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If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise

Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Calvin Mackie, Mitch Landrieu, Jacques Morial, Fred Johnson, Tanya Harris
Review [23.Aug.2010]


If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise

In the politically timid artistic climate of contemporary Hollywood, it’s no surprise that Spike Lee, once derided and celebrated as the prototypical Angry Black Man, would be forced to mount projects such as this at HBO, a sort of de facto African-American studio, when one considers the number of black-themed programs they’ve aired in the past two decades. Lee has proven himself adept at juggling vast amounts of information and points of view in his two documentaries about Katrina’s wake in New Orleans and its Gulfside neighbors. Of course, a la Michael Moore, he slams the powers-that-be with a vengeance, but he also clearly gives voice to a wide stratum of opinion here, something even his fiercest critics would have to concede. Terrence Butcher


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Late Mizoguchi - Eight Films (1951-1956)

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Nobuko Otowa, Michiyo Kogure, Machiko Kyo, Aiko Mimasu


Late Mizoguchi - Eight Films (1951-1956)
Eureka Entertainment

Released all the way back in January, Masters of Cinema’s Late Mizoguchi collection instantly set the bar at an exceedingly high level for any successive DVD released this year. And in terms of breadth, quality, and contextual materials, it couldn’t and wouldn’t be touched. Collecting eight films the Japanese master would make over just a five year period in the twilight of his career, Late Mizoguchi represents that rarest of box sets that’s essential for both die-hards and neophytes alike. Despite being anchored by two of the greatest films to ever come from the East, 1953s Ugetsu and 1954s Sansho the Bailiff, the set ultimately serves its most vital function as an outlet for six other rare Mizoguchi gems, including 1951s Miss Oyu, 1953s Gion Festival Music, and 1954s The Crucified Lovers. Japanese film historian Tony Rayns handles most of the supplemental material, providing video introductions on all eight films and an audio commentary track for 1956s Street of Shame, Mizoguchi’s final film before his early passing that very same year. Highly detailed essays on each film are included in accompanying two-film booklets and original posters and artwork are featured throughout the set. This was, by some distance, the box set of the year (though it is, it should be noted, Region B-locked), and it may be the single best release Masters of Cinema have yet produced. Jordan Cronk


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The Battle of Algiers - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Gillo Potecorvo
Cast: Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin, Saadi Yacef, Samia Kerbash, Fusia El Kader


The Battle of Algiers - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

You probably know that The Battle of Algiers is both a beautiful film and a close examination of the nature of violence. You likely even know that director Gillo Pontecorvo drew heavy inspiration from Franz Fanon’s 1961 book, The Wretched of the Earth. Perhaps you’ve even heard that both the Black Panthers and the IRA have used scenes in the film as training videos. But I bet you didn’t know that Paul Newman was considered for the lead role. The Criterion collection’s new Blu-ray transfer of The Battle of Algiers shows us all the grit and grime of embattled streets where children kill colonial police, informers and collaborators are machine-gunned without mercy, and the occupying French brutally torture suspected members of the National Liberation Front (FLN). Capturing a calamitous year in the struggle against French colonialism, the film succeeds in that most difficult of tasks: its both high art and one of the 20th century’s most important political statements. W. Scott Poole


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Modern Times - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard


Modern Times - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

Charlie Chaplin’s first significant dalliance with sound—made at the zenith of his popularity—stands proud in a career of almost incomparable brilliance, and represents one of his finest achievements. It features incisive social commentary, a charming relationship of equals, some of his most iconic slapstick and—though predominantly rooted in the concerns of its time—it looks ahead with playful speculation and scintillating savvy to the future. Emma Simmonds


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Platoon: 25th Anniversary Edition

(US DVD: 24 May 2011)


Platoon: 25th Anniversary Edition

Oliver Stone fashioned a monument alive with the horror of history with this film, and shaped it out of the terrors of his personal and America’s collective angst. Platoon is a tale of the pity of war combined with a soul-wrenching look at the choices, lies, false hopes, and spoiled innocence of another era. An era that sometimes looks too much like our own. The 25th anniversary Blu-Ray edition contains a wealth of extras focused on placing the film in context and attempting to explain how it mediated the memory of the Vietnam War. The primary theme of these features tends to be Stone and technical advisor Dale Dye discussing their respective experiences in Vietnam and how those experiences influenced the film. Stone’s willingness to talk about his own experiences in relation to the film immeasurably strengthens both the commentary and the special features. Even if you have seen this five times, it makes all the difference to hear Stone describe how Sheen’s Taylor is in many ways the embodiment of a young Stone, an idealistic but deeply torn soldier. W. Scott Poole


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Jackie Brown (Blu-ray)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton


Jackie Brown (Blu-ray)

Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, this movie offers an intriguing mix of the author’s voice and Tarantino’s unique style of dialogue. What’s surprising is how much remains from the original book in this film. It pays tribute to the source material while providing a new spin from the young director. The big change was in the lead character, which was changed from the white, blond-haired Jackie Burke to the African-American Jackie Brown (Pam Grier). This shift adjusts the movie’s tone, but it also gives Grier the chance to deliver a stunning performance. She originally rose to prominence in “Blaxploitation” films like Foxy Brown and Coffy during the mid-‘70s. Although she continued to work throughout the ‘80s, this movie brought her back into the public consciousness. The attention was well-deserved, and it’s nearly impossible to envision another actress playing this role. Dan Heaton


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Videodrome - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson


Videodrome - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection

David Cronenberg’s classic bit of uncategorizable prescience stands up amazingly well today, almost 30 years later. A grotesque, bloody, but always cerebral fantasy about the curious ways media are affecting our experience of reality, Videodrome hit the film community like a cannon shot back in 1983. Following a series of increasingly assured (but always singular and “difficult”) films, this Canadian wunderkind had finally scored a full spectrum triumph. As clever as it was entertaining, as sexy as it was revolting, and at all times unrelentingly imaginative, Videodrome set the standard for what has developed into a bit of a subgenre: the “transnational media as enemy” film.

What would happen if the mind, the body, the human, became a kind of cog in a media-driven system in which monologue overwhelmed connected interaction? What if this has already happened, and media (whether unwittingly or not) merely serve to reinforce our enslavement to some systemic infection of the mind? What if those screens we are all staring into every day were to become the dissemination point for a global plague, a mass hypnosis, or, you know, FOX news? Videodrome suggests these, among many other, unsettling questions as it leads us down the rabbit hole. Stuart Henderson


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Blue Velvet (Blu-ray)

Director: David Lynch
Cast: Kyle McLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern


Blue Velvet

Eraserhead got him noticed. The Elephant Man proved he could transfer his unusual muse to a more mainstream ideal. Indeed, for the first few years of his fledgling career, things were looking up for David Lynch. Then Dune came along and crushed whatever commercial credibility he had. Even critical acclaim and Oscar nominations couldn’t put aside the stigma of being yet another member of the failed blockbuster club. Desperate to again redefine himself and his work, Lynch shopped a script around centering on a mystery, a young man, and the ugly underneath the seemingly tranquil facade of small town America. Entitled Blue Velvet, many were turned off by its overt violence and seedy sexual content. Lynch never gave up, finally finding financing to bring his unencumbered vision to life.

Divisive at the time (Siskel loved it, while Ebert called it an abomination), it has come to be regarded as Lynch’s first legitimate masterpiece, a work of wild imagination and even greater professional skill. From the opening music that mimicked Hitchcock to an ending which offered both finality and a fairytale, it would become the benchmark by which all other efforts in the auteur’s oeuvre would be gauged. Currently getting the glorified HD treatment thanks to Blu-ray, one can re-experience the magic and the menace of this amazing film all over again. Indeed, for those of us who are students of the experience, there are certain beats, individual moments and concepts that create the work of art Lynch intended. Bill Gibron


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Three Colors Trilogy - The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, Irene Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Zbigniew Zamachowski


Three Colors Trilogy - The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Criterion Collection

Those brilliant cinephiles of The Criterion Collection outdid themselves with the stunning release of Krzysztof Kieslowski´s Three Colors Trilogy. The Blu-ray boxset contains the three seminal films in breathtakingly beautiful high definition (the cinematography in Blue is particularly mesmerizing) and might be the most complete Kieslowski set released in the Western hemisphere. The films themselves should be enough to make this appealing, but the supplements and bonus features make it a must-have in every serious film lover’s collection. There are behind-the-scenes TV shows, interviews with Julie Delpy, Irene Jacob and Zbigniew Zamachowski, scene commentary with Juliette Binoche, three Kieslowski short films (you have to see The Face) and cinema lessons given by the late director himself. This is film school in a box. Jose Solís Mayén


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Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead


Citizen Kane - 70th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Warner Bros.

Carrying the weight of “best film ever made” must not be easy, but this 70-year-old has never looked better than in this pristine HD transfer. Orson Welles’ masterpiece about the rise and fall of a newspaper mogul, explores themes that resonate with audiences seven decades after its release and still remains an aesthetic and technical landmark (did you know that you can turn off the images and the film works as a radio play?). The movie itself should be the main attraction but Warner has made sure to stack this edition with enough extras to make it the most important historical home video release of 2011. Bonus features include the award winning documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane as well as the made-for-TV RKO 281 which dramatized the behind the scenes chaos that underwent Kane’s production. Best of all—and as of now only exclusive to Amazon—was the inclusion of Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, a butchered masterpiece that still remains an impressive artistic achievement. Jose Solís Mayén

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