Criterion Reviews: ‘The Fabulous Baron Munchausen’

Before man first landed on the moon, the lunar surface was ripe for colourful interpretation. It has been the source for endless fascination for storytellers since nursery rhymes sang of it being made of cheese. “The moon, my dear, is by nature a curious place,” says one of the curious travellers of Karel Zeman’s space oddity. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen doesn’t stay on the moon for long, but it brings that curiosity back down to earth.

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Criterion Reviews: ‘Detour’

“You can change the scenery, but sooner or later you’ll get a whiff of perfume or somebody will say a certain phrase or maybe they’ll hum something, then you’re licked again,” muses piano player Al Roberts in Detour (1945), Edgar G. Ulmer’s singular film noir. He is sitting, isolated, in a New York City bar when Bing Crosby’s “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me” begins to play, launching him into a reverie about his estranged girlfriend Sue, who has up and left him for her California dream of becoming an actress.

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Criterion Reviews: ‘For All Mankind’

After the albeit-muted success of Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’, now seems to be an optimal time to revisit a documentary which strips the drama from humanity’s first steps on the moon. Filtering one of history’s most talked about events through a focused lens, For All Mankind leaves the conspiracy theories at the door to present 79 minutes of NASA footage and interviews – allowing its audience to partake in the simple joy of the achievement. 

Director Al Reinert bookends the film with the only outside commentary featured in the whole documentary; President John F. Kennedy’s Address on the Nation’s Space Effort. The construction is otherwise simple: voiceovers from the astronauts accompany home videos from within the Apollo spacecraft, footage from the mission control centre and film captured from the surface of the moon itself. 

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Criterion Reviews: ‘Wanda’

The Criterion Channel’s latest movie is the 1970 film, Wanda, a film now appreciated as a masterpiece in American independent cinema. Directed, written, and starring the late Barbara Loden, Wanda follows the titular character through Pennsylvania as she faces difficulty at her every attempt to make a life for herself after divorcing her husband and losing custody of her children. She slowly walks around her Rust Belt town wearing her hair curlers for the first twenty minutes and offers a perfect introduction into the protagonist’s circumstances—her walk resembles not of someone aimless but of someone who has nowhere to go and no one to go to.

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Criterion Reviews: ‘To Sleep With Anger’

In the last week of Black History Month, the Criterion Channel grants us a look into the newest film to be released in their collection – Charles Burnett’s 1990 film, To Sleep With Anger.

To Sleep With Anger starts off with an ominous long shot of a fruit bowl on fire, sitting idly next to a half-cut apple. As the credits role, we see Gideon (Paul Butler), the patriarchal figure of the film, dressed in all white church clothes. His chair is licked with flames, followed by his shoes, as we slowly fade to another shot of bare feet in dirt and realize that Gideon has fallen asleep holding his Bible and has been dreaming.

This opening scene is hauntingly beautiful and fascinating to watch, and serves as an omen for the rest of the film. Gideon and his wife, Suzie (Mary Alice) are an older couple with two sons and subsequent grandchildren living in Southern Los Angeles when one day they receive a visitor from their old home in the South – Harry, played by Donald Glover in one of his most powerful and unsettling roles to date. With Harry comes a sense of uneasiness, suspicion, and high tensions as his charming demeanor begins to unravel and bring forth a chaos within the family – particularly with Gideon’s youngest son, Babe Brother (Richard Brooks), who is frustrated by the way his father treats him and by the fact that he is not yet successful.

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Criterion Reviews: ‘Stalker’

This week’s Criterion Review wanders into the realm of science fiction with Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, Stalker. It is a gorgeous, sprawling film that meditates on nuclear war, finding one’s purpose in life, and even religion. Despite covering such a wide variety of themes, Stalker is a film that will take your breath away with each drop of water.

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Criterion Reviews: ‘Chungking Express’

I have to admit that my first encounter with Chungking Express years ago was a confusing one. I was just getting into films, my experience with cinema was limited to mainstream Hollywood films and I had never seen anything like Chungking Express. I restarted my computer twice because I was sure the frame rate was my computer’s fault and not part of the film. Coming back to it years later with an appreciation for Wong Kar-wai’s other films and fresh eyes feels wonderful.

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