Kagemusha

Donovan Hill often joins us for discussions on the works of Akira Kurosawa because he has a long history with the films, having had them thrust upon him by his obsessive father from a very young age. Dr. Hill passed away recently and Donovan joins us in an episode dedicated in his father's memory, and dedicated to a discussion of the rose-tinted view of Japan's national memory. Kagemusha (1980) is one of the few Kurosawa period films that could be accurately described as historical fiction, not just being set in his normal nebulous samurai period, but specifically being about real people and real battles drawn from history, even if certain elements make it about as historically accurate as Inglorious Basterds.

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The King of Kings

Cecile B. DeMille's silent religious epics are sights to behold, but not necessarily because they are, how do you say...good?

His 1927 The King of Kings takes quite a bit of liberty with the source material, but that's ok! The source material -- the four Christians Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- presents varying takes on the events they're recording anyway. DeMille, though, makes some pretty crazy choices, some good and some very bad. I just...I don't remember the orgy scene in the Gospels.

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Short Cuts

Robert Altman adapts nine Raymond Carver short stories and a poem into a huge ensemble drama that, if about anything at all, seems to be a condemnation of toxic masculinity on par with Catherine Breillet's Fat Girl. It's got a lot going on, and Altman's decision to transport all the narratives to LA and interconnect them both helps and harms. Ultimately, fidelity to the source material isn't the point, and can't be -- as we discuss in regards to the portions based on "So Much Water So Close to Home" short stories are, by their nature, doing different things than film scenes -- but Carver's spirit still exists here. At least as far as we can tell, as neither Pat nor Adam have read any Carver.

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The Making of Fanny and Alexander

After spending something like 12 hours on variations of the same material we finally finish the Fanny and Alexander boxset with The Making of Fanny and Alexander a behind the scenes film of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander directed by Bergman himself. While we've peaked behind the Swede's curtain before with Sjoman's peak at Winter Light's creation in Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, this one seems more true to life, with a Bergman who knows what he wants but is still willing to trust his collaborators (sometimes) all while acting as a filmmaking grandfather in so many ways.

Fanny and Alexander, the theatrical cut

Technically released first, but planned second, the theatrical cut of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander removes over 2 hours of material that, while perhaps non-essential, helps make the longer cut the better version. Three hours and eight minutes is still pretty h*ckin' long for a theatrical film, though it turns out there was a Swedish theatrical release of the full 312 minute "television cut" as one movie in 1983. I think that's probably a bad idea, too. Consume it as the four television episodes over the course of a few nights and you have a much more manageable and enjoyable experience.

This is part two of our discussion of Fanny and Alexander, following last week's discussion of Fanny and Alexander: the television cut.

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Fanny and Alexander, the television cut.

Contrary to what Adam says toward the beginning of this week's episode, Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander was not first released in a 312 minute cut. The long cut was planned first, but the first release was the shorter 188 minute version in 1982, which we'll talk more about next week. Still this longer version was actually released to theaters in December of 1983 before being chopped into four episodes for Swedish television a bit later.

This is part one of our discussion, one because there's just too much Fanny and Alexander for one episode, an two because its impossible to talk about the shorter cut without talking about the longer, better cut. We'll see you next week for part two, which focuses more on the theatrical cut.

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Eyes Without a Face

It's October so let's watch a classic horror film! (As if this was planned and not just a quirk in the randomness of the way the Criterion Collection presents films to us.)

Georges Franju was asked by producer Jules Borkon to make a British/American style horror film for a French audience, but one that didn't torture animals, have too much blood, or a mad scientist. So he made a film about a mad scientist who experiments on dogs and does a whole face transplant on screen.

Franju did so well emulating foreign horror that Eyes Without a Face was wholly disowned by the French film establishment. It's just that amazing.

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Fat Girl

Fat Girl is an unfortunately named coming of age story film that Catherine Breillat made in 2001 which led me to a greater understanding (though probably still not appreciation) of Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter which we discussed three and a half years ago. We're growing!

The film itself plays with similar, if much less Nazi-exploitative, themes to Cavani's work, speaking to the inherent violence of male-dominated sexual relationships. And it's ending! Oh goodness, the ending.

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Tanner '88

Robert Altman gets political again, but in a very different manner to last week's delightfully weird ranting satire. Instead we have a miniseries set against the 1988 Presidential race that may have been satirical in 1988, but we've gone through the looking glass as of late and instead it's just inside baseball. Which doesn't make it any less funny when it's funny, or poignant when it's poignant -- or exploitive when it's exploitive. Tanner '88, written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, tells the story of a failed campaign in a ripped-from-the-headlines manner involving real political players interacting with Altman's fakes over the course of 11 episodes that are incredibly uneven indvidually, but pretty great as a whole.

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Secret Honor

A clearly disturbed and vile president rants about the conspiracies against him while contemplating suicide, and somehow is so full of pathos that we find ourselves feeling pity instead of anger.

There are...modern parallels? Robert Altman's Secret Honor's exploration of Nixon's psyche is a class of its own, due mostly to Philip Baker Hall's masterful performance. Still it does remind us of certain contemporary pieces, namely the first episode of Comedy Central's The President Show (particularly starting at about the 5 minute mark), and Aimee Mann's brilliantly tragic entry for 30 Days 30 Songs "Can't You Tell?".

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Opening Night

We reach the end of the Five Films by John Cassavetes (though not quite the end of the boxset) with Opening Night from 1977 which, like A Woman Under the Influence, stars Cassavetes' wife Gena Rowlands. Next week we'll discover that we've been pronouncing her name wrong, but don't let that distract you from her brilliant performance here. Sure the resolution of her character's issues could have been better, and we propose a change to the final scene that would have made this movie beyond compare, but it's still pretty doggone amazing.

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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Two films for the price of one this week as we watch the original 135 minute version of John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie from 1976 and then his director's cut which runs 108 minutes from 1978. Of course, since this is Cassavetes, the shorter version isn't just a truncated version but a rather different film in design, in character motivation, and quite a bit of plot. Right from the start we see scenes not in the longer original then a restructuring of the narrative's chronology. The pair form a fascinating look into the psyche of an extraordinary director, only compounded by the suggestion that the story is allegorically autobiographical.

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A Woman Under the Influence

There are ways in which A Woman Under the Influence is the most "Hollywood" of the John Cassavetes films we've seen so far. It's got structure! But in other very deep ways it is absolutely the furthest from anything Hollywood would ever put out --  "No one wants to see a crazy, middle-aged dame." It's quite possibly the most emotionally intense film we've ever seen.

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Shadows

We kick off a box set of Five Films by John Cassavetes this week with his first feature Shadows (1959). It was a bit of a rough start for the prolific indie auteur who recut the film after a disastrous premiere before leaving the original cut in a subway car. What remains is a fascinatingly realistic look at New Yorkers in the late 50's.

The Battle of Algiers

In 2003 the US Department of Defense held a screening of Gillo Pontocorvo's 1966 film The Battle of Algiers at the Pentagon. A flyer for the screening read:

How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.

Subsequent US history tells us that the showing did not achieve its objectives.

Videodrome

There's an early iTunes review of Lost in Criterion that states that Pat says "weird" a distractingly large number of times for lack of a better way to describe things. This week the two of use do the same thing but with the word "orifice". If there is any director who comes to mind with the word "orifice" it's definitely David Cronenberg, and in 1983 he was at his most-orifice-y with Videodrome, a film that accurately predicted the future of James Woods. Also, don't click that link to James Woods twitter because current James Woods is a nightmare unlike Cronenberg could ever imagine.

Slacker

Richard Linklater's Slacker kicked off the American indie scene of the 90's for better or worse (Kevin Smith cites the film as inspiration for making Clerks). Criterion dates the release as 1991 which is when it won at Sundance, though it floated around for at least a year before that, premiering in Austin in June of 1990 and having principally been shot in 1989. There's a lot here that under other circumstances I'd hate, mainly all the people spouting bad philosophy less toward other characters and more toward the camera, but you know what? It works here. It works beautifully.

I Vitelloni

The Criterion website describes Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni as "semiautobiographical" which is a valid description of any Fellini film. The man couldn't make a movie that wasn't ultimately about himself. I suppose upon its release in 1953, with only two other films under his belt (Variety Lights and The White Sheik), it is perhaps the most autobiographical Fellini has been thus far, but both earlier films clearly have elements of Fellini's life woven in. As far as I Vitelloni goes, it's pretty clear who Fellini thinks his author-insert is, but it's also pretty clear which who it actually is.