Archive for the 'International' Category

05
Feb
15

Ohayo/Good Morning

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In Ozu’s 1959 film Good Morning (Ohayo) two young brothers take a vow of silence when their parents refuse to buy them a television. Complications ensue when the neighbors and teachers read in all kinds of things into the silence. Gossip spreads and at one point to boys run away. The youngest brother, who’s probably 6, is particularly cute.

All in all, it’s a charming film that shows Japan on the brink of prosperity.

25
Jan
15

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.

18
Jan
15

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.

audrey in japan

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.

06
Jan
15

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.

03
Dec
14

The 39 Steps

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This week’s old movie was Hitchcock’s 39 Steps (1935), which reminded me a lot of Ministry of Fear and North by Northwest, another Hitchcock film. Still 39 Steps is compelling and moves quickly as it shows a man who mistakenly gets caught up in spy intrigue and is innocent of a murder for which the police suspect him. I’d never seen the leading man, Robert Donat, but liked him in the role of Mr. Hanney. Dona’s charming and attractive, but not an Adonis so he can come off as an everyman.

After a strange, beautiful woman asks to go back with him to his apartment. Once inside she hides in the shadows, fearful of being seen. Men are following her. She claims to be a spy who must protect military secrets. She’s a mercenary and her tale is hard to believe. Hanney really doesn’t put much faith into her story, but he doesn’t kick her out either. When she comes to him in the middle of the night with a map and a knife stuck in her back, Hanney’s convinced. Knowing he’ll be suspected of murder he flees all the while having to elude the men who killed the beautiful spy.

Like many Hitchcock films it’s the tale of an innocent man, wrongly accused. Roger Ebert told a film class I took with him that as a boy, Hitchcock’s father wrongly suspected the young genius of some childish misdemeanor and punished him by sending him to the local police where an officer locked him up saying, “This is what we do with naughty boys.” Hitchcock believed he was 4 or 5 at the time.

The 39 Steps moves briskly in part to keep the audience from pondering unexplained questions like how did the killers get into Hanney’s apartment so quietly and why didn’t they do something to Hanney since they saw the pair enter the building.  The film delights with wit and light comedy sprinkled in with the suspense and danger.

As usual, the Criterion Collection offers a trenchant essay on the film. Well worth reading.

15
Oct
14

Ministry of Fear

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Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) gets released from a mental institution where he’s lived since he was charged with euthanasia of his sickly wife. His train makes a stop in a country town and at the urging of a kind conductor he steps out and goes over to the nearby country fair. He sees a fortune teller and wins a cake. This leads him to getting in trouble with Nazi’s who chase him and frame him with murder. He can’t trust anyone as everyone he meets — even a pretty, warm-hearted woman who runs a charity for widows and orphans with her brother — seems ready to turn him in.

Set during WWII Franz Lang’s Ministry of Fear (1944) is brimming with tension and suspense. The plot moves quickly and takes Neal to one creepy, yet sophisticated experience after another. Nothing is what it seems. While I read that Lang wanted to make an overtly anti-Nazi movie, the script writer didn’t provide him with the sort of horrible Nazi he could rail against. Based on a Graham Green novel, I found the film compelling. Green wouldn’t agree, I’ve learned. He thought it was awful, but then Green’s a perfectionist and master.

06
Oct
14

Désiré

Released in 1937 starring Sacha Guitry, Désiré is a comedy about a French woman and her household staff. Odette is a former actress who’s beau is a government Minister. Her staff includes a cook, a maid, a chauffeur we never see, but lacks a valet. The night before Odette, played by Guitry’s wife at the time, and her beau are to leave for the countryside, a chatty, meticulous valet comes to interview for the job. His references are impeccable and he’s hired. God forbid the couple goes to the country without a valet.

In the kitchen Désiré gets to know the maid and the cook. He’s very professional about his job and the hardest worker of the group, but also shares lots of observations about employers e.g. in a couple days a servant knows his employer well. In a year the servant can predict the employer’s every move and thought, yet after employing a servant for 5 years the employer probably doesn’t even know the servant’s last name. Touché.

Désiré’s previous employer intimates that while he was impeccable at his job, he made sexual overtures and therefore was let go. Odette is ready to send him packing but he persuades her to trust that it’ll never happen again.

All goes well until madam starts having dreams of Désiré making overtures. Her beau hears her calling out his name. Meanwhile Désiré also has dreams and the maid hears him calling out. Both don’t know what to do and try to hide the problem as best they can.

Désiré is a farce done with wit and intelligence. It makes some good points and is something of a counterpoint to Downton Abbey. Here the characters smoke and joke and toy with each other.  Guitry is a fine comic actor who held my interest from start to finish.




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