It’s that time of the year again, the time that strikes fear into the wallets of all of those who have a deep appreciation of film. Yes, Barnes and Noble is once again hosting a sale on all Criterion Collection titles, marking DVDs, blu-rays, and box sets alike down a tantalizing 50%. Now even though this seems like a great deal on the typically pricy Criterion selections, you can actually find a good deal on most of these titles at the 50% off MSRP price year round on websites like Amazon. However, there are a few titles that are more expensive on Amazon, thus making the B&N sale the best opportunity to add them to your collection. I’ve scoured both sites and painstakingly picked out five blu-rays that you will save on and are very much worth picking up.
I’d like to mention that this list is in no particular order.
1. Robinson Crusoe on Mars
This is such a fun little film. Two astronauts orbiting Mars are forced to escape and find shelter on the planet below due to a malfunction in their spacecraft. However, only one of them survive the landing, along with a very intelligent monkey named Mona. The survivor, Commander Kit Draper, is forced to survive on the harsh planet by whatever means necessary, including finding away to breathe after his dwindling air supply begins to rapidly deplete. Mars in this film is wholly unrealistic to the reality of our red neighbor, but that doesn’t take away from the pure joy that can come from this film if you are a sci-fi fan. Along with a touching relationship forming between Mona and Draper, you also have aliens, slaves, spooky visions of Draper’s dead comrade (played by Adam West), and some truly tense scenes of survival.
2. High and Low
When asked what their favorite Akira Kurosawa film is most people rapidly reply with “Seven Samurai” or “Ikiru”, with the oddball chiming in with “Rashomon” or perhaps “The Hidden Fortress.” All of these are great films, but my favorite by the great Japanese director has always been his nail bitingly tense crime drama, “High and Low.” The movie is about the failed kidnapping of the son of a wealthy businessman, Kingo Gondo, played by Kurosawa’s favorite muse, Toshiro Mifune. Instead of nabbing Gondo’s son, the criminal accidentally kidnaps the child of his chauffeur, but decides to continue his demand for the ransom anyway. This puts Gondo into a precarious position because he needs the ransom money to save himself from scheming members of his company’s board and thus must decide between losing his livelihood or saving a child that isn’t his. Even though on the outside this film feels like just another police procedural, albeit a masterful one, Kurosawa injects it with biting social commentary and a morality that is just as black and white as its bleak, noir-ish cinematography.
This recommendation comes with a slight amount of trepidation as this film can be a bit tough to watch for those who cannot stomach a very deliberate sense of pacing. However, if you are willing to be patient with director Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, then you will be rewarded with one of the most stimulating pieces of sci-fi ever. As I said, “Solaris” takes it time in revealing its deep mysteries, which are kicked off with Kris Kelvin, a psychologist traveling to a space station orbiting the titular planet to discover what is happening to its crew. It seems the vast and alluring sea on the planet’s surface has some how exerted some matter of control over the scientists studying it, causing them to experience hallucinations, paranoia, and even possibly driving one of them to suicide. However, the haunting planet begins to seep into the mind of Kelvin as well and crazy, creepy shit starts happening, building up to one mind-fuck of a great ending. I’m literally begging you to check out this film if you haven’t seen it already.
Speaking of creepy shit happening, Roman Polanski’s first English film is one of the most spine tingling thrillers I’ve ever had the fortune of being violated by. The story revolves around Carole Ledoux, a cute Belgian manicurist living in London with her sister. Carole is very shy and seems trapped between wanting a lover like her sister and being flat out disgusted by men in general. When her sister leaves to go on a trip to Europe with her beau, Carole begins having insanely creepy hallucinations that suggest she may be on the verge of literally cracking and allowing her irrational fears to overtake her and destroy her already damaged connection with reality. This all leads up to a shocking finale that will haunt you for many a night after the credits roll.
This movie is all out bat shit crazy. Shot as an experiment by Japanese commercial director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, “House” is one of the most hilariously bizarre horror movies you will ever witness. Though it is never really scary, the events unfolding before your eyes are just so unbelievably surreal that the movie will easily manage to effect you in the same way. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough; pianos eat school girls, an evil watermelon vendor is turned into a skeleton when another man yells bananas at him, and a girl’s severed head flies from a well and bites another girl in the ass. I’m not exaggerating when saying this film is insane. Literally insane. Nothing else I can tell you will convince you of just how crazy this film is, so just go out to Barnes and Noble and buy the damn thing.
And that’s it, while there are many, many more films worthy of picking up during this month long sale, these are a few that I hope will both save you money and from the challenge of picking out quality titles from Criterion’s vast selection. Should you pick any of these up I hope you enjoy them, and in the case of “House” don’t lose your sanity to them. If you have any other titles you’d like to suggest picking up during the sale, please leave them in the comments below. And may your bank accounts not break!