Don Shanahan (The Game, Notorious, The Graduate, Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits)
With Mank coming to Netflix this December to spice up a thinner Oscar season with its salt-and-pepper black-and-white presentation, casual fans will fondly be reminded that David Fincher is one of the best filmmakers on the planet. A good and true cinephile never forgot, even in the six years since Gone Girl. Compared to a fellow contemporary filmmaker like Wes Anderson who has a catalog of eight films with Criterion editions, Fincher only has two: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Game.
If you let the “filmbro” league of movie fandom decide Criterion spines, they would whine endlessly for Se7en or Fight Club. True to Criterion’s fastidious pedigree for uniqueness, 1997’s The Game is a perfect film to represent Fincher and their brand. The Game is a dynamite rug-pull of a movie starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn about an insecure multi-millionaire being pushed through a dangerous series of clues and rabbit holes.
The movie is relentless with suspense and details. The Criterion edition offers an hour-long comparison of storyboard and behind-the-scenes footage to show off its set pieces. It also includes a robust audio commentary featuring Fincher, Douglas, DP Darris Savides, writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug, and animation supervisor Richard Bailey. To hear practical filmmakers talk smartly about less-is-more suspense is fascinating.
Speaking of suspense, Fincher may be the new school, but no one beats the old school of Alfred Hitchcock for technical prowess and genuine intrigue. The storied great has eight Criterion inclusions and one boxed set. While his big name titles like Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window get more common disc treatments from their big studio owners elsewhere, the Criterion collection put special spotlights on his formative bedrocks. Notorious, starring Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains, is one of those.
Putting those three stars into an immersive espionage romance to play starkly against their celebrated types, Notorious is a clinic on performance and Hitchcock’s visual style from beginning storyboards to final celluloid. Those traits are examined in a bevy of special features from cinematographer John Bailey, film scholar David Bordwell, biographer Donald Spoto, and filmmakers Daniel Raim, Peter Bogdanovich, and Stephen Frears. The Criterion edition also provides two full-length commentaries, one from 1990 and one from 2001, spoken by Hitchcok expert Marian Keane and notable film historian Rudy Behlmer. Hitchcock movies are always a treat. One filled with this much background and praise is even sweeter.
A recent easy-and-breezy Criterion purchase (by way of Target’s seasonal Buy 2, Get 1 Free movie promotion) for me was the Mike Nichols era-defining classic The Graduate. The Dustin Hoffman launching pad film has been put to disc many times throughout the years. The Criterion edition carries over one of the best features of previous releases in the form of a lively audio commentary between Nichols and prolific filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. Their back-and-forth conversation is a love fest of appreciation and shop talk between two deft creators and storytellers. The reflection found there genuflects and solidifies the cultural impact of the 1967 head-turner.
While that core bit may be a retread, the Criterion treatment adds new special components. First, like many selections of this brand, the digital restoration on the visual and audio ends is marvelous, approved by the director himself. Newly added interviews and conversations featuring Dustin Hoffman, producer Lawrence Turman, Barbara Walters, screenwriter Buck Henry, editor Sam O’Steen, historian Bobbie O’Steen, and singer Paul Simon expand the scope of The Graduate’s popularity and importance. The movie is a bookend must-see classic for its decade and changing era. See it in Criterion brilliance.
Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits
Full disclosure, the Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits set was the first Criterion boxed set I ever bought and over half of its contents were blind buys for me. I pounced on a half-price Barnes & Noble sale and cashed in every saved B&N gift card I had to get a $125 set for under $35. For me and my school teacher’s lifestyle and budget, that was a steal. A pretty package like that goes on the “fine china” section of the physical media shelf.
This beast contains six movies: The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death. Like many film fans, Enter the Dragon was my baptism into Bruce Lee. Warner Bros. has dropped special edition discs of that title for a long time. Thanks to Chuck Norris’s billing, I had also seen and enjoyed The Way of the Dragon. The others are new conquests, meaning I have a rainy day marathon in my future that warms my hands and heart.
Showdown after showdown and throwdown after throwdown, Bruce Lee movies are a consistent blast of entertainment. Sure, they’re about as shallow in narrative depth as an infant’s bathtub. But the balance between slow burn anticipation and explosive action is what will always thrill audiences when it comes to the Hong Kong icon.
The titles of this boxed set are supported by a carnival of documentaries and interviews. In additional bonuses, alternate soundtracks and dubbed tracks are included to watch these titles in more original and intended ways. On the commentary end, experts Mike Leeder and Brandon Bentley appear multiple times. Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits is all about celebrating legacy. You get with shine and pride from these movies and Criterion’s thorough eye and voice for appreciation.
Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments! Have you purchased anything from the Criterion Collection lately? We’d love to hear about it!