Author: Whit Denton

Criterion Discovery: Cries and Whispers

Background Cries and Whispers (Spine #101) is a 1972 drama written and directed by legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman and starring Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, and Kari Sylwan. Bergman is a favorite of the Criterion Collection and presently has over twenty films in the collection, including Persona (Spine #701) and The Seventh Seal (Spine #11). Story Cries and Whispers, like many of Bergman’s films, is steeped in a sort of deathly dread. The movie begins in a room painted in a striking, bloody crimson. Though Cries is a remarkably understated and quiet film, from the beginning there is an...

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The Hateful Eight Is Another Tarantino Opus

Overview: A group of eccentric strangers are thrown together in a desolate haberdashery when a blizzard hits, and as the snow piles up outside, a nefarious plot of murder and deception is revealed. The Weinstein Company; 2015; Rated R; 187 minutes. A Doomed America: With The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino continues that long tradition of artistic cultural critique, and takes a hard look at America through the ages. What he comes up with is a very cynical, unhopeful view of the country, and while it doesn’t make for a very patriotic film, it does make for some excellent cinema. Although there...

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The Films of Quentin Tarantino

Toward the end of Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 motion picture Inglorious Basterds, a gunfight breaks out in a movie theater. Simultaneously, the theater bursts into flames and begins to crumble. In some way, this fire-and-brimstone shootout is the ultimate exemplification of Tarantino’s movies. His films all share their similarities, mainly in their bloodiness and love of cinema itself. In some ways, he’s been directing shootouts in a movie theater for years. Yet, despite these obvious resemblances, each film he’s made is its own singular piece of work. Whether he’s traversing the muddy moral ground of WWII Nazi Germany or adapting the...

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Pulp Fiction and the Myth of Originality

There are no truly original ideas. In the whole myriad world of art, there are several different permutations, but no singularly new concepts. The job of the artist, as the French philosopher Roland Barthes put it, is to be merely a “scriptor,” compiling several different elements into one, cohesive whole. Think of the painter; one who takes the colors at hand and arranges them in such a way as to create something; a painting. The best artist, regardless of the medium, is one who can take the resources already available and rearrange, and occasionally subvert, them into something that...

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A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a Vivid Meditation on Life

Overview: A series of loosely connected vignettes ruminate drolly on the inhumane nature of humanity. Filmproduktion AB; 2015; Rated PG-13; 101 minutes. Gazing into the Mirror: The film begins with a man, someone who has the blank gaze and slumped demeanor of what could be called an idiot, in some museum looking at dead animals in glass boxes. He looks confused, his brow furrowed and his eyes fixated on the once-living exhibits. This man, the idiot, is the audience; a stand-in for the whole of humanity. The man is gawking at the painstakingly constructed fruits of his race’s violent...

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The Unstable Glory of Casino 20 Years On

In the opening credits sequence of Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino, the words “Adapted From a True Story” are prominently displayed. But how much of it is true? How much of it is “adapted?” How much comes from the mind of Martin Scorsese? The film begins with Robert De Niro’s character Sam “Ace” Rothstein, getting blown sky high in a car bomb. “When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them,” he says. Later on, it turns out Rothstein wasn’t really killed by the car bomb, despite what the papers said. Scorsese spends the whole film playing with perceptions and perspectives like this,...

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Criterion Discovery: Mulholland Dr.

Background Mulholland Dr. (Spine #779) is a 2001 psychological-horror film written and directed by notorious auteur David Lynch, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Currently, Lynch has only one other film in the collection: Eraserhead (Spine #725). Story It begins with a car crash. A woman (Harring) stumbles from the smoldering wreckage of a limousine into a lush Los Angeles apartment, wholly bewildered. There, she finds perky and wide-eyed Betty (Watts), and together they embark on a hazy, surreal journey for identity and that elusive fiction known to most as the truth. As is the norm for a Lynch artwork,...

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Criterion Discovery: The Thin Red Line

Background The Thin Red Line (Spine #536) is a 1998 ensemble war film directed by Terrence Malick and based on James Jones’ 1962 novel of the same name. Malick has two other films in the Criterion canon: Badlands (Spine #651) and Days of Heaven (Spine #409). Story World War II is a veritable fountain from which filmmakers have been drawing ideas since the war itself actually happened. Whether it be The Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan, or Inglorious Basterds, it seems that artists never grow tired of the grand narrative of the Axis versus the Allies. However, Malick’s The...

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Criterion Discovery: The Seventh Seal

Background The Seventh Seal (Spine #11) was directed by Ingmar Bergman and was released in 1957. Bergman is a favorite of Criterion, with over twenty films in the collection including Persona (Spine #701) and Autumn Sonata (Spine #60). Story Bergman paints a nightmarish portrait of a disillusioned Crusades soldier, Antonius Block (played by Max Von Sydow), who plays chess with the physical manifestation of Death in order to stay alive while the Black Plague ravages the society around him. The Film In The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman captures fear in a way few directors have before. During the Middle Ages...

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Almost Famous is Wonderfully Uncool 15 Years Later

It is a time tested truth that nostalgia fogs up one’s memory of the past worse than downpour hitting the windshield of a bus careening down a highway during a rainstorm. One cannot truly remember without that said memory being filtered through every feeling, obsession, interaction, and nuance that existed in the time in which the memory takes place. When one recalls the past, the past is shown cloaked in a blanket of personality and subjectivity. Not many people understand this as well as Cameron Crowe does. With Almost Famous, what is likely the best film he has made,...

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Found by Lost in Translation

Everyone is lost. The specific whys and hows, and the degrees to which this is true are myriad and variegated, but regardless of the reason every member of the human race is, in some respect, lost. And that’s okay. This planet on which people have been set to wander for all time is far too large and mysterious to ever be anything but frightening by way of confusion. Critics and artists alike love to use the term “human condition” when talking about art. Does this artist truly understand the human condition? Does anyone truly understand the human condition? After all,...

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Netflix Hidden Gem #60: Holy Motors

Holy Motors Director: Leo Carax Genre: Drama Les Films du Losange Synopsis: In one surreal night, man goes around Paris in several different disguises, inhabiting different roles. Overview: A movie as strange as it is enthralling, Leo Carax’s Holy Motors is a pitch perfect example of experimental cinema done right. Cynics may turn their nose up at the sheer oddness of the film, but if one can get on board, it’s most certainly worth the trip. The film begins with a man (credited only as “The Sleeper” and played by Carax himself) waking up and walking into a packed...

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Kneeling At The Altar of Martin Scorsese on Forgiveness Day

“You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit, and you know it.” So says Martin Scorsese himself in the opening sequence of his seminal, sophomore feature, Mean Streets. The quote is as good a summation of the themes inherent to Scorsese’s films as any you’re bound to find. Redemption is not to be found in the Bible, or the evangelical screeds of proselytizers and zealots, but in the grit and muck of the streets, the real world. It’s easy to pray in mass,...

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Is It Still Scary: The Birds

It’s important when watching films, and old films in particular, to put them in the context of their time, and to try and understand why certain things appear in certain ways and appreciate other aspects despite their obvious dated nature. In order to be able to encapsulate the artistry and talent on display in a movie, one must look past the indelible watermark of age set on the motion picture. Take a film like the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, for instance. At certain moments, Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the future seems obsolete and very much a product of...

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Cinema Saints: Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater is a connoisseur of the everyday. He captures the intricacies and trivialities of regular life, showing the importance in the small, making the common and unimpressive grand beyond belief. In some ways, Linklater is like Terrence Malick in how he reveals the wonder in the mundane through his films. Where Malick is focused on nature on a large scale, Linklater points his camera toward the far more ordinary. Summer nights, high school parties, and other assorted moments that seem so simple, so regular, relatable even, are turned into events of mammoth meaning and truth. In one of his very best movies,...

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