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I've decided to look for more Criterions in order to expand my knowledge of worldwide cinema.
Criterions however, are both expensive and eclectic in variety and taste. I realize that it would be better to rent from my library and see if each one I want is worth owning. This will be an ongoing series of reviews so keep an eye out haha.
The very first Criterion I ever bought and subsequently the first David Lynch film I ever saw, Eraserhead brought about a huge change in how I view cinema, specifically as an artform. Before this, I thought that a good movie was a movie that had strong, well developed characters with a busy plot and a ton of great dialogue... what I found was that despite being the polar opposite of this, Eraserhead is still good despite all this, let me tell you why: mood, atmosphere and ambiguity.
Eraserhead is a film that never imparts it's audience with all the answers. The opening scene alone is meant to leave you out in the cold.
A film professor of mine once asked me why David Lynch affects his audience so well. It was because his movies make you want to connect, despite the jarring, weird and uncomfortable lengths he goes to make us not connect.
I could go on for hours as to why Eraserhead meant so much to me but all in all, it's a magic show that never reveals it's tricks. Seamless transitioning from scene to scene, sound design that took an entire year to produce (and the extra effort really shows) along with special effects so realistic, it's horrifying.
Verdict: A true experience that may only resonate with the few who are open to it, Eraserhead boasts stark visuals to tell a minimalistic story inside of a chillingly barren world.
Have you ever gone and read a children's story from back in your youth and wondered what would happen if the characters went on to grow and mature alongside you? That is how I feel every time I watch Tenenbaums. Each shot feels meticulous, with an admirable level of detail. This is why I often cite Wes Anderson as one of my favourite directors with RT so far being his most affecting pieces for me (Rushmore being a close runner-up).
Verdict: A gorgeous and thoughtful look at a rather dysfunctional family. The Royal Tenenbaums is always high on my list whenever anyone asks me about great production design.
This is easily one of the most entertaining cult films I've seen in ages. Full of attitude, resentment and dissonance, Repo Man follows a disillusioned punk (Emilio Estevez) teaming up with a group of Repo Men who are just as bent out of shape as the cars they impound. Harry Dean Stanton steals every scene he's in as well as Tracey Walter who says some of my personal favourite lines (plate of shrimp). Everything and everyone has so much character that it makes me want to see more of this bizarro world again and again.
The soundtrack alone is worth mentioning: Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, and Iggy Pop along with a surf punk score accompanying every scene with a level of bodacious machismo.
To end this on an even higher note, the criterion cover and package is incredibly attractive. Everything is coloured in pea soup-green with a high level of appreciation and admiration for the source material. It even comes with a five page comic which was the basis for the entire screenplay, written by the director himself, Alex Cox!
Verdict: A punked-out, science fiction adventure without much science fiction. Repo Man aims to please with its excellent casting and an edgy, raw soundtrack.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff and presented by David Lynch, this documentary follows Robert Crumb (Fritz The Cat, American Splendor, Mr. Natural) an eccentric and radical cartoonist who paved the way for underground comic book artists everywhere with his counter-cultural, satirical look at American life during the 60s.
I rarely watch documentaries unless the subject matter interests me but as an avid comic book reader, I was intrigued right from the beginning as we view how Crumb used his artistic skills as a means to vent his frustrations towards women, society, and sexuality. We also peer into his family life and how his brothers also used drawing as a way to purge their personal demons.
Robert Crumb has always been an interestingly weird character. His outsider behaviour resonated with me and I enjoyed listening to him talk about the little things in life that interested him and the art and scrapbooks he drew over his 40+ years as an illustrator. As a person who has written comics as well, I found it all very fascinating.
Essential viewing for anyone who loves comics as an art form, Crumb is an engaging look into the labyrinthian mind of one of the 21st centuries greatest artistic voices. It's odd, perverse and strange but affectionately crafted.
I really liked how relatable this film was. The entire thing is simply two people, Andre Gregory and Wallace (Inconceivable!) Shawn in an intelligent conversation. While I couldn't absorb everything at once, I'm positive that I will get more out of the film the more often I see it.
Everything that bothered me for the past year; money troubles, settling into a career while also trying to support myself and even relationships were addressed by these two characters. This movie never gives the audiences any answers but it does offer insight.
It's not an exciting movie, it's a nourishing one.
Verdict: Worthwhile, introspective piece. I think I will add it to my collection.
Figures, the first Criterion I watch from France and it happens to be one of the most abstract films I've watched in recent memory. It's the first animation I've seen too, come to think of it.
Don't take that as a negative though as I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this. The animation style was something reminiscent of the work of Terry Gilliam; from the animated segments of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Very surreal, bizarre and sometimes unsettling. If I was a kid watching this film, it would easily give me nightmares!
One aspect I found interesting was that the plot is eerily similar to Battlefield Earth...
A human learns the ways of an alien species which has inhabited the planet. Afterwards, the human joins a resistance of other humans and rebels against the once tyrannical creatures.
Take that how you may but at it's core, Fantastic Planet is a wonderfully written allegory towards intolerance and bigotry. It's a simple story really, one that takes a little while to get into once the initially weirdness sets in. Granted, watching this on acid or weed probably adds to the experience too... not that I condone that sort of thing...
Verdict: A visually stunning work of art, Fantastic Planet is an effective morality tale which benefits from surreal imagery and imaginative storytelling.
Not really in the mood to review this since I've had a crummy day today but I still thought On The Waterfront was great, really well put together and impeccably acted.
I should have anticipated however that renting movies from the library means that some copies are liable to skip... I missed 15 minutes of the third act, completely affecting the impact of the final scene.
Verdict: Great classic, glad I saw it yet I don't feel compelled enough yet to own it on Criterion.
Oh boy. I gotta admit, the first thing that alerted me to this film was this, 3 hour runtime. I'll be honest, I mostly try to stay well away from films that are well over three hours long. They can never hold my attention. Luckily, what I was presented with as soon as I popped the DVD in was a very well paced, emotionally resonant drama with one of the best ensemble casts I've seen since Magnolia!
Speaking of Magnolia... I'm pretty damn sure Paul Thomas Anderson has seen this movie or at least the source material it's based on, short stories written by American author Raymond Carver. Each segment in this multi layered anthology weaves like a mosaic, complete with a natural disaster at the end!
I never felt the length while watching Short Cuts. It was very engaging and I can't give enough praise as to how good each performance is, specifically Julienne Moore, Tim Robbins, Jack Lemmon, as well as Lily Tomlin and Tom Waits who shared some funny as well as gut-punching scenes together.
Verdict: Though the runtime is intimidating, Short Cuts benefits from a talented director and a strong cast. It perfectly balances drama and comedy as well. If you are an avid Paul Thomas Anderson fan, particularly Boogie Nights or Magnolia, give Short Cuts a chance, you might just end up as floored as I was!
This is one of the best dark comedies I've seen in a long time. Well shot and briskly paced, Eating Raoul is a sharply deadpan look at adult depravity and sexual liberation. It's a fun watch, even with all the lurid subject matter. It tickles my dark, sick, sadistic sense of humour to a T!
Verdict: Oddball, risqué but entertainingly smart, this is a brightly coloured oddity that I believe to be worth adding to my collection.
I am... blown away that I have taken this long to watch this.
Kevin Smith is an odd case for me. Lately I've found his later work hasn't measured up to his oeuvre. Anyone who asks me what my favourite Kevin Smith movie is and I'll likely say Clerks 1 or 2 with maybe some consideration to Dogma for its ambition or Mallrats for its amicability...
If Clerks is his best movie, Chasing Amy is by far his best film.
So much attention to lighting, scene composition and camerawork was done here. It was then that I realized how every shot is lit and blocked just like a comic book. Bright reds, moody blues, stark images, it's exact. This is what it looks like when someone has a clear vision in mind. Character-wise, these people feel genuine. These relationships and struggles feel real. I'm surprised Smith doesn't make more dramas or dark comedies like this. It's really marvellous how well he can blend humour and pathos into scenes. That's something I haven't seen in so long in a Kevin Smith film. It's as if Chasing Amy has been under my nose this whole time and I just didn't realize it.
Verdict: Commendable for it's genuine sincerity, Chasing Amy is proof that Smith is more than pot, dick and fart jokes. His skills as a writer/director are very well displayed here and if you're as much of a fan of the View Askewniverse as I am, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on this.
I have to admit, I was rather surprised by this one.
The story follows a group of college graduates suffering what can only be described as paralyses when faced with pursuing future prospects. Once again, Noah Baumbach creates very well developed yet flawed characters with such a keen ear for witty, relatable and highly quotable dialogue.
Verdict: I highly recommend this to anyone who has ever been trapped in their own lives, struggling with angst or ennui. The dialogue and character growth here is really something to marvel at. I'd label this as an underrated gem. If it feels like I haven't said enough in this review, I think that's only because it's something you just have to experience for yourself.
Ever wanted to see someone get eaten alive by a piano..?
A group of schoolgirls decide to spend their summer holiday at a family member's secluded mansion. One by one, the girls get attacked by inanimate objects in the house and soon they must try their best to survive the night. Pretty standard stuff for a simple horror movie akin to Evil Dead, yet House really stands out, particularly in it's execution (no pun intended).
Visually, it's very pretty to look at, with a heavy use of matte paintings, animation and miniatures. There are so many practical effects displayed here that it will quite literally melt your brain! Despite how obviously fake most of it looks, the ambition to pull off so many technically impossible stunts is commendable to say the least. The director, cast and crew had a lot of fun making this and it shows.
Verdict: Campy, silly and grotesque, House has fun, cheap thrills despite a complete lack of substance. Certainly entertaining though, which makes it the perfect cult film.
"You know it's funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.''
Minimalistic doesn't even come close to describing the style of this film, both in plot and execution. As I was watching, the one thing that caught my eye most was the editing. Every sequence is played out in a single static take, then cut to black.
There's a very sardonic tone throughout, it's not a particularly comedic movie but there are many scenes I would classify as non-sequitor that had me chuckle in a strange way. I liked the trio we got to follow on this fairly menial journey from NY to Florida. Whether they grow or learn anything is irrelevant as we see them float through their mundane existence and each performance is very good. I especially liked ex-Sonic Youth drummer Richard Edson who you might recognize from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. What's with drummers ending up in these indie films and stealing the whole show? I'm looking at you, Teresa Taylor from Slacker!
Interesting debut effort with more than enough style and things to say. A little too simple for my taste to purchase but I'm glad I had to chance to give it a watch.
Much in the same vein as Dirty Harry, Eddie Coyle is a hard-boiled, neo-noir crime thriller that was surprisingly refreshing to watch. Robert Mitchum does an excellent job portraying a salty, downtrodden man who relies on both his seedy job as a weapons courier as well as a snitch to stay on the right side of the law.
While I wasn't big on the musical score which sounds really dated, the tension, acting and dialogue kept me thoroughly invested.
It's no visual masterpiece but anyone who wants to study good scriptwriting should really watch a few scenes from this.
Verdict: Gritty and economically directed, Eddie Coyle is an effective thriller as well as a gripping crime drama. I'm on the fence about buying it but I'll certainly recommend it to anyone who loves good scenes with lots of acerbic dialogue.
This was a nice classic I've heard good things about. Despite feeling a little long and at times, hard to follow, I enjoyed this fairly well. It's charming, classy, sophisticated. It made me realize how old-fashioned movies used to be in the early days. We don't have films like this one anymore. I feel like good romances like this are hard to come by. Ones where the couple initially dislike each other but end up growing on each other by the end. Fun fact, Clark Gable's character went on to inspire Bugs Bunny. Spaceballs also lampooned a few scenes from this as well. This movie isn't cliche, it was the benchmark for cliches to follow.
Verdict: Good old time, I liked it quite a bit but it didn't really hold my attention enough to warrant a purchase. I imagine film buffs who want to see what it takes to win a 5 Oscar sweep will want to see this but I personally found One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Silence of the Lambs more captivating.
Much in the same vein as the work of Noah Baumbach or Richard Linklater, TLDoD is an introspective look at the very early 80's when Disco was at the cusp of ending it's popularity. The film follows a group of socialites who divulge in drugs, partying, late nights and one night stands.
The opening scene lasts nearly half an hour. I said to myself as I watched "Does this entire thing take place inside a nightclub because that would be impressive" but no; because after all the dancing and tomfoolery, we get a closer look at the daily lives of these people. Ordinary, mundane, inconsequential.
It's as if the disco era was a time where people could escape their meagre existence and let loose, which is what this film illustrates so vividly.
This is obviously a very grounded and unglamorous look at the clubbing lifestyle that somehow feels relevant to today's nightly escapades. Yet, the ending monologue alone greatly compliments the disco movement itself and why it is still so fondly remembered even by today.
My only serious complaint is that one of the characters contracts a very harmful disease and yet no-one really feels all that affected by it. It's brushed off almost completely, making me wonder why it was there in the first place if only for a grievous response to the audience.
Verdict: Tightly written with well-realized characters. Nothing is idealistic or glamorized here. It all feels quite real. It's also nice to see where Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny cut their teeth within their respectable careers.
If you ever wanted to look up the very definition of an independent film in the dictionary: an image of this would appear directly below. Every performance is nuanced and naturalistic, the shots are economical yet effective and the story does a particularly good job of letting us understand how each character feels during a separation within a dysfunctional family. When we see a family pitting against each other, it's important that we feel for both sides, even if neither are particularly good people.
This film reminded me a lot of The Royal Tenenbaums which also featured a colourful yet flawed family having to live together. The two films even share the same cinematographer, Robert Yeoman. This comes as no surprise as Wes Anderson helped produce this.
I liked this, but not nearly as much as RT, which to me had a wider variety of character and style to it. That being said, this smaller film still packs enough dramatic heft to still be captivating. I really must stress that every performance is very strong. I particularly liked Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels respectably.
Final Verdict - Nice dramedy much in the same vein as Wes Anderson. Quirky, yet not quite as inventive.
This was an odd specimen for your typical cult film. The story of a suicide-happy teen and an elderly free spirit falling in love was anything but conventional, especially for the early 70s.
I liked a handful of scenes, particularly whenever Harold staged an elaborate suicide attempt just to get his mother's attention to no avail. For a comedy, it's both bleak yet mildly optimistic. It isn't a laugh out loud experience and it has aged quite a bit, yet I would I recommend it for those who enjoy something that's so out there.
Final Verdict: Weird yet wonderful, Harold and Maude appeals to the outcast in all of us with a pitch black comedy that isn't afraid to push the envelope.
"If I'm not grounded pretty soon, I'm gonna go into orbit."
This movie is a lot like a highway; it curves, it straightens and goes by in seemingly an endless blur. The dialogue is minimal, characters are referred to only by the cars they drive and mostly all the sound design is just motors running or background. It's very meditative to say the least.
I wasn't crazy about it going in but I really started to like the pace after a while. Despite being a cross-country race, the film never divulges in action and thrills but rather it examines it's characters as to why they live for the road. I liked James Taylor and Dennis Wilson as the two nomadic racers but the standout performance really came from Warren Oates as GTO. If you're really into cars, this is something to tune into.
Final Verdict: A good hangout movie that captured the essence of the late 1960's teen rebellion and road lifestyle very much in the same vein as Easy Rider. Not exciting and likely not something I'll ever feel inclined to watch again, yet very existential.
Well, in the wake of Mardi Gras, I don't think I could have found a better pick for this week's hunt.
Often stated as one of the most important American films ever made as it kicked off the New Hollywood era, Easy Rider was certainly revolutionary for it's time with a quintessential soundtrack of classic rock (Born To Be Wild) along with a true understanding of the counter-culture for the time.
This film is very meandering (as was Two Lane Blacktop, another road movie), partly due to being shot almost with no script as many scenes were simply improvised. There's a good reason why the only thing parodied about this movie is the legendary motorcycle montages because they take up 25-30% of the runtime... Beyond that, I found Easy Rider to be too light on ideas or development to keep me all that invested. There are many "trippy" edits particularly during the acid trip scene that were more distracting/disjointed than anything.
The greatest standout performance for me had to be a very young Jack Nicholson as an alcoholic! He stole every scene and I was sad that he wasn't there for very long as he was one of the very few characters that I found interesting.
Verdict: While still monumental for it's time, Easy Rider seems like more of an experimental experience than a story-driven narrative. With a great soundtrack and a couple good performances, I was given enough incentive to keep watching but I can't deny... I was rather disappointed. The bikes looked good though!
Well, continuing on the trend of indie darlings, I've now seen the infamous Lena Dunham's debut feature. Her story focuses on post-grad malaise, working for pennies and having many failed relationships with both her family, friends and lovers. I did relate to this story, yet I had a hard time really feeling all that attached. This really is an aimless film that, much like it's lead character, tends to drift on and off. With such a stop-and-go narrative, I often lost interest.
Ultimately, I didn't like the movie, but for a first time director with a limited budget, this really is quite possibly the best home movie ever made as many of Dunham's friends and family participated in the cast. Many visuals are often repeated yet there is a clear eye for "rule of thirds" and focal points divided by the foreground. I liked seeing that. I find Dunham's show GIRLS to be a far more refined piece from her. I'd prefer to recommend that for anyone who's curious but if you're interested in seeing where she got her start, or if you like seeing a more contemporary indie film, I suppose this is something worth looking out for.
Verdict: A sometimes clever comedy that's sorta hit-and-miss but gets plenty of mileage from its director's style and repartee. Not my thing, but certainly not without it's charm.
Have you ever heard of a little company called Industrial Lights & Magic?
ILM is a special effects company responsible for their work on such films as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Men In Black and Jurassic Park among countless other blockbusters.
The reason I bring up ILM to begin with is because Equinox was the brainchild developed by one of ILM's key members, 9-time Academy Award-Winning Special Effects Artist Dennis Muren.
Muren came up with the concept for Equinox and decided to produce a $6,500 independent monster movie with his friends, offering him a chance to test his visual effects work in an actual production. The film became a midnight classic, which caught the attention of George Lucas and Ray Harryhausen, jump-starting Muren's industrious career.
Equinox is essentially an homage: it celebrates the B-movies of the 1950s and emulates many of the cheesy elements from sci-fi back then. It's pacing is methodical, it's acting is hammy and the special effects easily steal the entire show.
I admire the effort displayed here and yet for all it's delightfully silly moments, Equinox is rather dry and boring. A group of four kids wander throughout a forrest, encounter bizarre creatures and get tangled in a plot that I can only describe as needlessly convoluted. I would much rather call this a Special Effects demo reel than an entertaining movie. It's bad but it was a stepping stone for many talented people who went on to do much bigger and better things. Everyone starts somewhere, even from humble beginnings such as this.
Verdict: A dull B-Movie with some admittedly good special effects and good intentions. For what it's worth, it's trashy fun, very disposable though.
N/A needs re-assessment
Stopped 65 minutes in, Fellini will take time to develop an appreciation for at my age.
N/A needs re-evaluation
stopped 25 minutes in,
N/A needs re-evaluation
stopped 20 minutes in,