#289 Seven Samurai (Shichinin No Samurai / 七人の侍) (1954)

Seven Samurai is simply one of the greatest films of all time directed by one of the greatest directors of all time. This film blurs the lines between all genres, skipping through comedy, drama, war, romance, period, allegory, action, adventure, political and social commentary, and everything in between. Its hours fly by incredibly quickly because of a minimalist script, engaging performances, and a pace that masterfully combines art and commercial wonder. In one moment an apprehensive shot with sneaking movements can explode into a disparate, confusing battle with enemies on all fronts. Even the first hour of the film with the farmers of the tiny village searching for the samurai they need may seem boring on paper, but Kurosawa’s masterful storytelling opens the doors to narrative wide, and we feel and experience wonder, desperate longing, and the truth in every moment they share cobbling together their small army. When Toshiro Mifune happens upon the scene, as in all Kurosawa films, absolute magic happens.

There is no doubt that this film would be one to be reworked in so many ways as source material. We recently watched the 1960 The Magnificent Seven (which is not in the 1001) which lacks the true power, chemistry, and emotional impact of Seven Samurai (even though it is clearly a well-made populist flick). Of course, The Three Amigos also happens to be another wildly popular and fun take on Kurosawa’s film. There is no doubt that this picture captures some universal truths about humanity and the public attending the cinema, portraying all of us in the beautifully performed characterization presented by a stellar ensemble cast.

The Seven Samurai is truly one of the greatest epics ever made.

We watched Seven Samurai on Criterion, #2.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Samurai

Jennifer

Although I had heard of this film, this was my first time viewing it. It was over three hours of epic entertainment. Before Seven Samurai, I watched the Magnificent Seven (it’s western cousin).  I found that movie entertaining as well, but nowhere near the same level of visual grandeur.

In Seven Samurai, there is magnificence in the setting, the village, and even the nonstop rain in the film. The battle scenes are masterfully choreographed. This movie has heroes, romance, wise elders, villains, humor, and obviously, Samurai warriors. I was surprisingly not bored during this lengthy film, even though I thought I knew the basic premise. There are plenty of small twists and turns in the plot to propel the story and the interested of the viewer forward.

A must watch.

Garrett

I have always loved Kurosawa and Mifune in an unhealthy way. Having watched Seven Samurai several times in college, and often teaching Throne of Blood with Macbeth, it was a pleasure approaching this film again. The perspective through which I watched it this time was quite different than before. As an MFA student, I was absolutely enthralled at Kurosawa’s approach to storytelling using a sparse script that managed to provide unparalleled characterization opportunities for such a large cast on the screen while keeping the dialogue and action to the absolute minimum. Something definitely worthy of trying to emulate in my own work.

I love this movie so much. There is little more to say beyond what we put in our intro above. It is simply one of the greatest films ever. Throughout the film, I gasped at the splendor of the framing, the excitement and the drama of the mud sprayed battles and the masculinity of the characters who made me truly desire for the bravery of each of the men while also recognizing the spectrum of fault and fear within. An excellent, excellent film.

Movie Posters By Me #14: Deep Throat

Movie Posters By Me
Episode Fourteen: Deep Throat
http://www.beforewediefilms.com

An eight-year-old is given the title of a film he has never seen, and is asked to “illustrate a poster for this movie and explain what the movie is about.”

This week’s film is Gerard Damiano’s 1972 film, Deep Throat
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Throat_(film)

Movie Posters By Me is a sub-project of our 1001 Movies to See Before You Die Blog at http://www.beforewediefilms.com

Godard Breathless BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#373 Breathless (À bout de Souffle)(1960)

Breathless is a stunning film. Shot from the hip on a tiny budget and hardly planned prior to the day’s filming, Godard’s first masterpiece cobbles together the story of a love affair that blossoms into a strange dance after a brutal crime. The camera jumps and the dialogue wanders as our protagonists approach their day like carelessly rolling through the sheets on a Sunday morning. As the police close in, their cool attitude keeps us close and their freedom closer – not a literal freedom, as it is clear where the film is headed in the first fifteen minutes, but a social, emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal freedom that Godard expresses with his direction and cinematography as much as the stellar performances of the small captivating cast.

There are two elements that make Breathless so revolutionary. One is the informal, free filming and editing style incorporated into the final cutting of the film – something that is replicated today but hardly pulled off with the same, smooth coolness of Godard. Add a hip soundtrack, and you’ve got everything many realist modern directors wish they could accomplish on a budget millions of times Godard’s. Second, the performances and story structure is beyond anything seen before – and easily holds immense appeal to people of my generation as “children of existentialist reflection,…beat culture cool, pop culture flip (who are) antiheroes treat(ing) love as a game, and (our) own identities as makeshift masks… (we) are stranded between traditional values that (we) reject,” and that makes for a killer execution that makes us all cheer for something of a beautiful, tragic, and careless end as beautifully lived and notably famous as this iconic duo (Martin).

We watched Breathless on Criterion DVD (#408).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breathless_(1960_film)

Jennifer

Even though this film was made almost fifty years ago, it continues to retain its hip stylish edge. While it took me a while to get used to the different style of this film (lots of jump cuts, which made this movie feel both a little dated, but also very modern), I was thoroughly entertained. It’s a little bit of a thriller, little bit of a romance, and a little bit of an artsy sort of film.  For me, the appeal lies in the bad boys, fast cars, and doomed romance – but reimagined in a way that still feels unconventional and novel.

Jean Seberg is aloof, uncommitted yet also endearing in this film. Even though we know Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character is a bad boy, he steals your sympathies (or at least he stole mine) with his performance in this film.

Finally,  this movie is loosely based on a true story of a similar young man who stole a car on the pretense of visiting his sick mother and ended up killing a motorcycle cop.  Godard originally set out to make a film about this story but decided it was too boring.

Garrett

Godard’s style in this film is incredible. Considering the costumes, the cars, the incredible dialogue that is impossible to believe that it was written and shot on the spot, the editing, and the incredible true story about its minimal funding and shoestring production, it would have been truly earth-shattering to have seen this film come out in 1960 and not had audiences absolutely baffled at what was playing on the screen. There is no doubt in my mind that he knew exactly what he was doing as he threw this together – in a manner both haphazard and also with such extreme vision – to create an almost definitive new genre, new technique, and new wave of filmmaking. I have seen something so pure with such the minimum of action and dialogue and budget before in a variety of early-nineties low-budget films, but in hindsight, each of these were just sorry attempts to do what Godard does so perfectly in this piece. Essentially, what we got in this film was the beauty of a lazy new relationship where their romantic feelers connect, and around every corner, a new twist of language and fun moment is contrasted with the potential weight of something really terrible crashing down around the next corner.

The music, the dialogue, the style, the cuts, the edits, and the sexiness of the young, fresh characters in their stupendous performances make this piece unforgettable. We also watched the special featurettes on Criterion. Most notable were the featurettes about Godard’s style and approach to filming this piece, as well as the story of Jean Seberg‘s troubled and sad life after her early films. If you watch Breathless, the Criterion featurettes are highly recommended to add some context to the genius of the piece and the strange avenues the cast and crew traveled after the film exploded into the public as something completely before its time.

Hitchcock The Birds BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#414 The Birds (1963)

An enigma of a story that is probably Hitchcock’s only true horror movie, The Birds may perhaps be categorized as the first zombie movie as we know it today. A small fishing village is terrorized by birds for no reason. There is blood. There is running. There are empty eye-holes. There is a back story with some convoluted relationships and some uncertainty as to what is going down between a group of shifty female characters and their pasts – and all hovering around vying for the attention of one man. Is it for his hand in marriage? A tryst? Revenge?

There is no doubt that this story is incredibly enjoyable to watch. Hitchcock takes Daphne Du Maurier’s short story and weaves us throughout the maze of the tiny little village of Bodega Bay. Confounding homes, weaving roads, cliffs, and the gulls themselves constantly raise the stakes for Hitchcock’s characters and our nerves much like David Lynch does with his characters many years later. On the edge of our seats, we learn that even the actors weren’t safe as Hedren was “famously…led to a nervous breakdown (as a result of an) increasingly sadistic work ethic too intense for her to handle” (Klein). Truly a masterpiece of a macabre onslaught of horror and death, The Birds is a spooky tale with nary a purpose but to evoke terror in a manner that only Alfred Hitchcock can.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birds_(film)

Garrett

I loved this story, if only for the fact that it was a wholly engaging tale that picked you up, swung you around, and slammed you down only to wonder what and why it just happened. We never get an answer – the closest to one is that the women have a past with our handsome man at the center of the tale – but more realistically, the only point? Residents of this small community: get out while you’re still alive. This trope, copied hundreds of times in recent memory, has become a staple of zombie movies and video games. Hitchcock may have been the first to realize that, as two-dimensional as this structure is, the damn thing can captivate an audience.

I was captivated.

I was enthralled by the special effects. The combination of real animal actors, puppetry, and a variety of overlay and masking techniques of previously shot footage holds up surprisingly well today. I watched it, I know how he did it, but I don’t know how he got it to look so damn good. As a matter of fact, I would challenge any filmmaker today to make something half as convincing using digital effects when the analog and practical effects worked so well. Along with his team, Hitchcock was a clear master of color correction, lighting, and editing.

A nail-biting, exciting, funny (when the ornithologist showed up in that costume, I practically died), and endearing, The Birds is a great film. Final note, I am pretty sure I saw this once before when I was on a Hitchcock kick at thirteen or so and I remember thinking to myself that there was something about the relationships I just wasn’t getting and that the old lady had something to do with the birds – and that it would come to me when I am more mature. I am pleased to say, a couple decades later, that it wasn’t me. It’s really all there is, and that makes this film a beautiful thing.

Jennifer

Having heard the premise of this story many times, I thought, how scary can a movie from 1963 be? It’s about birds….

Cue my absolute terror at seeing a few geese during my recess duty last week.

So many parts of this film work brilliantly.  There are no answers.  Nothing is spelled out for the viewer.  The suspense and the horror of the birds build so slowly in his movie.  First just one bird, then a few, then a flock.  After seeing this movie I began to notice birds everywhere. Evil feathered monsters snuck up on me, their potential terrorizing my senses.  Most questions I had about the characters, the plot, and the bird are never answered or explained in this film – such a powerful technique.  Garrett and I speculated for days.   

For most of the beginning of the movie, I was waiting for the male lead (Rod Taylor) to end up being the evil at the root of the film. Then there are strange and peculiar interactions with the people in the town of Bodega Bay. The people in the stores and restaurants all seem suspicious of our out of towner protagonist. Was it the men at the dock? The town school teacher? His mother? I’m still not sure if she had anything to do with it…

The scenes with the birds attacking are terrifying.  They are so scary I could barely watch them (even after mocking the concept of it before viewing. I mean, birds?).  How was Hitchcock able to do these scenes with live birds?  Even some of the more ridiculous special effects, like the fake blood, which clearly, obviously, looks like fake blood, are truly scary in the context of this film. After a slow buildup of suspense and terror, the ending of the film is relentlessly horrifying. There are no breaks or reprieves.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie quite like this.

Movie Posters By Me #13: Eraserhead

Movie Posters By Me
Episode Thirteen: Eraserhead
http://www.beforewediefilms.com

An eight-year-old is given the title of a film he has never seen, and is asked to “illustrate a poster for this movie and explain what the movie is about.”

This week’s film is David Lynch’s 1977 film, Eraserhead
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eraserhead

Movie Posters By Me is a sub-project of our 1001 Movies to See Before You Die Blog at http://www.beforewediefilms.com

#354 Some Like It Hot (1959)

Some Like It Hot is a rollicking comedy that features two fun-loving chauvanists in drag chasing some hot Marilyn Monroe tail while fleeing mobsters out to get them after witnessing a brutal execution. Okay, so that opening sentence is a bit too much, but so isn’t this hilarious boozy comedy that showcases Lemmon, Curtis, and Monroe at the height of their game. Labeled “The Best Comedy of All Time” by the American Film Institute, Diamond and Wilder’s independently written and independently produced script is wound as tight as a Swiss watch, pulling up gags and knocking them down three or four times over by the end of the film. Truly a pleasure to watch, and surprisingly holds up and lacks many ethical or social concerns one would think comes up decades later considering the subject matter. Pleasurable, funny, and enticing, Some Like it Hot is “sensationally funny, fizzing from start to finish with great situations, cleverly crafted gags, breakneck timing, and terrific performances” (Errigo).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Some_Like_It_Hot

Jennifer

This movie delivers exactly what you expect- silly slapstick comedy and antics.  What is surprising is that while the “dressed in drag” joke does get tired about halfway through, the performances are so spectacular that you barely notice. Marilyn Monroe is perfectly cast as “Sugar Kane,” and her acting, performances, and outfits alone make this movie hard to look away from- in fact I think she pretty much steals the show in this movie.

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are delightful and their banter works well throughout the film. To be honest, I lost interest in the “gangster” plot line early on in the movie.  When the gangsters appeared at the hotel it took me a few minutes to even remember their involvement in the movie.  For me, I most enjoyed the farce between Curtis and Monroe, and Lemmon and the clueless billionaire  Joe E. Brown. Curtis is definitely the hero in his story, who wins the girl at the end, while Lemmon is the comic relief (and easily evokes the most laughs).

Garrett

We’ve watched this film before and thoroughly enjoy the writing, optimism, fun, plotting, and characterization of films from this era. The story is a hoot, with our main protagonists staring down morbid alcoholism while barely able to hold a job, a relationship, or a dollar. Still, we root for these guys as they make mistake after mistake. They are surprisingly rewarded for some of them, the most notable being the love of Marilyn Monroe who in this film is a soused girl who has men fawning over her but none committing to sticking around long enough to make an honest woman of her. Where it gets weird is that she falls in love with one of our characters under completely false pretenses – and manages to forgive him? The dudes are kinda bad people, but we fall in love with them because they are good in their hearts and don’t seem to know any better.

A few questions that I had at the end of the film were… What is the trans perspective of this film? I really only saw one cringeworthy conversation from my perspective, nevermind the fact that the whole movie has this pair sporting drag under false pretenses. But they are kind of bad people and don’t know any better, so what does that mean for what they do? And the premise?  Also, similarly, I would love to know the feminist perspective on this film. As a self-coined feminist, I kinda have a problem with the last five minutes of the film. Monroe falls for Tony Curtis’ rich character by simply being rich, and spends the film completely starving for his attention even though he’s trying to ignore her. Of course, these are her choices to make, but what is with her completely having no problem with the men having lied to her for literally the entire movie? Is that charming? To me, that just sounds loud, red, horrifying alarms for Candy’s near-term and long-term future. I could almost see her wearing a pencil skirt and a button-down with a pencil in her mouth reading “Mountebanks and Relationships: A Practical Guide To Love.”

On the surface, a really fun film. I love every scene with music, and the film is full of it. Monroe’s final solo in the basement club is beautiful. Still, the film raises a lot of questions for contemporary audiences that may or may not ever need to be answered on a grand cultural scale sixty years later. Frankly, the final line of the film seems to sweep all of these concerns away when Jack Lemmon finally comes out to tell Joe E. Brown, “I’m a man,” to which Brown replies, “well, we can’t all be perfect.” Perhaps this was Wilder’s slight nod to the fact that, in fact, women are the perfect creatures deserving of the respect they deserve – unlike these truly funny, can’t-catch-a-break clowns.