Quick-Thoughts: Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates (1969)

“Yesterday was better than today. I am weary of tomorrows.” 

Effortlessly one of the finest framed, colored, and maybe composited movies of all-time. The lack of clear narrative, and almost pure visual ambiguity had suddenly lifted from me a burden, radicalizing a hypnotic sensation that I’ve rarely experienced with film. In other words, my usual ambition for overly harsh thinking and a careful following of ideas with artistic pieces had seemed to dwindle for 80 gracious minutes, and as pretentious as it sounds (and maybe it is) this movie unlike many made me feel a sort of euphoria and furthermore a bit of distractive spiritual freedom even while existing in an 18th century Armenian culture’s apparent reality of laborious captivity in obligations of fading away and the irradiance despair that‘s secured to it, as well as in the content of Sayat Nova’s contemplative poetic quotes and multi-readable imagery come to life. 

Yet, again, despite the troubles and thoughtful wisdom that seemed to be occurring on screen, its often unbothered and minimalistic tone clashing with these events made me feel as if I was rather getting something ambivalent off of my chest from frame to frame with its almost celebratory imagery and musical respects to symbolize these intense, nostalgic subject matters, which could very well be a therapeutic intent of Sergei Parajanov’s with the making of such a personal project that lingers on memory and death, the unavoidable that we’re forced to deal with from generation to generation. And yeah, this really is the original Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) too. And yeah, the original Roy Andersson.

The complete sound layout in this as well is just *chef’s kiss* perfection. 

Verdict: A-

“The Color of Pomegranates” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Margarethe von Trotta’s Marianne and Juliane (1981)

Being the older sibling: I get it. If you commit virtually anything and if something were to then happen to your younger sibling(s), you’d immaturely correlate as much as possible to take the blame, as if all your actions have a reflection on what they do in the future. This… this is a pretty harrowing movie, which is strange because during most of its runtime I wasn’t particularly moved, but as it got towards the end, this sick feeling of deja vu began to repress me once Juliane’s obsession truly began kicking in. As cheesy as it sounds, the people you grow up with are like a part of you, but sometimes to a self-destructive point where even things as immoral as terrorism can become almost a blindside to you as long as it involves family; when someone you love takes a prevailing path no matter how repulsive and disagreeable, it’s almost naturally obligated to transpire as your path too.

Verdict: B-

“Marianne and Juliane” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

Quick-Thoughts: Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Depressing and therapeutic cinema. What a combo… 

Watching this movie at 1:00am right after finishing up a 7 hour drive is a whole other f**king feeling, fellas. Chantal Akerman’s cult classic is such a ruthless and trailblazing affair for the art because what it’s essentially doing <for both halves> is conditioning you into the mundane repetition of a widow and mother’s lifestyle so that even the most slight of offset, like a new conversation for which breaks the majority runtiming of routine events, suddenly becomes fascinating and meaningful to you despite what their irrelevancy would mean in a more sensationalized or common cinematic narrative, and <for the second half> additionally reminds you of how sensitive our peace in these rituals can be due to the unwanted yet inevitable disruptions that always come naturally attached, like any accidental pause to them from human imperfections within our order for uninterrupted control. And… that’s pretty special, considering few movies are able to lock its viewer like this one does into the forced position of a character’s world and their means to look forward while in confinement — obliging only to even the most dismally selfless chores seen often in the two main patriarchal expectations of a woman — or to look backwards as their numbness retracts from either minor failures or changes in their routine, further blundering up the day or days to come. 

There’s a curiosity factor to this too though, one where as we see these minute changes happen, we’re forced to wonder what’s going on inside Jeanne’s mind after experiencing and being inspired by them, and moreover what she could possibly be thinking of to counteract this slight slight loss of diligence and exploration for alteration during her third day of the three that are shown. We’re only left to assume from their gestures when it comes to people who are latently and socially taught to always act like a stranger, which may be the most relatable factor I got out of this challenging film. It reminded me a bit of my grandmother to be honest with you, and… it makes perfect sense given the time period she lived in. When this is possibly it for the rest of your life, who can really blame someone for breaking every once in a while, if not, breaking completely? Who in their right mind (ironically) wouldn’t go nuts from time to time? How can we possibly continue to live perfectly in the never-ending circle if we’re able to see glimpses outside of it every so often?

Verdict: B+

“Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Lamb

The Lannb (sorry, I’m sure that jokes already been made a hundred times) 

This could easily just be another straightforward and narcotically simple message on “human vs nature” in their exchanges of pilfering from one another and the mutual consequences of such an unstoppable maxim, but then again, it could just as easily be a metaphor for being a struggling cat lady who excessively nurtures their pets, or maybe living the adversarial life of a kidnapped adoptee, or experiencing the short-term curatives of replacing what was taken from you under circumstances of hypocrisy and its proceeding long-term “interest rates” that are tragically attached to them, or who the f**k else knows; all I know is that I was mostly digging it throughout. It’s difficult not to appreciate how Lamb takes up almost half its runtime just to set up a really lived-in atmosphere that casually then allows viewers to accept its later surreal elements as simply other pieces to its authentic environment. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie this shamelessly ambiguous and comfortable in its own absurdity; that has to count for something. 

My friend actually mentioned to me though a great connection he had found after we finished watching the film, saying how it strangely reminded him of David Lynch’s Eraserhead a bit. Their similarities never crossed my mind until he said it, but thinking on it now, yeah, I can see it.

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“Lamb” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Mass

This covers about everything you’d expect from a straightforward drama regarding a rather touchy subject matter and its four shattered and knowledge-obscured personalities, which may be why its intellectual potential for broader discovery on such a real-life affair seems a tad lost because of its dilation on tidy character arcs, but the breathtaking performances here are what truly justify this one-room gimmick project. The moment I heard too that the stoner from Cabin in the Woods (2012) was directing and writing a serious arthouse indie, I f**king lost my shit and was immediately sold, and you know what? I can’t say I’m disappointed by his radical switch in career. I genuinely don’t want to get into Mass anymore though for the sake of keeping you clueless because that is absolutely how you should go into this movie, so please please please don’t read any loglines on it or watch the trailer(s) for it; just be prepared to get a little emotional throughout and I firmly assume even more so if you’re a parent. 

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“Mass” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Quantum of Solace, Skyfall & Spectre (2008-2015)

Quantum of Solace (2008)

2nd Viewing 

I didn’t have time to watch Casino Royale (2006) today in my Daniel Craig Bond marathon, plus it’s such a memorable action movie that I didn’t see a need to rewatch it anyways like the following three 007 movies that have sort of left my memory over the years. 

Oilfinger is an absolute technical failure of an action thriller. I don’t know whose decision it was to link so many random events to the rhythm of the main action; you’re not avant-garde, movie; David Harbour literally plays one of the CIA’s top members in this. It doesn’t help too that the movie has this misplaced urge for attempting really cringy humor in the midst of its supposedly “serious” spy thriller narrative too – now Mathieu Amalric doing battle cries while fighting: that’s funny. The script has a pretty horrid and prematurely quick sense of character relations and elevating dynamics too, which is about the last straw that this movie should’ve just not snatched to be at least somewhat passable. Shoutout to the pathetic “I can’t trust anyone” and “oh no, I work for an organization that does corrupt things from time to time” dramatic stakes on top of that; I’m not here for this, writers. 

Good for Olga though. Girlboss.

Verdict: D+

007 Ranked

“Quantum of Solace” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Skyfall (2012)

?? Viewing 

The parts where Bond excavates over VW Beetles on a moving train, uses a komodo dragon as a jump stool, that ICONIC ADELE OPENING, and when we get to the highlight of a halfway point where Javier Bardem’s character barges in with his horny-ass betrayal energy and absolutely iconic lines are part of the reason for what make this movie salvageable to me. Roger Deakins is also great at making movies look really pretty and all, but yeah… Skyfall’s plot is often questionable and most of its character revelations are way too been there done that as well for me to think of this film as some high bar entry — there is so much more exploration that could be done with the 007 and M dynamic to compliment the alluring villain at hand. It’s still quite fun to watch though thanks to Sam Mendes’s competent action-based and quippy direction that was desperately needed after the dud that is Quantum of Solace (2008). 

And in all fairness, this was the first 007 movie I ever saw, so my on-the-cuffs positive opinion on this movie is probably “based”. Or maybe not?

Verdict: B-

007 Ranked

“Skyfall” is now available to stream on Hulu.  

Spectre (2015)

2nd Viewing 

I don’t know? It has that same competent action-based and quippy direction as Skyfall (2012) which I mentioned before, but paired with that same kind of uninteresting, far-fetched, and bleak story and romantic interest or general character-based relational writing as Quantum of Solace (2008) — the “mastermind all along” cliché is warring for this genre, I tell ya! I couldn’t care less too about Spectre’s homages to Dr. No (1962) and more notably From Russia With Love (1963), considering it tries to balance them with the classic Craig formula in such an indecisive manner. 

At least I got to see Christoph Waltz talk about meteors for a minute; that was something? But then that joke of a climax and finale happens after it. The first half of this movie is like Skyfall really when compared to its atrocious second half, which I’d go as far as to say is inferior to even Quantum of Solace’s second half. I know, yikes. 

Verdict: D+ 

007 Ranked

“Spectre” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: The Many Saints of Newark

Why? Why does this exist? Why did they make a two-hour, overfilled prequel episode and call it a movie? I mean, I guess The Many Saints of Newark at the very least looks expensive, and Alessandro Nivola’s fresh take on Chrissy’s father saves this movie from pure boredom, but mostly every other character and performance comes off as a horridly distracting impression of their counterparts from The Sopranos (1999-2007). What’s even worse than that though is the god-awful, meandering, and uninteresting story writing too which becomes far too dry, insecure, and meatless to justify any of its somewhat admirable end goals. It also dares to cross itself into historical territory yet with such a weak voice for the crime and ethnicity-related subject matter of the time period like its some dvd-bin riff on Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. It’s a real turn off to me when movies act tonally thought-provoking but somehow leisure themselves into being as skeletal as this. 

Also, if you’re planning on watching The Sopranos for the first time, absolutely under NO circumstances watch this; it spoils the living crap out of every season, not to mention, it’ll probably be an even bigger drag to get through if you haven’t already preconceived investment for these characters’ lives from watching the series. Plus you’ll also have to deal with constant sequences of them just proving already established information from the show through fan-service-y examples and even worse, a lot of wasteful visual referencing to already told stories about the past which are also extracted from scenes of the show. Look! You know what this is! Now clap! 

Verdict: D+

2021 Ranked

“The Many Saints of Newark” is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Sara Gómez’s One Way or Another (1977)

In an alternate dimension, Sara Gómez would go on to make a catalog of groundbreaking cinematic feature-lengths than just one. Known for working PA for acclaimed auteurs such as Agnès Varda, her last piece One Way or Another attempts the quasi-documentary style prematurely in ‘77. While the film itself can occasionally drag, feeling like just some winged experimental test at conveying a few beliefs by tying a plain-sailing fiction on the egoisms in machismo with some more engaging nonfictions that help reinforce this contrived story, it’s still worth the watch nonetheless because of Gómez’s interesting philosophy on how wealth-ifying lower class areas does not automatically absolve them from their struggles, a myth to revolution which completely undermines the complexity of social function that’s already embedded in the people’s habits from their obsessive traditions usually having to do with gender roles.

Verdict: B-

“One Way or Another” is now available to stream on YouTube.

Reference Notes – Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

“‘We are really, truthfully happy.’ ‘But it doesn’t matter.’”

  • Hey, but who wouldn’t take advantage of their glucose guardian? I mean, we’re only human, your Honor; can you really blame them for wanting to taste the devious licks of mukbang supremacy???
  • Chytilová said this on behalf of what she and her crew were attempting to do with the making of this movie: “We would like to unveil the futility of life in the erroneous circle of pseudo-relations and pseudo-values, which necessarily leads to the emptiness of vital forms, in the pose either of corruption, or of happiness.”
  • Daisies is not just a successful experimental satire on emphasizing gender roles through reversal behavior, but one based on pointless fulfillment as a reflection of our desire to succeed in whatever social ground rules may be the current status quo. Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty depressing movie about surreal explosive behaviors arriving in head as a result of accepting the neverending “ethical” obligations that can never leave one’s humanity. To be specific though, the film decides to gear itself towards sexist issues regarding sovereignty against females in the spirit of this tragic philosophy, and how it corruptly limits their ability to publicly exemplify diverse character. By doing so, it turns the tables for the audience from the expected refrained female character by introducing to us two versions of a woman named Marie who uses their feminine roles to take advantage of the perpetrators, perpetrators that have unintentionally helped them indulge into these physically obnoxious yet equitably warranted behaviors. The movie comes off as if it is trying to be simultaneously both frightening with its commentary on social limitation yet uplifting with its destruction of the typical female conduct, which has resulted in its curiously mixed reception and interpretations over the past half-century.
  • The two Maries obsession with food is of course applicable to material priority in feminine culture. It’s displayed so harshly in the film as almost like a detrimental drug addiction that’s being literally fed into their personalities to keep them afloat and controlled by bourgeoisie males. The movie, however, decides to scour this in irony by acting as if the two are constantly happy for this sort of lifestyle, and that they are really the ones in control of the men when really, the culture they’ve lived in has led them in no other direction but to indulge in this material reliance on powerful, working class men, and nothing else but the rush and reiteration of their restricted outlet. They are not necessarily happy, but being forced to act or tricked to think they can only be pleased by expanding their overplayed roles in a self-aware sort of fashion. Nonetheless, it feels sometimes as if it’s still all there just so that they can play devious parts in some puppet show where they (the women) are naturally ridiculed for their roles that are shown as being strictly vain and worthlessly (even childishly) simple, as opposed to what many considered the bigger importance of male roles; this is an area of normality that may be the cause of society having critiqued feminine roles in the first place, as the two Maries are very much representative of the symbolically stripped-down “empty” characters that come from wealthy men encouraging and even forcing women to stay, ritualize and indulge as the imprisoned, immovable and replaceable “doll-like” stereotypes for their own sexual and egotistical male gratifications.
  • While Daisies could then easily be summed up as a visually aggressive evocation of this obsessive repetition and resultant lunacy that one is actually in a state of freedom rather than the evidently existential state, in terms of its political commentary on the Czech government, I will have to do more research on my second viewing of that since I’m partially oblivious to their cultural background.
  • The burning of the masculine male photo puts a reversal on the real life idea of how women are dunked under when they lose their sexualized femininity. The concept of there being so many unattractive older men popularly conditioned to partner with beautiful younger women topically falls in line with Chytilová’s statement about how the feminine pressures of her time are enough to begin pushing women harder into thinking the same standards for men, which feels more relevant today than ever.
  • Daisies’ editing / camerawork is so animatedly in-sync with its sundry and twitchy soundtrack that it actually makes me feel bad that so many movies I’ve seen choose to not just be as freely ambitious and expressive as this. Also, the psychedelic train track shot is far and beyond good enough to be in 2001 (1968)’s stargate sequence. The scissor fight scene is also kooky enough to be in House (1977). Funniest part is, Daisies came out before both of these movies. Even the still image montaging feels so reminiscent of Jan Švankmajer’s work too; wow this movie did a LOT for cinema.

Verdict: B+

“Daisies” is now available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

Reference Notes – Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead • 2nd Viewing

“My illness! Have you forgotten already? Everyone forgets but me.”

  • The halfway point — one of the greatest transitions in the history of cinema — marks Cléo’s passage from thespian to roamer.
  • To defy both curiosity and confrontation is to be fitted into the socially preferred disguise, i.e. the role of thespian.
  • The role of a roamer is both flawed in fulfilling complete, innate human desires just like the thespian: it emphasizes one to become another piece in a movement of the world rather than a spectacle of attention, clashing between yearns of freedom and admiration or of a curious paralysis and constant thoughts of material duty. Cléo’s journey towards the final act results in her subconsciously learning about how intimate relationships are the simultaneous balance from gaining the benefits and dropping the sacrifices of the two elements as opposed to the often segmented and instructional lifestyle we find ourselves switching back and forth between and completely submitting to in its rules. She becomes liberated with this proximity to death, strayed from obligation; this near death is a metaphor for her push to leave the shell and reinterpret what she wants her place in the world to be.
  • Team Antoine > Team Bob. Enough said. 
  • Cléo awaiting for the results for her illness is obviously symbolic of her fearing that she is no longer beautiful, that she has worn out her disguise.
  • Cleo’s friend’s modeling moment in the movie is obviously a representation of the un-fetishized viewing of femininity by males, opposed to Cleo’s journey which involves the sexualization from the gaze. The little short film starring Godard and Karina is even symbolic of being blind (dark glasses) to the non-sexual side of someone: the rather “wonder” of both feminine and masculine traits.
  • Cleo’s superstition plays a big role in the movie too. It seems to be the only reassuring element of belief she has to hold onto since she cannot get any from her peers; her viewpoint of “authentic” answers has sadly boiled down to something as naive as this from how corrupt her social group is. 
  • In the first half, Cleo’s own perception of self seems to be exclusively reflected in her celebritization, and the validation of her identity seems to be found in how the people view her work or her presence rather than her internal entirety. At the end, she admitting that her real name is “Florence” is representative of the “Cléo” mask almost completely coming down in front of Antoine. 
  • Agnès Varda says so much with such simple yet real and natural everyday examples within her structuring of Cléo from 5 to 7 and its claustrophobic 2-hour to 90 minute timeframe, and even brilliantly brings notions of celebritization into the experience of the common citizen. This is truly a filmmaking exemplar in balancing nimble technique manipulations and, more notably, unusually relatable and subtle visual storytelling.

Verdict: A-

A Conflict in the New Wave, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“Cléo from 5 to 7” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.