Ran (1985)

This loose re-telling of King Lear by Akira Kurosawa is a lengthy but gorgeous portrayal. Instead of daughters, they are sons who tear each other apart to take the throne.

The beautiful scenery is stunning on screen (thank you Netflix for  the Blu-ray!) and no one else but Kurosawa could make war look so terribly beautiful. The three armies are denoted by primary colors (yellow to the eldest, red to the second son and blue to the Cordelia son) and they pierce through the battle-desolated land. The kimonos and yukatas are all beautifully bright and highly detailed.

The performances are all spot-on – Hidetora (the Lear character, played by Tatsuya Nakadai) was an excellent fool (and those eyebrows are something to behold!)

The eyebrows!

I particularly liked the performance of Kaede (Mieko Harada) – the wife of the eldest brother – who wants revenge on the Ichimonji family who had ruined her life and killed her family. She started out cold and unassuming but became a force to be reckoned with, as the second son came to find out.

She's a bunny boiler!

So much happens in this film and it is hard to talk about how wonderful it actually is. It is completely worth seeing and it is very enjoyable. I loved it.

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Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

The last of Stanley Kubrick‘s films, Eyes Wide Shut is an epic two hours and thirty-eight minutes long. When starting the movie, I hadn’t realized just what I was in for, however, I was willing to stick it out for one of my favorite directors. What I also didn’t realize was that this was one of the first digitally filmed movies – and perhaps it is just me but the fuzzy quality of digital really irks me. Perhaps that was his intention – the subject matter isn’t beautiful, nor is the lifestyle.
The film follows Bill (Cruise), a New York City doctor, who is affronted and confused when he hears his wife’s (Kidman) story about a man with whom she fantasized about and felt like she could leave everything – her life with Bill, and their daughter – for him. Bill, after receiving a call about a patient who died, rushes over and begins this wild sexual adventure through New York’s underbelly.
There is excessive nudity and over-the-top sex romps at a creepy orgy, a young girl turned prostitute by her father, and Bill is carried through all of this with the thoughts of his wife having sex with this officer. The film plays with the idea of the actualization of sexual desire and the internalized sexual desire. Bill journeys through the actualization and finds out that he doesn’t want any part of it. Alice dreams about her having sex with untold numbers of men and is haunted by it, however during the dream is reveling in the fact that Bill is there to witness it.
As it is with most of Stanley Kubrick’s films, this isn’t something you should just throw yourself at. This film needs time to digest and swirl around in your mind. It is perfectly timed – it allows for your meditation. The only thing I found hard to digest is the acting. It seemed very melodramatic and the writing – though at times extremely well done – fell flat in other respects. I suppose that has more to do with how the actors portrayed the characters. Both Cruise and Kidman seemed a little too enthusiastic to play these parts and at times it felt like I was watching a play rather than a movie.

Repulsion (1965)

Opening Title for Repulsion

This pseudo-thriller from Roman Polanski features Catherine Deneuve as Carol, a zombie-like young woman who has no defining features besides her beauty. She works in a beauty shop where her dead-pan attitude doesn’t get her brownie points from her boss. Her sister, with whom she lives, is tramping around with a married man and frequently has sex with him in their two-bit apartment. This is all very disconcerting to Carol, who seems to have hang-ups with men. This isn’t well understood until the middle of the film.

This is probably the best half-film I have seen – the first half is far too boring and quiet. She skulks around and just seems to be a moody teenager who doesn’t talk too much. But what we come to find out is that she has a fear of men – particularly the sexual aspect – and when her sister and her boyfriend leave to go to Italy, Carol comes apart, as well as the apartment.

The apartment falling apart.

This is all beautifully shot and framed – her complete mental unraveling shown through the house and the creepy men grabbing at her. The two kills are unexpected and brutal. Super cool.

Is it worth seeing? Yeah, if you have some time. The payoff is extremely sweet. But it’s kind of trying in the beginning.

My Winnipeg (2007)

Horses frozen in the Red River

Being their only successful filmmaker, Winnipeg, Manitoba asked Guy Maddin to make a documentary of Winnipeg; whether this was a fortunate idea for the small town is still unknown to me. My Winnipeg creates an extremely personal portrayal of Maddin’s hometown while delivering semi-factoids in a hazy, blurry black and white.

We follow Guy (Darcy Fehr) through his journey on a train where he sleepily recounts his childhood, his strange mother and his desperation to leave. He tells us that Winnipeg is full of people who sleepwalk and who hold keys to many places all over Winnipeg so they can sleep somewhere. The film feels like a dream most times – with images and facts that Maddin recounts and that seem real but are so ridiculous that they are anything but. Perhaps the most ridiculous were the horses that ran away from their stables because their stable had caught fire – they ran into the Red River and because it was the beginning of winter were frozen solid with the river and were part of an attraction that year for the residents.

That being said, the film is fantastically shot in a way that is reminiscent of early film – soft edges, weird focus etc. I’m not sure if he used a Super 8 film camera like he had in Brand Upon the Brain but the effect is similar.

I watched this when I woke up this morning early – still sleepy and not having showered. I sat and watched, fighting sleep like Guy and unsure if I was dreaming or watching the film. This was perhaps the best way to watch as it felt as if I was following Guy’s descent into sleep and escape from Winnipeg.

It was a fun watch, certainly worth the time (it is rather short, only 80 minutes).

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

This late nineties film, directed by the incredible mind of Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, Brazil), was nothing short of fantastic. It is pretty hard to describe exactly what happened – and I do believe that was Gilliam’s point. It’s a rambling, jolting experience.

What I loved about the film is twofold: I loved Johnny Depp’s performance. This is before Pirates of the Caribbean, but you can see where he began the character. That being said, Depp’s character in this film is weirder than Capt. Jack because well, he’s a drug-addled Hunter S. Thompson running through L.A. with his lawyer (Benicio Del Toro) where they do unknown levels of nearly every drug on the planet. Which is, apparently, nearly autobiographical. Sweet. There isn’t a moment where Depp doesn’t have a cigarette in his mouth – even when a rag is covering it (either for huffing ether or for covering against dust).

The cinematography is the other thing I absolutely adore about this flick. The scenes are consistently jam-packed with stuff – the screen is hardly surrounded by nothingness. The camera is almost consistently on an angle, making everything else seem warped. I suppose  I should say that I was a little bit under the influence while watching (honestly, merely tipsy) and I am unsure if the cinematography or my slight inebriation helped in seeing what the characters saw. I mean, I felt as if I was on their “trip” – everything was so brilliantly colored and crazily shot that it felt like an acid trip. I’m going to give it to the cinematographer.

All in all, the film surprised me with how accessible it was. Despite the length (just over 2 hours), much of the film is accessible in the sense that no one expects it to make sense. With that in mind, the audience is allowed to drift in here and there and not be upset if something is not understood – everyone else is in the same boat.

Terry Gilliam rarely makes a film that I do not thoroughly enjoy and this is no exception. Highly recommended.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Before I start this review, if you haven’t seen this movie I would advise you to not read any further. I’m going to be very excited and write about huge spoilers. If you don’t know what it’s about (and I highly suggest not finding out – the surprise is really worth it) don’t read further. Please don’t. Just watch it. Don’t look at the IMDb either. They give it away in a sentence. Jerks.

Seriously. Don't look it up.

Okay, you have been warned.

I had no idea that this was a vampire movie. I figured, “Oh, it’s a crime action flick with Quentin Tarantino where they say ‘Fuck’ a lot and blow shit up.” Which is what happens in the first half. Then it turns into, “Oh, it’s a crime action flick with Quentin Tarantino where they say ‘Fuck’ a lot and blow shit up, with VAMPIRES.” From the moment Salma Hayek‘s head changed shape my jaw remained dropped for the rest of the film. What the hell? HOW?! There wasn’t any indication that this was going to turn into a monster movie.

Apparently this is a film that has been ruined for people for generations and somehow I, in my 22 years, have never heard anything about it. All I knew was that Robert Rodriguez directed, Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney starred, and there was a lot of gunfire. I mean, that’s all I needed to know to see the darn thing but really? I was completely blown away.

Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney play brothers who are fleeing to the Tex-Mex border to meet a guy who will pay them for their – no you know what? This doesn’t even matter in the end of the film. I mean, this is brilliantly created and Tarantino’s character is a creepy sex offender and he gets his hand blown clean through from a shoot-out at the beginning of the film but I can’t even remember why they went to Mexico in the first place. It doesn’t matter. Vampires.

Danny Trejo as a vampire. F- yeah!

Is this film worth it? Oh my god, yes. Please make it a personal vow to see it. It’s nothing except entertaining. And besides, you get to see George Clooney kick ass and take names. He just wins all over the place. And he doesn’t need Tiger Blood.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

 

The Bar Scene

At first glance, I had no idea what to expect from this German film from the much-celebrated Fassbinder. The title is foreboding and seemed extraordinarily dark and depressing. What I found was a film that wasn’t exactly depressing but it had a lot to say about race relations in post-war and post-Munich Germany. It features a cleaning-woman named Emmi (Brigitte Mira) who lives by herself and is consistently alone. Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), the Moroccan man who is trying to make his way in Germany, is dared to dance with her at a bar – which starts their careful and understandably hard love affair.

Supremely tight framing!

I haven’t seen any of Fassbinder’s films but the way he frames shots is absolutely stunning. During the scene above, Emmi has just invited Ali inside for some brandy and coffee. The framing not only allows for some intimacy between the two, but shows the racist German attitude against their relationship and the forces trying to squeeze the life out of them from the start.

The way Fassbinder presents these characters and how they project themselves isn’t so much in their speech but in their body language and the way the environment works with them. Often, there are moments where there is intense silence, but the way that the body is presented and the way that the environment is created around them provides far more information than anything that the character could say.

Emmi on the Stairs

Perhaps my favorite instance of his framing is the scene when Emmi is eating lunch with her coworkers. They are gossiping about something or other and she is sitting on the stairs. They are clearly away from her and she asks them for a knife, which they ignore. They go down the stairs to where she is staring in the image above. The vertical objects in this scene, along with the trapped appearance of the banister against Emmi, suggest so many things that are better described visually than with any monologue.

In so many words, this film is very much worth watching. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted.

One, Two, Three (1961)

This comedy about a Coca Cola business man in West Berlin is a riot. It doesn’t stop with the laughs!

I don’t think I have ever watched a 90-minute film where a man has had more lines in a scene than this movie.

I can’t properly recount the film because it everything moves so fast that you can’t completely follow but it is hysterically funny and completely worth watching!

Also, the entirety of the film is on youtube – so if you are curious, have a watch!

The Last Starfighter (1984)

This campy sci-fi adventure doesn’t seem like something that would belong on an “One Hundred Important Films” list, however it was one of those movies that many of my friends were surprised that I hadn’t even heard of. Exclamations of “You didn’t have a childhood!” and “We are watching this immediately!” were yelled in outrage as one of them pulled it out of his huge CD wallet. It was next to the original Star Wars trilogy.

“Okay, okay – put it on!” I said as we celebrated our day off from school.

I have to say, there were many times when the special effects made me cringe. I mean, it was made after the first Star Wars movie and George Lucas had nearly no budget – but he still made it look good (despite his best efforts to systematically destroy the originals after he touched the CGI button too many times – but that’s an entirely different argument).

The Last Starfighter tells the story of a young man, Alex, who lives in a trailer park and spends his days playing his favorite arcade game “Starfighter”. His girlfriend, who also lives in the trailer park, is afraid to leave despite Alex’s assertions that everything will be alright once he figures out a way to leave. He beats the high score on the machine – which everyone attends as if he just performed open heart surgery and saved a child’s life – and is recruited later that night by a man named Centauri who tells him he created the games. Before he knows it, he is whisked away to another world where open war is upon them and he is recruited to the Starfighter fleet to save an alien planet.

Play any arcade game and become a hero!

It’s the absolute dream of any video-game loving kid. I mean, I always wanted an audience when I beat Final Fantasy IX for the first time! So I understand the appeal of the film to people like, say, my friends. They spend hours playing Pokemon tourneys, play Risk-like board games, and hours of video games. Now, that’s not to say that I am not one of them – I have put my time into many an RPG and am currently in the middle of Half-Life. But the premise is a bit…

No. Okay! I loved it! It was so lame but it was soooo awesome. It is enjoyably bad – but not so bad as to make you want to throw things. The story was well told and fun. It isn’t anything to really make you think, but sometimes having a movie like that is important.

Worth it? If you like feel-good adventure films – you are in.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

What a drink!

Wow. That was awesome.

Honestly, if any of you reading this haven’t seen this movie, then drop whatever you are doing and watch it on Netflix. It’s on Instant Queue. Fantastic.

It’s a heist movie that is extremely stylish but not pretentious. Just excellent. There are many players involved – which may seem like it’s confusing – but the pacing allows you to follow very easily. It takes place in London’s East End – which is particularly grim. It’s meat and potatoes with a bit of garnish.

With top-hitters like Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones and Lenny McLean and… wait. What am I saying? Everyone is good in this film. People who don’t have lines are good in this film.

I’m not even going to say anything about the film anymore. I’m just going to offer you a quote. Bacon (Jason Statham) orders a drink from a bar. The bartender offers him this frou-frou drink that has a whole bunch of junk in it. Bacon looks at it, at the bartender and asks what it was. The bartender tells him he ordered a cocktail, to which Bacon replies: “I wasn’t expecting a fucking rainforest. You can fall in love with an orangutan in there.”

Oh! I almost forgot to talk about the soundtrack. Totally cool – the two teams of criminals had their own songs. Our main boys had a bass line and the other had a guitar riff. A lot of swingin’ sexy sounds.

Yeah. Go see this movie. Awesome. Definitely in my top 100 films.