A Criterion Adventure (2019)


For film enthusiasts everywhere, especially those, myself included, who live for the underappreciated masters and the nooks and crannies of cinema history, November 29, 2018 was a dark day, the day FilmStruck died. FilmStruck had been the all-too-short-lived streaming home for the revered Criterion Collection and their streaming partners, notably Janus Films. FilmStruck had also recently partnered with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to provide access to an abundance of classic American cinema. Altogether, in addition to offering a large selection of films released on the Criterion label, the service had also provided its subscriber base with a wealth of ever-shifting selections, both foreign and domestic, from across the many decades of film history.

FilmStruck ad post-TCM partnership

After having experienced the Criterion Collection in past years as merely happenstance as I explored various acclaimed films that happened to be on their discs, 2018 marked a shift of intentionality as I purposely began seeking out films associated with the label, especially once I finally made the decision to dive into FilmStruck. Fortunately, I’m a huge proponent of physical media, especially Blu-ray, and so that already represented the majority of my watching, but I quickly discovered many titles on the channel didn’t have Blu-ray releases. Nevertheless, come January 1, the start of my 2019 adventure with the label, discs were now pretty much my only source when it came to anything Criterion-related. That’s not to say I didn’t stop making astonishing, thrilling, and awe-inspiring discoveries on disc. In fact, the majority of my top 10 Criterion-related discoveries in 2019 were from discs in the Collection. But there’s a lot to be said for the convenience and depth of streaming.

Fortunately, the darkness and despair was short lived, as soon after FlimStruck closed, it came to light that Criterion itself would be providing a streaming service. Finally, after much anticipation, on April 8, the Criterion Channel launched, and I began to discover just how deep the rabbit hole would go. The channel’s extensive partnerships would enable them to provide an even more diverse array of films than FilmStruck had. Right off the bat, I experienced one of the new channel’s most ingenious means of helping its viewers to discover films we may never have otherwise seen. Curated collections. 

columbia noir
Criterion Channel home page on launch day

Day one, the first major collection was right there on top of the screen, Columbia Noir. If this was the launching point, a whole group of compelling Columbia Studios films, the vast majority of which had no Criterion ownership, along with a whole host of other films, in and out of the Collection, I knew I was in good hands.  So now, with a full arsenal of available Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases and Criterion Channel possibilities I was ready to dive into all sorts of new territory. By the end of 2019, I had experienced 134 of them for the very first time with representation from every decade from the 1920s through the 2010s. 

Here’s the full list of Criterion-related titles I watched in chronological order by release date.



I wish I could tell you about all the great films I watched throughout 2019, but instead I’ll have to stick to the highlights. Without going into detail, I am particularly happy with 3 box sets I began and will finish in 2020, not a bad film in the bunch and two genuine masterpieces–The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Playtime. Those sets features the talents of filmmakers Jacques Demy, Jacques Tati, and the collaborations of Marlene Dietrich and her frequent director Josef Von Sternberg. Along the same lines, many of my channel experiences came via the aforementioned curated collections, which focus on either a specific filmmaker, actor, creative theme or a combination of those. The one and only collection I completed beginning to end, though not for lack of trying, was Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck, in which she played a wide variety of characters, from a long-suffering mother to promiscuous lover to faith healer to a mail order bride fighting for the love of her husband. That last character is found in The Purchase Price, one of the least appreciated films in the collection that was in fact my favorite of the group. 

Rosalind Russell & John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936), dir. Dorothy Arzner

There was plenty I enjoyed from the other collections I partook from, whether I saw many as in the launch day Columbia Noir collection or merely a couple as in the Fred and Ginger grouping that featured who else but Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a pair that can’t help but put a smile on your face with their chemistry, dancing talent, and synchronicity. The noir set gave me the opportunity to finally discover Fritz Lang’s genre masterpiece The Big Heat as well as his also outstanding, though underrated Human Desire. I was additionally grateful for the opportunity to explore the contributions of women in early cinema through a trio of Dorothy Arzner films, one of the pioneering women directors, headlined by Craig’s Wife, as well as a pair of George Cukor films that put a spotlight on his complex, unforgettable heroines. Both The Women, which features the unique casting of 130 female speaking parts and not one male on camera, and A Woman’s Face made for rich and heartfelt viewing.

My other big push came at the very end of the year as I simultaneously gobbled down soon-to-be-expired entries from the Val Lewton and MGM Musicals collections wherein I found some fun, some thrills, and three new favorites, from an ultra dark classic horror mystery featuring Satan worshipers and suicide, to emotional romantic drama in musical form provided by the likes of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, to a film of pure joy, silliness, and dreams of romance with the sunny Debbie Reynolds being pursued by the awkwardly charming Donald O’Connor. Those films are The 7th Victim, For Me and My Gal, and I Love Melvin, in that order.

Yasujirō Ozu

About mid-year, after having seeing there were a massive number of Yasujirō Ozu films on the channel, a master director I had discovered the previous year and whose work intrigued me, I was inspired to try something truly ambitious, my biggest film-watching project to date. I would begin a chronological deep dive through every Ozu film I could access. By year’s end, I had journeyed through his first 10 films, though a couple only exist in part. It’s been an immensely rewarding experience watching them in order to see the growth of his film-making skills, the types of stories he tells, and to see his style progress over time. In the few short years these first films have covered, I’ve been able to pick up on subtle shifts in direction such as his heavily Hollywood influenced beginnings to him starting to develop his own distinct style. My favorite of these early years, Tokyo Chorus, is a deeply emotional family drama where a man loses his job trying to stand up for a coworker, which throws his family into hardship. Those who look ahead know emotional family drama would become a mainstay in Ozu’s work.



Now we come to the main event, the best of the best, where I highlight my top 10 Criterion-related discoveries of 2019, plus an honorable mention. These were the films that grabbed the whole of my heart, mind, and spirit, showcasing complete package film making, from script to cinematography to acting to direction to music.

Note, these titles were extracted from my overall list of my top 20 first-time watches during 2019.

Honorable Mention:
La Jetée

Year: 1962
Director: Chris Marker
Genre: Short, Drama, Romance
Cast: Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux, André Heinrich, Jacques Branchu, Pierre Joffroy, Étienne Becker, Philbert von Lifchitz, Ligia Branice

A 28-minute genius work of art. The time travel plot, as mind bending as it is, is simply window dressing to the meditation on love, memory, and the attempt to attain the unattainable or regain what is forever lost that lies beneath. Rarely has so much been accomplished with so little. Through [almost] nothing but a set of still pictures and narration, Marker sets our imaginations alight, and we ourselves become captivated with this entrancing woman once frozen in a snapshot of memory.

Upon the prisoner’s re-entering the past, the juxtaposition of music and image creates a transportive experience that makes you want nothing but to rest in those peacetime moments indefinitely all the while knowing the apocalypse is just around the corner. Likewise when the time-traveling prisoner and the woman he was seeking are together. There is so much life in the still images that you can almost sense them moving but in the way that life moves when you’re sitting quietly with someone you adore simply adoring their presence, and time just fades away. And then comes a look. Just briefly, but one that you will never forget. But these moments are fleeting, and time in fact does go on and that moment is forever gone.


#10 – Arsenic and Old Lace

Year: 1944
Director: Frank Capra
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Cast: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton Peter Lorre, James Gleason, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander, Grant Mitchell

Who knew a movie featuring serial killer sisters that’s directed by the guy who made such moving slices of melodrama like It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington could be so freaking funny? Cary Grant kills it as the just-married and utterly flummoxed Mortimer Brewster who is simply trying to get ready for his honeymoon at his family home when he stumbles across a corpse upon which his aunts happily reveal to him that they’ve been killing lonely bachelors as a service to them. As if this wasn’t wild enough, Mortimer’s brother Teddy thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and his other brother, Jonathan is himself a murderer on the run with his own dark intentions. But murder turns to farce as the comedy of errors and miscommunication pile up. The plot is beautifully orchestrated, but the sheer incredulity alone that Grant hilariously shows at the ever increasing madness around him is alone worth the price of admission.


#9 – Solaris

Year: 1972
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Georgiy Teykh, Sos Sargsyan, Olga Barnet

Even more than the main character Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) and despite her not showing up for some time, Solaris thrives on Natalya Bondarchuk’s magnetic portrayal of Hari, Kelvin’s long-dead wife who has suddenly appeared again… and again… and again. Kelvin himself represents a relatable everyman, and it is through him we are transported from what remained of his life and relationships on Earth into a surreal, contemplative, and ever more disturbing experience on a nearly empty space station in growing disarray. The station is hovering over an alien ocean world full of fog and mystery. Through Kelvin, our attention is ever drawn to Hari, and it is the intimacy her present manifestation shares with him, an intimacy defined by their past relationship, through which Tarkovsky provides the core of his exploration into what it means to be human.

Clearly, human individuals are unique in a way that other creatures are not, a distinct nature that even a carbon copy cannot emulate, try as they might. Another side of our humanity is our attachment to one another, none more so than in that unifying relationship of marriage, where two become one flesh. The longing that comes from the loss of that relationship can be so intense that perhaps one would consider a carbon copy substitute, even knowing it’s not the same person?


#8 – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Year: 1943
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
Cast: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Adolf Wohlbrück, Roland Culver, James McKechnie, Arthur Wontner, David Hutcheson, Ursula Jeans, John Laurie, Harry Welchman, Robert Harris

An epic rivaling the indomitable Lawrence of Arabia that gives flesh and meaning to what had seemed a mere caricature of a man. The viewer is faced with such human complexity in this study of the fictitious General Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) that he is himself forced to contemplate the whole of his own past, how it has affected his present, and what the impact will be on his future and the future of those who will come after him.

The depth and weight Powell and Pressburger were able to instill into the film is even more profound when one considers it having been made in wartime, when the fate of the world was yet unknown. They also demonstrate an attempt to understand the nature of that present war and how it came to be that all of Britain (and the world) was fighting for its very existence against the disastrous threat of Nazism. The acting is chock full of so many delightful subtleties and the dialogue is incredibly well written, detailed with emotion and color and memory. I also must give special attention to Deborah Kerr’s extraordinary multi-role performance, no doubt helped by the costuming and makeup talent.


#7 – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Mireille Perrey, Marc Michel, Ellen Farner, Jean Champion, Pierre Caden, Jean-Pierre Dorat, Bernard Fradet, Michel Benoist

Jacques Demy is a master manipulator of the heartstrings and intimately familiar with the intense passions and longing that come with young love. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg left me with bittersweet tears and a tight ball of conflicted emotions as sadness and joy fought against one another within my soul. But it’s not only emotions Demy demonstrates artistry over. The frame throughout explodes with bright, bold colors and he collaborates with composer Michel Legrand to provide a soul-stirring musical score with powerful songs. Though this is no Hollywood musical as every word of dialogue is sung, often in a subdued, melancholy manner due to the ever-present conflict even amidst joy, which plays in subtle ways against the colorful backdrops.

While Catherine Deneuve’s character Geneviève takes center stage through much of the film, every romantic relationship and desire, whether given short or significant attention, is fueled with earnest intention and truthfulness. There is absolutely nothing casual about any of the romance. But speaking of Deneuve, the pained longing and desperation expressed in her face and eyes broke me. Through her and Guy’s (Nino Castelnuovo) forced separation, we are made to feel the misery of the not knowing and the consequences of the impossible choices that life and our own actions force us to make when we’re desperate not to have to make them.


#6 – Wild Strawberries

Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jullan Kindahl, Gunnar Sjöberg, Max von Sydow, Åke Fridell, Ann-Marie Wiman, Gunnel Broström

A deeply introspective tone makes Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries immensely relatable, despite the often surreal quality of the film and the vast age difference between 78-year old doctor and widower Isak Borg and the average viewer, especially when we discover he and his much younger estranged son Evald suffer from a similar darkness of the soul that has brought each to their own crisis point. Victor Sjöström plays Isak with such sensitivity that he makes us care about his inner turmoil all the while he’s showing himself to have become an insensitive and grumpy old man to those he should be closest to.

The film opens with a surreal nightmare, which sets Isak face to face with the immediacy of his mortality with vivid symbolism. This begins a literal and figurative journey, the former a shared road trip with his pregnant daughter-in-law battling her own demons and with those they pick up along the way, including a girl named Sara, played by Bibi Andersson, who reminds him of the Sara he thought he would marry as a young man (also played by Bibi Andersson). These encounters on his literal journey propel Isak into a deep inner journey of sentiment, regret, and hope that serves to change how he sees himself and the world around him.


#5 – The Big Heat

Year: 1953
Director: Fritz Lang
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Peter Whitney, Willis Bouchey, Robert Burton, Adam Williams, Carolyn Jones

Never has so much tension been wrought out of a boiling pot of coffee and rarely does a final line land with such foreboding potency. WIth a screenplay written by actual former crime reporter Sydney Boehm, Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat unleashed upon the world one of the most brutal film noirs of the classic era. With no holds barred, Lang unhesitatingly reveals the world as a place that feels cold, hopeless, vicious, and full of infidelity. It’s a world populated by the mafia, dirty cops, and promiscuous women, and by making it clear that no one is safe, good or bad alike or anywhere in between, Lang establishes an environment loaded with tension, both for physical danger as well as moral compromise.

Glenn Ford is ideally cast as the good guy homicide detective Sergeant Bannion who starts out a positive well-intentioned family man but soon finds himself caught up in mob brutality while trying to solve a case. In his anger and frustration, the cracks in his good-guy persona quickly develop and he starts to look and more like the criminals he’s pursuing. Gloria Grahame is also outstanding as Debby Marsh, girlfriend to Vince Stone, second-in-command to the local mob boss. Despite the company she keeps, she demonstrates an awareness and intelligence and an appreciation of moral uprightness in Bannion when he stands up to a nightclub singer who Vince abuses. It seems to be the spark she needs to seek a way out of the only lifestyle she’s known. So while one character is on the descent, the other is rising up.


#4 – The Elephant Man

Year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Biography, Drama
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, Helen Ryan, John Standing, Dexter Fletcher

Carrying on the torch of early 20th century filmmakers like Tod Browning (Freaks) who want to inspire us to care for those society has rejected and abused, David Lynch’s The Elephant Man eschews the distortion of surrealism for the distortion of humanity and a trumpets a desperate call for empathy and kindness. Lynch’s most important choice is to unmask John Merrick (the eponymous character’s real name) early on. The more he shows us John’s (John Hurt) intelligence, faith, ability to create and appreciate beauty, and his longing for human connection, the more monstrous those who would be cruel and take advantage of him appear. By the point he’s crying out that he’s a human being, not an animal, he’s the only one present who isn’t acting like one.

Hurt’s performance is one for the ages, both in physically presenting himself as this horribly disfigured man as well as from the soul that pours out of his eyes. Anthony Hopkins is likewise terrific as Dr. Treves. We sense his deep compassion for John and yet he’s hardly perfect as he comes to realize about himself. Despite his good intentions, he realizes he and his hospital staff are treating John with the same lack of humanity as John had endured in the circus. I loved seeing the pure care and affection that Mrs. Kendal (Anne Bancroft) had for John. She is wholly unaffected by his outward appearance, seeing straight into the soulful kindness and goodness of the man’s heart. And she’s proud to show him honor in public as well. What an inspiration!


#3 – Autumn Sonata

Year: 1978
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama, Music
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Björk, Marianne Aminoff, Arne Bang-Hansen, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Linn Ullmann

After several previous attempts to fully appreciate the morally, philosophically, and artistically dense films of Ingmar Bergman, this one was the key to finally unlocking my ability to love one of them. I adore movies that make me feel, and let’s just say that if you ever wanted to know what the emotional equivalent of going 12 rounds with a prize fighter would be, my suggestion would be to watch the pulse-pounding bout herein between Bergman regular, Liv Ullmann and the incomparable Ingrid Bergman, who play a daughter and her estranged mother respectively. That daughter, named Eva, is the troubled wife of the village pastor, and her mother Charlotte is a highly accomplished and well-traveled pianist. Both have to face the disappointment and frustration that has come with choices that were long ago made, especially those due to Charlotte’s career pursuits.

If we’re honest, emotional baggage is always going to be a factor between mothers and their daughters. Ingmar takes advantage of this reality by heaping insult onto injury and creating deeply complex individuals whose fully fleshed out characters and rich histories bear scars that run incredibly deep. Reconciliation is the unstated desire, but as long-held secrets, selfish desires, and bottled up trauma are dredged up even the possibility of achieving that reconciliation is going to unleash all kinds of misery, frustration, rage, and despair. For 90 minutes, Ingrid and Liv are this mother daughter pair. With exacting performances that never once cross the line into overacting, they are taken to the limit as emotion pours out of each of them in a mesmerizing, soul-crushing plea for understanding and appreciation. By the end, the viewer feels as exhausted as the couple on the screen.


#2 – Barry Lyndon

Year: 1975
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger, Diana Körner, Gay Hamilton, Frank Middlemass, Arthur O’Sullivan, Godfrey Quigley, Leonard Rossiter, Philip Stone

It amazes me how Kubrick could seemingly take any genre and make a masterpiece out of it. This is his take on a 1700s period film. The sumptuous beauty of the cinematography presents an experience akin to a relaxing stroll through a gallery of richly detailed paintings, complete with narration and a gorgeous classical music compositions, except in the rare moment when the calm is unceremoniously broken and even the camera is set loose in the ensuing chaos. In contrast to the beauty of the camerawork is the only sometimes sympathetic man at its center, Redmond Barry, played to subtle perfection by Ryan O’Neal.

Barry is repeatedly given opportunities to put his past bad choices behind him and start anew, often in even better shape than he was before, but he keeps failing to overcome the lusts that drive him leading him to spurn those opportunities. He finds pleasures for a time, but those pleasures, those choices to act evilly towards not only strangers but eventually even his own wife and stepchild come at a severe cost. The defining duel of the film is masterfully filmed with immaculate detail and taking what had been a mostly relaxing viewing up to that point and ever so slowly infusing ounce upon ounce of suspense, creating intense discomfort for the characters on screen and the viewer alike.


And my #1 favorite Criterion discovery of 2019 is…


Bicycle Thieves

Year: 1948
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Genre: Drama
Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda, Vittorio Antonucci, Giulio Chiari, Elena Altieri, Carlo Jachino, Michele Sakara, Fausto Guerzoni

Such a simple premise–a man’s search for his stolen bicycle through the streets of post World War II Rome, an ancient, endlessly fascinating city of contrasts. Shot on location (no sets) with only untrained actors (though you’d never know it), this prime example of Italian neorealist cinema blurs the line between fly-on-the-wall documentary and fictional narrative. Director Vittorio De Sica demonstrates how such an event that would seem a mere inconvenience to many feels like a life and death predicament to the impoverished Antonio Ricci and his family. Through Antonio’s desperate urgency, he being played by the remarkable Lamberto Maggiorani, a factory worker by trade, we understand that failure is not an option. He must recover his bike, or he won’t be able to work, and his family will starve. Along for the search comes his son Bruno played by Enzo Staiola, equally photogenic and adept at showing a range of emotion as he watches his father’s growing desperation.

De Sica expertly fuels our empathy for the Riccis right away as the film opens with a bit of tragic irony. Antonio, desperate for work is informed there’s a job available for him. The catch, he must have a bicycle. The irony is he had one and had to pawn it to put food on the table. His wife Maria (Lianella Carell) takes charge and decides they can live without their bedsheets and pawns them–because there’s nothing else of significance left to pawn–to get Antonio his bicycle back. With such a precious possession back in hand, we are in suspense every moment the bicycle is not under Antonio’s watchful eye. Later, at times as the needle-in-a-haystack search continues, we are further enlightened to Antonio’s miserable condition as he is surrounded by hordes of bicycles, the very thing he needs, but not one is his. We also see how Antonio’s desperate condition and the decisions it leads him to make affect young Bruno.

Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

What We Learned This Week: April 7-13

LESSON #1: MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR NOVEMBER 12TH WITH PIXIE DUST AND MOUSE EARS— Circle the 12th of November on your calendar for the debut of Disney+, the entertainment giant’s new exclusive streaming service we’ve been hearing about for the better part of a year.  And, man oh man, did they announce a menu of old and new content that looks like the binder you get at The Cheesecake Factory.  The list is jaw-dropping. And that’s not even the best part. See Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: PRICE POINT ALWAYS WINS— The best part is the price. It’s a cool $6.99 per month with no ads and the future ability to bundle ESPN+, Hulu, and more.  $7 is a game-changing price. Even better, if you buy the whole year at once, it’s $69.99. That’s $5.83 per month. Excuse my language, but the smell and thundering rumble you hear is Netflix sh-tting bricks and staring down an $8 billion market value drop.  They just announced a price hike a few months back and now will be playing chicken against the company they relied on the most for top content.  Watch their member numbers begin to drop with the financials, but they knew this had to be coming. Their shift to developing their own unique branded content is how they will stand out.  No matter what, folks, I’ve been saying this now for years in this column. The price tag is always the biggest mover of an audience.

LESSON #3: STAR WARS WILL NEVER LET YOU FORGET ABOUT STAR WARS— Maybe this lesson should read: “Disney isn’t done because they’re never really done.”  In the words of Steve Jobs, Disney did their own “one more thing” this week with the head-exploding title reveal and first trailer for Episode IX at the Star Wars Celebration Convention in Chicago on Friday. Now officially called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the gates are now open and the levees are broken for every theory, reaction piece, and clickbait column imaginable. I get it.  Grab those web traffic pennies where you can, publishers.

LESSON #4: [INSERT OBLIGATORY “TRAILERS ARE MANIPULATIVE” LECTURE FROM THE MOVIE CRITIC]— I’ve been saving this informational video for a while for a choice teachable moment.  The Rise of Skywalker is the perfect time.

Admittedly, much of this video doesn’t apply to Star Wars, but the misdirection and overhype have been proven before in this franchise. You know me. I’ll always say less is more.  Not just for trailers, but be a discerning news-and-trends consumer. Don’t overthink a movie before it gets here, especially one still eight months away.  If you want homework, go backward instead of forwards. Hop on the ambitious canonical rewatch schedule that is already in progress. Let history get you hyped instead of silly theories.

LESSON #5: THE SLOW DEATH OF PHYSICAL MEDIA CONTINUES— Through all this one-upmanship in the streaming world, the marketplace of discs has continued to fade.  We’ve reported in this column in February how companies like Samsung are halting the manufacturing of Blu-ray players, but we’ve never seen hard numbers of the perceived decline. This week, the MPAA hit us with those statistics in a wide-ranging report. Physical media sales are down a steep 50% in the last five years and the new 4K upgrades account for only 5.3% of business. That’s a niche, not a replacement the way DVD was to VHS a generation ago.  The kicker is that home entertainment spending was up 16% last year.  That’s digital sales and subscription services.

LESSON #6: LEARN SOME BETTER SCIENCE FICTION— Don’t let your science fiction taste and acumen stop at Star Wars and other big names. Dive into some headier things (and still plenty of blockbusters) with high critical regard.  Pick away at this Top 100 list from Business Insider and find some new films for your to-do list. Heck, maybe you’ll even watch one on a disc from a library.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#98)

What We Learned This Week: October 28-November 3

LESSON #1: NOVEMBER IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MONTH OF THE MOVIEGOING YEAR— Three consumer stars align during this month that trigger the Futurama “take my money” GIF.  The first is the quality slate of films trying to peak for awards season and the holidays.  October started things early and more excellent films are on the way.  The second is Black Friday, where this lover of physical media adores the DVD/Blu-ray deals that stream across Best Buy, Amazon, Target, and more.  Yes, Best Buy, I will dive into your $2 bin covered in double-sided tape and buy everything that sticks to me.  Scope out the ads in advance as they leak.  Finally, for the refined cinephiles in the room, November is the month for the half-priced Criterion sale at Barnes & Noble.  Folks, it’s time to rack up that credit card debt before the actual holidays.

LESSON #2: SOME FILMS DO NOT REQUIRE A SEQUEL— Way back in 2012, I wrote an editorial on Every Movie Has a Lesson about the “most desired and long-awaited” sequels, a few of which have actually become reality in the six years since.  One movie that wasn’t on the list was Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.  It would have made the sub-list of “unnecessary” sequels, right there with The Shawshank Redemption and other movies that ended on perfect notes.  Lo and behold, Ridley Scott and his Paramount producers can’t seem to help themselves, because details have been updated on a future story being drafted by Top Gun: Maverick and The Town screenwriter Peter Craig.  I trust and enjoy Ridley’s talent work as much as the next fan, but has no serious chance of matching or topping the Oscar-winning original.  It’s only going to tarnish a legacy or two.  Add Bad Boys 3 to that same list.  

LESSON #3: CAN PARALLEL EDITIONS OF FILMS BECOME A NEW TREND?–Notice I didn’t say “will” in that lesson.  That’s assuming success that is already present.  Sure, the DVD era opened the storefront door for director’s cuts, unrated editions, and more of varying rating adjustments.  However, outside of something like Blade Runner (and maybe, to a milder degree, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice), it’s hard to say many new post-theatrical cuts of films have go on to become definitive new standards.  They feel more like novelties for the sake of selling special features.  That’s what I see when I hear about the PG-13 cut coming for Deadpool 2.  It can brag about being a different experience with newly created scenes to be more “parallel” than “alternate,” but how many hardcore Deadpool fans or true completists are going to pay for a tamer second take?  

LESSON #4: TREAT YOURSELF TO A FOREIGN FILM— Feelin’ Film contributor Jacob Neff dropped the confessional challenge in our Facebook discussion group to ask how many of the BBC’s “100 Greatest Foreign Language Films” we have seen.  We had to fess up and some of us (myself including) got an Animal House-level GPA score from our lack of exposure, experience, or completion.  I recommend following Jacob’s “You Should Be Watching” column to see what titles from the list are available, especially with one month left of Filmstruck.  I recommend the huge depth of foreign films available on the Kanopy service connected to your everyday local library card.  In any case, don’t let Reverend Neff chastise you again.  If you need a shorter list, here are Martin Scorsese’s top 39 foreign language films.  Start there.  Get cracking, update the prescription of your glasses for the subtitles, and indulge in some of the classic and good stuff that world cinema has to offer.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

Now Available: September 11, 2018

Welcome to Now Available, where we’ll give you a quick review of a film we didn’t cover when it was released in theaters that’s releasing for home viewing this week, along with a list of everything else and where you can see our coverage on it. 

Superfly, Director X’s sleek remake of 1972’s Super Fly, tells us the story of Priest Youngblood (Trevor Jackson), an Atlanta cocaine dealer and career criminal. Wanting to get out of the game, he creates the perfect plan for one last big score to set him up for life so he can live in peace. As anyone who has ever seen a movie before could probably assume, things don’t exactly go according to plan. Complications put Priest at odds with his partner, fellow dealers, his supplier and the law. Can all of the loose ends be tied up in time for him to make his escape unscathed, or will he find himself sucked right back into the only world he’s ever known?

There is a lot to like about Director X’s remake of the classic blaxploitation film. He expertly updates the story for modern audiences with updated wardrobes, cars and music. In a nice touch, a few of the songs on the soundtrack are the same as in the original, but are remixed by rapper/singer/producer Future. The movie is sleek, stylish and while I found thought it started off a little slow, it expertly ratchets up the tension when the time is right. I had never watched a blaxploitation movie prior to seeing this film, but watching the original and other classics like Shaft afterward, I found it’s pacing to be quite consistent, though with a longer runtime, with the best that the genre has to offer. It also has a subversive sense of humor, with scenes of vengeful wish fulfillment involving dirty cops getting beat to a pulp and, in my favorite set piece, a car chase that ends with the creative demise of a confederate statue. Trevor Jackson shines as Priest, the calm, cool and collected career dealer who harbors secret dreams of another life. The rest of the cast is good, with a few brief appearances by Michael K. Williams being the highlight. Unfortunately, a long scene of sexuality that was completely superfluous made the film feel a lot cheaper than it would have otherwise. It’s easier to forgive these depictions of male wish fulfillment in the films from the 70’s that influenced this one because they’re quite literally of a different time. I don’t believe that this type of sex for the sake of showing skin sits as well with the modern audience. That scene, combined with a story that holds your attention but ultimately feels hollow, keeps the film from being something I’d recommend to others, unless I knew they were fans of the genre.

In the end, Director X’s SuperFly is a solid reimagining of the classic film for modern audiences. There is a good chance, though, that you’ll forget it pretty quickly after the credits roll.

Buy It, Rent It, Wait for Netflix or Skip It?

Wait for Netflix.

Also available this week:

Ocean’s 8- Aaron was a pretty big fan of this fiercely female heist film. See his thoughts here.

Hearts Beat Loud- There’s a good chance you’ll see this film on at least a couple of Feelin’ Film contributors’ top ten lists at the end of the year. Listen to Patrick talk about his love for the movie in the “What We’ve Been Up To” portion of episode 115 of the podcast here and be sure to subscribe to the Podcast because a full episode on this gem is coming in early October!

Other New Releases: Distorted, Watcher in the Woods

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Now Available: August 28, 2018

Welcome to Now Available, where we’ll give you a quick review of a film we didn’t cover when it was released in theaters that’s releasing for home viewing this week, along with a list of everything else and where you can see our coverage on it. 

Xavier Beauvois’ The Guardians is a war film that never shows us the battlefield. Rather than giving us glimpses of the horrors on the front, it tells the story of the women who were left behind. Beginning in 1915, the film’s setting is the farm of Hortense Sandrail (Nathalie Baye), the hard working mother of three who is left to control the family farm when her two sons and son-in-law are called away to fight for France in World War 1. Together with her daughter Solange (Laura Smet), their new hired hand Francine (Iris Bry) and the help of the community, the family works to survive the harsh realities of farm life in the early twentieth century.  

The Guardians is a tale of two halves. The IMDb summary of the film “Women are left behind to work a family farm during the Great War,” only describes the first hour of the movie, and that part is absolutely sublime. Beauvois’ portrait of the French countryside is gorgeous. As someone who was born and raised in the Great Plains, I’m always excited when the beauty of a field ripe for harvest catches the eye of an artist like it has here. His naturalistic style set against this backdrop makes the first half of the film, based on the Ernest Pérochon novel of the same name, feel more like actual footage than scripted drama. Our three main players, Baye, Smet and Bry are fantastic, perfectly balancing a look of constant exhaustion with an air of confident resolve. It’s really breathtaking. Unfortunately, once the men return, the film turns into a disappointing melodrama featuring classical soap opera tropes like unfounded gossip, illicit affairs and pregnancies to bog down the proceedings. It’s a pretty disappointing end to a film that started out as engaging and as beautiful as anything I’ve seen yet in 2018.

The Guardians is part love letter to the French countryside and part tepid melodrama. Fortunately the former is captivating enough to not be soiled by the latter. Ultimately it’s worth watching as an uplifting picture of families working together to survive on the home front during wartime.

Buy It, Rent It, Wait for Netflix or Skip It?

Wait for Netflix.

Also available this week:

American Animals- Aaron had the opportunity to sit down and chat with director Bart Layton in this minisode you don’t want to miss.

RBG- Read Aaron’s review of the distinguished Supreme Court judge here.

Tag- This summer’s most surprising comedy is now available to watch at home. See what Aaron thought right here.

Upgrade- Darkly fun and very unexpected, here are my thoughts on this sleeper hit.

Book Club- There is nothing remotely original about this little story, but the cast is so amazing that I didn’t really even care.

Other New Releases: Mary Shelley, A Kid Like Jake, Woman Walks Ahead

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Now Available: August 21, 2018

Welcome to Now Available, where we’ll give you a quick review of a film we didn’t cover when it was released in theaters that’s releasing for home viewing this week, along with a list of everything else and where you can see our coverage on it. 

When a corporate mega-park moves in across town, the run-down, play-at-your-own-risk Action Point amusement park is in dire financial trouble. The park’s oddball owner D.C. (Johnny Knoxville), his daughter and his ragtag staff (including Jackass’ Chris Pontius) must find a way to keep the doors open. Complicating matters are lawyers and lawmakers who are fed up with the lack of safety protocols at the once proud establishment.

Don’t let that description fool you. Tim Kirkby’s Action Point is nothing but MTV’s Jackass repackaged with a flimsy plot to attempt to sell the antics of Knoxville and his friends once again. At Feelin’ Film, we like to try to look positively at movies, but I really have nothing good to say about this one at all. It’s dull, amateurish and more than just a little tired. Johnny Knoxville is an enigma to me. He has charisma to spare and has proven himself to be an adept comedic actor in the past. But instead of using that talent, he’s been content to churn out lowest common denominator dreck for almost 20 years at this point. If there’s one bright spot, it’s that it performed more poorly at the box office than any Knoxville starring films to date, so maybe as a culture we’re learning to stay away.

Action Point is a tired and laugh-less comedy from the guy who brought you Jackass. It’s one of the worst movies of the year.

Buy It, Rent It, Wait for Netflix or Skip It?

Skip It.

Also available this week:

Deadpool 2- I was a pretty big fan of this one when it was released back in May and after watching it again this week, I still am. Read my review here.

First Reformed- One of the favorites of the year so far for a few of our contributors, listen to Don and Aaron share their thoughts about it here.

Show Dogs- Despite starring one of my personal favorite comedic actors in Will Arnett and having the vocal talents of people like Stanley Tucci, this so called family comedy failed make me laugh and was offensive enough that I won’t show it to my family.

Other New Releases: God’s Not Dead 3, Black Water

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Now Available: August 14, 2018

Welcome to Now Available, where we’ll give you a quick review of a film we didn’t cover when it was released in theaters that’s releasing for home viewing this week, along with a list of everything else and where you can see our coverage on it. 

To the majority of his loved ones, Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) is an aspiring photographer who makes a living running a small parking valet service with his buddy Derek (Carlito Olivero). What they don’t know is that Sean supplements his suspiciously abundant income by using the garage door openers of the cars that he’s supposed to be parking to break into the homes of his customers while they eat. It’s a solid scam that works because Sean and Derek only take a little from each person, leaving the bigger ticket items in favor of smaller pieces that the victims won’t miss. It works, that is, until Sean discovers a young woman chained up in the office of one of the homes he’s robbing. Does risk getting caught while he takes the time to set her free or leave her there, saving his own bacon but leaving him to live with the inner turmoil that decision would generate?

Dean Devlin’s Bad Samaritan is in the running for the 2018 most surprising movie of the year. It’s tight, it’s tense, and I had never even heard of it until I checked the DVD release schedule. While a lot of the edge of your seat action borders on cheap set-ups guaranteed to make the audience uncomfortable (even the worst thrillers can generate tension by having characters be snooping around somewhere they shouldn’t, unaware of how much time they have to escape), the film dares to go add depth by asking moral questions about what what we as humans owe to each other. Would you be willing to do the right thing when the decision to do so could cost you everything? One gets the feeling that the filmmakers are working through this question themselves in the making of this movie. The performances are solid. Robert Sheehan shines as a man dealing with intense inner conflict. David Tennant is creepy as hell as the mysterious stranger hiding a terrible secret. To say much more would be to ruin the surprises along the way, and that’s most of the fun. Suffice it to say that Sean’s decisions place him in some intriguing scenarios that will leave you guessing until the very end.

Bad Samaritan is a solid thriller that makes up for it’s times of generic, manufactured tension with good performances and its thought provoking moral quandaries. It’s the leader in the clubhouse for my most surprising movie of 2018.

Buy It, Rent It, Wait for Netflix or Skip It?

Rent It.

Also available this week:

Infinity War- We’re a movie podcast, so obviously we did an episode about the biggest movie of 2018 and maybe the millennium. Check that one out here. And don’t forget to check out Aaron’s review.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties- There are some people out there who get John Cameron Mitchell’s movies. If you’re one of them, give this one a shot. Apparently I’m not, because much like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I just thought this was freaking weird.

Other New Releases: Furlough, Higher Power, Shock and Awe and The Yellow Birds

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Now Available: August 7, 2018

Welcome to Now Available, where we’ll give you a quick review of a film we didn’t cover when it was released in theaters that’s releasing for home viewing this week, along with a list of everything else and where you can see our coverage on it. 

Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) is a loving wife and mother who has spent her life sacrificing her own goals and dreams in deference to her husband and daughter. Her whole existence descends to chaos when, on the day they dropped their daughter off at college for the first day of her senior year, her husband (Matt Walsh) informs her that he’s in love with another woman and he’s filed for divorce. Having left college only a few credits shy of graduating to support her husband’s education several years before, Deanna decided to pick up the pieces of her life by enrolling in her daughter’s university to finish her degree.

Your enjoyment of Ben Falcone’s Life of the Party, a story written by real life husband and wife Falcone and McCarthy, will depend solely on how you feel about Melissa McCarthy. If the breakout star of Bridesmaids has worn out her welcome to you, there’s really no reason for you to watch this film. It’s an easy, breezy comedy that relies on McCarthy’s charm and physical comedy chops to work. From reading the synopsis, one can immediately tell where the film will end and the conflicts that will happen along the way. Conflict between mother and daughter because daughter thinks other is cramping her style? Check. Conflict between scorned wife and her ex-husband and his new significant other? Check. Conflict caused by being away from higher education for over 20 years? Check. It’s all there. But if you’re like me and really enjoy McCarthy’s vibe, its predictability doesn’t detract from the fun of seeing her do her thing. McCarthy’s sincerity and expert comedic timing elevates the rote, uninspired material into something that you’ll enjoy for 100 minutes, even if you immediately forget it exists when you turn it off.

Life of the Party is a bland, forgettable comedy that you’ve seen before that is elevated by Melissa McCarthy’s charm. If McCarthy’s presence makes you laugh, you’ll have a good time. If it makes you cringe, stay away.

Buy It, Rent It, Wait for Netflix or Skip It?

Wait for Netflix.

Also available this week:

Breaking In- See what Jeremy thought of this twist on the home invasion movie here.

The Rider- Aaron really enjoyed this film when he was given a chance to see it back in May. Check out his review here.

Other New Releases: On Chesil Beach, Marrowbone, Aardvark, Lowlife and Revenge

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Now Available: July 31, 2018

Welcome to Now Available, where we’ll give you a quick review of a film we didn’t cover when it was released in theaters that’s releasing for home viewing this week, along with a list of everything else and where you can see our coverage on it. 

When Marlo (Charlize Theron) is given the gift of a night nanny by her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), the mother of three, including a newborn and a special needs child, is reluctant to accept the help. Through Craig’s prodding, she relents and hires Tully (Mackenzie Davis) to take care of her infant daughter through the night so that she can receive some much needed rest. Tully’s influence soon bleeds out into the whole family as her youthful spirit and zest for life energizes Marlo and rubs off on her husband and kids.

Boasting stand-out performances by Theron and Mackenzie, Jason Reitman’s Tully is a return to form for the director, who’s feature filmography had stalled out a bit after 2013’s lukewarm melodrama Labor Day and 2014’s god-awful Men, Women and Children. Here he’s teamed up with writer Diablo Cody, with whom he’s made two of his best films in Juno and Young Adult, which also starred Theron. I have five kids, so I’ve been through this time of life several times and I can say that Reitman and Cody absolutely nail the tone here in all facets of the story. There comes a point when you bring a newborn home from the hospital where life is just rough and it’s hard to see past the messy house, the cranky kids who feel neglected and the baby who needs constant care to a day where life can be normal again. Tully lets its audience sit in that moment like new parents have to and it’s really quite impressive. We see from the opening shots, a tender scene where she lovingly runs a soft brush over the skin of her son to help calm him before bed, that Marlo is a good and caring mother, but she’s utterly exhausted and the deep post-partum depression she’s experiencing isn’t helping matters either. Her husband Drew (Ron Washington) means well, but he doesn’t know how to give his wife the relief that she needs. It’s a scenario that’s highly relatable to a vast majority of married couples and that Reitman is able to make it feel real rather than manufactured is a testament to his talent as a filmmaker. In Marlo, Theron gives one of the best performances of her career. Showing an unrivaled commitment to the role, she gained 50 lbs for the part, she completely disappears into the struggling mother, treading water and gasping for air while holding very little hope for a lifeline. Mackenzie Davis is wide-eyed and full of life as Tully. Her wisdom would sound so naive, but she delivers it with such sincerity and love. It’s really quite a good film and it’s one of my favorites of the year.

With a solid script by Diablo Cody and stand-out performances by Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis, Jason Reitman’s Tully is a must see. It deserves to be mentioned with his best and hopefully signals a return to form for the director.

Buy It, Rent It, Wait for Netflix or Skip It?

Rent It!

Also available this week:

Overboard- If you like the original Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn comedy, I recommend that you watch that one again. This remake that sees the roles reversed when Anna Faris tricks amnesiac Eugenio Derbez into believing he’s her husband is a totally laugh-less 105 minutes that would’ve been better spent doing literally anything else.

Other New Releases:The Miracle Season, Final Portrait, Dark Crimes, Kings

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Now Available: July 17, 2018

Welcome to Now Available, where we’ll give you a quick review of a film we didn’t cover when it was released in theaters that’s releasing for home viewing this week, along with a list of everything else and where you can see our coverage on it. 

While on a spring break trip to Mexico, Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her friends join a mysterious stranger for a game of truth or dare. As is prone to happen when you play a game of truth or dare with a stranger in a creepy abandoned mansion with a stranger, things get a little weird. When they get back, Olivia and her friends begin to realize that the game isn’t over. One by one, the participants must choose to tell uncomfortable truths or to participate in increasingly deadly dares. The only rule in Jeff Wadlow’s Truth or Dare? Participate or die.

There has been a lot of good and unexpected horror that has come out over the past few years. Truth or Dare exists to remind us that the mediocre teen horror genre is still going strong. There’s not an original thought in the film, borrowing liberally from several superior films (the most obvious well from which they draw is 2000’s Final Destination). There’s no underlying sense of dread at all, just a handful of poorly executed jump scares. The filmmakers make an odd choice to have people under control of the game take on the look of what the film calls a “demonic Snap Chat filter” that has the effect of making otherwise tense situations just look pretty silly.

Thankfully, the cast doesn’t realize that they’re in an uninspired, run of the mill movie. Lucy Hale is really good as Olivia. Her relationship with Markie (Violett Beane) is the anchor of the film. Both actresses give their friendship a strong sense of history. Hayden Szeto is great as Brad, a young closeted gay man who on the surface has the most to lose by being forced to tell the truth. The ending of the film, which I won’t spoil here, is another strong point. It goes somewhere that’s quite unexpected and follows through on some of the ideas that the film tries (often clumsily) to examine.

Truth or Dare is a rote teen horror film with little to nothing new to offer the genre. Despite solid performances and a surprisingly satisfying ending, I’d suggest watching one of the many films it’s copying.

Also available this week:

Isle of Dogs- Our own Aaron White gave Wes Anderson’s second foray into stop-motion animation 4.5 stars here. If you’re an Anderson fan, and why wouldn’t you be, it’s a must-see.

Rampage- Aaron enjoyed this early summer popcorn flick starring The Rock and a CGI gorilla.  Read his review here.

You Were Never Really Here- This dark but artful examination of suffering isn’t easy to watch, but worth it says Aaron, here.

Disobedience- Don says: Sebastián Lelio’s followup to the Oscar winning foreign film Fantastic Women is worth a watch for it’s challenging religious themes and its underlying message about marriage.

I Feel Pretty- Jeremy says:This mostly laugh-less comedy that tries half-heartedly to have a positive message about self-image might appeal to those who haven’t yet tired of Amy Schumer.

Super Troopers 2- Jeremy says: If you’re a fan of the original, you’d probably better check this one out right meow. If you’re not, the second installment isn’t likely to win you over.

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.