Movie Review – Model Shop

Model Shop (1969)
Written by Jacques Demy & Carole Eastman
Directed by Jacques Demy

Something changed on his vacation to Los Angeles. Demy hadn’t intended to make a film there but felt the spirit he’d seen die in Paris was now happening in the States. He’d entered into a depression, feeling that the people he’d admired in France were stumbling, unsure of how to present something fresh or even articulate the moment they were all living in. Where Demy’s previous work embraced the artifice of film production, he violently shakes that away here, preferring a more naturalistic style of filmmaking. Non-actors are cast wherever Demy can put them, and there’s an absence of narrative, just wandering, making Model Shop feel like an ancestor of Sean Baker’s Tangerine. Yet, it was another film flop that failed to connect with critics or audiences of the time.

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Movie Review – The Young Girls of Rochefort

The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

Undeniably, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a perfect masterpiece of filmmaking. But…I sort of loved The Young Girls of Rochefort more. Rochefort is a comedy in the classical sense, as opposed to the definition of a tragedy. Cherbourg is a serious story with a down ending, while Rochefort is very upbeat and does allow its characters to have a happy ending. Now one of those endings is more ambiguous than most films would deliver, but that makes it feel like a Demy movie. We don’t see our characters living happily ever after; we see them happy right now. Sometimes that’s the most you can ask for. Stories have to end, meaning we’ll never know if these characters stay happy. If it’s anything like real life, there will be a series of ups and downs, and you eventually learn how to appreciate the good moments.

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Movie Review – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

Masterpieces don’t happen all the time. Sometimes they happen, and people don’t realize they are looking at one. Other times, they know right away when they see it. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a true masterpiece of filmmaking. The script alone is a perfect plot, no fat; everything moves the characters forward, whether getting closer to their goals or having it complicated. There’s not a single second of wasted time on the screen, which says a lot for a film that is also spilling over with style. Oh yes, and every word in the movie is sung, starting with an exchange between a mechanic and a customer talking about the status of a car. Damien Chazelle boldly claimed this is “the best film ever made.” But is it?

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Movie Review – Bay of Angels

Bay of Angels (1963)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

From the opening credits, Bay of Angels explodes onto the screen. The energy of this sequence will propel the rest of the film forward, a visual representation of the distance between people, of long winding personal journeys intersecting with another’s, and even the overstimulated rush provided by gambling. Demy’s characters are always caught up in their passions, and women are found at the center of things. For the director, women seem to be the key for a man to feel life; without them, everything seems to fall into abject misery. Of course, that doesn’t mean life is going to be sunshine and rainbows with a woman in your life, but you will, if nothing else, feel something. These celestial figures light up every nerve ending, even if the sensation is searing pain.

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Movie Review – Lola

Lola (1961)
Written & Directed by Jacques Demy

The French New Wave was a dominant force in Western cinema in the post-War era. The various filmmakers associated with the movement (Goddard, Truffaut, et al.) left an indelible mark on how movies are made, but at some point, they faded into the background as other countries around the world started revolutionizing cinema in their own way. Jacques Demy was a French filmmaker, a little younger than the New Wave auteurs, whose best work happened after that attention had faded. He made some incredible movies, often inspired by Hollywood pictures but with his own flourishes added. His name would not be as well known as his older peers, but his work would resonate with certain modern filmmakers. Damien Chazelle cited The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as “the greatest film ever made” and heavily cribbed from it and The Young Girls of Rochefort for his La La Land. I think Demy deserves much more accolades for the brilliant remixing of film elements he presented in his work.

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Movie Review – I Am Cuba

I Am Cuba (1964)
Written by Enrique Pineda Barnet & Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov

Capitalism is everywhere. In the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, capitalism became the dominant economic ideology on the planet. There are only four communist states: China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (North Korea operates under a philosophy of Juche, which while similar in some ways to communism, is not a representation of that system). Capitalist realism became the term to define this post-Soviet era, a play on “socialist realism,” an art style popular during the USSR’s existence. It’s from this constant presence of capitalism in all aspects of life that the phrase “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than an end to capitalism” was coined (attributed to both Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Zizek). So, if capitalism is the all-encompassing economic system of our lives, how is it represented in the media? 

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Movie Review – Juliet of the Spirits

Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi
Directed by Federico Fellini

8 ½ garnered justified acclaim for Federico Fellini, adding to his reputation as one of the best filmmakers of all-time while in the middle of his career. That success caused the director to continue down this path of psychoanalysis through cinema in his following picture, Juliet of the Spirits. He once again centered a movie around his wife & constant muse, Giulietta Masina, whom he hadn’t made a film with since Nights of Cabiria, seven years prior. The relationship between these two was not necessarily conventional, but it worked for them. They occupied different floors of the same house day to day and had different circles of friends. It’s well-known that Fellini constantly flirted with other women, but they stayed together and seemed to have a very passionate relationship. In Fellini’s words, Juliet of the Spirits was an homage to Masina. 

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Movie Review – 8 1/2

8 ½ (1963)
Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi
Directed by Federico Fellini

Somewhere around the first quarter of rewatching this film (for me, it was my wife’s first time), I turned to Ariana. We exchanged knowing looks, and eventually, one of us spoke. “This is fucking incredibly good, right?” The other confirmed this statement as we returned to watch what is undoubtedly one of the best films ever made. I first saw 8 ½ before my brain was truly ready for it. I was a twentysomething with arrested development due to being brought up in a homeschooled household. My neophyte brain was just developing during those years, playing catch up. Now, at 41, I look at 8 ½, and I see a film that resonates with me on a level few films do. This is what an artistic masterpiece looks like.

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Movie Review – La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita (1960)
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Pier Paolo Pasolini
Directed by Federico Fellini

It’s not often that a film’s inspiration starts with a trend in women’s fashion, but that is where La Dolce Vita began. Sack dresses were becoming popular in Italy and would eventually become one of the iconic pieces of 1960s fashion. Fellini said they fascinated him because they were so flowing and formless that you did not know the body type of the woman wearing them. This led him to think about the tremendous aesthetic beauty happening in the wealthier circles he was moving in as his filmmaking reputation grew, how, from the outside, it was flowing and luxurious, but that the truth was hidden inside somewhere. Fellini also had tremendous help building out this initial thought with a staff of five writers, including longtime collaborator Tullio Pinelli. Pinelli met Fellini at a newsstand which he refers to as a moment of creative lightning striking. The two were in sync from the start and, with the other writers, told a story of the excess of Italian nightlife looking very different in the early morning light.

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Comic Book Review – Doctor Strange Epic Collection V1: Master of the Mystic Arts

Doctor Strange Epic Collection Volume 1: Master of the Mystic Arts (2018)
Reprints Strange Tales v1 #110-111, 114-146, and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2
Written by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Art by Steve Ditko

For such a massive movie star, Doctor Strange’s origins didn’t guarantee that level of fame. He began as a back-up feature in the aptly named anthology Strange Tales. Despite the name, Strange Tales was initially a showcase for science fiction stories in the 1950s. It was part of Marvel chasing the popularity of gorier stories found in EC Comics like Tales From the Crypt, but as superheroes rose back into popularity in the 1960s, the company pivoted. The feature story of Strange Tales in the early 1960s was The Human Torch. While having waned in popularity in recent years, The Fantastic Four was the premiere book published by Marvel in the 1960s. They were the company’s entry into the Silver Age cape & tights landscape, and the Torch was one of the most popular characters. A few issues in, a back-up feature was needed, and there was creator Steve Ditko with the idea for Dr. Strange.

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