More good than bad in August at the Criterion Channel

If you love great cinema, you really should subscribe to the Criterion Channel. Here you can get your fill of Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, Mike Leigh, Atom Egoyan, Yasujiro Ozu, Asghar Farhadi, and so much more. And it’s not all serious. Search for comedy, and (as I write this), you’ll get 378 results.

Throughout August, the channel will be adding some very worthwhile movies to its catalogue (while removing others, of course). New collections focus on the Australian New Wave, Alain Delon, Wim Wenders, and Les Blank. Individual films coming next month include Sullivan’s Travel’s, Rafiki, and Brazil.

That’s a lot of great cinema, but the month starts with a dud.

The Little Prince (1974), opening August 1

Like so many other people, I fell in love with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s fairy tale when I first read it, so I stupidly ignored the reviews and paid money to see this horrible mess. I still cringe when I think about it. One shouldn’t expect a film directed by Stanley Donen could be so awful. Even Gene Wilder, as “The Fox,” couldn’t save it.

A- Sullivan’s Travels (1941), opening August 1

Preston Sturges’ Hollywood satire follows a successful film director (Joel McCrea) as he tries to learn about common people. It ends with a stirring speech proclaiming the film’s idealistic moral, which is “Movies shouldn’t teach morals.” It’s not my favorite Sturges (that would be photo finish between The Lady Eve and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek). But I still like Sullivan. I’m looking forward to the extras.

Collection: Australian New Wave, opening August 2

Image: Walkabout. In the 1970s, Australian films suddenly became interesting. Next month you can watch 21 films that made people want to watch down-under cinema. The films go from the experimental atmosphere of Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock to the feminist statement of My Brilliant Career, to the hyped-up action of the original Mad Max. Other films in the collection include Breaker Morant, Gallipoli, and The Year of Living Dangerously.

B+ Rafiki (2018), opening August 5

That this film even exists feels like a miracle. How did they make a lesbian coming-of-age film in Kenya, an extremely Christian and homophobic country where same-sex relationships are illegal? And yet, Rafiki exists, and for two-thirds of the runtime, the movie feels upbeat. The screen splashes with vibrant colors and upbeat music. But when the secret love is revealed, friends and neighbors turn into a mob. Read my full review.

A- The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), opening August 7

Orson Well’s follow-up to Citizen Kane could have been a masterpiece. RKO took the film away from Welles, cut out about a third, and added a sappy ending. But there’s enough brilliance in the final product to make you cry for what was lost. What we have of the film starts with a brilliant look at the slow, gentle, unhurried turn-of-the-century “good old days” that will soon be gone forever. Automobiles are replacing horse-drawn wagons, and the aristocratic Amberson family begins to fall apart. On a double bill with Kings Row, which I’ve never seen (you can, of course, see either film separately).

A+ Brazil (1985), opening August 11

Terry Gilliam set his dystopian black comedy masterpiece in a bizarre, repressive, anally bureaucratic, and thoroughly dysfunctional society. One government worker (Jonathan Pryce) tries to escape into his own romantically heroic imagination. But when he finds a real woman who looks like the girl of his dreams (Kim Greist), everything starts to fall apart. With a very funny Robert De Niro as a heroic plumber. Criterion will be streaming not only the movie but also considerable supplements. Read my Blu-ray review.

The Player (1992), opening August 14

Robert Altman’s and Michael Tolkin’s poison pen movie to Hollywood is a surprisingly entertaining experience. The protagonist, studio executive Griffen Mill (Tim Robbins), should really be the villain. He’s cruel, cares only about himself, and worst of all, he commits murder (but after all, the victim was only a screenwriter). The Player is funny, suspenseful, sexy, and filled with movie stars. In other words, it’s a Hollywood film attacking Hollywood. The Channel is presenting The Player with Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (which I haven’t seen in ages) as a double bill.

Collection: Directed by Wim Wenders, opens August 16

Image: Paris, Texas. To my mind, Wenders was the top director of the so-called German New Wave. This series covers ten of the 69 German and American films he directed, including Kings of the Road, The American Friend, Wings of Desire, and my favorite, Paris, Texas. But this collection ignores his documentaries.

Collection: Documentaries by Les Blank opens August 17

Image: Always for Pleasure. The Berkeley-based Blank mostly made short documentaries about food, music, and people living their lives. But he also made the greatest of all feature-length making-of docs, Burden of Dreams. Among the shorts available are The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Always for Pleasure, Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, and Gap-Toothed Women. But I wish the collection could contain his most local film, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

B+ Bacurau (2019), opens August 20

The Brazilian town of Bacurau is so small and unimportant that it’s not even on Google Maps. But something evil is coming its way. We know there’s something is going wrong when an overturned truck is filled with empty, now-broken coffins. And yet, for a large part of the picture, we get to sit back and enjoy the people and the atmosphere. I’m not telling you where the evil comes from, but the final act feels like a Sam Peckinpah western, and a good one. Sônia Braga plays the no-nonsense doctor.

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