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Beautiful, yes...but too much realism, for this play anyways
There are several good reasons to spend an evening with this production of a standard Shakespearean tale of gender confusion and romantic comedy. The lush scenery and attention to period detail, top-notch performances, and Ben Kingsley's rightly acclaimed turn as Feste, the wise and knowing Fool.
Nonetheless, the move from play to the big screen has its drawbacks, foremost among which are the great suspension of disbelief the viewer must attempt when Viola is taken seriously as a man, and still moreso when brother and sister, essentially unchanged in appearance, do not immediately recognize each other.
Suspension of disbelief is more commonly expected in a stage production, where the circumstances of the confined surroundings necessitate empathetic participation of the audience. In cinema, however, such constraints are generally not present, and standards are correspondingly higher. But if the screenplay includes elements that demand audience empathy, as is the case here, the production will fare badly at just those places.
Hamlet and other more "serious" works in the Shakespearean canon have few such elements. Plays such as TN, of a more playful nature and which revolve around improbable plot elements, will bear up less well under the close scrutiny of big-screen cinema.
Gôruden suranbâ (2010)
Pretty funny, and touching, for a "check-your-brain-outside" thriller
Gotta give this one points for originality.
A none-too-bright (at least at the beginning) fellow is set up as the fall guy in a plot to assassinate the Japanese prime minister. He manages to elude capture through chance, and friends who help him, and sheer luck...again, and again, and...againandagainandagain....
Normally I don't watch this kind of flic, although I found myself thinking "but I watched Skyfall just last week...." But there is some great humor here, especially if you have some familiarity with Japanese culture (not all of the gags translate well). The "Death to Gropers!!" line in particular is ROFL funny...given all the sunny slogans that typically are written by Japanese kids in calligraphy class.
I did find myself cringing the third or fourth time a character sang the Beatles' standard "Golden Slumber", typically out of tune. Have the remote ready, and don't be afraid to hammer that fast-forward button.
You might like this if you can ignore the extreme implausibility of eg. your typical James Bond movie, and enjoy intermittent humor, and unexpected twists.
Hankyu densha (2011)
How much drama can you pack into a 15-minute train ride?
Kinda hard to recommend this one. Basically it's a soap opera, set on public transit in Kobe. A half-dozen or so stories intertwine, and vignettes range from the trite-ish (eg. a girl is ashamed of her last name; a group of obnoxious middle-aged women function as a farcical Greek chorus) to the heartfelt, even heart-rending (in particular, an eight- year-old girl trying to cope with persistent bullying by classmates).
Unfortunately most of what happens strains credulity--particularly considering that the Japanese simply do not inject themselves with any regularity into the lives and problems of total strangers. Nor are they prone to be as emotional in public.
To sum up, Hankyu is a highly uneven soap opera which does shed light on modern Japanese customs and mores, but you have to wade through a lot of melodrama to get to the better bits.
Ichimai no hagaki (2010)
Virulently anti-war polemic...formulaic in places, quirky, but heartfelt
This was the last film of Kaneto Shindo, who died just a few days ago, age 100, and was known for such landmark films as Onibaba and Black Cat.
Shindo knew war...he was one of only six survivors of his 100-man unit in the Japanese navy during WWII. And as recounted in a recent obituary in the NY Times, he felt the weight of his 94 compatriots keenly, and sends them a final prayer in this last film of his.
The first third of the film is relentlessly grim. The Morikawa family is hit harder than most by the war: eldest son Sadazou is conscripted, and en route to the Philippines and certain death, receives a postcard from his wife Tomoko, but is unable to send her a meaningful response, due to strict censorship. He dies, his younger brother Sanpei is also conscripted and also dies, and the elderly father and mother die in short order, leaving Tomoko quite alone in a farmhouse by herself.
Before dying, however, Sadazou has asked a bunkmate to bring the postcard back to his wife if he does not return. This fellow, Matsuyama, has been betrayed by his wife and father, and when he finally brings the postcard to call on Tomoko, can only marvel at the latter's constancy in contrast.
A mooted move to Brazil and other unexpected plot twists keep the viewer guessing. Some humor is injected by a would-be paramour of Tomoko's. All in all, a film that brings home the pointless waste and enormous suffering inflicted by war.
The final takeaway: In the end, we bury our dead, we try to pay our respects, but we have to find our own way forward as best we can.
Sûpu opera (2010)
Sometimes, marriage is like a bus in Egypt....
This was mostly a fun movie. Not profound, not "great", not something that will change your life. (not that many movies do)
But it is whimsical, frequently funny, unpredictable, and only occasionally tedious. (The ending dream sequence goes on way too long)
Rui (ridiculously rendered "Louie" by IMDb) is a 30-ish woman, not beautiful but nice enough, who never knew her father and lost her mother long ago, and has been brought up by her aunt. The aunt suddenly announces she is getting married and moving far, far away. Rui anticipates loneliness...she works in a library that seems to be frequented by exceptionally odd people, and has no-one who is likely to fill this new void in her world. But she's in for a surprise, and then another, and another....
A nearby long-disused merry-go-round, half-engulfed in weeds, becomes a rustic stage for a piquant if improbable musical trio, interposed sporadically as if to remind us that this story is only tenuously related to the real world....
I watched it in Japanese. I have no idea if a subbed version is available. I would give it 7/10 if they'd cut five minutes or more from the dream sequence at the end.
As for the meaning of the aphorism in the title, well, watch the movie for an explanation that makes good sense.
The Edge (1997)
Clearly Mamet was never a Boy Scout
Pretty hard to take this film seriously, much of the time at least.
The basic structure of the film is fine, and Hopkins and Baldwin both deliver fine performances. But the survival-related antics these men pull are straight out of a comic book, I think. (Trapping a chipmunk in a cage fashioned out of twigs??? Hilarious!!!) Although Bart the Bear also deserves his top billing, just about every scene he's in is utterly ludicrous. I guess that's not Bart's fault. Maybe his manager should've held out for a better script though.
Watch it for the scenery, the machinations of the human characters and the dialog (at both of which Mamet excels), and for Hopkins' acting. And don't take any of the bear- or survival-related stuff seriously. This is not a movie to call to memory when you find yourself lost in the woods....
Stupeur et tremblements (2003)
Absolutely nothing to do with reality
Hard to believe that this is taken seriously by anyone who knows anything about Japanese corporate culture.
Yes, talented women are frequently relegated to serving tea. Otherwise there's not much else to take away from this absurdly distorted view of a Japanese company, the "Yumimoto Corporation" (even the company name does not wash as a Japanese proper noun).
I am an American fluent in Japanese, and have worked in a half dozen different Japanese firms. None of them bear the slightest resemblance to this place, which struck me as a Japanified Dilbert strip, minus the humor.
And anyone "impressed with" Testud's parroted Japanese has scant familiarity with the language. Tom Conti did a much better job in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a short clip of which appears herein.
An idiotic, absurd hit job, the poorly planned and poorly executed consequence of taking seriously one woman's revenge fantasy. Avoid.
Dark Days (2000)
Dark beginning...brilliant ending
I was falling asleep through the first third of this film. I was on the verge of slipping it back into its envelope and sending it back to Netflix, without having watched it through to the end.
I have never, ever done that, not even with "Godzilla: Final Wars".
But after an overlong introduction, the filmmaker started giving us back-stories--about how these people effectively became homeless, although they don't think of themselves that way. About the drugs and jail time and other personal tragedies that landed them there...where the sun don't shine...literally.
And then something completely unexpected happens towards the end; and at first you think--I thought, anyway--that it would be just another tragedy, piled on top of all the rest, and I found myself shaking my head: yeah, these people, they're always going to draw the short straw.
And then, to my own great amazement, it didn't work out that way at all. There was a happy ending, after all.
I really and truly thought I would hate this film, but was immensely surprised (I don't think I have ever been so surprised by a film) to find that it is in fact very special, and quite wonderful, after all.
You WILL be bored beyond caring by the first 20-30 minutes. Stick with it anyways. The ending is worth it.
It deepens like a coastal shelf
They f*ck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
--Philip Larkin, "This Be the Verse"
Children are the ultimate arbiters of their parents' performance as parents. The parents may or may not concur with their judgment, but in a sense, it doesn't matter: the judgment of the child is final and irrevocable. And can be terrible as well. Never more so than in this film.
Those who appreciated "Festen", which I myself liked, may find another terrible, but more believable, parent-child relationship here.
In the Bleak Midwinter (1995)
To see Hamlet, you can see Branagh's celebrated production starring himself, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, etc etc. And it is, in and of itself, a treat.
Far better though to choose this unheralded gem, and see how Shakespeare really has an impact on people.
The enthusiasm is palpable. "It changed my LIFE", Joe protests to his sister Molly in defending his decision to stage Hamlet, and indeed, you can't help but see his point. When the play cuts "too close to the bone" for Terry, for example, reminding him of his dysfunctional family situation. Or when the audience gasps in horror or delight during the actual production of the play.
Branagh and the actors here really, truly believe that Hamlet is alive and relevant, even today; and watching this quite wonderful film, it is hard to disagree. Watch it to see Hamlet not for itself (Branagh's production, or Olivier, or numerous other spectacles will give you that), but for how it matters to us even today, and to understand why low-paid or unpaid actors are nevertheless willing to give 132% to present it all to us.