven Samurai (Spine #2) is a 1954 action/adventure epic directed by Akira Kurosawa, who holds more Criterion releases than anyone at 36. It is often cited as one of the most influential and epic films ever assembled onscreen. Story: A group of poor villagers recruit seven samurai to help defend their village from bandits looking to steal the few supplies they own. The Film: To call Seven Samurai an achievement in cinema is an understatement. What director Akira Kurosawa was able to accomplish in terms of scope and character helped found the foundation for adventure films for generations....

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Criterion Discovery: Picnic at Hanging Rock

Background: Picnic at Hanging Rock is a 1975 mystery directed by Peter Weir and based on the novel by Joan Lindsay. It is regarded as one of the most notable films to emerge from Australian New Wave. The film was released as Spine #28 in November 1998. It received a Criterion Blu-Ray re-release on June 17th 2014. Peter Weir has one other film in The Criterion Collection, The Last Wave (Spine #133). Story: On St. Valentine’s Day, 1900, a group of private school girls and their teachers make a trip to the mountainous Hanging Rock. When three students (Miranda, Irma, Marion) and a chaperon (Miss McCraw) seemingly disappear within the recesses of the rock, the locals begin their search to find out what happened to the missing women. The Film: Picnic at Hanging Rock may be the closest that film has ever come to replicating poetry. Like a poem, Weir’s film is centrally concerned with imagery, mood, and tone. The characters are less complex, fully-realized individuals in themselves but more ideas and feelings that speak to the broader complexities of society and humanity. They are lines and stanzas positioned to shed light, (or in some cases mask it) in order to shape the film’s central conceit. Despite being a mystery film, Picnic isn’t concerned with how plot points add up in the service of revelation. For some this may be...

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Criterion Discovery: Paths of Glory

Background Paths of Glory (Spine #538) is a 1957 American humanist anti-war film directed by Stanley Kubrick. It was initially released by Criterion in October of 2010. Paths of Glory is one of three Kubrick films currently in the collection, the other two being The Killing (Spine #575) and Spartacus (Spine #105.) Story Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) goes up against the top officials in the French army when his own soldiers are charged with cowardice, a crime punishable by death, when they fail to complete an impossible mission in World War I. What follows is a harrowing and darkly beautiful...

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Criterion Discovery: The Vanishing

Background The Vanishing (originally titled Spoorloos) is a French mystery/thriller directed by George Sluizer. The original 1988 film (which was followed by a rather depressing American remake in 1993) came to The Criterion Collection as Spine #133 on Blu-Ray in late 2014. This is the only Sluzier film to make it as part of the Collection. Story A young couple is traveling to their designated vacation spot when Saskia convinces Rex to veer off to a local spot. After a pit stop at a local gas station Saskia goes missing. Years after hearing nothing, Rex begins to receive odd...

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Criterion Discovery: Solaris

Background Solaris is a Russian science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film is an adaptation from Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris. It was originally released in 1972 and released on Criterion DVD on May 24, 2011, spine #164 with a run-time of 166 minutes. The Story The inhabitants of a space station orbiting around Solaris, a planet under observation, experience an inexplicable psychological phenomena. Seeking answers, ground control sends a psychologist to help alleviate the three men of their distressed state. Despite his best efforts, the psychologist is unable to escape the delusions. The Film The film begins...

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Criterion Discovery: Up All Night With Robert Downey Sr.

Background Up All Night With Robert Downey Sr. (Eclipse Series #33) is a collection of Downey’s experimental comedies from the New York underground film scene of the 1960s, individually dating from 1964-1975, and comprising the titles Babo 73, Chafed Elbows, No More Excuses, Putney Swope, and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight. The collection was initially released on DVD on May 22, 2012. These five Robert Downey Sr. films are the only features of his to be included in The Criterion Collection. Story Consistently irreverent and compulsively surreal, these five films directed by Robert Downey Sr. are never...

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