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 2-22

LESSON #1: PERCEIVED RECORDS AND DISTINCTIONS MAKE PEOPLE GREEDY— The corporate greed monster of Disney strikes again with a blatant turnaround re-release of Avengers: Endgame. The goal of tacking on “new footage,” a tribute reel, and an end credits scene is to get the blockbuster over the final $50 million hump between its gross and the Avatar’s cumulative worldwide record of $2.788 billion. Apparently, there’s shame for being in second place so bad they have to employ cheap double-dip tactics. It will work, but it will also take screens away from other smaller movies that deserve more attention and chances. In my eyes, and I’ve taken this stump in this column before, this remains a hollow and fake victory fueled by inflation and high ticket prices. Avengers: Endgame remains outside of the Top 15 in both inflation-adjusted gross and, the best and most universal indicator of all, total ticket sales. Wake me up when it catches anything in that Top 5 or even the Top 10.

LESSON #2: DON’T TAKE A MOVIE AWAY FROM A CAPABLE DIRECTOR— A week after its disappointing debut at the box office, word on creative strife behind the scenes of Men in Black: International is coming to light. Clashes of story direction and final cut between veteran producer Walter Parkes and hired and extremely capable director F. Gary Gray nearly caused Gray to leave the project. Gray touted something edgier and Parkes’ sillier affair won final cut. This is explains a great deal as to why this movie looks way off and feels discombobulated, even by MiB standards. Sony, you’ve made these screwups before (and it sounds like you’re doing them again with Bond 25).  Trust the talent you hire and let them do their thing.

LESSON #3: DON’T PAY THE SAME GUY TO SCREW UP TWICE— There are many things wrong with Fox’s X-Men “culmination” movie Dark Phoenix, and just about every one of them can leveled to the writer/director Simon Kinburg, who was respectful enough to take responsibility. Once the powers-that-be announced that the X-Men: Apocalypse sequel was going to tackle the “Phoenix/Dark Phoenix” for a second time after Brett Ratner’s reviled X-Men: The Last Stand, they had to know the scrutiny was coming.  If you’re actually trying for renewed success, you don’t hire the same writer who made the first dumpster fire and then also give him the power to direct.  I get familiarity and I get that Bryan Singer is radioactive to employ, but go find an actual upgrade for your $200 million tentpole and franchise swan song.

LESSON #4: THE FEELINGS OF FATIGUE AND BLANDNESS FOR BLOCKBUSTERS ARE REAL— I know Toy Story 4 is fail-proof this weekend from this lesson, but, other than April’s Avengers: Endgame, this has been a rough spring and summer for blockbusters. I read two articles this week that tackled this issue in different ways. Medium.com writer Samuel Lenz poses the question of franchise fatigue of bland blockbusters. IndieWire’s Tom Brueggemann went deeper into the collapse to cite size, frequency, the loss of MoviePass, streaming preferences, and higher quality TV options. I think both together encapsulate the majority of the factors we’re seeing. The top reason to me is quality. These have been bland movie offerings. Better movies get better audiences and returns. Better movies with verified must-see buzz climb over other entertainment options an open wallets. It will always start with quality.

LESSON #5: IT WILL ALWAYS BE ABOUT PRICE POINT— The posturing of the streaming wars continue with WarnerMedia announcing the proposed price of its upcoming streaming service. The sticker of $16-17 monthly would include HBO (which is $15 by itself currently), Cinemax, and the sizable WB library of content. That may be a fair price on paper, but in the eyes of customers, that’s more than double Disney Plus and higher than Netflix, Hulu, and even Apple. Other than hardcore HBO fans and folks that miss the WB bulk that used to be backbone of the closing Turner Classic Movies, people aren’t going to bite for this. Now, if that $16 included Warner’s current standalone DC Entertainment as a match to all the Marvel stuff under the Disney Plus umbrella, the temptation and value would be closer.

LESSON #6: APPLE WANTS TO BE AN OSCAR PLAYER—Many in the industry watched with impressiveness at Netflix’s Oscar campaigns for Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. They have broken the glass ceiling and Apple is looking to follow. News broke this week of their strategy to produce and back six modestly-budgeted films a year as sponsored Oscar hopefuls. This plan is independent from a recent multi-year agreement between Apple and indie darling A24 to make multiple features together, but you have to think that collaboration is a perfect source for this goal.  Watch out, folks. Fine apple wine is coming.


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.  (#104)

What We Learned This Week: April 14-27

LESSON #1: THERE ARE CASES WHERE FAN SERVICE IS NECESSARY— Folks, with a universe and property as big as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have reached a saturation point and commitment level where fan service is warranted. That’s right and here’s a paraphrase from my Avengers: Endgame review.  What some have called pandering should actually be seen as one of the many objectives in an invested and vetted blockbuster like this one. It is to a point where the course of things is thematically and tonally misaligned without those inclusions. Avengers: Endgame is unabashedly a three-hour festival of celebrating all the dream fulfillment of past and present for this deep roster of beloved characters. The wow moments come often and hit both the jaw-drop and stand-up-and-cheer levels.  Not every piece of fandom has earned that. Star Wars has and this one has too.

LESSON #2: PREPARATION IS KEY— Thanks need to go out to Feelin’ Film host Aaron White for spurring the one-movie-a-week #RoadtoEndgame.  Those rewatches since the first week of December have been outstanding for adding to the build-up and, more importantly, refreshing us to all the ins-and-outs of the MCU at it reaches its pinnacle.  If it’s too late for you to watch all 22 films before Avengers: Endgame, let our man and friend-of-the-podcast Emmanuel Noisette of E-Man’s Movie Reviews shortcut you to five must-see movies:

The movies are how you enrich your mind.  Now, you need to prepare your body. Eat a good meal before Avengers: Endgame to avoid expensive concessions and the distraction to snack.  Be mindful of your bladder power and your body will remember how it survived Titanic and six Tolkien films at the theater.  Honestly, when your mind is engaged in the movie, you won’t need a potty break.

LESSON #3: A GOOD FRANCHISE NEEDS TO CREATE A CODA— The final spoiler-free celebration note I can post about Avengers: Endgame in this column comes from the last life lesson of five from my review and it speaks to the purpose beyond the fun of fan service.  The range of the definition of “coda” can be merged into “a concluding part of a dramatic work that is formally distinct from the main structure” and “serves to round out, conclude, or summarize.” Avengers: Endgame is not a pivot point, but a grand finale eleven years in the making. True to the blueprint, it is hard to imagine a more gratifying and rewarding summit.  I wish every franchise could craft something this fitting or even have the chance to crescendo with all the energy they can muster.

LESSON #4: WHAT’S NEXT FOR MARVEL REMAINS A PLEASANT MYSTERY— Normally, thanks to the constant Disney push and bragging, we normally know every little forthcoming detail possible about their dominating calendar of coming attractions.  At this moment, a year of somewhat “radio silence” after Infinity War, you have to tip your hat to Kevin Feige and company for holds their cards close to the vest.  Sony can’t help but admit to and tout Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is regrettable, but understandable.  They have a rare blockbuster to sell. Meanwhile, Feige recently hinted at a 5-year Phase 4 MCU plan that didn’t name names, but shared the usual ambition and confidence.  Naturally, the big question remains the character acquisitions from Fox. To that question, Feige has used the vague measurement of “a very long time” as to when we’ll see the likes of the X-Men or the Fantastic Four saving the day next to the established Avengers.  Feige’s absolutely supreme planning and patience should not be questioned. He’s earned our trust that the slow play is the right play. They’ll be worth the wait.

LESSON #5: LITTLE FILMS NEED HELP— As much as we are here this weekend to celebrate the big stuff, smaller films need audience too.  When they don’t get them, a part of the industry weakens and even dies. A spotlight example of that came through the news wires this week of the cuts happening behind the scenes after Disney’s acquisition of Fox.  The Mouse House is killing off or jettisoning several unreleased Fox projects with earning potential and the bottom line in mind. It’s a creative bummer but an unfortunate reality of business. I’ve said this often in this column space: Once you start charging for tickets, this becomes a business first and an art exposition second.  Like any owner targeting profit and returns on investment, Disney is making those tough decisions. Honestly, it’s likely bad business deals that made Fox vulnerable for sale. Do better and the predicament doesn’t come.

LESSON #6: HULU’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED— As you may know, one of the components of Disney’s purchase of Fox was controlling interest in Hulu.  The remaining 30% of that stake is owned by Comcast who, according to reports this week, is in talks with Disney to broker a lucrative deal.  No matter where that bidding ends up, a dissolution in the near-future feels inevitable.  Disney, should it gain that final portion, is pushing its own brand of Disney+ as its streaming flagship.  You would think they wouldn’t push or carry two. Comcast, if they stand pat, was planning on starting their own streaming shingle to add to the marketplace since they don’t own enough of Hulu to compete.  Either way, it doesn’t look promising.

LESSON #7: THE ACADEMY IS STARTING TO WISE UP— In other distant news away from Infinity Stones and Corporate Greed Monsters, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actually announced a few minor changes and rulings this week that didn’t immediately make them Public Enemy #1 with the social media torches and pitchforks they were met with the last two press releases between the hosting screw-ups and the Popular Film category in 2018.  First, they affirmed their eligibility rules that didn’t take an anticipated shot at streaming services like Netflix, keeping the playing field fair.  Secondly, they showed modern wisdom with a redefined International Feature Film category and expanding their last three-nominee category (Best Makeup and Hair-Styling) to a proper and full five.  It’s refreshing to see them get a few things right. Keep it up, AMPAS!

LESSON #8: FINALLY, IF BIG, DUMB SUPERHERO MOVIES AREN’T YOUR THING, WE STILL HAVE STUFF FOR YOU— For my parting viewing recommendations this week with all things super raining down on us, I think I have just the thing for those abstaining from heroics.  Here’s a list on Ranker of the “Most Pretentious Movies Ever Made,” topped by, what else, a Stanley Kubrick film.  If those are too blunt or obvious, try this nice little selection from Taste of Cinema of ten great movies meant to challenge your intelligence, topping by Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.  Finally, here are the May additions to the Criterion Channel with choices galore!  Call these three lists counter-programming.  Enjoy!


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 previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#99)

What We Learned This Week: April 7-13

LESSON #1: MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR NOVEMBER 12TH WITH PIXIE DUST AND MOUSE EARS— Circle the 12th of November on your calendar for the debut of Disney+, the entertainment giant’s new exclusive streaming service we’ve been hearing about for the better part of a year.  And, man oh man, did they announce a menu of old and new content that looks like the binder you get at The Cheesecake Factory.  The list is jaw-dropping. And that’s not even the best part. See Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: PRICE POINT ALWAYS WINS— The best part is the price. It’s a cool $6.99 per month with no ads and the future ability to bundle ESPN+, Hulu, and more.  $7 is a game-changing price. Even better, if you buy the whole year at once, it’s $69.99. That’s $5.83 per month. Excuse my language, but the smell and thundering rumble you hear is Netflix sh-tting bricks and staring down an $8 billion market value drop.  They just announced a price hike a few months back and now will be playing chicken against the company they relied on the most for top content.  Watch their member numbers begin to drop with the financials, but they knew this had to be coming. Their shift to developing their own unique branded content is how they will stand out.  No matter what, folks, I’ve been saying this now for years in this column. The price tag is always the biggest mover of an audience.

LESSON #3: STAR WARS WILL NEVER LET YOU FORGET ABOUT STAR WARS— Maybe this lesson should read: “Disney isn’t done because they’re never really done.”  In the words of Steve Jobs, Disney did their own “one more thing” this week with the head-exploding title reveal and first trailer for Episode IX at the Star Wars Celebration Convention in Chicago on Friday. Now officially called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the gates are now open and the levees are broken for every theory, reaction piece, and clickbait column imaginable. I get it.  Grab those web traffic pennies where you can, publishers.

LESSON #4: [INSERT OBLIGATORY “TRAILERS ARE MANIPULATIVE” LECTURE FROM THE MOVIE CRITIC]— I’ve been saving this informational video for a while for a choice teachable moment.  The Rise of Skywalker is the perfect time.

Admittedly, much of this video doesn’t apply to Star Wars, but the misdirection and overhype have been proven before in this franchise. You know me. I’ll always say less is more.  Not just for trailers, but be a discerning news-and-trends consumer. Don’t overthink a movie before it gets here, especially one still eight months away.  If you want homework, go backward instead of forwards. Hop on the ambitious canonical rewatch schedule that is already in progress. Let history get you hyped instead of silly theories.

LESSON #5: THE SLOW DEATH OF PHYSICAL MEDIA CONTINUES— Through all this one-upmanship in the streaming world, the marketplace of discs has continued to fade.  We’ve reported in this column in February how companies like Samsung are halting the manufacturing of Blu-ray players, but we’ve never seen hard numbers of the perceived decline. This week, the MPAA hit us with those statistics in a wide-ranging report. Physical media sales are down a steep 50% in the last five years and the new 4K upgrades account for only 5.3% of business. That’s a niche, not a replacement the way DVD was to VHS a generation ago.  The kicker is that home entertainment spending was up 16% last year.  That’s digital sales and subscription services.

LESSON #6: LEARN SOME BETTER SCIENCE FICTION— Don’t let your science fiction taste and acumen stop at Star Wars and other big names. Dive into some headier things (and still plenty of blockbusters) with high critical regard.  Pick away at this Top 100 list from Business Insider and find some new films for your to-do list. Heck, maybe you’ll even watch one on a disc from a library.


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.  (#98)

What We Learned This Week: March 31-April 6

LESSON #1: DIGITAL CHECKOUTS CAN BE LIKE THE OKLAHOMA LAND RUSH SOMETIMESAvengers: Endgame pre-sale tickets went on sale this past Tuesday and, of course, set records on sites like Fandango and broke others.  Some folks reported ease or even went the old fashioned route of walking up to the box office window in person (where there theaters were open early) while others were stuck in virtual traffic jams. The online rush, escalating wait times, and fast sellouts were not unlike when a highly sought after play or concert goes on sale only multiplied by every city in America.  If you survived, congratulations. Go sell your tickets on eBay like some others and make some coin on a sucker or two!

LESSON #2: DISNEY IS BIGGER THAN YOU REALIZE— Feelin’ Film host Aaron White posted this excellent little piece from Cartoon Brew showing everything Disney now owns after its acquisition of 21st Century Fox.  The visual infographic is astounding:

The organization and color-coding are fantastic and informative.  If the entertainment holdings and properties inside the shape weren’t already humongous, I look at all of the little single-circle corporations on the periphery and my eyes open even wider.  I don’t know whether to be fearful, impressed, or both.

LESSON #3: SUCCESSFUL MOVIES DESERVE THE FINANCIAL REWARDS THEY EARN— Well, it’s been a month since the trolls tried to badmouth and boycott Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel.  How did that turn out?  The movie soared past the billion dollar earnings mark this week.  So much for the haters holding people back.  In the March 15th edition of this column, I called this eventual success declaring “it seems like the louder they piss and moan, the larger the amount of success and love gathers in the other direction to put the ugly folks back in their place.” I’ll say it again.  With loyalty and support like this, all toxic fandom is ever going to win is comeuppance.

LESSON #4: SCREENWRITERS NEED TO CRAFT MORE CREATIVE ENDINGS— I really enjoyed this column from Cracked by Daniel Dockery.  He calls out a dumb, repetitive ending trope we’ve been seeing far too often for a long time.  He summarizes and defines that ending as “The overwhelming enemy force is instantly thwarted via a very obvious, easily-exploited weakness.”  Dockery is dead right.  Look at A Quiet Place, War of the Worlds, Independence Day, The Avengers, Edge of Tomorrow, Mars Attacks!, Signs, and just about every Star Wars movie.  I’m sure the list goes on.  I’m with the author.  Let’s get these endings right and better.  I’m looking at you, Avengers: Endgame.  

LESSON #5: TREAT YOURSELF TO A SCREWBALL COMEDY— With Shazam! yucking it up this weekend, might I suggest staying in the comedy genre with some old classics of the genre’s purest form.  Dig through your disc and screaming sources for these gems from the 1930s listed by Netflix’s blog site.  You deserve a treat, so indulge in a few with that checklist.

 


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.

What We Learned This Week: March 2-16

LESSON #1: TOXIC FANDOM WILL NEVER WIN— There’s a remarkable silver lining I love seeing shine through the unfortunate trend of toxic fandom.  Whether it’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, some polarizing DCEU movie, or Captain Marvel this past week, more often than not, all of the negative ranting and raving of those factions loses emphatically and embarrassingly.  Look at Captain Marvel garner positive reviews and score at the box office as it was out of public spite for troll culture.  Toxic fandom still causes its unnecessary amount of damage (and wasted clickbait time), but it seems like the louder they piss and moan, the larger the amount of success and love gathers in the other direction to put the ugly folks back in their place.  I love seeing that public comeuppance.

LESSON #2: WOMEN BRING HOME THE BACON— Let’s keep the Captain Marvel and Brie Larson love going.  Despite the ugly headline-making misogyny in Hollywood and that disparaging long-time data of male-speaking roles dominating Best Picture Oscar winners, a new study charted by the powerful CAA talent agency shows that movies led by female characters have earn more money in the last five years.  Make that money, ladies! Pay attention and give the people what they want, studio execs!

LESSON #3: CONTENT COMPETES WITH PRICE POINT— We’ve seen the rumors of Apple’s entry into the video streaming marketplace to battle Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix.  We’ve seen their reports of spending $1 billion on shows and content, including a solid lineup of existing networks.  Clarification on what exactly this newfangled thing is going to be may be arriving with their March 25 company event.  As I say in this column space often, I think the greatest consumer motivator is price point.  If the rumors of a $10/month price tag are true, that’s legitimately competitive and head-turning.  If it’s the other rumor of $30-40 monthly, then start listening for crickets. The second motivator is content.  With the number of ala carte streaming services growing by the months of the year, you have to offer some can’t-miss content or exclusive gets to make people want to shell out those extra ten bucks and device exchange.  Without knowing Apple’s buffet menu, so to speak, that motivator is up in the air. More clarity and competition is hopefully coming on the 25th.

LESSON #4: DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE CRITERION CHANNEL TOO— Much like the movies carrying the badge, the spring standalone debut of The Criterion Channel is still on schedule for an April 8th launch.  The service will be a tidy and very worthwhile $10 per month.  Think of it as a library of classics for the price of one first-run movie ticket a month.  Filmstruck breakup victims rejoice! When its arrival comes, Guillermo del Toro has a pretty sweet must-see list of Criterion films to get you started and improve your taste in movies.  Did I mention price point? Did I mention it’s getting crowded? Well, follow the money and see the next lesson.

LESSON #5: STREAMING WILL BECOME THE NEW MARKETPLACE LEADER SOONER THAN YOU THINK— Speaking of Apple’s steaming to enter the streaming seas, the truth the pattern of this lesson title is become more true with each passing day and revenue report.  At the end of last year The Hollywood Reporter published the results of a study by Ampere Analysis that forecasted that this year, 2019, will be the first time global streaming revenue will add up higher than box office receipts.  No matter the “essence of cinema” debates high (Steven Spielberg) and low (old men shouting at the wind), the bottom line isn’t lying and traditionalists are missing the momentum staring at them in the face.  There’s room for both marketplaces, but to call the eventual leader inferior any more is going look ridiculous. Bend, adapt, and improve.

LESSON #6: TREAT YOURSELF SOME ASIAN MASTERPIECES— These are belated recommendations to follow up the semi-recent Chinese New Year.  And yes, there I go dropping the “M-word” on behalf of this 2015 list from Taste of Cinema.  From there picks, I’m a big In the Mood For Love fan, but from Kurosawa to Kiarostami, there are gems here.  Use the JustWatch app or website to find where these are available to stream or rent.  


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: November 15-21

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.

Just a couple weeks of FilmStruck availability left, so watch while you still can. Thankfully, Kanopy also offers a couple of this week’s featured picks, so you can watch there as well.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


8 1/2

  

Year: 1963

Director: Federico Fellini

Genre: Fantasy, Drama

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Rossella Falk, Barbara Steele, Madeleine Lebeau, Caterina Boratto, Eddra Gale, Guido Alberti, Mario Conocchia, Bruno Agostini, Cesarino Miceli Picardi, Jean Rougeul, Mario Pisu, Yvonne Casadei, Ian Dallas, Mino Doro, Nadia Sanders

When the time came for Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini to follow up his 8th feature film, the highly acclaimed La Dolce Vita, he found himself with an extreme case of writer’s block. Rather than fight it, he embraced it and instead put it on film. The end result is one of the most fascinating, surreal, and frankly educational movies that blends reality with fantasy to immerse the viewer into the mind and creative process of a master artist. The main character of 8 ½ is Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), a famous filmmaker suffering from writer’s block, clearly a stand-in for Fellini himself.

The opening dream sequence makes it clear that this film will be nowhere near conventional. The man who is later revealed as Guido finds himself trapped in a car in the midst of a major traffic jam. Everyone else stares at him as he is being choked to death by gas pouring into his vehicle as he tries frantically to escape out the window. This representation of the emotions Guido is enduring are also mashed up into other aspects of the thought process–dreams, memories, hopes, fears, fantasies, regrets, and attempts to make sense of life. And as in a series of dreams, he jumps back and forth through the experiences and emotions of the past and present, from his Roman Catholic upbringing to the complicated feelings of puberty and struggles with lust as he visually and verbally attempts to process it all.


Secrets & Lies

Year: 1996

Director: Mike Leigh

Genre: Drama

Cast: Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Phyllis Logan, Claire Rushbrook, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Elizabeth Berrington, Michele Austin, Ron Cook, Trevor Laird, Brian Bovell, Emma Amos, Clare Perkins, Elias Perkins McCook, Jane Mitchell, Janice Acquah, Keylee Jade Flanders

Throughout this painful yet touching 1996 British family drama, director Mike Leigh demonstrates an understanding for what makes people tick. He gets their fears and foibles, their hurts and prejudices, their tendencies to hide uncomfortable truths from their loved ones, the struggles of both parents and children to connect, the way bottled up emotions can wreak havoc on a marriage. Quite simply, he gets people.

It doesn’t matter whether that person is an accomplished mixed race optometrist named Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who was adopted at birth and is now seeking her birth parents or whether that person is Hortense’s birth mother Cynthia Rose Purley (Brenda Blethyn), who is emotionally fragile and struggling to connect with the nearly 21-year-old Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook), the only daughter she’s ever known. Or then there’s Maurice, Cynthia’s brother, played by Timothy Spall, who finds himself trying to bear the weight of both Cynthia’s problems and his own frustrations and weariness with continually trying to care for his wife’s needs while simultaneously bear up under the emotional abuse he’s receiving from her due to her strained physical and emotional state. Everyone is going to great effort to keep uncomfortable truths hidden, with the effect that there is an ever present tension that is begging to be released.

The technical qualities of the filmmaking are brilliant, from the contrasts set up in the frame and between characters to the choreography of a tension-filled birthday dinner. And quite simply, it’s beautiful, thought-provoking storytelling and extremely relevant to anyone who might be tempted to go it alone.


Sansho the Bailiff

  

Year: 1954

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Genre: Drama

Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Kyôko Kagawa, Eitarô Shindô, Akitake Kôno, Masao Shimizu, Ken Mitsuda, Kazukimi Okuni, Yôko Kozono, Noriko Tachibana, Ichirô Sugai, Teruko Omi, Chieko Naniwa, Kikue Môri, Ryôsuke Kagawa, Kanji Koshiba, Shinobu Araki, Reiko Kongo, Shôzô Nanbu

Kenji Mizoguchi directs this dark, tragic tale revealing the harsh realities of life in feudal Japan and how often what is lost can never be regained. This story of a family separated and its children sold into slavery to the titular Sansho brings to mind the far more recent film 12 Years A Slave and the thought of how hopeless it must feel to find yourself a victim of betrayal and suddenly a slave with no advocate, no way to prove you are actually a free person. Through the continued enslavement of the children Zushiō and Anju into adulthood, we see how alone a victim of atrocity could have their humanity crushed until they are inhuman themselves.

Mizoguchi’s production design details the contrasts between the comforts and abundance of humanity surrounding the haves and the austerity of the have nots. He also makes dramatic use of the depth of his frame to show distance, background activity or to fill it with a variety of characters and interactions. The returning motif Mizoguchi uses of the mother’s call and song, a symbol of her ongoing lamentation and desperate hope to see her children again is haunting and heartbreaking.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

November 15
Paddington (2014)

November 18
Girlhood (2014)

November 20
Gates of Heaven (1978)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)

AMAZON PRIME

November 15
Me Before You (2016)

November 19
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)

November 20
1984 (1984)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
The Great Escape (1963)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
House of Games (1987)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Lenny (1974)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Mississippi Burning (1988)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Valkyrie (2008)

November 21
De Palma (2015)

FILMSTRUCK

November 16
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Let There Be Light (1946)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

November 29
Everything else

HULU

November 30
American Psycho (2000)
Escape from New York (1981)
Get Shorty (1995)
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Primal Fear (1996)
The Terminator (1984)
They Came Together (2014)
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

BuyBust (2018)
Green Room (2015)
Outlaw King (2018)

AMAZON PRIME

Bernie (2011)
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
Fox and His Friends (1975)
The General (1926)
Henri Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (2009)
Journey’s End (2017)
Orchestra Rehearsal (1978)

FILMSTRUCK

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
Body Heat (1981)
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Dheepan (2015)
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
Ride the High Country (1962)
The Wild Bunch (1969)

HULU

Frances Ha (2012)
Sami Blood (2016)
The Wolfpack (2015)


COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

November 15
May The Devil Take You– NETFLIX FILM (2018)
The Crew– NETFLIX FILM (2015)

November 16
Cam– NETFLIX FILM (2018)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs– NETFLIX FILM (2018)
The Princess Switch– NETFLIX FILM (2018)

November 18
The Pixar Story (2007)

AMAZON PRIME

November 16
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams (2018)

November 17
McQueen

November 21
Box of Moonlight (1996)

HULU

November 15
Cartel Land (2015)

November 18
Hero (2002)

November 21
Box of Moonlight (1996)


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: November 8-14

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.

However, while there is still yet time, the November spotlight on FilmStruck continues. And while FilmStruck will be gone soon, Kanopy remains, and on the bright side, Netflix just released Orson Welles’ final film, 30 years after his passing along with a new documentary about its making. Also, Amazon Prime added a whole host of high quality films this past week from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, Billy Wilder, and many more.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Ordet

Year: 1955

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Cast: Birgitte Federspiel, Henrik Malberg, Emil Hass Christensen, Ejner Federspiel, Kirsten Andreasen, Sylvia Eckhausen, Ann Elisabeth Groth, Cay Kristiansen, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Gerda Nielsen, Ove Rud, Susanne Rud, Henry Skjær, Edith Trane

Carl Theodor Dreyer has an brilliant eye for frame composition, production design, lighting, and camera movement, and that’s just the technical side of this striking film. Dreyer’s script, based on a play by Danish Lutheran priest Kaj Munk, is a window into the life and faith (or lack thereof) of each of the Borgens, a farming family in rural Denmark, and the community in which they live. The main characters are the patriarch Morten and his grown children, Anders, Johannes, and the eldest Mikkel and his wife Inger, who is pregnant with her and Mikkel’s third child.

Each family member is distinct from the others with their own hopes, dreams, struggles, and personal journey of life and faith. Yet, they are still very much a family living under one roof and so the multiple narrative threads are woven together into a beautiful tapestry. The elderly Morten is set in his ways, as is Peter the tailor, the father of Anne, whom Anders pines after. Both Morten and Peter refuse Anders’ request to marry Anne because they are in different sects of Christianity, creating a proudly religious version of the Romeo and Juliet story. Mikkel has no faith, but his wife Inger is deeply religious. So when her pregnancy comes to trouble, Mikkel is forced into his own crisis of faith. In a crossing of history with fantasy, Morten’s middle son, Johannes, after having studied the works of the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard, has become convinced he Johannes is Jesus Christ himself. He echoes the words of Jesus from the Bible and speaks prophecy that he expects to be believed. Each of these family member’s threads of life story and struggles with faith and reality crash into everyone else’s leading everyone to the critical moment where they are forced to decide what they truly believe and what they will do about it.


Where Is My Friend’s House?

Year: 1987

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Genre: Drama, Family

Cast: Babek Ahmedpour, Ahmed Ahmedpour, Kheda Barech Defai, Iran Outari, Ait Ansari, Sadika Taohidi, Biman Mouafi, Ali Djamali, Aziz Babai, Nader Ghoulami, Akbar Mouradi, Teba Slimani, Mohammad Reza Parvaneh, Farahanka Brothers, Maria Chdjari, Hamdallah Askarpour, Kadiret Kaoiyenpour, Hager Farazpour, Mohamed Hocine Rouhi, Rafia Difai, Agakhan Karadach Khani, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh

Who doesn’t remember being a child, facing what to you was a life or death situation, but neither your parents nor any other adult grasped the gravity of your plight and instead kept harping on you to do what was important to them or what they were certain was in your best interest? But they didn’t stop to realize that you had every intention to do what they wanted except you had this emergency you needed help with first?

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami perfectly captures the experience of being a child trapped in such a true-to-life, Kafkaesque nightmare. Ahmed (Babek Ahmedpour) and Mohamed (Ahmed Ahmedpour) are classmates. Their very strict and aggressive teacher has harshly berated Mohamed and threatened him with expulsion if he fails to do his homework in his notebook once more. Ahmed witnesses his friend break down into tears and we along with him suddenly find ourselves feeling great empathy for the boy. Yet later, there is a mix-up, and when Ahmed arrives home, he discovers he has both his own and Mohamed’s notebook, leaving him torn between obeying his mother, who won’t even listen to his plight, and doing everything he possibly can to return his friend’s notebook even though he lives in a neighboring town, and he has no idea where his house is.

With such a simple but universally relatable concept, we are drawn into the world of children and reminded that they need our compassion and understanding. How quickly we as adults forget the experience of being a child as the roles become reversed and we become the ones making demands of them. How much anxiety is caused when a child feels invisible to adults or when adults think they know what the child needs without caring enough to stop and listen?


Ikiru

  

Year: 1952

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Genre: Drama

Cast: Takashi Shimura, Haruo Tanaka, Nobuo Kaneko, Bokuzen Hidari, Miki Odagiri, Shin’ichi Himori, Minoru Chiaki, Minosuke Yamada, Kamatari Fujiwara, Makoto Kobori, Nobuo Nakamura, Atsushi Watanabe, Isao Kimura, Masao Shimizu, Yūnosuke Itō, Yoshie Minami, Kumeko Urabe, Eiko Miyoshi, Noriko Honma, Yatsuko Tan’ami, Kin Sugai, Kyôko Seki, Kusuo Abe, Tomo’o Nagai, Seiji Miyaguchi, Daisuke Katô, Hiroshi Hayashi, Fuyuki Murakami 

No matter where we are in life, we all know that we’ll eventually die, whether from cancer, an accident, or old age. Through Ikiru, master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa gives the viewer an opportunity for reflection as it provides an intimate view of one man’s experience of having discovered he has stomach cancer and only has months to live, leading him on a journey of introspection and regret that so much of his life had been spent in meaningless attitudes and actions.

Takashi Shimura plays Kanji Watanabe. Having worked as a government bureaucrat doing the same job for decades as well as being a widower with a son whose primary concern is his inheritance, he suddenly is left wondering what it was all for. What was the point? Ikiru means to live, and Kanji now finds himself desperate to figure out what it means to live. Along the way, he notices his young female subordinate named Toyo (Miki Odagiri) and becomes enamored not with her but with her personality that is positively brimming with the joy of being alive, so he develops a relationship with her to try to figure out her secrets.

The other side of the film, especially in the third act explores the way we make assumptions about other people and how often reality differs from what we think. It serves as a sober reminder that we should be careful about making judgments about others. We may not know the full story.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

November 11
Anna Karenina (2012)

November 12
Call Me Lucky (2015)

November 15
Paddington (2014)

AMAZON PRIME

November 11
Green Room (2015)

November 15
Me Before You (2016)

November 19
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

November 20
In the Heat of the Night (1967)

FILMSTRUCK

November 9
The Big Sleep (1946)
Dark Passage (1947)
Dogville (2003)
Petulia (1968)
To Have and Have Not (1944)

November 16
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Let There Be Light (1946)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

November 29
Everything else

HULU

November 30
American Psycho (2000)
Escape from New York (1981)
Get Shorty (1995)
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Primal Fear (1996)
The Terminator (1984)
They Came Together (2014)
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018)
Into the Forest (2015)

AMAZON PRIME

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
The Apartment (1960)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Being There (1979)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Crossing Delancey (1988)
Deliverance (1972)
Diner (1982)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010)
From Russia with Love (1963)
The Getaway (1972)
Going in Style (1979)
The Gold Rush (1925)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Kes (1969)
Klute (1971)
The Last Waltz (1978)
Little Odessa (1994)
Logan’s Run (1976)
Lord of War (2005)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Mean Streets (1973)
Of Mice and Men (1992)
The Misfits (1961)
Moonraker (1979)
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Network (1976)
Night Moves (1975)
Paths of Glory (1957)
Performance (1970)
The Pink Panther (1963)
Point Blank (1967)
The Red Violin (1998)
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
The Song Remains the Same (1976)
Soylent Green (1973)
Star 80 (1983)
Summer 1993 (2017)
Westworld (1973)
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
The Who: The Kids Are Alright (1979)
Wonder (2017)
The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Zama (2017)

FILMSTRUCK

Adam’s Rib (1949)
The African Queen (1951)
The Lion in Winter (1968)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
Stage Door (1937)

HULU

Europa Report (2013)
Kick-Ass (2010)
Wonder (2017)


COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

November 11
Outlaw King — NETFLIX FILM (2018)

November 12
Green Room (2015)

AMAZON PRIME

November 10
The Children Act (2017)

HULU

November 10
Big Hero 6 (2014)

November 12
The Wolfpack (2015)


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: November 1-7

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.

In honor of this month being FilmStruck’s swan song, I am setting my spotlight on their rich catalog of films while I still can. But brace yourself. This week it’s going to get dark.


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


Elevator to the Gallows

 

Year: 1958

Director: Louis Malle

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin, Lino Ventura, Iván Petrovich, Elga Andersen, Jean Wall, Gérard Darrieu, Micheline Bona, Charles Denner, Félix Marten, Hubert Deschamps, Jacques Hilling, Marcel Journet, François Joux, Jean-Claude Brialy, Gisèle Grandpré

A predecessor to the coming French new wave, Elevator to the Gallows is a remarkable piece of nuanced French film-noir from first-time filmmaker Louis Malle that is enhanced even further with a pitch-perfect Miles Davis score. The striking opening shot of Jeanne Moreau’s eyes with everything else concealed in shadow is a bold start to the filmmaker’s career. The film opens on Florence (Moreau) and Julien (Maurice Ronet), lovers separated by two ends of a telephone call, conspiring to kill so they can be free to be together. Suffice it to say, things don’t go according to plan. The contemplative jazz score enhances our insight into the emotional state of the characters, especially that of Florence as she walks the streets in silence, lost in her thoughts as she searches for her missing lover,

What’s somewhat surprising is that the film isn’t content to be a mere thriller, though there is tension to be found. Malle’s interest is in more of a psychological exploration, a character study, not only of our two primary lovers, but also the younger pair of lovers, Louis (Georges Poujouly) and Véronique (Yori Bertin). They express the volatility, unpredictability, and naivete of youth, Their actions create a case of mistaken identity that not only finds themselves helplessly trapped but also traps Julien and Florence. Both couples have committed themselves to evil. But neither being spontaneous nor planning every detail gives either one what they want.


The Passion of Joan of Arc

Year: 1928

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Cast: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley, Maurice Schutz, Antonin Artaud, Michel Simon, Jean d’Yd, Louis Ravet, Armand Lurville, Jacques Arnna, Alexandre Mihalesco, Léon Larive, Jean Aymé, Gilbert Dacheux, Gilbert Dalleu, Paul Delauzac, Dimitri Dimitriev, Fournez-Goffard, Henri Gaultier, Paul Jorge, Marie Lacroix, Henri Maillard, Raymond Narlay

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s passionate portrayal of Joan of Arc’s famous trial has been heralded as one of the all-time classics of the silent era, and it’s easy to see why. Perhaps not until 89 years later with the release of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! would a woman’s face so consume the screen of a film. Through Joan’s Passion, so named for its similarities to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, Dreyer presents a critique of the state church. A Church not just willing but with the power and obligation to torture and execute those deemed heretics.

Renée Jeanne Falconetti (aka Maria) as Joan is a constant presence. Dreyer uses extreme close-ups throughout to bring us intimately into her experience, as barely seconds go by without her tear-streaked, emotionally-strained face filling the screen. And when it’s not her face, it’s often one of her oppressor’s, so we as the audience more directly feel the weight of oppression as well. At times, Dreyer’s film is quite shocking, such as the threats of the torture chamber, Joan’s bloodletting–surprise, it’s real, not an effect, and the burning at the stake itself, which manages to be powerful despite not showing a lot of detail.

Were it not for the young Jean Massieu (Antonin Artaud) who tries with great compassion to help Joan out of and through her fate, the misery might be unbearable. But he is a reminder that every little bit of good we can do helps.


Night and Fog

  

Year: 1955

Director: Alain Resnais

Genre: Documentary, Short, History

Cast: Michel Bouquet, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler, Julius Streicher

One of the most artful and moving documentaries ever created. It’s as much of a slow burn as a 32-minute documentary about the horrors of the Holocaust can be. Alain Resnais infuses a general sense of dread even when nothing shocking is occurring or when the most shocking thing is a Nazi walking by in an apparent good mood. The way he uses generally happy, even playful music reminds us we are in more pleasant times now, but when he keeps using it even when it stands in stark contrast to the horrific images being displayed, it creates unsettling internal tension in the viewer.

Combined with the narration that briefly touches on the unspeakable horrors before shifting the perspective and forcing the viewer to evaluate their own attitudes and assumptions, an uncomfortable yet poignant experience is established that will not be shaken. And the timeless message of the closing monologue along with the now peaceful images it’s spoken over declare a warning against complacency and are one of the most powerful and effective of their kind.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

November 3
The House of Small Cubes (2008)

November 4
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

November 6
Europa Report (2013)

November 11
Anna Karenina (2012)

November 15
Paddington (2014)

AMAZON PRIME

November 1
Morris from America (2016)

November 7
Into the Forest (2015)
Krisha (2015)

November 11
Green Room (2015)

FILMSTRUCK

November 2
Alphaville (1965)
Army of Shadows (1969)
Bob le Flambeur (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Le Trou (1960)
Libeled Lady (1936)

November 9
The Big Sleep (1946)
Dark Passage (1947)
Dogville (2003)
Petulia (1968)
To Have and Have Not (1944)

November 16
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Let There Be Light (1946)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

November 29
Everything else

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

Animal House (1978)
Cape Fear (1991)
Children of Men (2006)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Cloverfield (2008)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Dracula (1992)
The English Patient (1996)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Fearless (2006)
Filmworker (2017)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
The Raid (2011)
Shirkers (2018)
United 93 (2006)

AMAZON PRIME

Badlands (1973)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
The Birdcage (1996)
The Black Stallion (1979)
Brewster McCloud (1970)
Dead Ringers (1988)
Duck, You Sucker (1971)
Excalibur (1981)
GoldenEye (1995)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Licence to Kill (1989)
Michael Clayton (2007)
My Girl (1991)
Triangle (2009)
You Were Never Really Here (2017)

FILMSTRUCK

The Body Snatcher (1945)
Cat People (1942)
Day for Night (1973)
The Headless Woman (2008)
The Leopard Man (1943)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

HULU

Title (year)


COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

November 2
The Other Side of the Wind–NETFLIX FILM (2018)

November 4
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

AMAZON PRIME

November 2
Wonder (2017)

November 3
Kick-Ass (2010)

HULU

November 2
Wonder (2017)

November 3
Kick-Ass (2010)

November 7
Europa Report (2013)


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: October 25 – November 1

Back after a brief hiatus, 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


The Florida Project

Year: 2017

Director: Sean Baker

Genre: Drama

Cast: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Mela Murder, Caleb Landry Jones, Aiden Malik, Macon Blair, Sabina Friedman-Seitz, Karren Karagulian, Sandy Kane, Carl Bradfield, Gary B. Gross, Sonya McCarter, Josie Olivo, Rosa Medina, Perez Jasineia, Ramos Kit 

Sean Baker’s spotlight on the world of the hidden homeless, filled with shockingly authentic performances and focused specifically on the children, is conflicting to experience. It’s the joy and wonder of kids being happy-go-lucky and saying the darndest things despite being surrounded by poverty, but they’re kids who are also often heavily influenced by crass and insensitive parents who are not necessarily the best of role models, so you’ll also hear them spouting obscenities towards others that show extreme disrespect. Of course, they’re just mimicking, they rarely have ill will toward anyone.

It’s easy to be angry at the parents in this film, specifically Halley (Bria Vinaite), for her unethical behavior and horrible influence on her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). But you also can’t help but feel sad for her desperate condition and whatever history she’s had that led to her being in it. Willem Dafoe’s tremendously understated performance as the compassionate, good guy hotel manager is the emotional bridge we need to connect with these people. He’s a responsible manager, but he also cares about these people under his care.

That’s the power of this film. It’s a window into a fragile, vulnerable people who have fallen through the cracks of society. It’s an appreciation that children are resilient and can find and bring joy to hopeless circumstances. And despite law and order needing to be kept, it’s a plea for compassion over condemnation.


The Impossible


FREE WITH ADS

Year: 2012

Director: J. A. Bayona

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Marta Etura, Sönke Möhring, Geraldine Chaplin, Ploy Jindachote, Jomjaoi Sae-Limh, Johan Sundberg, Jan Roland Sundberg, La-Orng Thongruang, Tor Klathaley, Douglas Johansson, John Albasiny, Gitte Witt

This is ostensibly a typhoon disaster movie, but unlike the majority of films in that genre, this is based on a true story. And as such, director J. A. Bayona’s intention seems to be to strip away any element of fun from the watching and replace it with overwhelming shock and horror and ultimately compassion as the family we’ve just started to get to know with Ewan McGregor playing the father and Naomi Watts the mother are brutally battered and separated from one another by the rushing waters and debris.

Watching this film, you feel every bit of misery the characters carry. There’s the physical misery as in the case of the wife and mother Maria, who is constantly in danger of losing her leg or worse. There’s also the emotional anguish of her son Lucas. Played by a supremely talented young Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), he carries the film and is its emotional center. As far as Lucas knows, his father and brother died in the typhoon, so he’s out of his mind desperate not to lose his mother too. In the midst of horror, it’s beautiful to watch him learn to take that compassion and desire and turn it outwards to try to help all the other people desperate to find their loved ones.


Certified Copy

  

Year: 2010

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Genre: Drama, Romance

Cast: Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carrière, Agathe Natanson, Gianna Giachetti, Adrian Moore, Angelo Barbagallo, Andrea Laurenzi, Filippo Trojano, Manuela Balsinelli

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has an uncanny ability to weave of reality and fiction together and to challenge the viewer’s understanding of both. Watching this film feels like cinematic sleight of hand. On the surface, Certified Copy feels like an alternative version of Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, but while the latter is content to present an imitation of reality, the former thrives on manipulating our very perception of it.

English author James Miller (William Shimell) is in Tuscany touring his new book, also titled Certified Copy. While there, he encounters French antiques dealer Elle (Juliette Binoche) and they end up spending an afternoon together driving through the surrounding countryside and walking through the villages, finding themselves having deep philosophical conversations that force them to come face to face with the emotional baggage they’ve long been carrying. The deeper they go, the more they connect, the more they argue, the more intimate they become with their thoughts and feelings and emotions, the more reality becomes blurred as to what their relationship actually is to one another.

Kiarostami’s direction is brilliant, making full use of his environment, angles, props, and amazing production design to enhance the emotional beats and themes. Shimell gives a strong performance, but he is mostly stoic throughout. Binoche, on the other hand, covers a wide range of emotions, and she doesn’t hesitate to act flustered, hopeful, angry, coy, or passionate as her character is at a particularly volatile and vulnerable time in her life.


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

October 27
Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

October 31
The African Queen (1951)
Amélie (2001)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Jurassic Park I-III (1993, 1997, 2001)
The Land Before Time (1988)
Oculus (2013)
The Reader (2008)

November 4
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

AMAZON PRIME

October 30
The Green Butchers (2003)
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Mad Max (1979)
Thief (1981)

October 31
Barfly (1987)
Bull Durham (1988)
Children of Men (2006)
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Fearless (2006)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Ghostbusters I & II (1984, 1989)
High Noon (1952)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jaws (1975)
The Monster Squad (1987)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Sneakers (1992)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
United 93 (2006)
The Usual Suspects (1995)

FILMSTRUCK

October 26
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Footlight Parade (1933)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Stalag 17 (1953)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Tabu (2012)
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

October 31
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

November 2
Alphaville (1965)
Army of Shadows (1969)
Bob le Flambeur (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Le Trou (1960)
Libeled Lady (1936)

November 9
The Big Sleep (1946)
Dark Passage (1947)
Dogville (2003)
Petulia (1968)
To Have and Have Not (1944)

November 16
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Let There Be Light (1946)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

HULU

October 31
13 Going on 30 (2004)
28 Weeks Later (2007)
Babe (1995)
Barfly (1987)
Bull Durham (1988)
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Elephant Man (1980)
High Noon (1952)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Point Break (1991)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Rescue Dawn (2006)
The Rock (1996)
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Sleepers (1996)
Spaceballs (1987)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Unbreakable (2000)
Witness (1985)


JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

God Knows Where I Am (2016)
The Night Comes for Us (2018)

AMAZON PRIME

12 Angry Men (1957)
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
The Big Country (1958)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Devil (2010)
Donnie Darko (2001)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Man from Reno (2015)
The Proposition (2005)
A Street Cat Named Bob (2016)

FILMSTRUCK

The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Billy Budd (1962)
The Candidate (1972)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Dracula (1958)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

HULU

Burn (2012)
Ever After (1998)
Ghost Stories (2017)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)


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.