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Instant Classics: Criterion on Netflix #101-125

After last week’s milquetoast selection, I went ahead and searched for the availability of a good amount of Criterion films that I am scheduled to review in the future. In doing so, I think I have found indicators that, in regards to Criterion streaming on Netflix, the end is extremely fucking nigh. I don’t know if the Netflix brass just threw their hands up and said “Screw it, we need more Dolph Lundgren films, anyways” or what, but there were at least a dozen films that had been previously available, that are, at the time of this writing, scheduled to come down in the near future. On the one hand, I would like to say that I could pick up the pace and make a mad dash through the upcoming 473 films. On the other, I have somewhat mixed feelings about losing what’s left of my feeble mind. With any luck, I’ll make it across that ludicrously distant finish line before time runs out.

-101. Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972) [Unavailable]

*Shakes head, sighs*
In case you haven’t been following along, not a single Criterion-released Bergman film has been streaming on Netflix so far.

-102. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)

Six upper class jackasses are attempting to have dinner together, but find their efforts repeatedly stymied in Buñuel’s classic absurdist film. The plot is incredibly loose and nonsensical, yet tied together by reoccurring incidents, attitudes and dreams.  In each dinner scene, the characters display their disdain for the lower classes alongside their enduring sense of entitlement.

Buñuel seems hell bent on toying, not only with his characters, but with the audience as well. The story is constantly being twisted and set back as some events are revealed to only exist in a character’s dreams and others are so illogical and ridiculous, that they could not occur in a rational world. Therein, however, lies the genius of this film. Buñuel made his film incoherent and absurd as a way of underlining the entrenched, everyday hypocrisy he perceived as being the calling card of the French elite. With subtle (and often, not-so-subtle) visual cues and set pieces, he cuts their self-centered worldview off at the knees and serves it back to the very people he is decrying. Utterly satisfying subversive cinema.

-103. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), is a bumbling, shy heir to a beer empire. While on a cruise ship back from South America, he runs into Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) and her father (Charles Coburn) , two con-artists looking to fleece the naive Charles. After Jean has seduced Charles, she finds herself falling for him as well, but her larcenous past keeps catching up to her and threatening to ruin it all.

An enjoyable screwball comedy from Sturges. Stanwyck and Fonda make for an enjoyable on-screen pair and the dialog is a great example of ‘40s rapid fire banter. Totally enjoyable in a mildy forgettable kind of way, if that makes any kind of sense at all.

-104. Double Suicide (Masahiro Shinoda, 1969) [Unavailable]

Have heard nothing but good reports about this film. I’m guessing at least two people kill themselves in it.

-105. Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960) [Unavailable]

I had totally forgotten that Kubrick directed this film. While this does make me want to go back and watch this sometime in the future, I’m not-so-secretly pleased that I don’t have to devote 196 minutes to doing so while I’m in the middle of writing this column.

-106. Coup de Torchon (Bertrand Tavernier, 1981) [Unavailable]

Huh. I have never seen or heard of this movie. A story about a police chief turned heartless killer does sound intriguing though.

-107. Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1986)

Neil Jordan and Bob Hoskins, why, oh why won’t you make more movies together? George (Hoskins) is a small-time crook who has just gotten out of jail and his old boss, Denny ( target=”_blank”>Michael Caine) gives him a job driving high-class escort, Simone (Cathy Tyson) from hotel to hotel. At first the two bristle at each other, before coming to an understanding that their professional identities are not necessarily reflective of their personal ones. Convinced she can trust him, Simone asks George to help her find an old friend who has disappeared, but as he delves into the sleazy underbelly of London, he starts to realize that her request will be the largest favor ever asked of him.

Who would have thought that a gangster flick (starring Bob Hoskins no less) could be so heartfelt? The chemistry between Tyson and Hoskins as two deeply vulnerable hard-asses who tentatively learn to open up to one another is both beautiful and touching. I think one of the most poignant depictions ever of a person dropping their facade comes when George is asked by Simone if he has ever needed anyone, to which he responds, stocky frame trembling, voice choked with emotion, “All the time.” A fantastic film that succeeds on every level.

-108. The Rock (Michael Bay, 1996) [Unavailable]


Shit sandwich.

-109. The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg, 1934) [Unavailable]

The second film in this round of movies that I am utterly unfamiliar with, although the Criterion website says that this film “escalates [von Sternburg’s] obsession with screen legend Marlene Dietrich” which, in my experience is always a wonderful thing to escalate.

-110. M. Hulot’s Holiday (Jacques Tati, 1953)

The slapstick tone of this film is apparent from the moment the titular Mr. Hulot’s rickety jalopy sputters and backfires it’s way across the screen in this wry send up of summer tourists gone wild. Hulot, played by Tati himself, is a stork-legged bumbler of the highest order off on a seaside holiday, who’s continual pratfalls put him at loggerheads with both the locals and his fellow vacationers alike.

Tati keeps the finest traditions of cinema’s Silent Era comedy alive and well as he follows in the footsteps of Chaplin, Keaton and the Marx Brothers. Though the dialog is sparing, it’s absence is not missed and in fact allows the wide array of deftly comical sound effects and sight gags to claim center stage. While a lesser director would have lampooned his petit-bourgeios subject matter with a more cynical tone, Tati handles them gently, never disparagingly. As a bartender in New York, I have made it a tradition to watch this at the beginning of every tourist season, in the hope that some of it’s good natured long sufferance will rub off on me.

-111. Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958)

More slapstick fun from Jacques Tati in his recurring role of Monsieur Hulot, the perpetually inept man-child trapped in a suburban nightmare. This time, Tati brings his particular brand of social criticism home, specifically the home of M. Hulot’s technology-obsessed relatives. His sister and her husband live a garish, modernist trainwreck of a house where comfort is trumped by aesthetics and gadgetry at every turn. In the midst of this is their nine year old son, Gerard, who, bored with his sterile existence, latches on to his eccentric uncle at every available chance. These two kindred spirits manage to get into all manner of trouble together until Gerard’s parents come up with a scheme to pull Hulot’s head out of the clouds.

Once again, Tati eschews words where noises and clever camerawork are capable of carrying the story. Not only is this technique effective as a means of delivering the plot, but also as a way of underscoring the absolute banality of what passes for conversation in his perfectly manicured suburban hellscape. In dealing with such weighty subjects as social identity and consumerism, Mon Oncle always manages to keep the perspective of a light-hearted outsider bemusedly watching the scurryings of others who are not in on the joke. While viewed as being anti-progressive upon it’s release, I found this film to still resonate strongly in these gizmo-centric times in which we find ourselves today.

-112. Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)

Well color me shocked. All three M. Hulot films are available for streaming with this one being the grande dame of them all. The film once again finds Hulot bumbling through a world full of inconvenient conveniences and obtuse technology. This time, Tati adds a young American tourist (Barbara Dennick), who flies into Paris and repeatedly encounters Hulot in a series of increasingly absurdist set pieces.

The same themes of the first two Hulot movies maintain through this one, so there’s not much more that I can say about it. Like Tati, I am an avid supporter of the notion that in our pursuit of the future, we must not discard or forget the past, nor should we hold our gadgets with such high regard that we merely exist as an extension of them. Ironically enough, this film was considered technologically advanced for it’s time due to the fact that Tati filmed entirely with 70mm film stock and stereoscopic sound, both of which were incredibly expensive and complex to use at that time. It turned out to be a good decision however as the heightened audio-visual quality let Tati take his trademark style of physical gags and subtle comedic sound effects to a new level.

-113. Big Deal on Madonna Street (Mario Monicelli, 1958) [Unavailable]

Not a big enough deal to stream on Netflix, apparently.

-114. My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936)

At the height of the Great Depression, Godfrey (William Powell) is a “forgotten man” who is hired on as a butler for the extremely dysfunctional Bullock family by their capricious daughter, Irene (Carole Lombard). In addition to his daily duties he has to fend off the elder sister Cornelia’s (Gail Patrick) attempts to get him fired as well as Irene’s growing infatuation with him.

When taken in the context of the time it was filmed, My Man Godfrey makes some rather pointed observations on wealth, privilege and social class. The Bullocks and all of their friends are mewling idiots with no concern for or contact with the world outside of their effete, little bubble. Godfrey comes into this as a man who was, at one point, on an equal footing with his employers but threw their morally bankrupt and pointless attitudes away when he saw the dauntless optimism of down and out bums living in a garbage dump. While the film is more screwball comedy than social commentary, the huge gulf between the classes that is it’s central motivation, makes this film all the more compelling in this day and age.

-115. Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955) [Unavailable]

My favorite French gangster movie of all time, second only to Le Samourai. Dassin builds more tension with his nearly soundless half-hour long heist scene than all the target=”_blank”>O Fortuna’s and exploding sports cars in the world.

[admin. note: you can find Marco’s review of this essential heist flick here]

-116. The Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa, 1958)

Two enslaved peasants escape from their overseers and run into General Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) who is trying to smuggle Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) and what is left of her family’s gold through enemy territory to the safety of the titular Hidden Fortress. Along the way the peasants constantly scheme of ways to make off with the gold while the General uses all of his savvy to try to keep the ragtag group out of harms way.

Yet another great film from the legendary duo of Kurosawa and Mifune. This film was brought to even higher acclaim when George Lucas revealed that many of the thematic elements of The Hidden Fortress, from the predominant use of frame wipes all the way down to basic character arcs, were “inspiration” for the first Star Wars film. What he meant to say was “I am a talentless hack who got famous by ripping off one of the greatest directors in history”, but he had overinflated his neck that morning and so the original statement came out a bit garbled.

-117. Diary of a Chambermaid (Luis Buñuel, 1964) [Unavailable]

I’m really beginning to wish there was either more Criterion films being streamed or an “Unavailable” key on my laptop.

-118. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941) [Unavailable]

One of the earlier examples of Hollywood self-criticism. What happens when you send a pampered film director out into the world as a hobo to learn about human suffering? Veronica Lake happens, that’s what.

-119. Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987) [Unavailable]

One of my favorite dry, British comedies. Two drug-addled aspiring actors escape from the urban squalor of 1960’s London and end up on a holiday from hell. If ever in your life there has been a point where you’ve entertained the notion that the moldy stack of dishes in your sink has gained awareness, this is your kind of film.

-120. How to Get Ahead in Advertising (Bruce Robinson, 1989)

Keeping with the malaise-driven spirit of Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson directed this story of Dennis Bagley (Richard Grant), a ruthlessly brilliant advertising executive who hits a creative wall when he is saddled with creating an ad campaign for a new brand of pimple cream. As his deadline looms, the stress that has been building in him manifests itself as a boil. A talking boil.

Equal parts social satire and body horror, this film feels like some long lost collaboration between Jacques Tati and David Cronenberg. The humor is black as night and dry as a bone, yet spiked through with moments of wildly manic physical comedy. No one can do bug-eyed paranoia like Richard Grant, who manages imbue his horror at what is happening to his body with a level of sly absurdity that one cannot help but laugh at. Don’t let the comedy fool you though. This is just as withering an indictment of Western consumerism as anything cooked up by Oliver Stone.

(Off-Topic Side Note: There are no Oliver Stone movies in the Criterion Collection because he is a tone-deaf purveyor of hackneyed dreck, and yet I would be OK if a couple of his movies were retconned into the spots currently occupied by Michael Bay’s cinematic leavings.)

-121. Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, 1963) [Unavailable]

Looks positively “madcap” and all that that phrase entails.

-122. Salesman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1968) [Unavailable]

A fascinating look at the sad, little lives of door-to-door Bible salesmen. There’s really nothing that this noted trio of documentarians couldn’t make interesting.

-123. Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1976)

This is the cinematic version of spending some time with your senile grandparent and crazy cat-lady aunt, but with the highly uncomfortable exception that you are not related to them. A deeply personal documentary that delves into the lives of “Big Edie” Beale and her daughter “Little Edie”, relatives of Jackie Kennedy, who live in the titular estate of Grey Gardens in East Hampton, Long Island. Once rich socialites, the mother-daughter pair now dwell in a wrecked mansion in near-total isolation from the outside world and have formed a combative, yet loving codependency that somehow sustains them, even as their house, and their sanity, slowly crumble away.

It would have been easy for the Maysles’ to edit in a running commentary full of fun-poking asides and off-site commentary on their subjects. Instead, they took the high road, opting to stay out of the camera’s focus and let the two women tell their own story as they saw fit. While Big Edie spends her days reminiscing about times past, Little Edie pines for a life that never was and the camera stands silently by neither judging the actions, nor putting words in the mouths of the women, but instead instilling the viewer with an very real feeling of sympathy toward these two sad figures who, in real life, they would most likely shun.

-124. Carl Theodore Dryer Box Set [Unavailable]


“There’s no streaming in box sets!” -Tom Hanks

-125. Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943) [Unavailable]

Dear Netflix,
Just because you can’t stream the box set as a box set, doesn’t mean you can’t stream the films that are contained in the box set whatsoever. Also: box set, box set, box set. Loses meaning the more you repeat it.

 

OK, so a little bit thin this week but the selection was, for the most part, rock solid. At least there were no more early David Lean films to suffer through. Baby steps, Netflix, baby steps. Oh, wait, you already blew it, didn’t you? Never you mind, then.

One last note: While I like to try and keep my writing on the professional side of things, I do like to include some humor for your increased reading pleasure, some of which come in the form of the pages I link to throughout the column. Let’s just say that objects and people that are of particular enjoyment or irritation to me will sometimes get a little bit more than the standard IMDB link. Happy Hunting.

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April 11, 2011   No Comments

Instant Classics: Criterion on Netflix #76-100

And we’re back with more Netflix Instant Watch goodness. Writing lead-in filler isn’t my strong suit so let’s just skip right to the films, yes?

-76. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

*Sigh* While there are certainly David Lean films that I thoroughly enjoy, it’s becoming rapidly apparent that he is, by and large, not my favorite director. One of his earlier films, Brief Encounter, is based on a Noel Coward play and follows the star-crossed love affair of a middle aged doctor and a bored but staid housewife. They first meet at a train station on their way home from jobs and errands and continue to encounter each other there one day a week until their innocent friendship develops into a full blown affair which they both know can never be maintained.

This film is a typically rote version of a romantic tragedy. The plot is poignant at times but maudlin at others. The heavy use of voiceover narration rapidly becomes grating and the soundtrack appears to be stuck on a loop for most of the film. Not really an unpleasant film, but still one that lacks any means of recommending itself to anyone but the most die-hard Romance fan.

-77. And God Created Woman (Roger Vadim, 1956) [Unavailable]

And Criterion created a DVD cover that makes me wish this was streaming. Bridget Bardot is the pretty much the definition of hotness. Noticing a definite trend of veering away from streaming the more sexually explicit titles in the Collection, possibly out of concern for younger viewers. As I am not a parent, I am unaware if Instant Watch comes with any kind of parental control option. Call me old fashioned but I think, in that situation, I would just opt to be an attentive parent.

-78. The Bank Dick (Edward Cline, 1940) [Unavailable]

W.C. Fields was easily the world’s greatest purveyor of the notion that drunkenness is it’s own reward. Probably the most well known work from one of history’s most renowned comedians.

-79. W.C. Fields-Six Short Films (Various Directors, 1933) [Unavailable]

The title says it all, really. Wish I could add to that, but I’ve not had the pleasure of watching any of these shorts.

-80. The Element of Crime (Lars von Trier, 1984) [Unavailable]

Lars von Trier has become a bit of an iconoclast over the last two and a half decades and has, consequently, developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with the film-going public as well as industry insiders. No matter what you feel about the man, his artistic style and bold directing have been beyond reproach since this debut movie, which is sadly unavailable. I’ll have to do a full blown review of this next time I stumble across anything even remotely resembling free time.

-81. Variety Lights (Federico Fellini and Alberto Lattuada, 1950) [Unavailable]

Yet again, by the grace of Netflix, I have avoided sitting through what would most assuredly be another tedious Fellini film that renders the definition of time into hollow meaninglessness.

-82. Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948)

Christ, I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get to watch any more movies this week. And what a movie to come back to! There have been over fifty screen adaptations of William Shakespeare’s seminal tragedy, but this one easily stands at the top of the heap. Four years after he was infamously snubbed by the Academy Awards, Sir Laurence Olivier fired back with this masterful take on the story of the titular Danish prince (Olivier) who plots revenge against his own uncle for the murder of his father, the usurpation of the throne and the unseemly marriage of his mother. This time the Academy gave him his due, awarding him the Oscar for Best Actor as well as Best Picture.

Olivier brings his prior experience as a theater actor to bear here with full force, melding the finest traditions of stagecraft with inventively shot scenes and stunning in-camera effects. Shot almost entirely on a sound stage, the characters move about an a beautifully crafted, multi-level set in ways that hearken back to the blocking that is practiced in theater performances but never appear to be playing to an audience or the camera itself. One of the more arresting visual effects I have ever seen is the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father. Each time the ghost appears the camera fixes on an actors face, jumps forward and out of focus by degrees and then snaps back into focus once it has stopped moving, which gives the viewer an unsettling sense of motion sickness. The ghost itself is the stuff of nightmares, half visible and suggesting all the rot and decay that your mind can conjure up.

It’s nearly impossible to emphasize the enormity of Olivier’s achievement with this film. In 1996, Kenneth Branagh tried to follow in Sir Laurence’s actor/director footsteps and ended up with sprawling four-hour-long monster that had more in common with a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza than Olivier’s Hamlet. From the featherweight adaptation directed by Tony Richardson in 1969 to the target=”_blank”>overcooked Mel Gibson version in ‘92 to 2000’s Ethan Hawke-led target=”_blank”>horrorshow, this was the only one to bring the The Bard’s words to their full, dazzling, on-screen potential.

-83. The Harder They Come (Perry Henzell, 1973) [Unavailable]

Sitting through 153 minutes of Shakespearian dialog only to find that this classic Rastaploitation flick is unavailable has been one of the more character building moments of my life.

-84. Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959) [Unavailable]

Wait, wait, we’ve got streaming access to pretty much every single move that Kurosawa ever directed, but no dice on Ozu? Strewth.

-85. Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, 1938) [Unavailable]

Haven’t seen this, but seeing as how this was the inspiration for My Fair Lady, which has the dubious honor of being the least abrasive musical I have ever sat through, I would bet it’s probably a solid little film.

-86. Eisenstein – The Sound Years (Sergei Eisenstein) [Unavailable]

While widely renowned for his silent films such as Battleship Potempkin, these three films constitute the entirety of Eisenstein’s “talkie” period which are Alexander Nevsky and the two remaining films of his Ivan the Terrible trilogy…

-87. Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Eisenstein, 1938)

Eisenstein’s first film with sound is a pretty straightforward historical account of Prince Alexander Nevsky (Nikolai Cherkasov) who rallies the Russian people to defeat the invading Teutonic Knights. While the plot is rather painfully simple due to the close eye being kept upon him by the Soviet government, the rest of Eisenstein’s strident filmmaking style isn’t censored in the least. The action sequences on display here revolutionized the industry and are widely regarded as being the direct progenitor of every “sword-and-sandals” battle scene from Ben-Hur to Lord of the Rings. What’s even more impressive is the half-hour long (!)climactic battle scene that is the very definition of “epic”. I mean, we are talking about literally hundreds of extras, many of them garbed in ridiculously complicated wardrobes, who are then handed disturbingly real looking prop weapons, lined up on opposing sides, and told to have at one another. You simply cannot do that type of thing anymore and come up with a film that will make back it’s budget.

Another interesting facet of this film, is it’s political agenda. At the time, there was a lot of anti-German sentiment in Russia due to the fact that Germany was a right-wing totalitarian regime and the Soviet Union was a left-wing totalitarian regime. The German Teutonic knights are clear stand-ins for Nazi stormtroopers, many of them even wearing helmets that look like medieval analogs of those worn by Nazi soldiers before and during WWII. The knights are shown as town-razing, civilian-slaughtering, baby-burning (Seriously. This movie has burning babies in it.) zealots whose only motivation is an insatiable appetite for conquest. Most interesting of all, however, is the film’s presaging of the German invasion that would happen three years after it was released. Just goes to show, no matter if you’re a medieval knight, or Napolean, or Hitler or even just playing the board game Risk: don’t invade Russia. They’ve had a lot of practice killing people who try.
(Side Note: While this is in fact streaming on Netflix, it is not the Criterion Collection presentation. The film stock and sound are not restored and the white subtitles are constantly fading into the monochrome images on screen. Still a good movie though.)

-88. Ivan the Terrible, Part 2 (Sergei Eisenstein, 1958) [Unavailable]

Considered by Stalin to be critical of his autocratic reign, the film was immediately banned upon release and it’s incomplete sequel was confiscated and burned. A pretty good rule of thumb for most things in life would be to go and check out anything that Stalin didn’t like.

-89. Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1973)

Brian De Palma is a bit of an acquired taste. This is one of his earlier thrillers starring a fiercely mulleted Jennifer Salt as Grace, an aspiring young journalist who sees her neighbor, Danielle (Margot Kidder) brutally kill a man in her apartment. She calls the police but when they arrive, the body, as well as any evidence of a crime, have vanished, compelling Grace to investigate the murder on her own. As she digs deeper into Danielle’s background, she unearths a disturbing past that may prove to be more than one journalist can handle on her own.

De Palma’s inventive camera style is all over this one. Split screen shots, POV shots and circular zoom wipes all combine to confuse the lines between reality and fantasy. While the overall tone is exceedingly Hitchcockian, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching an overlong episode of The Twilight Zone. Not bad, just… De Palma.

-90. Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1965) [Unavailable]

Remember all those J-Horror movies that were flooding the US market about ten years back? Every single one of them owes their existence to this film. If you are a fan of slow-building, psychological horror, then this film is an absolute must see.

-91. The Blob (Irvin Yeaworth, 1958) [Unavailable]

One of my favorite 50’s B movies. This film scared the crap out of me as a child. The 80’s remake is available on Instant Watch, but not fit for human consumption.

[admin. note: check out the great scene from the 80’s schlocky hokum here!]

-92. Fiend Without a Face (Arthur Crabtree, 1958) [Unavailable]

Man, the late 50’s was a hell of a good time to be a horror movie fan, which, it would appear, Netflix is not.

-93. Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)

A great example of how the directorial team of Powell and Pressburger, who made films under their collective nom du cinema was The Archers, were years ahead of their fellow British competitors. Black Narcissus is based on a Rumer Godden novel about a group of nuns, led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), who set up a convent in an old harem high in the Himalayan mountains. Their efforts to bring western medicine, education and religion to the mountain tribes soon become hampered by a variety of obstacles, including the distracting presence of the cynical British foreign agent, Dean (David Farrar), the arrival of a local General’s son (Sabu) who has come to be educated, and, most of all, their new unfamiliar and exotic surroundings. Sister Clodagh does her best to keep the convent on mission, her own troubled past begins to resurface as she finds herself drawing closer to Dean in the face of her mounting hardships.

While the story is high 1940’s melodrama, the overall point it is attempting to make is rather progressive for the times in which it was made. While Britain was looking down the barrel of the end of it’s sprawling empire (India would gain it’s independence from the UK a mere three months later) The Archers were promoting the idea that such remote parts of the world are beautiful and alluring to Westerners is because of those location’s lack of Western culture, not in spite of it. The whole film is a giant allegory of the many ways in which the imperialistic spreading of Western ideals to the four corners of the earth is both fundamentally flawed and inherently futile. Also of note are the visual effects, which are as reliably beautiful as in any Michael Powell film. Absolutely breathtaking hand-painted matte backgrounds, impeccably shot miniature exterior models and lovingly reproduced interior sets were of far greater quality than what was being filmed on most other movies at that time. Even today, this film is a testament to that fact that you don’t need high-tech CGI effects and thirty tons of explosives to transport and audience anywhere the filmmaker desires to take them.

-94. I Know Where I’m Going! (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1945)

A pretty basic little romance from the The Archers. Joan (Wendy Hiler) is a headstrong young woman who is engaged to be married to a wealthy, older businessman. She is traveling to meet him on an isle in Scotland and has almost arrived when she meets a handsome but poor naval officer named Torquil, who is traveling to the same island. When the weather turns bad, he offers to put her up at his friend’s house until the weather turns and I think you can see where this is headed without me writing any more about the plot.

While not nearly as good as some of their later films, it is interesting to see Powell and Pressburger experimenting with elements they would later go on to master. The overall attitude of the film towards it’s determinedly proto-feminist heroine is a rather irritating mix of head-shaking exasperation and begrudging respect that, while more than likely par for the course at the time of it’s filming, consistently got in the way of me enjoying a film that is otherwise beautifully shot and full of wry, unforced dialog. It’s also yet another film in the Collection that is a puzzling favorite of Martin Scorsese. I’m almost sure that one day he’ll come forward as being a secret Michael Bay fan and then the mystery of Criterion’s release of Armageddon will be solved.

-95. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)

Douglas Sirk has become widely regarded as a master of subversive cinematic criticism of the American status quo. This film concerns Cary (Jane Wyman), an aging, suburbanite widow who wishes to find love again but finds all of the options available to her somewhat uninspiring. Enter Rock Hudson, playing the part of her (in no way homosexual) gardener, who shows her that love can transcend social class.

While writing this column, I have been pleasantly surprised by more than a few films, but this is the one that has caught me the most off guard. I watched it once as a young film student and dismissed it as the standard 1950’s pap that it appears to be. But when you pay closer attention to the line delivery and the subtle facial reactions they elicit, it becomes clear that Sirk was shooting some very pointed commentary at a complacent lifestyle that was repressive at it’s worst and banal at it’s best. While up front the plot does deal with a time-relevant taboo regarding the mixing of social classes, it quickly becomes a stalking horse for the director to voice his disdain for an entire mindset that was based in homogeny, propriety and, above all, repressed sexuality. As the Tea Party and other hard-right factions gain an ever-increasing foothold in American politics, this film has become quite a relevant piece of evidence, insomuch that it proves that the fairy tale of the 50’s that these political groups pine for is exactly that: a fairy tale.

-96. Written On The Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956) [Unavailable]

Have not seen it, but given how much I enjoyed All the Heaven Allows, I expect it to be joining my DVD queue with a quickness.

-97. Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Quite possibly one of the most important films to ever come out of American Cinema. Do The Right Thing thrusts the viewer headlong into the joys, sorrows and tensions of living in Brooklyn’s predominantly black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood on the hottest day of the summer of ‘89. Following a “day in the life” structure, we are rapidly introduced practically everyone in the neighborhood. Mookie (Lee) delivers pizzas for Sal (Danny Aiello) and his two sons, Pino (John Tuturro) and Vito (Richard Edson). Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) is the local drunk who hangs out on building stoops shouting his opinions to anyone who will listen and harassing Mother-Sister (Ruby Dee) for her affections. Everyone, black, white, Puerto Rican and Korean does their best to get along, but as the mercury rises, so do old racial tensions until one tragic spark ignites a firestorm of rage.

I am deeply dissatisfied with that plot synopsis, because I can’t sum up the intricacies of this film in a single paragraph any better than I could sum up all of Brooklyn in a sentence. This film is raw, powerful and utterly unflinching in it’s look at a topic that most Americans would rather sweep under the rug. There is, quite simply, no other filmmaker, living or dead, that can fully portray the frustrations and pain caused by centuries of slavery, decades of segregation and the ongoing daily indignities of racial discrimination, like Spike Lee. He peels back preconceived notions on both sides of the issue and discards the niceties and obfuscations that clutter the dialog to home in, with scalpel-sharp precision, on the bleeding heart of the matter while simultaneously addressing such weighty subjects as when an act of violence is a condonable option. I tell you, when he’s on his game, the man is the Michael Jordan of filmmaking; handling the most impenetrable of subjects with confidence and competence while hardly breaking a sweat. It doesn’t matter if you like movies or not, if you are a human being and you live in America, seeing the movie ought to be mandatory.

-98. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)

This is an art house movie with a capital A. Anna (Lea Massari) is the absolute poster child for ennui as she accompanies her friend Gabrielle (Monica Vitti) and lover Sandro (Gabrielle Ferzetti) on a boat trip to the Mediterranean. When they land on an island, Anna disappears and is never heard from again. So what is Claudia and Sandro’s reaction? They hook up of course! However, seeing as how Sandro is a bit of a manchild and Claudia is wracked with guilt over shacking up with her possibly dead friend’s boyfriend, problems quite naturally abound.

Did I say that Anna’s character was the poster child for ennui? I meant this entire film. While it did help break a lot of ground for future existentialism-heavy art flicks, L’Avventura also demands that the viewer find some level of empathy with it’s wealthy, disaffected characters. Furthermore, the current trend of Mumblecore films can trace their horrid little lineage straight back to plot-light, dialog-heavy films full of beautiful people stuck in quandaries of their own making, such as this. Best saved for a rainy day, in the middle of winter, when you’re lightly depressed, on Quaaludes.

-99. Gimme Shelter (David Maysles, Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) [Unavailable]

Fuck that. Gimme Streaming.

-100. Beastie Boys Video Anthology (Various, 2000) [Unavailable]

And we cross the triple digit line, not with a bang, but with an unavailable. To be fair, Netflix is probably just avoiding the logistical headache involved with individually streaming a bunch of 3-4 minute long music videos.

100 down and only 571 to go! That is…daunting. There were a couple good surprises in the mix as well as films that didn’t hold up on my second viewing of them. All in all, though, this week’s roundup was a bit weaksauce. I mean, I only had to watch nine movies out of twenty-five! Boo-urns.

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March 31, 2011   No Comments

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