Quick-Thoughts: Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy (2010)

Abbas Kiarostami Marathon Part VI of VI

Abbas Kiarostami must’ve watched Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy and said to himself afterwards, “F**k it! I can totally do all of that with just ONE movie, except it’ll have ANOTHER creative gimmick to it, that way, my ‘copy’ will be superior to the original and fit perfectly with the spirit of my film’s main motif too!”

I have no qualms with Certified Copy. This is a seamless, brainiac idea that is composed of basically an ongoing conversation between two strangers, a mother and a supposed father, who slowly begin surreally roleplaying as each other’s husband and wife as if it were nature’s intention. The film is clearly obsessed with the classic debate on how original one human being, one piece of art, or one center of a so-called “origin” can truly be, and it starts you off with a ton of grand, philosophical-oriented dialogue, but then begins maturing itself with a physical exemplar transformation of the two main characters expressing each other as a problematic married couple. They are able to cook up romance, contempt, and memories out of what may seem like thin air but could only be proof of a sideline view of just how similar we are as a race, as if the human individual can be shared in copies of one another, like a single soul living in countless bodies. 

Certified Copy is brimmed to the bone with visual intelligence, as well, leaving little opportunities for its themes not to be conveyed with either framed or backdrop parallels. Next to Close-Up, this is Kiarostami working at his peak with cinematography, collaborating with Paolo Sorrentino’s usual handyman, Luca Bigazzi. Here, they have set up compositions that somehow amplify to the best of their abilities despite being in a primarily performance and dialogue-based output. 

For a guy who could be and probably is considered one of cinema’s most “experimental” filmmakers, it seems as if even he has doubt too that anything in our world is original, including his own groundbreaking pieces, yet that’s nothing really to fear, as copies can be just as if not more beautiful, effective, and refreshing than its contemporary. Well, in progress, we are all copies waiting to meet those we had once met before again, in reproduced lineages of flesh, so why not treat each other, each stranger, as such once in a while? Art is art, and we have all the time in the world to make it — this is what “fun” is about, what “life” is about, right?

Verdict: A+

A Meditation on the Everyday (Kiarostami Ranked), My All-Time Favorite Movies

“Certified Copy” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (1997)

Abbas Kiarostami Marathon Part V of VI

In each of us, the way we see the world revolves around our head, and the brain offers that flexibility for it to continuously change regardless of the current physical circumstances or set moral understandings that may plague it to sit still to begin with. If it’s so simple for a human being to feel the need to kill him or herself, it’s therefore just as simple for that human being to lose these emotions with the inclusion of new thoughts. We were gifted the power to be diverse in spirit, so why not go through the motions of point A as many times as possible to find out what point B really should be in either our demise or next step in life. 

Taste of Cherry follows a man looking to hire someone who can bury his body after he commits suicide. Through the few candidates he encounters, he endures frightened reactions of repulsion, religious interpretations, contemplative stories of parallel situations, and Lord knows what else; our anti-protagonist at hand must weigh the many arguments for life against his unknown argument for silence, and use them for whatever means us as interpreters may assume he needs them for, means that those who have also experienced the baggage of suicidal thoughts should understand deeper than those who have yet to.

Taste of Cherry is one of the richest films I’ve seen on suicide yet, with some of cinema’s wisest, most multi-opinionated quotes that the subject has to offer. Props to the film for letting us decide what these pros and cons should do to affect our journey ahead. 

Verdict: A-

A Meditation on the Everyday (Abbas Kiarostami Ranked)

“Taste of Cherry” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Abbas Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Tree (1994)

Abbas Kiarostami Marathon Part IV of VI

The Kiarostami cinematic universe is getting out of control. 

Abbas Kiarostami’s outputs always seem destined to putting a colossal microscope over anything, extracting compelling stories in, what may seem like at first, the smallest of everyday objects or human affairs. Through the Olive Trees is a movie that literally exists within the filming process of one scene in Kiarostami’s previous feature-length, And Life Goes On. In this final tale in The Koker Trilogy, life surrounding the citizen actors of the production are given grounded exploration, connecting the conflict they face in reality with the effected performances they melt into a director’s fictional world. 

Verdict: A-

A Meditation on the Everyday (Kiarostami Ranked)

“Through the Olive Tree” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985)

Oh goodness, how is Edgar Wright possibly going to top this? 

The Wizard of Oz meets Good Time: the illusions of fantasy seem to be incrementally training towards the surreal genuineness of Soho’s low-class lunacy, and After Hours serves as the collision of these two concepts. If our protagonist really is in a dream, it’s one of a reflection of his own fears, fears that could awaken like a ginormous treasure chest being opened in the hecticly populated city he lives his day to day in.

Well would you look at that: it’s time for me to put After Hours on the list of “types of movies Scorsese should’ve made more of” right next to Silence. It seems that I’ve taken a fancy for breaching into either the comedic panic attacks or the harrowing prolongations of this man’s filmography.

Verdict: A-

Martin Scorsese Ranked

“After Hours” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004)

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This movie is almost more Evil Dead-ish than Army of Darkness

Spider-Man 2 is definitely, at least, “top twenty comic-book movies” material. Doubling on your signature directing style and halving on the superhero cheese while elevating on a couple emotional beats left quite dry in its predecessor was a smart way to go about with this sequel. The best part is, it still maintains that fast-paced stamina from its original despite its over two-hour runtime. Sure, the follow-up suffers from the same writing dilemmas as the first one — standing the test of time is a bitch, huh? — that pushed back it’s score by a punishable leap, yet Sam Raimi’s iconic visual presentation here surpasses a titanic majority of its genre in creativity and added textures for this to be considered anything less than groovy.

Verdict: B

“Spider-Man 2” is now available to stream on Starz.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002)

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I was playing Monopoly while watching this so I’m not going to give it a changed rating just to be fair, BUT I would like to say…

I find it funny how the focal point of Peter’s transition into Spider-Man was using it as an outlet for him to finally share his romantic feelings for and to Mary Jane. It was never about revenge, it was never about saving lives, it was always about… the LOVE. Horny boi alert! Now that’s a true sign of teenage priorities!

With that aside, Spider-Man was that individual movie I watched hundreds of times on VHS as a kid, and as much as it brings back good memories, I think it would be naïve of us to insinuate that it hasn’t aged in a couple of significant areas. It’s still decently fun though, and I do fancy some of Sam Raimi’s frisky directing maneuvers that sets the film apart from others of its genre.

Verdict: B-

“Spider-Man” is now available to stream on Starz.

Quick-Thoughts: Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion (1967)

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part V of V

Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion opens with this following statement:

“During the powerful Tokugawa regime in Edo (present-day Tokyo), there were 264 lords or daimyo. These feudal lords ruled their clan and the people under them. This story took place in one of these clans in 1725.”

The film deals with only one lord though despite it needing to mention the hundreds that existed at the time. Intentionally, we only see this lord twice in the entire movie, once in a flashback, and briefly in a conversation scene. Yet, he is the one causing the driving conflict, the representative mayhem of the story at hand.

But, that’s what makes giving this lord minimal time so crucial: it’s to show the obliviousness of leaders during this era, their obliviousness to what they force onto others. Samurai Rebellion deals in two key inciting incidents: the first where the lord commands one of his samurai’s eldest son to marry his ex-wife, the second where the lord, after the death of his own eldest son, commands this samurai’s eldest son to give back his ex-wife for remarriage.

Admittedly, this troubles the family who have just come to love this ex-wife of the lord, and of a taboo act, they decide to rebel against the sole leader causing this turmoil with their lives at stake, challenging the logistics behind tyranny. This ostracizes the rest of the family who don’t agree with the father, son, and son’s wife’s insistence to fight back. Blood is therefore bound to be shed, killing many innocent soldiers in the process.

Samurai Rebellion showcases a lord managing to pin family against family, friends against friends, and samurais against fellow samurais with but his words; he is causing the avoidable out of simple greed. The film hides him in the shadows, despite his existence being the most important message of all. The “264 lords” memo at the beginning, begins to make sense, as the authority of these characters must’ve generated so many tragic conclusions for those who dared to question a one man dictatorship. Worst part is, the film further insists, that due to the amount of times these sort of affairs must’ve happened and the fact that cunning lords could simply execute traitors, thousands of these uprising stories must’ve been lost in the process, forever — the powerful yet weak-minded are never secure enough to admit mistakes in the public eye, to admit that they had lost the loyalty of a citizen, so this is the sacrifice that is made out of government insecurities. It seems as if the unheard souls who died to this corruption can only be represented as a collective, narrowed down together in Kobayashi’s partially fictional tale we witness here.

Anyways, to conclude this director’s marathon off, I have one last thing to add: Kobayashi > Kurosawa. Yeah, I can’t believe THAT actually f**king happened. Not in a million years would I’ve expected myself to have this take! How could anyone predict that the samurai action king himself would be topped by a PACIFIST? 

Verdict: A-

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked)

“Samurai Rebellion” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964)

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part IV of V

There’s no doubt that, on the surface, Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan is just a collection of your average, ancient wives’-tales and urban legends which have their many trademark far-fetched, unintelligent characters to support their simple, ultimatum-type messages that they were born to feature such as “greed annihilates romance,” “breaking promises with a loved one can suffer in detachment,” or “the journey of life will pay off no matter the obstacles it throws at you,” jazz like that — except for the unfinished final tale which is so meta that it’s only there to tell you that “stories are often a reflection of the writer’s guilt.”

Howbeit — if any of what I just said previously are really flaws — what truly sold me on Kwaidan was how Kobayashi brings its short stories to life. The four narratives here are LIGHTYEARS more imposing than what they easily could’ve been, offering some of cinema’s finest surrealist scares and set-design pieces ever. The film is beneficially very brash in using unusually bright colors too, rarely afraid to make itself look like a series of intensely detailed theater stages; the entire experience was hypnotic to the point where I was genuinely frightened s**tless yet enlightened at the same time throughout its 3-hour runtime.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out if Paul Schrader’s acclaimed masterpiece Mishima (1985) was heavily inspired by this gorgeous motion picture, as well. Yeah, if you fancy that movie, definitely check out Kwaidan.

Verdict: A-

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked), The Best Horror Movies

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

Quick-Thoughts: Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition III (1961)

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part III of V

Fun fact: Ford Coppola, Kurosawa, and Kobayashi are currently the only directors who have TWO 4.5/5 rated movies on letterboxd — well, The Godfather has a 4.6/5 but close enough. Point being, The Human Condition III happens to be one of these 4.5/5s.

Woah, this is possibly the most pessimistic movie I’ve ever witnessed. Then, I remembered Come and See exists… speaking of Come and See, the third chapter of The Human Condition series reminded me a lot of it. The narrative in this coda to the trilogy essentially comes down to our protagonist Kaji making his way across foreign grounds after surviving a merciless battle. Along with him is an ever-changing group of other war survivors who either bring wisdom or conflict into the mix. 

In cases like this, where one walks primarily on a path of the wilderness, thousands of miles from home, it can be inferred that morality is likely to slip day by day, and the natural instincts of the “animal” are to begin taking prime control. A character such as Kaji who has proven countless times of trying his very best though when it comes to inhabiting justice despite being in the raunchiest of situations, is about to face his greatest dilemma yet, again: unavoidable, constant failure.

An “aggressive meditation” is the closest manner I can put this sequel into words even if it sounds pretty contradicting. To clear the air, it’s an “aggressive meditation” on what keeps us going and what makes us fall; what thoughts and hopes force us to walk through pointless hell for days and days; what lengths we’re willing to go through to still inflict “reason” onto others even in states of attempting to just barely survive. We see these perspectives though in a kind of sad fashion, as these motivators are never paid off, and the constant fight for life just ends up appearing foolish. This entire franchise has done it’s very hardest to be vague as f**k in terms of what it exactly means, so this should just be seen as trivial to what the venture signifies as a whole. However, these factors are undoubtedly there, and they’re there to really make you rationalize on why we choose to dick around with things like “duty” or “vengeance” even in the most menacing of times, and what exactly that says when it comes to the influence of our mentality versus our bodily needs. 

With the immeasurable amounts of innocent death tolls, an even greedier eye into the lust of men, and the triggering gaps in superiority positions between characters, The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer shows no mercy in pleading to you how designed for chaos war will always be and how the good in us is to rarely be shown so long as we continue to indulge in the sinful leeways it gains us <OR> shows no mercy in pleading to you how new, open-minded virtues often stand as boundaries to practicality or are simply never tended to in the darkness of war and that’s why war f**king sucks? 

But, probably the more accurate interpretation of this entire 10 hour franchise if there even is a dead center meaning to the cuckoo: we as humans will forever contradict morality as long as it benefits our current condition, especially with war but even with no war, because morality is but a slice of instinct. There will be that rare “Kaji” though who is strong willed enough to not give into these temptations immediately or maybe any soldier who would die for their country, sure, but in the end, when we do live under the rules of war, does it even matter whether we die for morality, die of sin? According to this cinematic concluder, when we die… jeez… we just die. What is the point of soldiers having their own principled codes, their own principled identities, when war, tyranny, totalitarianism, and fascism can’t allow them to be heard? 

Oh, so Kobayashi is definitely a leftist. In the movie, he even seems to be painting Russia’s communist ideologies as if they’re more favorable than his own country’s. *Researching* …considered himself to be a Pacifist and a Socialist… Ohhhh… Duh.

Verdict: A+

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked), My Favorite Movies of All-Time

“The Human Condition III” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition II (1959)

Masaki Kobayashi Marathon Part II of V

Wait a minute, nobody told me that this was just the +500 page rough draft to Full Metal Jacket

Damn, this Kaji dude won’t give up! The army was built to keep men cold-blooded, no doubt, and after being chosen to join active duty in the war, Kaji discovers a new kind of moral hell opposed to the one he had confronted earlier. After a series of unfortunate events occur, Kaji begins waving his humanistic philosophies onto the laws of soldier training, causing, once again, conflict among men of strict codes. The second chapter in Masaki Kobayashi’s Human Condition series isn’t as diligent in sequencing, especially with its crowded plot, nor are the horrors as imposing as its masterful predecessor. Many of the characterizations here don’t feel too calculated either for how many new faces this film wants us to sympathize with and occasionally the themes here can be repetitive for better or worse; No Greater Love had nailed down these regions far better. 

It’s a little grieving that not until the last act of this sequel does Kaji, alas, train a group of soldiers with the kind of solicitude he had sought for his prisoners in the first film. Yet, we never get to see the results of his long awaited craft with telling outcomes, ones that could give concepts brought up in its predecessor with some closure. I suppose, maybe that’s the point though, that in times where sudden death is a high variable and most have their minds set on sadism, kindness can become pointless when the very definition of war contradicts such ideas. There isn’t the space for it, and the mood of bloodshed just doesn’t deserve the respect of virtue because it could never understand it. 

However, that’s not to say that that’s the only important insight which this sequel has to offer; it’s quite pivotal actually to the psyche of Kaji, as it pilots him into a new kind of failure we’re bound to see himself sink deeper with. Whether it be the film’s constant reoccurring themes on leaders who abuse the power of their rank or the general inceptions of self-harm and killing during a violent era, it becomes evident that despite Kaji’s inklings to set things right, these goals seem impossible as long as isolation between people continues. The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity decides not to focus on the war between foreign enemies, but the war between those ironically on the same side. Well, until that pretty awesome battle scene comes around near the end of the movie. Go teamwork?

Verdict: B+

Deconstructing Traditions (Masaki Kobayashi Ranked)

“The Human Condition II” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.