Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Mulholland Dr., the great David Lynch puzzle movie that launched the careers of Naomi Watts and Justin Theroux, has now gotten the Criterion treatment—and it’s a good one.

Watts plays Betty, a wannabe actress who comes to Hollywood squeaky-clean—and gets her ass kicked. Theroux plays the director who gives her a role, but also breaks her heart. Or, depending upon your take, it’s all just a very bad dream.

Lynch planned this as a TV series for ABC, but the executives over there had no idea what Lynch was trying to do when they watched the dailies. When the pilot was rejected, Lynch did an extensive transcendental meditation session and came up with a way to make his TV series into a movie. Shockingly, it all ties together magically well.

I think this is actually Lynch’s best movie, full of terrific strange twists, dark humor and powerhouse acting—especially from Watts. She’s done many great things since, but this might stand as her best performance.

Special Features: There’s a deleted scene that is silly, along with some terrific recent interviews with the likes of Lynch, Watts and Theroux. Best of all, there’s set footage of the performers doing multiple takes—and getting ticked off. 

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Criterion Collection—the cream of the crop when it comes to home-video releases—has done a bang-up job with Five Easy Pieces, the Jack Nicholson classic from director Bob Rafelson.

Nicholson plays Bobby, a former pianist and son of a rich man who has left his family behind to work on an oil rig in Southern California. When he discovers his father is sick, he takes his girlfriend (Karen Black) on a road trip where he finds himself wrestling with his past and confusion about his love life.

This is one of the quintessential Nicholson roles, featuring that forever-awesome confrontation with a diner waitress over the preparation of a sandwich. It came out in 1970, kicking off a decade of American filmmaking that remains unparalleled.

Five Easy Pieces is an essential film for lovers of classic American cinema. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Special Features: This one is loaded. There’s a director’s commentary, a near-50-minute documentary on the movie (with the participation of Rafelson and Nicholson!), a cool booklet and much more.

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Adèle Exarchopoulos delivers one of last year’s breakout performances in Blue Is the Warmest Color, a shocking and beautiful movie about a young woman discovering her sexuality.

Exarchopoulos gives a performance that feels honest at every turn, with an expressive face that belongs on the big screen. Léa Seydoux (the assassin from the last Mission: Impossible film) is also powerful as Emma, the blue-haired woman upon whom Adele sets her sights. The two are wonderful together and provide real soul in a tremendously affecting love story.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche overdoes it a tad with some of the most explicit and overlong sex scenes ever displayed on a commercial movie screen. I’m not surprised that the actresses were a little pissed at their director in the aftermath. The scenes could stand a little trimming.

Still, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux kept me riveted for nearly three hours. It’s a shame this was never submitted as a contender for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, because it was a true winner.

Special Features: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lamer set of supplements on a Criterion Collection release. There are a couple of commercials, and that’s it. There are no commentaries, no making-of docs, no sex-scene bloopers … nothing. It’s shocking. Perhaps there will be a special edition in the future.

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When watching Lord of the Flies—the 1963 Peter Brook adaptation of William Golding’s classic book about British school kids going savage after being marooned on an island—you have to be a bit forgiving.

Brooks shot the film for $150,000 and had all sorts of audio problems. Virtually none of the audio shot on-set was used; most of what appears in the film needed to be looped in afterward. The production took a long time, so the young actors grew into puberty during filming, and their voices changed. Ralph (James Aubrey) has about four different voices throughout the film.

Despite this movie’s shortcomings, I love it. Hugh Edwards as Piggy has to be one of the all-time-best castings of an iconic literary character. He is Piggy … it’s a perfect choice.

This book and the movie were required reading and viewing when I was a kid. I think it resulted in a few less bespectacled kids getting slapped around in the hallway.

Special Features: Deleted scenes, interviews, documentaries, a commentary and a booklet make this a Criterion Collection release good one. 

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In the cult classic Repo Man, Emilio Estevez plays Otto, a punk kid in Los Angeles who is fired from his supermarket job and thrown into the life of repossessing cars by the absolutely strange Bud (Harry Dean Stanton). They pursue a Chevy Malibu with a big bounty on its fender—unaware of the extraterrestrial cargo in the trunk.

This is a very funny movie. (I especially love Otto’s response to his girl when asked about their relationship at film’s end.) This is the best thing Estevez has ever done, and Stanton was perfect casting. Director Alex Cox made Sid and Nancy after this one, but has not regained his form since. Still, when you have those two films on your directorial resume, that’s a pretty good career.

Special Features: On this Criterion release (hitting stores on Tuesday, April 16) is a commentary with Cox and executive producer Michael Nesmith (!); the TV version of the movie with extra scenes and censored language; deleted scenes; a weird segment with Stanton; and a new interview with Iggy Pop and members of the cast. You also get, as always, an awesome Criterion booklet.

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Director Charles Chaplin had some big balls, no doubt about it. He followed up his silent-film career as a lovable tramp by playing the lovable tramp as a stand-in for Hitler (The Great Dictator). Then he abandoned the Tramp altogether to play a bigamist wife-killer in this deranged film, Monsieur Verdoux, now out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. It’s as if the world’s most-beloved movie star was constantly taunting his audience to not like him.

Chaplin plays Henri Verdoux, a likable enough chap who loses his job as a bank clerk—and then starts killing older women for their money. Chaplin, quite controversially, portrays Verdoux as a sympathetic victim, with his murders and attempted murders being darkly humorous. It’s a film that confounded audiences upon its initial release, but has gone on to stand proudly alongside other classic films in Chaplin’s canon.

The film was originally set to be directed by Orson Welles and to star Chaplin, but Chaplin pulled out and bought the story rights from Welles. He then wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplay, and directed and starred in the picture, giving Welles a small credit.

There are some genuinely chilling moments, but the murders are mostly played for comedy. Chaplin deliberately made the victims and potential victims far uglier than he was, including a cranked-up Martha Raye. At his core, Verdoux is a cold-blooded killer, but that doesn’t stop Chaplin from throwing in some of his trademark physical slapstick comedy. (There’s a backflip out a window that is quite amazing.)

Chaplin was into grand political statements, and this film was no exception. It came at a time when he was under fire from the U.S. government for his alleged communist leanings (for which he was eventually exiled). Making Verdoux sympathetic—and even virtuous at times—was in bad taste, but Chaplin had a tendency to be able to pull off things like this.

Watch this knowing that you are seeing one of the most-uneven films from one of cinema’s greatest and smartest directors. That said, it is still a great movie, and a testament to just how good of a filmmaker Chaplin was.

Special Features: This is not as rich and full as past Chaplin discs from Criterion, but it still has a couple of decent documentaries about him. You also get a nice collector’s booklet, including an essay from Chaplin himself. 

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In Badlands, you get one of the greatest American feature-directorial debuts in history. That’s a grandiose statement, for sure, but we are talking about Terrence Malick here, and the man is a magician behind the camera.

Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of heat for liking all of Malick’s movies. I picked The Tree of Life as the year’s best film a couple of years ago, inspiring many to watch it—and in turn inspiring a lot of hate mail. Malick’s movies are as unorthodox as they come, and are basically poetry in motion. If you hate poetry, and you hate a movie that takes its time, then be careful popping his movies into your player.

I would call this movie one of his more commercial offerings. Martin Sheen stars as Kit, a character based on real-life serial-killer Charles Starkweather. Starkweather and his young girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, went on a killing spree in the late ’50s. Sissy Spacek plays Holly, who is essentially a representation of Fugate.

The film came out in ’73, and immediately established Malick as one-of-a-kind. There’s nothing sensationalistic about his approach. He doesn’t try to explain Kit’s motives, and Holly never really explains why she goes along for the ride. Yet it is entirely clear why Kit is sick, and why Holly doesn’t resist. Malick and the performers leave it to the viewer to figure things out.

This might be the best script Malick has ever written. He’s the rare filmmaker who can use a voiceover and not make it feel like a storytelling copout. (Blade Runner, anyone?) Holly’s VO enhances and beautifies the story, rather than explaining things just because the narrative got confusing.

I had never seen Badlands on anything but crappy TV transfers and sloppy DVDs—and seeing it on Blu-ray in this Criterion Collection release is an absolute revelation. The imagery is as breathtaking as anything ever put to film.

Do I sound like I am over-praising? Just know that this man is one of my favorite directors, and this will always be one of my favorite movies.

Special Features: A nice new documentary features recently conducted interviews with Sheen and Spacek. You also get an older doc on Starkweather, interviews with the editor and producer, and one of those sweet Criterion booklets.

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Marlon Brando took home the first of his two Oscars for playing washed-up palooka and longshoreman Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, his third pairing with director Elia Kazan after A Streetcar Named Desire and Viva Zapata!

Funny eye makeup aside, it’s easy to see why Brando got the Oscar (which was also somewhat of a consolation prize after getting nominated but not winning for Streetcar and Zapata!). He’s brilliant here, making Terry a highly sympathetic character, even if Malloy does lure fellow employees to their deaths on occasion.

The “Coulda been a contender!” speech will always be a classic, perhaps the most-iconic moment of Brando’s career. Karl Malden is dynamite as a priest who will punch you in the face if you mess with him, and Eva Marie Saint is terrific in her debut big-screen role.

The film was based on real-life situations involving extortion on New York’s waterfront, but is also seen as Kazan’s condemnation of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and an atonement of sorts for Kazan’s participation in the McCarthy witch hunts. (I learned this reading the trivia notes on the Internet Movie Database.)

While the movie is most notable for the Brando and Malden performances, let us not forget the contributions of Lee J. Cobb as a fierce union leader and Rod Steiger as Terry’s brother.

The new Criterion Collection transfer is breathtakingly good.

Special Features: The disc is loaded. The two-disc set includes the film presented in three different aspect ratios. There’s a documentary with Martin Scorsese discussing the film, and that’s priceless. There’s another newly produced documentary featuring film scholar interviews, interviews with Kazan and Saint, and even an interview with the actor who played Brando’s young buddy in the film. You also get a commentary, a large collectors’ booklet and more. 

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