The Two of Us

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Claude Berri’s autobiographical, The Two of Us is a gem set during WWI in France. It opens with Claude, a mischievous boy, stealing a toy tank from a toy store getting chased all around. Claude finds trouble at every turn driving his father to distraction. Because since they’re Jewish, the safest path for the family is to lay low, but Claude constantly calls attention to himself with his troublemaking. A family friend arranges for Claude to go live with her Catholic parents.

The problem is that “Grampa” is quite a bigot and spouts all sorts of anti-Semitic slurs. Claude is coached to hide is religion so he’ll be safe in the countryside. Nonetheless, he’s mercilessly bullied for being the new kid from Paris. You just can’t win.

Based on the director’s own childhood experience, there’s a sophisticated treatment of a close relationship that grows in spite of prejudice. Played masterfully by Michel Simon, Grampa loves this boy and takes him under his wing, dealing with his troublemaking with patience Claude’s father couldn’t muster. Berri chose Cohen to play Claude while visiting a Jewish school and seeing him getting into trouble in class and later hiding from the principal behind some curtains. The shoes poking out from under the curtains gave him away. A natural actor, Cohen brings a realism to his understated performance.

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The Two of Us, as Truffaut commented, shows how most French people lived during the war, those who weren’t in the Resistance or helping the Germans. People just going about their business; people who could be both kind, loving, and yet be hindered by ugly beliefs. It’s a deft film that can portray bigotry without supporting hatred all the while showing the goodness mixed in with the prejudice.

The Criterion Collection’s DVD, as usual, includes insightful short interviews that deepen one’s understanding of the film.

If you liked Claude Berry’s later films, Jean de Floret or Manon of the Spring, you’ll love The Two of Us.

The Politician’s Husband

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David Tennent plays a British politician who makes a speech criticizing the Prime Minister’s immigration policy and then resigning. His plan was that he’d receive support from his best friend, who’s also in Parliament. It all goes pear-shaped. His friend betrays him and his wife’s political career leaps ahead due to some power plays. Emily Watson plays the wife in this gray-toned drama. She not only heeds the advice of a senior politician who plots against her husband but declines to support her husband in a television interview. The interview marks a complete betrayal and the husband starts to plot.

On the home front, the grandfather is extremely likable, the only likable character in my book. He offers wisdom and takes care of the grandkids including a son with Ausberger’s. Now that he’s not working the husband must spend more time with his son, and we soon see this is one of his weak points. It is very hard to suddenly take care of a special needs child.

All in all, this three part series is too bleak for me. It’s all scheming and betrayal. The political issues are too generic and never spelled out as they would be in say The West Wing so beyond these characters there isn’t anything to care about. Even though I’m a David Tennent fan, I won’t bother watching the finale.

Downton Abbey, 5.3

Three weeks into Downton Abbey and the story is moving slowly along. We still get Edith pining for her daughter, some more conflict over the WWI memorial and just a bit of Thomas making a suspicious phone call. (He’s probably looking for a new job.)

The biggest event for me was that Violet’s butler saw Mary and Lord Gillingham coming out of the Grand Hotel in Liverpool. She called Mary in for a chastising tete-a-tete. As always, Violet was hard to out-reason. Cora wouldn’t have been as frank or strong. In fact, as a mother Cora just goes along with her daughters. They are adults now, but no one turns to her though she’s far from domineering. You’d think she’d be perceived as the approachable mother.

As for Cora, she went up to London to look at paintings with Simon Bricker, the art historian with the not so hidden agenda. They strolled through the galleries and Cora poured out her heart as Simon complimented and almost swooned over her. Cora seemed to enjoy the freshness of an admirer. When she got back to Rosamond’s apartment, Robert was waiting for her all dressed up in his tuxedo. He’d planned a surprise for her and was (rightly) suspicious of Bricker’s time with Cora. Cora was annoyed. They had a little spat since no one in Britain has ugly “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?”-type fights. Thank God.

Cora’s feeling restless wishing she had more purpose in her life. She’s just bored. Find a hobby and make some friends, Cora. You do need a life, but you don’t need an affair.

Mary seems tired of Lord Gillingham already. I wonder if he’ll gossip about her if she ends the relationship. She certainly isn’t excited about marrying him.

The police came by to question Bates, who made up a story about his day in York. If the screenwriter, Julian Fellows is gutsy, he’ll make Bates guilty, but I think we’ll go through a trial and then find out Bates is innocent. Sometimes I feel like a pawn in Fellows’ hands. He comes up with about half as many ideas as needed for a series and spreads them thin.

Will next week be more eventful? No spoilers, but a yes or no would be welcome.

Downton Abbey, 5.2

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This week’s Downton Abbey events hummed along, but nothing earth shattering happened. Jimmy left the estate after being dismissed for a liaison with an aristocratic former employer who was visiting the Granthams.

Daisy started to study with Miss Bunting. Mrs Pattmore was kind enough to offer to pay for the lessons. I don’t like that Miss Bunting will be around the house regularly and I wasn’t all that impressed with her advice to think of “figures as your friends.” That hardly unlocks the secrets of mathematics.

An art historian, whom I think we all understand will make a play for Cora, arrived. He’s quite a bounder and talks with more familiarity than I think a first time visitor should.

The biggest event was a police officer came to question Carson and the others about the rapist cum servant who died. Mrs Hughes kept her theories to herself while worrying about what the witness told the police.

Thomas continues to lurk and plot, while also missing his pal Jimmy.

Edith still spends way too much time with her secret daughter in the village. Edith spends a lot more time visiting Marigold in the village than Mary does with George. She’s asked Papa for permission to help the child out. Someone’s sure to put two and two together.

Mary’s off for a week rendezvous with Lord Gillingham. Not much happened there. The show ended with their arrival at the hotel. I’m sure this will blow up in her face. I predict she’ll finally decide Charles is “the one” and this dalliance may cost her.

All in all, the characters made small changes probably so the story is set for more drama in episode 3.

The dresses were exceptional this week!

The Inheritance (1962)

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Until I saw The Inheritance I knew nothing of director Misaki Kobayashi . Until I started my movie New Years resolutions, I only knew of Kurosawa and Ozu. Japan has manymore directors whose films still have power.

The Inheritance shows the materialism of post-WWII Japan. It’s set in the 1960s and the Japanese have prospered. They aren’t trying stretch 35 yen to last all day as the characters in the ironically titled One Wonderful Sunday did. With a jazzy soundtrack, The Inheritance tells the story of a company president who’s learned he’s dying of cancer. He decides to track down his three illegitimate children so his materialistic young wife doesn’t get all of his 300,000,000 yen fortune.

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We see the story through the eyes of Yasuko, his aloof secretary, who could pass for a Japanese Audrey Hepburn. the employees who’re supposed to hunt down the children, all get yen signs in their eyes and make deals with the wife. The man’s son leads a life of desolation and his youngest daughter has died, but his wife and employee try to pass off their secret daughter as the heir. (They had a fling behind the man’s back.)

As the man’s health deteriorates Yasuko moves into his house. His wife is not welcoming in the least. The boss does make a play for Yasuko, who lacks the power to push him away or leave the house. Since she’s living in an apartment she describes as a concrete box, the idea of getting more money appeals to her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this look at Japan. It’s a story of conniving and greed done in a way I wouldn’t expect. If you’re looking for a different sort of drama, see if you can find The Inheritance. My library had the Criterion Collection DVD. I wish they had an audio commentary or more extras as it’s a film I’d like to learn more about.

One Wonderful Sunday

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Kurosawa’s 1942 ironically titled One Wonderful Sunday should be called One Looooong Sunday. It just didn’t do it for me. The film depicts two young lovers on their weekly date in post-WWII Tokyo. Inflation is sky high and the couple just have 35 yen to spend. Times are tough as the woman’s shoes have soles that flap and holes. She can’t afford a winter coat and neither can he. Since they only can meet on Sunday, I assumed they both have jobs, which they never talk about.

Masako, the woman, makes every effort to stay cheerful, while despite some upswings in mood, Yuzo, the man reminds me of Eeyore, a real downer. Yuzo always sees the downside in every situation. Masako, would you really want to marry a man whom you’re forever bolstering and cheering up? Who does so little to support you?

At one point the couple tours a model home and he just complains about the poor craftsmanship, materials and high cost. Later we see where he lives. Hovel would be too kind. On the one hand, the gap shows how out of reach a good life is for the average Japanese worker at the time, on the other it showed me that nothing would every satisfy Yuzo, which is why time and again, I wanted to tell the smiling Masako to “Run!” Find someone who isn’t so needy. While some of his depression could be due to the emotional scars of serving in the war, Masako, it could just be how this guy is and he ain’t gonna change. That he just brought 15 yen for the day, while she had 20, can be taken symbolically as well as literally.

This sums the couple up completely

This sums the couple up completely

Masako and Yuzo had no plan for the day and ended up playing baseball with some kids, buying buns when the ball hit a bun shop, viewing a model house, meeting a homeless boy, looking for an apartment, visiting the zoo, trying to get into a concert (but scalpers bought the last of the cheap seats and Yuzo started a fist fight over that, which was understandable, but counterproductive), having tea, crying — a lot, pretending to own a café. Scenes were long — really long for me. I wished to see the couple in context because I never understood what Makasako saw in Yuzo, who seemed bipolar. The scene where Misako and Yuzo pretend to own a café, imagining the bombed out wasteland to be the site of the café was powerful. A later scene at the end when Yuzo pretends to be conducting the symphony they didn’t get to see fell flat. In that scene the depressed Yuzo gives up and Masako talks directly to audience pleading with them to clap so Yuzo’s dreams return. Evidently in Japan none of the audiences clapped. I don’t blame them at all. It was time for Yuzo to pull it together or Masako to wish him well and say goodbye.

Since Japan did flourish in the decades after this, perhaps I have too much knowledge that prevents me from liking One Wonderful Sunday . This two hour film was too long for me and Yazo infuriated me.

Miss Annie Rooney

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With the end of 2014, came retrospectives reminding us of all the talented, accomplished people who died last year. One was Shirley Temple Black so I thought it fitting to watch one of her movies. Netflix just had Miss Annie Rooney, which I’d never seen so the choice was easy. (I’d expect Netflix to have a few more.)

Shirley plays the title character, a young teenager with dreams of high romance. Annie and her friend live half their lives in a very romantic dream world where they quote plays and use as many elegant words as they can without fussing about whether they use them correctly. They’re cute and funny.

Annie’s family consists of her father who’s just one “get rich quick” scheme away from becoming a millionaire and her grandfather, a retired policeman who’s traded his uniform in for an apron as he is the chief cook and bottle washer at home. Grandpa is only the Rooney with both feet on the ground. Her father is a salesman attracted to get rich quick schemes and unable to keep money in his pocket to pay the rent. As the story progresses, the father imperils the family financially, while the grandfather tries to keep them afloat by borrowing from his pension.

Annie soon meets a very wealthy young man and is smitten with his polish. Trouble arises when he invites her to his birthday party without telling his snobbish parents. Annie’s introduction into society is not what she’d dreamed. I loved the dialog and slang. A drizzle puss is a wet blanket and pocket lettuce means cash. There are dozens of such  gems.

Joey, there are times when you positively curdle me.”
“Come on gate! Let’s circulate”
“I won’t know any arithmetic under a million.”

This Shirley Temple film was a balm to my soul after watching the masterful, but dark Happy Valley, The Village and One Wonderful Sunday, a Kirosawa movie I’ll soon review. It’s light-hearted fare and a fun way to see Temple as an older character.

Downton Abbey, Season 5 Premiere

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After months and months of hype and waiting, Downton Abbey’s fifth season began in the U.S. It’s a favorite show of mine, but I’ve never seen so much promotion. For crying out loud I saw three ads for Downton on CBS’ Sunday Morning — they’re in competition. CBS just had one promo for The Good Wife, which is on opposite Downton. Did PBS advertise on other networks as well?

It felt good to see the familiar faces of the Crawley clan and their servants. The costumes are always stunning. Julian Fallows offered his usual fare: verbal digs from the Dowager Countess, plots from Thomas, Cora going along with most everything, light moments with Mosely, Edith unsure and worried, and Mary capably preparing to take over the reins of Downton while mulling over her suitors.

Fallows packed a lot into the episode, which picked up where the last one left off although I was surprised that while the adults haven’t aged much, the children’s ages seem to have doubled. We learned that little Sybil calls her grandfather “Donk” as in donkey. How perfect! I love children’s names for grandparents and this one will keep Robert humble.

SPOILERS

While dedicated fans have already seen the new episode, let me note the following comments contain spoilers .

I’m glad that Miss Baxter told Cora that Thomas was using her and confessed that she’s been to jail for theft. Cora was discrete and fair with Baxter, who now can work without constantly worrying about Thomas.

  • There was no revelations about Bates. Perhaps he killed Anna’s rapist; perhaps he didn’t. It’s hard to say.
  • Edith seems to visit her daughter Marigold at the farmer’s house quite a lot. The farmer’s wife suspects that Edith’s got eyes for her husband, but I’d think these visits would be conspicuous to neighbors too. Alternative theories would come up and someone would get it right. Anyway, the husband’s sharp and he proposes the visits stop and agrees for a new story to explain them, because Edith can’t stop. Funny that she spends more time with her daughter than Mary does with her son, George.
  • Edith’s going to blow it. We all know that. The idea to bring Marigold to England was foolish and too tempting. I do have sympathy for Edith, but it irks me to see foolishness in any form. I’d love to see Edith get some gumption and hard as it is, send her daughter back to Switzerland. Then she should find a life’s passion and throw herself into it. Be a victor, not a victim, Edith!
  • Lord Gillingham visited Downton to woo Mary. Blake’s no where to be seen and Mary seems like the “out of sight, out of mind” type of woman. Any thought of Blake was fleeting. She’s agreed to go off with Lord G. to see if they’re compatible. I’m not sure that’s really historically accurate. Besides a week’s vacation isn’t a great way to learn about a person, especially when you’re traveling first class insulated from life’s trials and tribulations. The tryst is to be hush hush, but all secrets come out on TV. Seems to me there are other ways to gather the information Mary seeks. Also, is this going to be like the horrendous Bachelorette show? Will Mary give Blake a similar week?
  • Daisy’s starting to try to learn math. She’s struggling, but hats off to her for trying to take charge of her life. It’s funny how the high ranking staff had a pow wow about this. Carson and Mrs. Patmore worry that it’s too stressful for Daisy who already has a good job, in their opinion, while Mrs. Hughes supports Daisy’s desire to get more education.
  • As a surprise, Rose decides to invite the teacher Tom befriended to Cora and Robert’s 35th anniversary dinner. This Miss Bunting sets my teeth on edge. Throughout the evening she makes controversial statements such as questioning the need to remember the heroes of WWI (which we still do 100 years hence) and tries to cause trouble. She lacks the awareness to know that you can disagree, but you needn’t be rude and rabble rousing only rouses rabble. Tom’s just embarrassed and it took every ounce of patience and decorum for Robert not to toss this guest out on her tush. Miss Bunting was just boorish and self-serving. Her aim was to stir things up so she could then confirm her prejudices about the upper class. I really don’t like her and would love it if Fallows dropped her from the series, but I do doubt that. I fear Miss Bunting will go after Tom. What a pain!
  • Romance was on the horizon for Isobel Crawley, but Violet interfered as only she can. Violet does not want Isobel (Matthew’s mother) to marry a lord and gain status. So she hosted a big lunch inviting Dr. Clarkson, who’s sweet on Isobel and a beautiful widow who might divert Lord Whoever’s eye’s away from Isobel. It’s too soon to know whether that worked.
  • Robert’s nose got out of joint because the town committee wants Mr. Carson to lead the committee on the WWI memorial. Carson was as if not more upset by this unusual choice. My everything’s in flux!
  • Jimmy’s old employer showed up and they had a thing in the past, which gets rekindled. Almost literally.
  • The show ended with a house fire starting in Edith’s room. I’m not sure what happened. Did Edith try to burn that book with Gregson’s writing in it? Anyway Thomas was lurking in the halls trying to get dirt on Mary and to act as a lookout for Jimmy when he noticed smoke coming from Edith’s room. He swooped in and rescued Lady Edith, thus securing his job, which was on the line since his plot against Miss Baxter was discovered. I like justice so it would be fine with me if Thomas were fired. They can always bring in another devious footman and show Thomas in town, plotting against the family. I’m sure blackmail is in his skill set, as Lady Mary may learn.

I think Fallows could have made more of the fire. It was hard to believe the fire department could get their as fast as they seemed to and even with Robert and Tom’s quick response, I’m surprised there wasn’t more damage.