Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Introduction and Day One

30 Day Movie Challenge: Introduction and Day One
By Gabriel Ricard

I don’t go in for a lot of the stuff on Facebook. I’ve never played Mob Wars, Empires and Allies, Farmville, Cooking Mama, Grave Digging Ragamuffins, Porn Legends of Gainesville, Florida (Okay, I might have made a couple of those up). I don’t re-post those obnoxious status updates challenging my courage and convictions. I’ve even managed to avoid clicking on those delightful “videos” that infect a person’s Facebook faster than they can cry about it on Twitter.

That last one is a shame though. I really would like to know what happened to that girl when her father caught her doing whatever it was that she was doing.

Don’t misunderstand me though. It’s not that I think I’m better than anyone for avoiding these things.  I post videos and articles like crazy, tried those apps that makes a collage of your status updates for the year or top friends and got entirely too much mileage out of those top-five lists that were popular for a little while. Facebook is a lot of things to a lot of people. How I waste my time on there is no better or worse than how others go about it.

One thing I’ve had a great deal of fun with is those thirty-day challenges. I’ve done one for movies and one for music. Right now I’m doing another for music, and I’m planning to do an extremely elaborate, supposedly endless one for movies. God knows why, but I enjoy thinking about the films and music that have managed to keep me inspired and moving along with my own writing, acting and whatever other nonsense I get mixed up with. I don’t think I remind myself of those inspirations nearly enough.

The movie challenge was particularly enjoyable. The original plan was to pick the movies and throw down a couple of sentences about why I chose it. It started out that way, but as I went on I realized I wanted to elaborate further than just a couple of sentences. By the end of the thirty days some of the entries clocked in at several hundred words.  They were a little verbose, but I enjoyed the experience immensely. Anyone who knows me will tell you I can ramble about movies for what feels like decades on end. I don’t get to write about them as much I’d like to. Most of the things I review these days are books. That’s fine. I just rarely have an excuse or opportunity to write about things that I already love.  The thought makes me miss the time I spent working for a horror movie site. The job frequently called for writing up reviews for films I had already seen. I had a great time with that, but the opportunities since then have been few and far between. That movie challenge was a fantastic excuse to change that.

Let’s change it even further with another excuse to ramble about those movies that color my dreams, keep me motivated to create my own things and all that other inspirational mumbo-jumbo.

I’ll be posting the entries from the Facebook Thirty Day Movie Challenge here. They won’t be exactly the same as they were on Facebook. I’ll be editing each one as I go, expanding on anything I want to expand on, clarifying something that might not make sense and just making them a little more sharply dressed in general. I’ve wanted to expand on some of these entries for a while now, and this is as good a time as any to do it. The other idea is that doing this will get my mind rolling for completely original material to contribute to this blog. I have some ideas, but I don’t want to throw my lot in with them just yet. Using these entries is a great way to keep busy while I work on those other ideas.

I’m also still planning to share fiction, poetry, scripts and all the rest whenever possible.

So, moving on to day one?

Does that work for everybody?

Awesome.

**********
Thirty Day Film Challenge:

Day One: Your Favorite Film of All Time

Seven Samurai (1954)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Yoshio Inaba

It was difficult to choose one film over any other, and I’m not entirely sure I made the right choice, but this was the first title to pop into my head above all others, so I suppose that should count for something.  What’s important to me here is that I go with my instincts. The first answer to pop into my head is likely the correct one.

This is a beautiful, massive epic in every sense of the word. I cannot find a single thing wrong with it. The story is immediately gripping and doesn’t lose even a fraction of its momentum in spite of a fairly long running time (207 minutes). I can appreciate why so many sequels came out of the American remake (The Magnificent Seven). It’s the kind of story that you still want more of even after you’ve already been given a lot.

The cast is a huge part of that with Seven Samurai. Discovering Toshiro Mifune’s body of work has been one of the great movie-watching pleasures of the last ten or so years of my life.  He has a few awful movies under his belt, but I’ve yet to see something he’s awful.  Mifune was one of those rare talents who could be absolutely and completely in control of the entire movie when he’s on camera. His performance here is second only to his performance in Yojimbo. It’s electrifying and by far my favorite aspect of the whole movie. He’s not the only one. Every performance is absolutely essential in one way or another. Mifune cuts an imposing figure, but he doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast and certainly not the entire film. Takashi Shimura is another of Japan’s great actors, and is at least somewhere on my list of favorite actors of all time, period. He gets some of the best lines in the film. His performance and by extension his character very quietly and effortlessly hold their own against everything else that’s going on.

Nothing overwhelms the movie. That’s one of the things I love about it. The best epics are the ones that have a thousand elements working together to create that singular, extraordinary final result.  That can be true of other film types, but I would like to think it’s especially critical for an epic or ensemble piece. Seven Samurai is a beautiful film, because everything in it is critical in some way, but it’s never a case of one thing overwhelming another. The spotlight may shine on a particular actor or shot, but that’s only within the moment. Seven Samurai doesn’t linger or allow anything to wear out its welcome and drag the movie down as a consequence. This was the first film to truly and so flawlessly combine so many characters, so many relationships between those characters (including a romance subplot between Isao Kimura, the youngest of the samurai and Keiko Tsushima, one of the villagers). Wrap that up in the rest of the action scenes and storytelling. You leave with a movie that never loses focus or the energy it builds for that fantastic final battle against the bandits.

There is not an ounce of wasted motion in Kurosawa’s effort to create something great.  There is no pretension or indulgence to be found. The ambition here was to make a good movie. Kurosawa did that, but I can’t imagine he knew what the long-term implications of Seven Samurai would be. The film was Japan’s most expensive up to that point and took a little over a year to shoot.  It was box-office hit and established Kurosawa as an international force that would serve to influence future filmmakers from all over the world.

Not only does it work as pure entertainment, but it is also the absolute pinnacle of the capacity and potential a film has to create a universe that is somehow larger than even the people who created it. Different minds have added to this specific universe over the years, but the one within the film itself is still as good as it could ever get. I don’t love Seven Samurai to impress or out of some weird obligation to the history of cinema. I love it because it has everything I could ever want from a movie. I’ve seen it a dozen times since 1998, and I still find something new and wonderful each time. Repeat viewings are not completely uncommon with me. Repeat viewings that don’t feel at all like repeat viewings are another story altogether. That’s exceptionally rare, and Seven Samurai is the absolute pinnacle of that very short list.

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