26
Aug
15

Port of Shadows

quai_10 (Large)

Starring Jean Gabin (The Grand Illusion any more) and Michel Simon (The Two of Us, Boudu Saved from Drowning) Port of Shadows shows people who life has roughed up trying to find love and knowing it’s as illusive as the fog.

Gabin has ditched his duties as a soldier in Indochina and is on the run. He’s sou-less, friendless, and jaded when he hops a ride from a truck driver who suggests he go to a hole in the wall bar on the harbor shore. It’s a drab place run by a bartender who hasn’t totally given up on life the way most of the characters have.

Here Gabin meets a beautiful girl, who’s trying to escape her gangster boyfriend. Both Gabin and her somewhat creepy guardian Simon try to protect her from the mobsters who’re looking for Maurice, her old love. Port of Shadows is about broken, bruised people who hope things will get somewhat better, but strongly doubt it.

The plot has a few twists and the characters emit a film noir, quasi-Bogart vibe with an understated French flair, but the film is mainly about mood, a melancholy mood.

20
Aug
15

Is This Worth It?

Is this worth it?

That’s my question about my online writing class. It cost over $500 and is given by UCLA, but the teacher does so little. The content of the class is sparse and last week she just told us to review week 2.

Well, have us review weeks 2 and read or watch a new lecture.

The teacher pretty much ignores the discussion board and hasn’t given any discussion questions. We’re just to comment on each other’s homework. Ok, but shouldn’t there be more? Shouldn’t we be able to discuss techniques and current shows? What’s effective? What’s become passé?

It hasn’t helped that the only shows we’ve had as models are two very dark shows, i.e. Breaking Bad and Dexter and The Good Wife, which I used to like, but it got ruined by becoming “edgier” in my opinion. None of these shows are in the historical drama genre.

I’m entertaining the idea of just quitting the class and seeing that as more of a liberating feeling rather than a failure. The teacher’s feedback is so general and while some comments have value, most don’t as I don’t want to conform to the current shows she seems to like.

I’ve just got two weeks left of my vacation and I have already finished the second draft of this story so it’s not like I need to have help finishing my script. I do have some research I’d like to work on.

19
Aug
15

The Only Son

An Only Son

An Only Son

My guess is Ozu can’t make a bad film. Though I’ve only seen a handful, from what I’ve read and seen, I think it’s impossible.

The Only Son (1936) tells the story of a poor boy who’s widowed mother doesn’t have enough money to send him to middle school. Only 9 boys in the class are planning to go. When the boy’s teacher obliquely urges her to see that her gifted son goes on to school, she finds a way to do so.

The film then jumps ahead to the boy’s adulthood. After college, he’s living in Tokyo. His mother surprises him with a visit and he surprises her with a wife and baby he never mentioned. In Japan this is quite a disgrace. Why wouldn’t you tell your mother you’d married? It makes her look like a bad mother. (And in the US it’s also not done.) She accepts her new daughter-in-law and dotes on her grandson.

Though he tries to hide it, his life has not worked out. He lives on the outskirts of pre-WWII Tokyo in a desolate area beside a factory. He’s scraping by teaching math classes at night. He can’t get a good job and has to ask his boss for an advance so he’ll have money to make sure his mother has a good trip.

What was all her deprivation for? Her son’s not even happy. The promise that education will lead to a good job, to security or prosperity, has not proven true. She brings this up to her son as they sit in a field of dried grass. He’s frustrated by the situation himself. He can’t and doesn’t argue with her. He has little hope and little motivation to succeed.

Yet a heroic act for a neighbor shows the mother that all isn’t lost and that her son, while he may never be rich, has a stellar character.

The film is stark and beautiful. The environment captures the characters’ plights. While the ending isn’t one you’d find in a fairytale, it’s authentic and powerful.

18
Aug
15

A Stitch of Life

stitch of life

I got to see A Stitch of Life on the flight home from San Francisco. I was delighted my United plane had personal TVs because I used to find such good foreign films that way.

A Stitch of Life is a Japanese film about Ichie who’s taken over her grandmother’s tailoring business. A young buyer urges her to create a brand and for most of the film she refuses as a “successor’s role is to carry on the originator’s work.” So Ichie will only alter or rework her grandmother’s designs. Her grandmother made clothes that lasted a lifetime, dresses and suits people wanted to wear their whole lives. Every year she held a soirée for her customers and they came in their favorite clothes and danced.

The film slowly unfolds as the buyer persists in getting to know Ichie’s process and talent. While he’s a pest, he’s not a stalker. He’s entranced by her mastery, her art and feels she’s making a mistake in not creating her own designs, in not branding her works. He reveres her talent and the more he sees her world the more he realizes that mass marketing would ruin her. In her small, traditional workshop she not only creates art, she creates community.

In the end the film is about art and craft, and what we lose when an art or craft dies. It’s a powerful examination and elegy for traditional arts. Simply beautiful.

09
Aug
15

The Jewish Cardinal

jewish_cardinal

What an absorbing — and true story!

I happened upon The Jewish Cardinal (a.k.a. Le métis de Dieu) at my library and am so glad I did. It’s the story of Jean-Marie Aaron Lustiger, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism as a boy during WWII. His mother was killed at Auschwitz and though his father isn’t religious, he’s hurt by his son’s conversion and later decision to become a priest.

As the movie starts, Pope John Paul II soon makes Lustiger a bishop and soon a cardinal. Lustiger is real, someone whom people can relate to. He shakes things up and causes turbulence but eventually people see he’s right. For example, early on he sees that the church needs to reach people via mass communication and he starts an archdiocese radio station which he himself broadcasts from.

He also doesn’t like when his Jewish origins are written about as a gimmick or when he’s asked by a high ranking rabbi to deny his Jewish identity.

He often meets with John Paul II in the ’80s when the pope is fairly new. They understand each other and he earns the pope’s respect.

jewishcardinal-01

When it’s learned that Carmelite nuns have made a convent in Auschwitz, Lustiger becomes something of a mediator and possible pawn in a conflict that’s both political and religious. He’s savvy enough to broker a fair resolution, but gets betrayed.

The acting is stellar with Lustiger (played by Laurent Lucas) and the actother cast members turning in bold, believable performances. The actor who played JPII carried off the role with great credibility. The film’s never hokey or preachy, just real and compelling. I’m so glad the intriguing name called to me.

08
Aug
15

Chaplin

Chaplin-Promos-robert-downey-jr-15352718-1685-2560

Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Chaplin offers a fine biography of the creative genius cum movie pioneer who created the Tramp. Starting with Chaplin’s debut at the age of about 4 when he wowed a London music hall audience and continuing till he was an 80 year old married to a child bride, Chaplin acquaints viewers with a view behind the Little Tramp.

Some highlights were Chaplin meeting and wooing Hetty Kelly, “the one who got away,” and a slapstick inspired sequence when Charlie, his brother, sister-in-law and editor hide film that the government wants to confiscate. It was a delightful way to show Chaplin’s style while showing his real life. Robert Downey Jr. does a fine job capturing Chaplin’s sensitivity, though the scenes when he plays 80-something Chaplin, I felt his make up was overdone.

There were some actors whose fame overshadowed their character. Dan Ackroyd did a fine job, but while watching I kept thinking “that’s Dan Ackroyd as Mack Sennet or “is that Anthony Hopkins as the editor”? (It was.) I’m not sure why their character didn’t shine through more.

Roger Ebert criticized the film because the focus was more on Chaplin’s sex life than on his creative life. That was true and it would be interesting to see a genius struggle more with his creations. Since Chaplin would redo scenes and scripts hundreds of times till they were perfect, we know he struggled. While his penchant for young, very young women, is unusual and should be covered in a biopic, I’d have liked to see a more sophisticated look at his personal life, while keeping it in the background and moving his achievements to the front.

06
Aug
15

Grand Concourse

theater-Steppenwolf-Grand-Concourse

The Steppenwolf’s Grand Concourse was so promising. Set in a soup kitchen, the play opens with Shelley, a middle=aged nun, who’s been doling out soup probably for decades gives Emma, a 19 year old volunteer, a run down on survival techniques: never give any of the guests money, don’t let the guests — especially Frog — into the kitchen, wash your hands a million times and remember anyone out there in the dining hall could snap at any time. Little does she know that Emma’s the one she should be warning people about. Despite her fragile looks, Emma’s the one who’s more disturbed and more in need than anyone at the soup kitchen. She’s the one not worthy of trust. That’s a lesson, Shelley, Frog and Oscar, a down-to-earth employee take too long to learn. Frog’s looniness is quirky and appealing. Oscar’s dependability and reactions to the other characters make him easy to connect with.

The acting, dialog and set design were top notch, I liked all the characters except Emma, who turns out to be psychotic midway through the show. However. the plot, especially the ending had problems. The young playwright doesn’t seem to understand how people generally change with age so the way Shelley reacts are more in keeping with a 30-something than someone who’s in her 50s. At the end of the play the plot jumps ahead several months, some characters have made big changes in their lives, but it was hard to buy that they really would have changed as they did.

I came away thinking that the writer knew a little about the world of soup kitchens and Catholics, but not all that much. If she’d spent more time investigating these realms, we’d have a better play, a play I could recommend people flock to.




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