Friday, September 27, 2013

A Fistful of Criterion Wannabes! (Brad's Picks)

This has been an amazing September.  Because of Riddick, The Family, Prisoners, and Insidious Chapter 2?  Hell no!  This has been an abysmal month for the big screen, even more dull and drab than the summer sequel sludge.  My only hope for cinematic joy was my blu ray player, and my cannonball plunge into The Criterion Collection has been a resilient shot in the arm.  2013 has been a bummer year at the movies, but have no fear, there are decades & decades & decades & decades of great cinema to devour.  If you are looking for a gateway into Film History than there is no better place to start than with a Criterion disc.  And thanks to the good folks over at Janus Films I discovered the works of Akira Kurosawa, Powell & Pressburger, Jules Dassin, and Sam Fuller.  But I'd be lying if I told you I began obsessively collecting spine numbers because of the auteurs.  My Criterion addiction began, like most cinematic obsessions, with genre.  The Silence of the Lambs, Robocop, Hard Boiled.  Criterion might be most renown for their French New Wavers and Japanese Samurais, but The Collection certainly has its wild side.  See Seconds, Kiss Me Deadly, Repo Man, and The Game just to name a few.  They have it all.  And randomly snatching from their distribution list is a brilliant way to spend a September.

I'm often asked by those not-in-the-know, "What is a Criterion film?"  My simple go-to answer is that it's "A Classic Film Whether You Know It Or Not."  Snarky?  Sure.  But I've never regretted watching a Criterion Release.  Yes, not even Armageddon.  After you've worked your way through a myriad of special features and plowed through a couple of their essays, you will see the wonders of even the Michael Bayiest of Michael Bay Explosion Fests.  Of course, if you handed Criterion over to me, would I give Tiny Furniture the spine number privilege?  No.  I am a genre fanboy after all.  So forget rights issues, and blah, blah, blah excuses - here's what terror I would unleash upon the company...

5.  The Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009):  It is a downright crime that Herzog is not yet represented in The Collection.  The closest he comes is in the Fitzcaraldo documentary Burden of Dreams (Spine # 287), but close is not close enough.  Anchor Bay put out a really nice box set of the Kinski/Herzog collaborations several years back, but it is certainly time that Aguirre - Wrath of God is given the HD Special Edition treatment.  However, I'm going with the more recent Bad Lieutenant because it needs your attention.  Herzog nearly recaptures the glory of his classic efforts, and The Bad Lieutenant holds the last great performance from Nicolas Cage with a perfect example of his Mega Acting power.  His Detective Terrance is the scariest mixture of madness and intoxication since Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.  Plus you've got dancing souls, lucky crack pipes, and invisible iguanas.  Mondo Posters has already produced some rather brilliant art for the film (see above), so just slap that sucker on the cover and we're good to go.

4.  A Boy And His Dog (L.Q. Jones, 1975):  Only months ago, Shout Factory released this weirdo picture on blu ray.  It's a great disc with a stunning transfer and a nifty conversation between director Jones & short story artist Harlan Ellison.  But I am not satisfied.  I want a Mr. Arkadin style box set here.  Give me the film, an isolated Ellison rant track, the original story, and some killer Richard Corben cover art.  And how about an in-depth documentary detailing A Boy And His Dog's watershed reinvention of the Post-Apocalypse genre with a confessional George Miller offering all of Mad Max's royalties to Ellison?  I'm sure the little tyrant would appreciate that.

3.  Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson, 1972):  I love the Apes franchise.  A few weeks ago I dropped the original film on my Top 20 Films of All Time, but I could easily swap Part 1 for Part 4.  Conquest is an angry spit in the face of humanity.  Just watch (or read above) Caesar's climactic tirade against man, and witness cinema's greatest social exorcism.  Guys in monkey masks?  No way.  Roddy McDowell gives a towering performance behind the latex and false teeth.  The final twist of the first film might have had a fist pump of rage against the machine, but Conquest swings the hammer, smashing the idiocy of racism while understanding the pain of oppression.  This is the art of science-fiction.  Grab Devin Faraci for the essay & commentary track, and assemble Phantom City Creative for the art.

2.  The Gunfighter (Henry King, 1950):  I came very close to suggesting a Roger Corman School of Acting Box Set a la the BBS series, but made a last minute change preferring the film that launched the mega producer down his B Movie-blazing career.  It's a somber, low budget Western in which Gregory Peck's outlaw can't sip a drink in a saloon without quick drawing against some upstart punk.  Corman leant some words to the screenplay, but when he was never given the credit he fled the studio system to make his own movies.  The rest is exploitation history.  You want more reasons why this belongs in The Collection than read my cineAWESOME review from last year.

1.  Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967):  Here is a film I just can't shut up about.  You should already know that John Boorman's trippy nightmare adaptation of Richard Stark's novel The Hunter is my 7th Favorite Film of All Time.  The more time passes, the more I think about it.  Lee Marvin is a one-track thug.  He's double crossed by his wife and partner, but it's less about personal revenge and more about what he's owed.  The rage is certainly in the book, but Boorman brings some Kafkan blunt force trauma with him.  Inevitability.  Futility.  Frustration.  A real beast.  Steven Soderbergh & Boorman did a commentary track for a Warner Brothers disc a few years back, so just port that over to the Criterion.  But let's add a really swell remembrance of Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark, and throw in a Darwyn Cooke mini-comic for fun.  The Midnight Marauder poster above should definitely be used for the cover.

Pssst!  Darwyn Cooke's Slayground Adaptation is Coming Soon!


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