Criterion Quickee #1

Being a lover of all things film and a devoted student of the Cinematic Arts, I join in the proud tradition of creating infinitely expanding lists of movies that my existence depends on seeing, and then hopelessly attempting to cross off all entries before my time here on Earth comes to a close.  Like all cinephiles, particularly my comrades in film school, I am dutifully trudging my way through the AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list – 61 films seen thus far.  To this list of classics, I add films that I am interested in or which have been recommended to me.  And over the years, I have been able to see enumerable interesting and important movies because of these insatiable lists.

Recently I have decided to diverge to a degree from my fellows and attempt to complete another canon of films – the Criterion Collection.  I had heard of the mysterious foreign and avant garde films that the list comprised of and while they piqued my interest, I didn’t know much about them, so I avoided the Collection for the most part.  However, I recently rediscovered the list and upon closer inspection found it to be teeming with fascinating films that have more cultural significance (in my opinion) than half of the works on the AFI list.  Also, I received strong recommendation to try the list from my 18-year-old brother, Travis, who has seen roughly 250 of the 600+ titles.

Thus, as well as embarking on my third Summer Film Challenge, I have pledged to see as many Criterion films as possible this summer to better round my cinematic education.  This post is the first of what I hope to be many Quickee reviews for films of the Criterion Collection.  Over the summer, I plan to see more of the approved films and post the occasional Quickee compilation here to review them. So, without further ado, lets jump into this!

Trois Couleurs:  Bleu

The first films I sought out when I decided to take on the Criterion Collection were the stylistic and interconnected “Three Colors” trilogy from Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieslowski.  His work was recommended to me by one of my professors who loves this trilogy and always refers to it in his lessons.  So, Ryan and I decided to see what all the fuss was about and rented the collection from our library one week.  I must say, my professor was right.

Bleu is the first film in the Couleurs trilogy and it is absolutely gorgeous, visually and in tonal atmosphere.  I created the picture above because after seeing the film, I came to realize that the best way to describe it is to label it as Amelie’s Doppelganger.  The film focuses on a French woman who has an emotionally stylized sense of the world and who searches for meaning and love.  Where Amelie is bright and cheerful in it’s vivid colors which reveal her inner childishness, Bleu creates a darker and more depressing world of blue and black tones which flawlessly mimic the character’s internal despair. Both women allow their view of the world to be shaped by their emotions and Kieslowski masterfully crafts this into his aesthetic vision.

Visually amazing, I found myself constantly impressed by the way the shot selection and music were implemented to craft a powerful emotional tone.  Bleu is a gorgeous and touching film that beautifully explores the harsh realities of sorrow, and I recommend it to anyone interested in cinematography, aesthetic motif in film, or people who are simply fans of a well told story.

 Rating:  10//10

Trois Couleurs:  Blanc

What I particularly enjoyed about the Colors Trilogy was that each film is its own stylistic narrative and yet they are all connected in the story world.  When I started the second film of the trilogy – Blanc/White – I was pleasantly shocked when the film started out with a scene of the new protagonist accidentally stumbling into the courtroom of the first film before going on to do his own thing.  The interconnectedness is only in that the stories occur in the same world but that level of detail in the creation of each story made it a joy to watch and see how each life intermingled with the two others.

Just as Bleu had a clear cinematic comparison, one can see that Blanc also juxtaposes another classic film.  Blanc centers around a Polish man who finds himself down on his luck because of a messy divorce and a vindictive ex.  He meets a man who smuggles him out of Paris and back to his homeland where, instead of continuing his career as a famous hairstylist, he decides to enter a life of crime in order to get back at his love.  We watch as this mild-mannered gentleman slowly dissolves into a darker place as he becomes the most awkward and love-driven Godfather figure of all time.

Largely different from Bleu in tone, Blanc had a great dark wit about it that was hilarious and somewhat sinister to watch.  It feels like a cross between the careful entrapment of “A Cask of Amontillado”, the dry wit of Life is Beautiful, and the plucky protagonist of Rocky.  An odd mix, I admit, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching this Polish Hairdressing Nobody turn into a hard-edge crime boss, all for the sake of love.  The middle film of the Couleurs Trilogy is magnificently crafted, just like the first.

Rating:  10//10

Trois Couleurs:  Rouge

And so we come to the third and final installment of the Three Colors trilogy.  I have spent every minute since I saw this film trying to figure out what film Rouge/Red compares to and honestly I can’t find the right connection.  In a lot of ways, it reverts back toward the AmelieBleu connection – a woman meets an older shut-in and both discover what it means to live life, all the while circling around a man who is in need of love.  In fact, that analogy might fit better with Rouge than the former, but the reason I left it this way is because the latter lacks that extreme emotional overtone of Bleu.  Of the three, the third installment is definitely the most slice-of-life realist.

While this was probably my least favorite of the three, please don’t believe that this reflects poorly on the film’s quality.  It is just as well written and crafted as its predecessors.  My only qualm with the film is the lack of visual or narrative surrealism which make the Bleu and Blanc so interesting and fun to watch.  Rouge holds its own by having a great story and, most importantly, a great payoff.  I’d rather not spoil the ending but sufficed to say the narrative conclusion is satisfying in almost every way.  It completes the trilogy and gives the series its meaning – the conjoining of human life in immeasurable and incalculably intricate ways.  Please find some time to work your way through all three of Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs, because you will not find a better crafted story world with such powerful aesthetic cohesion.

Rating:  10//10

Yojimbo

For the fourth and final review of this first Criterion Quickee, I turn to one of the most beloved and most important Japanese filmmakers.  Akira Kurosawa all but invented the genre of the Samurai film and inspired a generation of filmmakers at home and across the sea in Hollywood.  Most of the Film Brats credit “the Emperor’s” work as inspiration for their own careers, and for inciting some of the greatest cinematic creations in US history – Star Wars, Magnificent Seven, and most importantly here, A Fistful of Dollars.

The last of this list is the 1964 American recreation of the 1961 Kurosawa film Yojimbo (meaning “Bodyguard”), about a rogue Samurai-for-hire who gets himself caught in between two warring parties.  Fun and funny, well shot with compelling characters, and despite being a bit too slow and long, Yojimbo is an excellent narrative story that is a joy to watch.  The modern viewer can clearly see the Western stylisms which merge flawlessly with this more ancient tale and the cinematography is wonderfully incorporated into that overarching genre motif.   Kurosawa crafted a fun and engaging tale that is great from start to finish and a perfect film to jump-start my journey into the Criterion Collection.

Rating:  9//10

And with that I come to the conclusion of my first Criterion Quickee.  I highly recommend each of these four films, both as excellent works of Cinema as Art and as great films to start into the Collection.  They aren’t overtly weird but they do give you a taste of what you are in for.  Check them out sometime and let me know what you think.

It should go without saying but I have a lot more reviews coming your way here really soon.  I am way behind on my Summer Film Challenge (as usual) but you can expect the first two reviews to be out very soon.  And, if I can figure out how to make it work, I will be sharing a special surprise that Ryan and I cooked up to make the Apocalypse Edition of the Summer Film Challenge even better.  So, be on the lookout for that in the near future.  Until then, have a marvelous week, enjoy something artistic, and I will leave you with this clue:  “It’s not an ooorrrrgy!  It’s a TOGA party!”

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!

Quickee-Palooza!!!

So, I am way-far behind on the reviews.  And I was really struggling to figure out how to create a full and complete review for movies that I saw a month ago now.  The solution – A Quickee post!  I might do this in the future if this comes up again but basically I take 1 or 2 paragraphs for a review rather than a whole post.  So with that rushed and poorly explained description, here we go!

Amelie

Yes. I did finally watch it with Subtitles 🙂  I still believe watching it in French was better, but I did need to see it with Subtitles to get a complete enough grasp of it for review.  It was nice to catch some of the nuances that the writing has that can’t be gained by the gorgeous visuals alone.

The film is a celebration of the importance of the smallness and magic of life’s little things.  We enter a beautiful fairytale of Jeunet’s design which revels in the peculiarities of love, adventure and the imagination.  The film itself is beautiful as are the message and plot.  All around it has very quickly become one of my favorite films and I strongly recommend it to any adult (there are a few risque scenes for younger audiences to be aware of)

MY RATING:  10/10

Pontypool

I found this movie channel surfing on the HBO channels.
I read the book it was based on.
I bought the dvd.
I am terrified by this film.

This is by far the most interesting twist on the Zombie genre since George Romero gave it life…again. The idea that the zombie virus is spread via speech is fascinating and either brilliant or insane.  The book was bizarre and very oddly written and the film manages that peculiarity while having almost nothing to do with the book! Crazy!

Pontypool has a great concept that gets a bit muddied at the end. Again I say that the plausibility of a virus hiding in our language is suspect, the idea of it is bone-chilling.  What I love most about the film is that it capitalizes on the fear of the unknown – most of the film we don’t really know what is going on until the good doctor comes in and gives a rough explanation of it (btw I like that he figures it out then and there). From this lack of definition of the problem arises the far more interesting problem of “what the bleep is going on!?”.

The location is amazingly well chosen – both because of the intimate connection of radio and language and because of its confining nature. I honestly would love to adapt this as a one-act play.  It reminds me of “Sorry, Wrong Number” – a great emotional dichotomy of a single character that plays out over a short space.  I would definitely go watch a man slowly discover that the world is caving in around him. Just a thought.

Anyway the fact that I spent all night thinking “Kiss is Kill” to me emphasizes how good the film really is.  The ending isn’t so hot but I do recommend this, again, to older audiences due to the graphic nature of some scenes.

MY RATING:  8/10

Gone with the Wind

I finally got around to seeing it.  I can see what all the hype is about but at the same time I have to admit I have several issues with it.  First it is definitely Epic – the genre, not my feeling for it.  It clearly pushes the limits on scale of setting and extras.  However it doesn’t push any limits on story – it is one of the most basic storylines I have ever seen.  Emily mentioned that the first half could have been it’s own film.  What makes that work is the excellent quality of the writing for the characters. Scarlett and Red are fascinating roles, both fanciful and incredibly real.

The reality of the film most likely comes from the shear length of it.  You cannot sit watching people’s lives for 4 hours without beginning to see them as real people.  The writing is spectacular which does help but honestly I think it is just flipping long.  Visually the film is amazing!  I cannot think of another film that uses of silhouette at all, let alone to such wonderful results.  The visual style is vibrant, yet dimmed during the low points, and brings to life both the pre- and post- Burning-of-Atlanta South. Absolutely beautiful film.

Now the ending. First let me say that this is what I mean by a good Defeatist ending. It is depressing but they end it on a “Life goes on” message. Even if that message is rife of mixed feelings, it still gives me enough catharsis to let it end.  Just enough. What also makes the ending interesting is the audience’s mingling desires for revenge and for catharsis.  We spent the first half of the film wondering why we should care about this Bleep of a woman and yet we are crying for her at the end. It was a very interesting feeling which I think is unique to this film.

Overall it was a great movie that I am glad to cross off my list.  Long but good stuff.

MY RATING:  9/10

Btw – There is an odd similarity between the Theme song and “I’m All Alone” from Spam-a-lot….coincidence?  I think NOT!

The Manchurian Candidate

My last Quickee of the day is of the 1962 classic with Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury. As Emily will attest for me, I screamed at the screen that “Angela Lansbury doesn’t Co-star to anyone!”  And of course she played the role fantastically. Sinatra did great – I didn’t even recognize him until halfway through the movie.  Laurence Harvey also performed excellently. I loved his vacancy throughout the whole thing.

The plot was okay.  I thought it was handled well and I imagine that at the time this was groundbreaking.  However to the modern audiences it might seem a bit cliche.  I was surprised at the reveal and pleasantly at that, but for the most part it was a lot like other films.  The positive there is that it was good enough to inspire such copycats 🙂

Ultimately great film that I highly recommend to all.

MY RATING:  10/10

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Yup there you go!  Hope you enjoyed the four Quickee’s – I know it was fun to make them 🙂

I also wanted to express my flabbergast-ation and deep thanks for the incredible response I am getting to my Assassin’s Creed Review.  It has gotten over 90 hits in the last week only!  I am amazed and so appreciative for your readership and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for it. With that I am pleased to announce that I have a new video game review in progress: Assassin’s Creed II.  I haven’t finished the game yet but I’d like to get the review up before the release of Assassin’s Creed Revelations on November 15.  Thank you so much and spread the world – the sequel is on the way!!!

Final announcement:  look forward to a couple of Summer Film Challenge Reviews in the coming weeks.  I have seen several and am definitely going to have them finished before my cross-country roadtrip back to Cali next Tuesday.  In the meantime, check the my review of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the Art of the Trailer. Thanks for sticking with me and check back real soon, ya hear!?

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!

Appreciation and Understanding w/ Dash of Irony

Hello all!  I thought I would take a break from my reviews to share some news, and have a little ramble.

First, my IRONY MOMENT OF THE WEEK!!!  I was cleaning my room recently, being all productive and stuff, when I found my old Pokemon Ruby Game. Now a bit of history: I have been playing Pokemon games since the first set (Red & Blue). I can still remember playing them on my Original B&W Gameboy at the ballpark when I was 10.  Good times… Anyway, in the 10 years I have had since I have never, repeat NEVER, beaten one. Seriously. I bought every game up to the ruby/sapphire generation and have never beaten any set of Elite Four and Champion. I either spent all my time focusing on completing the Pokedex or lost interest before getting there.

Now having said that, I decided to play the game a bit just for old times sake.  I had made it all the way to Stephen, the Champion, before but I could never beat him.  I decided to try victory road, again just for kicks and made it all the way to the final battle of the 5 and somehow, having not played in over a year now, I BEAT HIM!!! It was so crazy!!! I finally beat a Pokemon game!!! Part of my childhood had ended, IRONY, on the day that the Last Harry Potter film came out!! Just an amazing thing that those two coincided with….the battery died.

I was watching the final cutscene where May comes back and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then Prof. Birch comes in and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then he takes my Pokedex and says, “Here’s some advice…”  CLICK.  My battery dies….right there….. GAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

It was just hilarious that I had waited so long for that moment and when it comes I was robbed of it 🙂 I did go back and beat it about an hour later after I had gotten over how funny it was.  The ending was awesome just as i had always read in my strategy guide (JK!! Haha. Just…..just kidding…….totally not me………..yeah. I did read it cover to cover….yeah.) I loved the Hall of Fame thing and the credits (didn’t even know they did that!) and then….at the end….it says….”THE END”  😀

YEAH! 😀

So now that the embarrassing, end-of-my-childhood moment story is over, I turn to a more philosophical thought.

Something which I have been trying to nail down for many years is how one appreciates a work such as film or book. Recently I had a breakthrough thought which I’d like to share with you for your thoughts.

Our society seems to stress two conflicting opinions.  First, post-modern culture puts forth that appreciation of art can be had in any form or way and by any medium, but I will focus on the thought that no Understanding is required for Appreciation. The Second worldview, coming from Academia, says that in order to fully Appreciate something, one must have full Understanding of it.

Let me give two examples to clarify.  The former puts forth things such as John Cage’s 4’33” or Jackson Pollock’s abstract art as important because each person experiences it differently and in unique manners. The Latter would take things such as Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and say that in order to fully appreciate it you must know that it was done as a fun exercise with his wife, and that each variation is based on one of his friends.  Obviously the two are in conflict and thus I turn to film.

My friend Ryan and I have a disagreement. Last year he gave me the French film Amelie as part of the inaugural Summer Film Challenge. When I started the movie and realized it was entirely in French without subtitles, I made the decision to watch it without them.  I had taken French in High School, but the true reason I made that call was because I wanted to see what the film was like unhampered by English text muddling the image.  I wanted to watch it as the French did, and I am not sure whether Ryan has forgiven me yet. 🙂

The reason I bring this film up is that I just ordered it on Amazon and I am not sure I will ever watch it with the subtitles, which brings us back to the original point:

What is the relationship of Understanding to Appreciation?

I propose these thoughts on this issue:

  1. I think that everything is art, and some of it is good, but only a rare bit is Great Art and that is what we must focus on. (More on this in a Ramble to come)
  2. While I can get how Knowledge in tandem or conjunction to a piece of art that helps me understand it’s origins and purpose enhances the experience of it, I wonder if we are losing a part of Appreciation by doing so.
  3. The Appreciation lost by seeking understanding I shall call Wonder or Awe. It might be aptly titled “Magic”.
  4. The Wonder I experienced when watching Amelie in French was that, though I could understand only the occasional word or phrase of the dialogue, I was able to understand the film’s plot and message remarkably well.

As my friend Ryan pointed out to me, I did miss the full meaning of the “Counting Orgasms” scene.  However I was able to appreciate that sex plays a major role in the life of Parisians in Amelie’s world and that she is keenly aware of the sexual world around her while remaining aloof of it. I was able to gleen that without being told it by verbal means. This shows me that their is a level of appreciation which is obtainable and important because you experience something unobtainable otherwise.

If you enter into something without understanding and experience it, you are able to return later with understanding and have a new experience (see – INCEPTION).  However, this path cannot be traversed the other way; if you know going in, you can’t experience that Magic (see – INCEPTION again). You can never watch Fight Club, Memento, even Jaws the same way you did the first time, so I stress the importance of not missing appreciating something as wonderful, magical and worthy of our awe.

Just to point out, I do see the irony that I am discussing “Magic” both in the context of the fanciful film Amelie and on the eve of the finale of Harry Potter franchise. 🙂

Thanks for sticking around.  Please tell me what you think about how we appreciate art, film, etc.  I’d love to hear from you!

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!