Thursday, July 30, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 9

Among the giants of Japanese cinema, Kenji Mizoguchi may not have the mainstream Western popularity of Akira Kurosawa or the instantly-recognizable style of Yasujiro Ozu, but his body of work is certainly worthy to stand alongside theirs. With such classics to his name as Ugetsu and The Life of Oharu, Mizoguchi was a master filmmaker in his own right, but of the Mizoguchi films I’ve seen, none can compare to his 1954 masterpiece Sansho the Bailiff, the source of last week’s quiz. A meditation on the difficulty of doing good in a cruel world, Sansho is undeniably a downer, but it’s also a riveting piece of work, with plenty of gorgeous camera moves and black-and-white cinematography. Congrats to those who guessed it.

Sansho, of course, is just one of the many great Criterion Collection DVDs one could buy with the $25 Criterion Store gift card that’s the prize for winning this round. With four weeks left in competition, it’s still anyone’s game. Let’s see who can guess this one:

“Do me a favor, will you? Next time you have one of these things, keep it an all-British operation.”
“I’ll try, lieutenant.”

As always, e-Mail your guesses to this address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Wednesday. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Criterion Watch, October 2009

As you may be able to tell, I’m kind of on a hiatus right now, since I’m pretty busy with school and work, to say nothing of my ongoing attempts to settle in after the move and enjoy the summer with Angela and the Offspring whenever I have the chance. So something, as they say, has gotta give. Anyway, in the interest of adding some content here so you all don’t stop reading, here’s the (somewhat belated) Criterion Watch.

We begin with Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, for which there is no package design as yet. Didn’t expect for Criterion to pick this one up, but it’s not a bad addition to the collection, and its vibrant colors should look great in both standard DVD and Blu-Ray. One thing that makes this especially intriguing is that it was an old USA Films release before the company got absorbed into Focus. I’m hoping that this is a sign that Criterion will be handling the old USA library, which could mean such awesome titles as The Man Who Wasn’t There, Gosford Park, Rosetta, Being John Malkovich, and (ohpleasepleaseplease) Topsy-Turvy are on the way.

Based on the clue a few months back, I knew this was coming, but it’s still awesome news. The new transfer of this ought to be gorgeous, especially on the also-upcoming Blu-Ray. Plus there’s a commentary featuring Wenders and Peter Falk which guarantees to be cool because, I mean, come on.
Somewhat less fun than Monsoon Wedding and less ethereal than Wings of Desire is Costa-Gavras’ classic political thriller, but it's still pretty great. With Criterion’s release of his film Missing earlier this year, the release of this was a somewhat foregone conclusion, but it’s a perfectly respectable and worthy addition to the Collection. I haven’t seen this one in years, so this new DVD should give me the perfect excuse to catch it again.

Here’s another one I’m overdue to watch a second time, since I was a freshman in high school when it first came out on DVD, and as such not a particularly captive audience for the style of Merchant Ivory. This was the choice of Criterion Newsletter subscribers for the next Blu-Ray release, and at this time the company is only announcing an upcoming release in the new format, so the rest of us will have to make do with the old Home Vision disc. Oh well.

With this set, Eclipse welcomes the inimitable Makavejev to the family, with the release of three of his sixties films to complement their already-released Makavejev titles Sweet Movie and WR: Mysteries of the Orga(ni)sm. I’ve only seen one of the three films in the box, and that one- Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, was on a jumpy VHS tape with white-on-white subtitles. So this one should be both fun and educational for me. Besides, Makavejev’s films usually have plenty of nudity, which never hurts.

Finally, this is probably a John Ford movie, but which one? The "we" makes me think of Stagecoach, since it requires multiple horses to pull the stage and all. But it could be one of many Ford Westerns. Unless of course it's something totally unexpected, like for example Zanussi's great The Year of the Quiet Sun, which concludes in the locale Ford immortalized. Any ideas?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 8

When I saw Woody Allen’s latest film Whatever Works earlier this month, I marveled at the fact that it was his 40th feature to date- and that he hasn’t shown any signs of letting up his rate of productivity despite being upwards of seventy years old. But while it’s certainly noteworthy when a filmmaker can average a movie a year for more than forty years, there’s also something to be said for those at the opposite end of the spectrum, who don’t make very many movies but make each one count in a way that guys like Allen can’t hope to do. One of the best examples of the latter sort of director was the great Dane (sorry) Carl Theodor Dreyer, whose 1943 film Day of Wrath supplied last week’s quote. Aside from shorts and for-hire projects, Dreyer averaged one feature per decade following his 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc, each one a stone-cold classic- but Day of Wrath was one of his best. Congrats to those who got it.

A few remarks before we get to this week’s quote. First off, does anyone know where I might be able to find Dreyer’s lesser-known works? Having pored over his classics multiple times, I’m awfully curious about the other projects that occupied his time when he wasn’t cranking out classics. Any help would be appreciated.

Also, I apologize for not having this post up in the usual spot, but my new life of not-so-wedded bliss with Angela has curtailed my posting opportunities. I’ll do my level best to have the quote up in time next week.

Moving on… if I had to pick a favorite of all the movies represented by this round’s quotes, the winner would probably be either Day of Wrath and this week’s film. See if you can identify it:

“I don’t know what you have done, but I know that you have followed your father’s teachings, and that is why we have been able to meet again.”

As always, submit your answers to this e-Mail address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern Wednesday night. Good luck!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 7

For the past three decades, David Mamet has been one of the most distinctive writers working in theatre and film, in the process becoming famous for his uniquely salty dialogue. So many a critic was surprised when, back in 1997, Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner (the source of last week's quote) arrived, bearing a PG rating and scarcely a dirty word. But as the one and only Vern might say, PG don't got to be soft- despite an MPAA rating that's commonly associated with kiddie fare, The Spanish Prisoner was and still is one of Mamet's best thrillers, with a brutal efficiency that complements the pitiless dialogue. In addition, it was a fine showcase for the ever-undervalued Campbell Scott, and gave Steve Martin the rare opportunity to play a bad guy, a far cry from his old "wild and crazy" roles or the family-friendly parody he's become since. Congrats to those who guessed it.

Here's this week's quote:

"I see through my tears, but no one comes to wipe them away."

Name the film. Remember, submit your guesses to this e-Mail address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM on Wednesday. Good luck!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 6

How many movies can you name that feature a toothless protagonist who hasn't yet reached retirement age? I'd have to think a while to come up with an answer, but the first one that would come to mind would surely be George Armitage's priceless crime comedy Miami Blues, the source of last week's quote. At the time of its release, this adaptation of Charles Willeford's novel got more or less lost in the shuffle, but time has been extremely kind to the film, which boasts a pair of great comic turns from Fred Ward- who plays the toothless cop in question- and Alec Baldwin as the criminal he's pursuing, along with a warm and appealing performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh as the simple, domestic-minded prostitute who falls for Baldwin. Congrats to those who got it.

This week's quote is another name-dropper, so to speak. Here it is:

“Can’t you help me, ______?”
“I’m afraid you’re gonna have to spend some time in your room.”

Name the film. Submit your guesses to this e-Mail address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Wednesday. Good luck!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Famous Last Words: Resurrection- Week 5

Philip Kaufman has never shied away from unlikely material, but even by his standards The Unbearable Lightness of Being was a tricky one. Anyone who’s read the original Milan Kundera novel can attest to how unadaptable it feels on the page, full of digressions and stylistic choices that just wouldn’t fit the cinematic form. But while Unbearable Lightness hardly qualifies as cinematic Cliff’s Notes, it does a surprisingly great job of capturing Kundera’s unique tone and bringing his beloved characters to the screen. In addition, Kaufman managed to include a number of Kundera’s tropes from the novel in the background of the film, almost as gifts (call them “proto-Easter Eggs”) for fans. Congrats to those who got it.

This week’s quote should be a piece of cake to those who’ve seen the movie. For the rest of you, I make no promises:

“You look different.”
“I got my teeth back.”

Send your guesses to this e-Mail address. Remember, all submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern on Wednesday. Good luck!