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King Kong (1933)
Day of Wrath
Meshes of the Afternoon
All That Heaven Allows
Paths of Glory
The Hidden Fortress
Eyes Without a Face
Planet of the Apes
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Escape from New York
Pauline at the Beach
Full Metal Jacket
Dazed and Confused
Cannibal! The Musical
The Big Lebowski
The Truman Show
Eyes Wide Shut
The Straight Story
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
In the Mood for Love
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
The Squid and the Whale
There Will Be Blood
A Serious Man
Under the Skin
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Jarmusch's stylish mix of hip-hop culture, samurai philosophy, and mob movie send-up
This is a terrific film from Jim Jarmusch - cool and stylish as you might expect from this filmmaker, with an assured dose of humor. The combination of samurai philosophy, Mafia/gangster film over a hip-hop soundtrack was pulled off surprisingly well. The juxtaposition of the two defunct or fading ways of life, Ghost Dog's adherence to 18th century Japanese samurai code and the aging mobsters who are clearly on the way out, was very interesting. Long-time character actor Henry Silva in particular is great; that odd, singular face of his can just make you laugh with certain expressions, and his line readings in this film are often very funny.
And Forest Whitaker was perfect for this role, he just has such a wonderful presence about him: physically imposing yet thoughtful and contemplative, gentle at times but uncompromisingly lethal at others. I found the frequent readings of samurai maxims every 10 minutes or so to be oddly soothing (I like Whitaker's voice) and, somewhat surprisingly, not interrupting the flow of the film at all. And finally, the soundtrack by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan was so damn good. Really loved the instrumentals and samples he used here.
This is a film that should be accessible and entertaining even for those who aren't already Jarmusch fans.
"Ghost Dog: power, equality." 'Always see everything, my brother.'
Early Cronenberg develops some of his trademark themes
This early David Cronenberg body horror effort is rough around the edges (low budget, some not-so-great acting) but it's an interesting take on "infection" horror.
The setting, as detailed in a somewhat unsettling advertisement that kicks off the film, is a new high-rise apartment building full of amenities on an isolated Canadian island. A perfect setting for mass parasitic infection to let loose utter chaos, and the whole film takes place here. Things are kicked off by a scientist (yep, he's a bit mad) who believes that genetically engineered parasites can be placed into bodies for organ transplants, and also to return humanity back to matters of the flesh (i.e., our base sexual instincts). Of course, his experiment all goes wrong and a parasite is set loose in the apartment building, causing residents one-by-one to become infected and spread it through sexual promiscuity.
The recent Ben Wheatley film High-Rise (2015) reminded me a bit of this one, as it also uses an upscale, socially isolated high-rise apartment building as a setting for gradual, social devolution leading to moral decay and outright chaos. Interestingly enough, the JG Ballard novel that High-Rise adapts came out in 1975 just like Shivers, and Cronenberg of course has a Ballard connection since he adapted Crash in 1996. Of course, there is some good ol' Cronenberg body horror, with icky crawly parasites being spewed out of people's mouths. It's a solid early effort in what would become a great career. I wouldn't call this a conventionally "scary" horror film, but the sheer psychosexual anxiety is certainly palpable. Greatness lay ahead for this Canadian visionary.
The Fear of 13 (2015)
A natural storyteller spins an often fascinating tale
Nick Yarris, a death row inmate who claims his innocence regarding his conviction for the rape and murder of a woman in the early '80s, tells his story to the camera in a very articulate and dramatic fashion. This is a man who led a life of petty crime and got into drugs from a young age and had never gotten past a rudimentary level of formal education, and like many prisoners facing hard time, he self-taught by reading books and with the way he speaks in this doc (and we get everything from his perspective - he's literally the only person we hear from for the film's entire duration), he has clearly picked up the knack for storytelling. Whether he's embellishing some of his stories or not, it's hard to tell, but the imagery he conjures up with his vivid descriptions is often fascinating and really gives the viewer an idea of settings and circumstances. Admittedly, the nature of these constant talking-head segments does seem quite well-rehearsed in advance, but I generally didn't have much issue with it. Sometimes, however, it got a little over-the-top with unnecessary sound effects that were added for dramatic effect.
There is a very personal, tragic incident from Yarris' childhood that isn't brought up until close to the very end, I'm not sure how it aided his story really or why it was decided to add this bit in the final moments other than to maybe throw in a "twist" of sorts to reveal that Yarris himself was a rape victim, but oh well. Interesting documentary for the most part, which I thought was going to be another THE THIN BLUE LINE, Errol Morris' landmark 1988 documentary which actually helped lead to that film's subject being released from prison for a murder that he did not commit. And, well, I honestly wouldn't have minded THE FEAR OF 13 being similar to Morris' film, though I would have appreciated a bit more of the specifics on the abduction/rape/murder case for which Yarris was convicted. I have somewhat of a local connection since the mall parking lot where the victim was abducted was right near my hometown. Anyways, there have been better true crime docs but this one is worth a viewing for those who find this stuff fascinating, and told exclusively from the perspective of the subject. Yarris really knows to put a picture in your, the viewer's, head, and place yourself in every situation he describes in detail. The man is a natural-born storyteller...or maybe it was all that reading in prison that honed his skills.
The Propaganda Game (2015)
Rare access to North Korea only adds to its unsettling mystery
In this clever documentary, Spanish filmmaker Alvaro Longoria gets rare access as a foreigner to enter North Korea and document his travels there, the notoriously secretive and isolated (both self-imposed and by the rest of the world) communist regime. Longoria's goal in visiting North Korea is to try to see first-hand for himself, and by talking directly with North Koreans, if there is any truth to the propaganda about the nation coming from NK itself and also from outside (i.e., what little information that we do get about the country, mostly horrible accounts regarding human rights violations, famine, executions of anyone seen as dissenters, etc.). One of the most interesting and remarkable aspects of the doc is Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish man who is the sole foreigner working for the North Korean government, and basically acts as tour guide for Longoria and as a loyal spokesman of the North Korean regime. He appears to be showing a very carefully constructed, staged tour of North Korea, with everyone smiling and singing the praises of their fearless leader Kim Jong-un. There is something off-putting about Alejandro, and one of the many talking heads in the doc hints at Alejandro receiving generous financial compensation for his services. I would like to have known a bit more about how a man from Spain became so involved in becoming spokesman for the DPRK; all we seem to get is that from a young age Alejandro was interested in communist philosophies but was dissatisfied with Spanish communist parties and its leaders.
Most of the people that Longoria gets access to are part of the government; it seemed rare that he got to speak in-depth and candidly with any everyday, "average" North Koreans. But even then, one gets the sense that these people are both too utterly brainwashed, and simply in fear, under those seemingly forced smiles, to speak freely about the regime. One striking moment showing the regime's attempts at covering up their oppression is when Longoria visits what appears to be Christian church, during a mass and everything, but later it's claimed that this church is the only one of its kind in the country and is a "fake" - it's just for show, and Christianity is not allowed to be practiced.
This film made for an often fascinating watch, even though I did not gain much new knowledge overall. Understandable, partially due to those that Longoria speaks to not being willing to give candid answers to the most pressing questions about the regime. North Korea still remains very much a mystery, and all I can say is that I really feel for those people.