Criterion Month Day 18: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

Despite only a limited knowledge of Paul Schrader’s filmography, I feel it’s safe to say that he is drawn to stories about loners making rash decisions. I think every movie I’ve seen that he’s written or directed has starred isolated characters who find themselves at odds with society. So it’s easy to imagine why Schrader would want to tell the story of Japanese author Yukio Mashima, who committed suicide after staging a failed coup d’etat fifteen years before this movie’s release. But it’s Schrader’s telling of the story that is so interesting, as it provides a template for why so many contemporary biopics seem like boring Oscar bait.

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Criterion Month Day 17: El Norte

El Norte (1983)

Man, what a week to be watching this movie. As if the constant, ever-escalating crisis at our nation’s border wasn’t already a reminder enough that we should all be a little more empathetic toward the huddled masses looking for refuge in America. Then comes along our racist-in-chief to once again make it known that any immigrant or person of color should “go back where they came from”. Meanwhile, a film like El Norte shows that for many immigrants, they can’t go back to from where they came. And even though America might not always be the land of opportunity it’s often billed as, it can offer a new start for those willing to brave the journey to get there. Continue reading

Criterion Month Day 16: Smithereens

Smithereens (1982)

Criterion Month is in full effect here at Mildly Pleased. If you haven’t been checking in and stumble across this post by accident, we’re reviewing films from the Criterion Collection every day in chronological order. For my films I chose the theme “First Time Filmmakers”. A theme that not only narrows down the catalog, it gives me the opportunity to experience filmmaking in it’s most uninhibited form. Though it wasn’t until I watched Susan Seidelman’s punk debut Smithereens that I noticed similarities to the film’s I’ve already watched. Not all of them share a connective tissue—And God Created Woman and Night of the Living Dead being outliers—but between Shadows, Ivan’s Childhood, and now Smithereens I see how debut filmmakers most often introduce themselves to the world.

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Criterion Month Day 15: Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens (1975)

I’ve wanted to see Grey Gardens ever since watching The Queen of Versailles, a conceptually similar 2012 documentary about an hilariously stereotypical, obscenely wealthy family trying to build the biggest home in the country just as the Great Recession is about to hit. But I worried they were too similar, so I dragged my feet getting to the 1975 original. Thankfully, we have Criterion Month. Now that I’ve finally seen Grey Gardens, I can say that, while the “riches to rags” theme is shared between the two films, there’s one major difference: The Queen of Versailles is about that collapse, while in Grey Gardens the decline was decades and decades ago.

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Criterion Month Day 14: Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Much like last year’s Koyaanisqatsi, this is kind of a weird film to review, since it does walk a fine line between feature film and art experiment. That said, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is quite clearly a narrative film. In fact, the thing that’s so striking about it is how strictly it sticks to its very straightforward narrative of showing a woman’s day unfold, as we see each little mundane thing she does while also subtly unraveling internally. I honestly can’t think of any other film quite like it, though I suppose any slow-moving indie film that really takes its time owes something to this film’s deliberately glacial pacing. Continue reading

Criterion Month Day 13: Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I have never been so happy to see a film added to the Criterion Collection. Not only does it feel like validation for horror fans, this release gave Dead fans the definitive version they’ve always wanted. If you’re not aware, there has been a metric shit ton of releases of this film. VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, Laserdisc, you name the format and you can find a dozen versiosn of Night of the Living Dead.

Even I used to own two copies on DVD. One because it included a colorized version. Thanks, Border’s Books. Why so many versions? Because Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain for the stupidest reason. Do you know that little copyright symbol that you see next to titles and logos? Night of the Living Dead had that stupid mark when the title popped up in the initial print of the film, but in the initial print the film was called “Night of the Flesh Eaters”. So when they changed the title and forgot the mark and screened the movie, all Hell broke loose.

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Criterion Month Day 12: Le Bonheur

Le Bonheur (1965)

Le Bonheur belongs to a very specific category of film usually found in great director’s filmographies. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t see the director necessarily doing the most ambitious work, but still sees them tackling a bunch of thought-provoking ideas while perhaps not firing on all cylinders, but firing on most cylinders. It’s a hard type of film to criticize, since it’s, for the most part, charming. Though I suppose a film described as “charming”, usually means its slight. I’m not sure slight is how I’d describe Le Bonheur, but it still feels like a minor work from Agnès Varda. It’s just that her minor work appears to still be fraught with interesting ideas and ways of expressing them. Continue reading