A Criterion Adventure (2019)


SETTING THE STAGE


For film enthusiasts everywhere, especially those, myself included, who live for the underappreciated masters and the nooks and crannies of cinema history, November 29, 2018 was a dark day, the day FilmStruck died. FilmStruck had been the all-too-short-lived streaming home for the revered Criterion Collection and their streaming partners, notably Janus Films. FilmStruck had also recently partnered with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to provide access to an abundance of classic American cinema. Altogether, in addition to offering a large selection of films released on the Criterion label, the service had also provided its subscriber base with a wealth of ever-shifting selections, both foreign and domestic, from across the many decades of film history.

FilmStruck ad post-TCM partnership

After having experienced the Criterion Collection in past years as merely happenstance as I explored various acclaimed films that happened to be on their discs, 2018 marked a shift of intentionality as I purposely began seeking out films associated with the label, especially once I finally made the decision to dive into FilmStruck. Fortunately, I’m a huge proponent of physical media, especially Blu-ray, and so that already represented the majority of my watching, but I quickly discovered many titles on the channel didn’t have Blu-ray releases. Nevertheless, come January 1, the start of my 2019 adventure with the label, discs were now pretty much my only source when it came to anything Criterion-related. That’s not to say I didn’t stop making astonishing, thrilling, and awe-inspiring discoveries on disc. In fact, the majority of my top 10 Criterion-related discoveries in 2019 were from discs in the Collection. But there’s a lot to be said for the convenience and depth of streaming.

Fortunately, the darkness and despair was short lived, as soon after FlimStruck closed, it came to light that Criterion itself would be providing a streaming service. Finally, after much anticipation, on April 8, the Criterion Channel launched, and I began to discover just how deep the rabbit hole would go. The channel’s extensive partnerships would enable them to provide an even more diverse array of films than FilmStruck had. Right off the bat, I experienced one of the new channel’s most ingenious means of helping its viewers to discover films we may never have otherwise seen. Curated collections. 

columbia noir
Criterion Channel home page on launch day

Day one, the first major collection was right there on top of the screen, Columbia Noir. If this was the launching point, a whole group of compelling Columbia Studios films, the vast majority of which had no Criterion ownership, along with a whole host of other films, in and out of the Collection, I knew I was in good hands.  So now, with a full arsenal of available Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases and Criterion Channel possibilities I was ready to dive into all sorts of new territory. By the end of 2019, I had experienced 134 of them for the very first time with representation from every decade from the 1920s through the 2010s. 

Here’s the full list of Criterion-related titles I watched in chronological order by release date.

 


CRITERION COLLECTIONS


I wish I could tell you about all the great films I watched throughout 2019, but instead I’ll have to stick to the highlights. Without going into detail, I am particularly happy with 3 box sets I began and will finish in 2020, not a bad film in the bunch and two genuine masterpieces–The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Playtime. Those sets features the talents of filmmakers Jacques Demy, Jacques Tati, and the collaborations of Marlene Dietrich and her frequent director Josef Von Sternberg. Along the same lines, many of my channel experiences came via the aforementioned curated collections, which focus on either a specific filmmaker, actor, creative theme or a combination of those. The one and only collection I completed beginning to end, though not for lack of trying, was Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck, in which she played a wide variety of characters, from a long-suffering mother to promiscuous lover to faith healer to a mail order bride fighting for the love of her husband. That last character is found in The Purchase Price, one of the least appreciated films in the collection that was in fact my favorite of the group. 

Rosalind Russell & John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936), dir. Dorothy Arzner

There was plenty I enjoyed from the other collections I partook from, whether I saw many as in the launch day Columbia Noir collection or merely a couple as in the Fred and Ginger grouping that featured who else but Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a pair that can’t help but put a smile on your face with their chemistry, dancing talent, and synchronicity. The noir set gave me the opportunity to finally discover Fritz Lang’s genre masterpiece The Big Heat as well as his also outstanding, though underrated Human Desire. I was additionally grateful for the opportunity to explore the contributions of women in early cinema through a trio of Dorothy Arzner films, one of the pioneering women directors, headlined by Craig’s Wife, as well as a pair of George Cukor films that put a spotlight on his complex, unforgettable heroines. Both The Women, which features the unique casting of 130 female speaking parts and not one male on camera, and A Woman’s Face made for rich and heartfelt viewing.

My other big push came at the very end of the year as I simultaneously gobbled down soon-to-be-expired entries from the Val Lewton and MGM Musicals collections wherein I found some fun, some thrills, and three new favorites, from an ultra dark classic horror mystery featuring Satan worshipers and suicide, to emotional romantic drama in musical form provided by the likes of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, to a film of pure joy, silliness, and dreams of romance with the sunny Debbie Reynolds being pursued by the awkwardly charming Donald O’Connor. Those films are The 7th Victim, For Me and My Gal, and I Love Melvin, in that order.

Yasujirō Ozu

About mid-year, after having seeing there were a massive number of Yasujirō Ozu films on the channel, a master director I had discovered the previous year and whose work intrigued me, I was inspired to try something truly ambitious, my biggest film-watching project to date. I would begin a chronological deep dive through every Ozu film I could access. By year’s end, I had journeyed through his first 10 films, though a couple only exist in part. It’s been an immensely rewarding experience watching them in order to see the growth of his film-making skills, the types of stories he tells, and to see his style progress over time. In the few short years these first films have covered, I’ve been able to pick up on subtle shifts in direction such as his heavily Hollywood influenced beginnings to him starting to develop his own distinct style. My favorite of these early years, Tokyo Chorus, is a deeply emotional family drama where a man loses his job trying to stand up for a coworker, which throws his family into hardship. Those who look ahead know emotional family drama would become a mainstay in Ozu’s work.

 


TOP 10 CRITERION DISCOVERIES


Now we come to the main event, the best of the best, where I highlight my top 10 Criterion-related discoveries of 2019, plus an honorable mention. These were the films that grabbed the whole of my heart, mind, and spirit, showcasing complete package film making, from script to cinematography to acting to direction to music.

Note, these titles were extracted from my overall list of my top 20 first-time watches during 2019.


Honorable Mention:
La Jetée

Year: 1962
Director: Chris Marker
Genre: Short, Drama, Romance
Cast: Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux, André Heinrich, Jacques Branchu, Pierre Joffroy, Étienne Becker, Philbert von Lifchitz, Ligia Branice

A 28-minute genius work of art. The time travel plot, as mind bending as it is, is simply window dressing to the meditation on love, memory, and the attempt to attain the unattainable or regain what is forever lost that lies beneath. Rarely has so much been accomplished with so little. Through [almost] nothing but a set of still pictures and narration, Marker sets our imaginations alight, and we ourselves become captivated with this entrancing woman once frozen in a snapshot of memory.

Upon the prisoner’s re-entering the past, the juxtaposition of music and image creates a transportive experience that makes you want nothing but to rest in those peacetime moments indefinitely all the while knowing the apocalypse is just around the corner. Likewise when the time-traveling prisoner and the woman he was seeking are together. There is so much life in the still images that you can almost sense them moving but in the way that life moves when you’re sitting quietly with someone you adore simply adoring their presence, and time just fades away. And then comes a look. Just briefly, but one that you will never forget. But these moments are fleeting, and time in fact does go on and that moment is forever gone.

 


#10 – Arsenic and Old Lace

Year: 1944
Director: Frank Capra
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Cast: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton Peter Lorre, James Gleason, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander, Grant Mitchell

Who knew a movie featuring serial killer sisters that’s directed by the guy who made such moving slices of melodrama like It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington could be so freaking funny? Cary Grant kills it as the just-married and utterly flummoxed Mortimer Brewster who is simply trying to get ready for his honeymoon at his family home when he stumbles across a corpse upon which his aunts happily reveal to him that they’ve been killing lonely bachelors as a service to them. As if this wasn’t wild enough, Mortimer’s brother Teddy thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and his other brother, Jonathan is himself a murderer on the run with his own dark intentions. But murder turns to farce as the comedy of errors and miscommunication pile up. The plot is beautifully orchestrated, but the sheer incredulity alone that Grant hilariously shows at the ever increasing madness around him is alone worth the price of admission.

 


#9 – Solaris

Year: 1972
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Georgiy Teykh, Sos Sargsyan, Olga Barnet

Even more than the main character Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) and despite her not showing up for some time, Solaris thrives on Natalya Bondarchuk’s magnetic portrayal of Hari, Kelvin’s long-dead wife who has suddenly appeared again… and again… and again. Kelvin himself represents a relatable everyman, and it is through him we are transported from what remained of his life and relationships on Earth into a surreal, contemplative, and ever more disturbing experience on a nearly empty space station in growing disarray. The station is hovering over an alien ocean world full of fog and mystery. Through Kelvin, our attention is ever drawn to Hari, and it is the intimacy her present manifestation shares with him, an intimacy defined by their past relationship, through which Tarkovsky provides the core of his exploration into what it means to be human.

Clearly, human individuals are unique in a way that other creatures are not, a distinct nature that even a carbon copy cannot emulate, try as they might. Another side of our humanity is our attachment to one another, none more so than in that unifying relationship of marriage, where two become one flesh. The longing that comes from the loss of that relationship can be so intense that perhaps one would consider a carbon copy substitute, even knowing it’s not the same person?

 


#8 – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Year: 1943
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
Cast: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Adolf Wohlbrück, Roland Culver, James McKechnie, Arthur Wontner, David Hutcheson, Ursula Jeans, John Laurie, Harry Welchman, Robert Harris

An epic rivaling the indomitable Lawrence of Arabia that gives flesh and meaning to what had seemed a mere caricature of a man. The viewer is faced with such human complexity in this study of the fictitious General Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) that he is himself forced to contemplate the whole of his own past, how it has affected his present, and what the impact will be on his future and the future of those who will come after him.

The depth and weight Powell and Pressburger were able to instill into the film is even more profound when one considers it having been made in wartime, when the fate of the world was yet unknown. They also demonstrate an attempt to understand the nature of that present war and how it came to be that all of Britain (and the world) was fighting for its very existence against the disastrous threat of Nazism. The acting is chock full of so many delightful subtleties and the dialogue is incredibly well written, detailed with emotion and color and memory. I also must give special attention to Deborah Kerr’s extraordinary multi-role performance, no doubt helped by the costuming and makeup talent.

 


#7 – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Mireille Perrey, Marc Michel, Ellen Farner, Jean Champion, Pierre Caden, Jean-Pierre Dorat, Bernard Fradet, Michel Benoist

Jacques Demy is a master manipulator of the heartstrings and intimately familiar with the intense passions and longing that come with young love. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg left me with bittersweet tears and a tight ball of conflicted emotions as sadness and joy fought against one another within my soul. But it’s not only emotions Demy demonstrates artistry over. The frame throughout explodes with bright, bold colors and he collaborates with composer Michel Legrand to provide a soul-stirring musical score with powerful songs. Though this is no Hollywood musical as every word of dialogue is sung, often in a subdued, melancholy manner due to the ever-present conflict even amidst joy, which plays in subtle ways against the colorful backdrops.

While Catherine Deneuve’s character Geneviève takes center stage through much of the film, every romantic relationship and desire, whether given short or significant attention, is fueled with earnest intention and truthfulness. There is absolutely nothing casual about any of the romance. But speaking of Deneuve, the pained longing and desperation expressed in her face and eyes broke me. Through her and Guy’s (Nino Castelnuovo) forced separation, we are made to feel the misery of the not knowing and the consequences of the impossible choices that life and our own actions force us to make when we’re desperate not to have to make them.

 


#6 – Wild Strawberries

Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jullan Kindahl, Gunnar Sjöberg, Max von Sydow, Åke Fridell, Ann-Marie Wiman, Gunnel Broström

A deeply introspective tone makes Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries immensely relatable, despite the often surreal quality of the film and the vast age difference between 78-year old doctor and widower Isak Borg and the average viewer, especially when we discover he and his much younger estranged son Evald suffer from a similar darkness of the soul that has brought each to their own crisis point. Victor Sjöström plays Isak with such sensitivity that he makes us care about his inner turmoil all the while he’s showing himself to have become an insensitive and grumpy old man to those he should be closest to.

The film opens with a surreal nightmare, which sets Isak face to face with the immediacy of his mortality with vivid symbolism. This begins a literal and figurative journey, the former a shared road trip with his pregnant daughter-in-law battling her own demons and with those they pick up along the way, including a girl named Sara, played by Bibi Andersson, who reminds him of the Sara he thought he would marry as a young man (also played by Bibi Andersson). These encounters on his literal journey propel Isak into a deep inner journey of sentiment, regret, and hope that serves to change how he sees himself and the world around him.

 


#5 – The Big Heat

Year: 1953
Director: Fritz Lang
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Peter Whitney, Willis Bouchey, Robert Burton, Adam Williams, Carolyn Jones

Never has so much tension been wrought out of a boiling pot of coffee and rarely does a final line land with such foreboding potency. WIth a screenplay written by actual former crime reporter Sydney Boehm, Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat unleashed upon the world one of the most brutal film noirs of the classic era. With no holds barred, Lang unhesitatingly reveals the world as a place that feels cold, hopeless, vicious, and full of infidelity. It’s a world populated by the mafia, dirty cops, and promiscuous women, and by making it clear that no one is safe, good or bad alike or anywhere in between, Lang establishes an environment loaded with tension, both for physical danger as well as moral compromise.

Glenn Ford is ideally cast as the good guy homicide detective Sergeant Bannion who starts out a positive well-intentioned family man but soon finds himself caught up in mob brutality while trying to solve a case. In his anger and frustration, the cracks in his good-guy persona quickly develop and he starts to look and more like the criminals he’s pursuing. Gloria Grahame is also outstanding as Debby Marsh, girlfriend to Vince Stone, second-in-command to the local mob boss. Despite the company she keeps, she demonstrates an awareness and intelligence and an appreciation of moral uprightness in Bannion when he stands up to a nightclub singer who Vince abuses. It seems to be the spark she needs to seek a way out of the only lifestyle she’s known. So while one character is on the descent, the other is rising up.

 


#4 – The Elephant Man

Year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Biography, Drama
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, Helen Ryan, John Standing, Dexter Fletcher

Carrying on the torch of early 20th century filmmakers like Tod Browning (Freaks) who want to inspire us to care for those society has rejected and abused, David Lynch’s The Elephant Man eschews the distortion of surrealism for the distortion of humanity and a trumpets a desperate call for empathy and kindness. Lynch’s most important choice is to unmask John Merrick (the eponymous character’s real name) early on. The more he shows us John’s (John Hurt) intelligence, faith, ability to create and appreciate beauty, and his longing for human connection, the more monstrous those who would be cruel and take advantage of him appear. By the point he’s crying out that he’s a human being, not an animal, he’s the only one present who isn’t acting like one.

Hurt’s performance is one for the ages, both in physically presenting himself as this horribly disfigured man as well as from the soul that pours out of his eyes. Anthony Hopkins is likewise terrific as Dr. Treves. We sense his deep compassion for John and yet he’s hardly perfect as he comes to realize about himself. Despite his good intentions, he realizes he and his hospital staff are treating John with the same lack of humanity as John had endured in the circus. I loved seeing the pure care and affection that Mrs. Kendal (Anne Bancroft) had for John. She is wholly unaffected by his outward appearance, seeing straight into the soulful kindness and goodness of the man’s heart. And she’s proud to show him honor in public as well. What an inspiration!

 


#3 – Autumn Sonata

Year: 1978
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama, Music
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Björk, Marianne Aminoff, Arne Bang-Hansen, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Linn Ullmann

After several previous attempts to fully appreciate the morally, philosophically, and artistically dense films of Ingmar Bergman, this one was the key to finally unlocking my ability to love one of them. I adore movies that make me feel, and let’s just say that if you ever wanted to know what the emotional equivalent of going 12 rounds with a prize fighter would be, my suggestion would be to watch the pulse-pounding bout herein between Bergman regular, Liv Ullmann and the incomparable Ingrid Bergman, who play a daughter and her estranged mother respectively. That daughter, named Eva, is the troubled wife of the village pastor, and her mother Charlotte is a highly accomplished and well-traveled pianist. Both have to face the disappointment and frustration that has come with choices that were long ago made, especially those due to Charlotte’s career pursuits.

If we’re honest, emotional baggage is always going to be a factor between mothers and their daughters. Ingmar takes advantage of this reality by heaping insult onto injury and creating deeply complex individuals whose fully fleshed out characters and rich histories bear scars that run incredibly deep. Reconciliation is the unstated desire, but as long-held secrets, selfish desires, and bottled up trauma are dredged up even the possibility of achieving that reconciliation is going to unleash all kinds of misery, frustration, rage, and despair. For 90 minutes, Ingrid and Liv are this mother daughter pair. With exacting performances that never once cross the line into overacting, they are taken to the limit as emotion pours out of each of them in a mesmerizing, soul-crushing plea for understanding and appreciation. By the end, the viewer feels as exhausted as the couple on the screen.

 


#2 – Barry Lyndon

Year: 1975
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger, Diana Körner, Gay Hamilton, Frank Middlemass, Arthur O’Sullivan, Godfrey Quigley, Leonard Rossiter, Philip Stone

It amazes me how Kubrick could seemingly take any genre and make a masterpiece out of it. This is his take on a 1700s period film. The sumptuous beauty of the cinematography presents an experience akin to a relaxing stroll through a gallery of richly detailed paintings, complete with narration and a gorgeous classical music compositions, except in the rare moment when the calm is unceremoniously broken and even the camera is set loose in the ensuing chaos. In contrast to the beauty of the camerawork is the only sometimes sympathetic man at its center, Redmond Barry, played to subtle perfection by Ryan O’Neal.

Barry is repeatedly given opportunities to put his past bad choices behind him and start anew, often in even better shape than he was before, but he keeps failing to overcome the lusts that drive him leading him to spurn those opportunities. He finds pleasures for a time, but those pleasures, those choices to act evilly towards not only strangers but eventually even his own wife and stepchild come at a severe cost. The defining duel of the film is masterfully filmed with immaculate detail and taking what had been a mostly relaxing viewing up to that point and ever so slowly infusing ounce upon ounce of suspense, creating intense discomfort for the characters on screen and the viewer alike.

 


And my #1 favorite Criterion discovery of 2019 is…

 

Bicycle Thieves

Year: 1948
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Genre: Drama
Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda, Vittorio Antonucci, Giulio Chiari, Elena Altieri, Carlo Jachino, Michele Sakara, Fausto Guerzoni

Such a simple premise–a man’s search for his stolen bicycle through the streets of post World War II Rome, an ancient, endlessly fascinating city of contrasts. Shot on location (no sets) with only untrained actors (though you’d never know it), this prime example of Italian neorealist cinema blurs the line between fly-on-the-wall documentary and fictional narrative. Director Vittorio De Sica demonstrates how such an event that would seem a mere inconvenience to many feels like a life and death predicament to the impoverished Antonio Ricci and his family. Through Antonio’s desperate urgency, he being played by the remarkable Lamberto Maggiorani, a factory worker by trade, we understand that failure is not an option. He must recover his bike, or he won’t be able to work, and his family will starve. Along for the search comes his son Bruno played by Enzo Staiola, equally photogenic and adept at showing a range of emotion as he watches his father’s growing desperation.

De Sica expertly fuels our empathy for the Riccis right away as the film opens with a bit of tragic irony. Antonio, desperate for work is informed there’s a job available for him. The catch, he must have a bicycle. The irony is he had one and had to pawn it to put food on the table. His wife Maria (Lianella Carell) takes charge and decides they can live without their bedsheets and pawns them–because there’s nothing else of significance left to pawn–to get Antonio his bicycle back. With such a precious possession back in hand, we are in suspense every moment the bicycle is not under Antonio’s watchful eye. Later, at times as the needle-in-a-haystack search continues, we are further enlightened to Antonio’s miserable condition as he is surrounded by hordes of bicycles, the very thing he needs, but not one is his. We also see how Antonio’s desperate condition and the decisions it leads him to make affect young Bruno.


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

What We Learned This Week: June 23-July 6

LESSON #1: WE ARE LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE OF SPIDER-MAN— What was broken beyond repair a few years ago couldn’t be in a better place today.  Spider-Man: Far From Home is Tom Holland’s second solo film and fifth total movie appearance as Peter Parker and he is maturing and progressing the character just about perfectly.  The movie was given the responsibility of closing out the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe phase and it did not disappoint. Combine the live-action take with the stellar animated off-shoot of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the character finds himself as popular as it has ever been.  If Marvel was looking for the next flagship character to lead the MCU after the departure of Robert Downey, Jr., look no further.

LESSON #2: GET FREE STUFF WHILE IT LASTS— Amid the streaming wars sits two wonderful services available for free with many public library cards.  Folks on this site and group have long sung the praises of Hoopla and Kanopy. The price of free is amazing and, possibly soon, too good to be true.  The usage tab on the library’s end of things might start putting limitations on Kanopy, which would be a damn shame.  Between its Paramount and A24 offerings, Kanopy is invaluable for open discovery.  It would be a shame to see it dropped at some libraries.  

LESSON #3: 30 YEARS LATER, BATMAN STILL HOLDS UPs— We’re all living today at the MCU buffet, but the older among us reminder the sensational time of frenzy and hype that came with 1989’s Batman from Tim Burton and Warner Bros. Pictures.  As a movie, it redefined superhero films and showed that dark could sell and camp could be corrected (albeit until Joel Schumacher digressed the franchise).  The lore of Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson have diminished little, even after Christopher Nolan’s reimagining nearly two decades after. As an event, it was a blockbuster that broke marketing models and changed the way Hollywood did business.  The MovieFilm Commentary team recorded a track you can play alongside the film and Gena Radcliffe of The Spool had a nice column piece.  I too hopped on Mike Crowley’s “You’ll Probably Agree” podcast recently to reminisce.  Like Seth Rogen in Neighbors talking to Zac Efron, Michael Keaton is still my Batman.  

LESSON #4: LOOK AT A CANDIDATE’S MOST CRUCIAL QUALIFICATIONS— Speaking of Warner Bros., the media giant hired its first-ever woman CEO recently.  Ann Sarnoff was a proven winner at the BBC, raising subscriptions, and she will work to do the same at WB.  It doesn’t matter that Ann is a woman. She’s good at what she does. The same can be said for Halle Bailey being cast as Ariel in the upcoming Little Mermaid re-imagining.  Just listen to that woman sing.  That’s the important trait for that role, not hair or skin color.  Disney made a fantastic hire and so did the WB.

LESSON #5: IF THINGS ARE TOO BRIGHT AND COLORFUL FOR YOU DURING THE SUMMER, LOOK TO THE SHADOWS— In the recommendation slot, I am surely aware summer is not everyone’s thing.  Some folks want nothing to do with the hot rainbow loudness of this season. If that’s you, might I suggest something colder and hard-boiled.  Look into this list of the top 100 noir films from Slant Magazine or 33 neo-noir selections from Vulture.  Use this summer heat for some home viewing that hard boils your plots and characters.  I call that perfect palette-cleansing counter-programming for this time of year.

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#106)

What We Learned This Week: November 4-10

LESSON #1: SOME FILMS DO NOT REQUIRE A REBOOT— Last week, the lesson was “Some films don’t require a sequel.”  This time, we have to clap that lesson back and trade the word “sequel” for “reboot.”  News spun across Variety this week that DreamWorks is planning to restart its Shrek and Puss in Boots franchises.  First, you need a true generational gap and eight years since its last chapter, Shrek Forever After, isn’t long enough, even for the rapid aging of its core audience demographic.  More importantly, I have to ask what I consider to be a necessary qualifying question when it comes to remakes and reboots.  Have the originals aged to the degree where they are obsolete?  Sure, Shrek was corny and dated as soon as the SmashMouth song comes on, but have the narrative fairy tale angles changed or the artistic technology that made the movie?  I say they haven’t and a new one will just retread over familiar ground and not be unique or worthwhile artistically.  I say let some films stay what they are as benchmarks and time capsules for their eras.  The ’00s have their Shrek the way the ’10s have their Despicable Me/Minions.  Let them stay there.  I’m at looking at you too, The Grinch.

LESSON #2: SAY HELLO TO DISNEY+ AND GET YOUR CREDIT CARD READY— After months of little here-and-there clues and rumored plans, Disney finally and formally announced the details for its vaunted new streaming service, Disney+, coming late next year.  Housing its entire artistic arsenal from Pixar to National Geographic with all of the heroic adventure in between, the lineup depth, including original films, is undeniably impressive.  The thing I’ve been waiting to hear this entire time is price point.  While that number isn’t defined exactly yet, the linked article references a $8-14 monthly price tag.  The closer that is to $8, the more successful it’s going to be.  Disney+ will be the test to see if a la carte single-studio entity services can work because the selling point of its Netflix and Hulu competitors is the ease of variety under one service roof.  If Disney+ succeeds, it will be like dedicated cable networks for single teams or schools like the New York Yankees.  Watch everything splinter because each studio will want to create and keep their own money.

LESSON #3: PARENTS NEED TO RESPECT AND FOLLOW FILM RATINGS— For fifty years now, the MPAA has championed the film rating system to warn, screen, and catalog film content for consumers.  They are proper and they have evolved to do their job better.  Whenever there is a breakdown of outrage over a film’s rating, like this recent story of content from A Star is Born triggering troubling reactions in New Zealand, it’s not the rating’s fault.  R is R for a reason and it was labeled correctly so.  The perceived outrage is the consumer’s fault.  They either didn’t listen to the rating or didn’t commit to the due diligence to properly screen or research a film before subjecting it to younger viewers. The loopholes of the MPAA are few and far between, whereas careless parenting is rampant.  This critic and school teacher implores all parents to see any questionable film for themselves before sharing it with their impressionable children.  That’s the bare minimum.  If you don’t do it, let some solid website like Common Sense and ScreenIt do it for you.

LESSON #4: TREAT YOURSELF TO “NOIR-VEMBER”— If you want to expand your film palette to one of the most interesting and entertaining film genres under the sun, scroll your way into some film noir.  Often imitated and rarely duplicated since its hey-day, experiencing film noir is essential understanding the full scope of the cinematic art form.  That and its comprised of simple damn good movies that can still put modern thrillers to shame.  Start with this list of ten essential noirs from the journal spot Oh Not They Didn’t.  They’re all gold bathed in stark black-and-white.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

You Should Be Watching: September 28 – October 3

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.

Note, as of September 28, Jeremy Saulnier’s (Blue Ruin; Green Room) anticipated new film Hold The Dark is now available to watch on Netflix.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Scarlet Street

  

Year: 1945

Director: Fritz Lang

Genre: Drama, Film-Noir, Thriller

Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Margaret Lindsay, Jess Barker, Rosalind Ivan, Charles Kemper, Anita Sharp-Bolster, Samuel S. Hinds, Vladimir Sokoloff, Arthur Loft, Russell Hicks, Richard Abbott, Rodney Bell, Richard Cramer, Dick Curtis, Tom Daly, Edgar Dearing, Joe Devlin 

Edward G. Robinson highlights this Fritz Lang all too relevant morality tale. Robinson plays the uncomfortably timid Chris Cross, a man embarrassed about and unhappy with his job as a cashier for a clothing store. He’s found himself stuck in a marriage to a shrew of a wife named Adele (Rosalind Ivan), who berates and belittles him constantly and has no respect for his only true interest of painting.

It’s no surprise that Cross’ misery leads to him falling for another woman, especially one as captivating as Kitty March (Joan Bennett). His relationship with her starts innocently enough, as these things so often do. He finds her being attacked and rushes in to help, unaware the assailant is her boyfriend. In their subsequent conversation, she falls under the impression that he is a wealthy painter, setting the stage for a con and a trap exploiting his attraction to her. A terrifically dark film with great performances, memorable dialogue, a tough message, and a minimal score.


Remember

Year: 2015

Director: Atom Egoyan

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Dean Norris, Henry Czerny, Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow, Kim Roberts, Peter DaCunha, T.J. McGibbon, Liza Balkan, Daniel Kash, Heinz Lieven, Stefani Kimber, Jane Spidell, Sofia Wells, Janet Porter, Amanda Smith

An elderly, frail Christopher Plummer impresses in this lesser-seen A24 studios film. First-time screenwriter Benjamin August’s inventive take on the revenge tale is directed by Atom Egoyan. Not only does it involve a necessarily elderly survivor finally discovering who killed his family at the Auschwitz death camp during World War II, but dementia and a ticking clock also plays a role as Plummer’s main character Zev is trying to accomplish his mission before he completely loses his mental faculties. This angle provides something of a Memento feel, though the plotting was not nearly as intricate.

At first, Plummer comes across as very old and almost helpless, but life infuses his body as purpose grows in him. He’s kept on track by a letter he keeps referring to which reminds him of all the important details of who he is and the importance of what he’s doing. Dean Norris provides a small but noteworthy, disturbing, and tension-filled performance as neo-nazi John Kurlander. It’s scary to think there are people just like him.


A Brighter Summer Day

 

Year: 1991

Director: Edward Yang

Genre: Drama, Romance, Crime

Cast: Chang Chen, Lisa Yang, Elaine Jin, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Chang Han, Lawrence Ko, Weiming Wang, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, Wang Chuan, Chang Kuo-Chu, Stephanie Lai, Wang Chi-tsan, Tan Chih-Kang, Chang Ming-Hsin, Jung Chun-Lung, Chin Tsai

This incredibly ambitious nearly four-hour effort by director Edward Yang covers four years in the life of Xiao Si’r (Chang Chen), the fourth child in a large family living in mid-20th century Taipei. Featuring an enormous cast–nearly 100 relevant characters–and detailed set designs for the many locations within the village it’s set in, this is a dense film. It’s packed full of universal themes such as those accompanying adolescence, rival social groups, love, parenting, financial hardship, and life during political upheaval. Yet, the story explores life in a very specific time and place. Given all the diverse plot threads, it practically demands repeat viewings to be able to appreciate the diversity of characters and themes.

The village this film is set in, its homes, streets, and school feels very much lived in. There’s always activity going on around the characters, and sometimes the camera itself even seems to become distracted as it effortlessly shifts from following one character to another who happens to be passing by. The main plot itself often takes a backseat to the general exploration of post WWII Taiwanese culture and society. In lesser hands, that could just create a mess, but Yang handles it with care by creating rich back stories for every single one of the speaking roles. Everybody feels important. Everybody matters.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

September 29
The Commitments (1991)

September 30
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Blood Diamond (2006)
Boogie Nights (1997)
Cinderella Man (2005)
The Departed (2006)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Inside Man (2006)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
The Lost Boys (1987)
The Mask You Live In (2015)
Menace II Society (1993)
Real Genius (1985)
Sin City (2005)
Trading Places (1983)

October 1
Out of Sight (1998)

October 2
Dheepan (2015)

October 3
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

October 5
The Beauty Inside (2015)
The BFG (2016)

October 7
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

October 13
The Babadook (2014)

AMAZON PRIME

September 29
Carrie (1976)
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Miami Blues (1990)
Spaceballs (1987)
Stargate (1994)

September 30
American Psycho (2000)
Angel Heart (1987)
Babel (2006)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
The Crow (1994)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The Graduate (1967)
Hoosiers (1986)
Insomnia (2002)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
V for Vendetta (2005)
Witness (1985)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)

October 1
Raging Bull (1980)

October 3
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

FILMSTRUCK

September 28
Accattone (1961)
Being There (1979)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Ben-Hur (1959)
The Breaking Point (1950)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
East of Eden (1955)
The Gospel According to Matthew (1964)
JFK (1991)
Kes (1969)
Local Hero (1983)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Pianist (2002)
Rain Man (1988)
The Right Stuff (1983)
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Teorema (1968)
Winter Soldier (1972)

October 5
White Heat (1949)
Infernal Affairs (2002)
The Narrow Margin (1952)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Gigi (1958)

October 12
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

HULU

September 30
American Psycho (2000)
Angel Heart (1987)
Babel (2006)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Bound (1996)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Field of Dreams (1989)
Hoosiers (1986)
The Ladies Man (1961)
Miami Blues (1990)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
The Rock (1996)
Sleepers (1996)
Spaceballs (1987)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Witness (1985)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

20 Feet from Stardom (2013)
Nappily Ever After–NETFLIX FILM (2018)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

AMAZON PRIME

Bill Cunningham New York (2010)
City of Hope (1991)
The Golden Coach (1952)
Henry Fool (1997)
The Illusionist (2006)
I Never Sang for My Father (1970)
Limbo (1999)
My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)
Robot & Frank (2012)

FILMSTRUCK

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2009)

HULU

Iris (2001)
My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)


COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

September 28
Hold the Dark (2018)

October 1
Black Dynamite (2009)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Empire Records (1995)
The Green Mile (1999)
Life of Brian (1979)
Mystic River (2003)
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
The Shining (1980)
V for Vendetta (2005)

AMAZON PRIME

October 1
Carrie (1976)
Election (1999)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The General (1998)
Gods and Monsters (1998)
The Illusionist (2006)
Let Me In (2010)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Raging Bull (1980)
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
RoboCop (1987)
Starship Troopers (1997)
The Strangers (2008)
Trees Lounge (1996)
Wild Bill (2011)

HULU

October 1
American Psycho (2000)
Bitter Moon (1992)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Cinderella Man (2005)
Closer (2004)
Election (1999)
Frida (2002)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Gods and Monsters (1998)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Insomnia (2002)
The Others (2001)
More than a Game (2008)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
The Music Never Stopped (2011)
Platoon (1986)
Raging Bull (1980)
[REC] (2007)
RoboCop (1987)
Starship Troopers (1997)
Trees Lounge (1996)
Wild Bill (2011)

October 2
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

October 3
Dheepan (2015)
RBG (2018)


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

You Should Be Watching: September 21-26

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Ben-Hur

 — Expires Sept. 28

Year: 1959

Director: William Wyler

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History

Cast: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Frank Thring, Sam Jaffe, Ady Berber, Finlay Currie, André Morell, Terence Longdon, Lando Buzzanca, Giuliano Gemma, Marina Berti, Robert Brown, Liana Del Balzo, Enzo Fiermonte

With 11 Academy Awards won–a record yet to be surpassed–, a career-defining performance by the dynamic, self-assured Charlton Heston as the titular Judah Ben-Hur, and the largest budget and most elaborate sets of its time, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur is a monumental achievement and the very definition of Hollywood epic. Everything about it is huge, from the 10,000 extras to the centerpiece chariot race, to the 3 1/2-hour runtime to Miklós Rózsa’s majestic score. Adapted from the 1880 Lew Wallace novel and a remake of the 1925 silent film, Ben-Hur is in the vein of the classic BIble epics, even interacts with events in the Biblical narrative, but remains its own story.

Judah is an early first century Jewish nobleman living in Jerusalem who is knowingly and wrongfully accused of attempted murder by his once childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd). Now a Roman commander, Messala shows himself willing to destroy the life of a family he once held dear all for the sake of Rome’s glory. The betrayed Judah will have to endure intense undeserved hardship and face his desire for revenge as he struggles to get back what he lost and encounters one who was more deserving of revenge than anyone who has ever lived.


We Need to Talk About Kevin

      

Year: 2011

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette, Kenneth Franklin, Leslie Lyles, Paul Diomede, Michael Campbell, J. Mallory McCree, Mark Elliot, Wilson, James Chen, Lauren Fox, Blake DeLong, Andy Gershenzon

This is a dismal but important film by a director who has made a career of such films, Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here)The story centers on the lives of Franklin and Eva Khatchadourian (John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton) and their troubled son Kevin. All three actors who play Kevin at his different ages–Rock Duer, Jasper Newell, and Ezra Miller–display such smug, manipulative attitudes it is downright scary. Franklin acts as a cautionary figure. He is easily manipulated by Kevin, receiving all of his love and affection, and refuses to listen to his wife and look deeper, causing his relationship with Eva to fracture. Eva falls into misery and isolation because her child has a clear predilection towards rebellion, manipulation, and downright evil from the time he was born.

The narrative jumps around the timeline of their lives, but a painful sense of dread hangs throughout as Kevin’s true nature becomes increasingly difficult to ignore as well as the knowledge that there are many Kevins in the real world. But by God’s grace, any one of us could be a Kevin or have a child like him.


The Third Man

Year: 1949

Director: Carol Reed

Genre: Film-noir, Mystery, Thriller

Cast: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Paul Hörbiger, Ernst Deutsch, Siegfried Breuer, Erich Ponto, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Hedwig Bleibtreu, Alexis Chesnakov, Thomas Gallagher, Herbert Halbik, Hannah Norbert, Eric Pohlmann, Carol Reed, Annie Rosar, Frederick Schrecker, Hugo Schuster, Karel Stepanek, Brother Theodore, Jenny Werner

Voted the greatest British film of all time by the British Film Institute in 1999, the Third Man is a film-noir like no other. It starts out as a merely an intriguing murder mystery where a writer named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has arrived in Vienna at the invitation of his childhood friend Harry Lime only to find out he has died, but it becomes something else entirely as the story, written by Graham Greene, develops.

With the genre already being rooted in German expressionism, director Carol Reed takes the idea and runs with it, creating one of the most distinctive combinations of sight and sound on film. From the outset, the energy and tension of the film is established through Anton Karas‘ musical score, consisting of a single instrument, the zither. Reed uses Dutch angles galore that perfectly enhance the off-kilter tone of mystery and the post war environment itself without ever coming across as pretentious. And Robert Krasker’s Academy Award winning stark black and white cinematography sets a deep contrast between shadow and light to further accent the mood. Not only is the film set in post WWII Vienna, which becomes a character itself, but many of the Austrians speak German, which is often left unsubtitled, putting the audience in the same state of confusion as Holly as he tries to work out the mystery of Harry Lime.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

September 22
Trollhunter (2010)

September 25
The Assassin (2015)

September 27
The Imitation Game (2014)

September 29
The Commitments (1991)

September 30
The Departed (2006)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Rust and Bone (2012)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Menace II Society (1993)
Cinderella Man (2005)
Inside Man (2006)
The Lost Boys (1987)

AMAZON PRIME

September 23
Shutter Island (2010)

September 29
Carrie (1976)
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Miami Blues (1990)
Spaceballs (1987)
Stargate (1994)

September 30
American Psycho (2000)
Angel Heart (1987)
Babel (2006)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
The Crow (1994)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The Graduate (1967)
Hoosiers (1986)
Insomnia (2002)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
V for Vendetta (2005)
Witness (1985)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)

October 1
Raging Bull (1980)

October 3
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

FILMSTRUCK

September 21
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
Mean Streets (1973)
Night Moves (1975)

September 28
Accattone (1961)
Being There (1979)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Ben-Hur (1959)
The Breaking Point (1950)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
East of Eden (1955)
The Gospel According to Matthew (1964)
JFK (1991)
Kes (1969)
Local Hero (1983)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Pianist (2002)
Rain Man (1988)
The Right Stuff (1983)
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Teorema (1968)
Winter Soldier (1972)

October 5
White Heat (1949)
Infernal Affairs (2002)
The Narrow Margin (1952)
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Gigi (1958)

October 12
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

HULU

September 30
American Psycho (2000)
Angel Heart (1987)
Babel (2006)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Bound (1996)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Field of Dreams (1989)
Hoosiers (1986)
The Ladies Man (1961)
Miami Blues (1990)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
The Rock (1996)
Sleepers (1996)
Spaceballs (1987)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Witness (1985)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

The Endless (2017)
Role Models (2008)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
The Third Man (1949)
The Witch (2015)

AMAZON PRIME

Angels Wear White (2017)
The Big Combo (1955)
Blow Out (1981)
Charade (1963)
The Conformist (1970)
Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Locke (2013)
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005)
Western (2017)
Wild Bill (2011)
Woman on the Run (1950)
Zombie (1979)

FILMSTRUCK

Ball of Fire (1941)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Full Moon in Paris (1984)
Wuthering Heights (1939)

HULU

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
The Queen (2006)


COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

September 21
Nappily Ever After–NETFLIX FILM (2018)

September 25
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

AMAZON PRIME

September 21
My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)

HULU

September 21
My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)

September 24
Iris (2001)


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

You Should Be Watching: July 12-18

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.

This week, I’m featuring a 90s Jim Carrey film that is as relevant as ever, classic Billy Wilder that blurs the lines between true Hollywood and fantasy, and a powerful New Zealand film about mental illness, gang life, and chess.

Be sure to see Bringing Up Baby, expiring from FilmStruck on July 27, and then listening to the associated Feelin’ Film Connecting With Classics podcast. Same goes for All the President’s Men. Also on FilmStruck, Rio Bravo has a short-term engagement and will be leaving July 26. Also, the Jaws franchise has arrived on Amazon Prime, and Blue Valentine and Gone Baby Gone on Netflix.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


 

The Truman Show

Year: 1998

Director: Peter Weir

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi

Cast: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor, Ed Harris, Brian Delate, Paul Giamatti, Peter Krause, Blair Slater, Heidi Schanz, Ron Taylor, Don Taylor, Ted Raymond, O-Lan Jones, Krista Lynn Landolfi, Harry Shearer, Jeanette Miller, Philip Glass, Una Damon, Joe Minjares, Philip Baker Hall, John Pleshette, Terry Camilleri, Joel McKinnon Miller

 

Most of you have seen The Truman Show, but chances are, it’s been a while, so you might be surprised to hear how well it holds up. On its surface, this is a vehicle for Jim Carrey to show he’s much more than just a rubber-faced funnyman in a prescient surface-level commentary on the culture of reality TV and YouTube. For that alone, it’s a brilliant piece of work, but below the surface, director Peter Weir and writer Andrew Niccol have incorporated many other layers along with a lovely and complex score that is shamelessly self-aware in its manipulation of the viewer.

Weir isn’t just telling a story about a guy whose whole life is a reality TV program, he’s showing us how we’re all in a sort of reality TV program, and we all need our perspective challenged. If truth isn’t revealed to us, we’ll happily live in a lie. “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented,” says Christof (Ed Harris), who represents a God figure or rather a critique of belief in a certain type of God, which provides a lot of food for thought and discussion.


 

Sunset Boulevard

  

Year: 1950

Director: Billy Wilder

Genre: Drama, Film-noir

Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough, Jack Webb, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Anna Q. Nilsson, Ray Evans, Jay Livingston, H.B. Warner, Franklyn Farnum, Larry J. Blake, Charles Dayton, Fred Aldrich, Joel Allen, Gertrude Astor, Edward Biby, Danny Borzage, Ken Christy, Ruth Clifford, Archie R. Dalzell, Eddie Dew, Julia Faye, Al Ferguson, Gerry Ganzer

 

The quintessential movie to represent the realities, often painful, of classic Hollywood and the fleetingness of fame. Gloria Swanson’s performance as forgotten silent movie star Norma Desmond is one for the ages. You never quite know whether to be sorry for her, intimidated by her, or downright afraid of her. The tension is carefully built throughout such as the feeling of entrapment and loss of control every time another of Joe Gillis’ (William Holden) connections to his life apart from Norma is severed. While this is not a horror film, much about the basic plot and its themes is reminiscent of the writer’s plight in Stephen King’s Misery.

Seeing Hollywood behind the scenes is often fascinating for people who love the world of film, but Sunset Boulevard is truly exceptional. The lines between fantasy and reality are completely blurred due to the presence of real life players like the famous director Cecil B. DeMille and real world silent film stars such as Buster Keaton, playing themselves. I can only imagine the dramatic impact it would have had to sit in the theater in 1950 and see this Hollywood story unfold.


The Dark Horse

Year: 2014

Director: James Napier Robertson

Genre:  Biography, Drama

Cast: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Kirk Torrance, Sia Trokenheim, Andrew Grainger, Xavier Horan, Roseanne Liang, Miriama McDowell, Rachel House, Wayne Hapi

 

From the burgeoning film world of New Zealand comes the best film you’ll see about high-functioning mental illness, gang life, and chess clubs for underprivileged kids. Now that may sound like damning with faint praise, but you don’t win a slew of international awards for nothing. Cliff Curtis phenomenally portrays Genesis, a man who has a brilliant mind for chess but who also takes prescription drugs to keep himself on the edge of semi-independence. Sometimes he slips off that edge ever so gradually. Other times it’s a sudden fall and he’s lost in his repetitions.

Thankfully, Genesis has an older brother Ariki (Wayne Hapi) who cares about his well-being and takes him into his home, providing him with a modicum of stability. This gives Genesis the opportunity to discover the local Eastern Knights Chess Club run by an old friend. The club is a group of ragtag, unmotivated kids, which inspires him to encourage and teach them so they can compete in the Junior National Championships. But things aren’t so great at home after all. Ariki’s son Mana (James Rolleston) has connected with chess, but Ariki is a gang member and intends to raise his son in the gang as well. The priorities of all three are challenged.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

July 15
Changeling (2008)
Opening Night (1977)

 

FILMSTRUCK

July 13
Losing Ground (1982)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

July 20
Blow-Up (1966)
Rififi (1955)
Thieves’ Highway (1949)

July 27
All the President’s Men (1976)
Ball of Fire (1941)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Killing Fields (1984)
Rio Bravo (1959)

July 28
Night and the City (1950)

July 31
Taxi Driver (1976)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Blue Valentine (2010)
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Scream 4 (2011)

 

AMAZON PRIME

Jaws (1975)
Snowden (2016)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Auntie Mame (1958)
Beyond the Hills (2012)
Moi, Un Noir (1958)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Rio Bravo (1959)

 

HULU

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017)
Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017)
The Heart of Nuba (2016)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

July 13
How It Ends—NETFLIX FILM (2018)

July 15
Going for Gold (2018)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

Episode 078: Blade Runner

Few movies have had as profound an impact on our thoughts of what it means to be human as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. We welcome first time guest James Harleman, Blade Runner superfan, to the podcast and spend some time unpacking the film’s numerous themes and questions about identity.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:31

(Aaron – Battle of the Sexes)
(James – Jeepers Creepers 3)

Blade Runner Review – 0:18:00

The Connecting Point – 01:11:36

Contact:

Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode 


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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