Sunday Afternoon with Criterion: Things to Come Edition

things-to-come-criterion


I: Intro
II: Remaking the Collection
III: Things to Come
IV: What’s New?
V: Links

Intro

Welcome to Sunday Afternoon with Criterion, a series of weekly posts on JohnLikesMovies.com covering everything Criterion—the company’s newest releases, just-announced projects, reviews, lists, links, and more.

Perhaps it’s the summer, or maybe something else entirely, but remakes are on the mind this week, and I’m counting down my five favorite remakes of Criterion Collection movies. My featured review of the week is Things to Come, which is being released this week on Blu-Ray and DVD, but is available now in Hulu Plus. Finally, I’ve got some of your reviews, as well as a couple thoughts on recent and upcoming Criterion releases like Wild Strawberries and Safety Last.

Remaking the Collection

This idea came from the announcement that the French film A Prophet would be remade for Sony (with Fast and Furious producer Neal Mortiz in charge). While A Prophet isn’t in the Collection, the sound of millions of cinephile voices that suddenly cried out in terror was reminiscent, I think, of what might happen if a super popular Criterion title was getting remade by the Fast and Furious guy.

Nevertheless, remakes are nothing new to the Criterion Collection, and there’s no sign of this trend letting up with Godzilla and Robocop remakes coming soon to a theater near you. Alas, not all remakes are bad; in fact, most of the Criterion remakes I’ve seen are half-decent or better (we’ll pretend the 2002 version of The Four Feathers never happened). Here are my top five remakes of Criterion films:

5.) Hamlet (2000) — The Bard’s most famous play has been made and remade so many times. The Oscar-winning Laurence Olivier version is Criterion #82. This remake, from director Michael Almereyda, is unquestionably one of the lesser known Hamlet films, but in bringing the story to modern day New York City, Almereyda crafts something that’s essential, something that proves the text’s universality (if it wasn’t already apparent). Ethan Hawke is a solid Hamlet, but the star of the film is its helmer, whose eye for angles, meaningful mis-en-scene, and a deliciously cool palette make this film an underseen gem.

4.) Sorcerer — Director William Friedken maintains this isn’t a remake of The Wages of Fear as much as it is another interpretation of the novel that inspired Clouzot’s film, which is in my top five of all time. Needless to say, Friedken’s Sorcerer doesn’t live up to Clouzot’s, but it’s an extremely tense and satisfying thriller.

3.) A Fistful of Dollars — It was, for all intents and purposes, the film that introduced us to Clint Eastwood. It’s also a worthy remake of one of Akira Kurosawa’s best, funniest films—Yojimbo.

2.) The Talented Mr. Ripley — I haven’t seen Rene Clement’s Purple Noon, upon which Anthony Minghella’s 1999 remake is based, but the newer version of Tom Ripley’s story is an immaculte, brilliantly acted production.

1.) The Man Who Knew Too Much — Hitchcock remade his own 1934 film (recently inducted into the Criterion Collection) in 1956, and the latter is unequivocally the essential edition. There’s nothing wrong with what Hitchcock did in 1934 (and Peter Lorre is terrific as the villain), but even the Master of Suspense recognized there was room for improvement. Enter Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, a Moroccan setting, and a lot more spectacle. This movie is a ton of fun.

Things to Come

A frightening film for both its content and prescience, Things to Come presents a vision of the future that, at least in the near term, isn’t far off from what would actually happen. Unsurprisingly, then, its first half is significantly stronger than its sometimes silly futuristic conclusion. Nevertheless, for 1936, the film is impressively staged and often quite thoughtful.

The film begins in the same year of its release in the little British village of Everytown, where citizens are preparing for two huge events. One is the Christmas holiday; the other, sadly, is war, and not long into the conflict, Everytown gets firebombed into oblivion.

We never learn much about the enemy, but the war goes on for three decades, and by the end of it, the geopolitical state of the world has changed a great deal. No longer are nation-states warring with one another. The entire planet, it seems, has been divided up into hyper-local clans, all of which must find ways to combat a deadly plague spreading like wildfire. The “wandering sickness” wipes out half of the world’s population, and by the time it’s eradicated, Everytown is under the rule of a brutal dictator who calls himself “the Chief” (Ralph Richardson). But other clans are joining forces to push for peace through innovation. A man named John Cabal (Raymond Massey), who used to live in Everytown, returns home to try to convince its engineers and mechanics to join his “Wings of the World” movement.

On the precipice of a war that would devastate the world (if not to the degree depicted here), many of Things to Come‘s predictions are startlingly accurate. The film’s first 20 minutes are breathtaking, as a British city is leveled. The plague depicted is frightening. Then, the film takes a turn toward Wells-ian sci-fi that’s less than original, but considering its age, it’s easy to forgive any huge flaws. Things to Come is ahead of its time and, more importantly, a lot of fun.

What’s New?

No new Criterion titles so far this month. The only new release was this past Tuesday’s Blu-Ray upgrade of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. The film’s reputation speaks for itself.

This week, we’ve got three new releases, including Things to Come. Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last joins the Collection, as does Marketa Lazarová, a film I know next to nothing about but one that, according to the Criterion site, “has been hailed as the greatest Czech film ever made.”

Links

I leave you this week (as I will every week) with the always thoughtful words of some admired friends and contemporaries:

On Page and Screen reviews an upcoming Criterion release, Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone.

Alex at Film Forager has reviewed the awesome Japanese horror-ish movie Onibaba.

Finally, Nostra at My Film Views tackles my favorite Brian De Palma film, and one of the films that got me into the Criterion Collection, 1981’s Blow Out.

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2 Responses to Sunday Afternoon with Criterion: Things to Come Edition

  1. Steven Flores June 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I think the announcement for the Criterion titles to come will be tomorrow. I’m really hoping for Y Tu Mama Tambien to be among the announcements as I’ve been waiting for news on that one for years.

    Reply
    • John Gilpatrick June 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      Yeah, I feel like I’ve been hearing rumors about that one for some time now. That’d be one worth picking up.

      Reply

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