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Quick-Thoughts: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows (1969)

Jean-Pierre Melville Binge Part III of IV 

Call it 50 Shades of Blue because in spite of all the traumatizing war stuff, this is one gorgeous-looking, color-commanding motion picture. Cinematography perfection 101 here. 

Sometimes marathoning a visionary’s central filmography in one zip is keenly enriching. As of now, it has been so interesting to see Melville go from Le Doulos to Le Samouraï and now to Army of Shadows. With the previous film (Le Samouraï) and the current picture I’m reviewing right at this very moment, there has been such a palpable improvement in directing and craftsmanship from the predecessor. 

Army of Shadows is an engrossing war drama that has a fascinating partake in its narration, important themes of self-sacrifice that should honestly be explored more in mainstream war movies, and the clutching excess of chasing enemy infiltrations. To sum it up, this is a film that’s guaranteed to be ingrained into my head for a long time. More madly, though, on a technical level, there is nothing I could possibly whimper about when it comes to Army of Shadows, as every approach in the camerawork, production, framing, acting, editing, visuals, and score are unapologetically avant-garde. And might I add, Melville is a master act at zoom shots—I’m a sucker for them, admittedly. 

I do, alas, feel that Army of Shadows genuinely didn’t know what it wanted its plot to be centered around until maybe halfway through, marching back and forth and back and forth, attempting to be an anthology of intense World War II scenarios. Yet, the brimmed journey that we spot our lead character Philippe Gerbier go on is enough for the movie to provoke a fruitfully continuous alignment of investment. Furthermore, the fact that the themes of the film stayed consistent throughout did too aid my principal objection with Army of Darkness

As far as war movies go though, this one is definitely something I’d, like a cliché, call “unique.” Cinephiles, check it out when you get the opportunity; it’s a powerhouse in genre rebelling. 

Oh, and the firing squad sequence—insanity! 

Verdict: A-

French New Wave Ranked 

“Army of Shadows” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, and The Criterion Channel.

 

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Quick-Thoughts: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967)

Jean-Pierre Melville Binge Part II of IV 

Essentially Precautions During an Emergency 101 for an Assassin, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Didn’t expect Le Samouraï (The Samurai) to be a tutorial for how to handle being a suspect of your own killing, yet I suppose cinema can be a cynical tip-book sometimes. 

I got a handful of No Country For Old Men vibes out of Le Samouraï, and in a sense considering this film was made 40 years before The Coen Brothers’ suspense masterpiece, it makes me profoundly grateful for what this 1967 investigation thriller must’ve sprouted to the world of gripping heart-pumpers. Le Samouraï is a fertile technical design that uses all 105 minutes of its runtime to keep you on-edge. It’s indisputably ahead of its time!

Pleasant score too. Snazzy. 

Verdict: A-

French New Wave Ranked

“Le Samouraï” is now available to stream on Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, and The Criterion Channel.

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Quick-Thoughts: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos (1962)

Jean-Pierre Melville Binge Part I of IV 

When you think a betrayer might be betraying the betrayer, you know s*** is about to go down. 

With the ferocious opening sequence, it was clear that Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos (A Hat) was going to be one classy film noir. It is, however, a smidge more complicated than that, turning the ambitions of its characters on a limb until events begin to unravel, aching the viewers to get affirming knowledge on what’s truly going on behind the scenes. It’s nothing out of the blue calculated in its cryptic moral objectives nor does it extend its claws out beyond being just a peculiarly crafted mystery thriller, but it damn well is a novel arthouse prerequisite that has effectively introduced me into Melville’s career. 

Elegant twist ending, as well—if you can even call it that. 

Verdict: B

French New Wave Ranked

“Le Doulos” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and Kanopy.

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Quick-Thoughts: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985)

Akira Kurosawa Binge Part IX of IX

I feel like my eyes have been replaced by packs of Skittles

I must admit, the second half of Ran has a deadly amount of filler that killed the momentum of the arguably flawless first act. While it’s indeed interesting to witness the crumbling of a power-hungry family, it’s furthermore difficult to care for the main character Lord Hidetora Ichimonji’s descent into madness when he’s a complete douchebag who totally deserves what has been destined upon him. In fact, most of the characters surrounding Ran (specifically, the brothers and the laborious men working aside them) are a bunch of annoying, underdeveloped pricks that were infuriating to get behind—some of their stimuli often felt very contradicting. And, to hell with that obnoxious Jester. Good on, Lady Kaede, however; I understood yuh. 

Now with that being said, holy s***; what a MOVIE.

Violence and battle choreography haven’t shined this majestically since…ever! It genuinely appeared like an impossible task was pulled off seamlessly in Ran’s chronic presentation by none other than filmmaking legend, Akira Kurosawa. And yeah, the cinematography will fool you into thinking that your colorblind immediately after you gaze out at something in the real world as the credits roll. It’s effortlessly one of the most beautiful-looking movies ever arranged.

I have a soft spot for how a loaf of the score is just composed with a gamble of insoluble animal noises—is this Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma? It makes the scenarios depleting on-screen seem a lot more anxious than if it excluded the chaotic sound bites. When the film does use an orchestra, however, particularly over the more catastrophic moments, the movie profitably deconstructs your psychological investment into something grander than just entertainment. It is morally petrifying to bare witness to. 

I additionally cherish when epic movies such as Ran succeed in catching you off-guard on numerous occasions. This is candidly one of those dramas that are unforeseeable to its outcomes or to which characters will perish. Well, unless you’ve already read Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. Cheaters.

Ran was sort of like a Throne of Blood “enhanced” edition to me, but truthfully, jokes aside, I’m just blown away that this mass-based caliber of a movie existed in the 80s. What a way to end off my Akira Kurosawa binge. What a way. 

Verdict: B+

Akira Kurosawa Ranked 

“Ran” is now available to stream on Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play.

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Quick-Thoughts: Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard (1965)

Akira Kurosawa Binge Part VIII of IX

A soldier arrives at a new war platoon full of strangers and begins to change as a character.

An inspiring woman arrives at a dance school full of strangers and begins to change as a character.

A patient is sent to a mental hospital full of strangers and begins to change as a character. 

Do these synopses seem vaguely familiar? 

The Kurosawa drama Red Beard uses this classical structure—that now seems to be so frequently used in horror movies not so shortly after—in which closely pronounces the alterations of a once different human being, this time, surrounding a physician intern who is sent to an “eventful” hospital. It’s like a silver-plated Grey’s Anatomy for arthouse snobs. 

This is possibly the most insightful, political, and mental cinematic examination I’ve ever seen on the medical world of humanity. It’s just one of those movies that isn’t afraid to continuously beat you over the head, scene by scene, with tremendously traumatizing real-life issues. For a film made in 1968, Red Beard is startlingly relevant to these modern times and a poetic masterpiece in psychology, as well. 

I suppose the dilemma in Red Beard, however, can be argued that it’s almost a metaphorical orgy of terror that’s meshed together simultaneously into a cycle of impulsive, convenient events for our initially spoiled main character to endure. Then again, this movie does take place at a sketchy, overpopulated public hospital, so I surmise that anything can happen, no matter the rowdiness. I’ll gladly give the spectacular film a pass for this, nonetheless; it’s no biggie. 

Also, Akira Kurosawa directed the hell out of this movie, as always, but almost as much so as his greatest motion picture, High and Low. Goes to show that even gods can continue to advance their craft. 

Verdict: A-

Akira Kurosawa Ranked

“Red Beard” is now available to stream on Kanopy and The Criterion Channel.

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Quick-Thoughts: Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Wouldn’t it be just outright incredible if more action movies today like the 1968 western classic Once Upon a Time in the West were articulated with the same amount of patiently protracted build-up? It’s already thrilling enough to witness a film some, including myself, may deem “perfectly directed,” thanks to the multi-hit wonder Sergio Leone, but imagine if that aesthetic was still kept spry. This entire movie is the expert’s definition of “intense” and “gripping.” It goes to show you that it never took colossal budgets and constant action spectacles to make a winning western paradigm, all you needed was a simple story and the most threatening executioner in all the Italian film industry. See? Not so difficult, huh?

It does seem, although, that an awful lot was chopped out in this theatrical/restored cut I viewed. Especially in the second act, the shorter scenes seem so minimally unsystematic compared to the sweeping events in the first and third act. The character of Jill McBain additionally appears inadvertently underutilized. I’ll have to check out the 3-hour director’s cut when I get the chance to because if it does supposedly mend these issues, this might just be a well-nigh flawless movie. 

Verdict: A-

“Once Upon a Time in the West” is now available to stream on Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, and Netflix.

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Quick-Thoughts: Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) & Sanjuro (1962)

Akira Kurosawa Binge Part VI of IX

Yojimbo (1961)

So this is the movie that inspired A Fistful of Dollars, huh? Makes…a frighteningly amount of sense. C’mon Leone; seriously?

Amusing rivalries. Distinguishable characterizations. Sly storytelling. Tasteful violence. Legendary score. Yojimbo f’ing ruled! What an essential. 

That’s all I have to say. This film was a SCRUMPTIOUS delicacy thats easily one of the most captivating Kurosawa pictures I’ve witnessed thus far. End of story.

Verdict: A-

Akira Kurosawa Binge Part VII of IX

Sanjuro (1962)

Arguably a noticeable step down from Yojimbo, Sanjuro is nonetheless a mighty addition to this two-part production. Where Yojimbo was the antihero’s solo standoff, Sanjuro plays more as the intricate fellowship’s “prison-rescue” episode of Kuwabatake/ Tsubaki’s expanding tale. It’s short, fast-paced, and a pleasing watch with stupefying action sequences. 

Solid character-building too! 

Verdict: B

Akira Kurosawa Ranked

“Yojimbo & Sanjuro” are available to stream on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and The Criterion Channel. 

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Quick-Thoughts: Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Akira Kurosawa Binge Part V of IX

So, this is the movie that inspired Star Wars, huh? Makes…a lot more sense than I expected it to. 

The Hidden Fortress is nothing exceedingly impressive coming from Akira Kurosawa, but it is well worth the watch. The eventful adventure flick is an innocuous tale of two peasants who come across a swordsman that must protect a mysteriously important woman. While it is mildly defective in its spiteful narrative, it still labors as a lucid experience, especially considering that you’re likely to go in knowing what grand films it generated because of its quintessential existence.

Verdict: B-

Akira Kurosawa Ranked 

“The Hidden Fortress” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and The Criterion Channel.

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Quick-Thoughts: Before Midnight (2013)

Before Midnight: the rare third entry of a trilogy that succeeds in being on par with its two previous masterclasses. A one-part interlock onto the flourishing marriage we’ve all dreamt of having, a second-part digestion in the unavoidable dilemma of love. It’s Richard Linklater’s final scribbles of the poem; a lasting acceptance of the conflicting way humans function in situations of relationships.

So yes, it’s an absolutely phenomenal closer. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight effortlessly make up one of those rare trilogies that avoids taking any dips or rises in its extensive age, but rather maintains its course in a perfect, linear river. I have a gut feeling that these movies will definitely play a major role in my life as I continuously grow older and blossom into the same-old hags that dear Celine and Jesse are.

Bravo, Linklater. I guess this means you’re my new God now. Yikes. 

Verdict: A

Favorite Romances

“Before Midnight” is now available to stream on Vudu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play.

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My Interpretations of the Underrated Masterpiece, Under the Skin (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

2nd Viewing, Screened at The Frida Cinema 

Best coming of age movie ever???

I’m still baffled to this day that Under the Skin is not considered a sci-fi masterpiece at the ranks of 2001: A Space Odyssey. You heard me correctly. I said it.

Then again, it did take Kubrick’s marvelous feat a tedious amount of time to become widely accepted as one of the greats. 

Couple theories on what exactly this movie could morally mean… 

One, the film is ultimately about introversion. It’s a metaphysical depiction of what it’s like to feel cut off from the world or what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t quite grasp humanity. There seems to be an ongoing disconnect between Laura and the people, and while she does begin to puzzle out the functions of humans and their relationships, she ends up detesting them by the end, as she, the pure creature, is powerless to fathom the cruelty of mankind. It’s the equivalent to people who rather stay enclosed than allow themselves to reckon with the harsher truths of the outside world. 

Two, this entire movie is a metaphor for an innocent girl coming to her senses about innate male sexual desires for females, and the trauma that comes with it. At the beginning of Under the Skin, when Laura is born, she almost instantaneously is programmed to seduce men into coming to her place to essentially be harvested by the aliens she works for—this alone could say a lot about the unacceptable role some women are raised to play. However, the film makes it thoroughly clear that she is unconscious of why the men want her, and more so, just numbly going through the motions of what she was made to do. Later in the movie, as she begins to understand humans, she, on multiple occasions, begins to supposedly apprehend the loneliness that comes with these men who want to have sex with her. This loneliness not only ties in with a parallel to her own situation, but it makes her begin to feel related to some of these men. At the end of the film, unfortunately, a man attempts to rape her, and it ends in her being burnt alive, almost mimicking the emotions she now has as to realizing what men would go through to be with someone else—something horrendous she herself, could never imagine doing to another being. It almost distresses her of her own desires to connect while vaguely indicating her hatred and inability to accept humanity’s way of solution. Thus, an early death is the way her species will always end up at as they roam Earth. 

Three, like my first theory, the movie is strictly about the feelings you get when you are lonely. From countless scenes that blurt the meaning in your face like the shot where the baby whose parents just died is seen crying on the beach alone. Or, from countless recurring sub-themes like the revulsion of physical ugliness that the deformed man received or Laura received at the very end of the film when her true form is exposed. These are evidential signals that can aid us at mastering what exactly Jonathon Glazer may be saying in Under the Skin on what he perceives the experience of loneliness can come from or mentally emote. 

Theories aside, I do furthermore find Under the Skin to be a technical wonder next to also being an ambiguous cinematic mind-challenge. Mica Levi’s recurring score theme is at a legendary level of petrifying. Scarlett Johansson is officially the most terrifying extraterrestrial ever, and that was a tricky maneuver to pull off considering she looks like Scarlett Johansson. Jonathon Glazer directed his entire soul into making every frame of this movie look like unconventional eye-candy; the opening to this movie is still an all-time favorite of mine that enhances Kubrick’s flair. Besides nitpicks, to me and hopefully to many more people in the future, Under the Skin is one of the greatest science-fiction films ever concocted. Please, cinephiles, give it the love and attention it deserves. 

Verdict: A 

All-Time Favorites, A24 Ranked

“Under the Skin” is now available to stream on Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, and Netflix.