Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 5 Criterion Films Watched So Far

The time has come. Another raucous 365 days have barreled down the pipe. Tomorrow, across this recessed country of ours, folk will be flipping to the first page of their Hooters wall calenders. Oh yes, it 'tis the end of the year. Sure, New Year's Eve is always a little bit of fun. People come together, people get shitcanned, somebody usually pukes off a balcony, hopefully there's an awkward sexual rendezvous. But the best part of the end of the year?

The Year End List.

So, here it is, my Top 5 Criterion Films Watched So Far. This including all 53 that I've burned through over the course of the last three years, if I wrote about it, it's fair game, so don't try to get all semantic on me about timelines and release dates.


5. SALO (17)

Just for sheer WTF sake. I mean seriously, it's a film about the fascism of the Italian government told through a hallucinatory two hours of child torture, shit eating and perversion. I don't know if I'd ever watch it again, or if I'd even recommend it, but Jesus, it's certainly been seared in to my mind forever.

4. SID & NANCY (20)

Alex Cox, the director of Sid & Nancy (20) has more than a few films scattered through out The Collection and if this tale of Sid Vicious and his vile relationship with Nancy Spungen is indicative of how good they're going to be, I cannot wait. Gary Oldman plays disgusting punk with the best of them, and the last frame of a disillusioned Sid wandering through the near empty streets of London is a beautiful as they get.


Beautiful women, intrigue, a plot to kill and one of the weirdest eyeballs in the history of film? Yup, it's Diabolique (35). French crime films are always the best, bereft of flash and violence like American films, and instead built around near unbearable tension. If you're not kneading your hands in anticipation through the final forty-five minutes of this film, you have bigger cajones than I.


Sweet, sweet Cabiria. The world throws shit at you and all you do is smile. Fellini is so far my favorite director in this whole lot of brilliance, and Nights of Cabiria (49) has resonated with me the most. The very sweet tale of a prostitute who just won't give up on humanity is as beautifully shot as it is beautifully acted by this master director's wife. The final scene of the film, with Cabiria surrounded by singing youth and the camera slowly zooming in her face, should draw a tear to your eye. If not, I believe they describe you as "heartless".

1. HIGH & LOW (24)

You've never seen Kurosawa before? You don't like samurai movies and that's all you think he makes? You're wrong. Dead wrong, I almost want you to turn the computer off, go outside and slap yourself in the face a couple times. High and Low (24), the story of a botched kidnapping of a shoe magnate's son is a three-act piece of cinematic might. A story about Japan as a whole and all the sordid classes that inhabit it. Toshiro Mifune plays coiled anger like no other, and his Kingo Gondo literally radiates with emotion through out the film. Sure, Kurosawa's samurai films are some of the best ever created, but I'll take his Japan-noirs any day.

Alright, lads and ladies, it's ten in the morning on New Years. Thus, I need to start drinking.

Happy New Years. May 2009 treat you just as well as 2008.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Numero 50, and SANJURO (53)

I am almost incredulous that I've actually managed, through snow blizzards, staycations, general malady and slight fogginess to post 50 times in a row. Yup, this post, no matter it's quality, is big number 5-0. That's nearly two months straight of blogging consistently, a fairly incredible number when you're talking about a daily endeavor that rewards you with nothing but an occasional snarky comment from a less than happy reader. I'm pretty proud of myself, and proud of you folk for sticking along. Here's a list of numerically related items based on the last 50 days of Criterion Questing:

In the last 50 days, or so, I've,

- Watched 12 and 3/4 films from the Criterion Collection. This includes 3 films from the UK, 2 from Italy, 2 from Japan, 1 from the US of A, 1 from Iran, 1 from Brazil, and 1 wee little thriller from Norway. Strangely enough France, the Criterion's bestest friend in film, is no where to be found.

- Reached spine number 53, this means I have, as of now, 411 more films to watch. This will take me roughly 900 years.

- Accrued 12 loyal followers over the last 50 years, and though you're not always the most vocal of readers, I'm happy to have you. Well everyone except for Big Secord and Anne-toxicated, as they've both exposed some of my more exaggerated stories as such and for that my hatred burns deep.

- Spent almost 30 hours watching a selection of some of the great films from the last hundred or so years of cinema. Some of these hours were not entirely pleasant (Henry V (41)), some were challenging but rewarding (And The Ship Sails On (50)) and some where just pure enjoyment (thank you Nights of Cabiria (49)).

Again, thanks for all who've stuck with me so far. I, at least, am having a blast and in the end, that's all that really matters.

I haven't had a chance to read anything about Kurosawa's sequel to Yojimbo (52), Sanjuro (53), but as of watching almost all of it, I'm pretty sure I enjoy it more. This film once again follows Toshiro Mifune's scraggly but resourceful samurai Sanjuro as he batters his way through another series of obstacles in an attempt to help the disenfranchised. This time it's a group of truly namby-pamby samurai as their put upon by a rival gang of absolute bad-asses. I'm enjoying this film more because it's more tightly put together, sure there's still the sort of loose feeling to many of the scenes, but this film is set at a bit more of a blistering pace. There's less Sanjuro just hanging out or getting beaten up or wandering about amongst a complicated plot. Sanjuro arrives, Sanjuro senses problems, Sanjuro steps up and starts taking heads. This could have something to do with my short attention span, and my recently discovered narcolepsy, but I'm pretty sure I'm just infatuated with Kurosawa's samurai flicks.

Tomorrow: Top 5 Criterion Films I've watched so far this year, Sanjuro (53)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday lethargy, a new Criterion Quest, and YOJIMBO (52)

Lets get this straight: I am not a napper. Hell, I'm not even really a sleeper, but the concept of laying down in the middle of the day to recharge seems downright ridiculous. I'll pace in circles, drink coffee at late hours, stand naked in the cold, anything I can to avoid drifting off in the middle of the day. Yet, these last three weeks of my life, with friends visiting and family gathering and holidays erupting have sapped me down to my barest reserves. I am a zombie. A lurching, plodding zombie, and all of a sudden I find myself so wracked by sleepiness that not only do I have to lay down for a midday snooze, but I have to do it RIGHT THEN. I'm narcoleptic all of sudden, prone to collapse at the drop of a hat. I'm Mike Waters in My Own Private Idaho (277) (well sans all the gay sex with rich older men), but for you, my loyal readers, I'm struggling through. If you find me crumpled in an alley somewhere, maybe pull a piece of cardboard over me.

Briefly: I've exhausted all of the films in the Criterion Collection that I've already seen. This means two things: I've been writing this blog for a while now and I no longer have unseen movies to fall back on when I don't get a chance to peep a new flick. Thus, each day might not have me regaling you with opinions on new Criterion Films I've seen so much, but there will always be something here, movie related for your perusal. This I promise. Have I let you down before? No, did'na think so.

Finished Yojimbo (52) on Sunday in a sort of boozy, nodding-off haze and couldn't have been happier. Kurosawa fans always consider this two-part samurai series (the second being Sanjuro (53)) as the sort of lesser, tail-end work of his masterful run in the 1950s, but I beg to differ. Yes, the story of Yojimbo, the rogue samurai, and his pretty much carefully calculated destruction of two rival gangs doesn't have the epic scope of say Seven Samurai (2), but it still kicks ass. It's funny, it's bloody, it's full of Toshiro Mifune being as a bad ass as he can be. Kurosawa is always a selling point for me. His name is on it, I'm going to watch it and chances are enjoy it more than anything else I've seen all year. You should keep this in mind when you're perusing the video stores, trying to catch up with me on your own personal Criterion Quest. I couldn't be more excited to dig in to Sanjuro (53) this evening.

Tomorrow: At least part of Sanjuro (53)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday tips and YOJIMBO (52)

It's Christmas Eve and I'm sure many of you out there are in a state of reserved panic, the pressures of the holidays crushing in on your blackened souls. Here's the rub though, these "holidays" have the potential to be really exceptionally entertaining. I understand, some of us have terrible family situations, some of us are cringing through another year of economic depression, some of us are snowed in airports and of course some of us just hate the hell out of Christmas. But, as long as the whole damn United States of America is reveling in these tinsel-soaked days, here's a few Sanders' Family tips to help you enjoy it at least a little bit:

1. Don't take it so damn seriously. Sure, the Christian Right will try to make you believe that this is the day to sit in solemn rooms, candles lit, praying to our Lord Jesus, but seriously it's just another day. Working yourself in to a lather over gifts and wrapping and food and family is just going to ensure that your holidays suck the proverbial "turkey's ass". A friend of mine this year eschewed traditional gift purchasing and purchased these items for her family: brass knuckles (for her dad) and a painted portrait of a dearly departed down syndrome tiger named Kenny Rogers. Sure her family was confused, but they enjoyed the sentiment and in the end that's all that really matters.

2. Make a little bit of fuss about it. I know, you bah-humbugs out there are chomping at the bit for these holi-days to go the way of the dodo, but it's here, you're going to experience it somehow, so why not just embrace a bit of it. You don't have to set up Mom and Dad's flagellation device, maybe just have a sip of egg nog, or drink a beer with a couple of friends. Just don't spend it by yourself, bemoaning the fact that the inevitable holiday cheer has shat on your shoulders again. It just isn't going to do anything.

I always have such high hopes for these lists, but my ideas usually come in slightly truncated bursts. Thus, you get two tips, and a hi-five from my main man Kris Kringle. Don't let him near the children after he's been dipping in the brandy.

In one way or another you've probably seen Yojimbo (52). You've either seen this original wander-samurai, Akira Kurosawa masterpiece, or you've seen Sergio Leone's classic A Fistful of Dollars or you've seen the lesser known Walter Hill film Last Man Standing. This is a classic story of a samurai turning two blood-thirsty gangs against each other in a quest to rid the world of some evil and make a little cash at the same time. I've only just started it, but already I'm shocked and surprised that one of the great masters is so adept at making such a genrefied action flick. There is blood and lost limbs and a sort of up-close and personal camera style that had me smiling from the get go. I can't wait to finish this one up over the next few days so I can dig in to some of the things I love about the film.

Happy Holidays people, try not to stay too sober this week.

Be safe.

I'll see you on Monday.

Monday: Yojimbo (52)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Again, nothing.

Ah shit. I'm sorry folks, it's been a crazy last week or so, and yes, you'd think with the Snowy Apocalypse currently consuming Sea-town I'd have had a good deal of time to sit on my pasty ass and just blaze through Criterion films ... but, I haven't. I've been busy with work and dealing with the snow and just, well, enjoying the shit out of a Winter Wonderland in Big Seattle.

Thus, for the second day in two weeks I have nothing for you. I'm a terrible sack of shit that should be dragged through the icy detritus of an 18-wheeler.

I apologize ... sort of.

Wednesday: Yojimbo (52)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Communal bafflement, ARMAGEDDON (40)

I believe you would refer to Seattle as a "winter wonderland" these days. For whatever reason the great gods of weather decided to drop eight inches of icy delight on the Emerald City and can I just say, "What the fuck?" I've lived in Seattle for most of my life, through wind storms and sputtering little snow squalls, but this, this is a true, honest-to-God blizzard. My steps are a dangerously snowy slide; Big Secord can't stop talking about snowball fights, snowmen, and sledding (the little guy just can't get enough of all that snow); the faces of your average Seattle citizen is marked with one potent emotion:


Oh yeah, this city is absolutely one hundred percent confused. It is an impressive site to see this little 'burg, so used to driving rains and temperate forecasts struggle through a massive snowplosion. People are still trying to ride bikes, they're timidly huddling in small groups, there's a grumpy sort-of "screw you" look on everyone's faces - it's a beautiful thing. But let us remember good folk of Seattle, we might be completely screwed, we might be facing a cold, wintry apocalypse like none other that's come before, we might be harboring six or seven orphaned guests each this white winter, but we're all in it together. I know, I know, it's hard for us Northwesterners to abandon our passive-aggressive urban apathy, but it's a desolate icy wasteland on these streets of ours, and we need to look out for each other. Sure, I might peg you in the face with a hard-packed snow dagger, but I'm going to help you up afterwards and give you a napkin to staunch your bleeding face. It's the holiday season ladies and gents, lets try to show it.

Armageddon (40) is just the same schlocky, gigantic, plotless end-of-the-world movie you remember from high school. Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and a host of other pretty famous people are recruited to save the planet from a world-ending asteroid plummeting towards the Earth. A lot of preposterous things happen (including the awful Aerosmith cover "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" - a song I played on repeat when I was in seventh grade) and in the end this is just another big budget turd from the master of such Michael Bay. The essay for this film claims that Bay has created the modern action film, but I give that credit to my man Sam Peckinpah. Bay is just a flashy film-dork, who's got more money than Jesus and a hankering to keep on adding to the pile. You've seen this film, and if you really feel like checking it out again, I'll give you my copy.

Tuesday: I have no idea.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Two things and TOKYO DRIFTER (39)

Two things to start:

1. I may or may not be excessively intoxicated right now. I drank a half a bottle of champagne and at least two or three large cans/bottles of beer and decided that at 2 in the morning I'd make sure to get my Criterion Quest blog up and ready for the world. Please excuse gratuitous spelling errors and grammatical issues, well, more so than you normally do.

2. I want to thank all of you who called or emailed or just let me know that you were thinking about me during my interview for the Whitman In China program. Sure, it could've gone a ton better, but you guys made me feel like I really had a chance. If things go bad, or if things go well I owe each and all of you a beer or six.

That said, lets talk about a great movie.

Tokyo Drifter (39) is pretty much Branded To Kill (38) but with a better plot and technicolor. Seijun Suzuki is very obviously a strange strange man, but some of the fight scenes that dominate this film are as colorful and brilliant as anything you've ever seen. I'll say this, and remember I've been drinking, the Japanese are my favorite filmmakers. Oh sure, Fellini is a genius, and those Frenchies have a pretty strong handle on this whole film making thing as well, but at the end of the day I want to be plugged in to a Nippon film undoubtedly. If you're feeling adventurous, start with Suzuki, he's a weirdo, but a genius in the same breath.

Monday: Hopefully some new movies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

China? Maybe. BRANDED TO KILL (38).

I'm not entirely sure that 2009 will be the Year That Noah Goes To China. Yesterday, the first half at least was almost entirely a cluster-eff of missed connections, shoddy airlines, and one of the sketchier interviews I've ever given. A brief recap:

I arrived at the airport with nearly and a half to sit, read my short, concise book on modern China and visibly sweat in my 50 dollar tie and free sweater. At 9:35 the flight lady (remarkably friendly in these days of unfriendly flight ladies) announced that there was a bit of a problem with the plane and that at most we'd be leaving a half an hour later. No worries, I could call and perhaps get the whole thing pushed back if I really ran that late. At 9:37, not-so nice flight lady got back on the intercom and announced that due to "mechanical malfunctions" the flight to Walla Walla had been canceled. I now had a little under two hours to find a new flight to Walla Walla to make my Whitman In China interview by noon.

Well, turns out that there wasn't any other flights. Instead I found myself pacing about the Sea-Tac Airport, panicked, attempting to suss out some way that I could have this interview that didn't involve an overnight stay in the frigid tundra that is south-eastern Washington. Finally, after a bit of debate, the lovely Susan Brick informed me that the interview was on, but was now a phone interview. Sigh, phew, woo-hoo. I got my 279 dollars back, roomie JM scooped me up and I was headed home for what I hoped would be a life-changing interview.

Unfortunately this five-person conference call didn't go exactly as planned. Where I've spent the last five weeks studying up on China and it's place in the world, this panel of profs were more interested in how I would actually teach these fledgling English learners. To say the least I stammered through a couple of truly bullshit answers on my way to one of the poorest interviews of my life. There were a few laughs and when it came to policy and teaching students about America and Chinese-relationships I managed to prevail, but damn if China Quest might not exactly be on like Tron come next year.

In the end though, I did make 280 dollars back that I thought was lost to jet fuel on microwave cheeseburgers. So if don't make it, there will be a considerable amount of high-end drinking to indulge in. Wish me luck!

Seijun Suzuki, the director of Branded To Kill (38) and a handful of other amazing Criterion films is as bizarre a director to grace the collection so far. Branded to Kill (38) is a weirdly erotic story about a rice eating assassin and his quest to become number one ... and stay there. There's an amazing scene in this movie where the main character, a rice-sniffing assassin named #3, takes on a five man assassin squad single-handedly. Aside from that you've got weirdly animalistic sex, bizarre musical cues, and the cinematograpic equivalent of mushrooms. This movie rules. Are you easily offended? Do you not like weird things? Then please return your fourth screening of Four Christmases.

Thursday: Tokyo Drifter (39)



That's all I got today.

I'll regale you with my story of failed plane flights and lengthy days tomorrow.

For now here's a picture of monkey punching someone:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Face bleeding and TIME BANDITS (37)

I have, as you might know, an interview tomorrow in Walla Walla for a position to teach English in China. I was really barreling towards to gate here at the end, trying to read several books, thinking about reading articles, trying to remember names of places that I thought might be important, but as the hours ticked away last night I just sort of faded out. I didn't finish the second book, I merely checked to make sure I knew the names of the places that my college might actually send me, and instead of writing down my thoughts on China and its place in the world, I stared blankly at my computer screen. This is always kind of the way I roll, I aim very very very high in terms of what I think I can accomplish and inevitably, and quite contently fall very very short of that goal.

I have no idea what expect from this interview. I have no idea what questions I'll be asked, or who the four people interviewing me will be. I'm pretty much walking in to this situation blind, and as always when dealing events that could be considered "adult" I feel pretty unprepared. I tried to shave with a non-electric razor and for the last twenty minutes have been holding various pieces of toilet paper to my tattered face. Hopefully by tomorrow the bleeding will have stopped and I won't have to make up some kind of excuse as to why I look like Two-Face. I had to have my dad iron my shirt and pants for me yesterday (this also included washing the pants after I realized I'd spilled a lot of something on them) and all I can hope is that my natural charm will shine through. If not, maybe my wracked sobs will invoke their pity.

Wish me luck.

I love the idea that Time Bandits (37), Terry Gilliam's dorky tale of a small boy, a bunch of dwarves and time machine, makes it in to the collection, but I can't say I've ever enjoyed this movie that much. It's a cult film, a weird little piece of filmmaking that somehow garnered a small, obviously dorky following and over the years that following has grown until it's reached a size you might be able to refer to as an "audience". I've, for whatever reason, seen this film like five times and every time I just can't shake how smugly weird it is. I like parts of it - the Robin Hood scene, the strange almost Brazil (51) like gameshow that bookends the film - but it just isn't up my alley. I like my Gilliam weird, but not so geeky.

Wednesday: Branded To Kill (38)

Blankness and WAGES OF FEAR (36)

I've been so focused on China and this China interview over the course of the last four days (well that and a very pleasant visit from the ex-girlfriend and her generous and lovely mother) that I've really had very little time to think about very much besides the China populaces search for identity in a rapidly changing time. This is probably the first time I've studied for anything since college (and let me tell you, there was little to be had of that even then) and you know, it's kind of exhilarating. All of I sudden I'm just knee deep in all of this knowledge and thought revolving around a country as of last Monday I knew absolutely nothing about. I can actually feel my brain swelling with the sweet sweet elixir of learning.

What I'm really trying to do is apologize for my terrible lack of anything interesting to say over the last week. I mean I wasn't exactly Albert Einstein to begin with, but now I'm feeling like Sloth from The Goonies just sort of banging on the keyboard and bellowing catch phrases at the top of my lungs. It'll get better. I promise.

So Wages of Fear (36) (also directed Henri-Georges Clouzot) is a great movie that would've been even greater sixty years ago when it was first released. If it was released today it would be considered a modern action movie, the story of a group of desolate mine workers that are asked to move truckloads of highly unstable nitroglycerin across a rocky mountain range. The idea sounds great and the movie is somewhat tense and full of amazing turns by some of the great French actors, but the problem is ... it feels dated. I grew up with action flicks like Die Hard and T2 and The Rock and Independence Day, big ass movies that just kicked you in the groin and left you writhing on the ground asking for another. Call me a modern day shmuck, but I've grown accustomed to the big, flashy action pictures and when asked to go back and watch a film that's supposed to "big" on a similar scale it's hard. I'll always take Diabolique (35) over Wages of Fear (36) because the former relies solely on mood, it doesn't need big, at times boring set pieces, all it needs is a fabulous cast and Henri-Georges Clouzot's brilliant ability to set a mood. Wages of Fear (36) is a great movie, just not as great as it would've been when it first was released.

Tomorrow: Time Bandits (37)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Better than others and DIABOLIQUE (35).

You know how people say, "So little time, so much to do"? Well I've been saying that lately as well, because I've got a lot to do and I continue to waste said "time" with activities I could completely, with out harm, not do. I believe filling the space where you don't have to be working with working is why I currently work at a coffee shop and many of my friends are now doctors.

Take last night, I should've been powering through my excellent book on modern China, but instead was sitting through not one, but two movies, neither having anything to do with Criterion. What were they you ask? Ooooooh, I smell mini-review:

Transsiberian - I was really excited about this film. My favorite reviewer online, Drew McWeeny from Ain't It Cool, had said he'd really enjoyed it and Brad Anderson was a flawed if not visually gifted director. I came away from this film pretty iffy though. What should've been a straight morality tale (the kind where a person makes a terrible mistake and then just watches as everything crumbles around her/him) ended up being sort of drug-related thriller with Woody Harrelson hitting people with wrenches and Ben Kingsley playing his best Russian. It's a beautiful, cold movie set in the forests of Inland Russia, it just never came together as well as I would've like.

Harold and Kumar Go To Guantanomo Bay - Yup, I certainly transitioned last night from Transsiberian to the second Harold and Kumar flick. I saw the first one, red-eyed, in a theater with only my friend Big Haynes and an old lady. These aren't serious flicks, they're big stupid comedies, and if you don't like big stupid comedies avoid. The second one was overly long, lacking in the weed humor, and filled with too much lovey-dovey shit. Also, how does John Cho continue to get work? I mean when Kal Penn makes you his bitch in the comedy department, it's time to start looking for a new job. No Pants Party = hilarious. Do not watch this film unless highly intoxicated. I learned this lesson last night.

From terrible to amazing in just one paragraph. Diabolique (35) is one of the great thriller-mysteries of all time. A lot of folk will push you towards Wages of Fear (36) when they talk about Henri-Georges Clouzot but I'm a bigger fan of this twisted tale of crime gone horribly wrong. The plot revolves around two women and an evil headmaster and the women's plot to drown the headmaster and then dump his body in to the school swimming pool. Sounds simple right? But what happens when they drain the pool and there's no body? A lot of brilliance, that's what. Also, the corpse, which plays a major part in the film has the most disturbingly hilarious eyes of all time. Please see this movie, you'll be very happy you did.

Monday: The Wages of Fear (36)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My cheap ass college, and ANDREI RUBLEV (34).

As I've said, many times, I'm going to be in Walla Walla next week for exactly four hours to interview for a position that could very well take me across the sea to China for an entire year (don't start crying yet you emotional whelps, I'm not even through the interview process). This is fine, I've been meaning to get back to my alma mater for a bit now, and this seems to be a perfect opportunity for a short, surgical strike. A short surgical strike that will put me back exactly 279 dollars. That's approximately 70 dollars an hour to hang out in a town once known for its penitentiary. Which again, I don't really care that much about - money is money and it only exists to be spent.

What bothers me is that my college cost my family (and to a degree, me) nearly 120,000 dollars over four years. It was a great education and no matter the cost, I wouldn't take it back. My problem exists with the fact that when I inquired with the college (the college who is forcing me to head back to Whitman for an interview because I live within a travelable distance) if they had some sort of travel stipend to help balance out the cost of my travels.

No, no they do not. Slightly annoyed at this point. I then asked if possibly good old Whitman College, who recently built a new science building/arts building/hi-tech fitness center could possibly send someone out to pick me up from the airport as I didn't have any one to pick me up.

No, they were too busy. And not only were they too busy, but the "taxi cab from the airport only costs 10 dollars." A quick summary: a paid Whitman 120,000 dollars for my education, they're asking me to fly back to Whitman for one day for a forty minute interview that will cost my 279 dollars and they will not help pay for it nor the cost of my taxi. Each and every week I receive a letter from my class representatives begging me to donate. Well guys, maybe not this lifetime.

The Russians and especially Andrei Tarkovsky are some weird-ass filmmakers. You want baffling symbolism? Check. What about hardcore scenes of violence and faith? Oh yeah. What about extra-super-long films that eerily transfix on horses and religious painters? Andrei Rublev (34) I think that's the one for you. Tarkovsky is an amazing director, a real painter of the screen, but lord if I ever understand what he's saying. Andrei Rublev is the story of Russia's most famous icon painter (those who paint Jesus and his Apostles) and the long journey of his often times oppressed life. Yeah, not exactly a page turner, but nonetheless this is a great piece of cinema and if you can relegate yourself to the fact that you'll probably not understand what exactly is going on, I highly recommend it (in several small doses). Also, for some reason, Tarkovsky has an obsession with the beauty of horses and this sort of haunts the film, including a terribly graphic moment late in the film where I'm pretty sure they shoot a horse with an arrow and then push it off a flight of broken stairs. Yikes! Russians are wacky!

Friday: Diabolique (35)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Busy busy busy and NANOOK OF THE NORTH (33)

I'm heading to Walla Walla, home of my alma mater next Tuesday for a second, and final round interview for a chance at teaching in China next August. In preparation I'm trying to cram as much information about modern China in to my thick man-brain as quickly as possible. This has pretty much left me completely and totally f'n busy. Because of this, I'm not watching many movie, but I at least have a back stock of nine or ten more to keep me going until I can get back on the wagon.

To prove that I'm busy and prevent you contentious bastards from judging me, here's a brief look at just what I have to do before my fateful meeting on Tuesday:

1. Read two books on China. This is great, though impeded slightly by the aforementioned curse of destruction winding it's way through the house right now.

2. Buy new, dressier clothes. As much as my 8th grade t-shirts and holey jeans have been known to impress potential employers, I think it might be time to invest in a tie of my own.

3. Compose giant "LIST PROJECT" for the record label I work for. This is basically me taking lists, formatting lists, adding pictures to lists for five to seven hours a day. I like to refer to it as "soul-killing".

4. Write family X-Mas letter. As much as I enjoy doing this, it always seem to end up being due the one week of the year when I actually have something to do. Thus, it's due this week.

5. Watch two hour documentary on China as recommended by my friend Jordan who is currently in China. Just cram this brain full of CHINA!

6. Continue writing three blogs a day on various subjects for various sites. This is for you my friends, my loyal loyal friends.

Busy see? Busy as a polygamist.

Oh Nanook of the North (33) you're I believe what those at Criterion refer to as a "historical" entry in to the catalog. The story of Nanook, a Native Alaskan living in the wild, supporting his family through sheer ability to hunt, is considered to be one of the first real documentaries (though later on in life the director, Robert Flaherty, admitted that much of it was staged). And for that, maybe you who are interested in a 1920's documentary shot in the Great White North, might give it a chance. Otherwise, you less dedicated Criterion Questers could probably move past this scant little picture. I mean, yes, you do get to see fat Native Alaskan children chortling over food and there is a pretty brilliant scene where old Nanook builds an entire igloo (a task that is much harder than you'd imagine) and if you're really dedicated you can watch the fifty minute interview with Flaherty's, somehow still living wife that pretty much cements him as a story teller not a documentarian. But, I'm just telling you, you're not missing that much if you chose against viewing this one.

Thursday: The horrors of Andrei Rublev (34)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Things are falling apart, OLIVER TWIST (32) and a very bad version of BRAZIL (51).

I think somebody has placed a curse on me. Things are breaking in a ridiculous fashion around the old Sanders' household, and yes, you could blame it on the fact that are house is what they might call a "dump", but me thinks a more mystic hand is at work. Three things that have exploded/not worked in the last well, three days:

1. A weird noise was being emitted by the house. I was baffled, my roommate Big Secord was baffled, and a pungent odor was seeping from, well, somewhere. Turned out the laundry machine had stopped spinning it's cleaning spins and instead was just locked in solitary mode while the engine spun its little gears to their death. Noxious smoke poured from its innards, making all of my "clean" clothes smell like burning rubber. I fixed this problem by turning the laundry machine off, waiting two or three minutes and then turning it back on. I am, Mr. Fix-It.

2. I'm interviewing for a position in China on Tuesday. To prepare myself I've been "beefing" up on my China reading. I researched and then found a book that I wanted to purchase and then went to a bookstore and purchased it. I came home to start reading said book, only to find that the book started on page 19. Again, thinking I was cursed, I looked up meanings for the number "19" on the internet but all I found was a bunch of half-cocked theories by dirty hippies. Nonetheless, I will have to return this book.

3. This morning I woke to my roommate, Big Secord, yelling and pounding on things as the shower spewed forth. Seemingly Big Secord had somehow broken the shower and it would not turn off. We hit things with hammers and used screwdrivers to do things, even going as far as to manhandle the water-main in to silent submission. Now we have a shower that is off, but may never turn on again.

Please, whatever which doctor has cursed me, remove it. I apologize for my insensitive actions and I worry for the safety of my computer.

Oliver Twist (32), another huge period piece by David Lean, and another movie that I enjoyed to the limits of my period-piece enjoyment. The actor who plays Oliver Twist very well could just be a dirty orphan taken off the street and Alec Guiness (old Obi-Wan himself) plays a mean, almost loveable Fagin. There's also a hilarious running sequence where poor old Oliver is trying to escape ... something I can't remember, but it's shot in first person POV and I believe at one point involves a cat as an obstacle.

Brazil (51) is a movie I've seen many many times, so I decided this go-around to grab an edition (of which there are a few) that I hadn't seen before. I grabbed the notoriously awful "Love Conquers All" Edition, a version of the film cut by British television to make it more palpable for the average audience member. The film, about a future society so mired in bureacracy that a simple bug in a typewriter can throw it in to chaos, is well, fucking terrible. The heart and soul of the film, Gilliam's awesomely bizarre world and the things it says about where are society is going are completely de-balled and you're left with a badly cut love story set amongst some very strange set pieces. This film, in its true state is filled with amazing performances by Robert Deniro, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm, and many more plus one of the great scores of all time and some of the most amazing filmic imagination you've probably ever seen. Thus, I love this film in it's original format, so please spend some time with it, just not this terrible, terrible version.

Wednesday: Yojimbo (52) and Nanook of the North (33)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finally, a day off; finally I finish AND A SHIP SAILS ON (50), and GREAT EXPECTATIONS (31)

There's been a weird shift in my life over the last ten months or so. Where before, I was really one of the most happily lazy people I think many people knew, over the last sort of short amount of time, I've ended up (for financial and responsibility reasons) working pretty much, seven days a week. Sure, there's been a handful of days off for vacation, a few "rest" days, but in general, for the last eight months I've spent at least five hours of my day working to some capacity. It wasn't bad mind you, it just seems to go against the very beloved streak of laziness that cuts through me. Recently in a late night worn down moment I decided that even though it would make a sizable ding on my financial status (alright 50 bucks before taxes, but when you're poor that's a lot more than you realize) I needed to drop a shift at my coffee shop job.

Thus, from this point forward, I will have Sundays off. Glory be it. Thank the lord. Hail Jebus. And for this first Sunday off, I had big plans, all the reading I would do, all the movies I would watch, all the shit that was sitting around that I would just finally finish. What lofty plans they were. Sure, I ventured out in to the world, got some brunch, spent some money I didn't have, thought about doing a lot of very productive things ... but in the end, I just sort settled myself in front of various screens and attempted to sleep. Honestly, I think I'm going to have to get used to this whole day off business, as I felt a little guilty for not getting more done. Seriously, have I become an adult or something? Guilt for lack of productivity? I used to revel in irresponsibility, now I have grey hairs and a guilt complex.

Finally, FINALLY, I finished And The Ship Sails On (50) and I've said a ton about it, but just to sort of tie it all up, I'll give my final thoughts. Not my favorite Fellini movie (that's Nights of Cabiria (49)), but certainly well worth a watch. It's a long, deep, surreal film and I can't profess that I understood the whole thing, but Fellini is great at building a bigger idea out of small, almost vignette style scenes. I loved this films musical qualities and the way Fellini seemed to be hinting that music is the common denominator no matter who we are and how much money we have. There's a great dancing scene involving Serbian refugees and a bunch of hoity-toity rich people that had me smiling right along with them. Finally, any movie that ends with a fake rhinoceros sitting in a life boat has to at least have some merit.

I've been arguing with a friend all weekend about my dislike for 19th century period pieces. I can't stand books like Pride and Prejudice or An Ideal Husband, nor the slew of movies made of them. I was worried about David Lean's Great Expectations (31) as I thought it would bear the similarly dull aspects of so many of these beloved snoozers. Though it wasn't my favorite film so far, the combination of Lean's, well, genius and Dicken's sort of snarky, at times satirical story lines really got me. Lean uses these awesome, sort of darkly gothic sets in this film (especially the dusty drawing room of Miss Havisham) that really play up Dicken's obsession with the grime and grit of industrial England. If you aren't keen on period pieces (and I'm right there with you) this might be a little difficult to stomach, but it certainly has merit.

Tuesday: Oliver Twist (32) and a terrible version of Brazil (51)

Friday, December 5, 2008

My failing mission and M (30).

Ah jesus, I'm really falling off on this mission right now. Over the course of the last week I've watched exactly 3/4 of one Criterion movie. Sure, it's a long Criterion movie and it's Fellini movie so I have to, on occasion, rewind the film because I've either completely misunderstood what was said or fallen asleep (don't judge, you try watching a two and half hour Italian movie after a grueling day of work). On top of that, I, as I always do with the hundreds of blogs I've started and then left to the wayside, am having a bit of a crisis of creativity.

I'd say about two-three weeks in to every blog I've ever started, my mind begins to tumble in a dangerous direction. First off I think, "Hmmmm ... this blog is pretty much just about my life. Well my life and movies, but in the long run just my life with some movie stuff on the side." This terrifies me as my life is, well, not that interesting. Then I start thinking, "My life is boring, but I'm writing about my boring life, and if my life is so boring will I eventually just be writing a boring blog that will inevitably put my high-octane readers to sleep?" This then sets me on a path where I think one of two things, "Maybe I can start doing more exciting things and these exciting things will keep my readers on the edges of their proverbial seats" and "I should stop writing this blog, my life is a downward spiral and I don't want to bring anyone else with me." None of this is exactly conducive to a stable blog-writing ability.

But I've got high hopes for Criterion Quest. I love watching movies, loooooooove writing about myself, and well, love you guys my loyal readers. I'm on post number 34, here's hoping we make it to 100.

M (30) is a classic that I will get skewered over my lack of interest in. It's one of the more famous films of all time, a German-silent film from the early-30s starring Casablanca's Peter Lorre as a creepy whistling serial killer. In terms of what it's done for the tropes of murder thrillers, it's a surefire classic ... but, it's silent. If anyone knows me, which I think many of you do, I'm not good with silence. I mean, I love the cold quiet of a morning dawn, but I'm also an obnoxious chatterbox who finds awkward silence in the quickest of moments. Thus, when a movie has no talking and only whistle-laced score, I'm struggling, struuuuugggling to keep my eyelids open. I know, better movie-watchers than I will scoff at my scant memory of this absolute classic, but I need words, sweet sweet words.

As always, thanks for reading.

Monday: Finally, And The Ship Sails On (50) and Great Expectations (31)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm not missing new films, AND THE SHIP SAILS ON (50) and PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (29)29

Every once in a while in these Criterion-soaked days, I start to feel a little twitchy about not dedicating as much time to more modern day films as I have in the past. I'm still, as much as the consistently thinning pocket book allows, trying to get out and see films in the theatre, but my Netflix queue (much to the chagrin of my bumbling roommate) is pretty much stocked with Criterion flicks. This sort of freaks me out, I don't want to become one of those wispy-bearded cineophiles who hides in his amongst his poster rolls and 16mm film reels, writing angry screes about the state of modern film. Seriously, that isn't what I'm aiming for here.

Thus, I think I need to start picking my late-night films a little better. Over the course of the last two weeks I've, of my own volition mind you, watched these films: Cashback, Next, and The Transporter 2. Let me, in quick succesion, give my opinions on these films:

1. Cashback - the wankiest British flick I've ever seen. It was pretty, there was a ton of very attractive woman-nudity, and the main guy was fairly decent if not stiflingly pretentious. Sadly, the film had no pace, no ambition, and was absolutely scatter-shot in its approach. Maybe the British just have a different way of movie-watching.

2. Next - I watched this film because I have sick fascination with Nic Cage and the reasons why people continue to cast him, and his horribly receding hairline in anything. This was one of the worst films I've ever seen. Pointless, unexplained, far too much sweaty Nic Cage - I tried watching this film like six times and still never made it through to the end. On the plus side, Jessica Biel looks great ... no matter what.

3. The Transporter 2 - I can't believe this film was actually made as a sequel and that based on it, they allowed a third film. This is a brainless, hideous action piece that has one good action sequence and some of the worst computer graphics, well, ever. I mean it's sad to me that I sat through this entire junker last night, but was only able to sit through an hour and half of And The Ship Sails On (50), but hell, flashing lights, scantily clad women, and explosions seemingly still have a draw for me. Whomever has been championing these films in the dork community needs to be dragged out in to the street and tarred and feathered. I'm not joking.

Seriously, these three films have pretty much eliminated any desire for me to be watching modern films right now. I know, don't you worry, that there are better films out there, but I'd rather be investing some time in some of the classics than spend even a second on another junker like this.

Again, after watching The Transporter 2 last night, watching And The Ship Sails On (50) was like sleeping with Kate Beckinsale after seeing Hillary Clinton naked. This film, though not my favorite Fellini film is beautiful and says so much about the secret lives we live when the camera is on. The story of a group of famous singers, musicians, and actors coming together on a boat set sail for a small island to celebrate the death of the most famous singer of all is laced with this bittersweet sadness that will dwell in your heart long after you finish watching it. I'm always impressed at Fellini's ability to juggle massive casts and tonal shifts, and this movie does so with aplomb. There was a scene in a boiler room where a bunch of operatic singers are sort of trying to out do each other that left dripping bleeding holes in my ear drums, but that might just be my aversion to opera. I'm finishing this tonight, no doubt, and I'll give you my final thoughts tomorrow.

When I was just a wee film dork back in the late-90s struggling to associate myself with "cool" old movies I was always dauntingly impressed by Picnic At Hanging Rock (29). First, it is directed by Peter Weir (The Truman Show) and secondly, I'd heard that it was comparable to an old favorite of mine The Blair Witch Project. As a fledgling film dork, I was more than excited to check out this film. And ... back in the day I was unimpressed. It's a strange film, less a narrative story, than a dreamy, spooky mood that hangs over an Australian school house. The plot revolves around three Victorian-age girls that go missing on a chunk of rock on a hot day in the Aussie Outback. Everything I've read about it addresses the sexual longing inherent in the film, but I thinking back now, all I can remember is the sort of dry spookiness that hung over everything. Oh, well I also remember a screaming chubby girl running down a mountain, but that's just because I'm weird.

Friday: And The Ship Sails On (50) and M (30)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Uncomfortably open and BLOOD FOR DRACULA (28)

This is going to be a short one.

I just slept for a ridiculous nine hours and my eyes are bleary and I have exactly thirteen minutes to put this together, format it, and then post it for all the world to see. I hate sleeping this much, I wasted an entire morning and now feel like spent all of last night taking gravity bong hits.

After yesterday's "rant" about comments made by my ex-girlfriend I was told by a friend that reading it made her "nervous". Inquiring as to why, she stated that it was just "so emotionally open" that it made her feel nervous. And to that I say, "Awesome." I've always assumed that people read blogs, and this blog in particular, in a sort of passing way - between meetings, late at night, when you remember - so, it's actually a pretty nice feeling to know that there is actually an emotional response being had, even if it's a "nervous" one.

Shit, five minutes.

Paul Morrisey directed Flesh for Frankenstein (27) the sort of horror-soft-core take on Mary Shelley's classic and he brings his sort of bizarre sense of sexuality and lust for gore to the story of Dracula in, you guessed it, Blood for Dracula (28). This is a time when I'm confused by Criterion to some degree as they release these sort of schlocky cult-hits that I think can really only be enjoyed on a mostly superficial level, but then surround them with essays that claim to dig deep in to the art form. This movie is pretty entertaining, there are a lot of naked ladies, and a sort of humorous amount of blood spilt in the film, and Udo Keir is one of the oddest looking men I've ever seen (a sort of midgety Eastern-European Fabio). That said, just like Flesh For Frankenstein (27), this aren't films I think have that much to offer. I wish I had more time right now to get in to some of my thoughts on cult films in general, but alas, I do not, so my intelligent ramblings will have to wait for another day.

Final thoughts on Blood for Dracula (28)? You like boobs and blood set in a corny context? You'll most likely enjoy this then.

Tomorrow: And The Ship Sails On (50) and Picnic At Hanging Rock (29)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Things not to say post-breakup, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (27), and AND THE SHIP SAILS ON (50)

Before I begin my scree about the wrong things to say in the lieu of a lengthy break-up, I'd like to say that the recipient of this pseudo-tirade (that being my ex-girlfriend) was asked first if she felt uncomfortable with me dishing about our lengthy relationship. In her own words, "No, not at all, that's just funny." So please, you with your sensitive little snouts up-turned can step off ... or something.

Recently, I found out that my ex-girlfriend of many years was dating someone else. Yes, this was not the most pleasant realization, and yes, for the last few weeks I've been mulling over the various ways to find said suitor and, well, assassinate him. But amongst all of this roiling sadness, confusion and faux-murderous rage I was struck by how odd a few phrases were:

1. "I just know you'd really like him." (Spoken by the ex-girlfriend)

2. "He reminds me so much of you." (Spoke by the ex-girlfriend's best friend)

Now this is not the first time a former lady love has uttered pap along these lines, but this is the first time I've had a semi-read blog to bitch about it. Seriously ladies, I promise you that every former man-love of yours when introduced for the very first time to the idea that you are currently shtupping a new man-love will not be happy. This doesn't seem outrageous to me, the realization of another brojandro (undoubtedly and inferior brojandro at that) filling your lovin' shoes is a big deal, especially when you imply that I (the former man-love) would "like" the new man-love. As I'm almost certain that my only thoughts towards this new fellow involve the words "pimp" and "slap". To follow up the statement with the ex's best friend implying that this Larry Loser is not only breaking off the former lady something good, but doing so in a way that "reminds" them "so much of you" is the proverbial prison shank in the aorta. I don't want to like this new fella, and I certainly don't want to think he's anything like me. Oh, and I know, you pretty ladies of the world need to rationalize your forward progress with whatever you can get, but next time your in the position of drop kicking the heart of a former flame down the garbage chute of life, try to avoid doing so with the reminder that a) we are no longer with you and b) the person who is has similar traits. We, scorned lovers of the world, prefer to think that you're dating a 8 foot tall cretin with hair on his palms and beastiality in his past. It's just easier that way.

Ex-girlfriend, this slight, well, slight aside, you know I love you. Don't be begrudge me my rant.

Flesh for Frankenstein (27) ended a streak of early Criterion films that I loved unabashedly. Not to say that I did not enjoy this sort of 1980s uber-gay retelling of the Frankenstein myth, I just found it more of a bemused chuckle than a full out laugh. Udo Keir (the trashiest of Euro-trash) plays a science-crazed Dr. Frankenstein that bumbles both his Monster experiment and his tenuous marriage with, well, his sister. What follows is an oft times gory, oft times nudity-filled, some times funny spin on the myth o' Frankenstein that ends in bloodshed and massacre. I don't have much to say about this film, in comparison to The Long Good Friday (26) and the nine or so films that came before, this came off as a jaunty triffle and nothing more. I recommend you do not watch it with your parents, I believe they call that awkward.

I cranked up the first thirty minutes of Fellini's And The Ship Sails On yesterday afternoon and with it hit my fiftieth Criterion film. This has reminded me of two things: I (and you loyal readers!) have a long, long journey ahead of us and I need to start powering through these films at a faster pace if I'm going to complete said journey before the icy fingers of death grip my heart. With only thirty minutes watched all I can say is that Fellini knows how to grab a viewer 0 30s looking film stock, operatic song burst, slow-mo serving scenes, and the air of a pseudo documentary - it's all here, and I couldn't be happier that the 50th film is this one.

Fifty down, just over four hundred to go.

Wednesday: Blood for Dracula (28) and And The Ship Sails On (50)