Category Archives: The Criterion Collection

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Today and tomorrow I cast out demons and work cures. On the third day, I will be perfected.

— Jesus

 

After the rapture did not happen last week, I wanted to see the controversial Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The only thing that I have heard is the controversy of having Jesus portrayed as a flawed mortal and not the savior most people know. I didn’t realize that it received the Criterion treatment, but I knew that it was nominated for a single Oscar for Best Director. I think that I would have had a strong reaction back then instead of now.

Based on the 1960 Nikos Kazantzakis novel, the movie is a fictionalized account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth (Willem Dafoe). Jesus is a mortal living his life as a carpenter living with his mother, Mary (Verna Bloom). He is haunted by bouts of fainting spells, widespread pain all over his body and the voices he hears. He doesn’t know if it’s God or the Devil talking to him.

His best friend, Judas (Harvey Keitel) visits him to ask him why is he building crosses for Roman so they could crucify his fellow Jews. Jesus takes pity on the people that he has sent on the cross. The villagers think that he is a traitor and should be killed for his actions. Whenever he walks across the town with the cross, people throw rocks at him. He is spat upon by Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), the local prostitute.

Jesus continues to hear the voices speaking to him. He is conflicted because he doesn’t want to be the messiah. Jesus tries to make God hate him so he could make another person the messiah. He is afraid of every aspect of his life.

He wants to seek forgiveness from Mary Magdalene before Jesus sets off on his journey for absolution. She doesn’t understand why he couldn’t love her and she does for him. While he was purified on his sins, he tries to preach the word of God, but he is not the best speaker to deliver God’s message.

Meanwhile, Judas is sent to kill Jesus, but he doesn’t. He decides to join him on his ultimate mission with the apostles to preach God’s message to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus makes some selfish decisions that could ultimately effected the course of his purpose on Earth.

My first thoughts of this movie are that , why is Harvey Keitel in this movie? He has his regular accent in B.C. Israel. Say what? Ever heard of a dialect coach? I felt like the story was not intriguing enough for me to invest my time with it. Let me tell you, it was a lot of time. The movie is 2 1/2 hours long. I did not feeling anything with the movie. If you have been a regular reader of my blog, then you know that I am not a religious person. Organized religion bothers me that I have to be this person and not myself.

I wish that the movie would have provoked a response, but I think that people are not as easily offended today then they were twenty years ago.

Judgment: This movie should have been dumped into the Dead Sea where it belongs.

Rating: 3/10

Rashômon (1950)

No one tells a lie after he’s said he’s going to tell one.

— Commoner

I do not know that many Kurosawa’s movies. I have only seen Seven Samurai and have reviewed as part of the LAMB in the Director’s Chair spotlight a while ago. I wanted to see more of Kurosawa’s film because I enjoyed Seven Samurai very much. I wanted the #8o Film of All Time on IMDb, Rashomon. It was nominated for Best Art Direction, but it won an Honorary Award for Foreign Language Film, not the competitive Oscar. It was expected to be blown away, but I felt cheated.

The story takes place in the ruined temple of Rashômon where is a torrential rainstorm. A Commoner (Kichijirô Ueda) seeks refuse from the rain. He sees the Priest (Minoru Chiaki) and the Woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) look visibly distraught. The Commoner asks the men what is disturbing them. The Woodcutter tells him about a terrible that happened in the middle of woods on top of the mountain.

He recounts finding a woman’s hat in a tree branch, then a samurai’s cap, a piece of rope and finally the samurai’s body. He goes to the police. The Woodcutter tells his account to the trial of the bandit, Tajômaru (Toshirô Mifune).

Tajômaru tells his tale when the Policeman (Daisuke Katô) arrested in the woods after the murder. Tajômaru tells why he did what he did, because he wanted to capture the wife, Masako (Machiko Kyô) of her husband, Takehiro Kanazawa (Masayuki Mori), but not kill him. Tajômaru ties up husband to a nearby tree. Masako tries to stab Tajômaru with her pearl inlay. He forces himself upon her. Afterwards, Masako says that he dies or her husband.

The Woodcutter thinks that the story is a lie. The movie gives three other versions of the story. One of them is true, but which one.

The movie’s plot was not what I was expecting. Granted, I went into this completely blind. The premise seemed silly to me. I have to watch an hour and half of people counted stories from different perspectives. That’s it. I felt cheated. I thought it was going to be an epic movie, but it was very quiet and subdued. I didn’t care for it. I started and stopped it at least three times, because I was not invested in the story.

Judgment: The theme is interesting, but the rest is not.

Rating: 5/10

Jules and Jim (1962)

After I was impressed by a viewing of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, I wanted to watch another one of his films. The Criterion Collection of his film, Jules and Jim was on the shelf and I thought that I might pick it up. At first that I thought the movie was going to be about a couple called Jules and Jim, but I was wrong.

The movie that the story of Jules (Oskar Werner), an Austrian transplant and his extremely close friendship with his Parisian friend, Jim (Henri Serre) before World War I. They have always been together. Jim has a long affair with Gilberte (Vanna Urbino) who is madly in love with him, but he cannot return the favor.

The dynamics of their friendship changes when the headstrong, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) comes into their lives. they are stuck that she looks like a sculpture that they were both drawn to while viewing slides at their friend, Albert’s (Boris Bassiak) place.

They become fast friends. Jules is developing feelings for Catherine. The trio buys a house where they could all live. Jules wants to marry Catherine. To complicate things further, Jim begins to have feelings for Catherine as well. World War I happens and they lose touch with each other until after the war where Jules and Catherine are married with a daughter, Sabine (Sabine Haudepin).

Jim learns that Catherine is not happy with her marriage to Jules and wants a way out. Maybe Jim is her only chance of true happiness.

The movie is interesting. It’s mostly about two friends who are in love with the same woman. You think it would rip their friendship apart, but it doesn’t. You have this woman who is unsure about what or who she wants in her life. Catherine was a progressive woman who will not be pigeonholed into the typical housewife role like many others.

I was not at all interested in the story. It went back and forth for almost two hours. I started to get bored with the movie after a certain point. When it over, I felt nothing.

Judgment: I could only recommend this to a Truffaut fan.

Rating: 6/10

The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man is one the those classic movies that is on people’s top ten lists. This movie comes in as the #65 Film of All-Time on IMDb.  I wanted to see this movie, because it was taunted as one of the greatest mysteries ever. The movie won an Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was well deserved. I cannot get the feeling that I was disappointed with this movie.

The setting takes place in post war Vienna where the city is divided into four sections; French, British, Russian and American. An American comes into the city, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) with the promise of a writing job from his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It turns out that Harry recently died from a car accident and he was being buried the day that he arrives.

Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) questions Martins about his relationship with the departed Lime. He clues him in over a couple of drinks that Lime was being investigated for racketeering. He allegedly dabbled in selling black market penicillin to hospitals and having the recipients of the medicine die as a result.

Martins hears that Lime was killed in an accident. An acquaintance of Lime’s, Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White) tells a completely different story that what has been told. He said that Lime was murdered instead. Martins’ Porter (Paul Hörbiger) said that Lime was alive when three men carried his body away from the scene. It was Dr. Winkel (Erich Pronto) and a Romanian, Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) with a mysterious third man.

Martins meets up with the girl that he saw at the funeral, Lime’s main squeeze, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). She is an actress with a play in a local theater. During their time together, Anna warns Martins not to get in too deep with the investigation that he wants to launch into the mysterious circumstances of his friend’s death. He feels that the investigators are not handling the case the way that they should.

Major Calloway and Sargent Paine (Bernard Lee) are thinking that Anna may have something to do with Harry’s death. When one of the people who Martins talked to ends up dead, he becomes public enemy number one.

I heard a couple of a things about the movies. I guess I might have misinterpreted them. The movie started out like a comedy of errors with Holly Martins being a sloppy drunk mess, then it’s supposed to be intriguing with the swirling mystery. I was a bit bored with the movie. I was thinking, “Okay. When is the part that something is supposed to blow me away?” And then it came with Orson Welles as Lime. He was very charismatic as the arrogant bastard of the story. He saved the movie for me.

Judgment: The mystery thriller was bogged down with too much for my taste.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Will I be with You tonight in Paradise?

— Joan of Arc

Here is another movie that would suggested by Michael Vox from the Cinebanter podcast, the #211 Film of All-Time on IMDb, Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. I am familiar with Dreyer after reviewing one of his previous films, Vampyr for 1001 Film Club. I heard about the story of how the original cut of the movie was banned then burned in a fire and this movie was found in a mental institution. I am so glad that it was found.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film that was restored from footage found the Norwegian mental institution and was released in 1985. The movie dramatized the trail of the young martyr, Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti) where she was charged with heresy.

She is called to a tribunal of judges to discuss her intentions. As you can see when watching the movie, she is not the figure we know from the history books, but a young woman in her late teens doing a mission from God to save France from the English.

During the line of questioning, she reveals that St. Michael appeared to her to give her the mission she must do. Dress like a man to prepare for the incoming battle ahead to save her eternal soul.

The judges want Joan to confess her sins so she could be saved from burning at the stake. They would go to any means to ensure that this young woman who cannot read or write would confess her sins. The judges believe that she is a soldier of the Devil instead of God. As you know from history, you know what happens in the end.

I was shocked about the footage that was recovered. It does not feel like a movie from 1920s. The digital transfer of the print was remarkable to say the least. The score that accompanied the movie was so moving.

I have to say that Falconetti as Joan of Arc was a sight to behold. She had this deranged look in her eyes, but it was effective. She was a crying mess during the movie, but you felt her pain. Those eyes told a lot without hearing what the actors had to say. Wow.

My rule of thumb for watching silent movies is to watch in the daytime. I did with this movie, but when you have no dialogue, reading subtitles and a haunting operatic score, you have the tendency of drifting off. The movie was only 1 1/2 hours long, but it felt like it was five hours long.

Judgment: This movie is a sight to behold to say the least.

Rating: 8.5/10

Ace In The Hole (1951)

Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news.

— Charles Tatum

Michael Vox from the Cinebanter podcast mentioned on his last five about Billy Wilder’s 1951 movie, Ace in the Hole. I heard a little synopsis of the movie when he was explaining it to his co-host, Tassoula. I was intrigued to watch this Academy award nominated movie when I saw the Criterion version of the movie at my local library. I was glad I did it.

A gruff news reporter, Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) stumbles to a small Albuquerque newspaper named “The Sun Bulletin” where he is reeling from being fired from his cushy New York position. His thinking was that he would get a small two month gig for $60 a week that he would get notice for other newspapers. After a year passes, no big stories are coming his way. He is getting antsy.

His boss, Mr. Boot (Porter Hall) sends Tatum and a young staff photographer, Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) out on an assignment to cover a rattlesnake hunt at a nearby town.

During the trip, the duo stop to get gas from a mom and pop shop in Escuerdo, New Mexico where they notice the cops are being called to the 450 year old Indian Cliffs behind the shop. They hear from a woman, Lorriane Minosa (Jan Sterling) that her husband, Leo (Richard Benedict) is trapped in a cave in. Nobody could do anything with the mountain supposedly inhabited by evil spirits.

Tatum thinks that he could have the scoop or his “ace in the hole” to land him back on the top. He devices a way to befriend Leo by taking him food and coffee, but also spin the story to his advantage by any means necessary. Even if it mean, endangering the life of the man trapped with his legs pinned under rubble.

The first moments of this movie, I did not like Charles Tatum. He was a cocky, arrogant bastard to me. Some people say that he was the first anti-hero ever put on-screen. Is it true? I’m not sure. There is something about his bravado that attracts you to him, but there is also his actions that repels you.

The characters are not that sympathetic with the less than devastated wife, Lorriane that wants to hop on the first bus out of her boring life. There is the unscrupulous Sheriff Kretzer (Ray Teal) was full of corruption would align himself with Tatum in order to get re-elected. The only person you feel bad for is Leo. He is the sacrificial lamb in this scenario as the media circus grows, his needs are being swept under the rug to get a great story.

Is it said that this is a film noir taking place in the day. I don’t feel like it is a film noir. It feels like a hard-hitting drama about bastard trying to cash in on another person misery.

Judgment: The movie is a scathing account of how the media can turn a small incident into tattooing the image on the public conciousness.

Rating: 9/10

The 400 Blows (1959)

Now, Doinel, go get some water and erase those insanities, or I’ll make you lick the wall, my friend.

— Petite Feuille

People have been urging me to watch François Truffaut’s film, The 400 Blows, which is currently the #225 Film of All-Time on IMDb. Apparently, Truffaut was instrumental in the French New Wave movement where the characters felt genuine and not manufactured. Not having any earthly idea what the movie was about. I was surprised that Turner Classic Movies was showing it. It was my lucky day. I watched this movie in the early morning hours. I was quite impressed with it.

The story follows a troubled young man named Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) living in a small Parisian apartment with his exacerbated mother, Gilberte (Claire Maurier) and his easy-going father, Julien (Albert Rémy). Trouble seems to find its way to Antoine when his teacher, Petite Feuille aka Sourpuss (Guy Decomble) catches him with a pin-up calendar in his hands. He is made an example when he had to stand in the corner while his classmates enjoy recess. He scribbles a phrase on the classroom walls, which gets him in more trouble.

Gilberte is always short with Antoine, because of his bad behavior in school. She has to be a mother, a cook and be able to work a part time job all at the same time. Julien tries to inject some humor in their gloomy situation. Antoine has to sleep in a cot next to the kitchen.

The next day, Antoine is late for school when his schoolmate, René (Patrick Auffay) tells him to skip school with him. He decides to tagalong on a day venture, which cumulated with catching his mother kissing another man out on the street. Asked what he had done that day, Antoine told his father a lie. He never told him about his mother. Later that night, his mother leaves word that she will be working late and doesn’t come home until Antoine’s bedtime. The parents get into a screaming match about something unrelated.

Another schoolmate blows the whistle on Antoine’s lie when he knocks on the door the next morning. Unbeknownst to Antoine, he let another lie spill out about a death in the family. His parents swap personalities all of sudden, but that does not deter Antoine from falling into a downward spiral.

At first, I thought this movie was about the boy growing up as a petty thief. After the movie was over, I come to realize that this movie is part of a series of five films that followed Antoine Doniel throughout his life young life. I’m getting the itch to see what happens next to Antoine. I’m not saying that the movie is a masterpiece, but it was certainly a ride that I will never forget.

Judgment: If you are unfamiliar with Truffaut, this is a good place to start.

Rating: ****

Hunger (2008)

Hunger is a movie that I have heard from on the Filmspotting podcast when themselves and various critics have put this movie on there top tens of 2008 and 2009. I have heard scant things about this movie, but I didn’t want it spoiled for me. In retrospect, I thought that this movie was magnificent debut film from Steve McQueen. (No, not that Steve McQueen.)

Taking place in Northern Ireland in 1981, the story deals with a couple of inmates at the Maze Prison that are held there by the government. They think that they are political prisoners, but the government doesn’t seem to think so. The prisoners are under a blanket/no wash protest until they get political prisoners status.

The story follows all side of the controversial moment by looking at the lives of prison officer Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), who is afraid of being murdered. He checks under his car for bombs, looking over his shoulders for assassins, etc. He is one of many guards that are taking the prisoners out one by one and beat them up for smuggling contraband into the prison. His knuckles become bloodier as the protests goes on.

Next, the action focus on a new Irish Republican Army prisoner, Davey (Brian Milligan) arrives at the prison refuses to wear the standard uniform. He is asked to take his clothes off, given a single blanket and have the walk of shame to his cell where he meets his cellmate, Gerry (Liam McMahon). Gerry is serving out a twelve year sentence, while Davey has only six. Looking around the room, Davey sees that Gerry has covered the walls of the cell in his own shit, putting his food in a slop corner on the floor and using his urine as a last act of defiance.

About thirty minutes into the film, we meet the main protagonist of the movie, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) who is the mastermind of the protest. The reason why the guards are beating up the prisoners is they get their visitors to smuggle notes to the outside world by being a drug mule of sorts. Gerry gets his girlfriend to smuggle radio transmitter in her vagina.

The prison guards force the inmates out of their cells to beat them into giving up their seemingly lost cause. They perform cavity searches on them, getting them to wash and cut their hair. That breaks some of the inmates.

Regrouping for the cause, Bobby Sands wants to go on a hunger strike to make the point to get the Irish government to name them political prisoners. He calls for a local priest (Liam Cunningham) to come talk to him. It culminates in a riveting seventeen minute unbroken shot with Bobby and the priest discussing the morality of the hunger strike.

The next moments of the movie shows the effects of malnutrition does to the human body.

Today’s filmmakers are so keen on quick cuts and being overly glossy, but McQueen does something that is raw and real and hits you to the core. The movie is tough to watch, because it shows that one person’s sacrifice could mean a lot to others. Michael Fassbender gives a brave performance in this movie.

Not knowing the story of Bobby Sands and this era, I had trouble getting into why the events happened the way they did. Why did we focus on a prison guard? Why do we focus on a riot officer at one point? Being that this is an Irish movie, I had trouble understanding of what the people were saying, even though there is very little dialogue in the movie.

Judgment: I would suggest reading up this subject before seeing the movie.

Rating: ****

Vampyr (1932)

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I probably wouldn’t ever see Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr if it wasn’t for The 1001 Movies You Must See that I recently joined. This sucker was hard to find, but I managed to find the Criterion Edition of this classic vampire tale. I made the same mistake again by watching a semi-silent movie at night. I dozed.

Allan Gray (Julian West) religiously studies of the occult, devil worshiping and vampires lore. He becomes so obsessed that he could not distinguish between real and the supernatural. One night, he wanders into a creepy chateau down by a river in a town called Coutermpierre.

When he gets settled in, he hears what appears to be an incantation from somewhere in the inn. He investigates. Allan doesn’t see anyone and returns to his room. In the midst of sleep,  the lord of the manor (Maurice Schutz) bursts into his room and babbles to Allan about leaving the place before the house takes him over. He leaves a mysterious package on desk to be opened after his death. After the lord leaves,  Allan fears that someone– not himself–  is in trouble.

During his stay at the chateau, he sees shadows dancing on the walls, but nobody is there. He meets more of the inhabitants like the scythe-wielding man that carries a bell. Allan explores more of the chateau and the strange happenings around the place. The lord’s daughters, Gisèlle (Rena Handel) and Léone (Sybille Schmitz) have been suffering for what appears to be anemia.

The lord of the house is shot by one of the shadows and Allan is asked to stay away from the family with a servant to get the village doctor (Jan Heironimko). After the lord’s death, Allan opens the package to find a book, “The Strange History of Vampires” by Paul Bonnard. It chronicles the history of vampire lore. He reads the passages and suspects that there is a vampire amongst them.

This movie was made in1932. I want to know how they got the skulls or the shadows to move independently. This is a fascinating movie that I thought was a silent film. It has probably ten minutes of actual dialogue in the movie. Most of the time is Allan exploring the chateau.

The one complaint I have to the movie is the camerawork. It felt jerky. The way that the camera follows the characters in and out of rooms felt jerky and sped up the suspense to be effective.

Judgment: I would recommned this for the people who don’t want to be the blood and gore of other vampire movies.

Rating: ****

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

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My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was agin’, I was gettin’ younger… all alone.

— Benjamin Button

Nominated for thirteen Academy awards last year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was not on my list of films to see at that time. It is currently #210 on Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. I told friends of mine that I refused to see the film, because of the obvious comparisons to the emotionally manipulative Forrest Gump. After watching the Criterion Edition of this movie, Gump was at least interesting to watch.

Eric Roth scripted both movies, the movie is told in flashback from the end of WWI when Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born to the time before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In 2005, a daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond) is at the bedside on her dying mother, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), where the story of Benjamin is told through a journal that he kept throughout his life.

The movie recounts when he was born after WWI ended when his mother dies in childbirth. His father, Mr. Button (Jason Flemyng), abandons Benjamin on the doorstep of an old folk’s home. A young black couple, Queenie and Tizzy (Taraji P. Henson, Mahershalashashbaz Ali) find him and raises Benjamin as their own child.

As the movie drones on, it delves into how Benjamin and Daisy met, Benjamin traveling the world, the “soul mates” coming together and them realizing that they can’t be together in the end. It retells all of the history happening around Benjamin. He is just there to witness it. He doesn’t participate in it.

This film was clearly made for Oscars. It’s grandiose. It has the magical, fantastical elements with the central hook of Benjamin aging backward while everyone is aging forward. The makeup, the digital imaging, the costumes through the different periods of time, the swelling Alexandre Desplat score, the saturation of the screen. It’s all there. Somehow, it doesn’t work.

I understand that the point of the film is that the people that come in and out of your life shape who you are. “You never know what’s coming for you.” It was the motto of the movie like “Life is like a box chocolates” for Gump. It was a defective clone.

This movie meandered through subplots that bored me to tears. Do we need to see that guy getting struck by lightning? What’s up with the relationship between Benjamin and Elizabeth Abbot (Tilda Swinton)? Do we need that “what if” montage of Daisy in Paris?

There was always little hints about time with the countless clocks around, and especially the clock that goes backwards that was made by the blind man. The inexplicable appearances of hummingbirds where there shouldn’t be any.

Reading some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story that this movie was based on, I got the sense that the story would be a comedy of errors rather than a biopic about a fictional person.

The characters were not that interesting to root for anyone. They were bland. The simple guy, the ice queen, the deadbeat dad, the magical Negro. There is nothing of substance here.

Judgment: An Oscar baity movie that misses the heart of the central premise.

Rating: **1/2

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