I recently realized something about myself after watching Legally Blonde and being disappointed with how quickly its final case is wrapped up: I really like courtroom dramas. Nearly every movie I’ve seen that centered around a trial was one I enjoyed, and I don’t think I’m alone in this sensibility given how damn near everybody loved The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story last year. There’s something about seeing America and Americans put to the test, sorting out right from wrong, pleading for justice, that’s consistently engaging. And one of the best representations of that in all of cinematic history is Anatomy of a Murder.
My choosing of Late Spring as one of my picks derived mostly from laziness. Last year’s Criterion Month I watched Tokyo Story, the film often described as director Yasujirō Ozu’s masterpiece, and was thoroughly blown away by its ruminations on the human condition. But I never quite had the will to watch any of his other films, when there are always so many other newer, far less slow and contemplative movies out there to watch. Which makes me really glad I decided to take this opportunity to view one of his other films from the same period, but also a bit befuddled over what to write about it, since it’s fantastic in almost all of the same ways that Tokyo Story is fantastic. Continue reading
Aside from the highs and lows of tragedies and comedies, I think one of the most effective emotions for a story to tap into is frustration. At least for me, it’s consistently easy to empathize with characters who are put into helpless situations. It’s why villains like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix‘s Dolores Umbridge and The Mist‘s Mrs. Carmody are so easy to hate. Couple that with some crushing disappointment and you’ve got a recipe for a deeply moving night. Just like the one I had in the wee hours of last night watching Bicycle Thieves!
Earlier this year, Universal Pictures unveiled their plans for a “Dark Universe”. This entailed a series of reboots of classic Universal Monster films like The Mummy, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Like The Marvel Universe, all of these characters would interact with each other in various ways in a shared continuity.
Is there another director who has made as many powerfully antiwar movies as Stanley Kubrick? Paths of Glory joins Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket (and to some extent Spartacus and Barry Lyndon) in the Kubrickian canon of films that fight back against the idea that war can be noble, justified, or heroic. Even the picture’s title is a bitterly ironic reference to Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard: “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” And for all that, Paths of Glory was brushed aside in 1957, failing to garner even a single Academy Award nomination, in part due to the popularity of The Bridge on the River Kwai.
I can’t imagine writing a heist movie. Really, any sort of movie that is more plot-driven than character-based sounds hard to do, but the heist might be the hardest in this style. Because with a heist, you know the stakes: Clive Owen is going to rob that bank, George Clooney and Brad Pitt are going to rob that casino, Vin Diesl and Paul Walker are going to rob that Brazilian crime lord. Therefore it’s entirely how they do it that keeps you invested in the picture. That requires genuine cleverness, because if our characters are too good or their solutions too far-fetched, it drains all suspense away and you end up with… I don’t know, Armored?
Happy 4th of July everyone! Now in the spirit of my feelings toward America these days, I will proceed to not talk about America, but instead talk about a film that is incredibly Japanese.
It’s an odd coincidence that I saw the upcoming A Ghost Story at the Seattle International Film Festival the same week I watched Tokyo Story for the first time. Not so much because the films are super similar to each other (though the looming specter of death does play a big part in both of them), but more because they both furthered my appreciation of the 4:3 aspect ratio. Now, I feel like for cinephiles like myself that came of age during the wonky transitional period from VHS to DVD (and also the ubiquity of widescreen across all mediums), 4:3 has a bit of a stigma attached to it. Continue reading