Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, 1971)

Men are machines. We are engines screaming down the hot asphalt, expressionless. We smell of octane, and rust with age, and we’re fueled by all the spit and blood of every man before us that tried to mold us into something strong, fast, and unrelenting. We flex our muscles with every engine rev, and our steely eyed glares cut through the night. We are not of flesh, but of steel and grease, made for one moment to rise, then fall, and then laid to rest in a quiet, grassy yard.

Perhaps that isn’t the essence of Monte Hellman’s meditative road film, but in each sad eyed, far off stare of The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and The Driver (James Taylor) one can’t help but feel a sense of detachment. These two men, machines, are more in tune with the sound of the screaming engine, and the hiss of the road under the tires then they are with any human kind. Even the Girl (Laurie Bird) aching to belong to something, and blindly pawing for love, can’t warm the flesh that binds the machine.

Then there is the character of G.T.O (Warren Oates). He is a rusted machine, clinging to his final coughing breaths of exhaust as he limps down the road. With each tale he spins you get a sense of a man searching for his humanity, so much so that he makes a mockery of it. He wants his moment in the sun. He wants to hear the engine howl one last vicious song, and then slump into the waiting arms of something he will never understand.

Does The Driver see this fate in the end of the film? There is a brief moment when he sees several old neglected cars behind a barn. Does he look off at the cars and read their rusted epitaphs and wonder “is it too late?”

– James Merolla


In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

 84. The Scarlett Empress (von Sternberg, 1934)

Has their been a director more un-appologetically garish, and visually indulgent than Josef von Sternberg? No, there hasn’t. Von Sternberg’s visual style is the cinematic equivalent of a sweet 16 birthday cake, and that is exactly what makes his films so engaging. Instead of revolting the viewer his visuals, from the costumes, to the meticulous set designs, play on childhood fantasies and nightmares. They are fairytales in the truest sense, with over-the-top villains, batting eye damsels, and sets decorated from one corner of the screen to the next.

In The Scarlett Empress, Catherine The Great, played beautifully by Marlene Dietrich, is the quintessential fairytale princess, but like all of von Sternberg’s characters, just like his visuals, she is the perversion of everything we have come to expect. Dietrich’s innocence and naivety pours out of every wide-eyed stare she gives. Her sexual curiosities are palpable along with her fear of the great unknown. Later in the film she is the heroine, jaded and vile in her righteousness, and her pleasantries with the men are sweeter than any candy. We don’t just root for Catherine, we lose ourselves in her. We are seduced by her and the dreamy romances of her world.

My only wish for this film is that it were longer. It would be a joy to see Catherine’s struggle and subsequent triumph played out more. But I reconcile this with the thought that the film isn’t so much about her struggle and ultimate triumph, but a brief glimpse into a past that never existed. It is a frosty day dream of spectacular notion, meant only to be visited briefly.

– James Merolla


In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

 85.  The Rules of The Game (Renoir, 1939)

The characters in Jean Renoir’s The Rules of The Game are less people, and more celestial bodies. They move throughout the vast empty of space with a blind trust in the rules of gravity. Gravity will guide them clear of danger. Gravity being the social norms and protocol of societal living. But, in their universe, just like ours, the bodies will find each other. The irresistible pull of gravity can cause violent crashes. Within the violence the known principles of gravity change, become unrecognizable, and destroy.

Renoir is not interested in pitting one side against another with his film. Making the bourgeoisie look vile and unfeeling would be too easy. Instead, he gives us  human beings from all ends of the socioeconomic universe, with all the range of emotions, and vulnerabilities we recognize in ourselves. We watch them crash into each other, attract, and repel. And all of them with varying degrees of understanding in the rules of society. Renoir takes a great deal of delight in playing out the absurdity and constraints of societal protocol. One can almost hear him giggle with every breakdown.

– James Merolla




All The Real Girls  (David Gordon Green, 2003)

There are people who write their names in the dust of pulverized brick from crumbled buildings.  But, it is not their choice to live with such doom. It is, instead the prophecy of the tribe. Tribes in backward old mountain towns in West Virginia. Rusted can towns somewhere in Pennsylvania, and dusty ghost towns out west there.

You only go as far as the tribe goes, and it goes through the steel mills, the blue glass of old mason chairs and a muddy back yard. They’re places where dreams snap like fire crackers on a summer side walk. Where rusted cars have memories and the folks have memorized every pot hole in main street. Those places that smell like an old book and everything is smeared with wet ash.

And the people paint their bodies loyally for the tribe. When given a glimpse at love their stone hands fumble it, because if it’s anything more than a twinkle of an eye in a beer puddle, one might have to leave the tribe.

– James Merolla

Time Regained (Ruiz, 1999)

What are dreams but memories sent through the twists of our brains? We relive our events through the emotion that seeps through the images that flash before our sleeping eyes. Sometimes they are potent enough to leave a residual fog when we wake.

It is in this space, where dreams become entangled with memories, that director Raoul Ruiz chose to place his film, Time Regained. With it he forfeits any real notion of storytelling, and instead drifts from moment to moment as frantically, and nostalgically as the dying mind of our main character, Marcel Proust, can move. What Proust, and we the viewer, witness is the unfolding fragments of his unfinished novel. In his final grasps at life, the novel takes on a stream of consciousness autobiographical tone, but nothing is ever definitive, scenes dreamily fall into one another, and characters float in and out of each others lives like slowly moving clouds.

Because of the fragmented, stream of consciousness nature of the film, there are moments where Proust momentarily fixates on characters (people) from his past. This adds a richness to each character, and scene that is never abandoned in the drifting style. When Proust’s memory wanders, the characters, and all of their flaws and triumphs travel with him. And it is apparent early on that through these people Proust measured and observed his life.

The object for Ruiz is to capture the fleetingness of life, and memory, and how closely related memory is to dreams. There is an effortless surrealism that paints our memories as they fade. Soon, we begin to wonder if it is the moment in time we remember, or just the memory itself, as it bends, fades, disappears, and reappears in shockingly vivid color.

Ruiz makes sure that every scene has a dreamy headed feel by always keeping his camera moving. It meanders like the minds eye through the pages of Proust’s faded memory. And in no scene is this style more powerful than the concert scene. It is the emotional zenith of the film as we watch Proust, overwhelmed with the creeping phantom that it his mortality, and his past. It is both the most humanly grounded scene, and possibly the most surreal, as the crowd surrounding Proust seems to sway, and rotate around him.

It is extremely rare for a film to be such a deep well of human experience and emotion, and find itself so detached from notions of reality, but Raoul Ruiz straddles the line brilliantly. The emotion is the surrealism.

– James Merolla


In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.


La Grande Illusion (Renoir, 1937)

Jean Renoir has said La Grande Illusion is about relationships in a war fought almost entirely by gentlemen. In depicting such poignant, but all together casual relationships, between gentlemen in war, Renoir poses the idea that war itself is the beast, perhaps birthed by man, but man is not defined by his creation, however ugly it may be. We are introduced to men on both sides of the line struggling, not to tame the beast of war, but to rise above it. We see in strained conversations between soldiers the refusal to give in to anger and judgement, and a calm sympathy between the weary.

Though the film was made at just the cusp of World War II, Le Grande Illusion serves as a solemn reminder of what was lost in the second war, and what can never be salvaged.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.


The Thing (Carpenter, 1982)

I’ve now seen The Thing an estimated 25 times. I have no way of knowing the exact number, but 25 seems like a round enough guess. All the times I watched this film prior I would often get caught up in the paranoia and claustrophobic feel of the film. It is a film  you feel rather than analyze, and John Carpenter’s minimalist camera work, and emphasis on tighter shots, and clever editing heighten the experience.

What holds this film together more than anything is the sharp and detailed script. Obviously this film is not a character study, so the emotions of each character are limited, but there is great depth in their words and actions. There is an intense mystery at play, completely separate from the horrors of the monster, which takes a secondary role to the horror of paranoia and abandonment that each character faces.

When we find ourselves wholly giving into the experience of the film we begin to question every character’s actions and words, right down to the most mundane and seemingly harmless. The best example of this is in what is perhaps the very essence of the film, the final scene between MacReady (Kurt Russel) and Childs (Keith David). They’re the last men left, and in their brief conversation we can infer so much. Is Childs the thing? Is MacReady the thing? Are they both the thing? What makes the scene so strong is how tightly wound the film was leading up to it, which would make you believe the two men are asking themselves the very same questions at that point. It doesn’t work as a mockery of the events leading up to it, but rather, a deeply disquieting overture.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.


Don’t Torture a Duckling (Fulci, 1972)

Innocence is sacred. It is untouched by the disappointments of the unknown world outside of a child’s imagination. It is a pristine water where even a boy’s fantasies of the naked flesh are cleansed. But the world around a child inevitably encroaches. He will begin to understand the whispering tongues of intrigue, and the pale fear of reality, where pain is more than a skinned knee or broken tooth.

The loss of innocence is a difficult experience, but a necessary one. It is full of fear and confusion for the child, but also for the adults who seek to protect their innocence. This is what propels Lucio Fulci’s film.

It takes place in a small village, seemingly untouched by time. For the people of the village faith, and superstition still exists in everything, right down to the very dust they breathe in their lungs. We find that this village is now at a crossroads between the antiquated beliefs of the old country, and the encroaching modern world at its doorstep. Fulci represents this by showing us the elevated highway that cuts through the rocky rural environment. We rarely see the adults anywhere near the highway, but we often see the children walking under or around the road. The children of this town are being pulled into the warm bosom of the modern world, a world where innocence is not coddled, in fact, it is gleefully plucked from the young. No scene is more representative of this than that of a boy encountering a nude woman. The woman is an outsider from Milan, she is free and careless with her nudity and sexuality, and finds a disturbing humor in exposing herself to the boy, she even toys with the idea of sleeping with him. This is an absurd exaggeration of the point Fulci tries to make, but there is a great honesty to the heightened sense of morality. To put it as bluntly as the film does, this is a clash between worlds, and the children are caught in the middle, oblivious and innocent.

The children are simply following the natural progression of life, like the currents of a river, but the adults, the monsters of fear and superstition angrily claw at any threat to their ideals. It is one of the primal fears for all of us, the fear of change. Our familiarities can sometimes breed a powerful need to protect what we believe to be truth, while being so willfully ignorant to the indifference of progression.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.



The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (Argento, 1970)

When I first viewed Dario Argento’s The Bird with The Crystal Plumage I was blinded. I was blinded by the foolishness of each character, dumbfounded with curiosity, and aimlessly plodding toward danger like zombies through the fog. I missed his own visual curiosity, his wandering eye, and the heavy breathing of obsession. So caught up in the characters was I, that I missed the true drive of the film; fear is everywhere. Every scene is an uneasy setting, from a room full of drunken pugilists, to the sterile environment of computers, shifting, moving, angry, emotionless.

Argento may not have hit the mark perfectly, but there is a clear method to every scene in this film that I seemed to absorb subconsciously the first time around, and only now did I understand why I love the film so. He, like every great horror director, plays on our most primal fears, whether it be claustrophobia, heights, or the dark, these moments are just as much a bogey man as the faceless killer. The killer seems to dwell in these dark places, and even thrive.

We are never more alone than in the grips of our fear.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.


The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Fassbinder, 1972)

We watch Petra flail with the theatrics of emotion, while Karin, the object of such immediate affection for Petra, sways beautifully to the music with eyes closed. This, while Marlene, the diligent slave to Peta watches. She stands close enough to touch Karin, but she feels miles away. She knows what happens to Petra in the presence of such beauty, and she fears her already servile life will get worse.

Other than the obvious visual cues and nuggets of dialogue, nothing in this film is apparent until it’s over. One doesn’t seem to grasp the loneliness of each character until after we have time to reflect on such scenes as Petra laying in bed, with her mother sitting beside her. The two are so lost in their own loneliness and self-absorption that they have two conversations at once. Petra rambles of her pain, and her mother of hers, and neither one listens. It is then that one realizes the entire film is made up of these conversations. Each character makes an emotional declaration without any notice from the other. Every declaration carelessly runs into each other.

It is the character of Marlene, acting as the emotional stenographer, who seems to bear the weight of all the lies, loneliness, and deceit that each character spills without conscious. She is the counter to both the flamboyance and emotional recklessness or Petra, and the cold, emotionally barren Karin. The film is seen through her eyes, and theoretically through her sensibility. This could account for the exaggerated actions of each character, including their makeup and dress.

Fassbinder, fully aware and purposeful in his use of such exaggerated emotion had the brilliant idea to keep the film confined to one small room. This is to keep that pain and loneliness from dissipating in the air of reality, and makes even the smallest of “tragedies” in the life of Petra seem so much bigger.

– James Merolla