Archive for the 'drama' Category

21
Jul
14

Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

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After watching The Man in Gray, I figured I ought to check out Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. I’d heard of the novel, but thought the story was merely a critique of corporate commuters and life in the suburbs. It’s mentioned in a few textbooks I’ve had to read and it seemed like it was a satire.

Not at all. At least the movie isn’t.

Tom Rath (Peck) has been back from WWII for 10 years. His wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) wants a bigger home. She’s impatient with Tom exhorting him to strive more. Though he’s satisfied at his non-profit job, he sees that the bills will be easier to pay if he makes more. A fellow commuter lines him up with an interview at an ad agency. Since he resembles the CEO’s son, who died in WWII, he gets the job.

Memories of the war, of killing brutally, of a woman he loved there, haunt Tom. His children are zombies glued to the TV and his wife while not a nag, does complain a lot. All through this Tom navigates the ad business, learning how to read people and tell them what they want to hear. Yet he’s got too much natural integrity to keep up the game. Problems with his new house, the after effects of the war and his job, grow. Yet Tom meets them with heroism.

Peck’s performance is good. Tom Rath isn’t Atticus Finch, but he is a straight-shooter by the end. Thought one daughter had a funny preoccupation with death, the two other children were more or less extras. Childhood in this suburb was pure television addiction and chicken pox.

The film has an interesting realism that made me wonder how autobiographical the novel might be.

15
Jul
14

That Hamilton Woman

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That Hamilton Woman (1941) opens with a once well-off woman trying to steal a bottle of wine from a shop in Calais. She’s caught and thrown in jail with another woman who joined in the brouhaha that followed her arrest. Starring Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier, That Hamilton Woman is a propaganda movie that Churchill asked the director Alexander Korda to make to appeal to Americans and convince the public that joining the war was the right thing to do.

Based on history, Leigh stars as Emma, who’s frequently changed her name about as frequently as she’s changed lovers. Her last lover, whom she thinks will marry her sent her to Naples to stay with his uncle, an ambassador who has a passion for collecting art — and beautiful women if they come his way. Though she and her mother who’s with her are worldly enough to know better, Emma’s surprised that her “fiancé” is going to marry a rich woman to help him out of financial troubles. He arranged for his uncle to take Emma offer her hands. Jilted, she’s furious at the trickery, but she’s an opportunist and winds up marrying the old uncle and making the most of life as an ambassador’s wife.

The many portraits by Abbott originate from th...

Horatio Nelson by Abbott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She meets Horatio Nelson, the famous naval leader who beat Napolean, time and time again. Though their both married, they become intimate. Leigh’s perfect as the coquettish and politically astute Emma. Olivier is commanding as Nelson. We see the couple across many years from when they first meet, to when Nelson returns after 5 years at war. It’s the only movie I’ve seen where the leading man is still dashing despite losing an arm and an eye.

In Naples the couple is fairly open about their love. It maddens Nelson’s son who’s stationed on his ship and he’s the first to refer to Emma as “That Hamilton Woman.” Town gossips soon use that term as well, but it doesn’t bother Emma. She’s got chutzpah galore. I read the history and this was a woman who used to dance naked on tables in her early days in “show business.” So the late 18th century wasn’t as straight-laced as you might think.

The Ambassador Hamilton enjoys Emma more as an ornament than anything else. While he asks Emma to be discreet, he isn’t all that hurt by her affair. Nelson’s wife is another story. She’s been waiting for him for 7 years and has gotten wind of “that Hamilton woman.” The stern and upright, Mrs. Nelson meets her husband in London when he returns after defeating Napolean’s navy at Trafalgar, in a battle scene that’s wonderfully shot. She’s a plain woman who’s strict and old fashioned. I’m not sure whether the real Lady Nelson was like this and think the film would be stronger if she were actually a rather attractive nice woman. This choice makes it easy to side with Nelson. I prefer more complexity and reality.

Emma Hamilton, in a 1782–84 portrait by George...

The real Emma Hamilton, in a 1782–84 portrait by G. Romney,                (Source: Wikipedia)

Be that as it may, the film is dramatic and it was fun to watch Vivien Leigh in a role other than Scarlett O’Hara. Since we see in the first scene that Emma ends up on the skids, I’m not spoiling anything by discussing that. I felt sorry that she ended up like that. It didn’t seem right that her husband, who never insisted she end her affair, died penniless and then she got no money from Nelson. According to the Criterion Collection bonus feature with the director’s nephew, history’s unclear about what happened to Emma, but the moral code of the day required that to show an adulterous couple, you would have to show that dire consequences follow that sort of life choice.

All in all, That Hamilton Woman, was an entertaining way to learn about 18th and early 19th century British history. Nelson’s military acumen and self-sacrifice are laudable and though I doubt the film would succeed in convincing Americans it’s time to jump into WWII.

Again, the Criterion Collection’s bonus features were worth seeing. Michael Korda, whose uncle directed the film and whose father was the art director, provided lots on insights into its making and the collaboration between his father and uncle. He also described Vivien Leigh’s tempestuous relationship with Olivier whose personality favored more even-keel people.

03
Jul
14

The Burmese Harp

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I’m catching up on my blogging. I saw this movie before I left China and haven’t had time to blog.

Another Criterion Collection DVD, this one based on a popular Japanese novel, The Burmese Harp is set as WWII ends. A company of Japanese soldiers is in Burma, on the look out for British soldiers. Their captain is very musical and has used singing to build espirit de corps and to trick the Brits, or try to. When they hear the British soldiers approaching their camp, the captain urges his company to laugh and sing to give the impression that they’re goofing off though they’re on their guard. When they start singing a song with the same tune as “Home Sweet Home,” the Brits echo back. Soon the Japanese learn that their side has surrendered.

Yet there’s another Japanese company up in the mountains, a fervent nationalistic group that’s still fighting. Mizushima, a soldier who’s learned to play the Burmese harp, volunteers to go up the mountain and tell these soldiers the war’s over. He’s given 30 minutes to get these hold outs to surrender. No matter what he says, they refuse. They don’t believe Mizushima and feel their duty is to fight to the death no matter what.

After 30 minutes, true to their word, the British start attacking. Most of the hold outs get killed. Mizushima survives, but is shocked. His world’s been shattered and he can’t  return to his unit. He steals a Buddhist monk’s robes and wanders the countryside as a monk.

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His unit search for him and don’t want to return to Japan without him. At one point they think they’ve passed him on the road, but Mizushima doesn’t acknowledge them. He’s too shattered and lost to return to his old life.

The Burmese Harp doesn’t address the atrocities the Japanese committed, but it does show the horrors and effects of war. Most of the civilian Japanese had no idea what their soldiers did overseas so it wasn’t part of the original novel, or something the director, who broke out with this film, knew of.

The Burmese Harp presents an interesting view of WWII, one that I’d never considered. It also depicts Japanese culture with nuance.

27
Jun
14

Woman in Green

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Last week I had trouble blogging as the Chinese seem to be keen on blocking VPNs. So I have been catching up on old movies for my New Year’s resolution, I just haven’t been able to blog about them.

I enjoyed The Woman in Green, a Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone ad Sherlock and Nigel Bruce as Watson. The pair set the standard for Sherlock and Watson and I appreciate a Sherlock who consistently shows his good humor towards his sidekick’s foibles.

In The Woman in a rich older man, Sir George Fenwick meets and alluring younger woman. After a night out with her he awakes in a cheap hotel room unable to recall how he got there. When he finds a severed finger of a woman in his pocket, he fears that he’s involved in a series of murders. He’s soon blackmailed.

The police are perplexed by the murders and call in Holmes and Watson, who happened to see Sir George out with a beautiful blonde. Sir George’s daughter brings the finger which she dug up after she saw her father burying something suspicious in their yard. When Holmes and Watson go to interview Sir George, they find him dead. Soon Holmes suspects Moriarty‘s involved.

The movie still entertains without getting quite as gruesome as a more modern depiction might. Rathbone portrays Holmes as a sophisticated genius, who may be a trifle arrogant, but has the social skills to smooth problems over as needed. It’s a classic mystery, still fun to watch.

     

    26
    Jun
    14

    Het Diner/The Dinner

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    Amazingly, Dutch film The Dinner has no characters that I liked, just one that I could pity, yet managed to keep me fascinated. Paul, the main character, has been out of work for years. His insertion of extreme political ideas in his history classes cost him his job. In contrast, his brother Serge is a successful politician on the verge of running for Prime Minister. The film centers on a dinner the brothers and their wives have so they can discuss how to deal with a troubling YouTube video of their sons harassing a homeless woman.

    Paul narrates the film and offers some background on what happened to his family that influenced his son to get him to this place, how Paul’s temper and prejudices surfaced when he tried to repay a shop owner whose window his son broke and how he reacts to the principal who called him to discuss the extreme ideas his son used in an essay.

    The dinner at a chic restaurant, that Paul could never afford, suspense and tension builds and slowly the nature of the son’s crime gets revealed. The characters surprise with their responses that I’d never have predicted. It’s a thoroughly modern film that grabbed my attention and held it.

    22
    Jun
    14

    Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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    Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom seems to be a warts and all depiction of Nelson Mandela’s life and work with the ANC. Till I saw the film, I pictured Nelson Mandela as akin to Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., both advocates of nonviolence. I guess this wrong impression is due to my believing rock stars and Amnesty International way too much. Wait a minute. I remember studying South Africa in high school and while the discussions seemed to go in circles and De Klerk was mentioned, but I don’t recall discussing Mandela, who must have been in prison then.

    The film does show how Mandela advocated violence and how much violence against the government and citizens, both white and black occurred. Winnie Nelson was also shown as advocating violence, even urging her followers to kill spies. The film shows mobs chasing and beating a neighbor to death. who reported ANC plans to the police.

    Idris Elba offers a solid performance as Mandela. I liked Naomie Harris as Winnie, but wanted the film to provide more depth to her character, to give her more context. She’s only seen in terms of her husband and her own leadership. No defining scenes with friends, lovers or family members are featured so she’s a character without much context. We see her react and give speeches, but we don’t see enough of how she is as a person prior to Nelson’s arrest. Since she’s key to the film, I wish they’d shown more of her. The film suggests that her infidelity was one reason for their divorce, but we get no sense of the men she was involved with.

    (I also learned from the film that Mandela was repeatedly unfaithful to his first wife.)

    While I in no way believe in racial segregation or injustice as present in South Africa, I do think that nonviolence could have worked. It takes time, but Mandela’s approach also took over 20 years.

    I learned quite a bit about Mandela and South Africa from this movie, but it also left me with an incomplete picture.

    13
    Jun
    14

    Cemetery Junction

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    I started watching Cemetery Junction with anticipation. Since Ricky Gervais wrote it with Steven Merchant, I hoped for comedy. I didn’t get that. No big laughs here and yet the drama didn’t satisfy. It’s the story of three pals in the 1970s. One, Freddie Taylor, who’s no doubt named after Frederick Taylor who pioneered the science of management, wants to move up beyond his working class status. He sees his grandmother and parents as stuck in a rut. He takes a job selling life insurance door-to-door for a company run by the father of a pretty girl he went to school with. His friends are in dead end, low paying jobs and their lives are rather routine though they have more fun out at the pub or dance club than their parents do watching TV like zombies. Freddie wants something more, for himself. He soon sees through the empty promises of his job and hopes to avoid the mechanical life he sees even those who succeed at his job are stuck in.

    There are plenty of stories and films that address this dilemma and most are more interesting. I’m not sure why this film was made or whom it’s for. Earlier such works were novel and were made for the youth of the 60s and 70s who were struggling to break out of the routine the 50s imposed. Nowadays young people seem to be swimming in choices and from my vantage point it seems fine to choose a different path.

    28
    May
    14

    Mr Selfridge Season 2 Finale, Part 2 Comments

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    The second part of the finale in the US (or episode 10 in Britain) begins with lively conversation at the Selfridge dinner table and Rose asking everyone to count on a traditional family dinner for Thanksgiving. The girls and Harry’s mother are back and the mood is elated. Then the mopey musician, Florian, knocks on Miss Mardle’s door. He asks about why she’s ending their affair and she explains it’s age. Really, I just don’t see this earnest violist as making anyone all that happy. It seems a matter of convenience. Whoever the agency would have sent would eventually have wooed Miss Mardle.

    Harry has quite a morning. First Henri learns the charges in the U.S. are all dropped so he’ll sign up to go off to war for the French. Given what he knows about how the war is really going, I’d expect Harry to sit his friend down and try to talk him out of fighting. A little later both Agnes and Victor resign as they’re getting married while George is on leave. Like last season’s finale, Harry loses a lot of those he counts on at once. He did offer Agnes the chance to stay on, which she refused. Big mistake Agnes. Though the real Selfridge seemed more conservative and didn’t hire or promote as many women as we see on the show, this chance to bend the British rules of not letting married women work should have been considered.

    The Palm Court looks elegant and I wish department stores had such lovely restaurants, not only food courts. Henri goes to Victor to apologize for speaking out of turn about Agnes’ belief in George’s well being when he was missing. He also mentioned that he’s signing up for the army. I did notice that Victor didn’t apologize for grabbing Henri’s arm and almost coming to blows. This is one reason I’ve wanted Agnes to choose Henri. She was upset to learn that Henri’s off to fight. She does care.

    The saddest thread of the story is Rose’s diagnosis. Her doctor tells her her condition is fatal. We don’t get all the details. We just get stunned as she does. The scene in the doctor’s office is short and well done. Just enough to convey the severity and provide tension.

    George is overwhelmed by his colleagues as the flock around him when he visits the store. They mean well, but a mob is not what he needs. Gordon saves George saying that he should go talk with his father. I wish Henri and Gordon, who’s so keen to serve, sat in on this talk. George describes refers to the horrors of war. News and letters are censored so the public’s in the dark about the truth. It’s still a bit oblique. I wish he’d gone into more detail since we don’t see actual battle scenes. That could have been more powerful. By the end, George has inspired the store’s new displays “The Comforts of Home” about all the things that keep the soldiers going. Agnes’ swan song.

    Continue reading ‘Mr Selfridge Season 2 Finale, Part 2 Comments’

    21
    May
    14

    I Live in Fear

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    Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear (1955) drew me with the first scene when a dentist mentions he’s a judge for the local family court. Family court in Japan? This is bound to be interesting. At family court, where in 1955 Japan three men from the neighborhood and a silent woman (the secretary?), hear the cases of family disputes. In this case adult children want to have Kiichi Nakajima, their father, ruled incompetent because his fear of subsequent atomic bombings compels him to move his family, wife, grown children and their spouses and his mistresses and children by them, to Brazil, where they’ll be safe.

    The court hears all sides and ponders a decision, while back at home family members continue to bicker, worried about money, the father’s will, the family business-a foundry the father still runs. Meanwhile the father goes around town presenting his plan to his illegitimate children, a son whose mother has died, a daughter whose mother runs a bar Nakajima funds and a married daughter who’s husband talks way too much about the effects of such bombs to a man who’s already obsessed and anxious about them. Say what you will about this man who certainly got around, but he provides and protects them all. He’s given jobs and a home to his legitimate sons and makes sure the others get money every month. In a touching scene outside the courtroom, when tempers were running high and the father was furious with his children, he returns to the corridor and gives his wife and children a bottle of orange soda pop. Providing for his family is so ingrained. Yet no one notices.

    The case drags on, apparently more than most cases do in family court. All judges admit that the father has a point. The dentist, played by one of my favorite Japanese actors, points out that perhaps it’s crazy to go along with your life ignoring the bomb. Certainly, in Japan it should have been. In hindsight we know nuclear bombs haven’t been used since WWII, but in 1955 it wasn’t clear they wouldn’t be. The judges just can’t bring themselves to rule for Nakajima. Leaving a successful business and good middle class life, to go to Brazil was just too much. (Though there are lots of Japanese in Brazil and Peru. I wonder when they immigrated.)

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    He’s looked into buying a farm in Brazil and the seller comes to Japan to show the family a film about it and answer their questions. Nakajima isn’t completely crazy. He takes rational steps. The court clearly considered this though they also sympathize with the adult children who just don’t want to be uprooted. Eventually, Nakajima’s youngest legitimate daughter and his wife agree to go, but an appeals court would still need to rule in favor of the father.

    The film’s an absorbing look at Japanese culture and the impact of nuclear weapons. I know I’ve pretty much filed their existence in the back of my head, and though I don’t want Nakajima’s obsession, a reminder of their consequences isn’t bad.

    17
    May
    14

    Background: Mr Selfridge

    winifred black About Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils, the reporter in tonight’s episode, Encyclopedia Britannica says:

    Winifred Black, née Winifred Sweet, (born Oct. 14, 1863, Chilton, Wis., U.S.—died May 25, 1936, San Francisco, Calif.), American reporter whose sensationalist exposés and journalistic derring-do reflected the spirit of the age of yellow journalism. Winifred Sweet grew up from 1869 on a farm near Chicago. She attended private schools in Chicago, in Lake Forest, Illinois, and in Northampton, Massachusetts, and after an unsuccessful attempt to establish herself in the theatre she turned to journalism. On a western trip on family business in 1890, she won a position as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, William Randolph Hearst’s first newspaper. The era of yellow journalism was just dawning, and the example of Elizabeth Seaman (whose nom de plume was Nellie Bly) had helped set the style for woman reporters. Taking the pseudonym Annie Laurie, Sweet scored a number of exposés, scoops, and circulation-building publicity stunts. A “fainting spell” on a downtown street led to an exposé of San Francisco’s receiving hospital and the purchase of a city ambulance. She secured by a ruse an exclusive interview with President Benjamin Harrison aboard his campaign train in 1892; in the same year, she investigated the leper colony on Molokai, Hawaiian Islands. She was also active in organizing various charities and public benefactions, using her column in the Examiner to mobilize public concern; among these was the California Children’s Excursion to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. In 1892 she married a colleague, Orlow Black, but they were divorced five years later. In 1895 Hearst sent her to New York City to help his newly acquired New York Journal battle Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, but she found that city uncongenial and in 1897 settled in Denver, Colorado, where she joined the staff of Harry H. Tammen and Frederick G. Bonfils’s boisterous Denver Post. She continued to contribute feature articles to Hearst’s chain as well. When Hearst launched a newspaper campaign against Mormon polygamy in 1898, she went to Utah and reported from the scene. In 1900 she disguised herself as a boy and slipped through a police cordon to become the first outside reporter and only woman journalist to enter Galveston, Texas, in the aftermath of the disastrous flood of September 8. She opened a temporary hospital in the city and administered relief funds collected through the Hearst papers. In 1906 she reported from San Francisco following the great earthquake of April 18, and in 1907 she observed the trial of Harry K. Thaw for his June 1906 murder of architect Stanford White. The favourable coverage accorded by Black and other female reporters to Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, who was the featured attraction of the case, gave rise to the epithet “sob sister.” Though Black married again, the second marriage also ended in divorce. She continued to travel widely as a reporter in her later years. Reference Winifred Sweet Black. (n.d.) Encyclopedia Britanica. Retrieved May 17, 2014.(See if your local library has this encyclopedia online.)




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