Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#199: Dog Star Man

Directed by: STAN BRAKHAGE
1964, TSPDT Rank #927

Before watching Dog Star Man, you should understand that Brakhage was interesting in creating film as an art form, not as a form of entertainment, as he specifies on the Criterion DVD interview. Also be aware that it is completely silent with no music or sound of any kind. Some people suggest watching the film with a musical accompaniment of your choice, but I watched it without sound and feel that it may lose some of its power if you do this. I felt a strong visual rhythm while watching it. It's spread over five parts, and you'll need to watch all five. It is, at the base of it all, about a man and his dog attempting to climb a mountain. However it seems to cover the areas of birth, life, death, rebirth, and stellar things outside of our planet. This is a film with hard work written all over it - literally in a sense, since Brakhage actually scratched onto the film surface in some parts. I find Dog Star Man to be a remarkable and psychedelic experience - one with many facets that I'm sure I didn't catch on the first viewing. I'll definitely be watching it again sometime in the future.

(Rating: 8/10)

Friday, March 26, 2010

#198: Days of Heaven

1978, TSPDT Rank #154

Days of Heaven is about as far away from Rear Window as you can get, but it's equally as great. It's a beautiful, amazing, and visually astounding film; the narrative is at most a secondary function here. In fact, I don't think the narrative (a simple and somewhat disjointed tale of a love triangle on a wheat farm during the Great Depression) is important at all. Malick was a visionary, and is more concerned with showing us towering yet poetic images to convey moods, and having the dialogue and actions of the characters serve only to give us some thematic base. The cinematography is as good as you've heard - some of the greatest and unbelievable work ever done with a camera. I find it to be a slightly lesser film than Badlands, but it definitely packs a punch - and you're experiencing the right thing if you are a bit confused once it's over as to why it works so well. I guess the way I see it is: it's taking a common human story and placing it in the middle of an overwhelming sense of time and place, without robbing it of its poetic qualities, that makes it such a great film. Malick was a true visionary, and after seeing his first two works, I would say he is one of America's greatest unsung cinematic geniuses.

(Rating: 9/10)

Great Blu-Ray release by Criterion, by the way.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

#197: Rear Window

1954, TSPDT Rank #44

This is a film which reminds us the power of a great script, perfect actors, genius use of the camera, and a master director. All of these elements combine here to make a really great and entertaining film. While watching it, you feel as if you are in the apartment with the characters, and because of this, get involved in the suspense - feeling, like James Stewart's character, an inactive participant - engrossed and terrified from the events taking place in front of your eyes, but unable to do a thing about it. Rear Window is a relatively simple idea, which continues to captivate viewers because eavesdropping of this sort is something we've all done at one time or another, and we are expertly tricked into becoming a part of the film. And that, folks, is what good entertainment really is.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

#196: Mothlight

Directed by: STAN BRAKHAGE
1963, TSPDT Rank #981

This is the shortest film on the list, and it's very amazing - as in, absolutely mind-blowing. Let me preface this by saying that I have never seen a thing by Brakhage and was planning to rent the Criterion DVD set at some point here (probably still will, for Dog Star Man primarily) but watched this when I found it on YouTube. And I know many are opposed to this film and others of Brakhage's and find them frustrating and pointless, so if you read this and you're one of those people please note - I'm not just pulling some pretentious nonsense out of thin air, and I actually have a few thoughts on this film. Technically speaking, it's a feat of wonder; produced using wings of dead moths and various foliage pasted between two strips of tape. But it's what the film means metaphorically that floored me. Brakhage took a bunch of dead material from nature and brought it to life by way of film - bright, violent, flashing light in our face - a trip through life and death made interchangeable - and because of this is truly more than the sum of its parts.

I also realize that YouTube is not a good way to watch Brakhage. It's meant to be viewed in a cinema, and less preferable then that but still a step up from the former is DVD (soon to be Blu-ray). But even in the manner I viewed, it still feels one galvanizing film. Here's the You-tube link for anyone who wants to see if I may have a few valid points. This is an eye-opener, expanding the reach of my film appreciation.

(Rating: 10/10)

Friday, March 19, 2010

#195: The Manchurian Candidate

1962, TSPDT Rank #364

The Manchurian Candidate is a gripping, surreal, and fascinating political thriller - one that must have also been quite provocative for its time. In the heat of cold war tensions, it really took guts to produce an unusual and button-pushing script like this, and with big name stars like Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh. It just goes to show that a movie with some courage really has the potential to stand the test of time. I don't know what exactly I can say about the plot without ruining it - but basically it's about a platoon of soldiers who are kidnapped and brainwashed, one of them being unwittingly conditioned to be an assassin for the Communists. It could also be viewed as a satirical film, as the character of John Iselin has come to be mirrored in modern political figures like George W. Bush - and was certainly an attack on the hypocritical and anti-Communist politicians in our country at the time period. This is a thriller which truly puts you into its world, involving you with key catch-phrases and frankly depicted actions which provided a little taste of reality along with entertainment. It's also a very well made film, which has helped keep its freshness throughout the years. Definitely still relevant and worth watching.

(Rating: 8/10)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#194: Ikiru

1952, TSPDT Rank #79

This is not the Kurosawa film that most people would expect or want to see - mostly because it's not a samurai film and it doesn't have Toshiro Mifune. It is however, one of the most beautiful and thought-provoking films Kurosawa made; with a great performance by Takashi Shimura, as a man who realizes that he's been wasting his life once he gets stomach cancer. This is a film of incredible emotion and texture, with Kurosawa showing himself as the cinematic equivalent of a great novelist: the images contain rich description that communicates the feelings of the characters or important aspects of a certain scene, without specifically pointing it out to us through dialogue. Although the final section of the film seems to bog it down somewhat - that shot of Wantanabe on the swing in the snow ... it just sends chills down your spine. I'd like to know how one composes a shot that is that aesthetically brilliant - it doesn't seem to be something you could communicate through words; you need to have a strong vision. This is a film well worth seeing, it will provoke a lot of thought and feeling from your soul. And I think it's just as great as the other Kurosawa films that are so often spoken of.

(Rating: 9/10)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

#193: A Trip to the Moon

1902, TSPDT Rank #449

The earliest film on the list, A Trip to the Moon is definitely one of cinema's great milestones. It signaled a new direction for the film medium; a pioneer in narrative, style, and special effects. At a time when most directors were still filming simple one-shot scenes or "actualities," Melies pointed his camera at the moon, telling a detailed (for the time) and fantastic tale of scientists who fly to the moon in a cannon and eventually run into the tribe living there in an underground cavern. This must have blew minds back in the day! In my opinion, Georges Melies was the first really "important" director of films.

(Rating: 8/10)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

#191: The Big Lebowski

Directed by: JOEL & ETHAN COEN
1998, TSPDT Rank #404

"The Dude abides." So states the final line of this hilarious cult comedy - and it's a line that says both everything and nothing about the film. The Coens needed to blow off some steam after creating their masterpiece, Fargo, and ended up creating a movie that is great in its own right. It's a homage to a number of genres and styles past and present, rife with profanity - and all centered around a stoner known as The Dude. The plot revolves around a possible kidnapping case, but the Coens inject every type of bizarre and crazy thing imaginable into it, still allowing it to be cohesive, light, and really cool. John Goodman and Steve Buscemi are especially funny as The Dude's bowling buddies. I wouldn't miss this one.

EDIT (7/23/10):
This has become one of my favorite films, since I first wrote this review. I think it's hilarious and genius in pretty much every way, so I just felt I needed to give this movie a better notice than I originally did.

(Rating: 10/10)