In which I attempt to watch every film in The Criterion Collection and end up watching a lot that aren't. Click here for the rating system.


Gleaners and I

"Recycle your chopsticks!"

Agnès Varda made a documentary about gleaners - those who glean after the harvest, people who pick up the excess or leftovers. Her documentary moves from vineyards to urban French cities and back out to potato farms. She does her own sort of gleaning using images that other people would probably discard. She is downright charming. After watching the film I immediately went through my trash to see what I was wasting.
A fascinating look at a consumer society and poverty. I highly recommend it.
The DVD also has a "two years later" feature in which Agnes catches up with people she met during the first film and also meets some new ones.

Favorite Moments: Catching trucks, lens cap dance, Solomon, Agnes' cat, boxing dog.


The Ruling Class

"Whatever it was, I didn't like it." №¢

This was the first Criterion film that I actually disliked. The couple dozen films up to this point were spectacular and my admiration for The Criterion Collection's understanding of good filmmaking knew no bounds.
But the honeymoon ended and it ended with Peter O'Toole. Which is a pity.

Sardonically irreverant bashing of English society in general from religion to homosexuality, servants to the ruling class. I didn't find it particularly funny. But maybe you will.

Favorite Moments: Hmmm. The gardens on the estate were beautiful.


Jan Svankmajer's Faust


Jan Svankmajer led the black theater movement of Prague during the 70's. His mind-bending films include stop-animation versions of Jabberwokky, Alice (in Wonderland), and of course, Faust.
Using claymation, stop-animation, puppetry and live action, Svankmajer whirls the hallucinagenic events of Chris Marlowe's play into a modern/period piece comedy/horror film. It's highly entertaining if weird. His toungue in cheek is just what you'd expect from a Czech.

Favorite Moments: Man carrying leg in butcher paper, rolling heads, puppet sex-change, cyclic ending.

He Died with Felafel in His Hand

"Which is pretty gross actually if you think about it." ▼/▲

Aussie film, light, black comedy (which really exists, people). Scattered plot. A bunch of drop outs and druggies attempt to set up and keep house in various buildings and with various people. Relationships form and are broken, people change. It's a lot like Friends, now that I think about it, except they all have accents and swear a lot and, of course, "he" dies with felafel in his hand which I don't remember ever happening on Friends.
Based on the book, by Jon Birmingham, who apparently lived through all this crap and then had the foresight to make some money off of it.
As the film's protaganist explains, "I've lived in 49 shared households in what seems as many years. I've been ripped off, raided, threatened, burnt out, shot at, cheated on, scabbed in every one of those years. My beds are foam slabs on the floor. My cupboards are stacks of stolen milk crates. I've lived with tent-dwelling bank clerks, albino moontanners, psycho fucking drama queens, acid eaters, mushroom farmers, brothel crawlers, hard-core separatist lesbians and obscurely tiger-throated Japanese girls! I'm in a psycho-fucking nightmare from hell and I'm fucking fed up with it!"

There you go.

Favorite Moments: Burning "his" clothes and stuff. Strangely touching (and cheap) from a directorial point of view.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

"The Inescapable Camera." ▲ ♪

I hope I won't spoil it by telling you that this film ends badly for Joan. Maria Falconetti, aided by the relentless camera of Carl Th. Dreyer, creates one of the most revered performances of cinema history. And the only film role she would ever play. This is the only silent film I truly love. I respect other silent films, but this one has it's own special room in my heart. A room with a kitchenette and a jacuzzi. And a balcony. That's how much I love it.
Dreyer got flack from his critics for his "overuse" of the close-up, and indeed in this film there are something like 1,000 close-ups and absolutely no establishing shots, leaving the viewer as disoriented as Joan herself. In one scene Joan's accusers press in, filmed from below in one of the hundreds of holes Dreyer dug for the camera (eventually earning himself the nickname Gruyere by his exhausted French crew). This unflagging proximity starts iconic and becomes something of a torture as we wince through everything with Joan. Her confinement is ours and by the end, we understand and admire her courage. (Coincidentally, the French were very hesitant to hire a Dane to portray the story of their most beloved iconic figure, but were vastly pleased with the result.)
The asymmetric set, (A model is on display in the Danish Film Museum) the lack of makeup, and the grueling sequential filming schedule no doubt did their part to add to Franconetti's sensitive performance as she strangely and totally embodies the nineteen year-old woman warrior. Dreyer says, "In Falconetti...I found the 'martyr's reincarnation.'" And it does seem that way. The script is taken almost verbatim from the court records of Joan's trial and execution over the course of some months (here condensed to a day or so).
Criterion's edition is loaded with extras. Worth the time to sift through it all.

Favorite Moments: Joan's statements of faith, shot editing in the torture chamber.


Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

"Hell hath no fury..." a French woman scorned." Or so this film would seem to be saying. Maria Casarès makes her second film appearance (after Les Enfants du Paradis which I will review shortly) as a catlike - and sometimes downright cross-eyed - woman who plots revenge on her disinterested lover, played by Paul Bernard. Jean Cocteau wrote the dialogue and it is crisp in that lyric, surprising way that only he seems to achieve. (Fortunately, no one falls through mirrors or becomes the embodiment of death in this film.)
Robert Bresson's third film shows only a few of those traits that would later earn the adjective "Bressonian." Despite this, Dames is a fine melodramatic film. I found myself applauding at the end as Agnès, the "tortured but innocent" cabaret dancer gives the ultimate performance to her tricked husband on her "deathbed." Other critics have said that she is truly dying and is completely innocent. I say she is a performer to the core and that Hélène, the jilted lover, is not the only savvy french woman in the film. Agnès is a wolf in sheepy clothing and gives a fascinating performance in order to win over her new and estranged husband, Hélène's ex-lover.

I've just given away the plot. Do forgive me.

Favorite Moments: Catface, ploy to get her lover to confess his disinterest, Agnes dancing in the apartment, deathbed scene.


Punch-Drunk Love

"Why I love Punch-Drunk Love." ▲ ♪

This must be one of my favorite movies. I bought it on the recommendation of family members (whose tastes are consistently and eerily matched to my own). I watched it three times in the first evening.
P. T. Anderson, maker of such films as Magnolia and Boogie Nights, won Best Director at Cannes with this surrealistic love story starring Adam Sandler and (my favorite actress) Emily Watson. A fantastically underexplained car wreck begins the action in this visually disturbing and lucid film about one of the sweetest love affairs ever to grace the screen.
Liberal use of the artwork of Jeremy Blake and the world's best use of the song "He Needs Me" (as sung by Shelley Duvall in the film Popeye) cement the status of this film in the art world. General audiences were a little more reserved in their praise. I suppose this is understandable. For me, PTA's films are like secrets whispered in my ear. Stories that he is telling me alone. Perhaps that is why I like them so well.

Favorite Moments: Car crash, white truck, running with harmonium, Lena's arrival, etc, etc, etc.

Black Narcissus

"Nun chick-fight."

What could be better than sending five nuns into the Himalayas to live on the edge of a precipice? Making Deborah Kerr the head nun, that's what. Powell and Pressburger's eerie tale of a disintigrating band of female missionaries has one of my favorite film climaxes of all time. This image of a nun painting her lips brought down the wrath of the Catholic church as being too lascivious. Oh how times have changed!
Scintillating color and imagery make this an Archer bullseye.

Favorite Moments: Christmas Mass, the gardening nun, the climax.


"Oh Gertrud, Gertrud."

Staring off into space while speaking in a monotone. Draping oneself over furniture or sitting stiffly on the edge of a sofa. Intoning philosophies at a lover while he grows increasingly bored. These are the halmarks of Carl Dreyer's controversial last film.
It is art at its finest; unintelligible.
One woman's excruciatingly slow search for love brought Dreyer little fame at the time of its release and I fear little fame now. I hesitate to trounce it any further, though, because there were masterful elements that showed Dreyer knew what he was doing. Nevertheless, I do not recommend watching it unless you are doing a research paper on Dreyer. In which case, it is indispensable.
I found the interviews more interesting than the film itself.

Favorite Moments: Gertrud's evening gown, Dr. Alex, Gabriel's tears.

Le Million

"La dee da!" №¢

I can't tell this film apart from this film. They are clones in my mind. And I don't suppose it helped much that I watched them back to back. Now there is probably no chance that I will ever be able to distinguish one from the other.
I think in this one there was a lottery ticket in question and it ends with everybody dancing in a big line while telling the story to some old men peering through the roof. But other than that, I don't rememebr much.
I have watched a lot of French films in the last several months. A lot. And when this one comes along and is called René Clair's comic triumph, I feel bad. Because once again, it just wasn't that funny. Laugh Out Loud is not the term I'd use for this film (or most of the films in that particular Criterion category).

Favorite Moments: I'm afraid I'll just mention something from that other film, so I'm not going to bother.


"Means: to live." ▲ ♪

You should never feel anxious about watching an Akiru Kurosawa film. I assure you, when it comes to Kurosawa, you are in good hands. He is a master of narrative and a genius in camera work.
In Ikiru, Kurosawa explores the meaning of human existence through the life and death of a bureaucrat, beautifully played by Takashi Shimura. When he discovers he is dying of stomach cancer he also realizes he has never truly lived. He then attempts to make up for the years he has wasted.
Shimura's commitment to the role earned him a stomach ulcer during the shooting of the film. Shimura's portrayal is even more astounding when compared to next role he would play; Kambei in Seven Samurai.
Ikiru comes with a dazzling assortment of extras from Criterion.

Favorite Moments: Walking home from the doctors, talking to his son, the toy bunny, persistent requesting, the swing shot (of course).




After Life
At War with the Army
Autumn Sonata
Big Deal on Madonna Street
Black Narcissus
Black Orpheus
Bombay Talkie
Butterfly Effect
Catch Me if You Can
The Chronicles of Riddick
Coup de Torchon
The Cranes are Flying
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Dil to Pagal Hai
Dog Day Afternoon
Gleaners and I
Hard Boiled
Heart of Glass
He Died with Felafel in His Hand
Henry Fool
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Honeymoon Killers
The Horse's Mouth
Indian in the Cupboard
I, Robot
The Island
La Grande Illusion
The Last Samurai
The Last Wave

Le Million
Like Water for Chocolate
Lola: BRD
Lord of the Flies
Love on the Run
The Magic Flute
Man Bites Dog
Mona Lisa
Munna Bhai, MBBS
Murderous Maids
The Naked Kiss
National Treasure
The Night Porter
Nights of Cabiria
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Punch-Drunk Love
Raising Helen
Red Beard
The Ruling Class
The Silence
Stan Brakhage
Stray Dog:Kerberos Panzer Cops
Taste of Cherry
Under the Roofs of Paris
Under The Tuscan Sun
The Vanishing
Wages of Fear
Wild Strawberries
A Woman Under The Influence
Written on the Wind


Once Upon a Time in Mexico

"Where did you get those cool t-shirts?"

Johnny Depp wears a stunning assortment of witty t-shirts and plays a strangely attractive nerd in Robert Rodriguez' third film in his Mariachi trilogy. This time there's about seventy percent more gunplay, explosives and hot chicas. Bigger is better in Rodriguez' world. Not to mention that Rodriguez puts together one of the best audio commentaries I have ever heard from a director. By the end of this film, he'll have you believing you could be his best friend or at least his adopted little brother/sister.

Favorite Moments: Johnny Depp's T collection.


"It's about walking and other things..."

The doomed love story of an aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on his walkabout and a young girl whose father just abandoned her and her young brother in the desert before shooting himself. She tries to find their way home with the help of the aboriginal whose name we never learn. This may be the part for which Gulpilil is most famous, at least internationally.

The weirdest coming of age story ever made. I think. Although I haven't watched them all. Thankfully.

Favorite Moment: Kangaroo dance.


"Ghost stories."

A series of four Japanese ghost stories written by American born Lafcadio Hearn of Greek-Irish descent who became a citizen of Japan in 1895. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. And I think the director of this film was smoking it, too, if you know what I mean. The sets are some of the most color-imbued, fantastical backgrounds ever to grace the celluloid. Creepy and highly visual. Probably worth seeing if you like that sort of thing.

Favorite Moments: The woman of the snow, Hoichi's singing.


"Catherine Hepburn gets hit on by a scuzzy Italian."

That's it. That sums it up. In sunny Venice an aging spinster travelling alone falls for a handsome married man and the two have a conflicted little affair centering around red glass. It's atmospheric and Catherine Hepburn has never looked more breakable.

Favorite Moments: Catherine falls in the canals, the city of Venice.


Man Bites Dog

"What's blacker than black?"

Man Bites Dog. Now there's a sardonic film for you. Gory, gruesome and made on the world's smallest budget, this clockwork-orange-esque ultraviolent shockumentary is also hilarious, which is painful to sensitive audience members such as myself. Truth is, I'm not big on the violence genre. I don't like rape scenes and murders, so I am not disposed to like this film. I am a delicate and gentle viewer. Which makes me the perfect victim for this particular filmic joke. You see, this film makes fun of the viewer for doing exactly what they are supposed to do: view. Lemme explain. It's a visual thumbscrew. The relentless escapades of the film's main character, a fictitious mass-murderer, are interspersed with heart-warming home videos of the many meaningful relationships in his life. You quickly learn, along with the camera crew (played by the writers/film crew), that if you wish to enjoy this sparkling and dynamic performer you must prepare yourself to watch him kill anyone else who enters the screen. And you can be sure that if he is being nice to a little boy in one scene he will be murdering an old lady in the next. This kind of compromise as a viewer is devastating. And at the same time fascinating. The writers further cut the distance between subject and audience by playing themselves playing themselves in this controversial slam on the documentary form and on media in general. We are the camera crew, and the proximity is, at times, overwhelming.

The Belgians in question are Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, and Benoît Poelvoorde (who plays the truly inspired philosopher/killer Ben).

Favorite Moment: Camera and microphone get separated.


After Life

"What moment would you choose?" ▲ ♪

This film intrigued me. The documentary style works amazingly well with the supernatural premise, making the idea of a transitory stage to the hereafter seem not only possible, but inevitable.

The premise: several people run and operate a halfway station where the newly dead choose one memory to take into eternity. These memories are meticulously recreated on film by the staff. The deceased then inhabit this memory for eternity. The characters are beautifully understated and the film itself a sweet portrait of human nature and the choices we make.

Runs about 118 minutes. Watch it and tell me what you think.

Favorite Moments: New arrivals, discovering who the workers really were, Kiyo picking flowers.

La Grande Illusion

“A gentlemanly prison-break.”

Jean Renoir, son of painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, directed this film in 1937. Set during WWI, British officers attempt a prison-break from a German POW camp. One of the most fascinating looks at social stratification I have seen. There is only one inducement strong enough to make you want to watch this film. And here it is: BEHOLD!

Now you have to watch it...

Favorite Moments: Dining with the enemy, clipping the geranium, farm wife.



"I cannot tell a lie..."№¢

I will make a confession here: I didn't really watch this movie. I realize it is a bit unfair to review a film without actually watching it, so, since I am not going to watch this movie any time soon, I will just say that I couldn't follow it and it bored me. Draw your own conclusions.

Jean-Luc Godard's weird new age futuristic film stars Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution.

Favorite Moment: Giving up on the film to do something else.

The Honeymoon Killers

"I didn't kill her! You must've done it."

The first thing I thought when I saw this movie was, "The acting sucks." Which is true. It does. But for some reason, it's still a good movie. It works somehow to have the obese, but beautiful Shirley Stoler shouting her lines like a trailer-trash prima donna. Somehow the amateurish nature of the acting makes it more believable.
Based on a true story, Honeymoon Killers documents the events of the famed "Lonely Hearts" murderers on their cross-country rampage during the 40's.

Favorite Moments: I'm not sure "favorite" is the right word to use here, but this film certainly stands out in the memory.

Indian in the Cupboard

"You must be this tall to enter."№¢

This is a bad film. It is meant to be a magical children's story, but if you are a good parent you won't make your children watch this movie. Make them read the book instead.

A boy gets a cupboard and a key for his birthday which turns toy men into real miniature people. He screws around with an Indian for several days before returning him to his plasticine state. I know the premise sounds good, but the delivery sucks.

Favorite Moments: Staring out the window at some bugs while the movie rolled on.

Taste of Cherry

"How can I say this?" ▲ ♪

Take a deep breath.
Exhale on "Ahh!"
Now repeat after me: "Pure Movie Magic!"

Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami (one of the most fascinating directors I've ever heard on the subject of film) tells an almost innocuous tale of a middle aged man in Iran...

A simple, poetic, enigmatic film. Cinema at its finest. I highly recommend it.

Favorite Moments: Opening sequence, and everything thereafter.

Written on the Wind

"Hold me, Mitch, hold me!"

If you want to know where the modern American soap opera began look no further than Douglas Sirk. He didn't just broaden the genre, he antagonized it as well. The plot for Written on the Wind is standard soap stuff; he loves her, but she doesn't love him and the other girl lies to get him to hate her, etc. What is just below the surface of this melodrama, however, and the reason I believe it's in The Criterion Collection, is that it is satire. Sirk, German born director that he is, creates a genre while destroying it. This is apparently something fun for very clever artists to do. Tell everyone how cool something is while you make fun of it so people don't know whether they are celebrating the thing itself or the mockery of the thing. It gets very confusing. Warhol would've appreciated this. At any rate. You should draw your own conclusions by watching it for yourself. Just remember that 'Sirk' rhymes with 'smirk.'

Favorite Moments: Marylee's swagger, Kyle's driving, Mitch's abstinence (I mean, this is Rock Hudson we're talking about).


Autumn Sonata

"Mommy Dearest for Swedes."

Ingrid Bergman stars in Ingmar Bergman's (they are not related) drama of a mother and daughter meeting after many years. The kind of slow, twisting yearning Bergman (him) is capable of producing is remarkable. No wonder Swedes love him so much. Bergman (her) plays the mother, locked in her own world of fame and lonliness, which as the commentator points out, isn't quite fair of Bergman (him) to do to her since it looks like he's criticizing her lifelong elegance and pristine beauty in film. Truthfully, Bergman (her) shed that image many times after she ran off to marry Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. But Bergman (him) seemed to take delight in making her play it "straight" and looking as unlovely as Bergman (her) possibly can. Which isn't much.

Favorite Moments: The piano lesson, the crippled daughter.


"Why cricket is still popular in India." ▲ ♪

If you like opressive rulers being routed by a ragtag village of farmers in a cricket match set in 1893 then you should watch this film. If you like Bollywood in all its glory then you should watch this film. If you like Aamir Khan then you should watch this film. And lastly, if you haven't yet watched this film then you should definitely watch this film.

Only 225 minutes long.

Favorite Moments: Rain dance, accepting the untouchable, the match.


"Ah youth!"

Fellini recreates his youth in Fascist Italy in this film. But in typical Fellini fashion he plays games with the characters and with us. This is one of Fellini's most beloved works.

Didn't hate it. Didn't love it. It's a good film. Rent it if you want to.

Favorite Moment: 7 foot snow drifts, narrator.

Like Water for Chocolate

"Like watery chocolate."

Mythically complex story of a daughter's forbidden love and rebellion against her mother. I vaguely remember this movie from my school days (we never actually saw it, but it was on the schedule for our Spanish class). What I don't understand is why they would let 16 year olds watch it. It's a bit racy for teenagers. It's also patchy as a story. There is a disconnectedness that feels jumpy. The full story is probably more clearly told in the book by Laura Esquivel. 105 minutes long.

Favorite Moments: When she tells off her lover for not kidnapping her.


Hiroshima Mon Amour

"Blahbety, blahbety, blah, mon amour."№¢

I'm supposed to recommend this movie because of its cultural significance and the effect it had on post-WWII France etc, etc, but I really don't give a damn and to tell the truth it's a little too much tortured philisophical French New Wave for one film. The poor Japanese lead was chosen only for his build, it seems. His poor handling of the French language is horribly apparent as he apes his lines in the bedroom to his beautiful and infuriatingly French co-star.

Favorite Moments: Opening scene, facts about the bombing of Hiroshima.


"What? No Happy Ending?"

This may be the most internationally acclaimed Indian film of recent times, but I hesitate to laud what the West thinks is good Bollywood. The stars of Devdas were invited to The Cannes Film Festival in 2002. This wouldn't be so amazing if it weren't for the fact that no commercial Indian film has ever been invited to Cannes. Why did Devdas get chosen for this dubious honor? My theory: because it doesn't have a happy ending. (This may be a first for Bollywood, I don't know.) Regardless, the film was shown in the "not in the competition" division. This version of the story is the third or fourth remake of a novel by a sappy Indian teenager.

184 minutes short, stars the impossibly beautiful Ashwarya Rai, the ubiquitous Shahrukh Khan and the equally ubiquitous and vastly talented Madhuri Dixit (See my review of Dil to Pagal Hai). You might as well familiarize yourself with these three actors. You'll be seeing them again and again.

Costumery and dance in this film are dazzling and decadent. Here, take a peek.

Favorite Moments: Paro's mother issuing a curse, Chandramuhki and Paro dance, the saris. Yum.

Under the Roofs of Paris

"A French talkie."

Here's another one of those movies that The Criterion Collection calls "laugh out loud" that isn't all that funny. It isn't all that bad either, it just isn't all that anything. René Clair's 1930 love story takes place in the tenements of Paris as a street singer and a gangster vie for a young woman's affections blah, blah, blah... I'm just quoting the Criterion synopsis now, so I'll stop.

Favorite Moments: Nothing stands out.

Heart of Glass

"Only watch under hypnosis."№¢

I love Werner Herzog. He sucked us all into the madness of Aguirre, he pulled us up Fitzcarraldo's mountain, he exposed to us Dieter's need to fly. He took strange and unequaled leaps in cinematic history that left his audience awed and inspired.

This film does not constitute one of those leaps. Well, it leaps alright, but I don't think it quite lands, if you know what I mean. Herzog put the entire cast (except the prophet) under hypnosis before they were put on film. This is an interesting factoid, no doubt, and typical of the kind of lengths Herzog would go to in attempting a new cinematic vision, but in fact it makes for lame storytelling. Don't watch this film unless you are a member of the Herzog Historical Institute. It is a tiresome and garbled film that makes no sense whatsoever. (And now I just know someone's going to watch it and tell me it's their favorite movie ever.)

Favorite Moments: Two men drinking beer and quietly threatening each other's lives.

Wages of Fear

"How intense was it?" ▲ ♪

From now on, I will refer to very intense moments in my life as "wages-of-fear intense." Meaning, they are so intense as to cause one to stop breathing and/or pace the room attempting vainly to alleviate the intensity. This is different from horror. Horror is creepy. This film is intense. Beautifully so.
Henri-Georges Clouzot should get a pat on the back for making this wonderful movie. Four men take on a suicide drive across a rugged landscape in trucks loaded with demonic amounts of nitroglycerine. Some of the shots, plot points and acting moments are cinematic gorgiosity.

Favorite Moments: Many, many moments. Just watch the film.

Nights of Cabiria

"What is it with hookers?"

I'll be honest; I wasn't crazy about this movie. The "hooker with a heart of gold" theme, to me, is tiresome and overdone. There must be something there that I'm not seeing. But, having said that, Frederico Fellini films beg watching. They pull you in. Giuletta Masina (Fellini's wife) stars in this early film which won him a second Oscar (Best Foreign Film) and her a Cannes Award (Best Actress).

When this film gets reviewed, a lot of words like "naivete" and "waiflike" get bandied about. And even though these words do describe the lead character, they are also somewhat misleading. All hookers with a heart of gold are naive (in the sense that they are trusting enough to really fall in love with someone). Dolly Parton's hooker was naive, but in control. Julia Roberts' hooker was naive, but also elegant and bizarrely fortunate. Giuletta Masina's hooker is none of these things. And this is what I found fascinating. She teeters on the edge of extinction. Unlike Parton and Roberts, there's nothing glamerous about her life. She swaggers like a miniature, W.C. Fields, but her swagger is a front. She's quite vulnerable. Quite fragile. And the film refuses to protect her. She proves she is capable of love, but incapable of protecting herself from the world she lives in. She's the anti-hooker.

Fellini once said that Cabiria was the only character he still worries about. And you understand why when you watch this film.

Favorite Moments: Cabiria at the beginning, Cabiria at the end.


(A Word To Our Readers)

Some have expressed concern over the preponderance of unknown film titles in this collection of film reviews. Please, DO NOT BE ALARMED. These films are supposed to be unknown to the masses. They are the "fine wines" of the film world. To watch them is to be initiated into the snobbish culture of film-buffs known as Truffaut troglodytes, Kurosawa connoisseurs, and Buñuel bourgeoisie. Pinkies up in disdain toward your other, lesser film-watching friends - the great unwatched, as it were. So, please don't feel bad that you have never heard of or watched any of these films. At least you can read about them here and then make knowing small talk with real filmophiles. Besides, viewing them is as easy as calling your local library or getting a Netflix account (product placement). But in the interest of time, I will here devise a rating system for the films I personally have viewed. I do not promise you will like the films I like nor that you will hate the films I hate. That would be asking too much. Instead, you may draw your own conclusions from my rating system and apply it to your film watching as you see fit.

Here, for your edification, is my overly-labored and complex rating system.

Rating System
I recommend it: ▲
I don't recommend it: ▼
It made me happy: ♪
It made no sense: №¢


Lola: BRD

"Most Creative Use of Lighting."

Rainer Werner Fassbinder: one of those directors that all other directors envy. He formed a tight-knit community eager to do his bidding, worked on a shoe-string budget, could play any role in the filming process, and even edited his films as he shot, cutting the entire process down to an astounding four weeks. In his fourteen years as a director he directed more than 40 films, and participated in dozens of others. His breakneck speed through filmmaking left a wake in the film world that has yet to settle. I highly recommend his films (while simultaneously admitting that they are usually offensive. that's just the way he liked it, too.). The BRD Trilogy in particular covers a period of German history that you won't see in almost any other medium; the post WWII years.

Lola is a prostitute in 1957 Germany. Petty politics and personal ambition fuel the plot which I won't bother revealing. The lighting is fantastic! Orgasmic. Overwhelming. Nobody has used light this way before or since. It's worth the trip just to see the lights. It's like a Christmas tree decorated with prostitutes and petty government officials. You'll love it! Criterion has crammed the disc with commentaries, and interviews with Barbara Sukowa and the screenwriter.

Favorite Moments: Conversations in the men's room, song in church, a new suit, lighting throughout.

Wild Strawberries

"Old Man On The Lawn."№¢

Bergman is no doubt dealing with some personal demons in this film which is 91 minutes long (45 on fast-forward). It's too bad the rest of us had to watch it. His tale of a professor on the brink of death, reviewing the memories of his life and seeking resolution, follows well-marked paths in film history. But lack of story structure fails to keep us trailing after our senile main character. I have no doubts that a filmophile somewhere out there knows Bergman's back story in reference to this film, but I don't. One of Bergman's early works, it was somewhat responsible for his rise to fame.

Favorite Moments: Can't think of any.


" for Murder." ▲ ♪

Fritz Lang, Austrian director and writer, launched Peter Lorre's questionable career in this film with the role of the whistling pedophile, Franz Beckert, considered one of the finest performances ever captured on film. What gets me is that Lang's first film in sound should be so audio-savvy. Lang fled Germany in 1933 when Goebbels banned one of his films and simultaneously offered him a top spot at UFA (propoganda machine of the Nazi party). On a side note, Lorre also left Germany in 1933. It was a good time to leave, apparently.

Favorite Moments: Introduction of a killer, Franz in the attics, kangaroo courtroom.

Hard Boiled

"Hot-Handed God of Cops."

Lashou Shentan is translated literally as "hot-handed god of cops" from the cantonese. And with a name like that, you know this film has to be really dorky. But fortunately, this is John Woo we're talking about and he doesn't really do dorky. No, no, he does cool and amazing and awesome.
This was the film that launched him solidly into international stardom. After which, he moved to Hollywood and directed the likes of Nicholas Cage in Windtalkers and Face Off. Chow-Yun Fat stars as Tequila, the hot-handed god of cops.

Favorite Moments: Papered car, baby puts out fire.


The Cranes Are Flying

"What filmmaking should be." ▲ ♪

It's films like this one that make this fool's errand of mine worth while. I mean, no one's paying me to watch two and three films a night. I do it for the sake of this unreachable goal of mine. It's like a pig climbing up a coal chute, me attempting to view a collection of films that gets bigger every day. But then there are nights when I sit down, put in another Russian film, ready to hit the fast-forward button and instead, I'm paralyzed by the beauty on the screen. Every frame, every shot, every scene. This is what filmmaking is... or should be. Mikhail Kalatozov tells a heartbreaking and yet beautiful story set during WWII.

Favorite Moments: Beginning, middle, end.

The Magic Flute

"Why Mozart?"№¢

What is it about Ingmar Bergman that has The Criterion Collection people so giddy with delight? Not only do they carry eleven of his films, they also chose films which are boring as hell. I do not deny the power of Winter Light or the beauty of The Silence, but when they foist a theater adaptation of The Magic Flute down our throats I have to wonder who's paying them to do this. Aparently, this was the first and only attempt at operatic film, and while I am pleased for Bergman that he chose to do this project, I really didn't want to watch it. And it's difficult to watch an opera on fast-forward, because the only good thing is the music.

Favorite Moments: Overture sequence, fade to orange, Popagano and Popagana's song.

At War with the Army

"Beautiful Beans!"№¢

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin's first major picture together as a team. They had supporting roles in two earlier films which convinced execs to give them their own place in the sun. Made in 1950, At War mostly makes jokes about army politics and women troubles. I hate to be ungenerous, but compared to later work, this film is tiresome. The only appreciable moment (by this film critic's standards) was the "Bean" song by Jerry Lewis. You must watch and memorize this song. The beauty of it will haunt you for the rest of your life! As will the sight of Jerry Lewis in drag...

Favorite Moments: The bean song.

Munna Bhai, MBBS

"Med School for Mobsters." ▲ ♪

Munna Bhai, MBBS makes me laugh. I first watched this Bollywood comedy at a friend's house; an Indian friend in med school whose parents are both doctors (MBBS is the Indian equivalent of MD). Despite the subtitles and the stiff dancing of muscle-bound Sanjay Dutt, the film is charming. In it, a mobster attempts to regain his father's honor by becoming a doctor instead of an underworld don. His attempts are unsuccessful. But he finds he can still be honorable, falls in love with a beautiful doctor and everybody loves him yadda yadda yadda happy ending.

*sniff* I love Bollywood.

Favorite Moments: Constructing the clinic, Magic Hug, Anand's shave, Circuit.


"Shakespeare in Japan"

Based on Shakespeare's King Lear, Ran (which means "chaos") chronicles the fall of a ruling Japanese family in the Tokagawa period. It was released in 1985. The last seven films of Kurosawa's life (including this one) came with difficulty. Funding was low and mounting a full-scale feature was not offered on a silver plate as it had been in Kurosawa's heyday. This, perhaps, makes the story of a dethroned monarch seem that much more poignant. The beauty of the million dollar burning set is not lost on those who can imagine the courage needed to construct such a set and then burn it down in one take (not to mention tha pressure on the lead actor to get the scene right!). The three sons and their armies are cleverly color-coded throughout the film for easy identification. The battle sequences in this film are among some of Kurosawa's finest. What that man couldn't do with an army of extras isn't worth talking about. 160 minutes of film genius.

Favorite Moments: Overthrow of the third castle, Lady Kaede's interview with Jiro.


The Last Wave

"Peter Weir is just Peter Weird without a 'd'."

I like Peter Weir. He makes kooky movies, like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Master and Commander. His films are intentionally broody and submersed in whatever minute emotion Weir is investigating at the time. His concentrated focus surrounds his characters, locking them under our gaze for the duration of the film (take The Truman Show, for instance, where this happens quite literally).
In The Last Wave, Richard Chamberlain plays a lawyer submerged somewhat unwillingly into the world of tribal aborigines. The film plays like a long, hallucinatory dream, at once suspensful and hypnotizing. David Gulpilil, who haunts almost every internationally acclaimed Australian film, stars as Chris Lee.

Favorite Moments: Chris' appearance in the dream, water on the stairs, floating tomatoes.

The Night Porter

"Nazi's make good lovers."

I'm not sure if Liliana Cavani was trying to say that sleeping with your captors helps you escape prison camp or if she was trying to say that Nazism was a form of S&M, but whatever the message, this film is one tit shy of a porno. I found this review helpful. You can read it.

Best Bits: Gabriele Ferzetti's near-naked dance to a shower room full of starched, fully-clothed, cockroach-black, SS guards.

The Horse's Mouth

"Alec Guinness is not a beer." ▲ ♪

That's right. He's a British actor. A very good British actor who is well-known for comedic parts. Lots of them. My favorite film of his is Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he plays no less than eight characters.

But in this film he plays just one: Gulley Jimson - wizened, crotchety, spirited artist (everything I hope to be myself someday). Without breaking a sweat, Sir Guinness merges with Jimson, cramming the screen for 95 minutes with vivacious dialogue (which he wrote himself) and delightful rapaciousness. Some scallywags make such good theater. I watched this film twice in one evening. It was that good. I'm pretty sure at this point that I am also going to read the book by the same name written by Joyce Cary.

Favorite Moments: Jimson's voice, his regal appearance in a bed spread, visit to Sal's, Nosey finds a wall, millionaires falling through the rug on the hole in the floor, Jimson passing a Naval vessel.

web stats