Weekend Roundtable – Criterion Disappointments

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.

Tom Landy

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.

Mike Attebery

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.

Steven Cohen

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.

Aaron Peck

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.

Brian Hoss

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’.

Josh Zyber

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.


  1. Jason

    of the 83 Criterion titles in my collection (many of which were blind buys based on reviews and recommendations) I happily don’t have any that I’m think are misses. A couple are outside my typical fare but they all are watchable.

    I do have to agree with Adam though in regards to Salo. Years ago I was at a friends house and he bought every Criterion DVD and had just purchased Salo so we “attempted” to watch it. We had both heard of the film and it’s subject matter but neither of us was prepared for what was on the screen before us. We watched it all the way through and my friend turned to me and said, “would you like to add Salo to your collection?” Needless to say I declined.

      • N8B

        years ago there was also a re-release. chances are since they “heard” of it, they nabbed that, and it was never worth anything as it has always been in print since.

        the AUTHENTIC white ring nimbus disc Salo is still worth money, but not 600, which was the going rate for a real one. there are also a fucking megafuckton of bootlegs out there of this one. Killer/Hardboiled/Unbearable Lightness not quite as much.

  2. JM

    My worst Criterion experience was ‘Antichrist,’ but that’s my fault for watching it.

    ‘Certified Copy’ I blame the random blog post that listed it in the top ten greatest romances of all time. Blogger Girl is obviously into S&M.

    ‘Days of Heaven’ taught me to never blind-rent Terrence Malick.

    ‘Breathless’ I’ll split the blame with M. Enois Duarte. I saw 5 Stars, and didn’t read the text of the review. I’m probably ten years too young to appreciate french masturbation.

    ‘Fat Girl’ I’m proud of myself for giving a wide berth.

    ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’ I watched to rebel against my cult. Talk about the world’s most boring rebellion. It took more pharmaceuticals than I was expecting, which needs to be taxed onto the cost of the disc.

    ‘Playtime’ almost made me relapse into cutting.

    ‘Yi Yi’ I haven’t watched. I only bought it for the coffee table.

    My general rule of thumb is to only trust Criterion if the film includes two or more samurai. Which is why my list of complaints is less than seven.

    • EM

      I really like Play time (I love it in general, but I do think it goes on a bit too long); but I’m with you on À bout de souffle (Breathless). Plus Jean Seberg’s thick, hideous Yankee accent in French makes me want to throttle her until her eyes pop out of her tête. Her corpse is interred in Paris; perhaps the next time I’m out that way, I should find her grave and dance on it.

        • EM

          I didn’t know Seberg could do a Mandarin accent at all, let alone multiple ones. Besides, I thought she was dead before that movie was made.

          • JM

            Yankee Girl accenting french poorly is more offensive than Cantonese Girl accenting mandarin poorly…?

            Sounds pretty anti-American.

          • EM

            I have an idea of what Mandarin Chinese sounds like, and I have an idea of what French sounds like, but my idea of what French sounds like is better informed than my idea of what Mandarin Chinese sounds like. Likewise, I have an idea of what a Cantonese accent sounds like, and I have an idea of what an American accent sounds like, but my idea of what an American accent sounds like is better informed than my idea of what a Cantonese accent sounds like. And my idea of a Cantonese accent skews more closely with my idea of a Mandarin accent than my idea of an American accent skews with my idea of a French accent. Unlike some folks, I temper my criticism of things I know I am ignorant of. In other words: Crouching Tiger sounds OK to me, Breathless does not, and my annoyance is directed accordingly.

            Your attitude sounds pretty anti-rational to me.

          • Josh Zyber

            Yeah, but the thing is that Seberg is supposed to be an American who speaks lousy French in Breathless. You might as well complain about Jean Reno’s lousy American accent in Leon.

          • JM

            Theoretical physicists have proven that what we think of as “rational” behavior actually comes from vast powerful submerged cognitive forces.

            Which I like to think explains my typing.

            If it helps, my attitude was less “rat tat tat tat tat, ka pow! ak ak ak ak ak ak ak, ka pow!” and more “nudge nudge wink wink.”

            I like the way you specialize your disdain.

            Mostly I’m the opposite.

            But what I lack in clarity, I make up for with enthusiasm.

          • EM

            Josh, the fact that Seberg succeeds in doing something annoying—at great length, yet—does not make it any less annoying.

            For the record, I do not begrudge anyone wanting to speak a second language without having yet achieved mastery of the accent or other challenges. Perhaps I sounded much like Seberg when I first studied French. But then I went to the second day of class, and the next, and the next… In this film, Seberg sounds like she might have gone to a lot of classes but may not have studied the subject all that much. I don’t consider failure due to lack of effort to be great entertainment.

  3. N8B


    pun intended.

    I think BOTTLE ROCKET is one of the most UNDESERVING titles receiving the Criterion label. DISAPPOINTING? THE THIN RED LINE. I can’t even mention that film without it being defined as a severe disappointment that drug the fuck on. Give me SALO any fucking day over that one. I’ll eat pudding pops and whip myself while watching it, anything to prevent seeing more bullshit Malick.

  4. William Henley

    So far, I haven’t had a Criterion disappointment. Then again, Criterion releases a movie I am interested in maybe once every year or two.

    Most of my Criterion releases I own are on Laserdisc (that being said, I am not sure if I still own any laserdiscs – I haven’t been able to find them after my move. I am still hoping they will turn up after I unbox a few more things, but my hopes are starting to diminish), with a couple on DVD. back then, Criterion was actually releasing movies I have heard of.

  5. Shannon Nutt

    Most (not all) of the criticisms above are over the movies, not Criterion’s treatment/transfer of them…which really doesn’t seem to cover the topic presented.

    As for Mike’s pan of THE WAR ROOM, I’ll have to disagree with that one – I think it’s a GREAT documentary, and Criterion has really done a nice job with both the new transfer and the bonus materials (including a feature-length new documentary looking back on the film).

    • William Henley

      From the first paragraph:
      Which titles in the esteemed Collection have you not cared for?

      This topic is probaly intended for those who blind-buy movies simply because they are on teh Criterion lable. The critiques are appropriate to the topic.

    • Josh Zyber

      It’s very rare that Criterion outright botches the treatment/transfer of its titles on Blu-ray. I’m not saying they never make mistakes, or that they aren’t sometimes limited by poor source material, but I’m not aware of any disasters on par with the first Blu-ray editions of Gangs of New York or the Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition.

    • EM

      I’d say the biggest Criterion disappointments are the titles Criterion hasn’t touched. Where’s the Criterion Blu-ray edition of Night of the Living Dead (’68), for instance?

        • EM

          Maybe Criterion’s policies have changed, but I thought they’ve done PD works before. For example, Criterion did a (1999?) DVD of The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film which I think is in the public domain—but maybe it wasn’t yet at that time.

          I can understand the reluctance to restore and release a public-domain title on disc, only to see the work appropriated by others. But even more than presentation quality, I associate Criterion with quality supplements. Of course, Night of the Living Dead has already seen some DVD releases with excellent supplements. Still, I suspect Criterion is capable of putting together a worthy Night disc with all-new, all-copyrighted supplements.

          When I posted earlier, another title I considered suggesting was Plan 9 From Outer Space, which is also in the public domain and has also seen some good releases (including Blu-ray) but which I think Criterion could improve upon.