My Favorite Films
Check out the other films I've watched recently in Dial M for Miscellaneous.
Check out the films I didn't like in
Films that are disappointing, overrated or just plain bad.
Spring Breakers is a glorious accident, not unlike winning 10 million dollars at a lottery. It shouldn't have happened, given the fact that I despise Harmony Korine's Gummo, but it seems that he finally got mature. Spring Breakers is an event that could only happen because every person involved turned out to be either a creative genius or a fitting match within this orgy of creativity.
Right after the cinema wishes you to enjoy your film, a 'big bang' wakes you up immediately when the first logo appears. This was enough for some girls in the audience to start giggling and playing with their mobile phones right off the bat, while not looking seriously at the film anymore. Then the intro credits pop up in the weirdest font you have ever seen, sparkling and radiating flashy colors and shapes. This was enough for some guys in the audience to start discussing the option of leaving the film, for at this point they must have felt cheated out of the t*ts they bought for 9.80 euros per ticket. But then the film starts teasing precisely those guys, by showing them some nice looking teens dancing sexy on spring break, although they had to look past the shaking cellulites *ss immediately after, only to be teased again when Skrillex's Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites suddenly changed from glossy electro into loudly screaming drones ("Oh my God!!"), while seeing one of the most gorgeous pair of t*ts ever to grace the earth totally soaked in beer, filling the entire cinema screen, rotating in slow-motion, in perfect pace with the rhythm of the music, for what were only a few seconds, yet felt like an eternity! It seems they got what they wanted, and in a way they did... and yet I bet they must have been freaked out in the wrong way. They would rather not have been woken up by t*ts, by putting them so close by, but they would rather have wanted to enjoy them comfortably, normally. Then the girls sucking on those colorful ice lollipops like they were sucking on something else entirely, freaked them out as well, because this was not realistic: the film preferred audiovisual qualities above thick and realistic storytelling, and "that sh*t ain't normal".
Spring Breakers is indeed not normal. It is more an experience to undergo, than a film to watch. It is a radical work of audio-visual poetry that is extremely immersive and dream-like ("feels like a dream... feels like a dream"). At first, the film may appear to be either completely lacking in meaning or to be completely obvious and one-dimensional in that regard, but on repeating viewings it becomes clear that it is in fact extremely layered, diffuse and inscrutable. On the one hand it sarcastically contrasts the caricatured spring break 'authenticity' spoken mostly through mobile phones, by its opposite reality, yet on the other hand explores the spring break lifestyle from within, by letting us inhale its vibe as if it were some strange religious drug experience. It is not reducible to a one-dimensional critique or condemnation, as it seems first and foremost to be an attempt to listen and to understand what is happening. If Hegel were alive now, he might have thought of cinema as "your time captured in sound and image." I think that this is what Spring Breakers is. Yet Korine also seems to transcend the one-dimensional post-modern "I'm not allowed to judge" attitude he is usually identified with. It is not entirely neutral, as there is an edge to it, and it is also not reducible to a simple love-letter to the spring breakers, even if it sometimes appears to be. During the scenes where Korine displays the contradictions inherent in the spring break lifestyle, we get a feeling of melancholy mixed with sarcasm, mixed with humor, mixed with a warm and even religious vibe. This is only a small sample of the emotional trip that film unleashes. The melancholy represents the love, sympathy, understanding and sadness that Korine feels for those crazy and confused kids, the sarcasm a critique on the illusions they are caught in, the humor a way to partially undercut the seriousness of that critique by making us laugh about it, the warm religious vibe, on the one hand a way to put us into their shoes and to make it all feel like a love-letter, but on the other hand a way to overdo it so completely as to raise questions again. The meaning of the film is incredibly layered and diffuse for such a seemingly simple and empty story. No easy answers suffice. There are many layers of meaning, and the most obvious ones (the relation between spring break and violence) ultimately seem to be the least interesting and the least important ones, almost as if they were deliberate 'red herrings'. There are more and less central layers, but none of them contains "the meaning" of the film on its own. Moreover, as the film is first and foremost a visceral, audiovisual piece of transcendental art (which is where the film succeeds most unproblematically), the meaning of the film does not take center stage, but constantly resides in the background.
After the first scene is finished we hear a guncock and we are transported to quieter settings. Two girls, Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) tease each other with highly sexualized gestures, so that they won't be bored to death by their history lesson, but the background tone is completely different here. This is mostly because we hear Cliff Martinez on the score, who does what Thomas Newman did for American beauty: to create a deliciously delicate atmosphere that you can almost breathe in. And what a great job does this man do! I think he out-Newmans Thomas himself, especially on the point of integrating the score in the whole of the film. If it is true that cinema has a visual language, where images carry meaning, it stands to reason that there must be an auditory language as well. If so, then the task of making a film would partially be to integrate those two types of meaning as fully as possible. This is what Spring Breakers does extremely well. When the four Disney girls decide to collect all their money to go on spring break, they celebrate this plan by "experimenting" a bit in their dormitory, but the sensual undertones are not raunchy here: instead, Cliff Martinez makes it sound like poetry, while Korine and Benoît Debie (the cinematographer) make it look like a bunch of spring flowers blosseming. Debie also did Enter the Void (and Irréversible and Calvaire), which is as clearly recognizable as the fact that this outshines all of his earlier work. Legs are thrown in the air with Kubrick-like precision, but then more dynamic and with a more Lynchian Mulholland Drive type of atmosphere. The camera is shaking a little and moving dynamically, but somehow it feels extremely precise.
Pretty soon we start hearing repetitions. There are repetitions in sounds (guncocks on almost every cut) and in one scene we hear the very religious Faith (Selena Gomez) talk about how they see the same things all the time (while seeing Candy faking a pistol with her hands for the tenth time), how the grass is not even green but brown, and how they need their chance to "see something different", and later on in the film we hear a lot of repetitions in lines, which at one occasion felt like twenty (though actually six) times the same lines repeated. Now, all this repetition is the most difficult aspect of the film. It is easy to dismiss the film for this and say that it is symptomatic for a bad script or poverty of ideas, that it is simply filler. After my first viewing I was unsure of what to make of this. But seeing it several times made my views on it more articulate. The repetitions serve several goals. In the scene I just mentioned it serves the goal of radically confronting the cinema viewer with the routine of daily life, from which the spring breaker wants to flee, by breaking the comfortable immersion of an 'enjoyable cinema visit'. Korine did his best not to make us feel comfortable at any point in the film. This is no easy viewing simply to enjoy t*ts for free (or 9.80 euros), even though they often are enjoyable nonetheless. Sometimes, the repetitions are very hypnotic, and serve to increase the absorption into the film. But at other times it has the opposite effect. The hypnotic flow of Korine's Spring Breakers is just as interrupted as Godard's Week End ("Just pretend it's a f*ing video game! Just act like you're in a movie or som'ting!"). Often the repetitions work like tension-builders, holding off orgasm extremely long, making you feel "no not again", while feeling that the sound underneath is swelling up and moving towards a climax, such as the first violent scene of the film. Although I won't spoil its contents, it features one of the best tracking shots I have ever seen, already intensifying the color palette as it is seen later in the film. This scene is similar to the last one, in the sense that tension is built up in the same way, although in preparation for the final scene, we hear the most irritating repetitions of the whole film ("Are you scared? Yeah... I'm real scared.", "Scardipants! Yeah... I'm a big ol' scardipants..."). At this point I saw several people leaving the cinema right before the end. They just couldn't take it anymore. And I understand that. Perhaps it was wrong, and perhaps Korine went over-the-top here. I am still not sure. But I do know that the film can neither be thrown in the trash can because of it, nor even be held back much by it. Because somehow it serves as a backbone, making the film less delicious, thereby reminding me that this film is not to be unproblematically enjoyed. I do not always like these repetitions, but they are no longer an obstacle for me in judging the value that the film has to me. But sometimes the repeated lines were also thoroughly enjoyable or even funny as hell: when the silver-toothed gangster-rapper called Alien (James Franco) said "look at my sh$$tt" with two machine guns in both hands for the tenth time, I couldn't help laughing. ;) The performance and transformation that this guy managed to pull off has to be seen to believed! And this makes the film partially a comedy as well.
When the girls arrive at spring break we see a bunch of people partying wildly and loudly, contrasted by a more quiet, poetic display of after-party relaxation. These things often happen at about the same time, as the time-jumps are so frequent that the divisions between past present and future, are not always clear. This breaks open the narrative structure of the film, as those jumps occur not only between scenes (Pulp Fiction), but also within scenes: the effect is more hypnotic (like in a music-video) than confusing. Skrillex's With You Friends (Long Drive) is played in the background (representing the partying) with a softer nostalgic hum over it, probably done by Martinez (representing the poetry). The beautiful movements of the scooter-lights somehow make it believable that Faith calls Spring Break the most religious place she has ever been in. Faith never wants to leave this place as everything is so nice here. The people are so warm and friendly. At the same time we see Cotty (Rachel Korine) representing the wilder, raunchier side of spring break, in a very brave and respectable, possibly career-damaging, performance that is probably born out of faithfulness to her husband, albeit in paradoxical ways. Often, the religious/nostalgic feelings turn into a melancholic/sarcastic social critique that is also funny: "Yeah, we saw some beautiful things out here", while we see the Disney girls peeing on the side of the road. The spring break notion of authenticity is exposed for the lie that it is: "yeah, we truly found ourselves here! We finally got to see some other parts of the world". And yet the flow, the mood and the utter horniness of the film are so strong that it is hard to see this as a simple generation critique by a grumpy old guy. There is more than enough to enjoy here. Sometimes even so much, that the viewer may feel guilty and besmirched and feel like he or she is watching a stupid exploitation flick. This is all part of Korine's mind-f*ing: it confronts us with the fact that to one-dimensionally condemn the spring breakers for their sex-crazedness and superficiality would be deeply hypocritical, as we are all equally guilty as charged when enjoying the film, whether that enjoyment stems from heavenly audiovisual qualities or from mundane sexual enticement.
When Skrillex's Goin' In starts to play, the partying gets really wild. Lots of *ss shakin', beer drinking, coke snortin' and bodylickin'. Once again, the music and the images form a coherent unity, as the shakin' always coincides with the rhythm of the music. Certain events lead to the introduction of the Alien character. This is where the film introduces more conventional (i.e. comedy) story elements, but certainly does not give up its Malickish liquid narrative. But unlike Malick, Korine combines poetry with dirt, high-art with low-art, beauty with raunchiness, light with darkness. This makes it all so much more palatable. Malick's films are often all sky and no earth, making it float away, causing us to dissociate with it in the long run. By creating this balanced contrast, Korine out-Malicks Terrence himself by a long shot. When we hear this creepy Alien's thoughts, we learn that poetry is on his mind ("These three girls, in front of me... Can't believe what I see. How can this be? The're like mermaids, come up from the sea... Everytime I look, they're like old-fashioned b*tches straight from a book."), and even though this ought to be preposterous (and in a way still is) it somehow manages to be deeply touching. Brit and Candy ("ooh, let me smelll it", "seeing all this money makes my p*ssy wet") slowly unveil the true extent of their psychopathic side and it seems that Benson and Hudgens are a perfect match for Franco, who are all giving the definitive performances of their careers. What a bunch of gorgeous freaks! This compromised poetry culminates in the scene with Britney Spear's "Everytime", with the pink balaclavas, black Down To *beep* trousers and colorful sneakers, making those girls look like strangely cute yet dangerous little bunnies, while the music calmly soared, and my God, how beautiful this was! This would have been my favorite scene of all time, if it were not surpassed by the final scene by a nose length. This final scene is a truly gorgeous audio-visual spectacle in slow-motion, not unlike the finale of 2001, although within the framework of the story, and with a washed-out score underneath. The balaclavas in that scene were fluorescent, neon-colored this time, varying from pink, to blue, to (KKK) white depending on the lighting. And against the background of the pitch-black night, and the bright purple pier this was simply to die for! ” - Auke Briek
Although this is part of a triptych anime film called Memories (Memorîzu, 1995 by Studio 4°C), and is usually not reviewed separately from the rest, I would have found it rather unfortunate to have to review the triptych as a whole, because although the second and the third film are very good too, they would have dragged the whole down considerably. This would have been all the more problematic given that part 1 of Memories, "Magnetic Rose" (directed by Koji Morimoto), is quite simply the best animation film I have yet seen, surpassing Angel's Egg (Tenshi No Tamago). Although Angel's Egg is still the greatest example of anime as a pure art-form, and is done with more reserve, subtlety and complexity of imagination, Magnetic Rose has a more overwhelming emotional impact, and establishes a visual supremacy, both in terms of technique and richness, and extends the scope of its vision about as far as 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it has been inspired by, juxtaposing sci-fi with classical architecture and opera. It starts off rather modest: the way the space ships and characters are drawn at that point fails to impress. But when the scenes with the classical architecture come up, the colors spring to life and the details burst open dramatically. The scene with the dead piano and it's living counterpart is one of the most powerful images ever crafted in the history of cinema, and so is the scene with the glass bowl and the cosmic maelstrom around it, or the one with the rose and the space helmet... There are many unforgettable moments here. But truth be told, Magnetic Rose completely goes for lyricism, nosthalghia and anghuish in quite unreserved quantities and in pre-established cultural modalities, and is in that sense not as subtle or daring a statement as Angel's Egg. But on the whole, the film is so overwhelming to the senses that I'll put Magnetic Rose above Angel's Egg. Not only does it get the the golden medal for best animation film, but also for best short film out there, beating Elégia. Nice!
Edit after a rewatch: Judging a film is not primarily a matter of abstract theorizing about possible merits and weaknesses, but first and foremost about emotional impact. If a film takes you on an audiovisual ride that - once it takes hold - doesn't let you go, overwhelms your emotions, overpowers you, attacks your senses with unadulterated beauty in full force, then that takes priority over every weakness your intellect might be able to spot. I do not fully understand why Magnetic Rose has such a strong impact on me, this time even considerably more: I was completely floored by it. The simple drawings in the beginning have little to offer, but the Opera music works wonders already. That music is probably a large part of the magic. But I'm not even a big fan of Opera. Why am I taken so much by it here? Possibly because it is correlated perfectly to the images, especially in the scenes with the classical architecture: that it works together with them to create a magical whole. But even the images themselves at their highest peaks, are so limpid and baroque, that one might begin to wonder why this isn't kitsch? But the fact of the matter is, that it isn't. It's art. But looking at a table full of food, with a pink table-cloth, I see much richness, but why does it have so much impact? Or when I look at a scene with green grass and a blue sky, why am I gasping for air? Isn't this precisely the cliche every overly romantic wannabe poet comes up with? I just don't know. Something in the color toning is just right, the music swelling up hits me at precisely the right moment, where it might not have touched me so much if the colors were slightly different. Possibly it's something like that, but that is a far cry from completely understanding it.
Finally, there remains the question: where to place this film? 2001: A Space Odyssey is a fascinating, beautiful and timeless film, but it does not have the same relentless impact on the emotions and the senses as Magnetic Rose. ” - Auke Briek
Godard doesn't seem to be the most religious person in the world. In fact his Maoist and Marxist affiliations would seem to make him prone to atheism. How strange it is then to see him make such a transcendent work of art as Hail Mary. It's certainly not straight forwardly religious as it often mocks holy icons. With Week End he already established himself as the purest iconoclast of Cinema. This iconoclasm is now directed at Catholicism, and its myth of the Immaculate Conception. But what is extraordinary is that it is not just empty mockery and recalcitrance, which would be predictable and boring. It's also fascination and reverence. This is Godard's most poetic film. The whole film can be interpreted as a poem dedicated to the miracle of birth and the creation of life, which transcends the limited sphere of human action and comprehension. I have never seen the naked body of a woman portrayed with more nuance and delicacy. The way the soft lighting accentuates it is simply gorgeous. The symbolism is very strong and poignant: for instance, the heavenly bodies are likened to lamps, both verbally and visually, thereby linking the mundane with the ethereal; the rubickx cube represents the tension between chance and creation, and the body of a woman is both a house of banal pleasure and a site of holiness. Side characters are sometimes characters, at other times mouthpieces of a universal poetry: traditional narrativity is transcended not by kicking it in the nuts, but by elevating it to a higher plan. I have never seen a film that walks the fine line between ironic atheism and negative theology better, without being reducible to either. Visually, Le Mépris is better, historically, Week End is more relevant, but personally I'd say that this is Godard's purest and best film.
Edit after a rewatch: Position confirmed. There are a few great moments in the beginning, but in the middle part they become much more thinly spread, mixed with some rather mediocre moments. However, patience and openness will be rewarded from the the 50th minute or so on. The final 25 minutes of this movie are nothing short of breathtaking, pure poetry instead of the usual prose. This is what I look for in a movie!
Edit after a rewatch: Upon several rewatches, more and more details of this complex masterpiece have fallen into place, and the film feels more and more integrated and consistent as a whole. A top ten position is called for.
Edit after a rewatch on Blu-ray: The more I see this movie, the more I fall in love with it. This is audiovisual poetry from start to finish, edited like no other movie has been edited before or after! ” - Auke Briek
For a more extensive philosophical review in Dutch, see:
Edit after a rewatch: new position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: a re-watch confirms this position above Napoleon, although I'm not entirely sure anymore it needs to be below 2001. It might very well be the best film ever made. I also want to point out how heart-achingly beautiful Einhorn's music is, especially when combined with the film. I have watched it twice now with his music underneath it, but I will also have to watch it in complete silence at some point. Also notable are the carves, lines and subtle nuances on everyone's faces that help to constitute very powerful facial expressions, underlining the fact that this is the first film where the actors didn't have to hide their faces underneath thick layers of make-up. Whereas the claustrophobic close-ups and the overwhelming emotions take center-stage on first viewing, on second viewing I payed more attention to the actual conversations that were going on and they are also marvelous: the interrogators play a game to get her convicted by making her confess, and they take on false identities by playing this game, but while Jeanne also participates in that game in order to undercut their traps, she doesn't exactly take on a poker-face to hide who she really is: she retains her true identity and at the same time she plays the game like a grand-master:
Interrogator: "Do you not feel that these learned doctors are wiser than you?"
We see Jeanne wisper "oui" and then she says: "but God is even wiser!"
Edit after a rewatch in silence: La passion de Jeanne d'Arc without Einhorn's Voices of Light is, regrettably, less lyrical, less emotionally intense and less good. When I tried to watch it recently I was a bit tired and I wasn't drawn into the film at all, so I turned it off quickly. Now I tried it again. And indeed the first fifteen minutes or so are somewhat difficult to fully concentrate on. You have to invest a lot of effort and concentration into it, because silence is truly very... well you know... silent. Being well rested and drinking lots of caffeine beforehand is perhaps a prerequisite for watching a silent movie in silence. But the interrogations slowly draw you in and after a while the emotional ties are forged again. Later on in the film, the immersion becomes very strong again, and relies less on personal effort to keep it in tact. The lack of sound matters less and less, the more the story progresses. I was still very much touched by this film. It remains profound and meaningful and it has lost none of its dignity. And it remains quite an overwhelming experience, the best example of realized mysticism in film I know. The story and the dialogue remain untouched and very pure. And the expressive power of the images is extraordinary, very minimalistic and honest: and that carries a lot of weight. In silence the film is more restrained, less over-abundant in terms of emotion. It forces itself less upon you and invites more of your own participation. And that is not necessarily always captured best in terms of better or worse. Also, without sound the screams of the interrogators are heard more intensely in your imagination, because there is more room for them in your head. This adds to the horror. Still, there is no denying that Voices of Light is a highly valuable addition to the film that ultimately makes it significantly better. But it is also clear to me that it retains its position above Napoléon, which is, when all is said and done, a relief. ” - Auke Briek
Before I stop, let me quote Roger Ebert, because he has something very important to say about this film and about silent films in general:
"One thing we members of the talkie era forget is that characters in a talking movie are forced, by and large, to speak in everyday language or risk sounding ridiculous. And their realistic speech tends to anchor the movies themselves in the realm of literal possibility. Gance's "Napoleon" has no such limitations. The movie boldly uses symbolism, highly dramatic cross-cutting, spilt-screen images and special effects to pound us over the head with its fantasy and idealism." http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F19810227%2FREVIEWS%2F100509988
Note: This review is based on Carmine Coppola's highly crippled 1981 version which is the only one allowed for U.S. distribution by his son Francis Ford Coppola, which is cut down to 4 hours and given a faster frame-rate in order for Carmine's score to fit under it. The bastards! Unfortunately a large part of the original 9 hours is forever lost, but Brownlow re-edited the film in 1980 and later in 2000. He has added some lost footage to it and restored it to 5 and a half hours and corrected the frame-rate. I will have to see that version somehow, as it is often remarked that this one is so much better than Coppola's, although it has never been released for home-viewing and most likely never will be. This is due to Coppola's stupid restriction that the film should have his father's score under it: he has managed to legally suppress Browlow's superior version for more than 30 years, but recently it has been screened in the Oakland theatre with the finale on three different screens! However, it is not certain that I will be able to see it. The last screening of it in the Oakland theater - complete with a huge live orchestra - was precisely yesterday! I should have been there *beep*dammit! However, maybe it will be screened again in London on November 30th, 2013.
Note2: After watching the (80's?) Brownlow edit with Carl Davis' score on VHS-quality, I can definitely say its an improvement, although the triptych is excluded in this one, so I also rewatched this last scene in the Coppola version. But its got clearer pictures, a more natural frame-rate, more logical continuity qua story and less nationalistic and more fitting music, which makes the film more subtle. On the whole it gives an even better view at an already magnificent film, although it does not become an altogether different film. The cinema version should be great though. For now, position confirmed.
Edit after a rewatch in the Royal Festival Hall in Londen: A magnificent experience! See my review on http://www.moviemeter.nl/film/5161/info/0#4079730, as the review-entry on IMDB is getting too big. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: As it lingered on in my subconscious (It seems like I am possessed as well) this film steadily worked its way towards the top 10. Not even the godawful acting of Heinz Bennent was able to stop it!
Edit after a rewatch: A personal favorite if there ever was one. This speaks to me on such a deeply personal level, I can't even begin to explain. I felt I was able to embrace it - and its imperfections - completely this time; having seen quite a bit more weird/trippy *beep* after my first viewing made it 'easier' to watch, even though this is probably as far away from easy viewing as you can get. This film is extremely raw, unpolished, intense and beautiful, pounding you over the head with a sledgehammer several times, with out-of-the-roof performances by Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil. The ultimate film to watch on your first date. ;) ” - Auke Briek
Edit: rewatching Dolls was every bit as intense as the first time, if not more. I knew what was coming, but still I was devastated by its atmosphere, colors, landscapes, music, symbolism and extremely concise moments of excruciatingly painful yet serene drama, like strokes of a samurai sword straight to the heart. Also, the parts that didn't fall entirely into place the first time seemed much more appropriate and meaningful the second time: there were no real lesser parts or boring parts, only less and more intense parts. The fact that I am more used to the typical style of Kitano was also helpful: things that appeared to be slightly flawed disruptions of drama the first time, seemed more like unconventional yet successful juxtapositions of dramatic atmosphere with typically Kitano-style hardly-noticable humor. Often Kitano repeats two thematically isomorphic scenes, one wryly humoristic and one intensely sad, and somehow manages to intensify and deepen both through relating and contrasting them, which also makes both scenes less one-dimensional and the film less safely art-house approved (think the pop song in the middle). He even succeeds in presenting both scenes as two sides of the same coin, because in Kitano's universe, fate definitely has a sense of irony. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: rewatching Su-ki-da was an amazing experience. All my lingering doubts about the second part being significantly less good, or the silent moments perhaps being a bit too much stretched out have vanished into thin air. What a glorious film! The meaning of the film has become much clearer now. Ishikawa creates meaning not by plot complexities, but through the perfect simplicity of atmosphere, perfectly precise framing, perfectly subtle coloring, perfectly natural acting purified of all the remnants of theatricality which the medium never succeeded to fully shake off (not even through the work of Ozu), and by letting the open sky envelop the main characters as a rejuvinating force, that can grant us warmth and happiness on the one hand, yet can overwhelm and numb us on the other hand, if we fail to open ourselves up to it entirely. In the latter part, the sky is covered up by the drabness of city-life. Life is but a mere shadow of the past now and possibilities are reduced to the roads that lead only to the familiar. The more we yearn for the past, the more it slips out of our grasp. But even then, there is hope. ” - Auke Briek
What is perhaps most striking is the relation between this film and Tarkvosky's work. I think that, although this remains highly speculative, Tarr has taken up Tarkovsky's work as the thesis of a Hegelian dialectical triad. The thesis is the subjective, poetic and intimate splendour of a girl, Estike, sitting perfectly still with a purring a cat on her lap, a scene which lasts for minutes! So far Tarr's images are the offspring of Tarkovsky's work, although Tarr's long takes seem to capture the core of someones existence with concrete textures in an almost sculpture-like way, whereas Tarkovsky's images seem to be focused entirely on their poetic nature. The antithesis however is the introduction of an ethical dimension: we learn that Estike is not only a deep girl who has an openness towards the sublime, but is actually a traumatized child with very very deep psychological problems, because we actually see her torturing and killing her cat and finally killing herself. Thus the poetic image is interrupted by an objective antithesis: this is perhaps Tarr's critique of Tarkovsky! This ethical moment ultimately solidifies itself as a social and political moment, in that society's nihilism is identified as the cause of Estike's tragedy. However, the ethical, the social and the political are ultimately dismissed as one-sided, because the conduct of Irimias and the total abandonment of Doctor shows us that the ethical fate of society and the individual human being, cannot ultimately be determined by political means alone, but also demands a more radical transformation of man, perhaps an openness towards the sublime, which yields a synthesis between, the poetical, the intimate and the sublime with the ethical the social and the political. What is thoroughly un-Hegelian however, is the way in which Tarr ultimately sketches a very bleak picture of society, in which this synthesis is far from realised, and gives us nothing in the way of assurances that it is in fact realisable: on the contrary, it shows us only the dance of satan.
Edit after a rewatch: I thought that after my recent devaluations of Tarkovsky (which will probably extend beyond Stalker) and Bergman, it would only be fair to put Satantango to the test.
I said that Stalker could have done with some serious cutting in the final hour. Satantango could have done with some serious cutting as well: from the fifth and the sixth hour, 30 minutes or so could have been cut, as the film started to wear me out at that point a bit too much, although the final half an hour was a return to form. What is remarkable though is that up until the fourth hour I wouldn't have cut a single frame. Yes, the film is painfully slow at times, but in the first two acts this is almost always for a reason: for instance to show the abandonment of Doctor we stay a long time with him, hear him breathe, see him walk which hurts his over-sized body, see the detailed living-room (in other words: the booze-dispensing machine) he has grown together with like a tree planted in the ground. Normally this would have been cut away, but it is precisely the 'economic' mindset behind this cutting that is most damaging to people like Doctor. The cinematography in many of the early walking scenes is gorgeous, often even awe-inspiring. When the theme music is heard for the first time, the tracking shot that accompanies it is jaw-dropping. The walking scene with Irimias in the town with the storm blowing away all the papers is overpowering. The scene with Estike sitting with the purring cat on her lap is sublime (although I'm not very comfortable with what happens next). The shot with her sitting in front of the barn is a work of art, with the little white smudge of dirt on her left boot having precisely the right shape needed within the composition of the frame. This is why the first four hours are so brilliant.
I criticized Stalker for imposing Tarkovsky's world-view on the viewer: contrary to my earlier review, it is not the introduction of an ethical dimension which distinguishes Tarr from Tarkovsky, let alone seeing that as something positive. The positive difference lies however in the way that Tarr handles this compared to Tarkovsky. Although Tarr tells a moralizing tale and singles out the victims, he mostly uses very powerful images to do so, which makes it more palatable than most moralizing tales: to see the look in Estike's eyes after she peeks through the window is unforgettable, knowing what this meant for her. Tarr isn't trying to teach us something about the "selflessness of art", but simply tries to make us feel the negative effects of neglect and abandonment and tries to investigate its causes: this is not altogether inhuman I would say. Although humor is used to criticize the greed and the pig-like nature of the towns people, Tarr ultimately points towards larger social issues which makes this less a condemnation than a diagnosis. Also, the ambiguous role of the scene with the type-writer, gives the film a certain amount of open-endedness which counterbalances some of the more judgmental aspects. All in all I didn't get the feeling that Tarr wanted to shove something down our throats: he wanted to raise questions more than answer them, even if he provided some of the answers.
Where to place this film? Ultimately, the story is a bit anti-climactic when the fifth and the sixth hour have less intense cinematography and more story (which isn't the greatest aspect). This is where the film loses points, because anything short of greatness becomes tiresome and painful after four hours. Still, the film also gains many (but not all) of those points back in the final hour where especially the final scenes with Doctor are top-notch again. What is the impact of the lesser hours on the current position? Although it would make sense to lower the position slightly, there is also something about the long duration that adds to Satantango's greatness as a movie. Short movies are often featherlight and have to impress in every in minute to gain some weight. Ultra-long movies can build up weight over time, and are able to deal with the impact of its lesser moments to some extent, because weight is also inertia: the more overwhelming impressions in the beginning keep their pull over the lesser ones in the end. Satantango is the heaviest-weighing movie I have ever seen, like a dilapidated cathedral, its extension over time has become an integral part of the stone-like presence of its images.
Position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: No doubt this masterpiece by Kubrick is one of the most stunning, visionary pieces of cinema ever crafted. But my top 10 is getting crowded now, and I had to let a favorite film go to let another one in. There are no free tickets anymore, not even for Kubrick. Still, what makes this film so great is the perfection and the vision behind the compositions of many shots, the strangely beautiful color-explosions wrung out of an otherwise ugly and stale seventies aesthetics, the quircky and captivating performance by Malcolm McDowell, through whose distorted glazzies we viddie the world, created by Bog, uhm... I mean Kubrick. But even Bog makes mistakes. Let me name a few:
- A Clockwork Orange is not a timeless film. It is a product of the seventies. Its 'modern' interior designs are dated.
- Even though the ugly seventies aesthetics is transformed into something much more engaging, it also seeps through often enough.
- The stiff/old-fashioned acting by many side-characters is often painfully ineffective and often also unfunny when it desperately tries to be funny. Think the first scene with Mr. Deltoid and the ham-handed denture-'joke'. This is probably the dark side of perfectionism. It is difficult to allow funny moments or spontaneous acting to happen, when you're such a control freak like Kubrick. You have to be able to let go as well and he couldn't do that. Still, he was a genius enough to try to build this fault into one of his strengths. Because we see the world through the eyes of Alex, we see everything enlarged as it were. But the ineffectiveness on this domain remains.
- The philosophy behind the film is sometimes too literally mentioned by the characters. A more open-ended approach would probably have done the film good, although it would then probably also have been even more misunderstood than it already was.
Ok, what does this all boil down to? Well, to be perfectly honest, the criticisms above don't make a whole lot of difference in the final assessment. Such is the strength of the glorious vision that inspired Kubrick to make this film. Still, time wears on all things, even those things we once deemed timeless. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: After a re-watch in more ideal conditions (with darker surroundings and the immersive effect of headphones, without having to lower the speaker volume for the neighbors) I was even more impressed than the first time! To put it bluntly: this is just fu|<ing brilliant! So what if it's also bad taste? I don't care, 'cause I love it to bits. When the closing credits appeared after 56 minutes I was really disappointed that it was over: I could probably watch this for ever and ever without ever getting bored! How often do you come across a film like that? Only when you know you've watched a really great film!
Edit2: What has become apparent after several re-watches is that a large part of the success of Umfeld is dependent on the co-originarity of sound and image. In the process of its making, the images were not only synchronized to the sounds, but the sounds also to the images. This was done in close reciprocal cooperation between Pagano and Paap, in such a way that both image and sound have become part of an inseparable whole, that seems to be prior to both: they both seem to stem from a source that is wholly indefinable and incomprehensible. The distinguished film theorist Rudolf Arheim thought that the transition from the silent film to the talkie would cause the demise of film as art, because a talkie is an incoherent compromise between two distinct art forms. Perhaps Umfeld is the answer to Arnheim. Perhaps the highest potential of the sound film is not to find an agreeable compromise between image and sound so that both can live together quietly, but to let both of them stem from a source that is prior to and more originary than both, in order to truly guarantee the coherence of the artistic medium.
Edit3: Finally added to IMDb! Also watched for the first time on DVD, which is like watching it for the first time. A shame that I had to remove this from my top 10, as this is still the most progressive film I have ever seen. Though certainly not perfect in execution, and surpassed by several more competent but slightly lower aiming films, Umfeld is, more than any other film I have seen, a conceptual blueprint for the kind of things that the ultimate film should do, and considering that Umfeld leaves lots to be desired, it follows that there must still be a vast undiscovered territory out there. Cinema is still in its infancy. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: Fractured images of a disturbed sociality, straight from the deranged mind of David Lynch. A direct confrontation with, pure, unadulterated fear. The boredom and the horrible concreteness of have-to's and cannot's weighing like an elephant upon your shoulders. Eraserheads, rolling out of the factory, one by one, while you can't even remember when last you had a good night's sleep.
Position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Once in a while you come across a film that may not be perfect, but nonetheless perfectly defines what you look for in a film. A film that is completely yours. Buffalo '66 is one of those films. Gallo commands the screen, and manages to be likable even at his most despicably narcissistic moments, even when he is repeating himself constantly, while behaving like an absolute *beep*hole. But it is in the quieter moments that the film is truly heartfelt. An impossible romance is created not by direct physical consummation, but by distance and the slow melting of ice caps of pain, built up over the years, starting from Billy's youth. The relationship to his irresponsible trailer trash parents feels extremely personal, as if they were caricatures of Gallo's own parents. The cinematography and especially the color design of the film is impeccable, contrasting warm, beautiful colors with scruffy, greasy surroundings. Many single images could be hung up on a wall or win prizes at professional photography competitions. The music selection is also outstanding. It is indeed a shame that Gallo stopped making films and that his latest film Promises Written in Water would not be released but would, instead, be "allowed to rest in peace, and stored without being exposed to the dark energies from the public." He pulled off a similar thing before: "I stopped painting in 1990 at the peak of my success just to deny people my beautiful paintings; and I did it out of spite." Gallo is indeed an arrogant, chronically narcissistic *beep*hole with very very deep issues no doubt. But from his tormented soul at least one glorious piece of cinematic art was born. ” - Auke Briek
Push the button!
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p.s.1 Don't read any summaries or watch any trailers, because they can only spoil the fun. Just go there with a totally blank mind!
p.s.2 We Dutch have saying: "leedvermaak is het leukste vermaak!" (http://translate.google.be/?q=leedvermaak%20is%20het%20leukste%20vermaak!&sugexp=chrome,mod%3D6&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&sa=N&tab=wT)
p.s.3 Click on the following link to watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI8iLOSpeXc
Edit after a rewatch: still very funny the second time. Very cool that a film can make you laugh out loud and think at the same time. A philosophical and comical exploration of the more or less Hegelian hypothesis that world-history and all its follies is nothing but the playground of God's existential struggles towards self-becoming. Perhaps the biggest reason why I like this film so much and find it cathartic even, is that it unifies two disparate, seemingly incompatible elements of my own personality: a love for "onderbroekenlol" (toilet humor?) and philosophy. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: After a rewatch I placed this higher. Being a little more used to Japanese films, I am no longer slightly bothered by the visual flashiness of the film, and am able to appreciated it for what it adds to the mood and the story. This is a very pure and cathargic story with a lasting impact. The acting performances, especially that of Ayako Fujitani, are outstanding and the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Edit after a rewatch: Remains one of my strongest personal favorites. Moved this up a few notches. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: the story has grown more on me and I felt more absorbed in it. It could still gain from some cutting, but I no longer feel it is absolutely necessary. It also felt more meaningful and less pretentious this time. Debie's cinematography still has the wow factor, but a little less this time, because Spring Breakers is clearly more beautiful (though less trippy) in that department, combined with a much better soundtrack/score and audiovisual integration which makes for a much more absorptive experience. Both the gains and the losses cancel each other out, so Enter the Void retains its position. I don't think that the distinction between positive and negative perfection works though, because that would confuse us by deviating too much from standard usage and because it would imply that something with faults can be in a sense perfect, which is false. But personal favorites don't have to be perfect to get the maximum score. They just have to feature lots of your favorite cinematic qualities, that's all. And Enter the Void remains most generous in that department. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: after a re-watch I was surprised to see how much of the film is actually carried by the story and the (often non-verbal) dialog after all. Taken as stand-alone paintings many of the images don't work half as well compared to the way they are integrated within the atmosphere of the story, a deeply touching story about a son taking care of his dying mother in the most sensitive way imaginable.
Edit after a rewatch: Mat i syn remains every bit as powerful. It's images are of an otherwordly beauty and the story is very minimalistic, heartfelt and powerful. The film cannot be accused of plain moralizing or mere sentimentality, as it taps into something far more basic: the primal love between a mother and a son.
Position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: This is Claire Denis' lowest scoring film. I also watched L'intrus and Beau Travail which score much higher but I couldn't care much for them. Cannes audiences and critics loved those two films while panning Trouble Every Day. To me this proves that most art-house fans - who rightly criticize Hollywood for its many generic feature-films and its quick money-grabbing culture - are themselves also much too afraid to step outside of their comfort zone: if it's not a painfully slow politically correct Iranian film about women's rights, mostly showing their totally uninteresting daily activities without any cinematographic quality whatsoever, they feel like it's not "relevant" or not "touching" enough. Bleh!
Edit after a rewatch: On the surface, Trouble Every Day's narrative appears to be deeply flawed. It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense, and it doesn't progress much. And yet the mood of this film is so beautiful, horrifying and intense that it starts to make sense again on an instinctive, animalistic level. The music by the Tindersticks creates a meditative atmosphere. And when we see Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo struggling together in one scene, we see perhaps the two strangest creatures inhabiting the world of cinema. Gallo, the arrogant and deeply troubled, narcissistic prick, and Dalle, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Beast all in one. The thing is that they have such a unique personality, that, when casted right they don't have to act: they have been 'method acting' for their whole lives, because they really are the *beep* up people the film makes them out to be. But ultimately, it is Claire Denis who is the genius behind all this. She chose to film it all with a poetic sensibility. She chose to let Dalle paint a Jackson Pollock in blood on the wall and make it look like the best modern piece of art ever created. She chose to let Dalle walk in front of this wall, with a dreamy, meditative expression, feeling invigorated by having the forces of life and death squirt freely in all directions . The lowest and the highest impulses of human nature are in perfect harmony here, while the viewer is always sitting in the eye of the storm, calmly registering.
There is still room for a significant upgrade. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Moved this up, as this is right up there with Eraserhead and Idi I Smotri in terms of devastating impact. As such it is the best short film I have yet seen. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: I'm at a loss here. I don't know how to rate this one. Current range of possible ratings: 7/10 to 10/10, possibly scoring higher than Angel's Egg! This might very well be Oshii's masterpiece. The problem is as follows. Taken in complete isolation, the first part is a 7/10, which lasts for eighty minutes. Taken in complete isolation, the second part is an 8/10 which lasts for 15 minutes. If each moment were equally important, then the first part would tip the balance for the total score to a 7/10. But why then, is this a potential 10/10? This is because we do not watch the first and the second part in isolation. It is their contrast which does all the magic. So after having watched the first part I would have given a 7/10 for the film. Then the second part starts and the inevitable contrast with the first part lifts those final 15 minutes to a 10/10. But then, the first part would still be a 7/10, right? So then, if time were equally weighed, it would still not be possible to get to a 10/10 in total (an 8/10 at best), right? Now, there are three possible strategies to tackle that claim. The first one would be to deny that time should be weighed equally. So then you could say that the final fifteen minutes weigh, for instance, five times as much per minute as the first part. In that case, they would weigh equally, and perhaps the total score could tip over to a 9/10. You could also say that time should not be measured or weighed at all, but that scoring is all subjective and related to the meaning of the whole of the film, and not to a calculation of its constituent parts. That would, probably, be my response. Yet this solves the puzzle only partially, because does the first part not remain a millstone hanging on the feet of the film, dragging it down? It ought to count for something, foreclosing at least a top 100 score, right? And here the last strategy comes in. Because I would say, that despite the fact that the first part was a clear 7/10 after I saw it, it might very well be that this score gets an upgrade after the fact, by being contrasted with the second part. There are two reasons why this is probably so. The first one is that the first part, despite all the audiovisual gamer's fetish and virtualized ugliness (mixed with beauty) that weighs it down, is ultimately revealed as an absolutely necessary condition for the possibility of lifting the experience of the final fifteen minutes from an 8/10 to a 10/10. So that part is no longer a mistake, bad taste or what have you, but completely intentional and also justified. Does that not heighten the score for that part by at least one point? Then the second reason is that the scenes themselves become better by being contrasted with the second part, not only as conditions for experiencing the second part properly, but also in light of the second part. For instance, the very same seemingly generic gamer's score, gets a whole new level of depth in retrospect, by being presented in a totally different context. Something similar goes for the visual genericness. So could the first part not be a 9/10 in retrospect as well? Possibly. That would make it perfectly conceivable that this film scores higher than Angel's Egg. But of course one could easily object that this is all so far-fetched. Indeed it seems to be. And therefore, the 7/10 remains a possibility as well.
To be continued...
Edit after another rewatch: the first and the second part have grown a little towards each other, making the rift a little smaller and the film 'easier' to rate. What stands out here is vision, not beauty or emotion per se, although that is there too. The line between computer game special effects and real shots has faded, sepia ugliness and beauty intertwine and this creates bewilderment and alienation. The story feels like it came straight out of a computer game, and yet there are deeper layers as well and it takes time for quiter moments. The real beauty is in the way the girl prepares food for her dog, or in the mysterious expression of the ghost, the music that feels generic first and deeply touching in the end. And then of course the brilliant transition scene. But the final shots are also gold. I think that the vision lifts this above Jin-Rôh, although Tenshi No Tamago remains Oshii's unbeaten masterpiece, mostly because I have a stronger personal connection to that film as a whole.
Edit after a rewatch: Avalon is definitely a grower. Visually, it totally upsets conventional relations between (filtered) live action, anime and cgi, for instance by combining them in strange ways, using the one as if it were the other, or by blurring the distinctions between them. Many of the visual effects may appear like cheap gamer fetish on first sight, but on repeated viewings I began to see the in-the-fleshness (Husserl: 'leibhaftigkeit') of the reality underlying them, which is also the reason why this film isn't dated. I now see a lot of beauty in those effects. The atmosphere is really intense, and the score contributes a lot to this as well. The film also has much philosophical depth in the way the reality/virtual reality theme is worked out. The fact that Oshii was willing to risk his film being mistaken for something generic shows that he had a lot of balls: someone like Tarkovsky would never have dared this, always catering to the same public with the same themes and kinds of conversations, being granted "depth" almost by default. The fact that Oshii chose to hide the deeper layers of Avalon in one of the supposedly most superficial phenomena out there (a first person shooter computer game and all the technical jargon that comes with that) gives the film a lot of backbone. I am not at all sure if this is better than Angel's Egg, but the latter film definitely needs to go up on a rewatch if it is to stay ahead of Avalon. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: I lowered the position for Mouchette recently, after lowering Au Hasard Balthazar (which in itself was slightly too harsh, because the film does linger on my mind for a long time). I was curious if lowering Mouchette was a right decision and decided that I had to rewatch it. Au contrare. The second time I was totally blown away by this film! Perhaps seeing this in the double bill with the schmalzy Hachiko, brought out its strengths more. While Mouchette has less iconic imagery than Au Hasard, the individual scenes are far more powerful and fitting to me, as the film has a flow to it that Au Hasard lacks, and does not wander off or lose focus for once. It is tragic down to the core and as pure as film can get. What is so powerful is how we are put in Mouchette's shoes, if only by the clunking sounds that those wooden lumps make, feeling the shame that is accompanied by her low self-esteem, for which only the circumstances were to blame. The way Bresson imposes the harsh concreteness and materiality of his world upon the viewer is breathtaking: it is part and parcel of the cinematography (especially the dark contrasts) and the hard-hitting sounds that different objects make, while often interacting with each other to create a tormenting rythm. This concrete world kept hitting Mouchette over the head for no reason, with an unrelenting force, and she kept hitting back at the world, and when we open ourselves up to the tragedy of her situation, this is hardly a mystery. But no matter how hard she hit back, the world kept hitting her harder. And then there is the end scene, which is Bresson's most powerful scene. To surpass the end scene of Au Hasard, which carried a lot of weight for that movie, was a difficult task indeed, but Bresson showed that he was capable of doing so. To me, Mouchette is Bresson's ultimate masterpiece. ” - Auke Briek
I find it difficult to say anything substantial about this film, since I feel like it's all been said. You can say for instance "look what a crazy and out of this world performance Jack Nickelson gives", but why bother stating something so bloody obvious? Of course you can disagree with the consensus, but everything that I find great about the film tends to have an all too familiar ring about it. What I wrote above is a case in point. A statement like "Here's Johnny" has been repeated often, perhaps too often for its own good, in the sense that it is has become difficult to separate the legendary from the cliché. Everytime I watch it again, the more familiar everything becomes. After only a few repeated viewings, you'll soon be able dream the entire plot, and perhaps almost every line. And yet none of this undermines the film in any way. It feels just as exciting and intense as it did the first time. It's just that I don't feel like reviewing the film in any substantial way. Position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
P.S.: Don't watch this while eating your own home-made cookies, because you'll probably just puke them out all over your knitting-jobs anyway. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: The first time I saw Angel's Egg, I did not get entirely what I wanted. I longed for the soft insides of the egg, but found myself bouncing off its outer crust again and again. I found the animation style bewildering, alienating and perhaps even slightly ugly at times, and while I also saw its otherworldly beauty occasionally, I thought that the sense of bewilderment prevailed. I thought that this film must therefore not have been entirely "my thing", and while certainly intrigued by its mystery, I gave it a fairly modest position on this list. But the film stayed with me. I began to wonder: what if it was me and not the film? Now that I have seen it again, I can definitely say that I have vastly underrated it before. The film has an impenetrable aura of dignity around it, which transforms its own bewilderment into angst, its alienation and 'ugliness' into inscrutability. This film does not give itself easily. It is not just hard to get. It plays hard to get, like an enchanting seductress. Many Ghibli's offer next to no resistance, and give themselves almost too easily, which is often instantly gratifying, but over-familiar in the long run. But Angel's Egg slowly sucks you in, and then throws you back, only to draw you in and back again, and in that quiet rhythm it proved to be much greater and meaningful than my own petty list of things that I wanted but did not get on a first viewing.
Edit after a rewatch: current position (below Avalon) confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: I placed this higher after a rewatch. This film really works. The way it explores the rhythms of walking audio-visually is just fantastic. Especially the dancing heads scene is impressive. The characters really undergo a transformation, from a false sense of direction, towards a steady acceptance of being lost, from an inauthentic sense of mastery and control over nature, towards a more authentic understanding of nature, as that which gives or holds back freely and from empty chatter, to a meaningful silence that is purified by the desert's nothingness. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Position confirmed. The scene with the 'happy family' + gag reel is perhaps the most devastating form of social critique I have ever seen on film. I think this shows that the film is not an immoral celebration of violence, as the the final scenes might be mistaken for. As a whole it is extremely immersive and powerful. The cinematography is a bit coarse or dated perhaps, but creatively inspired nonetheless. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch in HD: Lost Highway hasn't lost one bit of its power. In fact, the additional picture quality revealed a slightly less rough or slightly more polished picture, which puts it closer in that regard to Mulholland Drive than I remembered. Some of the music choices in this movie are so brilliant: Bowie's I am Deranged is a part of the movement of the yellow stripes on the road, and Song to the Siren connects Lost Highway back to the mood of Twin Peaks. The story plays out like a Moebius strip, and it definitely feels absurd, but ultimately I believe that every event in the movie can be explained quite rationally, except for the idea of demonic possession. But be that as it may, the power of the movie lies in showing off Lynch's ability to constantly paint precisely the right mood in sound and image. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: I already knew this was a great film, but the cognitive dissonance (stemming the lack of 'humanity' or 'recognizability') was just too high the first time I saw it. It's a bit like trying to climb the Mount Everest and failing to get to the top: it's not the fault of the mountain. This is one of the ultimate Japanese films, indeed the Japanese Eraserhead. Fiercely creative, extraordinarily energetic, brutally uncompromising in its vision and scope. The use of stop motion techniques is done in such a way that the technical limits of the effects (the stuttering) become part of the rhythm of the clunking metal sounds, so that the effects don't get dated. But what's most important is that I didn't feel the cognitive dissonance this time, that I was able to be completely absorbed in it, not undisturbed or easy-going, but more like a surrender to the hypnotic machine-like operations, sounds and imagery, almost as if it is my own body that fuses with the scraps of metal. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: I doubted wether or not I placed this too high. On the contrary: it was way too low! One of the coolest and funniest flicks out there. Sure it sits a little strange here, sandwiched between serious masterpieces such as The Godfather and Citizen Kane, but ultimately this is only a testament to the greatness and off-the-charts craziness of Miike's imagination. ” - Auke Briek
Offscreen is a triumphant film! It shares many similarities to Beast, as it is about a degenerating love-affair causing Nicolas Bro to go mad slowly, but whereas Bro went just a little bit over-the-top now and then in that film, here he manages to keep the subtlety completely in tact: and when the film finally climaxed it was 100% convincing. The magnificent performance that Bro pulls off here has to be seen to be believed! The film also shares similarities to the Blair Witch Project, which showed that a handy-cam style can be more than a stupid gimmick and can create a very powerful realism that can send chills down your spine; because Offscreen has a more powerful plot with a much greater psychological scope, Offscreen makes even better use of this technique. Also, the fact that Boe plays in the film as Boe (the director) and Bro as Bro (the actor) adds a tremendous realism to the film that is practically unmatched! Also, by showing the process of its own making, the film plays with its own constructedness in a way that is much more powerful than Reconstruction. Reconstruction is admittedly more impressive in terms of cinematography and the subtlety of displaying inner lives and relationships through that cinematography, but Offscreen pounds us over the head with such brutality that I have to say that it is a more accomplished film. Especially the ending is noteworthy: it is here where the film is fully unleashed and rids itself of doubts and ambiguities that might have kept it out of my top 100 had the ending been different. Endings are tricky things: Allegro and Everything will be fine stumbled over it, but Offscreen triumphed through it.
Edit: In hindsight, Offscreen lacks the memorability of Reconstruction and is therefore probably less good after all.
Edit2: In resight, Offscreen pounded me over the head the second time, and I was caught off guard the second time, as I expected merely a confirmation that I indeed overrated it the first time. Perhaps this ping pong battle between hindsight and resight might be played for ages for all I know; perhaps tomorrow morning I may feel differently again, I don't know. But instead of anticipating my different assessment on another point in time by postponing this review, I'd like to accurately record these equivocations of mine. Instead of pushing those equivocations under the rug out of fear of appearing whimsical, I'd like to point my 'camera' straight at them. Why do they happen? Perhaps in hindsight we start worrying too much about what 'they' would think of the film? Or is it that in hindsight we are no longer enchanted as it were, by the crazy spell that the film casts, so that we are able to stand back and judge the film with a sober, 'rational' frame of mind? But is that kind of judgment then not more abstract, less sensitive toward the phenomena themselves? Now I don't want to claim outright that (re)sight is a priori superior to hindsight, as it often does happen that we delude ourselves, apply wishful thinking or turn a blind eye to certain faults when we are immersed in the film world, that are rightly criticized in hindsight. I don't think that there is a theoretical answer that would place either of them into a clear cut hierarchical relation. But it is clear that our being-in-the-film-world should not be scolded for its lack of objectivity, but that rather the other way around we should embrace its subjectivity, that in itself is a condition of possibility for standing back, i.e. of all 'objectivity', if that word is still to have any meaning outside of a traditional metaphysical hierarchy.
Now with regards to the film. I mentioned its lack of memorability on my previous edit. Why is this so? The film has very few typically 'great' scenes that spring to mind easily. The only scene that is truly great is the last one. The film also has a lot of repetition: when Nicolas says "Lene, Lene" all the time, it might appear as if there is a lack of plot. Also, the plot elements that are there appear to be wholly unspectacular, spending a large amount of time with Nicolas talking to his friends who keep telling him that he is on the wrong track and that filming everyone is annoying. Moreover, the cinematography appears to be much less beautiful than that of Reconstruction and Allegro. The camera-movements also appear random, so do the colors, and so do indeed the contents and therefore the whole story. These are all things that appear in hindsight. But in resight, all this appears differently. Indeed there are no great scenes except for the last one, but greatness is not necessarily compartmentalized into neat units we call scenes. Greatness may pertain to a slow, gradual movement (i.e. a movement not perceptibly consisting of concretely identifiable separate elements) of a deteriorating relationship and mind. Watching the slow decay of Nicolas Bro is indeed like watching a tragic piece of art, but this is not confined to a particular scene. Now with regards to the repetition: the film wasn't slow at all. If there was a lot of superfluous material it would have dragged. The fact that it didn't, showed me that it contained next to no filler. The repetition in Bro's lines was necessary to reveal the obsessive nature of Bro's transformation in a believable way. This is a way of comporting himself that fits his appearance perfectly: you can imagine him being exactly like this in real life, nagging on and on about the same things that he wants to happen, until he gets his way. This is part of what makes his character so disturbing and indeed compelling to watch. Also the unspectacular nature of the plot developments and the lack of traditional plot complexities was absolutely necessary to create the blood-curdling realism of the film: had we witnessed a Jason Bourne kind of story full of clever plot twists, we'd be stuck with a much more constructed and therefore much less convincing - and indeed a boring - kind of realism. And none of these unspectacular plot developments are badly written or simply filler; they are realistic and necessary constituents of a story about Bro's mental breakdown. Now with regards to the cinematography: there is none of Boe's trademark visual poetry here. Is that not a true lack? Indeed in a way it is. But that is not to say that the cinematography is ugly or unamazing. The fine grain, the switch to the rougher grain of the second camera, the tiny camera movements and the camera positions, the colors, the contents, none of them are random or amateurish, even when they deliberately appear that way. Indeed, all of these elements are in the service of the chilling realism of the film. They may not be beautiful, subtle or poetic, but they are often severely unsettling: had the camera work and the cinematography been accidental and amateurish, the film could never have had the tremendous impact that it had. But it is indeed the final scene that wraps it all up and makes all this into a truly great film. I do hope that I will be able to trust my memory on this in the future. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: placed this a few notches higher. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Placed this higher, as it remains a very strong personal favorite. I noticed that the movie still looks, sounds and feels very fresh, and that the film is a coherent whole which is much more than the sum of the story elements. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: my previous ranking was still far too conservative. This is pure greatness. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: position here confirmed. Not as good as Su-ki-da (mostly because of the many-Japanese-faces-all-look-alike syndrome and the relative lack of focus), but the cinematography and atmosphere are almost as beautiful and the acting performances are astounding.
Edit after a rewatch: Watched this on Blu-ray now, which is not really an addition. The transfer is of an abominable quality: it's not even sufficient as a solid DVD release, let alone as a Blu-ray release. Watching this on a relatively big TV screen is not going to be optimal, anyway you cut it.
Quality of the transfer aside, the movie itself has lost none of its greatness. In fact, I think it has earned its place more solidly now. I used to have some difficulties with the many-Japanese-faces-all-look-alike syndrome, but this time I didn't have that problem and was able to differentiate quite easily between the main characters. Thematically, the movie clicked slightly better this time, picking up more of the subtle hints that Ishikawa has scattered thinly throughout the movie. For a movie that actually has something relevant to say, this must be the least preachy one out there! To say that this movie is understated, is an understatement, but Ishikawa has faith in the intelligence and patience of his audience. Patience is definitely needed, as the movie is very slow, often bordering on being boring, but it is astounding how much staying power certain scenes have based solely on thematic and audiovisual qualities. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: My comments above are apt: through the uncompromising deconstruction of the absoluteness of intentionality (in film: the one-dimensional camera-directedness on concretely identifiable things, characters or plot-units) and of positing (in film: the self-conscious construction of concrete things, characters or plot-units), Ishikawa achieves through film what Heidegger achieved through philosophy, that is the unleashing of freedom and life, in the sense that by letting be, he breaks free from the chains of life-denigrating forms of objectification and abstraction. But my current assessment differs in this respect that I now think this film should get the credits it deserves. My intentions were to keep it small by keeping it out of my top 100, but now I think that something this great, no matter how small, deserves to be in the spotlights, even if it creates the wrong expectations. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: A rewatch confirms this high position. When the little girl finds herself falling on the belly of this huge furry friend called Totoro she is so utterly charmed by its cuteness and cudliness that she just can't help herself but scream from pure enjoyment! I'm all with her on this one! To--to-ro To-toro! To--to-ro To-toro! :) ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch in Blu-ray: shot on 16 mm, Irreversible has a course, grainy picture quality that is perfectly justifiable as it underlines the rawness of the scenes, although the grain is also unacceptably exacerbated by lesser media (DVD or less). The Blu-ray is therefore no unnecessary luxury, and improved the movie viewing experience significantly, which is not to say that the movie all of sudden looked candy-coated smooth.
Quality of the Blu-ray aside, the movie also clicked better this time, and the unusual narrative structure felt more justified. I think that Noe wanted to focus not on the extreme case of sexual perversion shown in the beginning, but on the normal case, the sexual relationship between the two lovers at the end. I think Noe wanted to draw out the similarities between the extreme and the normal case, despite their obviously different moral significance. When we hear the guy playfully say to his girlfriend that he would like to have anal sex with her, we are instantly reminded about the unpleasantness we witnessed before and I think this is hardly a coincidence. What Noe wanted to say precisely may not be 100% clear and the quote at the end is still unnecessary, but I do believe that Noe succeeded more or less in giving an ominous feel to what normally would have appeared as a normal, run of the mill sexual relationship.
Position increased ” - Auke Briek
The only thing that bothered me about Le Mepris was the ending. It was difficult to swallow and it reminded me of Breathless and Vivre sa Vie; but still... I think that what comes off as carelessness is actually an intentional and deep social critique. It's meant to be difficult to swallow, because it unveils one of the deepest tragedies of mankind: that love is more often than not a stage play, an illusion. Silencio!
Edit after a rewatch: the hd-quality did not add much, though I might try another version again sometimes. The film remains visually stunning though. It is cool how Godard contrasts modern culture with Greek culture and manages to say so many things at the same time, that your head almost explodes with little ideas and questions going into a thousand directions. Why is it such a difficult, perhaps even foolhardy endavour to make a film about The Odyssey? Does this reveal shortcomings in our own culture? Are we even worthy to put the Odyssey into film? Does it matter if Americans do it, or the French, or the Germans? Are Americans more vulnerable to the commercial suffocation of art? Is such a perspective on Greek culture somehow related to racism or perpaps even nazism? What do our lives look like when we look at them from the perspective of a Greek tragedy? Is there perhaps not more worthiness to be found in the view that sees the shortcomings, tragedies, or absences in our own culture, than in that culture itself? What did Holderlin mean with the comfort of God's absense? Were the Greeks not slaves for their Gods? Are we totally free in that respect or are we slaves too? What would it mean for us to be free from such slavery, and would we even be able to comprehend this? What is preferable: a meaningful death or a meaningless life? Why did the woman have contempt for the man? Did that have something to do with his lack of willingness to defend the interests of art? Or perhaps with the fact that he was a slave for money? ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Watching it on blu-ray really shows how amazing the special effects are and how well they have stood the test of time. It also shows how gorgeous the colours, sounds and atmosphere are. It is becoming more and more a matter of liking than of respect, although I think I placed it correctly here. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Watching Stalker you can either focus on the content of the conversations to look for deeper meanings and enlightened philosophical ideas about the human condition, or you can just sit back, enjoy the dilapidated scenery, soak up the poetic atmosphere and let the philosophical meanderings carry the mood. If you go with the first option, you will find mr. Tarkovsky stepping up as a Christ-like figure, shoving his own over-simplified, depressing, dystopic, art-'n-spirituality-yearning world-view down your humble throat. I can't really recommend this, unless you are the type who likes to swallow. Going with the second option, you'll find iconic imagery, gorgeous cinematography, graceful compositions, a haunting score and a very delicate and bleak atmosphere that makes the sense of yearning in the film actually come to life. You might even find some actual meaning in the atmosphere this way. Still, even while going with the second way of watching, it will be impossible to block out the effects of the first way of watching entirely. On top of that the last hour could have done with some serious cutting. All things considered, Stalker contains enough moments of intense beauty to remain a very impressive film, but I cannot say that I find the man behind it very sympathetic or inspiring anymore. A small but significant devaluation to a 9/10 is in order. ” - Auke Briek
I am afraid my harsh judgement on Godard might have been a bit too early. I have just watched Week End and I actually liked it! How about that? In fact its the best surreal-french-traffic-jam-cannibal-massacre-nonsense-comedy there is! Ofcourse there aren't any other movies in this highly prolific genre so its an easy win, but this film is a winner anyway. Granted, it still has a lot of the elements that bothered me in the other two films, but Week End has a few very important advantages: its over-the-top, crazy, funny, entertaining and (almost) always interesting. There is only one part in it that's boring (when they start rambling about politics for ten minutes), but that's about it. And ofcourse I'm not too fond of the animal killings (a pig and a goose) but at least they ate them, and at least it served a purpose, so I won't scream "Cannibal Hollocaust!" on this one. Judged by conventional narrative standards this movie is an incoherent piece of crap, but when judged by its own merits, its a wickedly funny and slightly disturbing (and often interrupted) ride, a welcome path off the beaten track. If only the colors were more interesting. Perhaps the difference between Breathless/Vivre sa Vie and Week End can best be explained in this way: after the first two films you ask Godard "are you trying to make a good film within your medium or are you trying to destroy your medium from the inside out?" and the answer would be "neither" and "a bit of both". After Week End however, you get the feeling that you have just witnessed the purest iconoclasm in the history of cinema: it doesn't make any compromises whatsoever and that's all for the better. I'm gonna watch more Godard to see what I really think of him, but this one is a keeper!
Edit: At the time I saw it, Week End represented a genuine turn-about in my appreciation of Godard, which therefore made the film a bit difficult to assess. In hindsight it is safe to say that this film is indeed fantastic! This is undoubtedly Godard's most important contribution to the history of cinema; only Le Mépris is a bigger personal favorite. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: When I first saw it I was shocked and in awe. But after a while doubts began to emerge whether or not this was not simply shocking for the sake of being shocking. But now that I have seen it again I can surely say that my initial response was accurate and that my subsequent doubts were wrong. This is indeed a great film, Von Trier's best actually. It is atmospheric, suffocating, dark, shocking and beautiful. The acting performances of Dafoe and Gainsbourg are fantastic. They can be both tender and excruciatingly harsh to each other at the same time. Then the ambiguities surrounding the child's death and whether or not it could have been avoided, further complicate the dark psychological region Von Trier drags us into. This is not meant to shock just to boost the sales at the box office. This is meant to unveil the darkest cravesses within the human psyche and it succeeds in doing so. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: The blu-ray looks bloody awesome! I felt the need to buy it on the release date, which I don't feel for many other higher scoring films, so this was an indication that my previous position was far too conservative. Indeed it was. Three things were different now. The first time I had expectations of it being in the same league with Spring Breakers, but was disappointed that it wasn't. In the cinema there were many irritated people making loud noises, especially one guy, fidgeting constantly with his pop-corn who should have gotten a visit from uncle Pansringarm. Another reason was that on first sight I could not wholly exorcise the feeling that certain plot details were a wee bit rushed over or implying more than could be justified even though at first I tried to convince myself that this wasn't the case, which made a somewhat sloppy or even slightly pretentious appearance at times which used to be slightly parasitic on the mysterious vibe of the film (though not very much). But those assessments have now been greatly diminished as more details have fallen into place and the more cryptic events felt more justified in terms of the general atmosphere in which I was more absorbed this time, letting the colors and sounds wash over me like a hot bath. On the whole, it is a very powerful cinematic experience. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: A night's sleep often gives a little bit more perspective: 7/10.
Edit on a rewatch: Blu-ray makes all the difference! Watching it in bad quality as I did before makes no sense with this movie. The sparkling fresh colors, street lights against the black night, the precise and clear shots, the brilliant play with sunlight, the whole car and clothing aesthetics, the purple intro font, the cool soundtrack, the great score by Cliff Martinez, and the whole atmosphere... It is really quite something. Wow! I already appreciated this aspect the first time, but watching it in excellent picture and sound quality works so much better. The film relies a lot on mood, sound and cinematography to draw you into its world, more so than on the story. This worked perfectly this time. I didn't feel that the first 40 minutes were too slow: the film simply took a little time to set up the mood. And now to the story: sure it's lightweight, but is it also messy as I concluded before? Not really. It just doesn't try very hard to spell everything out clearly, and leaves room for ambiguity in character motivations. But this kind of ambiguity is not in itself a bad thing. The story does make sense though: the details fit. Perhaps the first time I wasn't drawn into the movie enough to catch all the tiny details properly and felt that the movie failed to make them clear. And perhaps I expected something with a little more action, a little more realism and something that was a little faster paced. Perhaps the final scenes would have felt a little more natural if they were faster paced, and they might have suggested a little more meaning than they really had to offer because of this. But I cannot call the story a failure, because to choose atmosphere over fast-paced action is a perfectly defensible choice. And so it turns out that this is Refn's best after all.
Edit after a rewatch: Aesthetically, this film kept lingering on in my mind, and I thought that a top 100 position would be called for. Indeed I was again blown away by the aesthetics, and purely in that department it deserves a top 50 position. But the point is that the final scenes feel slightly pretentious, especially with that horrible song "Oh my love" from Riz Ortolani, a huge stain on an otherwise perfect soundtrack. So, position confirmed.
Edit after a rewatch: one of the very few films I demand to see on Blu-ray: no inferior formats will do it justice. Narrative imperfections may still exist, but the end scenes are not sloppy: the movie is a bit brief in mentioning a whole family we never see in order to supply a motivation for crucial events of the movie, but this motivation is not non-existent. Be that as it may: if this list 'measures' anything it is enthusiasm, not the lack of imperfections, and it is the aesthetics of this movie that I am really enthusiastic about. ” - Auke Briek
"Zelden een film gezien waarin je zo sterk wordt meegesleurd, waarin de flow zó sterk is. De film is zeer radicaal in de mate waarin de first person perspective is doorgevoerd. Er loopt niet iemand met een camera rond, maar jij ziet gewoon precies hetzelfde als de hoofdpersoon.
De keiharde actie is non-stop. Er is geen adempauze en er wordt ook geen tijd genomen om het 'verhaal' uit te diepen wat je ongetwijfeld weer uit de flow zou halen. Niets van dat alles. De film beukt gewoon genadeloos door en zo zie ik dat graag!
Het camerawerk is zeer dynamisch en shaky, maar bepaald niet het werk van een amateur met een handy cam. Het vergt juist zeer veel behendigheid om het camerawerk onder dergelijke omstandigheden de juiste mate van beheersing en professionaliteit mee te geven, en als dat dan geslaagd is maakt dat des te meer indruk. Net als in Cloverfield is dat ook hier zeer geslaagd, al was het spel van kleur en licht daar wellicht nog iets preciezer en doelbewuster.
Sharlto Copley weet als geen ander kleur te geven aan dynamisch gefilmde werkjes zoals deze (zie ook District 9). Ook zorgt hij voor de nodige luchtigheid en zelfrelativering. Het verhaal slaat verder nergens op, maar het is allemaal heerlijk droog gebracht, dus who cares.
Klein puntje van kritiek is toch wel de overdaad aan continuity errors. Niet omdat het verhaal daardoor minder geloofwaardig wordt: dat was het toch al niet en dat maakt ook niet uit. Wel omdat je daardoor soms weer een heel klein beetje uit de flow wordt getrokken. Gelukkig wordt dit ruimschoots gecompenseerd door de overweldigende dynamiek van de film. Dat is toch vooral hetgeen wat bij mij blijft hangen.
Intens van genoten!" ” - Auke Briek
Note: please forget about the sleazy poster that goes with this film-entry, because it has nothing to do with it. Also try to watch this with the aformentioned New Order song and not as the shortened video clip accompanying Kenna's Hell Bent, because the latter song, while not bad on its own, does not fit nearly as well and its lyrics are way too distracting to become truly involved in what you see.
Edit: Somehow it lost some of its initial magic. ” - Auke Briek
Scarface finally nailed it for me! My relationship with the good ol' Gangsta classics has been shaky at best. When I see them I usually like them a lot, but then they fade away from memory far too quickly and when I think about them a few months later, my mind turns them into this unfair caricature, where they feel alien and foreign to me, as if everybody else's opinion is encroaching upon me and I start to feel the need to 'punish' the film for that and I start to think that I merely respect them, without liking them all that much. Now, these Gangsta classic are usually fairly similar in their focus on traditional narrative structures, the same old gangsta stereotypes, the same old rise and fall stories, the same actors, etc. etc. It is these aspects that make me dislike those films in the long run, while slowly forgetting about their greatness at the same time. Scarface is a case in point.
Now that I have rewatched Scarface I have to say that it's just an absolutely great film, which I criminally underrated before! That final scene with Pacino going all out his *beep* mind is one of the most powerful action scenes in movie history that also happens to function as a fantastic climax to the story. But the build up is also flawless. The performance of Pacino is definitely the best thing in the film, he commands the screen like a total maniac. Snorting Mountains of coke, screaming his ass off all the time, constantly struggling in a rat-race for money and power, absolutely determined to come out on top. While the cinematography and the music selection vary from dated to great, the sound design itself is excellent. Although this film invests mainly in the kind of values that are not my personal favorites, it succeeds in such a grand way that I love it despite these preferences. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch:
Anthony Perkins is such a wonderful actor! Next to Vince Vaughn you can really tell what a strong performance it is, as he had to walk a very thin line for it to work. In the beginning he is subtle, subdued, arousing both pity and sympathy. He is ever so slightly funny (but nothing over-the-top), natural, with only small hints of something more disturbing brimming beneath the surface, whilst not undermining the sympathy. He could put you at ease and make you believe something that no one else could have, just by looking a certain way, even though another part of you might be on alert. His performance gradually increased in intensity and the final image is as believable as it is over-the-top. What a range! Janet Leigh is a very good Marion too. Her performance remains human and interesting enough to follow anxiously, despite the actions of her character. Some of the other actors give slightly theatrical performances, but this hardly matters, as all performances fit in nicely with the dark atmosphere of the movie, nicely accentuated by beautiful black-and-white shots.
Hitchcock took huge risks in terms of turning over the story half way through. In the hands of inferior directors this would easily break apart into two movies, but he kept things together as a coherent whole. Every plot-twist works just as it is intended and the suspense always works, even while watching it the second time. In fact, I was more ‘surprised’ by what happened in the rewatch of the original than in the first viewing of the remake the day before. ‘Surprise’ is not the right word of course, but what I mean is that somehow, knowledge of the plot-twists do not really undermine their effectiveness.
Position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Man with a movie-camera is undoubtedly a remarkable film, a leap far beyond its time. At the time I first saw it, it was also at the absolute forefront of those rare films, that happened to quench my thirst for a kind of cinema that boldly seizes upon the possibility of embodying its own essence, by transcending a more derivate kind of cinema. But then I saw Umfeld. Like Umfeld, Man with the Movie camera indeed attempts to embody the essence of cinema and in many ways they both succeeded in doing so, but unlike Umfeld it offers only the appearance of an equiprimordiality of sound and image, because the brilliant score was added after the images were made, although I have to admit that it is far more subtle than Umfeld. But if Umfeld proved one thing, it is that subtlety isn't everything. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: placed this a few entries higher. The first part of the film gets a lot better once you know how the film is going to end. You can already anticipate on what is to come, and somehow this makes it all so much more sarcastic and funny. This is the kind of film you shouldn't laugh about, yet you'll find yourself unable not to laugh. Also, a genuine pleasure to recognize the typical style of Benoît Debie as the cinematographer. What a magician! Wow! He is as much deserving to be called the author of the film as Fabrice Du Welz, if not more. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: moved this up as this is one of the very best anime films out there. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: "I hack-n-slash therefore I am" That is how you could sum up the philosophical side of Izo. I think this is Miike's most challenging film. Visitor Q is challenging too and is a better film, but it challenges in more typical ways by focusing on taboos and family life. Izo's sword slashes not only through genre conventions such as those of the samurai or the yakuza genre, but also through the overarching logic of narrative film itself, including basic spatiotemporal orientation, as well as the dogma that philosophical depth is incompatible with mind-numbing hacking and slashing and that it would require typical (Tarkovskyesque) art-house settings instead, as well as through the more universal ideas of authority, order, state, democracy, God, transcendence, love and redemption. But, in order for this serious, perhaps even suffocating side of Izo to sink in, the viewer needs to sink through several levels, and it takes a huge 128 minutes of hacking and slashing to progress from provocation and fun towards a kind of existential weariness. ” - Auke Briek
1. The shaky cam: some felt it was generic and dizzying, just not good. I think they sort of have a point. It's generic in the sense that it's not very original, as it has been done before in much more subtle and refined ways. But as long as it's done well that shouldn't necessarily be a problem, and I do think that it is well done, even if it lacks subtlety. Yes, it is also generic in the sense that it has a typical big-buck Hollywood blockbuster appeal that is blown out of all reasonable proportions. But that larger-than-life quality is also precisely one of the things that's so cool about watching a big budget blockbuster like this, where no money is being spared just to give you an all-immersive experience. And it definitely succeeded at that level. Yes, it is also dizzying, but that's not a problem for me. On the contrary, I thought it was a great thrill! This was by far the best aspect of the film. This roller-coaster-like cinema may feel shallow and nihilistic compared to all the great and sober classics of old, but is it really so bad to thoroughly enjoy a modern roller-coaster experience like this? I don't think it is, and I don't feel the least bit bad about it. Time flies when you're having fun!
2. The bluish color filter: Some have complained about it being ugly. I don't agree. I don't think that it is particularly beautiful either, but it does add to the already hallucinogenic nature of the camera-movements. In that sense I thought it was a good choice.
3. The characters: Now this is where I like the film less. All of the characters were basically stupid, unlikable, generic brats. I couldn't care less if they would have all died at once, half-way down the film, right on the spot. Especially the camera-man was irritating. Then again, they mostly didn't break the immersive experience, and although they acted pretty bad, none of them went so far as to break the spell of the film completely: they were all equally generic, so they were all equally forgettable and irrelevant (in the sense of not being obstacles, except for the camera-man that is).
4. The plot: Same thing as the characters: cheap, thin plot with no real character development, just nothing to like really, although there were lots of irritations. But do we really care that much about the plot in an action-oriented blockbuster like this? Not necessarily. As long as the visual trip was going on (and that was from start to finish), I had many other things to focus on. In fact, it may have been positive that the plot was thin: that way it didn't get time enough to ruin the immersion.
5. The cause of all the mayhem: The CGI related to this cause was pretty bad. The cause itself was just stupid and unbelievable. In fact, it made the whole film stupid. This did indeed ruin some of the immersion, but never enough to start disliking the film. It was all within reasonable bounds of damage control.
So, there you have it: Cloverfield is just an extremely immersive, nihilistic and dumb roller-coaster experience, that happened to be an amazingly thrilling ride to such an extent that I couldn't care much at all about it's obvious faults as a film, or even about its precise content. Does anyone actually care that the theme of one particular roller-coaster in one of Holland's more famous theme-parks has got something to do with Robin Hood? To me that seems to be a totally irrelevant fact. Cloverfield may not be a film in the classic sense of the word, in the sense that it's all about the ride and not about the content. But I don't have a problem with that. Content is often overrated anyway. And I don't mind still calling it a film either, as long as we can all still agree that King Kong (either the new one or the old one) counts as a film.
Edit: Little revisions after a rewatch. Firstly, the shaky cam is less unsubtle than I thought at first viewing, especially when compared to many other shaky cam films and also when judged by its subtle interaction with the many brilliant lighting effects. Secondly, the characters were indeed all generic, but not all of them were irritating. Thirdly, the thing, while stupid, was less stupid than before. Fourthly, the running time is just about perfect, short enough to contain absolutely no filler whatsoever, which goes a long way in explaining the film's visceral impact. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Watching this on dvd now, I have to say that the cinematography is just stellar. Mann shows that digital video is not inherently ugly, but that it can look gorgeous and that it can ooze atmosphere if used properly. This is far more stylish and successful than Public Enemies. The night-time shots with all those lights are just fantastic. Also, the story and the acting were much easier to digest this time, and I was able to follow the plot completely this time, so no real obstacles here anymore.
Edit after a rewach: Forget the dvd! Watch this on Blu-ray! The print may be grainy and messy, but it is gorgeous! All remaining doubts about the use of the digital camera in this project have been washed away now. Together with Enter the Void, Miami Vice is the closest neighbor of Spring Breakers and has steadily climbed towards being a very solid personal favorite. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: In hindsight I think that I was wrong about the fact that this film should have been more radical in rooting out moralizing tendencies. I misunderstood it. In fact, every potential explanation of the major event is being subtly compromised by certain small events, as to rule out any one-dimensional explanation. Take for instance the gun they got from fed-ex. Another guy also went shooting with his dad but he didn't kill any people. Take the fact that one of the shooters was being picked on. Another girl was also being picked on, but she didn't kill anyone. Take the shoot 'm up game: only one of the guys played it and was partly motivated by it but he was probably in love with the other one who masterminded it all and then got himself killed by the mastermind whose motivations remained totally unfathomable right until the end. The clouds and Für Elise seemed to be the best motivations we got from him. I think that this is in fact one of the best ways to root out moralizing tendencies that I have ever seen on film! It deserves an extra point for that!
See also these quotes to reinforce my new interpretation:
"Van Sant says that meaning is also applicable to his own film, but that what he had in mind when making it was the old parable about the five blind men who touch different parts of an elephant. "One thinks it's a rope because he has the tail, one thinks it's a tree because he can feel the legs, one thinks it's a wall because he can feel the side of it, and nobody actually has the big picture. You can't really get to the answer, because there isn't one."
"As for it being pointless, he says, that is the point - the whole thing is pointless. "Modern-day cinema takes the form of a sermon. You don't get to think, you only get to receive information. This film is not a sermon. The point of the film is not being delivered to you from the voice of the film-maker. Hopefully, there are as many interpretations as there are viewers."
Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/jan/24/features.weekend1 ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Spirited Away remains a beautifully animated movie. The weaknesses were as I remembered them. The movie is on the safe side, with the sharp edges taken off. Nice round faces, a relaxed presentation and - of course - a big, expensive studio production polish. All the strange creatures are balanced out by other, more safer elements. Also, the movie is quite messy, as the ending moved towards a catharsis that was far from earned and actually came pretty much out of the blue. But all this hardly detracts from the richness and expansiveness of the animation style, the lavishness of the backgrounds and colors, and the overall pleasure of watching a top notch anime movie. ” - Auke Briek
But enough about all the preparations. To the film itself! Was I touched by the film? Yes I was. In fact at times I was touched deeply by it, more than I remembered from the last time. Especially by some of the scenes with Kane’s wife in the opera house and the scenes in Xanadu, where the true nature of their relationship was revealed. But is Kane a manipulative film? Yes it is. I think that Orson Welles perhaps suffered from many of the same faults as Kane himself, like Leland said: “You don't care about anything except you. You just want to persuade people that you love 'em so much that they ought to love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. Something to be played your way, according to your rules.” Citizen Kane is a film that self-consciously wants to be loved. No, it demands to be loved, to be taken before anything else. Very, very hard work went into the making of it to ensure this. It avoids extremities and one-sidedness so as not to exclude any viewers. It includes beautiful and innovative shots in order to appeal to critics and formalist, but mostly not so obvious as to become elitist. It tries to be deep, profound and mysterious and takes itself dead-serious. There was one scene that didn't touch me as much this time, even if it did before, and that was the Rosebud scene at the beginning: it was so intensely self-serious that for a fraction of a second it went over the top for me and became almost comical, like a self-parody (and the fake mustache didn't really help there). But mostly the film is absolutely perfect in terms of editing, narrative and dramatic development, composition, cinematography and an undefinable feel of greatness and precision permeating almost every shot that can only be the product of extremely hard labor and loads of talent. There were also less than perfect qualities, such as the somewhat slower development of the middle part, the acting that varied from great to constructed, even from Welles himself. Also the atmosphere is strange: mostly the film smells like newspapers, money and power-grabbing. Of course that is what the film is about, but as an atmosphere that is normally not really a virtue. Still, this dry and somewhat suffocating atmosphere becomes part of the tragedy of the film, just like the fact that the film is just as manipulative as Citizen Kane himself, becomes part of that tragedy and actually deepens it. Just by not succeeding to create a beautiful atmosphere, the film tragically makes us wish to be released from it and makes us yearn for something lost. Just by the fact that it tries to manipulate us, tries to pull our strings too hard, and fails to touch our hearts because of it, the film becomes the very deadness and emptiness that sends chills down our spine, from the top of our heads, straight to our hearts.
Edit after a rewatch: Above review makes judging Citizen Kane look like something really difficult, but this is misguided. When all is said and done, it's not a matter of how good I think Citizen Kane is, whatever that may mean. Its just a matter of favoritism, however unfair or unreasonable that word may sound. The question is really simple: do I like Citizen Kane more than than Elephant? No I don't. The same goes for a few other movies. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: I lowered the position for Dogville some time ago, in anticipation of a worry that there was a considerable weakness to the movie I overlooked earlier. That Dogville may not look like an unduly moralizing film, as it attempts to undercut every belief in the moral strength of humanity, but that it is in fact one of the most arrogantly moralizing films: to condemn all human beings as nothing more than dogs requires an extreme moral high ground, from which each and every human being may be judged and found wanting, because of some superior yardstick, some superior intellectual insight, which Lars "Von" Trier needed to teach to the rest of the world, a world inhabited by naive creatures who still believe in fables such as love, friendship and sincerity. Paul Van Tongeren once wrote a book called "Die Moral von Nietzsches Moralkritik". One could also easily write a book called "Die Moral von Von Triers Moralkritik". I guess there's just one "Von" too many in that last title.
It seems to me that a case such as the one above might very well be made. But does that really make Dogville a lesser movie? Ultimately, I have to say no. However much one may want to object to the point of the film, I do think it is brilliantly made. It is a piece of deception, but a brilliant one. The most important part of the deception is that Von Trier is telling a plausible story: we know that something like this could have happened and that a whole town might have behaved like this (which may not stretch out to all particulars of the story, but at least in broad outlines to the morally relevant ones). From this plausibility, one may be tempted to conclude that Von Trier is right and that deep down, all humans are ultimately dogs. However, from the plausibility of one scenario, one cannot generalize to the whole of the human condition: here lies the deceptiveness of Von Trier's strategy. But he will have you fooled on an affective level, because we are allowed to see the world's backside so to speak and its realism is hugely unsettling. The film is emotionally draining, brilliantly paced, its cinematography and decors are as original as they are functional, and the acting performances are outstanding. One rarely encounters a film that hits so hard in every respect. This is what matters most in the final instance.
Moved this up considerably. ” - Auke Briek
Edit: position confirmed. A great start, a bit lagging in the middle part (especially in the French scene), but delivers in a grand finale with Marlon Brando that is really chilling to watch, though he shouldn't have said "the horror" twice, let alone four times. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: The first time I saw Werckmeister harmóniák, I was expecting something on par with Sátántangó. That it ain't, and I was rather disappointed about that at the time, although I was also able to see its qualities, its gorgeous cinematography and its impressive individual scenes. The second time my assessment has changed. Not that its faults have disappeared, but they now appear in a different perspective. But still, it remains a very difficult film to rate it; my judgment could have easily been the same as before. But let me explain why I put it in my top 100 this time.
Werckmeister is first and foremost a film about the conflict between worldliness and otherworldliness. This is not only thematized by the content, but also applies to the structure of the film. Its plot is told in an otherworldly manner. At the heart of the story lies a giant whale, and yet this whale also exists outside of the story. It serves no functional role, it is simply there in its majestic, otherworldly presence. In a normal story this element would have been excised, but here it creates an enchanting atmosphere for the film and even though we do not know why we yearn to go back to it, especially when the more worldly plot elements begin to take center stage. The major worldly plot element is about a 'prince' scheming to create a riot and wreck the town. Then there are also people trying to use the main character, the otherworldly János, for their own worldly purposes. It is through János's eyes that we see these events happening. When the riots finally do occur, we see one scene that is marked by one utterly unforgettable image, but which changes almost immediately into an utterly unrealistic scene. At that moment you can either follow the path of worldliness and reject the film because of the impossibility of what you see. Or you can let the otherworldliness of the image before it run its course, and still be overwhelmed by the powerfulness of the entire scene, in the knowledge that it is through János's eyes that we see this, and that its lack of realism only underlines the tragedy that the world does not offer the ideal possibility of redemption that János has dreamed up in his naivety, that we have witnessed a false dream that János needs to hold on to in order to retain his sanity. The same goes for the whale: you can either reject it as a superfluous plot element, or you can embrace it and its melancholic eye as an otherworldly saving grace. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: position confirmed. Especially the chasing scenes are simply fantastic, with the energetic score matching the fast movements on the screen. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: A great movie with a rich, expansive atmosphere, an iconic score and a highy memorable and effective story. Its status as a masterpiece is well deserved. The score and the atmosphere are also a big leap over The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in terms of expansiveness and immersion. The reason why I am putting this significantly lower though, is that the story was less iconic to me, its slightly less brilliant climax more sudden and less a release of built up tension, and because the presence of the woman seemed to introduce elements slightly foreign to a pure Western: her presence was a constant reminder of civilian life made impossible through violence. That reminder was also in the score: when the score was not iconic, creepy and haunting (although it often was), it incorporated more civilian notes at times, albeit mixed with nostalghia and irony. Now the contrast between civilian life and violence carries meaning and is in that sense justified; but aesthetically speaking I would have preferred if the references to civilian life weren't there at all. This is only a small blemish of course, and doesn't really undermine the brilliance of the film, but it does account for my preference of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly over this one.
Position confirmed. ” - Auke Briek
"Together with Citizen Kane, this is the proverbial good film. It does nothing wrong and everything right and at the end also touches the heart."
However, as I was reading the reviews of a Belgian guy nicknamed "Onderhond" (Underdog) on www.moviemeter.nl, I was struck by both the extremity of his opinions as well as by their uncompromising intelligence. He has the weird (and to many infuriating) tendency to rate almost all IMBD Top 250 masterpieces with 0.5 or just 1 star out of 5. I often disagree strongly with his ratings of classics, but still he makes me think and he doesn't infuriate me. Instead, some of his reviews just fascinate and amuse the hell out of me. Just take a look at his over-the-top review (http://www.moviemeter.nl/film/247/info/210#238) of Casablanca:
"Ik begin de rode draad te zien in die oude hooggeprezen Hollywood klassiekers.
Steeds weer die houterige klazen met hun opgedreunde inelkaargeknutselde dialogen die eruit komen alsof ze dagenlang ingestudeerd zijn. Nu heb je ook mensen die in het echt zo zijn, maar die behoren allerminst tot mijn favoriete soort.
Bogart heeft nog het nadeel een vreselijk stemgeluid te hebben, waardoor zijn personage al vanaf de eerste seconde totaal oninteressant is. Bergman kan daar eigenlijk niks tegenoverstellen en is niet veel meer dan de wijfelende liefdesvod.
Dat sleept zich dan voort naar een conclusie die pas veel te laat zich ontvouwt. De muts met het stalen gezichts en met het onvermijdelijke peperkoeken hart doet wat een held dient te doen waarmee meteen de film ook afgelopen is. Zowat 102 minuten te laat naar mijn mening.
Saaie film die echt nergens interessant weet te zijn. Voor fans van de oude dialogen, wat mij betreft zowat het sufste wat ik in het wereldje van de cinema al aangetroffen heb."
Translated in English it roughly says:
"I am starting to see the connecting thread between those old acclaimed Hollywood classics.
Again and again those wooden muffs with their gabbled over, makeshift dialogues that come out like they've been rehearsed for days. Now there are people who are like that in real life, but they hardly belong to my favorite kind of people.
Bogart has the added disadvantage of having a terrible sound of voice, which makes his character uninteresting from the get go. Bergman cannot put anything up against that and she is actually not a whole lot more than a love-doll in doubt.
This drags on to proceed towards a conclusion which unfolds much too late. The cow with the steel face and the inevitable gingerbread heart does what a hero should do at which point the movie is over. Approximately 102 minutes too late in my opinion.
A boring film which never manages to be interesting. Its only for fans of the old dialogs, which for me is practically the dullest thing I've encountered in the world of cinema."
I don't agree with this opinion of Casablanca. But still. I think that in some twisted parallel universe Onderhond does have a point, even though I can't put my finger on it and even though I am sure that Casablanca is a great film which deserves a high spot.
Edit: As it turns out Onderhond also has a vast number of beautiful recommendations, especially when it comes to Japanese films: http://www.moviemeter.nl/user/4270/votes/
Edit2: After a rewatch this went up some 40 places again. Yes, Casablanca is indeed a great film, which deserves a high spot. And indeed it is one of those faultless masterpieces that is not one of my absolute favorites. Yes, its great performances and dialogues are on the constructed side, yes its atmosphere is somewhat buried underneath the dust of its own cleverness and yes I think that Bogart has an irritating sound of voice and his acting is somewhat wooden to me. But in the end I cannot but feel sympathy for the character he played here, which mostly came from the impeccable craft behind the story. Casablanca has a few gorgeous moments, especially at the end, that are impossible not to love, just the way the camera captured Bergman's look in her eyes in terrific black and white contrasts, while the Nazis, those forces of evil were about to catch up on the plane. Yet in the impossibility not to love those scenes, also lies a certain manipulative quality, not unlike that of Kane, but the fact remains that I love it nonetheless. ” - Auke Briek
Edit after a rewatch: Vertigo is one of those paradoxical films that scores a 10/10, whilst I'm not even 100% sure that it is strictly speaking a "favorite film", and, by implication, whether it belongs on a list that is called by that name. I'm sure it is extremely well made and I have great respect for it as a whole (though not necessarily for all its parts). But as the second criterion on this list specifies, respect isn't enough. Now do I like it? Overall, I do. But do I also love it? Now this is a more difficult question. I would say that I love it unambiguously only at its highest aesthetic peaks. I love the awe-inspiring shot of the church building from birds eye perspective, I love the shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, I love the neon-like Technicolors in the semi-final scene, I love the final church tower scene and the release of tension in it. There are several other moments that I love, but that doesn't go for the whole film. For instance, I don't even like James Stewart's acting performance, let alone love it. I think his face looks unsympathetic (almost as much as Bogart's face), I don't like the way he dresses his hair (I'd like to say "no, your hair looks all wrong"), the way his suits look (I'd like to say "that's the wrong suit, put on another one!"), but his sound of voice takes the cake: it sounds like he has a hot potato in his mouth all the time. As a consequence I care little for his character. And it doesn't help that his character's actions aren't always the most sympathetic ones either. Now, Kim Novak's acting performance I feel rather lukewarm about: I don't find it irritating, just passable. So when the two of them make out with strings swelling up underneath, I'm more or less bored: so much for the romance. Now to the mystery: do I love it? I'd say more like than love. I don't particularly care about the details about Carlotta and solving the puzzle and stuff like that. I do like and perhaps even love the atmosphere that the mystery creates though. It counterbalances Stewart's dusty appearance with something more rich and expansive and in this sense, Novak's appearance contributes much to the film. Now to the suspense: do I love it? This is the most difficult aspect to judge. The first part of the movie, let's say the entire part before the Golden Gate scene kicks in, isn't too special for me, although it gets better after that. Half-way the movie, the suspense works, but I'm not overwhelmed. And giving the game away just half an hour before the finish line felt like undermining a part of the mystery and the suspense. But still, Hitchcock managed to bring it all together in a blood-curdling finale that was truly suspenseful. And it wasn't just the finale: the entire final twenty minutes or so were gripping (which also goes for the first tower scene). So the suspense did work in the end. But mostly it is the haunting power of the film's strongest images and a vague indefinable feeling of having watched something great that pushes me over the line. And so, although I'm not entirely sure how it would count as a "favorite film" strictly speaking, I am certain that putting it much lower than it is now wouldn't feel right either. And so it's still got one hell of a high position for a film whose leading actor I don't even like.
Edit after a rewatch: Above review is mostly correct, but I thought that the position was still too high, considering the fact that I don't really love this movie. ” - Auke Briek