Archive for the 'International' Category

16
Jul
16

Mr. Six

Mr. Six (left), his pal (right)

Mr. Six (left), his pal (right)

At a hotel, I asked a concierge for a list of good Chinese movies and Mr. Six was among them–and wow did it belong there.

I found it on a Singapore Air flight and this tale of the clash of the old and poor Beijingers with the rich and young blew me away. The film opens in the hutongs of Beijing where an old time gangster, nicknamed Mr. Six, lives and rules dispensing justice as he threatens pickpockets and intervenes between the police and a poor vendor. Mr Six, a widower, hasn’t even heard from his twenty-something son in six months. He knows the kid doesn’t care about him. He soon hears that his son’s been kidnapped as vengeance for sleeping with a super-rich kid’s girlfriend and then keying that guy’s Ferrari.

Mr. Six knows his son was in the wrong and tracks down the gang of rich car racers, who might as well come from another world. Their culture and mores have little in common with this old geezer who has a very clear, almost eye-for-an-eye view of justice.

Rich kid with blond hair and scratched Ferrari

Rich kid with blond hair and scratched Ferrari

Mr. Six shocks and impresses the kid his son wronged in a curious way. He’s given 48 hours to come up with 20,000 to pay for the car’s paint job. Mr. Six then proceeds to make the rounds of his old pals, some who’re squeaking by and others who’ve become wealthy to get the money. The film is a good look into China’s culture today. The young are (in some regions more than others) not buying into the old ethos. Materialism is on the rise and taking its toll in the form of souls. Mr. Six has the old justice system down, and it differs from Western ways so he surprised me again and again.

Also the film itself takes some interesting turns that wouldn’t come up in an American film. At one point the young, spoiled kids agree to meet Mr Six and his cronies to resolve the matter with a big fight. The old guys show up, but the young ones don’t. I can’t remember a no-show like that in a Western film. Returning home, Mr. Six gets surrounded by henchmen sent by the rich kid’s dad. They proceed to threaten and beat him.

The film captivates and has stayed with me and will for quite some time.

 Warning: Mr. Six will strangle and fight anyone who’s treating his son unjustly. It’s not as violent as The Godfather but there’s a lot of fighting and some blood.

22
Jun
16

Jellyfish Eyes

film-jellyfish-eyes

A mix of animation and live action, Jellyfish Eyes amazed me. It’s the story of Masashi, a Japanese boy whose father died in the tsunami. He moves with his mother to a new town where he befriends an otherworldly creature and soon learns that all the other children have similar strange friends that they control with remote controls and have fight each other whenever their teacher turns her back.

Mashasi’s uncle works at a mysterious lab, which turns out to be run by a nefarious group of evil scientists trying to harness negative energy through children since children’s energy is purest. His uncle opposes the mad scientists, but they ignore his warnings and pleas.

As the movie progresses,a girl befriends Masashi saving him from bullies. The girl’s mother in reaction to the tsunami and following nuclear disaster, has joined a religious cult. Thus the girl, like Masashi must parent herself. The film is unique in that shows children coping with trauma and loss. It has a powerful message of self-sacrifice and pulling together rationally in times of crisis. At the end I was stunned. As the film’s directed towards children it ends happily, but that was uncertain till the last minutes. I thought it was brave and smart to give children a chance to see such a wise, exciting and delightful film.

It offers adults the message of how technocrats and scientists gamble with our safety when they get caught up with an idea or “solution.” It’s such a different film and one old and young (as young as say 10) could enjoy and ponder.

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.




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