CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Criterion Gets a Life During Wartime (2010)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 18, 2011 • Start the Discussion!

For the first time, a film by Todd Solondz is getting the Criterion treatment. This is Life During Wartime (2010), one of the most exciting movies to come out last year that very few even noticed on its limited release. Now everyone has a chance to catch up with it as well as the characters from Todd Solondz’s most controversial film Happiness (1998). That’s right: Life During Wartime is Happiness 2! Now have Bill, Trish, Joy, Helen, Andy and the rest of the gang gotten along after ten years? Not surprising, they’re worse now than before.

Yes, Andy is still dead. Solondz just brings him back as a ghost to haunt his ex-girlfriend Joy. What luck Joy has!

At first glance, it appears that the designers at Criterion had their work on the DVD’s front cover handed to them. The final illustration and design of the original Life During Poster promotional poster by Akiko Stehrenberger was already at their high level of quality. All that was needed was to slap on that big C and set it to Screen. Before its theatrical release, I wrote about the process that the Life During Wartime movie poster went through to come to this.

That is until I found this on Akiko Stehrenberger’s bio:

Her illustrated poster, Life During Wartime, garnered press as well, which she recently adapted and illustrated the cast for the Criterion Collection DVD. She was deemed “Poster Girl” by Interview Magazine, and Creative Review published a 20 page zine of her illustrated movie poster work for their January 2011 Monograph series.


Criterion Release of MISHIMA (1985) DVD Postponed

by Christopher Beaubien • June 03, 2008 • Start the Discussion!


The Criterion Collection, the best in restoring and packaging obscure films, has postponed the release of the Paul Schrader masterpiece Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (#432, 1985). It was originally slated for June 17th, but will now be released on July 1st. The reason for this could be so the Director-approved 2-disc special edition can coincide with another Criterion release Patriotism (#433, 1966), a 29-minute film directed by and starring Yukio Mishima.

mishimaMishima is one of my favorite films of all time right behind Terrance Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978). It is one of the most strangest and artistically appropriate biopics about a deeply-complex and passionate man. Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata, The Pillow Book, 1996), a quiet novelist and arguably insane radical who wrote dozens of stories about struggle, beauty, sexuality, love, suicide, and the importance of an artistic statement. He later formed a personal army in pursuit of more tradition livelihood in Tokyo.

Three of his most renowned stories The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), Kyoko’s House (1959) and Runaway Horses (1968) were shot in rich, gorgeous color on eye-popping theatrical sets by Eiko Ishioka that compliment the black-and-white scenes chronicling the writer’s past. They are the best filmed expressions of the writing process matched by Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002). These passages of past and fiction all lead up to Mishima’s last day, shot like a documentary in color, when he committed a rehearsed act of seppuku – a form of ritualistic samurai suicide – in the headquarters of Japan Self-Defense Forces.

MISHIMA (1985) Trailer

At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, the film’s cinematographer John Bailey (The Anniversary Party, 2001), composer Philip Glass (A Brief History of Time, 1991), and costume/set designer Eiko Ishioka (The Fall, 2008) won the well deserved Best Artistic Contribution. Director Paul Schrader, the writer of Taxi DriverAffliction (1998) has recognized Mishima as his best work. (1976) and director of Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas co-produced it knowing that the financial venture wold not be profitable because mainstream audience would not embrace it despite critical acclaim. Luckily for those who appreciate challenging and expertly-made films, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters can be experienced because it exists.

Warner Bros Home Video released a DVD of Mishima on August 2001 that included a director’s audio commentary. It is currently out of print.

A New Sunrise for MISHIMA (1985)


The Criterion release will sport a new, restored high-definition digital transfer of the director’s cut which was supervised and approved by director Paul Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey. The changes of the director’s cut include a deleted scene featuring Chishu Ryu, a favored actor of Yasujiro Ozu (Floating Weeds, 1959). For Ozu fanatics, you can read a Sight and Sound article by Ryu on the director here. Another change to film is a digital replacement of a blue skyline with a blood red one in the Runaway Horses segment because Schrader wanted it look artificially in sync with the rest of the story visually. Optional English and Japanese voice-over narrations will also be provided; the former by Roy Scheider (“We’re goin’ to need a bigger boat.”), the latter by Ken Ogata.

New special features include: an audio commentary featuring Schrader and producer Alan Poul – the one featured in the original Warner release will not be included.

mishima11There will be new video interviews with Bailey, producers Tom Luddy and Mata Yamamoto, composer Philip Glass, and production designer Eiko Ishioka. Mishima biographer John Nathan and friend Donald Richie will also have video interviews. A new audio interview with the co-screenwriter Chieko Schrader who wrote the Japanese dialogue was the wife of Leonard Schrader who also wrote for Mishima as well. Another video interview excerpt will feature Mishima talking about writing.

Also included is The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima, a 55-minute BBC documentary about the author, the film’s theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring a new essay by critic Kevin Jackson, a piece on the film’s censorship in Japan, and photographs of Ishioka’s sets.

One of the Best Sequences in MISHIMA (1985)

Available separately on the same date is Yukio Mishima’s Patriotism, which foreshadowed his death playing an officer who commits seppuku. The original film was thought to be destroyed by Japanese authorities shortly after Mishima’s death, seen as a plight upon the nation. Fortunately, the original negative was saved and has resurfaced 35 years later.

patriotismThe DVD will be restored in a high-definition digital transfer of both the Japanese and English versions, with optional Japanese or English subtitles. Special features include a 45-minute audio recording of Yukio Mishima speaking to the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Japan; a 45-minute making-of documentary, featuring crew from the film’s production; interview excerpts featuring Mishima discussing war and death; new and improved English subtitle translation, and a new essay by renowned critic and historian Tony Rayns, Mishima’s original short story, and Mishima’s extensive notes on the film’s production.

I’ll be picking them both up July 1st.


by Christopher Beaubien • May 20, 2008 • Start the Discussion!


BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! (2007) Trailer

brand_brainThe Criterion Collection, always a class act, is releasing the DVD (#440) of Brand Upon The Brain! (2007) by cult Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. Brand Upon the Brain! was one of my absolute favorites when given a limited release last year. It was number five on my list of the best films of 2007. Isabella Rossellini (King of the Corner, 2004) takes her madness to overdrive whilst crashing into a basket full of kittens with her vocal narration (“The Past! The Past!!!”). Rossellini is as fearless as when she and Maddin last collaborated on The Saddest Music In The World (2003), where she played a morbid brewery owner who had her legs replaced with prosthetics made of glass and filled with her very own beer.

You have to see it to believe it.

Brand Upon The Brain! is another twisted homage to silent pictures and Luis Bunuel (L’âge d’or, 1930) with Maddin’s stylistic fingerprints smeared all over it. This one is a surreal memoir to Maddin’s childhood where he lives on a remote island with his family. His mother (Gretchen Krich, Henry Fool, 1997) is forever watching young Guy Maddin from her Gothic lighthouse tower with an ungainly periscope. She communicates through a speaker that like deranged gargling. Title Cards stand in for much of the dialogue — “Guy, come home for supper or I’ll sell your island!!”. Maddin’s father stands in as a mad scientist practicing ghoulish experiments in his dungeon. I get so giddy every time I think of “Orphan Nectar”.

And it’s much funnier than E. Elias Merhige’s BEGOTTEN (1990)!

Special screenings of Brand Upon the Brain! were performed by live orchestras and narration read aloud by either Isabella Rossellini, Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, 1985) Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Guy Maddin, Louis Negrin, and Eli Wallach (The Ugly from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, 1966 AND he was also starred with Rossellini in King of the Corner — See it. It’s really good.). Also included is a new documentary featuring interviews with the director and crew members, deleted scenes, trailer, a new essay by film critic Dennis Lim, and two new Maddin-directed short films: It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today and Footsteps, an oddball featurette behind the making of the Brain!’s sounds effects. The DVD will be released in early August. I can’t wait!

The rest of Criterion’s August slate includes Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (an upgrade of #17, 1975), Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (#441, 1949) and Keisuke Kinoshita’s Twenty-hour Eyes (#442, 1954). Some day I’ll brave the gag reflex and watch Salò, and while I’m at it I’ll also see Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (#390, 1974).