Let’s Get Criterion Presents: The Awful Truth (1937, Leo McCarey)


Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are a married couple on the outs in the fun and savvy romantic comedy The Awful Truth. The pair goes their separate ways since they can’t trust one another, yet neither one can help interfering with each other’s love life. Particularly Dunne potentially getting hitched to Ralph Bellamy, who I know mostly from westerns and Trading Places, and who has good comedic timing. He even comes across as likable in this film, despite not being a good match for Dunne.

My major complaint is I wanted a different ending than the movie could give me. I did really like The Awful Truth a lot as both Grant and Dunne had fabulous chemistry together and really felt like a married couple who argue, fight, and act really jealous toward one another. Grant always made acting look easy, and Dunne has a knack for comedy that not all actresses or actors possess. I am glad I got this on Blu-ray as it makes the black and white cinematography look sharper and more focused.

Horrorfest 2022 Presents/Let’s Get Criterion: Häxan (1922, Benjamin Christensen)


Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan is one of those silent cinema era movies that helped influence and define the genre when it was still in it’s early years. It also reflects on the fact that man is the biggest monster of all, although this movie shows the Devil a lot. This movie’s version of the Devil inspires the witches that the movie covers and discusses, and he looks pretty much like you would expect, or at least the heavy metal version, anyways. Witchcraft has a long history and usually involves people accusing others of being witches, thus resulting in the local religious authorities torturing and murdering people. Often people were completely innocent, swept up in the mass hysteria of the time and condemned to awful and inhumane fates. The movie treats all of this as a quasi-documentary, and is framed as a long standing history lesson, which is fascinating and sometimes enlightening to those who were unaware of such things. Most of the time people who had mental disorders were thought to be witches, which makes things even worse.

There are several gorgeously shot and marvelous appearing set pieces, the one where the witches have a mass coven meeting after flying through the night being very remarkable. The movie has some great practical effects, many of which still hold up a century later. I viewed this classic on Halloween eve, which may have been the most opportune viewing time. It’s also notable that with few exceptions the victims of witch hunts were usually women, and thus sexism and misogynistic views reigned heavily during the periods where witch hunts were at their highest.

Christensen even ties this into the modern era with the final act, noting how the witch hunt never really died, it just changed it’s shape and purpose. For a silent cinema era movie to note this is outstanding, and I may view this movie again at a later date just to see how it holds up still in my eyes. Which will be easy to do since I own it on Criterion, and the Criterion Blu-ray is a gorgeous transfer. If people watch this on YouTube or via TCM that’s fine too, if you get the chance you should totally check this one out.

Let’s Get Criterion Presents: I Married a Witch (1942)


I had a crush on Veronica Lake before I saw this movie, all thanks to This Gun For Hire. She is much better in I Married a Witch, as she is front and center and runs the show. Fredric March is the descendant of the people who burned her and her father at the stake, nevermind that the Salem Witches were hanged instead. Magically reborn, she seeks revenge yet makes the classic romantic comedy mistake of falling in love.

This movie is based strongly on wit, classy jokes and a good amount of silly moments that are delightful. The movie does coast a lot on its good charm, yet that was enough for me. Lake and March have solid chemistry together and I was left satisfied and with the feeling that I Married a Witch will grow on me during a second viewing. Perhaps even during a third. They still make movies like this, sure, however it is not quite the same.

Let’s Get Criterion Presents: The Phantom Carriage (1920)


The hues of the ancient silent screen prints for The Phantom Carriage are mostly blue and yellow, and it works for this movie. I liked how it is a drama rooted in the fantastic, working as a bleak tragedy that shows a man in desperate need of a course correction. He neglects his family and laughs at the notion of goodness, until he ends up faced with a most dire situation. I am reminded a bit of A Christmas Carol with the ghosts coming to tell Scourge to change his ways, however this take is more horror movie related to a point.

I loved the practical special effects showing death’s ride, a ghastly thing powered by skeleton horses and driven by a person cursed to serve. There is also a scene that clearly inspired The Shining’s infamous axe moment, and the film is centered in a clear sense of morality. A poor woman cares only to save a man’s soul, even as she fades away. Another woman lingers for her husband to be a better person, knowing that he may never achieve it. Oh and the jailhouse scene is a harsh wake up call that unfortunately only takes on its intended target for so long.

This film took me a while to get through, since it is a silent film and I am used to sound. However The Phantom Carriage is marvelous, a well constructed movie that clearly has been the basis for other, equally great, works. Also I was surprised that the movie got away with a suicide scene, although I guess 1920s Europe was much different than America.

Let’s Get Criterion Presents: Repo Man (1984, Alex Cox)


“The life of a repo man is intense.”

Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic is one of the earliest Criterion movies I ever owned. I still have my DVD copy, and I recall lovely gazing at the packaging and admiring how cool the movie looked on DVD. I mean I had only seen some low grade copy of the flick on cable TV before, and this was the 2010s, before Blu-ray and streaming overruled everything else. Maybe one day I’ll bother to upgrade my copy but for now it will do just fine. I have watched Repo Man at least four, maybe five times and it’s one of my all time favorite movies. I don’t think anything else quite like it exists today, at least no movies that come to mind.

Having Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton star was a fine choice, and they are the duo from hell. Otto and Bud are both hilarious and marveling together, living on the edge and serving up fantastic one liners. I mean you have ones such as “Repo man’s got all night! Every night!” and “Only an asshole gets killed over a car.” Alex Cox is not content to have the film only focus on these two, tossing in numerous other eccentric and off the wall characters that populate a bizarre underground. It’s all very punk rock you see, 100% 1980s, centered at the heart of Reagan America.

Part of me thinks this flick is a masterpiece, some other part is fine with me just labeling it great. The rest is amused at how Alex Cox managed to smuggle this glorious bit of satire mocking the stupidity and futility of American life out of a Hollywod that was quite conservative. Or at least neoliberal to say the least, masquerading as leftist while serving both capitalism and their studio masters. God I love this film so much. Hail oblivion and the path one takes to get there.

Horrorfest 2015/Let’s Get Criterion Presents: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970, Jaromil Jireš)


Made before Buffy and many other female heroines, Jaromil Jireš’ strange and whimsical film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is an exercise in magical realism. It is also a horror movie, a coming of age story, a realization of innocence ending and a journey into fantasy. Despite its flaws Jireš manages to keep things together, molding elements into a unique whole. It also helps that the film has a strong performance from Jaroslava Schallerová as Valerie, a young girl trying to understand her place in the world and figure out where she came from. Her search for her parents is a trip down the rabbit hole into a world that may be mostly in her imagination. I prefer to read the film as literal just because its more fun, but also since doing so helps me further grasp what Jireš is trying to accomplish. I also viewed this film during my Horrorfest and was able to purchase it from Barnes and Noble thanks to their 50% off Criterion sale.

In fact this movie requires multiple viewings, something I have not yet accomplished despite owning the movie. Schallerová is sweet and kind as Valerie, never despairing even when she is handed over to be burned alive at the stake! There are other characters in this film that are either nice or creepy, and Valerie’s interactions with them determines the course of her journey. The movie does operate in the guise of a carnival, and there are hints that some of the people involved are actors or magical characters. Not to mention its strong fairy tale elements, as this movie can be classified as such and is also shot and scripted that way. One thing I was uncomfortable with is that the movie does have a young girl experiencing a sexual awakening, although I’m guessing that 1970s Europe had a less prudish reaction. Regardless this is a strong aspect of the film and cannot be ignored.

I’m not sure I got the ending, and I don’t know if I fully understood all that happened. Yet for some of its flaws (not all of the acting is well done, and I feel that some parts don’t work or fit) that this is a near great film from a director I want to see more from. As for the film’s extras I did not bother to explore them further, however the movie has a decent amount for a relatively obscure (at least to me and other Americans) 1970s Czechoslovakian film. Considering that I do not own enough foreign movies I’m glad that I added this one to my collection. One last thing: this movie is gloriously shot and has some amazing visuals. One cannot help but admire old school cinema, crafted before the days of digital.

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