Blu-ray review: “La Cienaga: The Criterion Collection”

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The first image is leisure as nightmare. The camera stays uncomfortably close to the middle-aged bodies of a group of unidentified sunbathers, lounging around a fetid pool. We don’t see faces, just their protruding bellies, gray chest hair, sagging skin. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and the bathers begin dragging their metal lounge chairs across the concrete tiles. The noise is hideous, like a banshee.

This unsettling opening marks the beginning of 2001’s “La Cienaga,” and the beginning of the film career of Argentine director Lucrecia Martel. Much of what viewers find fascinating about Martel’s films can be found in that beginning — elliptical narratives, an emphasis on sound, and subtle explorations of class divisions deeply embedded in character. The film is just out in a new edition on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection.

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“L’avventura: The Criterion Collection”: She’s the original gone girl

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Imagine Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” if nobody tried to figure out who the murderer was, and you have some sense of what an impact Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’avventura” had on world cinema in 1960. While critics and audiences expecting a mainstream mystery were frustrated, the film quickly gained a reputation as a bracing and elliptical new style of narrative.

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Blu-ray review: “The Vanishing: The Criterion Collection”

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A thriller as unassuming and meticulous as its villain, George Sluizer’s 1988 film “The Vanishing” hasn’t lost its power to create a sense of dread in the mind of the viewer. In fact, I think it’s even stronger now — a modern-day film couldn’t be this horribly patient at pulling us into its world and not letting us leave. “The Vanishing” is now out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

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Blu-ray review: “La Dolce Vita: The Criterion Collection”

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I found myself with a lot of trepidation in writing about Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” It’s one of my favorite movies ever, now re-released in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. But what could I possibly add to the mountain of great film writing already accumulated around one of the greatest films ever made, perhaps the greatest Italian film?

And how could I even begin to encapsulate all that’s there in the nearly three-hour film, stuffed with allegory and politics, poetry and satire, romance and disillusionment? Could a food critic review an entire buffet?

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“Hearts and Minds”: Why we fight, and fight, and fight

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There’s more than a whiff of bitterness to the title of Peter Davis’ landmark documentary “Hearts and Minds,” now reissued by Criterion in a new Blu-ray edition. The phrase refers to a Lyndon B. Johnson speech suggesting that the Vietnam War would be won not just tactically, but philosophically. We could not only defeat the North Vietnamese but turn the Vietnamese people into our spiritual allies, winning their hearts and minds for freedom and democracy.

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“Judex”: A master filmmaker honors (and subverts) a silent classic

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“Judex” was one of several silent movie serials made by director Louis Feuillade, and it left a major impression on one of the many French childen who went to the cinema in the 1910s. That child was Georges Franju, who would later go on to make the classic chiller “Eyes Without a Face.” After “Eyes,” he decided to make his own “Judex.”

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Blu-ray review: “Riot in Cell Block 11: The Criterion Collection”

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There’s no question that “Riot in Cell Block 11” looks like it was made in 1954. There’s something a little bit square about it, from the get-them-in-their-seats provocativeness of the title to the faux newsreel that opens the film, laying out its prison reform themes so baldly that nobody can miss them.

 

But dig down into “Cell Block 11,” and you find a potboiler drama that was both far ahead of its time and, in some ways, far ahead of ours.

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