Archive for the 'drama' Category

10
Dec
14

Ugetsu Monogatari

What a powerful movie! I just bought it because I thought a geisha film might be interesting. I had no idea that this Mizoguchi (see Life of Oharu ) film would be so entralling.

A fusion of two Japanese ghost stories and a story Guy de Maupassant, Ugetsu Monogatari tells the story of two brothers with obsessions that bring their families to ruin. One brother, low class farmer, dreams of becoming a samari; the other, a potter, dreams of making a fortune and showering his wife with luxurious presents. Given their low social status and the hierarchy of the day, both dreams are ridiculous.

Set in a time of civil war, pursuing these dreams results in the families’ destruction, one wife’s murder and the other’s rape and eventual fall into prostitution. Both men are shown as foolish and obsessed and they fall prey to ghosts as they ignore the warnings they receive.

Mizoguchi’s cinematography is exquisite and the composer’s music alluring. Mizoguchi uses cameras as no director I’ve seen does. Viewers are taken to a dreamy sometimes crazy world as they follow the brothers’ obsessions. The story is haunting, and acting, especially the actresses’ performances is quiet and powerful.

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I watched with the Criterion Collection commentary on, which helped me appreciate the story and production. I might not have realized that the princess was a ghost till the end as I lacked a knowledge of how Japanese ghosts operate. A Western ghost would not have been so subtly portrayed. This is definitely a movie I’d watch again.

24
Oct
14

A Man Called Peter

man called peterI didn’t know what to expect when I started watching A Man Called Peter (1955). It turns out it’s a biopic about Peter Marshall showing his life from the seminary. Of Scotch descent, Marshall (played by Richard Todd, whom I’ve never seen before) comes to America for seminary and by dint of his riveting oratory, becomes a popular preacher in Atlanta, New York and then Washington, DC. He preaches real deal Christianity, which is hard to take, especially for some a rich society lady who donates a lot of money Marshall’s unapologetic about his bold ministry but the main theme isn’t rebellion so eventually the movie doesn’t dwell on that conflict.

We see a minister who’s a whirlwind, so energetic it’s exhausting to watch. His wife was captivated by his charisma but soon he wears her out. It’s not that they divorce, but she does get ill and I don’t know how I’d deal with someone who’s constantly in motion. She does manage though.

In Washington, DC Marshall is named chaplain of the U.S. Senate and I loved watching him challenge the powerful. It was a shame that his life was cut short. That came as a complete surprise, but you can’t rewrite biography to suit your wishes.

The film would mainly interest Christians as Marshall’s pretty earnest. He’s very dynamic, but doesn’t go through any periods of doubt or dark night of the soul, which I think many modern viewers expect in their cinematic (or televised) clergy.

15
Oct
14

Ministry of Fear

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Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) gets released from a mental institution where he’s lived since he was charged with euthanasia of his sickly wife. His train makes a stop in a country town and at the urging of a kind conductor he steps out and goes over to the nearby country fair. He sees a fortune teller and wins a cake. This leads him to getting in trouble with Nazi’s who chase him and frame him with murder. He can’t trust anyone as everyone he meets — even a pretty, warm-hearted woman who runs a charity for widows and orphans with her brother — seems ready to turn him in.

Set during WWII Franz Lang’s Ministry of Fear (1944) is brimming with tension and suspense. The plot moves quickly and takes Neal to one creepy, yet sophisticated experience after another. Nothing is what it seems. While I read that Lang wanted to make an overtly anti-Nazi movie, the script writer didn’t provide him with the sort of horrible Nazi he could rail against. Based on a Graham Green novel, I found the film compelling. Green wouldn’t agree, I’ve learned. He thought it was awful, but then Green’s a perfectionist and master.

12
Oct
14

Words & Pictures

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Starring Clive Owens and Juliet Binoche, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2380331/?ref_=nv_sr_1 focuses on two talented and cranky high school teachers. Owens teaches English while Binoche teaches art at an élite private school. Both demand a lot from their students and are disappointed with their own ability to produce the excellence they once did. Owens’ alcoholism is the main cause of his writers’ block, while Binoche’s rheumatoid arthritis hinders her painting.

They’re neither warm nor fuzzy ever rather they’ve embraced the “genius must be prickly loners” philosophy.  They are rather interesting and the film moves along quickly. Owens likes to compete and when his students tell him that the new art teacher believes “words are lies,” he dreams up a Words vs. Pictures competition, which all characters do acknowledge is a false dichotomy.

The leads and Amy Brenneman, who plays the head of the school board, are compelling. I thought the students’ acting didn’t ring true. I’ve seen better chemistry and half way through most romantic films, I’m rooting for the opposites to work things out. Here I thought well, I wish these people well, but if they part company perhaps that is better.

All in all, it’s an okay movie, but it could have been better. It did make me think I wish Amy Brenneman had another TV series. I miss her down-to-earth appeal.

23
Sep
14

Brief Encounter

brief encounter
Written by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, Brief Encounter tells the story of a man and woman whose paths cross in a train station tea room and then again in town. Both married, contentedly, they are drawn to each other. Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson) comes to the town of Milford every Thursday for a day away from housekeeping. On one excursion Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) helps her remove some grit from her eye. Every time he bumps into her he pours on the charm.

The movie is narrated by Johnson who’s thinking about this four week relationship while sitting in front of her husband who’s working on his crossword puzzle. The plot is compelling and Laura especially because there’s so much danger of bumping into people they know and the main characters carefully weigh the cost of the lying and secrecy demanded by their affair. I’ve never seen such thoughtful characters on the precipice of starting an affair.

Another Criterion Collection DVD, it’s enriched by a documentary on David Lean and mini-documentary on the film. Both were worthwhile.

10
Sep
14

Belle et Sébastien

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Because six year old Sébastien is himself abandoned, he’s the only person in the village to give Belle, a mangy dog a chance. Sebastian lives with an old, often drunk man and his family in the mountains of France. He doesn’t go to school, but learns about life and nature from the man. Belle is a dirty gray dog everyone fears. Only Sebastian gives the dog a chance and a good bath. After the bath, the dog is snow white and comes to the aid of Sebastian.

Later when Sebastian’s unofficial adoptive family helps Jews escape the Nazi’s everyone sees that Belle is a wonderful dog. The film is suspenseful and the characters real. Their plight rings true and the story compels. It’s fitting for older kids, who can understand the history and read the subtitles, and adults.

02
Sep
14

all about eve

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Starring Bette Davis, All About Eve is a classic, yet I’d never seen it — till now. It’s a captivating film about Margo Channin, a veteran actress and her circle of theater friends. They’re a jaunty bunch, witty and rather insular. I doubt they know anyone who isn’t in the theater. It’s a happy group though till Eve, a young fan of Margo Channing, the big star, is spotted near the stage door. Margo’s friend is struck by Eve’s persistence and apparent innocence. Before you know it, the group takes Eve into their circle as an adoring fan cum servant.

The problem is Eve’s rather obsessive and driven, she plots to take Margo’s place in the stars, to supplant her favorite actress both professionally and romantically by stealing Margo’s boyfriend. Eve’s psychopathic and manipulative managing for a time to fool everyone but Margo. Eve was wooden and scary. It’s troubling that she got the success she got. The dialog’s snappy and the acting good. Thus even though there weren’t any characters I’d like to know, the film kept my attention from start to finish.




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