• The Emperor Waltz

    The Emperor Waltz

    ★★★★

    This earlier Wilder comedy is all but forgotten these days – at least, compared to “Double Indemnity” and “The Lost Weekend” shortly before it, and “Sunset Blvd.” and “Ace in the Hole” shortly thereafter. And it’s no match for those titles, but it is a low-key, enjoyable little charmer, with Bing Crosby as a fast-talking traveling salesman courting the endorsement of the Emperor of Austria, and falling for a countess (Joan Fontaine) in the process. Wilder and Charles Brackett’s screenplay is slang-y and loose, which makes a nice contrast with the turn-of-the-century settings, and Crosby and Fontaine are as engaging as ever.

  • The Fortune Cookie

    The Fortune Cookie

    ★★★★★

    Director Billy Wilder and star Jack Lemmon were already nursing a fruitful collaboration – this was their fourth film together in seven years – when Wilder inspiringly paired his star with Walter Matthau, sensing that the sweet-and-sour contrasts of their persona could result in something electrifying. He was right; this 1966 comedy was the first of their eight team-ups (nine if you count “JFK,” which they were both in, but separately), and they’re hysterical together, with Lemmon as a TV…

  • Fitzwilly

    Fitzwilly

    ★★★½

    Dick Van Dyke never really managed to translate his television stardom to the big screen, but this 1967 comedy – from the great Delbert Mann – makes a more than reasonable case for it. Van Dyke stars as the title character, the resourceful butler for an eccentric widow who engages in various acts of larceny to keep their boss (and thus, themselves) living comfortably. Barbara Feldon is the new addition to the staff who he must keep in the dark…

  • Lilies of the Field

    Lilies of the Field

    ★★★★

    Sidney Poitier stars in this modest drama of faith and trust (new on Blu from KL Studio Classics), and his easy charisma remains the picture’s main attraction – he’s warm and earthy and funny as a bit of a vagabond who, in spite of his vehement protestations, is hired/guilted into building a church for a convent of nuns out in the middle of nowhere. It’s calculated, like so many Poitier movies of the era were, to ease racial tensions by…

  • Original Cast Album: Company

    Original Cast Album: Company

    ★★★★½

    When the great documentarian D.A. Pennebaker made an hour-ish documentary about the recording of the cast album for Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 Broadway musical, it was envisioned as a pilot for a series of shows capturing such sessions. It became something more, capturing both the monotony and the pressure of a marathon recording session, and its heretofore sketchy availability made it something of a totemic object for theatre nerds. Now, on a beautifully restored Criterion edition, we can appreciate it for…

  • After Life

    After Life

    ★★★★★

    Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 1998 drama joins the Criterion Collection (after a long period of inaccessibility in the States), and it remains one of his finest. The story is astonishingly clever, set in a way-station to the afterlife in which the newly deceased spend three days sorting through their memories and selecting the one they value most, which is then recreated for them on film, for them to take with them for eternity. It’s an ingenious idea, the kind of thing you…

  • Dead & Buried

    Dead & Buried

    ★★★★½

    “Welcome to Potter’s Bluff – A New Way of Life,” reads the sign at the entrance of the town, and boy, they’re not kidding. This tasty slab of seaside horror from director Gary Sherman and “Alien” screenwriters Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon finds the sheriff (James Farentino) of a town “no bigger than a postage stamp” investigating a series of grisly murders of out-of-towners. The slow reveal of what exactly is happening (and why) is masterful, with the great Jack…

  • The Outing

    The Outing

    ★★★

    Another slab of Texas terror (also new from Vinegar Syndrome), with a very specific low-budget, regional, ‘80s horror energy: rowdy, silly, but genuine in its enthusiasm. Three loathsome yee-haws’ home invasion of an ancient gypsy woman unleashes the worst imaginable genie, with deadly consequences for (of course) a group of horny teens who’ve snuck into a natural history museum for a night of unauthorized fun. It’s a little light on scares (especially early on), but the characters are memorable, the performers are charismatic, and the kills and effects are pretty impressive when they arrive.

  • Through the Fire

    Through the Fire

    ★★★

    Vinegar Syndrome unearths the original cut of a 1988 Texas-made horror flick, released on video at the time, inaccurately, as a sequel to “The Gate.” But it’s got everything you want from an ‘80s chiller: a Satanic panic narrative, a power-guitar score, mustachioed men, copious boobs, and noisy cats. A young woman convinces a vacationing cop to help her find her missing sister, leading them to an evil cult and a bullet-ridden showdown. The dialogue is goofy (“Pentagram. “ “It’s… black magic.” “Like in books”), but enjoyably so, and the climactic action beats are so well done, even the most cynical viewer will succumb.

  • She Freak

    She Freak

    ★★★½

    Exploitation movie legend David F. Friedman wrote and produced this loose (and unauthorized) remake of Tod Browning’s “Freaks,” new on Blu from AGFA and Something Weird Video. And it’s a scuzzy little number, filled with feverish melodrama, over-the-top performances, and looky-loo pandering. Yet it’s all grounded by a sense of unexpected verisimilitude; Friedman was an old carny (which came in handy as a film distributor), and the midway footage, as well as the script’s casual knowledge of carnival logistics, lends…

  • No One Heard the Scream

    No One Heard the Scream

    ★★★★

    It’s a big week for fans of Spanish giallo master Eloy de le Iglesia – his ‘80s “Cine Quinqui” trilogy is making its Blu-ray debut via Severin Films, alongside this expert 1973 chiller. It’s got a nifty little set-up: Carmen Sevilla stars as a single woman who finds herself alone in her apartment building with only one other resident (Vicente Parra), whom she’s just caught trying to dispose of a dead body. “You’re going to help me get rid of…

  • The Comedy of Terrors

    The Comedy of Terrors

    ★★★★

    That trio of old masters reteamed the following year for this horror-comedy, again penned by Matheson, with Jacques Tourneur (“Cat People”) in the director’s chair – and they now seem as comfortable as a vaudeville comedy team. It’s much broader and wackier (even degenerating into occasional bits of Stooges-like slapstick), with Price going all-in as a drunken, greedy louse, Lorre as his assistant, and Karloff as his father-in-law; an uproariously theatrical Basil Rathbone joins in the fun. It’s all energetically staged and paced like a freight train by Tourneur, who builds up a furious head of comic steam on his way to a corpse-heavy finale.