Criterion Collection Titles for August 2014

The Criterion Collection has announced their upcoming titles to be released in August 2014. Most of these films are somewhat unexpected, and only one of the five is already in the collection, but all of them are from some of the most respected and revolutionary directors of their (or all) time.

Here are the releases for August:

Being Released August 12th, 2014:

  • “Love Streams” (1984): Love StreamsCriterion Collection regular, filmmaker John Cassavetes not only directs this picture, but also stars alongside longtime collaborator (and wife) Gena Rowlands. The story revolves around a brother and sister who reconnect at a later point in their lives. This is one of Cassavetes least seen “masterpieces”, but it appears that the good folks at Criterion have decided to change that by adding it to their collection. “Love Streams” will be presented in its original 141 minutes version, with some incredible bonus features, including a 60 minutes documentary on the making of the film.

Being Released August 19th, 2014:

  • “Y tu mama tambien” (2001): Y tu mama tambienIt’s been rumored for so long, and now it has finally happened. “Y tu mama tambien” is in the Criterion Collection. Before he was an Academy Award winner for “Gravity”, Alfonso Cuaron made this highly acclaimed film about two sex-crazed friends (Gael Garcia Bernal & Diego Luna) who go on a road trip with a slightly older woman (Maribel Verdu), frustrated with her own life. The three embark on a life-changing journey of self (and sexual) discovery.
  • “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1990): Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!From director Pedro Almodovar comes this dark comedy about a recently released psychiatric patient (Antonio Banderas) who kidnaps an adult film actress (Victoria Abril), and holds her hostage in an attempt to convince her to marry him.

Being Released August 26th, 2014:

  • “Vengeance is Mine” (1979): Vengeance is MineThis Japanese film, from director Shohei Imamura, is already part of the Criterion Collection, but is now getting a blu-ray upgrade. This film, based on a true story, is about a serial killer, retelling the events of his life, and a killing spree that he went on over 78 days.
  • “All That Jazz” (1979): All That Jazz (1979)This Best Picture nominee stands out as one of Bob Fosse’s very best pictures, and although there are those who don’t share in this picture’s general acclaim (me, me, that’s me) it does offer a marvelous performance from its star Roy Scheider, and is easily considered to be one of the best musicals to come out of the 1970’s.

Well, that’s all for August… now we can start speculating about September!

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Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)- Don Siegel

 ★★★★★

 

When watching “Riot in Cell Block 11” (1954), one can’t help but be surprised by the film’s gritty, bold style, and stark realism. This is not a documentary, or a film based on an actual event, but it feels like it could be. Its distinct style and down-right brilliant overall production provide the exact ingredients needed in order to create aRiot in Cell Block 11 (1954) lasting film-watching experience that serves as an example to so many filmmakers that would emerge over the next generation.

The picture stars Emile Meyer as a warden who has spent years yelling from his soapbox about the deteriorating conditions of the enormous prison under his control. He has over 4,000 inmates under him, that is, until the men in cell block 11 decide they have had enough. Lead by James Dunn (Neville Brand) and the ruthless Mike Carnie (Leo Gordon), the men in cell block 11 overpower the four guards, holding them hostage. They are all still contained in the cell block, as they aren’t trying to escape- they just want to be heard, and treated like people. The men have a list of demands that they want met, all of which have to do with their mistreatment by guards, and the inhumane way that they are housed. Police Commissioner Haskell (Frank Faylen) is brought in to help with the negotiations, but he doesn’t Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)care about the conditions that the criminals are forced to live in, day in and day out, so his presence only makes matters worse, resulting in an intense and thrilling standoff.

“Riot in Cell Block 11” has everything that a film needs to entertain and entrance an audience. Filmed on location in Folsom Prison, shot by the amazing cinematographer Russell Harlon, this movie truly makes you feel as if you’re experiencing something real. Not as a leading character fighting alongside the other men, but as an observer, sitting on the catwalk above the action. Don Siegel directs, before his glory days when he made five films with Clint Eastwood (including 1979’s “Escape From Alcatraz”), and even before the popularity that he would receive with hits like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956). Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)Although it is an earlier film in his career, there is already a clear indication that the man knows what he is doing. Siegel crafts with a precise goal in mind, and he is unwilling to compromise any realism for a more polished picture, which many producers surely would have pushed toward, in order to appeal to a wider audience. This, however, was not the case. Producer Walter Wanger famously served four months after shooting the suspected lover of his wife, actress Joan Bennett. It was his experiences surrounding that event that are said to have inspired him in the producing of this film.

This is a film that was made better because of the circumstances that surrounded the production. Even the actors add to the overall realism here. Sure there were a handful of seasoned character actors, but many of the extras are real guards and prisoners from Folsom Prison. And then there is Leo Gordon, whose dominating physical stature is enough to intimidate anyone. Earlier in his life Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954)he actually served five years after being involved in an armed robbery that also left him shot in the stomach. Even though that part of his life was behind him, it is obvious from his commanding performance here that the effects of his time inside helped in insurmountable terms to creating the most realistic portrayal possible.

“Riot in Cell Block 11” is an extremely interesting movie to come out of the mid 1950’s. It’s a dark, unflinching examination of the prison system, at a time when movies like this just weren’t made. It’s a throw back to those pre-code, ruthless, hard-hitting films like “The Big House” (1930) or even “The Racket” (1928). It also is a film that has spent enough time in obscurity, and now thanks to the Criterion Collection, has a chance once again to gain the recognition that it so clearly deserves.

 

The Great Dictator (1940)- Charles Chaplin

 ★★★★★

&

My Hall of Fame

 

If there is anyone who can successfully make anything to do with either WWII or Adolph Hitler a joke, it would be Charles Chaplin- even if it came with his later regrets. The Great Dictator (1940)When the famous comedian decided to (almost single-handedly) create a satirical comedy-drama, poking fun at Hitler himself, as well as many others closely involved with Hitler, Chaplin knew he could do it successfully because he found humor where others did not. Years later, after the atrocities of the Nazi’s and their actions were known to the world, Chaplin admitted that he would never have made a film like “The Great Dictator” (1940) if he would have understood the truth behind what was happening in Europe. Whereas this attitude is understandable, the powerful message that this enormously important (and somewhat underrated) film has to offer, combined with Chaplin’s fearless performance, create a cinematic experience that is both hilarious at times, and heart-wrenching at others.

“The Great Dictator” opens during the great war, as an unnamed Jewish soldier (Chaplin in one of two roles) is fighting for his fictional country of Tomainia. The Great Dictator (1940)After a series of amusingly comedic blunders, he finds himself helping Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) into an airplane and flying secret documents to their commanding officer. They crash, just as the war comes to an end, but the Jewish man suffers from memory loss, and the next twenty years go by without him remembering anything.

Jumping forward to that time, it turns out that the Jewish man is in fact a barber, who runs a shop in the ghetto. (He looks similar to Chaplin’s famous Little Tramp, but also has many differences.) He returns to his work, next door to Hannah (Paulette Goddard), a laundress, who bond over a physical dispute with local stormtroopers. He is unaware that being Jewish is no longer acceptable, now that the notoriously brutal dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) has begun his master plan of world domination.

The remainder of the movie is cut into two sections. One between scenes of the dictator, or “The Phooey” as he is called, as he stumbles about trying to take over the world with his cohorts, Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Herring (Billy Gilbert). The Great Dictator (1940)The other involves the Jewish barber and Hannah reeking havoc on Hynkel’s stormtroopers. Needless to say, there is a ton of laughs awaiting in both stories, and, as Hynkel and the barber look alike, everything is culminating toward an inevitable big finish.

Charlie Chaplin is a genius, in every aspect of the word. In addition to starring as both leading characters in the movie, Chaplin also wrote, produced, and directed. He even wrote the musical score along with Meredith Wilson (who later would give Chaplin the “creative” credit). “The Great Dictator” is completely his vision, and even though many stepped up and tried to take credit for contributing ideas, Chaplin is the one man smart enough and brave enough to pull it all together- and not just into a decent film, but into a true masterpiece.

The Great Dictator (1940)

The comedic value here (like all of Chaplin’s films) in undeniable. You can’t help but laugh and smile throughout as he, in his first full-talking film, delivers with dialogue, facial expressions, set pieces, and, of course, physical stunts. The surprise of this picture isn’t in the comedy, but in the drama. Chaplin had a message to deliver, and “The Great Dictator” gave him the outlet he needed. Making a film such as this, at such a crucial time in the world’s history, could have ended in absolute failure. Chaplin, however, doesn’t seem to know how to fail, and ended up creating an important, memorable film that even today gives viewers a chance to see how influential and important one man could be. The Great Dictator (1940)There is a story that Chaplin had seen the German film “Olympia” (1938), and used it to aid him designing “The Great Dictator”. I wasn’t around in 1940 to see how this movie played as a piece of propaganda, but it is both moving and inspiring today.

Besides Chaplin, who gives not one, but two brilliant performances, Paulette Goddard also contributes with her usual perfect blend of hilarious, almost slapstick comedy, and touching drama. She constantly has to continue jumping back and forth between the serious scenes and the comedic ones, which is not all that easy to do. Also getting in on the fun is Jack Oakie, who plays a neighboring dictator named Benzino Napaloni. (Man I love Chaplin’s character names!) The Great Dictator (1940)Oakie is so entertaining in this film that he even earned himself an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

When it was all said and done, “The Great Dictator” became Chaplin’s highest grossing movie. Also, after the fiasco centered on the Academy’s removal of 1928’s “The Circus” (and don’t get me started on the stupidity of that!), “The Great Dictator” ended up being the only one of his films to be a Best Picture nominee, and his only Best Actor nomination. (Both of which were thoroughly deserved.) Today “The Great Dictator” is not the first of his films that will come to a movie fan’s mind, but with classic comedies like “The Gold Rush” (1925), “City Lights” (1931), and “Modern Times” (1936), it is easy to see how “The Great Dictator” has been lost in the shuffle. Trust me, however, when I tell you that missing out on seeing this amazing film would only be an injustice to both Chaplin and to yourself.

Jesse James (1939)- Henry King

 ★★★★

 

In John Ford’s perfect western film,“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), a newspaper man (Carleton Young) given the opportunity to set the record straight says, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This one brief, but thought-provoking statement can basically sum up the story for Henry King’s western “Jesse James” (1939). Jesse James (1939)This is not a film based on the facts surrounding the life of Jesse James- it’s entertainment based off of legends and myths about one of America’s most notorious outlaws. With that being said, who cares? It doesn’t matter if any of the facts are accurate or truthful. It doesn’t even matter if it comes close because Tyrone Power is our hero. He can’t be an outlaw, he must be misunderstood. Aside from Tyrone being our “hero”, it still doesn’t matter how factual this film ends up being because this is one hell of an enjoyable western.

The film opens as crooked railroad man, Barshee (Brian Donlevy), and his gang of “businessmen” are harassing and coercing farmers into selling their land to the railroad. When they arrive at the James Farm, however, they encounter more than they expected when the family matriarch (Jane Darwell) refuses to sign anything. Barshee is even more shocked when he tries to get physical with Frank James (Henry Fonda), and Frank easily overpowers him. Banshee tells his gang to jump Frank, and that is when Frank’s younger brother Jesse (Tyrone Power) emerges, using his pistol as a way to keep the fight between Frank and Banshee a fair one. You see, he only gets violent to keep things fair and even.

Later Banshee returns for revenge, but when he doesn’t find Jesse or Frank, he becomes angry and somewhat accidentally kills their mother, thus enraging the brothers further, and subsequently creating an enemy for himself… and for the railroad.

Jesse James (1939)Jesse, Frank, and their band of outlaws begin robbing trains in order to “teach the railroad a lesson”, but it begins to wreak havoc on Jesse’s personal life, including his relationship with future wife, Zee (Nancy Kelly). She wants Jesse to give up these evil ways, and even convinces a local Marshall (Randolph Scott) to bring him in peacefully, with a reduced sentence on the table. Of course there is a double-cross instituted by another despicable railroad man (Donald Meek), and after a jailbreak, Jesse and Frank are back to a life of crime, now expanded from trains to banks. But the real drama of the story isn’t a conflict between the James boys and they powers that be, it’s Jesse’s internal struggle between being a “normal” man with his wife and son, or a vengeance seeking outlaw, always trying to get ahead.

Tyrone Power is a magnificent choice in the role of Jesse James, especially when he is portrayed as a hero. His striking good looks and picturesque persona make his mere presence something romantic and inviting. He truly captivates the screen in every frame, and if Jesse James himself would have been given his choice of actors, I don’t think he would have gone with anyone else. Jesse James (1939)Power has the ability to have everyone rooting for him even when his characters go outside the law, which is why he made such a good pirate in numerous films, and even why his portrayal of Zorro is still the best. When he wants to keep things light, he smiles, when it’s time to get serious, he uses his smoldering eyes to glare into your very soul. Just a look from Power says more than pages of dialogue, which works rather well when portraying a quiet western outlaw with just as many internal struggles as external. Teamed with Henry Fonda, these two screen legends could have an entire scene completely void of lines and it wouldn’t matter. They are true actors who can deliver, no matter what stands before them.

Director Henry King and his film have their fair share of highs, including the two stars, some spectacular action sequences, and glorious location shooting. Other than that, “Jesse James” runs into a few problems. Nancy Kelly gives a performance that is way over the top, dragging down her scenes with overly emotional dialogue and endless (seeming) speeches about right and wrong. All of these scenes just pull the pace of the film from a quick-paced trot to a crawl. It’s not even her fault, she is just overused and unnecessary. Randolph Scott makes a good Marshall, and fits nicely into the picture, but there isn’t much for him to do except stand there and look the part, which he can do (and does) in his sleep.Jesse James (1939) If you’re looking for a real stand-out supporting performance in this film, look no further than John Carradine as the infamous Robert Ford. In a very small role, Carradine is perfect.

There are better westerns than “Jesse James”. Then again, there are far worse ones, too. Henry King knows how to make an entertaining film, and with the legendary Jesse James as his leading character, it becomes almost too easy. It is Tyrone Power, however, that brings this one together, and despite a filmography filled with memorable and prolific roles, it is his turn as Jesse James that stands out. Perhaps it’s because he was able to take a legendary character, steeped in the myth and lore of the west, and once again, make him human.

This post is part of the Tyrone Power Centennial Blogathon, celebrating the 100th anniversary of this cinematic legend. A special thanks to Lady Eve’s Real Life and They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To for hosting such a wonderful event. Don’t forget to check out all the posts on Tyrone Power and his glorious career.

 

 

Pushover (1954)- Richard Quine

 ★★★

 

“Pushover” (1954) is a film noir, skillfully directed by Richard Quine, and adapted for the screen by Roy Huggins. The story is based on two separate novels, “The Night Watch” by Thomas Walsh and “Rafferty” written by Lester White.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) The quick developing story revolves around a bank robbery that takes place during the opening credits, masterminded by gangster Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards). Wheeler has a young girlfriend, Lona (Kim Novak), who the police are watching carefully. In fact, Lieutenant Eckstrom (E.G. Marshall) has sent in Detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) to get to know her more “intimately”. Sheridan quickly falls for Lona, and it doesn’t take much convincing (once she figures out he is a cop) for the two to conspire to kill Wheeler and run off with the $200,000 in robbery money. The problems arise when Sheridan is seen in Lona’s apartment by a neighbor (Dorothy Malone), who happens to be the voyeuristic object of affection of Sheridan’s partner (Philip Carey). Sheridan’s plan also runs into a few problems when another police officer (Allen Nourse) figures out that Sheridan has more on his mind than just law and order.

When watching “Pushover”, one can’t help but make comparisons to “Double Indemnity” (1944). Obviously they both star MacMurray, but even with a different actor, the plots would still seem similar, with the attractive “bad girl” convincing the upright man to kill for love and/or money.Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in "Pushover" (1954) “Pushover” is nowhere near the same calibre of film as “Double Indemnity”, but it’s unfair to compare any film to the greatness of “Double Indemnity”. The truth is, all the faults of “Pushover” are forgivable. It runs a fast 88 minutes, which doesn’t leave enough time to develop things properly. The result is a “love” motivated story that feels more like one about sex, attraction, and a love of money than actual love. In fact all the characters are enigmas, hiding their true feeling from the audience. Everything is kept in the dark when it comes to the motivations of pretty much everyone, and in the final reel we are expected to believe whatever happens, and just take it at face value. Richard Quine directs this film with a skill that benefits the plot holes. He keeps things moving with excitement and suspense, so that the audience doesn’t even have time to start asking questions, or even trying to understand which relationships are real. Pushover (1954)It’s only later that you can look back and start to really think about what you watched.

I don’t typically have a problem with young actresses and their on-screen romances with older men, but in “Pushover” I had a difficult time believing that these two leading players had any real spark between them. Don’t get me wrong, each plays their individual roles perfectly, but together they seem to be on different pages. Novak was only 21 when “Pushover” was released, while MacMurray, 25 years her senior, was almost 46. A different casting choice (for either part) would have fared well.

With so many film noir’s in the 1940’s and 1950’s, some of the smaller ones can get lost in the shuffle. “Pushover” falls somewhere in the middle, where overall quality is concerned, but because of an almost unexplainable entertainment, it ends up in the category of “worth watching”- it just could have been better.

I Dood It (1943)- Vincente Minnelli

 ★★★

 

“I Dood It” (1943). I can’t believe they used this ridiculous phrase as the title of a movie. “I Dood It” isn’t really a movie anyway, as much as it is a series of musical and comedic sketches grouped together.I Dood It (1943) The little plot that does exist is centered around Broadway star Constance Shaw (Eleanor Powell), and the poor, common man, Joe (Red Skelton), who falls in love with her. She, in turn, is in love with someone else (at least she thinks she is), so in order to make him jealous, Constance marries Joe, believing that he is rich and successful.

The arbitrary story makes “I Dood It” an easily forgettable film. Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell, however, dood their best to save it at every turn. The dance numbers make things worthwhile, especially Powell’s opening performance, dressed as a cowgirl, tapping away in boots, lasso in hand, impressing with the long, uncut takes masterfully directed by Minnelli. This truly is the highlight of the picture, and is so good that you’ll want to go back and watch it again. It is an extremely complex number, and one that deserves to be showcased, illustrating how far her talents could stretch. Of course, as an enormous fan of Powell, I will always find reasons to sing her praises. I Dood It (1943)All of her dances in “I Dood It” are incredible… that is, except for the big finish, which is just stolen from Powell’s earlier movie, “Born to Dance” (1936)- but it was good the first time, and is still enjoyable in this movie, just not original. That’s just awful and cheap MGM, and I for one, am hugely disappointed. How could they dood that?

Red Skelton is as funny as ever, even when recycling jokes from earlier film performances. It doesn’t really matter because he has the ability to be funny in so many ways, he’s bound to get you smiling one way or the other. The scenes that he shares with Powell are particularly special. Her physical abilities are undeniable, but it’s her comedic skills here that are a bit of a pleasant surprise. The scene where she accidentally drinks a glass of champagne with multiple sleeping pills inside is her comedic highlight, as Skelton attempts to put her to bed, without any of her help. I Dood It (1943)“I Dood It” is based on the Buster Keaton film, “Spite Marriage” (1929), and Keaton was known to work with Skelton on many of his physical sketches. Odds are, he was involved here as well.

Besides the obvious lack of plot, the other reason “I Dood It” suffers is because it tries to incorporate other musical numbers into the film, even though they had nothing to do with the story. Jimmy Dorsey and his band, Hazel Scott, and the great Lena Horne, (one of my favorites) all offer a little something special to the production, even if for no reason. Don’t get me wrong, these performances are wonderful and entertaining on their own, but because they don’t fit into the plot, they end up just dragging the flow of the film, and increasing the running time.

You would think that Minnelli, Skelton, Powell and Horne would be able to put something special and memorable together, but alas, that is not the case. They just can’t dood it. I mean do it.