Lady Snowblood: A Ghost Story

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When it comes to film, two of Japan’s most common genre outputs are the Samurai Film and the Ghost Story. At first glance (okay, and many sequential glances), Toshiya Fujita’s LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) fits snugly in the Samurai category, following a stunning female assassin as she travels through late 19th century Japan, attempting to avenge her mother’s death. After looking closer at our heroine Yuki Kashima’s/The Lady Snowblood’s trial, however, it becomes clear that the film also works as a metaphorical ghost story, successfully blending the two prominent genres in an interesting and symbiotic way. Like a ghost whose unrest prevents it from passing on, Lady Snowblood’s entire existence is tied to a single piece of Unfinished Business: her quest for revenge. But whereas a phantom moves from this life to the next, Yuki’s eventual success actually gives her life for the first time, ending her state of limbo.

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The Criterion Collection — Top Ten Rankings

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I put together this ranking to inform my Criterion watching regimen. It’s a helpful way to sort through the Collection and it keeps me from staring at my rack of discs for hours on end.

There’s no real purpose to this list, other than the fact that it organizes information I find interesting. It’s not a “Best Of” list, and it’s not meant to be. And it’s by no means comprehensive or definitive, especially when some contributors (way to go, Paul Schrader) listed the 10 films they’re most grateful for instead of their absolute favorites. Several other contributors listed far more than 10 films (Looking at you, Kaurismaki), and if the contributors spent time actually ranking their favorites this list doesn’t take that into account — sorry, guys.

So it’s not perfect.

But that’s all fine by me, I’m just looking for a place to start, some name recognition for a particular film. Even if the ranked film isn’t the pinnacle of filmmaking for the contributor, choosing 10 films out of over 700 inevitably draws attention to individual selections.

Ultimately, Criterion’s Top-Ten series ends up being a list of endorsements from a wide range of interesting people, each with their own preferences, and I find this variety extremely valuable.

I like this list because it’s eclectic, coming from people who are familiar with the Criterion Collection, but aren’t necessarily film critics or filmmakers. There’s fashion designers, art curators, even doctors.

These Top 10 Lists retain the pretension I associate (and enjoy) with the Criterion Collection, but still present a well-rounded curation. Newer titles are often privy to their own fashionable publicity, and this was a helpful way to dig out obscure, overlooked titles that mean a lot to one, maybe two people.

And if a particular title makes the cut for one, maybe two people, I think it’s worth giving it a shot. They emerged from a massive pile of Criterion films with this film in hand, and were quite possibly the only person to do so. So it’s at least worthy of consideration.

This list starts with the most popular titles and ends with titles chosen by only one contributor. It will be regularly updated when each new Top Ten list is released.

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The Barter (2014): Book Review

The Barter, Siobhan Adcock

There’s a reason so many effective horror stories revolve around a haunted house. If horror is meant to unnerve, undermining the sanctity of the home is a hell of way to do it. The home is safe, the place where parents’ natural tendency to protect is at its most powerful. But when something unwanted enters the home – a ghost, a demon, a Babadook – it’s terrifying for the parents as much as the children. All of a sudden, there’s no home court advantage.

But what happens when this extraneous force is somehow linked to the parents? What if they’re not only helpless to stop it but somehow responsible?

In her tremendously layered debut novel THE BARTER, Siobhan Adcock uses two parallel narratives, each focusing on womanhood and motherhood, to explore how the demands of society have a nasty habit of striping women of their identity. While ostensibly a horror novel, THE BARTER isn’t a traditional haunted house story even though there are plenty of ghosts, literal and metaphorical. It’s more unsettling than outright terrifying, but the entire novel is packed with insight, tragedy, and enough shrewd humor to devour effortlessly.

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What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Review: AFI Film Fest

The Family

There’s been no shortage of vampire films this year, so it’s pretty remarkable that the darts have been landing so close to the bullseye. The best of the group have succeeded because rather than recreate vampire lore, they use it as an entry way to more universal and interesting stories. The genre operates like the best of restrictions, providing a skeletal structure that creative writers and directors can animate as they see fit.

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Wild Tales (2014) Review: AFI Film Fest

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In a post-WILD TALES Q&A, Argentinian director Damian Szifron said the thematic connection tying his varied and terrific vignettes together is “the pleasure of losing control.” While building his film around such a feeling, Szifron had to have hoped it would be a pleasure to watch these characters lose control as well.

And it is. In so many cringe-worthy, uproarious, and surprisingly insightful ways, WILD TALES is an absolute pleasure.

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The Emotional Mastery of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978)

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I’ve found watching Ingmar Bergman films to be a uniquely masochistic experience. They’re not punishing in a conventional sense, never relying on any sort of realistic, special-effects bloodshed, but rather in the emotional carnage that provides the spine and nervous system of his films. This creates an entirely different form of realism, one where emotion is laid bare, interrogated by his claustrophobic settings and intimate, almost uncomfortable close-ups. Characters kick and scream and question their world and we, the audience, are placed in perilous proximity by Bergman and his frequent cinematographer Sven Nykvist. In the end, Roger Ebert was exactly right when referred to Bergman’s dramas as “brooding, lonely, and violent excursions into the human soul.”

It takes a remarkable sort of alchemy to make films that are so emotionally pointed while never sinking into pure exploitation. You quickly get the sense that each is a deep psychological exercise for Bergman. He once said “the people in my films are exactly like myself — creatures of instinct, of rather poor intellectual capacity, who at best only think while talking. Mostly they’re body, with a little hollow for the soul.” It’s all the more impressive that these characters, often deep in their own spiritual crisis, manage to be so universal.

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My Straight Son (2012) Review: Damn These Heels LGBT Film Festival

My Straight Son Poster

I’m always torn on didacticism as a way to deliver meaning. I grew up reading Church magazines full of stories that are — let’s be honest — never true, but always well intentioned. Realizing the flaws inherent in these stories (asking your friends to swap the R-rated film for something more uplifting never works, for example) didn’t necessarily make me averse to didacticism, only hyper-aware of its usage and and wary of its sloppy overuse. Those magazines are intended for young kids in the Church, and short stories of sharing, caring, and love work best when the moral is clear, even if the content is false.

Didacticism can be an extremely powerful method, and one that works particularly well when the audience agrees with the message. My Straight Son (with an alternative [re: better] title of Blue and Not So Pink) is a recent Venezuelan film written and directed by Miguel Ferrari, an actor-turned-director whose conscience is clearly concerned with the marginalized of the world and whose narrative tendencies quickly become pulpit-pounding rhetoric. I wrinkled my nose a bit when Delirio del Rio (Hilda Abrahamz), a transsexual juggernaut, concludes the film by literally preaching acceptance and love on her new television talk show, but this may have been a way to keep tears from flowing.

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Symbols and Metaphor in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

For the United States, World War II officially ended on September 2nd, 1945 with the surrender of Japan. But while signatures and treaties sent The Greatest Generation home to the country they’d fought to protect, it didn’t signify the end of their conflict. It ended physical battles but not internal ones. Even though they look perfectly healthy on the outside, soldiers did (and do) come home emotionally and mentally crippled.

Many of Hollywood’s finest (actors, directors, cameramen, you name it) were shipped overseas and those who made it home still had to wrestle with demons. As it turns out, spending your life creating fantasies doesn’t mean you’re any more prepared for the horror of war. How could it? Some of these Hollywood personnel were charged documenting a wartime spectacle that may have reflected a film they once worked on, but in actuality was completely alien.

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Appropriate Behavior (2014) Review: Damn These Heels LGBT Film Festival

New York City and the dreamers who flock there have been a staple of film almost since the medium’s advent. King Vidor chronicled the American Dream’s poisonous mystique in his silent masterpiece The Crowd in 1928. Busby Berkeley threw the city’s majesty on screen with his extravagant dance numbers, creating the illusion that something this visually stunning could only happen in a New York City setting.

Now that filmmaking has gone digital, smaller New York stories are growing in popularity, often focusing on adults wrestling with their imminent adulthood. We have Gimme the Loot, Broad City, Tiny Furniture, High Maintenance and Frances Ha just to name a few recent entries. Even this tiny selection shows the variety that fits under this umbrella.

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