Bartender, get me another Tarkovsky. Stronger, this time. For those of you sighing heavily, I promise I’ll get back to watching the trash Hellraiser sequels soon.
I gave my whole Tarkovsky spiel in my write up on his 1972 introspective sci-fi film, Solaris. After having missed Stalker at my local independent theater, I was disheartened that I wouldn’t get to see it, especially after one of my co-workers saw it and really enjoyed it. But alas, you can always count on the Criterion Collection to re-release old school art films for way too much money, and a couple weeks ago, they did just that. Talking about the value of films and how much they should cost is a debate for another day. Let’s just get to the Russian arthouse weirdness.
Stalker takes place in a strange world. Is it post-apocalyptic? Perhaps. Nothing grows in the non-specific country in which Stalker takes place. Buildings are ruined, and the earth is cracked beneath everyone’s feet. Is it a dystopian hyper-industrial future? There’s more evidence of this, with the militaristic police that seem to be patrolling every street corner and every back alley. Chemical factories and power plants make up the skyline. Whatever the case, the world of Stalker is a funereal one. Three men meet in a bar. We do not know their names, only their professions. The Professor, the Writer, and the Stalker, a man trained to bypass the military quarantine surrounding a mysterious area of lush greenery simply known as the Zone. These men are prepared to risk their lives for their mission into the Zone, as legend has it that within the Zone lies a room that can immediately grant the wishes of anyone who enters.
Editor’s Note: I started writing this while kind of blitzed (similar to my Bye Bye Man review, but with maybe half a dozen more bottles of Alpine in me), so bare with me here. I took a sober moment the next day to comb through this write up and clean it up to the usual amount of typos and grammatical errors.
I’m lucky enough to live in a town that has a local independent cinema, which screens a ton of newer indie releases as well as manages to show old prints of classic movies. Local arthouse and documentary films also get a home there, but the reason I’ve taken a new shine to the place is because they’ve been on a bit of an Andrei Tarkovsky kick recently. Last month they showed Stalker, arguably his most revered movie (honestly, among Tarkovsky fans, every single one of his films is up for being considered his best work) which I unfortunately wasn’t able to catch. I was kicking myself for that one, so when I found out that they’d be showing Tarkovsky’s philosophical sci-fi epic Solaris, I made sure I was able to make it out to catch it on the big screen.
For those of you who might not know (I was only introduced to Andrei Tarkovsky recently), Tarkovsky was the most famous Soviet era Russian filmmaker, and was able to produce art so expressive of his own feelings and thoughts his films were repeatedly banned, seized, and burned by the USSR until finally he was exiled from the union. Among the arthouse and independent film fans, Tarkovsky is usually held in the same echelon as Kubrick, Lynch, and Coppola. He’s apparently kind of a big deal. This film is the first I’ve ever seen of his, so we’ll see how he stacks up.
Tarkovsky’s 1972 offering Solaris is often considered as a Eastern European response to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a slow, heady sci-fi flick that uses its setting and creative choices to explore interesting and thought provoking themes and questions. Solaris is smaller in scale and a little more introspective than 2001, following a psychologist named Kelvin who is sent to a space station orbiting the eponymous ocean planet. Kelvin’s mission: to investigate the strange messages received from the station. Word is that most of the crew are dead and the survivors have since descended into madness. When he reaches the station, Kelvin is informed that there are “guests” on board: physical manifestations of the occupants’ memories, apparently conjured up by the alien planet below them. Before long he runs into what appears to be an amnesiac version of his wife, Khari. Kelvin is particularly distraught over this, considering Khari committed suicide a decade prior. Things then get weirder, and much more Russian.
We’re just burning through Criterion movies here like the entry-level-hipster-self-proclaimed-film-buffs we are! Out of all of the films that sit on the Criterion shelf at movie stores, The one I’ve looked at more than any other has got to be The Complete Lady Snowblood. The simple elegance of the title alone was enough to hook me, and once I found out that Meiko Kaji starred as the titular assassin, I was sold. She was the best part of Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion and I was really interested to see what she could do in a less sleazy film. For those of you who read this blog just for the bad movies, I promise I’ll get back to Hellraiser soon.
Lady Snowblood (Shurayuki-hime) follows Yuki, a young woman raised from birth to be an assassin and carry out a vendetta against the leaders of a small gang in 1800s Japan. These ne’er-do-wells are responsible for killing Yuki’s father and raping her mother before her birth. When Yuki’s mother attempts to get her own revenge, she is imprisoned for life and decides to have a baby that can grow up to exact her revenge.
Now 20-something years old, Yuki prowls the countryside piecing together whatever information she can to track down those responsible for devastating her family, using her umbrella sheathed katana to doll out bloody justice whenever she sees fit.
As I continue to burn through my newest pile of DVDs, I decide to watch a film I bought on two principles. The first being that it was a movie inducted into the Criteron Collection, and the second being that I found a pre-Criterion edition of it on sale for under two dollars (Canadian, meaning it was roughly four American cents).
The Squid and the Whale is an independent dramatized autobiographical comedy-drama written and directed by Noah Baumbach and produced by Wes Anderson. Don’t worry, it’s not entirely as pretentious as I made it sound there.
The Squid and the Whale follows the Berkmans, a family of four in 1986 being torn apart by an incredibly messy divorce between Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney). Their two sons Frank (Owen Kline) and Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) immediately take sides, with Frank siding with his mother and Walt his father. While it isn’t apparent why Bernard and Joan are separating in the first place, information begins coming to light, further dividing everyone in the family and cementing which sides they have chosen in this petty battle of favors.
Today marks a special day in Coffee and Illithids history. A while ago, I formally asked on my Facebook page (*cough* throw me a pity like *cough*) for recommendations and I got precisely one in reply. Being the wonderful human being I am, I kept procrastinating and putting off watching it until now. I’m a butt, sorry Anthony.
Don’t Look Now is a 1973 horror-drama from British director Nicolas Roeg, a man who has directed a bunch of movies I’ve never even heard of. It stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as John and Laura Baxter, two architects who are grieving the recent loss of their daughter Christine who died by drowning in a pond by their cottage. The Baxters are commissioned by a Venetian priest to help restore an old church. While in Venice Laura meets a pair of women, one who is psychic, and John begins to have odd visions and flashbacks to his daughter. The psychic while at first is warm and welcoming, eventually warns Laura that John will be in danger if he stays in the city any longer and that he must leave immediately. Odd happenings continue to happen to John and Laura the longer they stay in Venice, until John’s odd visions clearly become something more supernatural and sinister.