Sean Lemme

Sean is mildly pleased with most things in life, so I guess it's good he made this website.

Criterion Month Day 28: The New World

The New World (2005)

When people decry the state of modern filmmaking, I think they must consider the case of Terrence Malick. The famously private writer-director made his debut with Badlands in 1973, an indie film financed mostly by people outside the industry. Five years later, he followed that up with the gorgeous Days of Heaven, which had a difficult production and lengthy post-production. That was enough to leave him struggling to get a picture off the ground for two decades, until he finally released The Thin Red Line in 1998. It took him another eight years to do The New World, then six more for The Tree of Life. So five movies in nearly 40 years.

But something changed in the 2010s: To the Wonder came out just a year after The Tree of Life and Malick managed to make three more movies (plus an IMAX experience) before the end of the decade. Back in the day, his films were huge events for cinephiles like me, now sometimes I don’t even hear about them at all when they come out (the fuck was Song to Song?). For whatever reason, one of our least bankable directors became his most prolific during perhaps the most commercial era in cinema’s history. I leave it to you to decide if giving Malick access to so many ways to make and distribute movies enabled an auteur to finally thrive or took some of the shine off of him.

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Criterion Month Day 25: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

I should watch more Jim Jarmusch movies. That’s it, that’s my big takeaway from finally watching Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai after owning the DVD for probably something like 15 years. I’ve only seen a few of his movies, but I’ve liked them all (especially the beloved Patterson) which has locked a few of them perpetually on my queue (especially Only Lovers Left Alive). My only explanation for why is that he makes weird movies that don’t exactly go the way you’d expect them to, so it’s hard to put yourself in the right mood. And that’s pretty weak sauce, but was definitely true for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

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Criterion Month Day 23: Paris Is Burning

Paris Is Burning (1990)

I watched Paris Is Burning last night and have spent all day today agonizing over how to convince you that it’s worth seeing if you haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe the five stars I gave it will help? I’d also like to tell you it’s easy to stream on the Criterion Channel right now. Maybe if I include that it’s only 78 minutes long that might sweeten the deal? I just don’t want to come on too strong. Because what I really want to lead with is Paris Is Burning is without a doubt one of the most beautiful, moving documentaries about life in America I’ve ever seen. And I know that lofty proclamations like that get movies added to queues but then it takes something like a Criterion Month to convince us to actually watch them.

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Criterion Month Day 20: The Big Chill

The Big Chill (1983)

I think anyone of my generation or younger who chooses to watch The Big Chill goes into it dreading they’ll find it relatable. It’s a movie about a group of white, boomer thirtysomethings who get together to talk about how they all sold out, got rich, and settled down. Basically, its about exactly the people and the mindset that led to our world being in such a dire state today. But I think writer-director Lawrence Kasdan is using the specific experience of his generation to make a broader observation about how growing old has affected every generation. More importantly, he’s letting us spend time with eight interesting characters in what I’d call a proto-hangout movie.

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Criterion Month Day 19: The Long Good Friday

The Long Good Friday (1979)

When Bob Hoskins died in 2014, one of the things I remember seeing written about the most (aside from Super Mario and Hook) was his star turn performance in The Long Good Friday. Particularly, I remember seeing people post the last couple minutes of the movie and talk about how gifted he was to convey so much wordlessly. That scene definitely put this movie on my radar: the distinct music, young Pierce Brosnan, complicated politics in a gangster movie? It sounded awesome. Then I forgot about The Long Good Friday for six years, until my last pre-pandemic movie going experience: The Gentlemen. That Guy Ritchie movie borrows a lot from The Long Good Friday, including a very direct homage to that ending scene. When that happened a light went off in my head and, like Lex in Jurassic Park, I couldn’t help but think “I know this!” So that night I decided I would definitely make time to watch The Long Good Friday.

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Criterion Month Day 16: Fist of Fury

Fist of Fury (1972)

I knew I wanted to watch something from Criterion’s Bruce Lee collection, His Greatest Hits, this year, so I picked Fist of Fury based on its name alone. It turns out that haphazard approach was even more reckless than I thought, since exactly which movie Fist of Fury is depends on who you ask. It turns out the first two movies Bruce Lee starred in were brought over to the our shores at the same time and that led to some accidental shenanigans. His first movie, The Big Boss, was meant to be retitled “The Chinese Connection” to capitalize on the popularity of The French Connection. Somehow that movie got switched with this one, meaning Fist of Fury was released as “The Chinese Connection” and, since I guess no one liked the title The Big Boss, that movie became Fist of Fury. This mess wasn’t cleaned up until 2005, so for a long time I could’ve been watching a totally different movie tonight. But I’m glad the original title was restored, because this is a movie about a very, very furious man and his powerful fists.

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