About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Film Review: "Django Unchained" (2012) by Quentin Tarantino 3.5/5

     The tenants of classic spaghetti westerns are found within all of Tarantino's work leading up to his latest film Django Unchained (2012) - his first actual western.  Prior to this pre-Civil War flick, Inglourious Basterds (2009) was essentially a western set "once upon a time in Nazi occupied France".  Basterds featured music by the legendary western composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly etc), a classic story of revenge, Mexican stand-offs, scalping, war-paint, dynamite, and bad Italian.  What made Inglourious Basterds even more special was that it was a movie about the power of film (physically and metaphorically), and it is that below the surface layer that made Basterds not only entertaining but something greater than just an action comedy (these elements were also hallmarks of Tarantino's most famous film from 1994, Pulp Fiction).  With Tarantino's love for cinema and infatuation with the western genre, Django Unchained feels like the film Tarantino was always bound to make yet something feels off.
     Django Unchained follows a newly-freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) and a German bounty hunter by the name of King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) as they travel together through the antebellum south in search of the Brittle brothers who are wanted dead or alive for stagecoach robbery and murder.  Along the way, Django reveals to Schultz that he intends upon saving his wife from the roughest plantation in the south: Candyland.  Coincidentally, Django's wife is named "Broomhilda" (Kerry Washington) which captures Dr. Schultz' attention since there is, as Schultz recounts, a German tale of a damsel in distress named Brynhildr (pronounced "Broomhilda") who was in need of a hero and was saved by the brave Siegfried.  Schultz, admiring Django for being a "real-life Siegfried", decides that he will help his new bounty hunting accomplice in his quest.  Thus begins the classic hero complex: a hero with a want, a damsel in distress, and a dragon that must be defeated.  The dragon is a young and wild man (comparable to the unruly George Minafer in Orson Welles' 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons) in the form of plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), hence the name of his plantation "Candyland".  
     Upon arriving at Candyland, the film takes a vicious turn as the true relationship between slave owner and slave is depicted with shockingly real brutality.  The merciless torture and unflinching murder of slaves in cruel and unusual ways is incredibly off-putting (as it should be).  It is nothing about Calvin Candie's stature or demeanor that is frightening, but rather it is within his appetite for cruelty and violence that Candie becomes a menacing phantom of the everyman plantation owner (or every-plantation owner).  The character of Candie makes slavery and slave owners despicable, but he also makes the people who stood idly by watching him commit his acts of hatred against his property for years just as guilty.  The lukewarm are just as guilty, and are treated as such in this film as Django strikes vengeance upon the oppressors of African Americans with furious anger.
     Dr. King Schultz becomes the white conscience of the film as he witnesses the gruesome murder of a slave who was too afraid to continue being forced to participate in "mandingo" fighting (a gladiator-esque fight to the death between one slave and another), and throughout the film he is haunted by the images of that murder.  Like Travis Bickle in Scorsese's 1976 film Taxi Driver, Schultz feels empowered to "clean the streets" after witnessing all the horrible atrocities that take place on the plantation.  Armed with a spring-extending gun in his sleeve, just like in Taxi Driver, he takes his own violent stand surprising his fellow white-man with a bullet to the chest.
     The vicious turn that the narrative in Django takes is a twist that never occurs in Inglourious Basterds - a film about a squad of Jewish-American-soldiers on a mission to end WW2 early by scalping and beating all the Nazis in their path to death (including Hitler and his cronies), but we never see our protagonists get harmed.  Had we seen images of the holocaust in the film, it would have been a much darker film and would have had a similar feel as Django Unchained in regards to the depiction of slavery.  Django at times feels like a rehash of Basterds.  It's racial revenge by the victims of oppression.  Another key difference would be the degree of victimization that the protagonists experience in their respective films.  In Basterds, the protagonists are indirectly affected by the evil of the Nazis as they have never experienced the cruelty of a concentration camp.  However, In Django our protagonist is beaten and abused numerous times in the film (and so are his peers).
     It's interesting that filmmaker Spike Lee is so opposed to Django Unchained, claiming that "I can't speak on it 'cause I'm not gonna see it.  The only thing I can say is that it's disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film."  In all reality, Django Unchained feels like a companion piece to Spike Lee's breakthrough film Do The Right Thing (1989).  In Do The Right Thing, the temperature and racial tensions are high in modern day Brooklyn as everyone gets fed up with each others' differences.  At the end of the film, Mookie (Spike Lee) chooses to lead an angry mob of African Americans to burn down the Italian antagonist's pizzeria instead of killing the owner, and in which by burning the pizzeria down they are destroying the establishment that embodied the ideals of their opposition.  Sure, Mookie chose the lesser of two evils (property destruction over murder), but these actions are reflected in Django Unchained as racial tensions escalate to a violent boiling point concluding in the destruction of the plantation.
     This film is a major platform for discussion concerning the ethics of the characters and the history of our nation, but it didn't leave a nice taste in my mouth.  The first half of the film is so rich in character and feels like a true western, but the second half (which begins with a mandingo fight) is marred with hip-hop music, brutality, and poor decisions.  Characters choose to act violently, like their slave owners, instead of making peace - a conscious decision that Quentin Tarantino explained while on Charlie Rose on the 21st of December.  It makes for great entertainment, but it brings to mind an interesting plot device that justifies brutality in Inglourious Basterds: it's an alternate reality.  Basterds defies history by changing the way the second world war ended, where as Django stays within the bounds and confines of history (within a fictional narrative), but it makes the violence feel unnecessary.  Revenge was not his mission: Django only wanted to save his wife from the dragon of slavery, but instead he stays around and kills everyone (all the lukewarm observers of cruelty and the remaining white plantation work hands). Sure, violence is a "trademark" of a Tarantino film, but it fails to serve the logic of the character of Django.  Had Inglourious Basterds been a metaphor for American slavery hidden within the veils of a cinematically charged depiction of WW2, perhaps it would have been a greater vessel for this story, but it would have spoiled the charm of Basterds.  
     Frankly, Django Unchained isn't very enjoyable, and with all the issues within the film, Tarantino's predictable wit and humor can't save it.  Lots of western imagery (not enough though), blood and guts (too much), and laughs - but it's a hesitant laugh.


My ranking: 3.5/5

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Film Review: "Argo" (2012) directed by Ben Affleck 3.6/5

     Directed by Ben Affleck, Argo (2012) chronicles the CIA's 1979 rescue operation to recover six American diplomats who were unable to leave Iran during the hostage crisis.  Written by Chris Terrio, the film is enjoyable, thrilling, and gripping, but it's not as daring, intelligent, or bold as past political thrillers like Frost/Nixon (2007) or All The President's Men (1973).  The film features an ensemble cast of stars and actors that resemble the historical figures they are depicting including Ben Affleck as the protagonist Tony Mendez, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman.  It should be noted that Ben Affleck least resembles his character within the cast.
     The film begins with a digital recreation of storyboards as voice-over depicts the history of unrest within Iranian society leading up to the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.  Instantly, we are teleported from these cheap looking storyboards to jarring handheld cinematography within a crowd of Iranian protestors outside of the US Embassy.  The opening scene transitions between cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto's camera and 8mm shots from protestors within the crowd which expands the perspective of the film.  This scene feels like everything we've seen on television within the past two years as the Arab spring has sprung, and yet it's "1979".  Within the Embassy, the six soon-to-be hiding American diplomats are watching the protesters outside as they break through the gate and invade the Embassy.  Files are getting destroyed, people are panicking, and the six diplomats escape out a back door and manage to find refuge at the Canadian ambassador's home.
     The news of these events hit the headlines in the states and the young CIA specialist Tony Mendez is called in to assist in coming up with a rescue plan.  Everyone's ideas are too logical, but there are typically factual flaws that Mendez can point out ruining every idea presented.  That night, while on the phone with his son, he gets the idea to make a fake movie when his son says he's watching Battle For The Planet of The Apes (1973) on TV.  The desert landscapes and exotic elements of those films resemble Iran, so he runs with the idea.  In order to get approval, all of the fake pre-production pieces of the film need to be completed so that the film will be a convincing real movie, so Tony Mendez approaches makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who connects him with Alan Arkin's character, film producer Lester Siegel.  The plan: pretend to be a Canadian film crew shooting a science fiction film entitled "Argo" and leave Iran with the six diplomats who will pretend to be the film's crew.
     It's a fantastic film premise, and so rarely do historical events actually make great Hollywood hits without finessing, but Ben Affleck and Chris Terrio finessed a bit in areas that didn't need finessing but instead needed more realism.  Alan Arkin's character, Lester Siegel, didn't actually exist – and that's the way his character feels on the screen.  All of his interactions with John Goodman are simply there for Hollywood laughs (which all of the jokes were shown in the trailer... not that it really matters).  Additionally, the perspective of the film is constantly changing (sure, it's mostly Tony Mendez's perspective, but sometimes it's the six diplomats', Iranian soldiers', Bryan Cranston's CIA team, and most baffling is the Canadian ambassador's maid who gets her own awkward ending at the conclusion of the film).  On the topic of the ending, the finale of the film becomes every cliché "we did it" moment in films.  The bad guys are right on there tail, but they're just too slow and incapable so the protagonists get away – cue emotional music and people applauding and hugging.  It's like the Ron Howard film Apollo 13, but unnecessary.  One final thing: those digital storyboards at the beginning of the movie were awful.  Why not have a series of actual storyboards sitting on a desk that could arbitrarily tell the story of Iran?  The narrator's voice was distracting as well – Ben Affleck could have easily read aloud the history of unrest in Iran (or maybe even President Carter).
     It's easy to pick at the flaws, but this is still a pretty strong film.  The thrills are wildly intense at times, and Affleck's direction feels authentic within this '70s period piece.  The flaws that I mentioned above don't take away from the film, but they are severely problematic.  Had Steve McQueen directed this, it might've felt more like his 2008 debut film Hunger primarily following the six diplomats, and if Ron Howard had made Argo it would have been more of a character study following Tony Mendez, but these are all speculative what-ifs.  Ben Affleck made the film, and this is what it is – and it's not that great, but it's not too bad either


My ranking: 3.6/5

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Film Review: "Prometheus" directed by Ridley Scott 2/5

     Ridley Scott, the man behind two of the most influential science-fiction films of all time (his 1979 film Alien, and 1982 film Blade Runner), made his return to science-fiction earlier this year with Prometheus (2012).  Set within the milieu of the Alien franchise that he started over thirty years ago, Prometheus is a loose prequel to the masterful science-fiction-horror film that established his reputation as a director with a vision.
     The elements that make Alien such an impressive film are found within the first twenty minutes: the film begins with the conflict, everyone is at odds with one another and yet there doesn't seem to be a main character, and the women are strong.  Alien defies every genre expectation found within science-fiction and horror.  Everything feels too real to be science "fiction" as people complain about getting paid for extra time on the job.  As far as horror goes, everyone's lives are essentially in turmoil from the beginning - in comparison to the usual grace-period that horror films donate to their protagonists.  Finally, Ridley Scott has been known throughout his career for featuring strong women in his films (and occasionally reinventing the "buddy film" as seen with Thelma & Louise), and this is particularly true within Alien as Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) sticks to her guns even though the men on the ship disagree with her often, she is nearly killed by a pornographic magazine as it is shoved down her throat, and at one point has to save a pussycat (you get the picture).  
     Sadly, all of these elements are completely absent in Prometheus.
     To Ridley Scott's credit, Prometheus isn't trying to be Alien (or necessarily be a true prequel), but that can't save the film from itself.  With the initial concept of Prometheus, we are – again – being presented a different take on the science-fiction film: existentialism.  Prometheus was pitched as a film that was going to show the "true" origins of life and would make everyone in the film question what they've always believed.  Enter Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who is an archaeologist that has found a star map that should lead them to the planet where "The Engineers" originated.  She is a Christian girl, and these discoveries concerning an alien species that may have created humans are leading her to question her faith in God.  Deep stuff, but that's about as deep as the film gets.
     Once she and her crew of scientific misfits and rebels land on the designated planet, the film almost instantly goes down hill.  Any amount of subtlety that made Alien wonderful is completely absent in Prometheus (even with minuscule sound details, Ridley is spelling everything out to the audience IN ALL CAPS).  This character can't have kids, but this is a film about the origin of life, and this character isn't even human, but he'd like to be, and this character doesn't believe in God, but blah blah blah.  At the beginning of the film, characters snoop around Charlize Theron's office and find that she has a personal medical bay... guess what, it's gonna get used later in the movie.  At one point in the film, a main character gets infected with a disease that rapidly begins spreading through his entire body and he is rushed back to the space ship.  When they finally arrive back at the shuttle, he is greeted by Charlize Theron with a flamethrower and is torched to death.  Any time that a character's thoughts are being watched, the sound of chimes is ever present to highlight visual beats to ensure that the audience doesn't miss the obvious details.
     The end of the film is a complete travesty as characters act in ways that defy the audience's understanding of who they are and what they stand for (the key example being Captain Janek (Idris Elba) who hasn't cared about anything happening prior to this specific event).  It also falls into stereotypical horror territory: the bad guy is still alive and is going to sneak up on the protagonist.  Additionally, the final shot of the film is so unnecessary.  It feels as though it's trying to say, "this is a prequel to Alien, and there might be a Prometheus sequel in the works."
     It is easy to say that if the film were an hour longer that more of the characters could have been fleshed out and the concepts could have been expanded upon, but the fact of the matter is that it is not an hour longer.  I usually don't write reviews with such a negative and non-chalant demeanor, but this film treats its audience like such a bunch of idiots that I can't help but get angry.  Sure, the visuals are interesting, but it's nothing new: It's Alien meets the special effects of the 2000s (which is still not as stimulating as the special effects observed in 1977's Star Wars or the original Alien).


My ranking: 2/5

Friday, November 16, 2012

Film Review: "Moonrise Kingdom" directed by Wes Anderson 5/5

Preface: Wes Anderson has perfected his visual style (and re-perfected his style over and over again) to the point that every film he has made since The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) has attracted criticism and praise across the board.  Those that didn't enjoy his 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited might argue that the film was only style and no substance, and additionally may agree that his 2004 epic dramedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is evidence that Anderson's style can't function in every genre (even though it's a heightened-costumed-up Anderson flick in disguise).  His stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), though not a traditional Anderson film, was essentially a return to form for the young director as he was able to adapt his visual style to the realm of animated feature films.

Speaking about Wes Anderson's visual style is almost essential to the on-going conversation about his filmography (as it is – and should be – with every filmmaker), but the visuals are key to dissecting his films.  There's something nostalgic and heavily sentimental about the level of detail within one of his films.  Within each outfit and color palette, not only are his films visually cohesive, but the milieu of a Wes Anderson film reflects the backstory of his protagonists.  His characters are often filmed dead on (as compared to at an angle) as though we are seeing his outlandish characters as the people they really are.  All of these elements blend together to create a portrait of an individual (or a series of individuals).

[Just to get it out there, his visual motifs span his entire filmography and I've included examples of a few of these visuals (and much more) at the bottom of the review using a still from each of his feature films.]

Review: With all of that in mind, Wes Anderson's latest film Moonrise Kingdom (2012), is not only a return to live action, but is also a wonderful companion piece to The Royal Tenenbaums.  Co-written with Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom is a traditional Anderson coming-of-age film (but told from a different perspective than usual).  The children act like adults, and the adults act like children as they bounce in and out of relationships in an effort to gain a sense of satisfaction in life.  Many of the characters are broken:  Jared Gilman stars in the lead role as Sam Shakusky, a twelve year-old orphan attending Camp Ivanhoe who falls in love with a girl from a town nearby, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) a troubled twelve year-old girl.  Together, the two scheme to escape their current residencies and run away together.  A concept I've come to know as "The-End-All-Escape-Dream-Plan" theory.

Meanwhile, Suzy Bishop's parents (Bill Murray and Francis McDormand) are potentially nearing the end of their marriage as Mr. Bishop becomes suspicious of his wife's relationship with the local police officer Captain Sharp. When Sam and Suzy are finally united, all of these characters are forced to interact with each other to locate the children.

This film is brilliant, and easily one of the best of the year.  It has a lot of heart, and though it may not be as powerful as The Royal Tenenbaums, this film is aiming for a different tone.  Moonrise Kingdom has a magical quality to it as innocence is lost and paradise is discovered.  

Wes Anderson is a known lover of cinema (something that shines through in all of his films), and his ability to homage to the films that influence him is always endearing and exciting to observe.  Moonrise Kingdom feels akin to Peter Bogdanovich's 1971 film The Last Picture Show.  Beyond the obvious plot-points such as a young couple running away, and parents having affairs etc; Moonrise Kingdom is a film about people who want a better life, the emotions of children being neglected by adults simply because "kids are not old enough to understand love".  The Hank Williams song "Kaw-liga" is used as a song within both features (which both happen to take place around the same decade).  Hell, one of the kids even has an eyepatch.  Interestingly, these similarities feel like a tribute within Wes Anderson's film (similar to the Jacques Cousteau imagery found within The Life Aquatic).

The opening title sequence is set against a Benjamin Britten song entitled "The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra" which introduces each instrument within an orchestra, in the same way that a Wes Anderson film flaunts every aspect of its existence through its misè-en-scene (or production design).  When the title appears with a loud thunder clap, the title quickly transitions in color (almost like an effect from Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange).  Even during a more violent scene in involving a pair of scissors, upon impact the film cuts to a series of vibrant drawings of scissors for only a second (which also calls to mind the skull-crushing stone-penis scene in A Clockwork Orange).

Moonrise Kingdom is truly a must-see (I saw it twice while it was in theaters in May).

My ranking: 5/5

Centered Shots:
Deadpan Comedy:
Dolly Movements:
Color Palette:
Slow Motion:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Film Review: "Skyfall" (2012) directed by Sam Mendes 3/5

[It's been a while since I have formally reviewed a film, but the praise surrounding the latest installment in the 007 franchise has beckoned me to return from hibernation.]

Skyfall (2012) is the 23rd "official" (MGM produced) film in the James Bond franchise which also marks the 50th anniversary of the films – as Dr. No was released in 1962.  Beyond the hype that any 007 film gathers, this film features a stellar amount of cast and crew known for more artistic film endeavors.  With Sam Mendes (American Beauty (1999), Revolutionary Road (2008), etc) helming the film and the Coen brothers' long-term collaborator Roger Deakins as cinematographer, the latest Bond film was off to a great start.  Add to it Daniel Craig returning as the famed secret agent, Judi Dench reprising her roll as M for the seventh time, and a supporting cast featuring Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes... this is looking like a winner.

However, Skyfall is a decent film (even within the lengthy list of Bond films, it is not the best).  The movie begins with a classic Bond opener which throws the audience into the action as 007 is about to complete a mission.  The danger and thrills are sublime as Bond moves from vehicle to vehicle in pursuit of a terrorist with a rather important hard-drive.  Moving from a foot chase, to a car chase, which transitions into a motorcycle chase and transforms into a train battle, all of the Bond hallmarks are at play but with the gritty feel that the past two Bond films introduced.  This is not a spoiler, but similar to the beginning of You Only Live Twice (1967), James Bond is "killed off", but this time it's because of M's impatience.  Life without 007 in the world is bleak as obituaries are written, spies are being captured and executed, and identities are being revealed.  Everyone is in danger from a madman who lurks within the shadows of the cyber world.  When M's computer is mysteriously hacked and a Live and Let Die-esque skull appears on her computer with the words "Think on your sins", MI6 is bombed – an event that catches none other than James Bond's ear.  Naturally, Bond survived death and decided not to return to her majesty's service until news of the terrorist attack on MI6 made it his way (via CNN's Wolf Blitzer).  Here comes Bond to save the day... right?

Javier Bardem is not introduced into the film for a good hour, but his entrance is brilliant.  His blonde hair and Gucci outfits make him a mysterious rival for Bond, and his voice is intriguing with an ambiguous accent.  It's like Bardem's performance in No Country For Old Men (2008) all over again, except less subtle.  However, this is where Skyfall becomes irreversibly weak.  The villain seemingly has no master plan (except for seeking revenge on M concerning a past grievance).  Sure, Bardem's character might be a crazy madman hell-bent to achieve his goal, but his back story doesn't merit a conflict at a 007 status.  Bond essentially becomes a bodyguard in this flick.

Skyfall is oddly just as much about M – the head of MI6 – as it is about 007, but this factor also proves to be a weakness.  Characters are often referring to past events that the audience has never seen nor heard about prior to this film – which is fine except that the payoff is that the audience gets to observe people act and think upon past decisions outside of the parameters of the narrative.

I stand by this, though it is controversial, but Casino Royale (2006) is the best of the 007 franchise.  James Bond is humanized in that film as we witness his first missions as a double-o agent, he actually falls in love with a woman only to have his heart broken, and by the end of the film we (as an audience) get to see Bond evolve into the suave and cold spy that we know him as.  Skyfall tries to go even further on a personal level with 007, but it all feels contrived and unnecessary (again, we're told about prior events instead of shown these pivotal moments).

The final showdown in Skyfall feels a lot like Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971), which isn't a bad thing, but it's certainly there.  There's even a touch of Apocalypse Now (1979) as a helicopter menacingly plays rock music through a megaphone.  What the film does best though is set up for the next James Bond adventure (which is sad, since this felt like it could have been a lot more than a set-up for inevitable future 007 adventures).  

The action in this film is exciting and thrilling (as it always should be and almost always is in this on-going series), and the self-references to previous Bond films and the 50 year-old Scotch that Bardem and 007 interact with all feel well placed and don't attract attention to themselves in the way that franchises often do.  I don't mean to be too harsh on this film, but as a life-long fan of the series I want more.  I know Bond's history and remember the time Bond got married in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), and even that film successfully conveyed an emotional arc while containing exciting action sequences better than in Skyfall.

Thankfully though, "James Bond will return".


My ranking: 3/5

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Most Important Film You Will Ever Experience (Part 4: Luis Buñuel's "Belle de jour")

 Before saying that a film is important, the term "important" must be defined.  Is it artistically brilliant as a film?  Is the film life affirming?  Is the film life changing?  Does the film live beyond its date of release?  Does the film capture a time or place in society and history?  Does the film challenge the audience?  If it can fit into most of these categories, then it simply must be important.
 To quote the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, "The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good."  On that note, the fourth film in my collection of important films is:
Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour (1967)

 Highly controversial for its time, Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour (1967) is a landmark film within Buñuel's career and the history of cinema.  Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice in 1967, Belle de jour marked Buñuel's official return to France, his first film in color, and was scandalously a film about female sexuality.  Though the topical nature of the film is intensely mature, it is portrayed on the screen and within the script with great respect and taste.  Beginning Buñuel's streak of French masterpieces, Belle de jour is a wild film that blends the line between reality and fantasy with seamless finesse.
 Starring Catherine Deneuve as Séverine (a.k.a. "Belle de jour" or as translated "Daylight Beauty") is a married woman with a loving husband named Pierre (Jean Sorel) who is a doctor in Paris.  Living as a wealthy young couple with a maid, Séverine spends her days at home or out shopping as she awaits the return of her husband at 5:00 each day.  Implied to have been happening for years, at the opening of the film Séverine has a reoccurring dream that involves her being beaten for pleasure.  She does not understand the dreams, and - as revealed after this particular dream - has difficulty opening herself up to intimacy with her husband.
 Over the weekend, she and Pierre go out and run into a couple they both know.  The girl is friendly, but the boyfriend named Husson (Michel Piccoli) is very openly attracted to Séverine - something Pierre does't notice.  When Séverine and Pierre leave back to their home, Séverine's dreams continue.  Upon bumping into Husson the next day, he mentions to Séverine the name of a local brothel which both strikes her imagination and disturbs her... yet she goes to the brothel out of curiosity anyways.  Agreeing to be a regular prostitute at the brothel in exchange for 50% of her earnings, she is named "Belle de jour" since she will only be at the brothel until 5:00 each day so that she may return home to her husband without his knowledge.  From that point forward, the film becomes an engrossing experience that bears comparison to thrillers while still embodying the dramatic genre.
 What makes this film particularly special is that sex is never portrayed on screen in any fashion.  It is certainly implied to have happened, but there isn't even a speck of sexual nudity in this film (had there been, this easily could have turned into smut if the director had been interested in low-brow entertainment).  Instead, Belle de jour focuses upon the inner psychological battles of a sexually disturbed woman.  Though not a significant reveal, it is shown early on that Séverine may have been sexually assaulted as a young girl which made her feel filthy before God and possibly triggered her desire for unconventional love as she got older.  Her masochistic desires are best clarified by film scholar Linda Williams in The Criterion Collection's documentary entitled That Obscure Sense of Desire, "[Séverine] had this moment of molestation in her past which actually opened up a door to a forbidden pleasure.  What she has to do is... discover a way to open up her pleasures."
 As typical of Buñuel's films, Belle de jour also depicts the wealthy class in a satirical style.  This is best reflected in his previous films Viridiana (1961) and The Exterminating Angel (1963) and would be expanded upon with his later films The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and his final film That Obscure Object of Desire (1979).  Though Belle de jour does not hinge upon that concept as his other films do, it is a present subtext within the activity on the screen.
 The film is also one of Buñuel's most visually beautiful films.  His subtle use of vibrant colors (particularly red) reflects the inner passion that Séverine would like to experience on the outside.  Belle de jour also features magnificent camera movements as the camera steadily observes a horse-driven buggy as it goes down a dirt path at the opening of the film, or as the camera dollies out from two men as they have a pistol duel.  Through the artistry of Buñuel, his screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, and his cinematographer Sacha Vierny, any misinterpretation of the purpose of Belle de jour is immediately proven incorrect as the subject matter is handled with such care.
 The impact of this film upon modern cinema is vast, but there are many notable films which owe great credit and even reference Belle de jour within their content.  Most notably may be Stanley Kubrick's final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  Similarly beautifully shot and carefully handled (though much more explicit in content), Eyes Wide Shut follows a man who discovers that his wife had a deeply passionate fantasy about a random navy officer she once saw while on vacation with her kids and husband.  A vast majority of Kubrick's film is thematically dedicated to the promiscuous side of "all women" that men seem to believe does't exist.
 Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar's 2009 film Broken Embraces starring Penélope Cruz draws direct comparison to Belle de jour.  In need of money to help her father receive medical treatment for his cancer, Lena Rivero (Penélope Cruz) revisits a call-girl company that she used to work for under the name of "Séverine" (an obvious allusion to Catherine Deneuve's character of the same name).  A simple allusion like that automatically pays tribute to Buñuel's film while enhancing the way that a film like Broken Embraces should be interpreted.
 Interestingly enough, both Eyes Wide Shut and Broken Embraces also lend themselves to comparison with thrillers and noir films in a similar fashion as Belle de jour.
 Likewise, Buñuel seems to give a nod to the French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard within Belle de jour.  Godard's debut film Breathless (1960) shook the film world with its approach to presenting narrative.  In one of the early scenes of Breathless, French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo runs into an old girlfriend who is selling The New York Herald Tribune.  Though, in Belle de jour, a man is selling The New York Herald Tribune, it is difficult to argue that it is mere coincidence that Buñuel would feature that without being an allusion to Godard within his return to French filmmaking.
 Belle de jour is a dramatic powerhouse, and a perfect example of Buñuel's surrealist style as the truth is bent between fantasy and actual tangibility.  In a role that Catherine Deneuve is still iconic for today, it is obvious why her performance - and this film - have still held up nearly fifty years later.
 Though risky in its context, it is the mark of a great filmmaker (even one as controversial as Buñuel) for him to make a film so tastefully 'naughty'.  

Belle de jour is now available on DVD and Blu Ray by The Criterion Collection.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Film Review: "Harakiri" (1962) directed by Masaki Kobayashi 5/5

  Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1963, Harakiri (1962) easily proves to be more than just a simple samurai film.  Directed by Masaki Kobayashi - the director of the 9 hour 47 minute epic The Human Condition (1959-61) - Harakiri is a vivid depiction of two paths in ancient Japanese life: the path of humanity, and the path of the samurai.
 Set in 1630, Harakiri follows a starved rõnin (masterless samurai) from Hiroshima named Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) who arrives at Lord Iyi's fortress in Edo seeking a place where he can peacefully commit harakiri.  Upon arriving, Tsugumo is informed of the corrupt nature of rõnin in the area who have been threatening to commit harakiri but pull out in exchange for a few coins.  However, there is one rõnin named Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama) who recently performed a long and painful harakiri with a bamboo sword.  Chijiiwa expressed great cowardice prior to his harakiri as he requested to run away promising that he would return, but he was forced to proceed with his honorable suicide by samurai code.  Discouraged from performing harakiri to end his life, Tsugumo sticks to his guts and continues to urge for his request to commit harakiri to be accepted.  With great reluctance, the counselor of Iyi grants him permission to commit honorable suicide in the courtyard.
 The events that follow are a series of scheduling dilemmas as the man that Tsugumo would like to cut his head off is not available due to a severe illness.  After naming off two more samurai to cut his head off (both of which are also unavailable due to illness), the counselor begins to grow suspicious of Tsugumo's true motives.  To prove himself to be worthy of an honorable death in their courtyard, Tsugumo recounts the tragic tale that brought him to the point of a fully-desired harakiri.
 It is from that point of the film that Harakiri becomes less a film about samurai culture and more of a film about life in feudal Japan.  Dedicating a fair 90 minutes to Tsugumo's account of the best days of his life all the way to the tragic ending of his good fortune, as an audience this sequence is beautiful and rewarding.  Up until that point, only one harakiri has been seen (the bamboo sword harakiri at the beginning of the film), so there is no reason to believe that this film contains vivid action sequences.  The entire film has a constant layer of tension bearing over the events on the screen as the audience (and the characters) await Tsugumo's harakiri.  It's in the final twenty minutes that all the build up pays off with a fantastic twist.
 With fantastic performances from the entire cast, it is the lead actor Nakadai who truly steals the show as both a father and a grandfather before tragedy befalls his family.  His character embodies the entire theme of the film as he points out the flawed nature of the samurai path by living a life so fruitful and rewarding.  The camera even pans from the left (Tsugumo) to the right (counselor) when Tsugumo speaks justifying that what he is telling the counselor is true like a book.
 Harakiri is a film about the samurai code, but it is primarily a film about dignity, parenting, and honor.  Acknowledging the samurai code, Tsugumo sees the value in the council of Iyi's beliefs, but he challenges the rationality of forcing a man willing to disembowel himself to do it immediately without questioning as to why he wanted to leave (referring to Chijiiwa).  This film is loaded with complexities hidden within the subtleties.
 One of the best elements of this film is director Kobayashi's decisions on what to show and what to cut away from.  At times, the cutting of this film is as abrupt as the cutting of the swords in the film.  Choosing to show the buildup to a sword duel and then cutting away from the scene the moment before their swords first clash is oddly satisfying as we (the audience) are constantly aware that the events on the screen are being recounted by an honorable narrator who will tell us what he chooses to tell us without embellishments (compared to Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) which features three unreliable narrators who twist the truth).
 One of the greatest action scenes from this film (other than the final battle) is Tsuguomo's duel with Omodaka (Tetsuro Tamba) in which they confront in a field in the rolling-hills outside of Edo.  The wind is raging as they clash swords with beautiful choreography.
 Harakiri is a film rarely spoken of in the modern realm of cinema, which is odd since the film's influence is obvious upon modern films.  Everything from the final battle in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003) to the Wachowski Brothers' The Matrix Reloaded (2003) clearly took inspiration from this powerful non-traditional samurai film.  Though there is little violence in Harakiri, what violence there is crosses into both the super realistic and the fantastically choreographed.  Being shot in black and white adds a historical beauty to the entire film, but it oddly seems to intensify the violence as well.  Kobayashi's filming style for Harakiri benefits from black and white because of his visceral and emotional style of filmmaking, whereas other film directors would need to film in color to convey the bloody battles with the same gut wrenching result as Kobayashi.
 Harakiri may not be for everyone, but it is a prime example of a film greater than its genre as it challenges the samurai code of honor (the very hinge that the film hangs upon) while being a film more focused upon the personal life of a former samurai.


My ranking: 5/5

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Film Review: "Throne of Blood" (1957) directed by Akira Kurosawa 5/5

  Had Shakespeare been a feudal Japanese playwright rather than the European that we know him to be, then Akira Kurosawa's adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth - entitled Throne of Blood (1957) - is the closest that we will get. This is possibly one of the greatest film portrayals of Macbeth, in that Throne of Blood is distinctly its own film while still holding true to the basic plot of Shakespeare's classic tragedy.  Naturally - as the title would imply - blood will be shed for the throne sealing the destiny of many and resulting in self-fulfilled prophecy as well.
 Starring the always magnificent actor Toshirõ Mifune in the lead role as Washizu (Macbeth), Washizu is the general of the first fortress of Spider Web Castle.  After defending the fortress against the approaching armies of the local enemy Inui, Washizu and the general of the second fortress (Miki) are on their way to Spider Web Castle to report to the Great Leader of their triumph in battle.  However, on the way to the castle, both of them get lost in Spider Web Forest (known for its misleading paths) and encounter an evil spirit that tells both of them their future.  The spirit tells Washizu that he will soon be the Lord of the North Castle and that Miki will be promoted to the first fortress.  Both of them are skeptical, but the evil spirit continues with his prophecies by stating that Washizu will eventually be promoted to the Great Leader of Spider Web Castle and that Miki's son would be the the Great Leader after Washizu passes away.
 The events that follow are a series of self-fulfilled prophecy as leaders are murdered and positions of hierarchy are negotiated over.  
 Filmed in black and white, director Akira Kurosawa used this to his advantage by allowing layers of fog and smoke to separate the screen in many scenes.  At times, the layers of fog and smoke are so thick that the audience is as lost as the characters as they ride to Spider Web Castle.  The fog also adds a level of horror to the scenes with the evil spirit (specifically during the spirit's supernatural moments).  As the evil spirit morphs into kabuki warrior style appearances, lightning is striking and rain is pouring only adding to the intensity of Washizu's meeting with this ancient spirit.
 Notably, there are also many riveting tracking shots as Washizu runs out of the gate of the North Castle with sword in hand, and when he rides his horse towards the camera in hot pursuit of the rightful heir to the throne.  These camera movements intensify the scene while adding an aware sense of artistry.  Simply showing Washizu on a horse in full samurai armor would be exciting, but the tracking camera heightens the action and adds an extra dimension to the events on the screen.
 Toshirõ Mifune - an actor who has been in many lead roles in Kurosawa's films such as Stray Dog (1949), Rashomon (1950), and most famously Seven Samurai (1954) - is essentially Kurosawa's Robert De Niro.  His versatility in every film role is remarkable as he shifts his hair styles and facial hair to fit into the soul of the character.  Only three years after Kurosawa's samurai epic Seven Samurai, Toshirõ validates his abilities again by transforming from a rebellious wannabe-samurai into a samurai general for Throne of Blood.  As Washizu, Toshirõ captures the essence of a power hungry leader, but he also masterfully captures the inner battles taking place within his Macbeth based character.  The paranoia that he experiences as he thinks he sees the ghost of his friend (whom he betrayed) is completely believable... but much of the credit has to go to director Akira Kurosawa.
 What separates Akira Kurosawa from other jidaigeki directors (samurai movie filmmakers) is that Kurosawa is not as concerned with the samurai as other Japanese filmmakers.  Kurosawa is always more concerned with the humans under the armor rather than romanticizing the samurai bushido.  With Throne of Blood being based upon Shakespeare, American and European audiences could relate to the film while Japanese audiences would be able to relate to the highly dramatic samurai setting of the film.
 Inspired by Kurosawa's samurai films Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962), legendary western filmmaker Sergio Leone changed the western in the same way that Kurosawa changed the samurai film.  Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) are all brilliant films because they relied less upon the actual wild west and more upon character development.  The cowboy is the American samurai, but the only great westerns are the ones like Sergio Leone's Clint Eastwood epics.
 Throne of Blood is a samurai epic that is much more than just a samurai film because of its Shakespearean roots, but its at Kurosawa's credit that the film is as perfectly executed.  While maintaining the history and culture of Japan, Kurosawa masterfully adapts Shakespeare into the roots of Japan making Throne of Blood an instant classic and dramatic achievement.


My ranking: 5/5

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Most Important Film You Will Ever Experience (Part 3: Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life")

 Before saying that a film is important, the term "important" must be defined.  Is it artistically brilliant as a film?  Is the film life affirming?  Is the film life changing?  Does the film live beyond its date of release?  Does the film capture a time or place in society and history?  Does the film challenge the audience?  If it can fit into most of these categories, then it simply must be important.
 To quote the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, "The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good."  On that note, the third film in my collection of important films is:
Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

 Starring James Stewart as George Bailey and Donna Reed as Mary, Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life (1946) is a prime example of a film that lives beyond its time period.  With archetypal characters representing all walks of life, It's A Wonderful Life could be described as a classic battle of good vs evil disguised as a post-WWII drama.
 On one side of the spectrum is the charismatic and ambitious George Bailey who desires to be an architect (and an explorer/ world traveler), but wound up standing up for what was right and saving his father's family-owned Bailey Building and Loan Association after he passed away.  
 On the opposing side is Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a life-long rival to the values that the Bailey Building and Loan has stood for.  When an $8,000 deposit goes missing (accidentally ending up in Mr. Potter's hands, which is never revealed to the other characters), George Bailey decides that his life isn't worth living anymore.  Just as he's about to kill himself by jumping into freezing water below a bridge, Clarence (Henry Travers) falls into the water from the sky.  George's good-natured self jumps in after Clarence and saves him, only to discover that Clarence is his guardian angel.  When asked by Clarence why he was about to jump, George states "I wish I'd never been born".  Clarence, seeking to earn his wings, sees this as a prime opportunity to demonstrate his worth... and with a violent gust of wind the snow stops and the world has instantly transformed into a dismal place as George Bailey witnesses the role that his existence played in his community.
 One of the many remarkable aspects of this film is that the conflict doesn't actually start until the 80 minute mark (meaning only 50 minutes are devoted to the conflict and resolution).  At the opening of the film, everyone in Bedford Falls can be heard praying for George Bailey's safety, but up until the bumbling Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) accidentally misplaces the $8,000 deposit 80 minutes into the film, the entire film is an inciting incident.  In-between the beginning of the film and the deposit accident, the audience is being introduced to every facet of George Bailey's life (from the day that 12 year old George saves his brother from drowning in 1919 to the day of the misplaced deposit in 1945).
 Many viewers who may have not seen this film in a while (or never seen it at all) may ignore It's A Wonderful Life because of its Christmas atmosphere, when in reality only the final 40 minutes of the film are actually set in the context of Christmas.  The Christmas atmosphere is used as an emotional device (as the events of Christmas bear little significance to the plot), and it is in the spirit of Christmas that this film maintains popularity due to the family-oriented story.
 Highly detail-based and emotionally gripping (as well as highly inventive), It's A Wonderful Life is a film that relies upon parallelism and concealed repetition to drive the events on the screen.  With an overwhelming cast, characters like Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) and Violet Bick (lorna Grahame) stand out because of their detail based character development.  Everything from Sam's catchphrase "he-haw" to Violet's flirtatious behaviors are depicted within the first 15 minutes of the film and are used as constant identifying motifs as time moves forward throughout the film.  However, those details are merely surface level.  
 Events depicted at the beginning of the film such as when George saves his brother from drowning and loses his hearing in his left ear come back into play when George jumps into freezing water again to save Clarence.  When George wishes that he had never been born (after saving Clarence), suddenly his hearing returns.
 Almost as if the film references the Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, George Bailey is brought by the angel Clarence to see everyone that he knew in his life (still skeptical that he had never been born) and he is given the "gift" to see what the world would be like without him.  His friends don't know who he is, his wife doesn't recognize him, and Bedford Falls is now owned by Mr. Potter and called "Pottersville" (and the city has become a place of debauchery).  One of the most pivotal reveals is in George's visit to the cemetery where he finds his brother's gravestone.  Because George was never born, his brother drowned in 1919 (though the scene has a very different context than Dickens' A Christmas Carol, it serves a very similar function in making the protagonist - Scrooge - realize how valuable his life is when he is shown his own tombstone by the third ghost of Christmas).
 Though It's A Wonderful Life is 66 years old, the film still holds up today due to its timeless message about kindness and the impact that one person's life can have upon the world.  Surprisingly, this film was not initially received with open arms (though it was nominated for five Oscars including best picture).  Today, this film still lives on as an image of the American dream and as an important tale of one man's struggle to discover his worth.
 There are George Baileys and Mr. Potters all around us, and this American masterpiece shows the influence of leaders in society and reveals that joy is not found within monetary wealth but rather in the lives of those around us.

It's A Wonderful Life
A Christmas Carol

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Film Review: "The Game" (1997) directed by David Fincher 4.9/5

 In Nicholas Van Orton's (Michael Douglas) initial quest to discover what 'the game' is, he is told be a previous player that the answer is found in John 9:25 saying "Whereas once I was blind, but now I see."  David Fincher's fourth film The Game (1997) is a thriller that is both smart in a literal and subtextual sense.
 Starring Michael Douglas as a wealthy investment banker named Nicholas Van Orton, The Game begins on his 48th birthday.  Closed off from the world and purposefully isolated, Nicholas worships his wealth and his self-importance.  When invited to lunch by his brother Conrad (Sean Penn), Nicholas is given a card for a company called CRS (Consumer Recreation Services).  Conrad tells Nicholas that CRS will change his life, but Nicholas is suspicious as to what CRS actually is.  The next day, Nicholas goes to work and overhears two of his co-workers talking about their experiences with CRS's game.  He confronts them and discovers that every person who participates in CRS's game has a different experience catered to the life of the applicant.  Upon learning this, Nicholas accidentally stumbles upon CRS's offices (oddly situated on the 14th level of the building he works at) and signs up for his game immediately, but only to have his application denied.  Little did he know, his game had actually just begun.  The events that follow cross the lines of the heinous as Nicholas tries to protect himself from a game that could redeem his soul.  The Game also has an incredibly dramatic twist-ending (which I won;t give away).

 Nicholas Van Orton is described by his brother Conrad as being "the man who has everything", so being rejected by CRS as the first part of his game is an essential element to the theme of the film.  Living in his father's mansion, Nicholas begins to realize that he and his father (who committed suicide at age 48) may be very similar.  Divorced by his wife because he was so focused on his money, Nicholas has no one except his maid who has worked for his family since he was a boy.  Nicholas resents his brother, Conrad, because of his lack of ambition as he never went to college and had a period of drug addiction a few years before.  
 Haunted by the memory of his father's suicide, the game could be the one thing that can save Nicholas from suffering the same fate as his father before him.

 Though The Game is a more mainstream Hollywood film, Fincher's artistry still shines through.  The cinematographer, Harris Savides (who also filmed Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac), beautifully captures the darkness of wealth with an almost Godfather-esque visual style.  Sure, the film is nowhere near as visually dark as Coppola's The Godfather (1972), but The Game depicts the cool leather chairs and deep mahogany desks with a sophistication and vicious quality.  The flashbacks to the day of Nicholas' father's suicide were filmed in a super 8 film reel style which makes the footage both eerie yet sentimental.  Set against Howard Shore's haunting piano score, the music amplifies the emotional resonance of these flashback sequences.
 Michael Douglas is wonderful in this film.  Michael, as a persona, is a master at portraying the wealthy with his  class and sophistication (Gordon Gekko etc).  When the game enters his life, his transformation from cool and collected transforms into paranoia.  Specifically in his scenes with Sean Penn, Michael Douglas delivers a riveting performance as a man conflicted with his emotions towards his family.
 Almost for the ending alone, The Game is a must-see (yet the film is so much more than just a great ending).  Filled with depth and wonderful character development, The Game is a thriller masterpiece which established Fincher's status as a director worth watching.


My ranking: 4.9/5

Friday, March 9, 2012

Film Review: "Paris, Texas" (1984) directed by Wim Wenders 5/5

 One of the few films in the history of cinema to unanimously receive the Palme d'Or at Cannes, German filmmaker Wim Wenders' 1984 drama entitled Paris, Texas captures a colorful depiction of life in a growing world and a desire for things to be as they once were.  Nostalgia is at the very center of this film - which is beautifully written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson.  Though the film leaves many questions for the audience, Paris, Texas leaves a lasting impression upon viewers through its soul-penetrating visuals and performances that strike at the heart.
 Wandering through the desert, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) has been living a mindless-nomadic lifestyle for the past four years.  When he is found half dead in the desert of Texas, his brother - Walt (Dean Stockwell) - is notified of his location and flies from California to Texas to pick him up.  Upon being reunited with his brother, Walt discovers that Travis seems to be in a state of shock.  Travis doesn't speak, doesn't take direction, and is constantly trying to leave Walt's presence.  When Walt reminds Travis that he abandoned his three year old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), more than four years ago, Travis suddenly breaks out of his shell as he realizes what harm he may have done to Hunter.  As Hunter approaches his eighth birthday, Hunter is re-introduced to Travis - his real father.  Though Hunter sees Travis as an odd person at first, he gradually grows to identify him as his other dad.  At that moment, Travis reveals to Hunter that Hunter's real mom is somewhere in Texas.  Happy to go on an adventure with his real dad in hopes of finding his real mom, Hunter willingly abandons Walt and his wife to journey to Texas with Travis in an effort to find his mom.

 Requiring some audience disbelief (particularly at the start of the film), Paris, Texas is a drama with magnificently magical qualities.  A man comes out of the desert without a single memory, but upon hearing about the son that he abandoned finds that all of the love he felt for his toddler son is still present.  Aside from also being about family, Wim Wenders' masterpiece is also about generational differences.  On one side of the film is the literal generational distance between a middle-aged father and his seven year old son, but on the other side of Paris, Texas is the difference between the modern world and the idealized past.  Hunter complains about walking home from school because everyone rides in cars, and Travis is fearful of flying in airplanes due to a generational disconnect with modern society.
 Every scene in Paris, Texas beautifully captures the world surrounding the characters.  Whether it's the busy cities of California, or the flat land of Texas; the cinematography captures the separation of generations as a subtext within the film.  The camera work also captures the road-trip aspects of the film with beautiful realism.  The audience gets to experience being in the back of Travis' truck as the camera observes Travis' eyes in the rear-view mirror.  

 Featuring wonderful performances from everyone in the film, the true standout role may be the kid Hunter portrayed by Hunter Carson.  Everything from the way that Hunter rambles about things that he enjoys to his Star Wars: Return of the Jedi bed sheets enhances Hunter's brilliant performance.  He is every seven year old boy in a single character.  Both fragile and desiring to fit in with the world around him, Hunter Carson delivers spectacular dramatic dialogue that sounds child-like while bearing the profound (a special thanks to screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, Hunter Carson's father).  It only benefits Hunter Carson's performance that his character bares his actual name.
 Paris, Texas also contains one of the greatest dramatic scenes in film history (but I won't give away the scene).  What makes the scene special is the metaphorical importance of how the drama unfolds.  Two people talking, essentially face to face, but only one person can actually see the other if the other person can't see them.  Their desire to see one another and speak is riveting.  They never do see each other at the same time in the course of the film which adds to the magical quality of the film.
 Easily one of the best films ever made (that few have heard of), Paris, Texas is a dramatic treat.  The film has inspired many contemporary filmmakers, most notably Alejandro González Iñárritu with his 2010 drama Biutiful.
Wim Wenders' Paris Texas (1984) VS. Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful (2010)
 Paris, Texas is without a doubt a must-see that can be enjoyed by almost all ages.  It's powerful filmmaking with an eye for beauty in the world around us and is a quest for redemption.  In a movie where the concept of the city Paris in Texas is an ideal, Paris, Texas is an ideal film.

My ranking: 5/5