So if you didn’t know (and I feel sorry for you if you didn’t), Hulu was offering up all of their Criterion Collection films for free streaming during the entire weekend. I took this opportunity to watch as many films as possible during my free time between Friday morning and tonight, and I ended up viewing 13 films. There were a few classics I wanted to catch up on, but mostly I wanted to watch some of the lesser recognized titles that seemed interesting, but not interesting enough to pay for. Some of them were really good, and others painfully atrocious. But regardless of quality, I had a pretty nice couple of days of basically only watching old (mostly foreign) movies, which is something I haven’t done probably over five years. So here’s a quick summary of my nice little weekend with the Criterion Collection, which ironically didn’t involve Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend, which I’ve already seen.
El Norte (1983)
I started off with a pretty engaging story about a brother and sister from Guatemala who get in trouble with the army, and flee on a journey to America. The first 30 minutes are a little slow, but once they get to Mexico it becomes really good. An epic journey with a lot of complications along the way, but none of them seemed outlandish. The two leads are extremely likable people, and I just wanted them to succeed. So when poo starts to hit the fan, it gets really depressing. It’s interesting that this came out the same year as Scarface, because it’s kind of the same story, yet El Norte was about a Latin immigrant trying to thrive in America through legal means. I originally would have given it a half a point lower rating, but as I’ve gotten through the weekend, I find myself thinking about El Norte probably the most.
8.5 out of 10
Summer With Monika (1953)
A lesser known Ingmar Bergman film, Summer With Monika is about a boy named Harry who becomes smitten with a young girl named Monika, so he steals a water vessel and the two of them spend a few months living on a speedboat together. After the summer is over, Monika finds out she’s pregnant, and the baby kind of destroys the relationship. Probably because Monika is a terrible person and is unappreciative of the love Harry gives her. I’d say the movie is 10% pre-boat stuff, 70% on the boat, and 20% super melodramatic family drama. It felt uneven. I will give it credit for showing pretty much every stage of a bad relationship in a short duration, but even at just 82 minutes, it felt like it went on too long. There’s a moderate amount of nudity for a film from 1953, which I imagine was a big selling point back then for all the squares who desperately wanted to see a booby.
6 out of 10
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
I’ve seen a bunch of Kurosawa films, but embarrassingly, I’ve never seen the Hidden Fortress until this weekend. It was pretty good, not the best I’ve seen from the guy, though. The Star Wars inspiration is pretty obvious. It does know how to keep the story moving, that’s for sure. It’s a fun film, but I guess I’m a little disappointed it wasn’t an amazing film…
8.5 out of 10
Black Moon (1975)
This was a really weird one… And I like my Criterion films weird, thank you very much! A nonsensical take on Alice in Wonderland, with the opening scene featuring a badger getting run over, which segways awkwardly into a bizarre/bloody war between males and females, which ultimately has our protagonist Lily wandering the grounds of a strange mansion where pretty much nothing makes sense. I actually enjoyed it, but it’s the kind of movie I wouldn’t even recommend to my weirdest friend. There are only three characters with dialogue in the whole movie, and one of them is a fat pony with a unicorn horn glued to its head. And it’s a sassy unicorn at that! The film ends on a freeze frame of Lily’s breasts. Ohhhhhhh France… At least it was better than the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland.
7 out of 10
Chinese Roulette (1976)
A strange German film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, in which a long married couple lie to each other about going abroad for the weekend, and they both end up taking their secret lovers to their summer château at the same time. Awkwardness ensues, especially when their crippled daughter shows up to antagonize them because she hates her parents. It’s an oddly complicated plot, and it doesn’t help that everyone acts like monotone weirdos the whole time as well. The climax of the film involves a game of “Chinese Roulette”, where people ask the other folk a personal question about themselves, and it eventually gets a little touchy, the Third Reich is involved, and yadda yadda yadda someone gets shot. It’s interesting in a strange kind of way, but it’s not great storytelling, and I did not understand why these people were acting the way they were about everything. This makes me wonder how many films in the Criterion Collection involve rich white people going to a château for a weekend with awkward results? I think it’s a lot. This was also the first movie of the weekend to feature a dildo.
6.5 out of 10
A Mexican antiques dealer finds an ancient statue with a scarab inside it, and when he puts it in his hand it violently attaches itself to him for a few seconds. As we find out later, this device (known as the Cronos), gives the user unnaturally long life and/or healing powers. There’s a rich guy looking for it as well, and he sends his lacky (Ron Perlman) to find and kill the old man and get the Cronos back. It’s a very 90s movie, from the gore make-up to the cheesy music score. This is probably a movie I would have loved to have rented from Blockbuster as a kid. It just seems like a movie that would have appealed to 9-year-old Scott. But it would have been much better in the hands of someone like David Cronenberg. Plus, you get to see Ron Perlman speak half his lines in Spanish. One other thing I noticed while watching this is that a young Ron Perlman looks like an old Will Ferrell.
7.5 out of 10
Border Radio (1987)
This might be the most unprofessional movie in all of the Criterion Collection. I don’t even understand why it was selected by them, or if it had any cultural significance. I have to doubt it, because it’s a terrible movie. No one can act, the story doesn’t go anywhere, I hate all the characters, and I think it wanted to be funny but it failed miserably on that front. I guess to sum up the plot, it’s about a successful band after they’ve broken up, and the lead singer steals some money and flees to Mexico and his girlfriend tries to find him. To its credit, Border Radio was kind of trying to be Clerks seven years before Clerks came out, only it wasn’t as entertaining or witty as Kevin Smith’s film. Upon looking up the director Allison Anders on IMDb, to see what she’s done after this, I’m noticing she directed the worst segment in Four Rooms (the Madonna witchcraft one). Seems about right.
2 out of 10
A classic monster movie about a group of teens wandering the desert in search of their biology professor, but they find an ancient book that unleashes an alternate universe populated by 30 foot claymation super-gorillas and giant blue cavemen. The dialogue was hilarious, and the storyline was ridiculous. Absolutely a so-bad-it’s-good kind of movie. I was a little intoxicated when I saw it, and I had a good time. If you like watching bad movies simply because they’re laughably bad, this is certainly one to check out. I wouldn’t be surprised if it got featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 at some point.
7 out of 10
City Lights (1931)
Pretty good Charlie Chaplin movie. About as good as most of them usually are. Though, The Kid is still my favorite of his. But I guess at the end of the day, I’m more of a Buster Keaton fan.
8 out of 10
Youth in Fury (1960)
A character study of a young Japanese man who is incredibly dickish to everyone he meets. Well, that’s not the actual story, but that basically what happens. It’s a nice portrayal of a time and place which seemed really fascinating to me, focusing mostly on the alienated youth of early-60s Japan trying to make an impact on society. It felt ahead of its time, and had a strong French New Wave feel to it, despite being a Japanese film. Good style and good characters, but if you wanted me to recall the entire story to you right now, I’m not so sure I could. So that might be a weak point. Also, the main character reminded me of Shenmue, so I kind of wish I could play Shenmue again.
7.5 out of 10
Satan’s Brew (1976)
Another strange one from Fassbinder. Satan’s Brew is a gloriously wacky and pointless film. It reminds us all of a time when a major director could release a completely nonsensical work and nobody questioned it. Not the kind of thing that happens too much anymore. Try and imagine a movie getting released in 2013 with the main character taking a foot bath with a police officer while they eat eggs together and talk about having sex with insects. Because that happens in Satan’s Brew. It’s mostly funny, nonsensical garbage. I guess it picks up something of a narrative in the second half. I laughed pretty hard at a few parts, but its pointless nature can start to wear down on even the biggest fan of silly antics. I wonder what it’s like to write a movie like this? I struggled to tell if it was a work of genius, or the crayon scribbled rantings of a lunatic on a bathroom wall. Regardless, it was fast paced and pretty entertaining, and Kurt Raab is an awesome actor in it. It was the second movie of the weekend to feature a dildo. Fassbinder loves dildos, I guess.
7 out of 10
The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)
How can I not watch a movie with a premise like this: An Australian town intentionally causes fatal car accidents to visitors driving through, just to scrap the car parts and turn any survivors into lobotomized vegetables. Sadly, after a great opening scene, the film takes a nosedive into the deep realms of boringness. It does pick up again at the very end to give it a pretty awesome last 15 minutes or so, but the middle just didn’t do it for me. A great concept done with lackluster execution. It’s not as exciting as, say Death Race 2000, or as bizarre as, say, A Boy and His Dog, both of which had similar atmospheres but were executed much better than The Cars That Ate Paris. I don’t know, I just wasn’t feeling this one, you guys.
5.5 out of 10
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
A shipwreck victim ends up on an island with a mysterious mansion, and upon arrival he meets a few other survivors who become prey in Count Zaroff’s man hunt for sport. Benefits greatly from the fact it’s only an hour long, but it’s pretty entertaining for such an old film. It’s decent, but not great. Count Zaroff is a badass name for a villain, though.
7 out of 10
And so concludes my cultural movie weekend. I’ll probably reverse everything I just experienced by seeing Die Hard 5 sometime this week. USA! USA! USA!