Our Criterion, Our Three Reasons: #1

While the Criterion Collection sale is still ongoing at Barnes and Noble, we here at Cinema from the Spectrum figured that it would also be a perfect time to send our own recommendations because we all wish to share our own love of cinema together with others. And of course the Criterion Collection has been helpful in allowing us to discover far more from all around the world. So without further ado, here are our picks – and as the Criterion Collection used to publish, our “three reasons.”

Jaime Rebanal: Manila in the Claws of Light


image via Janus Films

Of course, it’s inevitable for me to talk about what’s in store for the Criterion Collection while the Barnes and Noble sale is still ongoing, but I may not be able to buy as much as I had hoped this occasion – yet the very thought of the collection is something that makes me happy on the inside. But because of this too, it’s also a subject that would be prone to my constant rambling about how they have fueled my own love of film all the more over the years. It’s easy enough for me to say that the Criterion Collection has helped me learn a whole lot more about the world but being born to a Filipino family, I’d only been waiting long enough for the Criterion Collection to get a hold of Filipino films so to see Lino Brocka’s classic Manila in the Claws of Light had finally been done this service is among many reasons for me to be happy.

To get the obvious out of the way, it is a great film, and this is a great restoration (a blog entry to which I will be posting about soon in another series I wish to start here) – as you can find in my review here. And my three reasons are as follows:

  1. Gritty Realism – Like the films of Vittorio De Sica, François Truffaut, or Satyajit Ray, the unflinching realism in the vision of a director like Lino Brocka is something that cannot be shaken off so easily. From the first frame it grabs you, and by the ending it shatters you.
  2. A Falling World – Manila in the Claws of Light may not be an easy film to watch, but the cynicism of this world as it continues falling upon itself also remains as eye-opening as it does – with the setting of this film inside such a poor economy, it’s scary to imagine how much of it still rings as being highly resonant today.
  3. What You Can Learn About the Philippines’ History – As I’ve said before, it is not easy to come across classic Filipino films because film preservation is not the highest priority over there. But perhaps that’s why it is important to learn about the art that defined the Philippines during the time in which this film had come out. For all we know it still remains one of the most influential films ever to be made in the Philippines and for good reason at that.

You can purchase Manila in the Claws of Light right here.

Chuck Winters: Something Wild


image via MGM/UA

The Criterion Collection can be intimidating if you’re like me. It’s a museum that specializes in both legendary cinema and curious oddities from around the world, movies that set a certain aesthetic standard and engage the viewer as high art. It doesn’t often cater to people who proudly list Die Hard as their favorite Christmas film. (Once upon a time, they did release both The Rock and Armageddon, but those discs are long out of print. Looking them up on the site, it can feel as if Criterion treats them like a drunken hookup with a trashy townie.) But there are a few points of entry for the viewer whose appreciation of film is still fledgling and hasn’t developed an interest in Ingmar Bergman or Jim Jarmusch or Sergei Parajanov. For instance, let’s talk about Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild.

Written by fresh-out-of-film-school E. Max Frye (FoxcatcherBand of Brothers) and released in 1986, Something Wild is ostensibly a romantic comedy with erotic overtones starring Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith. Daniels plays Charlie, a yuppie banker with a quiet rebellious streak, while Griffith plays Lulu, a free-spirted girl Charlie meets by chance in a café during his lunch break. Lulu whisks Charlie away for a random afternoon encounter that ends up going longer, further, and deeper than either of them expect—then Ray Liotta shows up and everything goes to hell. In the past, I’ve been fond of the phrase “does what it says on the tin” to denote a movie that delivers on its promises, but it doesn’t get more literal than this. Something Wild takes you on a ride that slides through multiple tonal shifts. And yet instead of feeling shocking or edgy, it all feels appropriate and part of the fun. Like most Criterion releases, it’s an experience you can break down and appreciate beyond its surface elements, but you can also pop it on when you’ve got laundry to fold or you want to just go with the flow for a couple of hours. In short, it’s a perfect first step…but if you’re already hip-deep in Criterions and you haven’t seen this movie yet, you might want to look into it anyway.
  1. Jonathan Demme. A New York-bred filmmaker whose street-level photography of the city is as essential as Scorsese’s.
  2. Melanie Griffith. She’s playing a Manic Pixie Dream Girl riff but it’s hard to call the film on it when she makes it seem so human and essential.
  3. Sister Carol’s entirely unique and awesome rendition of “Wild Thing” to take the viewer home.

Austin Shinn: Godzilla


image via Toho

My Criterion selection would have to be the 1954 classic Godzilla. While the film is viewed as light entertainment, and the US recut is, the original version is one of the most devastating genre films ever made. Director Ishirô Honda took the scar of the atomic bomb and gave it a physical form. With its unrelenting tone and brilliant execution, the film deserves its place in the collection.

Three Reasons:

  1. The color. In black and white, everything looks sharply realistic. What could easily be ludicrous instead feels completely real.
  2. The imagery. The cost of the atomic bomb has never felt as clear as it does here. For all the destruction, nothing will haunt you as much as the beeping indicating a child has received a fatal dose of radiation.
  3. The monster. There is a reason Godzilla became Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Everything about his design is iconic. The spines, the eyes, and especially the roar. The greatest monster in any medium ever was fully formed in this moment.

Godzilla is available for purchase right here.


Philadelphia – Review


On some count it’s easy for me to say that Philadelphia isn’t really Jonathan Demme at the very best of his own ability because it feels like such a drastic change of pace to follow up from the comedies he was known for and the Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. But in the late filmmaker’s memory, I have to admit that there’s another level where I’ve always found myself respecting Philadelphia by a good lot. Being one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to bring attention to AIDS and homophobia and its impact on society, considering how far we’ve come today it’s still interesting to look at how the world’s perspective has changed at least two decades later. Even if this is a lesser entry in the filmography of a director like Jonathan Demme, there’s still a special sort of recognition I believe Philadephia deserves for what it had done back on the day of its release.

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The Silence of the Lambs – Review


NOTE: Jonathan Demme passed away on April 26, 2017, and this review is dedicated to his memory.

In the history of the Academy Awards only three films have managed to sweep up the Big Five, and the most recent one to hold such a distinction is none other than Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. It was at the point where Demme was making a name for himself through the comedy films Melvin and Howard and Something Wild or documentaries such as Stop Making Sense. Within the many years that have come by, The Silence of the Lambs has already become widely seen as Demme’s best known film together with the most widely celebrated cinematic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter – for good reason. The greatest joy that Demme presents in The Silence of the Lambs doesn’t come from the consequence of event but how it works its way into one’s mind the way Hannibal Lecter finds his way under another’s skin just as the very best thrillers do just as The Silence of the Lambs is indeed deserving of every bit of its own reputation as one of the best films of its own period.

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Stop Making Sense – Review


“Home is where I want to be / But I guess I’m already there” I thought as my favourite Talking Heads song was playing in Stop Making Sense. I first watched Stop Making Sense without any knowledge of Talking Heads despite having sporadically heard their songs on the radio, but after watching the film, they became one of my all-time favourite bands in a flash. Nevertheless as I watched Stop Making Sense I was in awe of its production: I could never have imagined any other concert film out there much like it. Among many things that I’m fairly certain of, Stop Making Sense is truly a flawless production on all grounds but it seems that there is also a greater force of life coming out of the screen from watching this. This was one of those rare instances I immediately watch a film once again after my first viewing many years ago, because this sort of music could never possibly make me feel more alive.

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