The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Leadbelly.
In his final theatrical film, celebrated director Gordon Parks cast Roger E. Mosley as the iconic blues and folk singer Huddie Ledbetter, better known to music history as Lead Belly, the King of the 12-String Guitar. Dramatizing the musician’s turbulent life from his early 20s to his mid-40s, Leadbelly follows Huddie as he performs at bars and sukey jumps, learns the blues from “Blind Lemon” Jefferson, faces violent racism and its deadly consequences, and twice finds himself incarcerated, labouring on back-breaking chain gangs and performing at the behest of white authorities. Combining pastoral simplicity with the resilient and rebellious spirit of the 1970s, all to the sounds of Lead Belly’s iconic songs, Leadbelly offers a vibrant and harrowing portrait of the segregated Jim Crow South and stood as the film Parks most admired amongst his own filmography.
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New interview with filmmaker Spike Lee and music historians Kip Lornell and Charles Wolfe
In addition to recalling my missed opportunity and retroactive desire to have pursued a career in film restoration and archiving after film school, I am now obsessed with attending the 2023 Nitrate Film Festival and being dazzled by the shimmering wonder of nitrate’s threatening beauty!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya and the Three.
An epic animated event told over nine chapters, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s Maya and the Three is the story of a brave and rebellious warrior princess whose fifteenth birthday ceremony is interrupted by the gods of the underworld who claim her life is forfeit to the God of War, Lord Mictlan. While coming to terms with her family’s secret past, Princess Maya embarks on a quest to recruit three legendary fighters, fulfill an ancient prophecy, and save their four kingdoms from the gods’ vengeance. With its Mesoamerican inspired fantasy world, its frame-breaking action spectacles, and its impeccable collection of performances by Zoe Saldaña, Alfred Molina, Allen Moldonado, Stephanie Beatriz, Gabriel Iglesias, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Rosie Perez, and Rita Moreno, Maya and the Three takes its inspiration from cinema’s great works of fantasy to produce a dazzling tribute to Gutierrez’s Mexican homeland.
4K digital transfer, approved by creator-director Jorge R. Gutierrez, 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 two Blu-rays with the film and special features
Audio commentary featuring Gutierrez and creative consultant Sandra Equihua
Spanish language alternate soundtrack with newly translated English subtitles
Extended interviews with the Gutierrez, Equihua, Zoe Saldaña, Diego Luna, Gabriel Iglesias, Stephanie Beatriz, Allen Moldonado
Picture-in-picture storyboards and production artwork for the entire film
In anticipation of MMC!’s next (and overdue) imagined Criterion edition, this latest “Double Feature” shares a couple of recent Netflix favourites in an unusual pairing linked by their celebratory treatments of Mesoamerican, South American, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures. Órale!
John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons (Aram Rappaport, 2018)
Presenting the 2017 Tony-nominated play, Aram Rappaport’s film version of John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons follows the performer’s survey through 3,000 years of Latin American history all in an effort to help his bullied son. The process is a heartfelt reclamation of Leguizamo’s history, an unpacking of his resentments, and an effort to offer something culturally redemptive to his son and himself. Leguizamo paints with a broad brush in this one-man show, reveling in cartoonish caricatures and historical overstatements while citing his scholarly and not-so scholarly sources, but his points remain sound throughout. This is a comedy and its lessons and its outrage are revealed through that lens, remaining true even while its outspoken tour guide sometimes colours way outside the lines.
Maya and the Three (Jorge R. Gutierrez, 2021)
Building on El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, his lucha libre-inspired series for Nickolodeon, and The Book of Life, his animated feature film drawing on Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s Maya and the Three is an epic adventure told through the histories and mythologies of Mesoamerica, South America, and the Caribbean. Maya, a spirited princess with the heart of a warrior, undertakes a mission to fulfill an ancient prophecy and save humanity from the wrath of vengeful gods by uniting four kingdoms and leading their unlikely champions. Gutierrez mines clichéd tropes with brilliant stylization, moving heroism, and multivalent representations that push back against stock family film conventions and fantasy movie presumptions. Sacrificing warrior mothers, multiple Akira slides, stone Olmec heads, Gatchaman helmets, a Rosie Perez voice-role, some post-colonial villains found in undead conquistadors, and the most spectacular closing battle seen in quite a while make this massive animated fantasy an easy MMC! favourite.
“The Spirit of Cuauhtémoc, Alive and Untamed!”
For no particularly good reason, Mexico and Latin America hold a place of special regard here at MMC! headquarters. We love the food, the art, the music, the history, the mythology, and the professional wrestling of Mexico and those of its sister countries and cultures. What is especially wonderful of both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three is that neither is precious about its celebration of these histories. In these films, they are things to be embraced and enjoyed passionately, things to both applaud and laugh at, things that influence and are influenced upon as part of a global culture rather than being something hermetically sealed away for its own stultifying preservation. Above all, they are exceptionally entertaining, bringing accessibility while still remaining faithful to their vernacular origins. For those not too starched in their educational expectations, this pairing makes for a brilliant introduction to some Latin American study.
Both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three are available on Netflix. And with titles like Uncut Gems, The Irishman, Roma, and Beasts of No Nation having already garnered Criterion canonization, who’s to say these titles might not be waiting for a wacky “C” of their own?
We’re nearly a quarter into 2022 and so this seems like a good opportunity to celebrate MMC!’s favourite short film discovery for the year thus far – Spike Jonze’s Video Days (1991). While I’m about the right vintage to have been awed by this seminal skate video on its initial release by Blind Skateboards, I was never a skater-kid and so I now come to Video Days fresh, and while the particulars of the tricks and locations mean relatively little to me, the energy, playfulness, and cheeky construction of Video Days is undeniable. Regularly credited as Spike Jonze’s first directorial effort (though Jonze directed the skate video Rubbish Heap in 1989), the 24-minute video features celebrated skaters Guy Mariano (a mere 14 years-old at the time), Jordan Richter, Mark Gonzales, Rudy Johnson, and Jason Lee. (Lee’s Gulf War ballad purportedly inspired Kevin Smith to cast him in Mallrats!) Jonze establishes a framing device of the five skaters riding in an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency and sets their trick footage against a diverse series of tracks including “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5, “My War” by Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr.’s “Just Like Heaven,” “Cancion Mixteca” by Ry Cooder, and John Coltrane and the Ref Garland Trio’s “Traneing In” (billed during the end credits as “Some damn good jazz”). Jonze caps off the video with a shocking ending and some hilarious end-credits that had kids in the early ’90s scratching their heads over whether or not this quintet of niche-celebrities survived the production. Video Days is regularly lauded as providing the definitive skate video template and being arguably the greatest skate video of all time, though it should also be appreciated as a stunning opening salvo in the film and videography of now-heavyweight director and VICE creative director Spike Jonze.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.
Based on I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, the autobiographical book of chain gang escapee Robert E. Burns, Mervyn LeRoy’s uncompromising and starkly realistic 1932 drama, about an out of work veteran twice railroaded into the hell of a Georgia chain gang, still has the power to shock. Paul Muni commands the screen in a brilliantly lived-in performance as a man whose only prospect is a life perpetually on the run, and the film’s gritty realism spares no anger at a cruel and unjust legal system. Eighty years later, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang remains the studio era’s greatest social message film and it stands as a crucial turning point for Warner Bros., Paul Muni, Robert E. Burns, and the American prison system.
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary from 2005 by film historian Richard B. Jewell
Vintage musical short 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang!