Zatoichi at Large (1972)

A surprisingly terrific film.

No Fixed Plans

Trailer for Zatoichi Criterion Set

I picked up Zatoichi at Large at random at the library. I ws in the mood for a Japanese film and was willing to branch off to something new. Thus I discovered Zatoichi, a fictional hero whose life is chronicled in a series of 26 films. This was film 25.

Zatoichi is a character that draws you in with his contrasts. Paradoxically, he’s blind, but he’s a master swordsman. He’s gruff but follows social dictums fervently. Well, often, if not all the time. He likes to gamble and consorts with prostitutes but he’s highly moral. Sometimes he’s naive, while often he’s worldly and wily. Yet I was drawn to him because he lives in a society where the deck is stacked against him and the poor and champions the underdogs.

In this chapter, the wandering masseuse Zatoichi happens upon a pregnant woman who’d been attacked…

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Masculin Féminin

In general I don’t like Jean-Luc Godard’s films, yet there’s always something in them that intrigues.

Jean-Pierre Léaud (best known for 400 Blows) plays Paul, the kind of lost guy Léaud plays. Paul is an activist, who likes to spray paint his views on Vietnam on cars and walls. He’s in search of love, but awkward and unsure as he pursues Madeleine, a cute singer he meets in a café. Madeleine is also naive and unsure about Paul or love in general. Her main interest is the release of her new record. 

The best part of Masculin Féminin is the dialog between Paul and his hooligan pal, Madeline and her friends as they answer questions about sexuality, love and the issues of the late 1960s. Godard presents these kids as the generation that embraces Coca-Cola and Marxism. 

The Criterion Collection DVD has some good supplements including two interviews — one from 1966 and the other from 2005 — with Chantal Goya, who played Madeleine. 

The film has stuck with me for its look at the innocence of young people who were experiencing a changing society and the film’s abrupt ending. I like how different it felt but also found it very unsettling. Major events aren’t shown or predictable in the least, which seemed like a bit of a con.

Solaris (2002)

Solaris (2002): A weak adaptation/remake

From the first scenes, Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris was a weak film compared with Andrei Tarkovsky’s. The 2002 film begins with the hero Chris (George Clooney) preparing for his space mission. Chris’ environment on earth mimics living in a spaceship. His apartment is cramped and heavy on metallics — metallic counters, cabinets, we see no soft furnishings. Flashbacks show Chris meeting his wife Rheya. It’s a glib, slick encounter showing two attractive people getting together because they’re both good looking and a little clever. I’m not a fan of these superficial matches. This relationship is central to the story so I want their marriage to be built on more than looks. 

Chris is charged with going to the spaceship orbiting Solaris, a liquid planet with bizarre qualities including the ability to influence the astronaut’s perceptions and thoughts. Crew members have died and someone needs to find out what’s going wrong. Both of the remaining crew members are cryptic and nervous about their experience. Chris isn’t going to get a clear answer from either the hyper Snow or the fearful Gordon, who hint at the weirdness that Chris soon experiences when Rheya, whom we learn through flashbacks killed herself, begins to visit him. The first visit freaks Chris out and he tricks Rheya into getting locked inside a vehicle that he releases out into space to get rid of her. Yet that fails because Rheya returns revealing how bizarre Solaris is. Moreover, Rheya and the other crew members’ visitors aren’t human. They aren’t really who they seem to be, but rather they’re non-human creatures conjured up through each person’s consciousness. 

The complexities of Solaris worked with Tarkovsky, but not with Soderbergh who offers less weirdness (e.g. no library scene where everything floats around), no frame set in the countryside of earth, which offers great contrast and thus substance and insight. None of the performances had much warmth or humanity. None pulled me in. This Solaris was a filmmaking exercise rather than a journey to a new psychological world, 

Even if I hadn’t seen Tarkovsky’s earlier film, I don’t think the this version would leave much of a mark on me. It’s certainly not one of Soderbergh’s better films.