Criterion Month Day 31: Come and See

Come and See (1987)

Flyora (Aleksey Kravchenko), a 14-year-old who recently joined the Soviet partisans, and Roubej (Vladas Bagdonas) have just caught a break. Roubej had led their supply run directly into a minefield which claimed the lives of their two comrades, but these two made it through and found a collaborator who has a cow. They threaten the man and make him roll around in manure, then steal the animal. This cow will save the lives of partisans and villagers if they can get it back. But before they are even out of sight, a German machinegun blasts them. Roubej is instantly killed, but the poor bovine lives long enough to try to understand what just happened as it suffers through its last labored breaths. It’s just the latest in a never-ending deluge of devastating blows thrown at Flyora, made all the more depressing because the filmmakers really did shoot a cow and film its death. Come and See is just that kind of grueling.

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Criterion Month Day 30: Tiny Furniture

Tiny Furniture (2011)

It was funny seeing Lena Dunham in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood last weekend because, while I guess her social media presence means she still grabs the occasional headline, it seems like pop culture has decided to be done with her since Girls ended in 2017. Which I don’t think is entirely fair, she seems like an extremely outspoken person who has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth with surprising regularity but that’s nothing compared to plenty of other scumbags in Hollywood who are nonetheless considered less toxic. But the reality of seeing Tiny Furniture in 2019 means being unable to give its writer/director/star any benefit of the doubt, to its detriment. Because like that TV show, I can imagine having liked this a lot more back in a time when I knew a lot less.

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Criterion Month Day 29: Monsoon Wedding

Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Well, I’ve made it to my final Criterion review with what feels like a good one to go out on. Mainly because this might be the most purely enjoyable film I watched all month, almost to the point where I’m a little surprised that this film is in the Criterion Collection at all. Though I suppose the Criterion catalog does have a few crowdpleasers scattered amongst their various films aspiring to be “Art” with a capital A. Also, it does share the Criterion commonality of being a mere “indie hit”, even though it seems like it easily could’ve been a cross-over sensation. Instead, My Big Fat Greek Wedding became the big indie breakout wedding movie of the ’00s. Oh well. Continue reading

Criterion Month Day 28: The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Jeffrey Eugenides’ debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, was released in 1993 and instantly drew critical acclaim. One of the book’s fans was Sofia Coppola, the daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola who had been heavily criticized for her performance in 1990’s The Godfather Part III. Declaring her acting career over, Coppola turned her efforts toward filmmaking and found inspiration in The Virgin Suicides, which she decided to adapt. At the time, she claimed it was just a writing exercise, but the rights became available shortly after she finished her treatment of the screenplay. Soon enough, she was making her first feature film. What are the chances, am I right?

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Criterion Month Day 27: Kicking and Screaming

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

I should have seen this movie when I was in college. Aside from the obvious point that it’s about directionless college students, I would have been able to relate. No one likes to face uncertainty, especially when you’ve spent the last few years hitting the books only to find those skills may not translate to the real world. The film rings true and I wonder if was a reflection of whatever writer/director Noah Baumbach was going through at the time. Baumbach has made a lot of movies of people of different ages struggling to figure out their next step and here’s where it started.

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Criterion Month Day 26: Shallow Grave

Shallow Grave (1994)

Danny Boyle is forever young. No matter what he does (or how good it is) you always feel his youthful energy. Boyle’s films are high adrenaline, quick-paced, and never boring. Stupid, maybe *cough, The Beach but never boring. What amazes me is that Boyle wasn’t a young hotshot music video director or hipster underground filmmaker when he made his first feature. Boyle was 38-years-old with a respectable background in theater and producing/directing for the BBC. How that evolved into marathon running zombies and guys chopping off their arms I don’t know, but he’s never lost that spark. Boyle knows how to balance the fine line between high art and entertainment, and in no place is that better displayed than in his 1994 dark comedy Shallow Grave.

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Criterion Month Day 25: Slacker

Slacker (1991)

Damn it! This is so late. Here we go!!!

I made more than one mistake picking Slacker for my “First Time Filmmakers” list for Criterion Month. First, Slacker isn’t Richard Linklater’s first feature-length film. It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books is a $3,000, 86 minute, Super 8 mm film, starring Linklater as he drives through the country doing mundane day-to-day activities. Wow, I wonder why that isn’t a classic? As far as I can tell the film isn’t available apart from being a special feature on the Slacker Criterion. My second mistake was picking a non-narrative film. I don’t have a good track record with non-narrative films. I like drama, rising action. Even Linklater’s iconic hangout film Dazed and Confused had the underlying threat of Wiley Wiggins gettin’ a paddlin’. Slacker had a lot going against it in the John test and yet… I liked it okay, but why?

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