Tempest (1982)

I got the this movie by accident. When I read Shakespeare’s The Tempest for my book club, I wanted to watch it performed. I got this film which is a loose version. I put this aside as I wanted Shakespeare’s language. This weekend I watched this 1982 version with John Cassavetes and Gina Rowlands. 

The story of a midlife crisis, in Tempest acclaimed architect Philip Dimitrius is dissatisfied with his work and his marriage to a lesser extent. His wife Antonia and daughter Miranda (Molly Ringwald) try to give him support and space, but he can’t find meaning with his life and gets more and more irascible. No red Ferrari is going to help this man though a good philosophy course could. He has nothing to give anyone though he does offer a bit of encouragement to his wife when she announces that she’s returning to the stage.

The film jumps back and forth between the New York Park Avenue and a desolate Greek isle inhabited by goats and a crazy guy named Kalabani (Raul Julia) where Philip and Miranda and Philip’s girlfriend Aretha (Susan Sarandon) wind up.

Philip’s search for meaning has him consulting his father, his client, an uber weathy business man. Nothing helps. He kvetches, gets drunk, embarrasses his wife and yells at Miranda. I had no sympathy for him whatsoever — until he sees his wife out with his client Mr. Big Bucks. When he confronts Antonia, she asks for a divorce. Off Philip goes to Greece with Miranda in tow. In Athens he meets a Aretha, a singer. Romance ensues. When Antonia and Mr. Big Bucks track him down, he takes Miranda and to a desolate island. 

The film has many parallels to the Shakespearean play. The deserted island, the betrayal is Philip and Antonia’s divorce (though Philip played a role too), rather than immersing himself in alchemy, in exile, Philip immerses himself in baseball statistics. Kalabani, like Calaban, shows the hero how to live on the island, and in turn the newcomer shares life off the island with him. 

For much of the film, the story jumps in time and from New York to Greece. Cassavetes, Rowland and Sarandon were dynamic and engaging, yet the story often drags and my attention waned particularly when I got to much of the noisy, neurotic, upper crust world. The complaints about marriage were very much like those in Woody Allen films and got tedious. 

The island was beautiful and the main characters were rather compelling, but I wouldn’t say this is a must-see film. At 2 hours 20 minutes, an edit would have improved the film.

Whisper of the Heart

From M’s famed Studio Ghilbli, Whisper of the Heart begins with the much loved John Denver tune, “Country Road.” The Japanese love “Country Road” and you’ll hear it in schools, businesses, hummed by people walking around. (The Carpenters and Beatles are also BIG.) 

Spunky, bookworm and middle schooler Shizuku wants to write some new “Country Road” lyrics for her junior high graduation, but this perfectionist can’t get it quite right. Her high school entrance exams, which are super important to the future of all Japanese students in determining their options in life, loom, but Shizuku has other priorities and shrugs off test prep. Her best friend Yūko Harada leans on Shizuku for advice in dealing with a love triangle, while also offering understanding.

While delivering her father’s lunch, Shizuku follows a fat cat (literally a cat that’s too well-fed) and discovers an intriguing antique shop where there’s a seemingly enchanted cat figurine called the Baron, who longs for his love. The shop owner is a wise old man, i.e. mentor, who helps Shizuku with her search for understanding and direction.

A patron of a library that still has a card catalog and check out cards where you can see the names of previous checkouts Shizuku notices a weird coincidence that a mysterious reader has borrowed exactly the same books she checks out. Who is this person? Shizuku imagines a paragon, but when she learns his identity is infuriated that it’s a boy who annoys her to no end. To make matters worse he loves her. 

Could things be more aggravating for this girl?

Whisper of the Heart shows so much of Japanese culture from the junior high where entrance exams hang over everyone’s head, teasing is rampant, yet kids do want the best for their classmates, in a way only kids who’ve known each other since kindergarten and belong to a culture that prioritizes group belonging can. 

I was struck by how upset Shizuku was because as a third year middle school student (probably 14 or 15 years old) she hadn’t yet figured out her career direction. I liked how assertive she was no matter whom she was dealing with and how reasonable the adults were. Parents, the teacher in the lunchroom, the antique shop owner, all had some wisdom and insight to share. There was a teacher who reprimanded students who weren’t studying or ready to answer a question, but isn’t that okay? Isn’t that his job? 

In Japan high school is optional, though well over 90% of students do go to high school, thus this was why Shizuku and Amasawa consider foregoing high school. I was impressed with Amasawa’s dedication to crafting top quality violins and actually working towards that end. That’s another very Japanese quality of the film — dedicating long hours to excelling in a field. 

I loved the details in the animation, which includes rust on stoplight poles, lace curtains, dingy concrete walls and a myriad of perfect details. 

I highly recommend this charming film which will transport you to Tokyo and introduce you to a delightful girl. 

Solaris (1972)

What a unique film that stays with you.

No Fixed Plans

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris presented a completely different kind of science fiction. It doesn’t center on the battle of good vs. evil as usual sci-fi fare does. Instead it’s a psychological drama like no other I’ve seen. It is bizarre and breaks the sci-fi mold. It breaks all molds I know of.

First off there’s a lot of time spent on earth as astro-psychologist Kris Kelvin prepares to leave for the planet Solaris where the crew of this space ship are experiencing mysterious troubles. Kris visits his father’s summer house, located in an Arcadia. Here Kris has visions of his mother and some other woman, who turns out to be his dead wife Hari, An earlier scientist who was on Solaris and knows the secrets of the project comes and tries to warn Kris that there’s a lot of bizarre stuff going on so he should be cautious if…

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Favorites from Ireland

Derry Girls
Moone Boy
U2 – New Year’s Day
The Cranberries – Zombie
Celtic Women – Danny Boy
Dolan’s Pub, Irish music

Omega Man (1971)

Starring Charlton Heston, Omega Man takes place in a post-apocalypse Los Angeles. It’s 1977 and a bizarre pandemic has left the city deserted except for Dr. Robert Neville (Heston) who right before the mysterious virus took hold, he vaccinated himself with the vaccine he developed. It’s weird and cool to see L.A. so dusty and barren. Neville keeps himself sane by talking to imagined car dealers and clerks and to his bust of Cæsar.

Loneliness isn’t Neville’s biggest problem. Like a 1970s Cinderella, he must be home in his fortified flat by sundown when the zombies led by a former newscaster named Mathias come for him. These zombies were stricken with the virus and have become albino’s who can’t take the light. They want him dead and they want to destroy the art and culture he’s preserved.

Mathias’ crew nearly gets Neville, but he’s rescued by Lisa and Dutch, whom are living out in the countryside with a handful of children who’ve also escaped the virus — for the time being. Neville welcomes the community and accepts the mission of curing Lisa’s brother who’s one step away from zombiehood. He figures he can make a serum from his blood to cure the boy. Lisa accompanies Neville and her brother back to the city. Romance ensues in scenes when the zombies aren’t attacking.

Some of the action scenes weren’t all that plausible, like the way Mathias’ right hand man falls from a balcony. There’s some deus ex machina contrivances in spots, but I let myself get caught up in the novelty and Neville’s wit.

Omega Man can be over the top and the heroics and action are over the top, but it feels good to see a good guy keep his head and fight against evil. The end isn’t what I expected as recent movies would end differently. It seems studios think they must satisfy their audiences with a certain ending. Pfiffle. I’m open to what makes sense and applaud the daring. 

Ida

Set in Poland in 1962, Ida is a stunning, quiet film about an orphan who grew up in a convent is about  to take her vows. Her superior tells her she should meet her one living relative, an aunt before she takes her vows. The taciturn, obedient Ida agrees. 

Aunt Wanda turns out to be a judge whose personality is diametrically opposed to Ida’s. When Ida gets to Wanda’s apartment, Wanda’s lover leaves. Atheist Wanda smokes and drinks too much. Aunt Wanda tells Ida that her parents were Jewish and both were killed by the Germans in WWII along with Wanda’s infant son. They embark on a search through rural Poland for their graves. 

This journey changes both women, but not in predictable ways. it’s greatest strength is it’s cinematography. The black and white scenes are framed simply and elegantly. The story is minimal and the tension between aunt and niece is compelling. There were a few incidents that seemed implausible, but on the whole the film is well worth a watch.

Stalker (1979)

If you give it a chance, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker mesmerizes and baffles. Made in the USSR in 1979, the Stalker takes place in a decaying, post-apocalyptic world that’s both repulsive and dripping in sludge yet hypnotic. 

Plot: In a dystopian city, two men, the Writer and the Professor, pay the Stalker to lead them into the forbidden Zone. If they can make it into the Zone into the inner sanctum, the Room the Stalker tells them their deepest desire will be fulfilled. Don’t worry the Writer is sharp enough to call the Stalker into question.

Every step of the way, they face danger. Violence? Imprisonment? It’s unspecified and you never see the who or what is the actual foe, which makes the tension all the higher. 

Thoughts:The dialog is poetic and philosophical. Throughout the story the men bicker, cheat and challenge each other. I did admire them for at least trying for more, for betterment despite being surrounded by the ugly and hopeless.

Writer (left), Stalker, Professor

Drenched, oily, dark, craggy the setting is incredible. Even in the Zone, the paradise they aimed for, the verdant fields are overgrown and look like Chernobyl 20 years after the nuclear disaster. There isn’t one inch of space that’s clean or inviting. And this atmosphere will haunt me and intrigue me.

I doubt this film could be remade by any other nationality. Every aspect is just so modern Russian. It visualizes what an oppressive, corrupt kleptocracy is: toxic, neglected, fetid, bleak.  

While the story is oblique and the characters, while sympathetic, are unlikeable, Stalker intrigued me so much that I’m sure I’ll watch it again and again. The visuals get inside your head, but not in a bad way.

Stalker is a challenging film. It often moves slowly, but the camera work of these slow scenes is tremendous. The frame of the story, particularly with Stalker’s mutant daughter who may have paranormal powers, mystifies rather than enlightens, but Tarkovsky makes it work. Few could.