As I noted earlier in the week, the big Criterion Collection sale at Barnes & Noble started on Tuesday and will run through July 30th. Since we already did a Roundtable about our favorite Criterion discs during the last one of these sales, today might be a good time to flip that topic around. Which titles in the esteemed Collection have you not cared for?
Criterion Blu-rays, DVDs and even Laserdiscs are all fair game here.
Currently, I own 56 Criterion titles in my collection, many of which were blind buys. Out of all of the Criterion releases that I’ve seen so far, there has really only been one that disappointed me: Nobuhiko Obayashi’s ‘House‘.
I usually love oddball films and I thought that I knew what I was getting into beforehand, but I still wasn’t prepared for the insanity on display in this campy 1977 Japanese flick. I wasn’t amused by it, and I didn’t find it particularly “artistic” either. Most of it just seems thrown together with little rhyme or reason whatsoever. All I know is that there must have been plenty of sake on set during the production of this “film,” if it can even be called as such. Anyway, the fact of the matter is something about ‘House’ just rubbed me the wrong way and I loathed every minute of it. Fortunately, I got more for the Blu-ray when I sold it on eBay than what I paid for it brand new.
Maybe it was my own fault for checking out ‘The War Room‘ so long after its release. It could be that everything I felt I’d heard a thousand times before was said for the FIRST time when the film came out, but I must admit that I was pretty disappointed with this 1993 documentary that examines Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign and the folks that labored behind the scenes to make it a success. It was good, but not great. I wish I’d waited for a better sale, or just rented it.
A talking unicorn, a post-apocalyptic war zone and a weeping bushel of flowers. How could a film with such an eclectic assortment of surreal oddities be anything but awesome? I don’t know, but Louis Malle sure found a way. While I’ve had mixed reactions to a few Criterion releases, the only title I’ve come across that’s truly made me question the company’s selection process is ‘Black Moon‘. (For the record, I actually like ‘Armageddon‘… sort of.)
An attempt at a Lewis Carroll-esque trip into surreal situations and absurd storytelling, the film unfortunately fails to leave much of an impression, and turns into a jumbled mess of pretentious nonsense. There are a few isolated scenes and images that are quite affecting, but the movie is overall just plain dumb. I’m a big fan of Malle’s other works and of surreal filmmaking in general, but here the two just don’t come together, leading to a big disappointment. I applaud Criterion for seeking out more obscure, forgotten works from acclaimed filmmakers, but in this case, the movie should have probably just stayed forgotten.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I decided a few years back that I was going to pick up every single film that Criterion put out on Blu-ray, and I’ve held true to that. Only twice have I regretted making that call. The first was Nagisa Oshima’s ‘In the Realm of the Senses‘. Though I respect its exploration of power and desire in sexual relationships, it’s so explicit that I find it at best uncomfortable and at worst wholly unnerving to watch.
However, nothing – and I mean nothing – could’ve prepared me for ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom‘. It’s two hours straight of graphic rape, sadism, torture, dismemberment, murder and even coprophagia. Ugh. I’m recoiling in disgust just thinking about it. At least ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ has some artistic trappings. Salò is straight-up unwatchable. It’s just a relentless Grand Guignol onslaught strung together with the most threadbare plot that Pasolini could’ve possibly gotten away with, which ensures that it’s revolting yet kind of tedious at the same time.
‘Tiny Furniture‘ has that quirky indie feel, but I really couldn’t get into it. Lena Dunham’s HBO show ‘Girls’ is all the rage right now, but I’ve never really connected with her dry, self-deprecating humor. ‘Tiny Furniture’ feels very much like the type of pretentious film festival movie that people initially go gaga for and then seem to forget afterwards. After reviewing it, I had to wonder if there weren’t more deserving films out there that could’ve taken its place in the Criterion Collection. It’s just so droll.
Of the Criterion titles that I’ve owned, the biggest disappointment has to be ‘Knife in the Water‘. While I’ve learned to temper my expectations for Criterion titles in general, I fully expected to be fascinated by the interplay between the three characters here. After viewing, I found myself at a loss for insight, and my high expectations haunt the title to this day. I can’t help but think that many of the glowing reviews of the DVD are reaching. It’s an interesting 94 minute film, but I consider the details of the production of this western-style movie in Communist Poland to be more compelling than the actual film. Ultimately, I think that Roman Polanski’s initial feature film is better suited as supplemental material for one of his many superior efforts, such as ‘Repulsion’ or ‘Death and the Maiden’.
Although the cult Japanese gangster films of director Seijun Suzuki, ‘Branded to Kill‘ and ‘Tokyo Drifter‘, weren’t released on Blu-ray until December of last year, they were among the earliest Criterion releases on DVD. Unfortunately, they were issued before Criterion really got the hang of the DVD format, and merely recycled old non-anamorphic letterbox Laserdisc masters. They looked pretty lousy, worse even than the Laserdiscs due to some shoddy digital compression quality. (It took Criterion about a year to figure out how DVD was supposed to work.)
Regardless, that was something I’d find out later. I recall that the movies got a hell of an enthusiastic write-up in Video Watchdog magazine that made them sound like the most outrageous, no-holds-barred bizarre B-movies ever. I quite excitedly ordered the DVDs and watched them right away. Sadly, I just wasn’t into them… at all. I found them very boring and kind of dumb. Their appeal eluded me.
Admittedly, part of that reaction might have had to do with the crummy quality of the DVDs. And maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for them at the time. I hear that the Blu-rays are an order of magnitude better looking. I should probably give them another shot sometime. In fact, I received the ‘Tokyo Drifter’ Blu-ray as a gift, and it’s been sitting on my shelf unwatched. I don’t have much excuse for not giving that one a second chance. Some day, perhaps… but not today.
Which titles in the Criterion catalog let you down? Tell us in the Comments.