Children of the mid-1980s will likely recall the Toys "Я" Us Super Toy Run. The 1985 sweepstakes was one of the most alluring prizes offered to a toy-hungry youth, and most kids secretly had a plan of attack, should they win. Winners were given a shopping cart and five glorious, unfettered minutes to run through their local Toys "Я" Us, scooping whatever they wanted into it. You were allowed to keep whatever you could carry out. It was essentially a form of legal looting.
The modern cineaste's version of the Super Toy Run is, of course, the Criterion Closet. On a long-running video series put out by the Criterion Channel, notable filmmakers are invited to look through a small storage room filled floor-to-ceiling with Criterion Collection Blu-rays, and are permitted to take what they want. Unlike the Toys "Я" Us equivalent, unfortunately, no one full-arms an entire shelf of Blu-rays into a waiting shopping cart. Most visiting filmmakers may take a few for their own collection, and spend a small amount of time talking about the Criterion films that are important to them. To date, the Criterion Closet has been a place of poise and restraint. In the past, the Closet has been visited by the likes of Cate Blanchett, the Safdie Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and even Agnès Varda.
Most recently, the Criterion Closet was visited by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the directing duo credited as Daniels, and the filmmakers behind the Oscar-nominated film "Everything Everywhere All at Once." As one might imagine, their wild, multiverse philosophical freakout took cues and aesthetic influences from several films available via the Criterion Collection. On Criterion's YouTube channel, Daniels talk about a lot of them.
The Before Trilogy, Jackie Chan
Daniel Scheinert was quick to show off the Criterion Collection's "Before" trilogy box set, a collection of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" (1995), "Before Sunset" (2004), and "Before Midnight" (2013). Each of these three films follows an extended conversation between Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) at different points in their lives. In 1995, they are both students traveling abroad and bond romantically while wandering the streets of Vienna. In 2004, they reunite after he wrote a book about their experience nine years before and talk about how they may or may not rekindle their romance. In 2013, they have been married for years, but their relationship isn't so rosy. Their conversations are about how they may be finally getting on each other's nerves. Scheinert confesses that he watched the films with his own partner, and it instigated a life-changing conversation about the state of their relationship.
He also admits that "Midnight" might be his favorite. Dan Kwan prefers "Sunset." Scheinert once arranged a personal film festival wherein he and his friends watched each film at their respective eponymous time of the day.
Kwan, meanwhile, pointed out another Criterion box set containing the first two "Police Story" movies, directed by and starring Jackie Chan. The films are energetically violent, and Chan's cop character gets into trouble for his extreme practices. Kwan says the films are personal to him, and he and his family would watch them together and bond over cinema. He was, he admits, far too young to be watching films as violent as "Police Story."
"Everything Everywhere" is, if it is any one genre, a kung-fu film. Kwan says the influence should be clear.
Monsters, Food, Civil Rights, And Punkers
Daniel Scheinert also points out that he adores Godzilla, but then who doesn't love Godzilla. Initially a villain, everyone's favorite colossal gorilla/whale went on to be Japan's bouncer, roughing up and ejecting any potential ruffians who would break into the country and smash up the place. Scheinert doesn't recall which Godzilla film he saw first, though, and grabs the 1954 original. Watching snippets of Godzilla movies on UHF TV as a kid is a vital experience for the same generation that fantasized about the Toys "Я" Us Super Toy Run.
Dan Kwan also selects a Japanese movie — Juzo Itami's 1985 film, "Tampopo." That film, hilarious and grand, is presented in mostly-unrelated vignettes, each one centered on food. In one vignette, a noisy eater interrupts an etiquette class. In another, a pair of lovers incorporate food items into their lovemaking. In another, a mother literally dies while making dinner for the family. Throughout, a story is told of a comedic itinerant cowboy who teams up with an ambitious chef to open up the world's best ramen joint. Kwan says he's fond of both food and absurdity, so "Tampopo" rings his bell. One can see a streak of Itami in "Everything Everywhere."
Schienert loves Spike Lee's 1992 film "Malcolm X," a rare case of a biography the he likes. Lee's magnum opus was criminally overlooked at the Academy Awards, so perhaps Scheinert is actualizing the opposite for his own film.
Finally, Kwan selects one of the best cult movies of all time — Alex Cox's 1984 punk rock epic, "Repo Man." "Repo Man" is a transcendently strange, gloriously off-center middle finger to the establishment, all about poverty, defiance, and alien corpses in trunks. It didn't directly influence Daniels to make "Everything," but they just really like it.
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