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Home Entertainment Guide: December 2021, The Criterion Collection

Note: Because of the abundance of interesting physical media releases this holiday season, we broke the December Home Entertainment Guide into three installments: New Releases, Special Editions, and this one, which highlights eight recent Criterion Collection inductions, including their first forays into the world of 4K. Yes, the best Blu-ray catalog in the world is now doing 4K, launching with movies by The Hughes Brothers, The Safdie Brothers, Powell & Pressburger, Orson Welles, and David Lynch. What an incredible group of filmmakers. 

A second note: I watched at least part of all of the 4K releases and, unsurprisingly, Criterion is doing an excellent job overall with the technology. None of them have that overly polished, plastic look that has led to some cases where the standard Blu-ray is better than the 4K. They all have rich colors and detail. To these eyes, "The Red Shoes" looks the best of the first wave, elevating a masterpiece even further. In the end, 4K is still usually an option wherein I don't think one needs to double dip and replace a film they already own but that should be the preferred format for films not yet purchased. 


"Citizen Kane" (4K)

Maybe you've heard of it? It makes sense that Criterion would start their 4K dominance with what has long been considered one of the best films of all time. They stumbled a little bit with the release—the Blu-ray disc in the dual release was faulty—but it's easy to get a replacement. (Read how here.). As for the film, it gets better every time I see it. My last full re-watch came just before the release of "Mank" last year, and I appreciated the visual language this time more than previous viewings, which affirms what a great choice it was to help launch the 4K chapter of the Criterion Collection. Note: This one also includes great new supplemental material, making it a release that even those who own it on standard Blu-ray might want to double dip for more than just the 4K.

Buy it here 

Special Features
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and three Blu-rays with the film and special features
Three audio commentaries: from 2021 featuring Orson Welles scholars James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum; from 2002 featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich; and from 2002 featuring film critic Roger Ebert
The Complete “Citizen Kane,” (1991), a rarely seen feature-length BBC documentary
New interviews with critic Farran Smith Nehme and film scholar Racquel J. Gates
New video essay by Orson Welles scholar Robert Carringer
New program on the film’s special effects by film scholars and effects experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
Interviews from 1990 with editor Robert Wise; actor Ruth Warrick; optical-effects designer Linwood Dunn; Bogdanovich; filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Henry Jaglom, Martin Ritt, and Frank Marshall; and cinematographers Allen Daviau, Gary Graver, and Vilmos Zsigmond
New documentary featuring archival interviews with Welles
Interviews with actor Joseph Cotten from 1966 and 1975
The Hearts of Age, a brief silent film made by Welles as a student in 1934
Television programs from 1979 and 1988 featuring appearances by Welles and Mercury Theatre producer John Houseman
Program featuring a 1996 interview with actor William Alland on his collaborations with Welles
Selection of The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio plays featuring many of the actors from Citizen Kane
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: Deluxe packaging, including a book with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri


"The Learning Tree"

This 1969 coming-of-age film is a very important chapter in American film history as it was the first film directed by a Black person for a major American film studio. In 1969, Gordon Parks wrote and directed this adaptation of his own 1963 semi-autobiographical novel for Warner Bros., the story of a teenager growing up in Kansas in the 1920s. Criterion has produced some impressive new special features—films over a half-century old sometimes struggle with new bonus material—including a new documentary and new conversation about the production and influence of the project. There's also a documentary called "My Father: Gordon Parks," and those interested in this release should check out the recent "A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks," which our critic gave a perfect score.

Buy it here 

Special Features
New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New documentary on the making of the film and its artistry, featuring curator Rhea L. Combs and filmmakers Ina Diane Archer, Ernest R. Dickerson, and Nelson George
New conversation, moderated by film scholar Michael B. Gillespie, between artist Hank Willis Thomas and art historian Deborah Willis about the influence of director Gordon Parks
The Moviemakers, a featurette that shows Parks on location for the film
My Father: Gordon Parks (1969), a documentary made on the set of The Learning Tree, narrated by Gordon Parks Jr., and featuring interviews with Gordon Parks Sr. and members of the cast and crew
Diary of a Harlem Family and The World of Piri Thomas, two 1968 films on which Parks played creative roles, with an introduction by Combs and George
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: A 1963 Life magazine photo-essay by Parks, and an excerpt from the director’s 2005 book A Hungry Heart: A Memoir


"Menace II Society" (4K)

Watching the debut film of Albert and Allen Hughes in 2021 is interesting because so much of it now feels cliched, but that's because of its influence. Coming in the wake of "Boyz N the Hood," this critical hit helped launch a wave of films about growing up young and Black in Los Angeles, many of which cribbed scenes directly from this work. More of it feels dated than I expected, but there's a vitality to the filmmaking here that's impossible to deny. It opens with such a shockingly violent sequence and never lets up. Watching it now, in 4K, I was reminded how the Hughes brothers had a stronger visual sense than they were ever given credit for (true of "Dead Presidents" too). The Criterion release includes new conversations with both of them along with a ton of archival material from 1993, when it was first released. There's even a Tupac video directed by the Hughes brothers!

Buy it here 

Special Features
New 4K digital restoration of the directors’ cut of the film, supervised by director of photography Lisa Rinzler and co-director Albert Hughes, with 7.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
Original 2.0 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio
Two audio commentaries from 1993 featuring directors Albert and Allen Hughes
New selected-screen commentary featuring Rinzler
Gangsta Vision, a 2009 featurette on the making of the film
New conversation among Albert Hughes, screenwriter Tyger Williams, and film critic Elvis Mitchell
New conversation among Allen Hughes, actor and filmmaker Bill Duke, and Mitchell
Interview from 1993 with the directors
Music video from 1991 for 2Pac’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” directed by the Hughes brothers
Deleted scenes
Film-to-storyboard comparison
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by film critic Craig D. Lindsey


"Mulholland Dr." (4K)

Joining Orson Welles in the history books as one of the first 4K Criterion releases is this gorgeously restored edition of one of the best films of the 2000s. Lynch and D.P. Peter Deming supervised the 4K restoration of this masterpiece, a surreal journey into the heart of the city of angels. All of the supplemental material from the previous Criterion release of "Mulholland Dr." remains, making this one a questionable call for anyone who already owns it. The truth is that the last Criterion edition of this title looked amazing too. So this is a release more for those who don't own "Mulholland" yet. If that's you, you know what to do.

Buy it here 

Special Features
In the 4K UHD edition: New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director David Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (4K UHD disc only)
In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
On the Blu-ray and DVD: Restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by Director David Lynch and director of photography Peter Deming, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Interviews from 2015 with Lynch; Deming; actors Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux, and Laura Harring; composer Angelo Badalamenti; production designer Jack Fisk; and casting director Johanna Ray
On-set footage
Deleted scene
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: A booklet featuring an interview with Lynch from the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch


"Once Upon a Time in China: The Complete Films" 

Criterion was a little light on box sets this year after the deep releases for the words of Agnes Varda, Federico Fellini, and Ingmar Bergman in recent years. I loved the recent Melvin Van Peebles set, but the only other real notable box set from Criterion this holiday season was this one that collects the films that made Jet Li an international star. All five of the films in the series have been restored and presented with multiple soundtracks (although there has a been a bit of controversy regarding the subtitle translations). "Once Upon a Time in China" is still a gem, a marvelously constructed piece of historical action filmmaking with a truly charismatic performance from Jet Li. The four direct sequels are all included, along with "Once Upon a Time in China and America," Sammo Hung's installment from 1997. There are also tons of special features, including interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and much more.

Buy it here 

Special Features
4K RESTORATIONS of Once Upon a Time in China and Once Upon a Time in China II and III, and new 2K RESTORATIONS of Once Upon a Time in China IV and V, all presented with their original Cantonese theatrical-release sound mixes in uncompressed monaural or stereo
Alternate stereo Cantonese soundtracks for Once Upon a Time in China and Once Upon a Time in China II, featuring the original theatrical sound effects, and monaural Cantonese soundtrack for Once Upon a Time in China III
Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997) in a 2K digital transfer, featuring 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio and monaural Cantonese soundtracks, along with a stereo Mandarin track with the voice of actor Jet Li
New interviews with director Tsui Hark, Film Workshop cofounder Nansun Shi, editor Marco Mak, and critic Tony Rayns
Excerpts from audio interviews with Li conducted in 2004 and '05
Deleted scenes from Once Upon a Time in China III
Documentary from 2004 about the real-life martial-arts hero Wong Fei-hung
From Spikes to Spindles, a 1976 documentary about New York City's Chinatown featuring uncredited work by Tsui
Excerpts from a 2019 master class given by martial-arts choreographer Yuen Wo-ping
Archival interviews featuring Tsui and actors John Wakefield, Donnie Yen, and Yen Shi-kwan
Behind-the-scenes footage for Once Upon a Time in China and Once Upon a Time in China and America
Making-of program from 1997 on Once Upon a Time in China and America
Trailers
New English subtitle translations
PLUS: An essay on the films by critic Maggie Lee and an essay on the cinematic depictions of Wong by novelist Grady Hendrix


"One Night in Miami..."

For some reason, Regina King's acclaimed directorial effort doesn't get an actual 4K release but the transfer on the standard Blu-ray is strong enough to not really care. Much has been made of Netflix films being released on Criterion, but this is another case wherein a film is available on a streaming service (Amazon Prime) but given such interesting supplemental material that it's worth picking up on physical media. In this case, the release includes several new interviews with King and all four of her performers. Despite being an Oscar nominee, "One Night in Miami..." still feels underrated. This release should help rectify that.

Buy it here 

Special Features
New 4K digital transfer, approved by director Regina King, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
New conversation between King and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons
New conversation among King, screenwriter Kemp Powers, and critic Gil Robertson
Conversation between King and filmmaker Barry Jenkins from a 2021 episode of The Director’s Cut – A DGA Podcast
New program featuring King and actors Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr.
New program on the making of the film, featuring King, Powers, director of photography Tami Reiker, editor Tariq Anwar, producer Jody Klein, costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, and set decorator Janessa Hitsman
New program on the film’s sound design, featuring sound editor and mixer Andy Hay, sound mixer Paul Ledford, and music producer Nick Baxter
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
English descriptive audio
PLUS: An essay by critic Gene Seymour


"The Red Shoes" (4K)

As the Al Pacino meme says, "What a picture." And as I said in the intro, I popped in all the 4K releases and watched part or all of them. I wasn't planning to watch too much of Powell and Pressburger's masterpiece, but it's a film that's instantly enchanting, especially in 4K, and I couldn't stop. The picture here is mesmerizing, amplifying the director's use of shadow and color. And the special features are deep, including some informative interviews and remarkable archival material, including an animated film of the storyboards from 1948. Roger wrote in his Great Movies essay on the film, "The film is voluptuous in its beauty and passionate in its storytelling. You don't watch it, you bathe in it." Amen.

Buy it here 

Special Features
In the 4K UHD edition: 4K digital transfer from the 2009 restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
In the Blu-ray and DVD editions: High-definition digital transfer from the 2009 restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Restoration demonstration featuring filmmaker Martin Scorsese
Audio commentary from 1994 by film historian Ian Christie, featuring interviews with actors Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and Scorsese
A Profile of “The Red Shoes,” a 2000 documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with members of the production team
Interview with director Michael Powell’s widow, editor Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, from the 2009 Cannes Film Festival
Audio recordings of actor Jeremy Irons reading excerpts from Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger’s novelization of The Red Shoes and the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Red Shoes”
Publicity stills and behind-the-scenes photos
Gallery of memorabilia from Scorsese’s collection
The “Red Shoes” Sketches, a 1948 animated film of Hein Heckroth’s painted storyboards, with the Red Shoes ballet as an alternate angle
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by critic David Ehrenstein and a description of the restoration by UCLA film archivist Robert Gitt


"Uncut Gems" (4K)

Criterion pulls out all the stops for one of the best films of 2019, digging into every aspect of the production of "Uncut Gems." The commentary from directors Josh and Benny Safdie and co-writer Ronald Bronstein reveals how much this was a passion project, something they worked on for over a decade, and the other material explores how it changed over the years (it was almost Joel Embiid instead of Kevin Garnett, for example) and how they wrote it with Adam Sandler in mind. The 4K here is a beauty, enhancing the film's jittery visual language, and the release includes two short films featuring Sandler, including a little comedic gem called "Goldman v Silverman" in which Benny and Sandler play feuding street performers. This is one of the better 2021 Criterion releases for a recent film.

Buy it here 

Special Features
4K digital transfer, approved by writer-directors Josh and Benny Safdie, with Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions
In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
Audio commentary from 2019 featuring the Safdies, writer and editor Ronald Bronstein, and producer Sebastian Bear-McClard
New interviews with cinematographer Darius Khondji, costume designer Miyako Bellizzi, production designer Sam Lisenco, and casting director Jennifer Venditti
Documentaries from 2019 and 2020 on the making of the film and soundtrack
Screen test featuring actors Adam Sandler and Julia Fox
Goldman v Silverman, a 2020 short film by the Safdies, featuring Sandler and Benny Safdie
“Question & Answer,” a 2020 short film featuring the Safdies, Sandler, actor Jason Bateman, and comedy writer Megan Amram
Audition tapes
Deleted and extended scenes, including a full performance of “The Morning” by The Weeknd
Trailers
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by film critic J. Hoberman and, for the 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions, a 2020 discussion of the film by the editorial staff of Jewish Currents magazine

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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