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by Michael Barrett

12 Jul 2016


King Hu is among the most important and idiosyncratic creators of the modern martial arts film, but his films have been tough to see in the digital era. In Region 1, the only one to receive an official subtitled release on DVD is his 1966 debut for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers, Come Drink With Me, a milestone for its motifs of the drunken hero, a swordswoman, and an inn.

Thanks to the restoration efforts of its star, Hsu Feng, Hu’s three-hour epic A Touch of Zen  is now available on Criterion, and we hope it presages more of the same.

by Michael Barrett

8 Jul 2016


Miracles are still happening on the silent film front. In 2004, a private detective notified the Oklahoma City Museum of Art that he’d received a film print in payment for a job. The museum was astounded to realize he was talking about a long-lost 1920 feature, shot in Oklahoma with a cast entirely of Kiowa and Comanche Indians. When the museum acquired the film, it turned out to be complete and in excellent shape, though in need of restoration. Several years later, the six-reel feature has been selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and it’s now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

So how’s the movie? This independent production tells a very simple story in a genre once called “Indian romances”. It’s prettily photographed in medium shots at natural locations, and now accompanied by an original score from David Yeagley. Not in itself a masterpiece of cinema, it’s a creditable, professional effort that’s most fascinating for its preservation of artifacts provided by the actors. We see tipis (tee-pees), clothes, weapons, dances, gestures, and bareback riding, along with herds of buffalo and various vistas amid the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, still unspoiled today.

by Michael Barrett

7 Jul 2016


Little in this collection is new, as the films have previously been on Blu-ray in various permutations. So what’s the big deal here? It’s the sheer convenience of finally having all 32 existing shorts made by Buster Keaton, in 2K restorations, in one shiny package.

That includes 13 “apprentice” shorts he made under the mentorship of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and that in turn includes “The Cook”, which had been rediscovered and issued separately from the previous Arbuckle/Keaton discs. Let nobody assume these early works are too minor or primitive, or even—perish the thought—unfunny. They’re often ingenious and for some reason rely frequently on cross-dressing. Not yet established as “the great stone face”, Keaton adopts a variety of attitudes.

by Michael Barrett

28 Jun 2016


This independent noir, produced by Edward Small for distribution through United Artists, opens like a boxing picture—more like Mark Robson’s Champion  (1949), which was shot by the same cinematographer, the great Franz Planer, than like the smoky Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947). As noir historian Eddie Muller observes in his commentary on this new Blu-ray, the actors in this film aren’t good at pretending to be boxers.

As directed by Phil Karlson, however, the film itself has no such problem. Light on its feet and dexterous of plot, this film throws many an expert feint at the viewer before landing a few solid punches, and it’s hard to say which moves are the most entertaining.

by Michael Barrett

22 Jun 2016


Fantastic Planet (1973) is a surreal, animated sci-fi fable of extraordinary beauty, cruelty, and strangeness. It used to circulate widely in the VHS era, when it was recognized as one of the most important animated films aimed at adults. In the DVD era, it’s been more problematic to get hold of. After a 1999 Anchor Bay disc with unremovable subtitles and an abortive release by Facets in 2007, we finally have this dazzling 2016 restoration on Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion.

Aesthetically, the film is a colorful, dreamlike visual spectacle in which Roland Topor—an illustrator known for disturbing, violent, and grotesque visions—applied his imagination to dramatizing a novel by French SF writer Stefan Wul. Topor is credited as co-scripter with director René Laloux, who worked with Czech animators for a period of several years (encompassing the “Prague Spring” and Soviet invasion of their country).

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