Archive for the 'International' Category

22
Mar
16

A Night to Remember

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

A Night to Remember (1958) is a disaster film with dignity. It lacks the sentimental love story, which was central to Titanic, but that’s why it’s a better film. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film shows the swells enjoying the high life and the boisterous fun below in steerage mixed in with the misplaced wire messages about the iceberg and the frustrating refusal of nearby ship called the California to believe the Titanic’s distress messages.

The film shows people of all sorts, some willing to help their fellow passengers and others who’ll kick and claw their way into a lifeboat. The film weaves the facts in so you don’t feel like it’s a history lecture. You root for the characters all the while knowing most won’t make it. When the boat starts tilting so much that it’s at a 45° angle, you feel dreadful.

The Criterion Collection offers a good essay on the film here.

21
Mar
16

Paprika

paprika-poster

Holy moly, what a film!

Paprika is another fabulous Satoshi Kon creation. It left me stunned by its mastery and left me wanting to figure out what exactly had I experienced.

I’m not a big anime fan so I don’t know much about the history or depth or breath of the art, but wow, Paprika took an art form to its limits. I never knew what to expect and while the basic story’s easy to follow, it’s till perplexing.

The story revolves around a group of psychologists who’ve developed a device called the DC mini that allows people to view another person’t dreams if they are also wearing a DC mini. Boy, I had no idea how bizarre some dreams might be. The technology gets out of the hands of its creators, who then go on a quest to protect this amazing invention, which has a purpose they realize isn’t only good.

From start to finish the film moves in and out of dream worlds that are colorful, boisterous, scary, and bizarre. Dr. Chiba, the lead female character is a very serious, very beautiful psychologist who’s often bickering with her obese, irresponsible colleague as they try to track down his assistant who’s taken the DC mini. Paprika is Chiba’s alter ego who mainly inhabits the world of dream. She’s a sexy, super girl, who rescues a cop who’s having a little existential crisis.

Yet Paprika is not a film about plot. It plays with plot and constantly twists and turns defying any expectations. It’s ultra cool and something any adventurous filmgoer should see. Once I get my VPN to work, I’ll find the trailer on YouTube and post it here.

06
Feb
16

Millenium Actress

I learned about this amazing animated film from Every Frame a Picture (below). Created by Satoshi Kon, Millennium Actress is a unique, dreamy film that tells the story of Chiyoko, an old woman who looks back on her life when a documentary filmmaker, Tachibara, finally convinces her to agree to being interviewed. Tachibara, who was always sweet on Chiyoko, presents Chiyoko with a long lost key, which like Marcel in In Search of Lost Time opens up a storehouse of memories. Then the story goes back in time in an incredibly imaginative way mixing flashbacks, dreams and daydreams to show why Chiyoko went against her mother to become an actress during WWII.

The story skips back in time to various times in Chiyoko’s life and further goes back to various periods in history which her films were set in. There are a few political messages, which like Kurosawa’s No Regrets for our Youth, criticise how Japan imprisoned those who disagreed with the war. Because Kon’s techniques are so innovative in how they harken back to the shape-shifting that’s a frequent feature of Japanese folktales (but you don’t need to know that to enjoy the film), the film constantly surprised and delighted me. Throughout the film, the current day filmmakers were present in the past and that technique was particularly intriguing and innovative — at least to me, a novice in the anime world.


This video by Tony Zhou is incredible and made me want to see Millennium Actress.

26
Jan
16

downton abbey, S6, Ep. 3 & 4

End of ep 4

I’m a bit behind in my musings on Downton Abbey.  The major events in episode 3 were Carson & Mrs. Hughes’ wedding. After a kerfluffle over what the ever-practical Mrs. Hughes would wear (she didn’t want to make a big deal about a dress and thus had no pretty, let alone elegant dresses), Elsie Hughes looked lovely in a coat that Cora wound up giving her. The trouble before the wedding reached its pinnacle when Cora, who had a headache from arguing with the dowager, discovered Anna, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes all in her bedroom trying on one of her coats that Mary said she could wear. Cora through an out-of-character fit, but then Mary hadn’t explained or asked and it did look like a trespass over social boundaries. Soon Cora, true to form, apologised and wound up graciously giving Mrs. Hughes a gorgeous, embroidered coat that perfectly matched the plain dress Mrs. Patmore had ordered from a catalog. How lucky!

Edith took the reigns at the magazine. She sacked the complaining editor and worked all night to get the edition out. She lucked into meeting an attractive male acquaintance who asked her for drinks and then wound up staying up all night to help her with the magazine. How much cleaner than saving the pigs! Does that make it more or less romantic? What happened to Mary’s pig-beau?

Anna continued to have pains and fears of a miscarriage. The family elders continued to bicker over plans for the hospital and once again Thomas had a semi-comical, semi-sad Chekoves-que job interview at a big estate in decline. In the final scene I’m sure I wasn’t alone in rejoicing that Tom and Sybie have returned to Downton for good! (We could have guessed since Tom has been shown in promotional interviews and photos.)

Episode 4

Mr & Mrs. Carson were on their honeymoon for most of the episode. Several characters mentioned how hard it would be to call Mrs. Hughes Mrs. Carson. That little problem was solved at the end when everyone agreed that at the house she’d be Mrs. Hughes.

The squabbling over the hospital continued. Violet called in an aristocratic friend to assist her in her cause. Unfortunately, Lady Shackleton flip-flopped at the dinner party. Her main use proved to be that she brought her nephew, Henry, who is one of Mary’s suitors from last season.

Anna felt she was about to miscarry, so late at night Mary whisked her off to London via York, where the super Royal York Hospital with all it’s nifty skill and technology is. Hmm. Well, it worked out because Mary got to have cocktails with Henry and flirt a bit. Anna was okay and had a procedure that saved the baby. Still I wouldn’t want to take a train trip lasting I’d guess a few hours when I was miscarrying. Seems the last thing a woman would want to do would be to be on a train.

Daisy, who’s very eager to see that Mr. Mason get the house and farm that the Drewes have vacated since Mrs. Drewes kidnapped Edith’s daughter Marigold (what was she thinking?), almost sabotaged her job. She’s gotten to be quite a firebrand. She took Cora’s interest in Mr. Mason and a vague comment that Cora would see what she could do as a promise. When she hears a rumour that Mr. Mason won’t get the the land, Daisy works herself into a frenzy that culminates in her determination to tell off Cora. Every single servant urges her to calm down, to watch it, to wait and hope for the best, but Daisy obstinately ignores. At the pinnacle of her rage, Daisy storms upstairs. She’s willing to put her job on the line. Fortunately, before she can irrationally lash out against Cora, the Crawley’s tell her that they’ve decided that (although it’s not a great financial decision) they’re giving Mr. Mason the farmland. I doubt there was a luckier character on the show than Daisy at this time.

My favourite part of the show was when Gwen, who in the first season was a maid who with Sybil’s help became a secretary, showed up at Downton. She came with her husband, an aristocrat. When she arrived Thomas and Anna recognised her. The family members didn’t. Thomas, full of envy, blustered about how Gwen prospered, but he’s working in the same house in 1925 that he was in 1912 (or earlier). When serving, Thomas spilled the beans and got Gwen to reveal that she had been a kitchenmaid at Downton. While Thomas tried to embarrass her, Gwen regaled the family with stories of how dear Sybil helped her get the education and job that propelled her into the workforce and how that ties into her current association with a new woman’s college, Hillcroft. All the Crawley women now fully support this novel idea to educate women who need to work.

Baxter, Cora’s lady’s maid, is called upon to agree to testify against the man who urged her to steal from her previous employer. At first she was reluctant, but Mr. Mosley convinced her that if she didn’t other women would probably be tricked by him and would end up in jail or as prostitutes (that’s what has happened to some of women he’d conned).

Odds and Ends

  • Tom wants to do something more than just be the agent for the estate. He’s got an inkling that it may have to do with racing cars.
  • Mary and Henry met in London and romance may bud there, again.
  • Quite a few people–Anna, Robert, and Violet–experienced some kind of health worries or aliments. Will this mean that down the line the Crawley’s may actually need that new hospital with all it’s modern equipment and knowledge.
  • Violet made a good speech on how when government gets into an area, people lose power and autonomy. Typically, I don’t buy that line of thought, but Violet was quite convincing.
  • As usual the dresses were amazing.

 

 

18
Jan
16

No Regrets for Our Youth

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Directed by Kurosawa, No Regrets for Our Youth surprised me as it’s the story of a young woman by a director whose prolific body of work otherwise emphasised male characters. The heroine Yukie is carefree and playful at the start of the film. She has no use for anything serious. The film opens with Yukie strolling through the mountains with her father’s university students. When they come to a shallow creek, she halts and waits for someone to rescue her.

Noge, a very political, man of action carries her across the water that seems about three inches deep. On the sidelines looking awkward is his friend Itokawa who has feelings for Yukie, but is too shy and unsure of himself to do anything. Yukie likes teasing men more than anything and  plays Noge and Itokawa off each other.

As political tensions rise in Japan leading up to WWII, Yukie’s father is fired by the government because he’s spoken out against military aggression. Made after the war No Regrets for Our Youth, contains several scenes with characters discussing the importance of academic freedom, free speech and the importance of self sacrifice when working towards a greater good. Both Yukie’s father and Noge, who is arrested and imprisoned pay for their ideals.

After seven years, Yukie leaves her hometown Kyoto, to work in Tokyo. Here she bumps into Itokawa who’s continued to play it safe. He’s a lawyer and is married. He’s kept in touch with Noge, who’s just been released. Now Yukie’s matured somewhat and when she sees Noge again she’s willing to give up a conventional life to risk life with a rebel.

Soon Noge is arrested and she’s imprisoned, questioned and eventually released. We’re not entirely sure of what Noge did with his underground work but he says that in 10 years the Japanese will thank him and Yukie. From then on Yukie’s life is full of hardship, hardship she voluntarily takes on despite protests from her parents and Noge’s parents. It’s amazing to see someone who was such a flibbertigibbet turn into an honest to goodness heroine.

While the film was made early in Kurosawa’s career and lacks the mastery of later films, No Regrets of Our Youth tells a compelling story and enlightened me on anti-war protests in Japan prior to and during WWII.

20
Mar
15

Chronicle of a Summer

chronicle-of-a-summer

chronicle-of-a-summer

I’d heard the term “cinema verite” and like many wrongly thought that referred to a film that’s extremely realistic. It turns out that’s not exactly right. For my classic movie resolution, I watched Chronicle of a Summer by the inventors of cinema verite, two French sociologists. Cinema verite is a sociological film that forces people to come to the truth. Released in 1961, captured on black and white film, which adds a filter of reality that color couldn’t strangely enough, Chronicle of a Summer sets out to prompt real people to come in contact with truth through interviews and discussions that begin with the simple question: Are you happy? The directors behind the film are Jean Rouch, an engineer turned ethnological filmmaker who mainly worked in Africa and Edgar Morin, a sociologist based in Paris.

With two directors, the film does have two distinct moods. Viewers can feel when the somber, analytical Morin is in charge or when the more playful Rouch has the reins. The film begins with a woman agreeing to interview people on the street asking subjects whether they’re happy. It turns out that in Paris in 1960 few were. Still the film gets under your skin. Though neither director has gone to film school, the creative shots grabbed me and did feel very real. At times the film just shows people, working in a factory, eating lunch, walking down a street. They’re shown in their individualism in a way that’s compelling and fresh. I liked some of the subjects more than others. For the most part, the subjects came off as sincere and they presented a snapshot of life in 1960. I found the ending simple and powerful. Rouch and Morin gather their subjects for a screening of the film followed by a discussion. We hear their reactions whether they thought some people were exhibitionists or authentic, whether the whole endeavor was true to life or indecent. People were honest and through this scene were elevated beyond just being “performers” or “subjects” to being co-creators. Chronicle of a Summer is a Criterion Collection film and as usual features some worthwhile bonuses. The best was an insightful interview with Faye Ginsberg, who worked with Jean Rouch after he made this film.

10
Mar
15

A Touch of Sin

a-touch-of-sin

A Touch of Sin , directed by Jian Zhangke, blew me away.

I think I was expecting a movie about love affairs or something with a touch, i.e. a little corruption.

The film could be called A Massive Dose of Sin as it dramatizes four true events in modern China. True events, my mind still swirls.

The film features four stories that overlap a tad. First we see a villager who’s fed up with the corrupt village chief who promised that proceeds from the sale of a mine would be shared with the villagers. While the chief travels by private jet and owns a luxury sedan, the villagers have netted zero. When trying to speak to the chief gets him no where, the villager turns to violence — in a big way.

A Touch of Sin - Stills - Lian Rong (Li Meng) 02 Copyright Xstream Pictures (Beijing)

Later we meet a professional thief who returns to his village for his mother’s 70th birthday, a mistress who gives her lover an ultimatum and a factory worker who heads to a bigger city, with brighter lights and more action. None of these characters fare well. They get caught in the wheels of the greed of modern China. There’s plenty of violence and blood in each story, which I still am stunned that they’re all true. The cinematography is outstanding and the dialog spare. Jia shows us these tales and leaves us with little commentary or preaching on what to think about the brutality. The scenes all feel so real, so real that it’s scary.

A Touch of Sin won for best screenplay at Cannes in 2013.

I’m glad I saw it, but watching a second time would be too much for me.




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