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.

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.

The Hit (1984)

Tim Roth in The Hit

I bought this film on a whim while browsing at a Barnes and Noble. I’m a fan of the Criterion Collection and when I saw that both Tim Roth and John Hurt were in this, I didn’t need any other pressure to buy it. I had never heard of it before and hardly has Criterion let me down.

Willie (Terence Stamp) is a gangster who sells out his pals in England for a free ride and a new life in a faraway village in Spain. He is nabbed by four Spanish boys who deliver him to two hit-men (Tim Roth and John Hurt) who are to bring him back for his destruction. Roth plays a brash punk that doesn’t really gel with the undercover nature of the mission and blows their cover every chance he seems to get. Hurt plays an unwilling leader who just wants to get the mission over with but gets into hang-ups because of Roth and the saucy Maggie (Laura Del Sol).

It is beautifully shot – arid deserts and long expanses of mountains, a raging waterfall and dirt roads. Music by Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and Paco de Lucia – a fantastic flamenco guitarist – and the beauty of the shots made me feel nostalgic for a place I have never been.

It was well worth the time – especially if you want to see Tim Roth in his early days (which, I will admit, was my first reaction). It’s also an early Stephen Frears film (High Fidelity, The Queen) so I was eager to see it.