Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Criterion Releases: March 2024

It is March Madness and Criterion has six new releases on the horizon. One of them, the 1941 drama The Devil And Daniel Webster, is a re-release, but with a new title. Three films are from the last two years alone, emphasizing the contemporary push Criterion has been doing of late. Director Gus Van Sant has a new film part of the collection in a biting satire of true crime, media-obsessed society, while two documentaries, a hidden classic of Iranian cinema, and a modern French drama also come aboard the CC train. 

All That Money Can Buy (1941)

The new title for Daniel Webster, which was the actual releasing title to avoid confusion with The Devil And Miss Jones that same year, retains the same folk tale of a farmer (James Craig) who is willing to sell his soul to the Devil (a fiendish Walter Huston) for two cents. He gets seven years of prosperity and good fortune, but the change comes with a steep price to it, and when the Devil comes to reap the farmer’s soul, honorable lawyer Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) pleads for the farmer’s soul. Director William Dieterie, editor Robert Wise, and composer Bernard Hermann, who won the Oscar for his score against himself for Citizen Kane, put up a cackling adaptation of a Faustian-American story on the danger of being a sellout to the worst person possible. 

The Runner (1984)

From director Amir Nederi comes one of the most impactful Iranian dramas after the Revolution of 1979. An orphan runs around the city to survive, doing different jobs to get himself food and shelter amidst growing impoverished lands. It is Iranian realism at its finest portraying the struggles of a new Iran that remained stuck between Westernism and traditional values. However, even with the promise of change still distant, the orphan keeps running towards it, learning to read and write, and surviving one day at a time. 

To Die For (1995)

Nicole Kidman received her first Oscar nomination in Gus Van Sant’s dark comedy about a weather girl who seeks to be famous by seducing two high school teens (Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck) to kill her husband. Inspired by a real life case, Van Sant uses Buck Henry’s script to pop in the hyperglamorized tabloid sensationalism of the times, combining narrative and mockementary to mirror contemporary media. The film’s tagline, “All she wanted was a little attention,” brings attention to people today, almost thirty years later, who seek the same thing. 

All The Beauty And The Bloodshed (2022)

Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, director Laura Poitras follows the life of Nan Goldin, renowned photographer and artist who found a second calling as an activist against the current opioid crisis. As a survivor of addiction, Goldin forces the public to recognize the million-dollar contribution from the Sackler family to museums as a form of whitewashing their guilt in the crisis. Goldin’s life from childhood through New York’s underground scene and the AIDS crisis is put on display, her photographs a timeline of happiness and tragedy leading up to today.

Lynch/Oz (2022)

In a unique comparison piece, director Alexandre O. Philippe uses The Wizard of Oz to dissect all of David Lynch’s work as it played a massive influence in his work. Every element in the legendary 1939 classic is put out as a direct comparison to every piece of Lynch’s surrealist work that makes it an incredible look and could make us understand more about Lynch’s secretive world. Eraserhead, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, and others all borrowing something from that wonderful world away from Kansas. 

Saint Omer (2022)

A Senegalse woman is on trial for killing her baby and the question is why. A pregnant novelist who plans to write a modern version of the Greek tragedy Medea attends the hearing and finds herself drawn to the answers that affect her thinking, bringing about her own concerns about what motherhood will do to her. Director Mati Diop confronts the issues of trauma, immigration assimilation, and familial bonds through a single, heinous crime (it is based on an actual event in France) with her documentary sensibilities on not passing immediate judgment to the mother. It is a courtroom drama that also brings compassion to difficult subjects. 

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