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CCU16: February 2016 New Releases & The #CriterionBlogathon

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The first Criterion Blogathon is over but this celebration of films especially from the Criterion Collection will go on. As long as Criterion continues to release these gems, there will always be a reason for fans to celebrate. I want to personally thank our hosts Aaron ( Criterion Close Up ), Kristina (Speakeasy) and Ruth (Silverscreenings) for all their efforts in making this event a big success including their excellent posts (including Mark’s also of the Criterion Close Up) on this month’s Criterion releases.

This is the best episode thus far  of the Criterion Close Up due to amount of material covered. Thanks to all the host who read all the posts and all the participants ( including our COOL HOSTS) who poured out their passion in writing for this event. It was all worth it. Gained some new friends, strengthened friendships.

Until next time, We Are Groot. You’re Welcome! Thanks for the mention!

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Aaron, Mark, Kristina Dijan (Speakeasy) and Ruth Kerr (Silver Screenings) discuss the February 2016 Criterion Collection line-up and then we delve into the Criterion Blogathon, which was an epic experience for all of us. We talk about some of the behind the scenes info, give out prizes, talk about the social media thrills with the #CriterionBlogathon, and give our thanks to all who participated.

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Show notes:

Outline:

0:00 – Intro, Housekeeping
9:20 – News & February Releases
38:40 – Criterion Blogathon

Intro

Kristina – Speakeasy Blog | Twitter

Ruth – Silver Screenings Blog | Twitter

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News

Dont Look Back

Ruth’s Ikiru review

Kristina’s In Cold Blood review

Aaron’s The Apu Trilogy Review

Out1 streaming from Fandor

Kitchen Conservations: Gaspar Noé

February 2016 Releases

Criterion…

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The Criterion Blogathon is Officially Here

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The Criterion Blogathon is officially here and would like to acknowledge our COOL hosts at the Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings for all their hardwork in preparing and bringing this together . Would also like take this opportunity to thank all participants for all their efforts in making this a succesful week and all fans around the world for reading and re-tweeting the blogs.

My first offering scheduled on November 17, 2015  is a French noir double murder mystery.

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS “ASCENSEUR POUR L’ÉCHAFAUD“ (1957) 

My second offering scheduled on Novemeber 19,2015 is a  baseball story set in Japan in the 50s.

I WILL BUY YOU “ANATA KAIMASU” (1956)

Hope you enjoy reading it and thanks for re-tweeting! #prayforparis #prayforjapan #prayfortheworld

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Elevator to the Gallows “Ascenseur pour l’échafaud“ (1957)

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The only exposure I had with Mr. Louis Malle was his last film in 1994, the experimental Vanya at 42nd street. A stark contrast to his first full feature noir film in 1957, Elevator to the Gallows (Original title:  Ascenseur pour l’échafaud ) “I was split between my tremendous admiration for Robert Bresson and the temptation to make a Hitchcock-like film,” was how director Louis Malle described his debut feature, made when he was just 24. In fact the film stands at a stylistic crossroads between the French cinema of the classic period and the new wave films that were about to usher in a new mode of expression a year later.

Louis Marie Malle (French last name pronounced  “mal”; 30 October 1932 – 23 November 1995) was a French  director, screenwriter and producer. He worked as the co-director and cameraman to Jacques Cousteau on the Oscar and Palme d’Or- winning (at the 1956 Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival respectively) documentary The Silent World (1956) and assisted Robert Bresson on A Man Escaped (French title: Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut, 1956) before making his first feature, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (released in the U.K. as Lift to the Scaffold and in the U.S. originally as Frantic, later as Elevator to the Gallows) in 1957.

Having had participated this past summer in the Turner Classic Movies sponsored Canvas Network  On-line course from Ball State University,  “Into The Darkness: Investigating Film Noir” , I gained more appreciation and deeper understanding for the genre and  for this particular film the relationship between film noir and jazz.  It was amazing to know that the great Miles Davis improvised the musical score of the film after watching scenes from the film and provided more layers to Malle’s visual design. To quote Professor Richard Edwards from one of his Daily Dose of Darkness lectures, “Although Davis’ music was for a French film that was not strictly a film noir, in that it did not exist within the established American series of films, this score has often been cited as an example of the relationship between the idioms of jazz and film noir.”

The excellent score by Miles Davis (a soundtrack worth picking up, jazz aficionado or not) heightens the unpredictability of the plot with freeform jazz and grooves while, at its core, provides one of cinema’s most pensive musical themes: a majestically remote trumpet.

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CLASSIC OPENING SCENE

The classic opening scene engages the viewer right away with close-ups of a couple obviously in love and professing their devotion to each other. Within the first minute of the film, we already have an idea about the plan of our femme fatale Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and her flawed lover former French Foreign Legion paratrooper Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) to kill her husband Simon Carala (Jean Wall), a wealthy middle-aged industrialist and arms dealer who also happens to be Julien’s boss. After their conversation ended, the classic haunting music of Davis and his quintet then permeates and sets the mood for the film creating a sense of separation and longing between the two lovers.  Davis’ lonely mournful tones on his trumpet echo the heartbreak of Julien in his work tower and Florence’s isolation in the phone booth.  The panning of Julien from his office window out into the business world of tall buildings emphasizes the physical distance between Florence and him.  The whispered voice of Florence shows her anguish in longing to be with Julien.  Davis’s quintet captures the desperation of these lovers across the distance. So close yet so far.

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After Julien seemed to have committed the perfect crime and a step closer to the lovers’ dream escape, he uncharacteristically realized that he left evidence behind. He hurriedly gets back in the building leaving his coat and belongings including the murder weapon in his car. As it was getting dark and close to closing time he gets trapped in the elevator after power was shut down for the day. This left Florence hanging and waiting in vain for him to show up and eventually convinced herself that her lover deserted her.

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Meanwhile, as Julien struggles to free himself from the elevator. His parked car is stolen by a teenage couple — the braggart Louis (George Poujouly) and his girlfriend Veronique (Yori Bertin). They get into a fender-bender with a German tourist and his wife, and the tourists rather improbably invite them to party with them at a motel.

What occurs next  are chain of events that led to several parallel crimes, mistaken identities involving the young reckless couple, a tightly wound double murder investigation, and some classic noir night shots with the mesmerizing jazz music during those scenes. These crimes were not committed in a vacuum. In this case, murder has a ripple effect, and the fates of the characters were inescapable and unfolding over one seemingly endless Parisian night.

Will the lovers find a way out of their predicament and consummate their rendezvous or face the consequence of their actions.

“Together forever somewhere!”

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MILES DAVIS IMPROVISING THE MUSICAL SCORE OF THE FILM

Mr.Miles Davis and Ms. Jeanne Moreau

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MOVIE SOUNDTRACK LP Cover

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MOVIE POSTERS for Elevator to the Gallows

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This post is part of the Criterion Blogathon, hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings

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I Will Buy You “Anata Kaimasu” (1956)

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With the conclusion of the 2015 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets and the coronation of the never say die  Royals as the  2015 World Series champions, what better way to celebrate our national pastime than to write something about the game of baseball.  Baseball has been a very big part of our lives since the Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series in dramatic fashion. My son who was eight years old at that time became interested with learning the game and then began our journey into reaching his maximum baseball potential.

Going into his senior year and last year of playing college baseball next spring, I have a bittersweet feeling imagining that he will eventually hang his cleats and call it a day after having played competitively for the last 15 years. Having coached him from Little League, PONY and watching him play Club baseball and High school baseball I have to also learn to navigate the waters of College Prospect Recruiting to guide him in making a decision to find the right college that fits his needs. A fit that I am grateful he found at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

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Currently the most memorable moment of his College Career

 

What are the Probability of playing College and Professional baseball ? Very tough! Here are the facts.

  • Less than three in 50, or about 5.6 percent, of high school senior boys interscholastic baseball players will go on to play men’s baseball at a NCAA member institution.
  • Less than eleven in 100, or about 10.5 percent, of NCAA senior male baseball players will get drafted by a Major League Baseball (MLB) team.
  • Approximately one in 200, or approximately 0.5 percent of high school senior boys playing interscholastic baseball will eventually be drafted by an MLB team.
  • Base on above numbers, you can deduce that education and experience will give you a higher probability to advance professionally.

Baseball is often considered to be a typically American sport, but that doesn’t mean other nations don’t have it. In fact, there are countries, such as Japan, where baseball is just as popular as any other big sport, if not more popular. I am pretty sure that the above numbers mirror those in Japan or any other countries where youth baseball is popular or more popular than in the United States.

In Japan, baseball is played on several levels like here. There is the amateur baseball, high school baseball, college baseball and, of course, professional baseball. Baseball was introduced to Japan around 1873, during the turbulent times of the Meiji restoration. Since its beginnings, baseball in Japan was a club sport. The first ever baseball team was Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics, which consisted of the players associated with the country’s first railroad, from Shinbashi in Tokyo to the treaty port of Yokohama.

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Today, Japanese professional baseball consists of 12 teams, divided into two leagues: the Central League and the Pacific League. As for the minor league baseball, there are two leagues: the Western League and the Eastern League. This pales in comparison the MLB which consists of a total of 30 teams playing in the American League (AL) and National League (NL), with 15 teams in each league.

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With these facts in mind, we can now begin our journey against Kobayashi’s system. A few words on the director Mr. Kobayashi (not to be mistaken to the character Mr. Pete Postlewaithe played in The Usual Suspects). Masaki Kobayashi (小林 正樹 Kobayashi Masaki?, February 14, 1916 – October 4, 1996) was a Japanese film director who embarked on a career in film in 1941 when he entered Shochiku Studios as an apprentice director under the successful and respected director Keisuke Kinoshita. His work with the Shochiku film company was interrupted by becoming a POW during the Sino-Japanese war. One of the most important filmmakers to emerge from Japan’s cinematic golden age, Masaki Kobayashi is remembered in great part today for his three-part epic The Human Condition (1959–61) which is partly based on his life altering experiences as a soldier and POW during World War 2, but that is just one of the blistering films he made in a career dedicated to criticizing his country’s rigid social and political orders.

He began making his own films in the early 1950s, and when he earned the right to choose his own projects, these turned into highly controversial film subjects. Eclipse’s four-disc collection Masaki Kobayashi Against the System groups three of his strongest 1950s efforts with a similarly scathing 1962 film, made amid other celebrated successes as Harakiri and his atypical color ghost story, Kwaidan. With these last two films he came to be known in the 1960’s as a master of both the samurai movie and the supernatural genre.

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I Will Buy You, is Kobayashi’s 8th but  first great film. For its part, I Will Buy You utilizes a fairly simple story of a baseball scout attempting to sign a hotly tipped college prospect to detail the greedy and morally corrupted scouting world  in a profession geared toward entertainment. What results is a subtly dramatic, morally complex tale of loyalty that forgoes the conciliatory in favor of the tragic.

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The film tackles the emergence of cutthroat capitalism in postwar Japanese life, specifically within professional baseball. The anti-hero is the slick, young, ambitious talent scout Daisuke Kishimoto (Keiji Sada). We first see him chasing down an ace pitcher. But when he finds out he has lost a finger in a mining accident, we never hear about the pitcher again. Daisuke turns his attention to Goro Kurita (Minoru Oki), a seemingly innocent college player who reveals a sharp streak once a bidding war breaks out between several major professional teams. Oki is a young man who is a very talented and successful college baseball player.

What was not shown in the film is how Goro got to this level coming from the countryside. It takes talent, drive to succeed, a lot of hard work with consistent on and off the field training during pre and in season as well as luck to even get the chance to play college and professional baseball. In baseball, I have learned that hustle and hard work trumps talent any day. 

With several teams aggressively recruiting Goro Kurita , the story focuses mainly on  Daisuke Kishimoto who plays a young scout from the Toyo Flowers. In the earlier and middle part of the film, we are given a chance to chime in on his interior thoughts in voice-over as he sizes up people and situations he faces. While a relative newcomer and somewhat naive, he’s also quite shrewd and calculating. He’s focused on success and money as are almost everyone he encounters, yet the way that he’s portrayed makes him a relatively sympathetic character that is immersed in a situation where one doesn’t know whom to trust.

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At this point of the story, we can’t avoid to draw comparisons between more recent sports movies like Moneyball and Jerry Maguire. Sports agent Daisuke Kishimoto/coveted player Goro Kurita as compared to Sports agent Jerry Maguire/free agent Rod Tidwell.  Sports movies in Hollywood during present times were more inspirational and wholesome as compared to this movie. Sports agent point of view in I will buy you “What do I have to do to sign him?” as compared to Jerry Maguire “What do I have to do to keep him”

Goro Kurita’s trainer for the past 4 years, Yunosuke Ito, is a very important intermediary. He’s in a position to extract bribes or payoffs to influence Goro and to allow access to him and his family. Goro’s girlfriend, Keiko Kishi, has a very different agenda and values than the scouts, Ito and Kurita. Goro’s family, parents and brothers, appear at first to be naive peasants; but when the bidding war starts, they are right in the thick of it. Goro himself is at first seen as interested only in the game, but as the story develops his innocence is only on the surface.

The story’s main theme is the conflict between humanity and the human being as a commodity. One’s interest is mainly maintained by witnessing how huge sums of money involved affect different persons. There is a good deal of suspense in seeing how people’s behaviors are affected under this pressure and incentive. I am sure Goro Kurita’s final decision will leave more questions than answers as to where his loyalty really was before, during and after the recruiting process.

Was he bought or not?  If he was, when was he bought?

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Will definitely miss these days…

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Coaching Days for the Centerfield Royals

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With Mr. Mark Grace of the 2001 World Series Champions Arizona Diamondbacks

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With Mr. Pete Rose “Hit King” (4256 Hits)

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Grinnell College Florida Spring Trip

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Sophomore year at Salpointe Catholic

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2010 National Classic

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Photoshoot at Centerfield Baseball Academy in Tucson, AZ

Our family would also like to sincerely  thank all the people (Coach Hollibaugh, Coach Cooprider and the rest of the GC Baseball coaching staff, Andy Morales, all his coaches from Little League, Club Baseball and Salpointe Catholic High School as well as all the baseball families we met the last 15 years)  and organizations (Centerfield Baseball Academy, Fallon Sports especially Jeff Fallon, Perfect Game especially Mr. Jerry Ford, Grinnell College, High School Baseball Web ) for giving my son the chance to succeed and helping us through our jouney. Very much appreciated.

This post is part of the Criterion Blogathon, hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings.

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Criterion Blogathon – Things to Come

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Less than a month away from participating in my first Criterion Blogathon. I have been preparing for 2 films one a French Noir double murder mystery and the other an Asian film about baseball which will be just in time after the conclusion of the 2015 World Series.

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Hello, fellow film buffs. We have been quiet for a little while, but with the #CriterionBlogathon just under a month away, we are about to roar!

Most importantly, we are imposing a deadline for submissions as of this Friday, October 23, 2015. We have updated the Blogathon roster here, and are currently at 170 topics. If you want to participate, this is the last call for you to secure a topic. After checking the roster, please complete this form to participate.

You may also be interested in the podcast that we recently recorded with Kristina over this past weekend. We discussed not only the blogosphere, blogathons, and online film community, but also this specific blogathon. Hopefully you will find it to be an interesting discussion. We certainly enjoyed it! Kristina blogged about her experience here.

The Blogathon will take place over six-days, from Monday, November 16th until Saturday…

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Freshman Recollections

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I vividly remember 3 years ago when we travelled 1197 miles and dropped off our only son to Grinnell College and officially became empty nesters.  He was then a bright eyed freshman eager to learn the rigors of college life much like Harold Lamb aka Speedy (Harold Lloyd) was when he entered Tate University with the blessings of his parents. As any college parent would relate, their angst is how their child would adapt and survive in their first year of college.

The Freshman (1925) directed by Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer (who also both collaborated with Lloyd in Safety Last! in 1923) was Harold Lloyd’s biggest box-office hit. This silent comedy gem, featuring the great actor at his eager best as a new college student. In 1990,  the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, going in the second year of voting and being one of the first 50 films to receive such an honor.

Harold Lamb’s dream was to be popular on campus much like his idol “Speedy” played by actor Lester Laurel in the movie “The College Hero”.  His plan was to emulate Speedy and he did not waste any time by addressing the student body after arriving on campus and being coaxed by the College Cad (Brooks Benedict) to give a speech. In classic Lloyd comedic slapstick fashion, he ended his address by saying “I am just a regular fellow and I want you to step right up and call me ‘Speedy’! “

His road to being popular and accepted won’t be smooth sailing as unbeknownst to him he was made the butt of an ongoing joke in the whole campus.  His only real friend is Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), who turns out to be his landlady’s daughter, described in one of the film’s title cards as “what your mother was like when she was young”.

To prove his mettle, he has to try out for the Football team, host the annual Fall Frolic and try to earn playing time from his unimpressed coach especially in the most important game of their football season against Union State.

Whether Harold remains the laughing stock of the college or able to redeem himself will be tackled more in depth by Hometowns to Hollywood @ The Criterion Blogathon.

Zero to Hero or Hero to Zero…. Coincidentally, The Criterion Collection will release its 3rd Harold Lloyd film on blu-ray Speedy (1928) on December 8, 2015.

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Meeting the Gritty Friends of Mister Coyle

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle, was the debut novel of George V. Higgins, then an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston, published in 1972 which was later adapted into a movie in 1973.  The novel is a realistic depiction of the Irish-American underworld in Boston. Its central character is the title character Eddie “ Fingers” Coyle, a small-time criminal and informant who because of the possibility of facing prison for a second time was forced to weigh his loyalty to his criminal colleagues or snitch against them to maintain his freedom and stay with his family.

There are 3 Main Reasons  why I would recommend watching or re-discovering one of the true treasures of 1970s Hollywood filmmaking—showcasing a relentless realism and unceremonious nature of it characters in comparison to some other gangster novels of the era, particularly Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, a more romanticized look at organized crime which was also adapted to film in 1972.

The Direction of Peter Yates

Peter Yates’ film adaptation of The Friends of Eddie Coyle has been underappreciated compared to his well-known films Robbery (1967) and Bullitt (1968). His masterful direction of the gritty locales in the  underworld of Boston gives as a realistic feel of that time era and an open heart for its non-heroic characters.

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Watching the film for the first time, I  was pleasantly surprised to witness a star-studded true ensemble piece perfectly blended in this  crime drama.

The great Robert Mitchum known for his more popular roles in Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear and Out of the Past was originally offered the role of the bartender and  gave one of his greatest performance during the twilight of his career as Eddie “Fingers” Coyle.

Of course, he was surrounded by a beautiful array of character actors, many of whom have faded from memory over the years. Richard Jordan (Hunt for Red October,  Logan’s Run, Dune) as Agent Dave Foley ,  Peter Boyle (Taxi Driver, Young Frankenstein, Everybody Loves Raymond)  as the bartender, the sick-looking Steven Keats as Jackie, Jack Kehoe as his connection, the smooth-skinned and bullet-headed James Tolkan (a Sidney Lumet favorite and more popularly known as the Principal in the Back to Future Films ) as the messenger boy for the Man, Joe Santos (who later made a name for himself on The Rockford Files) as a member of the bank heist crew, and his partner played by Alex Rocco (The Godfather). These actors, then in their prime, now signify a lost era. With the notable exception of Boyle, few ever again found roles as good as the ones they play here.

Dave Grusin score

Grusin is an Oscar and Grammy nominated and award winning Composer known  for numerous film scores. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s , my only recollection of his music is the Mountain Dance vynil album. The score of this film reminded me of the 70’s vibe and freedom perfectly blended with the gritty streets of Boston.

TRUE GRIT! 

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Revanche, A film of Second Chances more than Revenge

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In preparation for my first Criterion Blogathon and to get my feet wet, I will attempt to do short reviews and share my thoughts on primarily Criterion films I have watched recently.

Revanche is a stunning Oscar Nominated Film for Best Foreign Language Film (Austria) in 2009. A taut slow burning neo-noir thriller written and directed by Götz Spielmann in 2008. This centers around a couple Alex, an ex-convict  who works as a bouncer in Vienna for Konecny, owner of the brothel “Cinderella”, where his girlfriend Tamara, a Ukrainian  prostitute, also works. Hardened by the urban jungle they worked in, they made a plan to  leave Vienna as soon as possible to begin a new life together. While visiting his grandfather Hausner, who lives in a rural country, Alex felt that this may be the place he may consider going after they escape and ultimately decided to rob a local bank to give them a jump-start in life. The couples plans ultimately intersect with another couple who are neighbors with Hausner.  Susanne, a grocery clerk who lives nearby and visits the aging Hausner regularly and  Robert, a rural policeman.

Spielman perfectly paints a portrait of vengeance and redemption and blends it with the great cinematography of the busy urban scene and the serene rural landscape.

How their lives intertwine is what you would like to discover in this amazing and mesmerizing film of  ” Second chances more than Revenge! “

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My First Criterion Blogathon

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I feel very fortunate to be invited by the Criterion Blues to my first ever Criterion Blogathon commencing on November 16-21, 2015. Having participated in the 2015 Turner Classic Movies Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir  under the guidance of Professor Richard Edwards I developed a deeper understanding of noir.  To quote the great Eddie Muller’s own  description of the genre ” Noir is suffering with style.”

In my first attempt at blogging, the film that I would try to give my thoughts on will be Elevator To The Gallows  (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud). 

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À la prochaine….