Reviews written by registered user
|19 reviews in total|
"Kabe atsuki heya" (or "The Thick-Walled Room") was the third film of
director Masaki Kobayashi, who would go on to make such masterworks as
"The Human Condition", "Hara-kiri", and "Samurai Rebellion". In "The
Thick-Walled Room", one can see many of the elements Kobayashi would
use to greater effect in those later films the sense of political
consciousness, the criticism of corruption within society, and the
focus on human failings.
The film takes place four years after the end of World War II, and concerns a group of low-ranking Japanese soldiers imprisoned by the Americans for war crimes. It soon becomes clear that these people are small fry, forced into their actions by their superiors and doomed to take the fall for the actions of the army. Meanwhile, their superiors, who are shown to be brutal and actually bear most of the guilt, manage to escape unscathed.
As you can imagine, this subject matter was considered most controversial during the time the film was being made. The studio, afraid the film would offend Americans, demanded the film be severely cut. Kobayashi refused to do this, and so the film was shelved for three years. Although completed in 1953, it did not come out until 1956. Then it was lost in obscurity once again that is, until the Criterion Collection finally released it on DVD as part of its Eclipse Series. At last, as of April 2013, "The Thick-Walled Room" can be widely seen.
Of course, the film isn't as polished as Kobayashi's greatest work, and it is clear that at this point he was still maturing as a filmmaker. But there is, nevertheless, a lot that is very good about this film. The prisoners are not depicted as wronged saints but as fallible human beings. They can be arrogant, deluded. They have tempers. They can be cruel to one another. The backstories and histories of these characters are also quite well-handled. Through these histories, Kobayashi is able to broaden his scope and analyze the after-effects of the war all across Japan, and not just focus on the goings-on inside the prison. One example of how Kobayashi does this is when one of the prisoners recollects a girl he met during the war. He is infatuated with the memory of her, idealizing her innocence and purity, and has hopes of settling down with her if he ever is set free. But the prisoner's brother, who comes sometimes to visit him, knows the hollowness of these fantasies. That innocent girl has grown into a cynical prostitute. Her character makes a bitter remark on the state of the nation that rings throughout the film: "The war made us insane. And we're still insane."
"The Thick-Walled Room" is an interesting study of degradation and corruption in postwar Japan. It is also compelling for what it shows about Masaki Kobayashi's early career. Hopefully, now that the film is more readily available, more people will have the chance to see it.
Once again, Ken Burns has crafted an excellent, informative
documentary. This one is about the Dust Bowl. Interviews, photographs,
diary entries and footage are used to paint a picture of the time and
place, a time when monstrous behemoths of dust could literally blot out
Most effective are the interviews. Men and women who were children when dust storms swept the plains tell stories of their experiences. Some of these are very emotional. For example, two brothers choke up at the memory of their sister who died of 'dust pneumonia' when still a young girl. The anguish in their voices is simply heartbreaking. Another man recalls how he became separated from his parents when a dust storm hit and for a while they had no idea if he was dead or alive. All of these stories give one a full appreciation of the devastation wreaked by the event and make it painfully personal and human.
"The Dust Bowl" is a powerful story of human suffering and human endurance. Watching it, I was moved by the plight of people who struggled on against hope in an effort to retain their dignity or survive. It was very educational. I highly recommend seeing it.
(Oh, and to the previous reviewer: Much of this documentary is told through the words of people who actually lived through the Dust Bowl. Quite a bit of the film simply allows these people to speak for themselves without any quick cutting, signs of manipulation, or propagandistic techniques. I saw no signs of any 'agenda' on the part of Burns here.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the things I love about Daniel Day Lewis is his ability to
totally transform into his roles. Here is no exception. Stepping into
the shoes of the sixteenth president of the United States, Lewis almost
seems to become him, body and soul. By the end of the film, although
you can still sense something of Lewis about the eyes and mouth, you
feel you are in the presence of Abraham Lincoln. You feel the man on
screen is a man of flesh and blood rather than another representation
of an iconic figure. Watching Lewis walk, thin shoulders stooped in
weariness, it seems as though the actor is living what he enacts. He is
Lincoln the father, Lincoln the husband, Lincoln the storyteller,
Lincoln the statesman. He catches all of Lincoln's political keenness,
his idealism, his contradictions, his grief, regrets, and woes in a
complex and masterful performance.
Great as Day Lewis is, he does not overwhelm the picture. Sally Field holds her own with Lewis as the anguished Mary Todd Lincoln, heartbroken and haunted by the memory of the death her son Willie. Likewise, Tommy Lee Jones is stunning as the passionate abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. There is a moment in the film where Jones's character, who has spent the better part of his life in a crusade against slavery, realizes he must compromise his principles so that the 13th Amendment might have a chance to pass. All it takes is one single shot of Jones's craggy face to fully reveal the maelstrom whirling in Stevens's soul.
The rest of the supporting cast is just as excellent. Even smaller roles (like James Spader as a greasy, underhanded cohort of Lincoln's or Hal Holbrook as a more conservative member of the Republican Party) are infused with color and life. In particular, I was impressed by David Strathairn's compelling performance as secretary of state William Seward. Seward is presented as a close confidante of Lincoln's, although the events surrounding the passage of the 13th Amendment put a strain on their relationship. You can tell in many scenes that he is caught between two conflicting emotions, his admiration for Lincoln's ideals and his utter frustration with the measures Lincoln takes to make those ideals a reality. Strathairn brings out this inner turmoil the exasperation mixed with respect, the complicity in actions with which a part of him disapproves with sensitivity and honesty. It is a true gem of a performance.
Of course, all these performances would come to nothing without being backed up by fine writing. Tony Kushner's screenplay is richly literary and it is a pleasure to hear his words ring out. The film's dialogue crackles with intensity as it is spoken; it can be witty, humorous, perceptive, and sometimes it flows from the actors' lips like poetry. The film is also beautifully photographed. The cinematography has a quiet grandeur, not unlike Day Lewis's interpretation of Lincoln. It isn't overly ostentatious. It doesn't go out of its way to be visually striking and yet images from the film linger in my mind for example, that shot of Lincoln and his son by the window as the Amendment is passed.
Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is a lovingly made and well-written film with outstanding performances. The sets, costuming, and cinematography are great. This is a film to be seen.
"Cloud Atlas" is nearly three hours in length, but I wasn't bored for a
minute. The film alternates between six very different stories quite
seamlessly, creating an exhilarating experience. It's part sci-fi, part
historical drama, part love story, part comedy. Any number of things
could have gone wrong with the film. All the different genres it brings
together might have failed to coherently mesh. But they did, and it's
something to see.
The film takes us on shipboard in the 1800s, where a young man forms an unlikely bond with a stowaway, a runaway slave. It tells the sensitive, melancholy story of a promising young composer in the 1930s separated by prejudice and misfortune from his lover, a man named Sixsmith. It also brings us to 1973, where an intrepid reporter finds herself caught up in a web of murder and intrigue. In the present day, the film offers up the comedic tale of a publisher on the run from a gang of thugs. Plunging into the future, it shows a dystopian vision of Seoul, South Korea that is comparable to "Blade Runner" and a primitive post-apocalyptic Hawaii.
Linking these stories together are the simple thematic elements of love, compassion, and a love for liberty. The correspondence between the composer Robert Frobisher and Sixsmith depicts the plain beauty of love as well as any film I have seen, as do tender moments between the central characters of the portion of the film set in the futuristic New Seoul. Even in the blatantly comic segment with Jim Broadbent as the publisher, a deep passion for freedom and human dignity shines through.
All the actors do a great job in their multiple roles. You can care for Tom Hanks one moment as a villager in a future Hawaii, and then revile him in the next scene where he plays a truly despicable doctor. The best performances are given, however, by Doona Bae and Jim Broadbent. I think they surpass all the rest. Bae plays a "fabricant", a kind of clone designed to serve humanity. Her gradual awakening to her own self-worth, to the subjugation of herself and of her people, is beautifully and movingly conveyed. She is heartbreaking in this role. Broadbent is equally excellent as the publisher Cavendish. His expressive face and popping eyes are ideal for comedy and he's hilarious. But he's more than that. Broadbent infuses the character with a sense of sorrow and weariness at key moments. Cavendish has depth, a history, regrets from his past. Broadbent brings all this out brilliantly without losing his comic touch.
Everything in "Cloud Atlas" comes together to create a film I found thought-provoking and highly entertaining. I don't hesitate to recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Okay, so it doesn't quite have the magic of last year's "Midnight in
Paris". So it isn't the equal of some of Allen's 'great works' like
"Annie Hall" or "Hannah and her Sisters". Still I can say that I was
thoroughly entertained by "To Rome with Love". It may not be a
masterpiece, but nevertheless I found it witty, charming, and fun. I
I liked it a lot.
The film is blessed with a marvelous cast. Nearly everyone gets a chance to shine, breathing life into an outrageous assortment of characters. Penelope Cruz makes the screen sizzle as a prostitute with a saucy and slyly sardonic attitude. Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi are radiant as newlyweds each faced with their own respective crises. They are amusing in their skittishness and flightiness, which is brought out to comic effect when they are both put into absurd situations. But through it all their characters retain a human quality; you can sympathize with their feelings of indecision, confusion, uncertainty and excitement. In the end, I found myself not only amused but touched by their quirky little love story.
Jesse Eisenberg is similarly endearing as an unworldly young architect who falls for his girlfriend's friend Monica, who is played by Ellen Page. Page, in the midst of several standout performances, stands out. It is a pleasure to watch her mastery of the character, how smoothly she seems to go from a frumpy, down-on-her-luck actress to an enticing object of allure. With her delicate frame, some may not think Ellen Page suited for the role of a femme fatale. They should reserve judgment. She plays her part to perfection, holding the viewer in her thrall just as she holds Eisenberg's character although the viewer can sense from the get-go the shallowness and phoniness of her façade. Her performance may be the very best in the film.
Alec Baldwin serves as a guide for Eisenberg's character. He's not fooled by Monica's bulls**t for a minute; he's known people like her before. As such, he gets more great lines than I could count stingingly insightful and caustic quips in which he pegs Monica for exactly what she is. Baldwin's grimly knowing delivery of these remarks is almost as brilliant as the dialogue itself.
Woody Allen himself is great in his usual 'Woody Allen persona', this time as a dweeby father who comes with his psychiatrist wife (Judy Davis) to Rome to meet his daughter's fiancée. The witty repartee between Allen and Davis is classic Woody Allen stuff, and, in my humble opinion, as funny as ever. As the young couple, Alison Pill and Flavio Parenti don't have *that* much to do, but manage to make fine impressions anyway. Taking center stage in this portion of the film is the fiancée's father, played with amiableness and dignity by Fabio Armiliato. Of course, that gentle dignity ends up overturned in a hilarious manner. He's got a talent, you see, a talent Allen's character dearly wishes to exploit. But there are problems. Funny problems.
The weakest part of the film to me is the one with Roberto Benigni, who plays an average working man with a home and family who wakes up one morning to discover he is inexplicably famous. It's not bad necessarily, but somewhat less enjoyable and engaging when compared to other portions of the film. Still, Benigni, like everybody else in the film, doesn't give a bad performance.
Woody Allen's "To Rome with Love" has a screenplay that is often intelligent and almost always fun, and boasts a spectacular ensemble cast. By the closing credits I'd had many a good laugh and become invested in the film's wide variety of characters. In my opinion, it deserves more than its current rating of 6.4 on IMDb.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This seems to be considered by some to be 'minor' or 'mediocre'
Kurosawa. In my opinion, nothing could be farther from the truth. This
is one of the director's greatest achievements. It is elegantly done,
thrilling, and in its final scenes has the force and power of the
finest of tragedies.
It is the story of a man called Nishi, played by Toshiro Mifune, who attempts to expose corporate corruption and bring the bureaucrats responsible for his father's death to justice. To further his efforts, he marries the daughter of an unscrupulous businessman. At first things seem to go well for him. But he cannot even begin to comprehend the might of the system with which he is dealing
Mifune's role may not be as flashy as his lone samurai in "Yojimbo" or his exuberant bandit in "Roshomon", but the part is no less great. Nishi is a character consumed with inner demons. His relationship with the father he seeks to avenge is complex. He is the illegitimate child of a man that abandoned his mother before Nishi could even remember him in order to marry a woman of higher standing. Still, Nishi recalls that his tormented father returned to him from time to time in the guise of an uncle, showing love under cover he was unable to reveal any other way. Nishi is fueled by a sense of righteousness and justice, but must come to grips with whether his quest for revenge is making him as ruthless as those he stands against. Also, he must deal with the love that begins to stir in him for his nemesis's daughter. It is an incredible role, to be sure, played with quiet restraint and gravitas by Mifune.
Although Nishi goes to extremes to achieve his ends, and can at times seem merciless, the viewer never loses sympathy for him. He can show pity when he seems the most brutal. He can appear cold, and then later reveal the sensitivity and tenderness buried under a bitter exterior. This is most evident in gentle scenes with his wife, or exchanges between him and his only close confidante and fellow conspirator, a friend from his childhood. He seems so very human, so vibrant with passion, confidence, and life, that one almost feels he is going to make it and be successful which only makes it all the more crushing when he is destroyed.
The ending of the film is unsparing in its bleakness. Not only does the Corporation kill Nishi, it also demolishes his reputation and consigns him to ignominy in the memory of the general public. All his noble efforts fall to ruin. Only those that had been near to him in life realize the truth, but without proof they are left to whine and wail in anguish to an unfeeling sky. There is no hope. There is hardly even any room for catharsis, because everything unfolds with such relentless swiftness and bluntness. Those with honorable intentions are squashed like ants while the corrupt officials of the company get on comfortably with their lives. That's it. That's how it goes. This closing leaves the viewer gutted, overwhelmed with a deep, visceral sense of despair. It is among the most powerful endings I have seen in a film, and Kurosawa's sobering comment on the darker nature of the world again shows the perceptiveness that made him one of the best directors of all time.
A masterpiece, and worthy of the same recognition as "The Seven Samurai" or "Ran".
A princess in disguise. Hidden gold. A noble warrior. A daring trek
across enemy lines, in which fealty and fortitude are tested. Throw two
bungling peasants into this mix and you have what makes "The Hidden
Fortress" such an entertaining, exciting adventure.
Kurosawa's film follows the two peasants as they blunder across a war-torn landscape. Through a series of mishaps and absurd circumstances, they find themselves unwittingly aiding Rokurota Makabe, a general of the defeated Akizuki clan, whose task is to protect the young Princess Yuki from her foes and guide her to safety.
All of the actors are excellent Mifune is top-notch here, as usual but it was Misa Uehara as the princess that made the deepest impression on me. She conveyed the haughtiness of a girl raised in privilege, but was able to skillfully bring out the strength and humanity of her character. There is a scene where this young woman, who up until this point has seemed the epitome of fierceness and pride, stands alone and begins to weep while gazing out at the horizon. The banner of her clan is superimposed over her anguished face as she lets tears fall for her murdered family, well aware of the weight of her sorrow and new responsibility in a harsh world. Over the course of the film, she will see greed, deceit, honesty and decency firsthand. She will bear witness to human compassion and human suffering. Her experiences will shape her into a better ruler.
Such elements add profoundness to "The Hidden Fortress", making it more than simply a standard action/adventure movie. Still, it keeps up suspense, excitement, and humor sometimes all at once. For example, at one point the little group must get past a roadblock set up by the enemy. The scene that ensues artfully combines a sense of quiet apprehension and unease with comedy. Viewers remain on the edges of their seats, yet are able to laugh as well.
Kurosawa accomplished the rarest of feats with this motion picture. He managed to make an exhilarating film brimming with action and intrigue that at the same time treated its subject matter intelligently. All things considered, this is an engaging, enjoyable, and amusing piece of work from a master director.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Ford's "The Searchers" has been heralded as one of the best films
ever made, an assessment with which I personally disagree. That's not
to say I dislike it. To me, it is quite a good film for the most part
only far from flawless.
John Wayne gives perhaps his finest performance in the role of Ethan Edwards, the lone man who returns home from the Civil War three years late still in Confederate uniform and still bearing his saber. The film is not afraid to probe into the darkness of this character's soul. He is unapologetically racist, disdainful upon meeting the young Martin Pawley because of his partial Cherokee descent. But after a raid by the Comanche, the two set out on a years-long search for Debbie, Ethan's abducted niece. On the journey, Ethan's bigotry towards the Indians becomes a kind of grim madness. He is shown putting bullet holes in a dead Comanche's eyes so that 'he can't enter the spirit-land', and later wantonly tries to gun down a herd of bison rather than let them become food for those he hates. Wayne plays the part with brooding, frightening, merciless intensity. With one look into his steely eyes, the viewer understands that Ethan is as capable of barbarity and ruthlessness as the so-called savages he condemns. His external and internal odysseys are, to be sure, the stuff of greatness and epic in scope and power. If the film were confined to simply the quest to track down Debbie gloriously told as it is through sweeping shots of the vistas of Monument Valley and to Ethan's inner storm of fury, then its reputation would be, I think, more justified.
But it is not. Interweaved with this thought-provoking search in the wilderness are the goings-on back at home. These often clownish antics seem so amateurish it is hard to believe they are from the same film. Vera Miles, as Laurie, squawks and squeals when pining for the absent Martin in a manner more befitting a lunatic than a woman in love. She may be amusing, but seems garish and too overwhelmingly silly alongside the more serious storyline. Similarly, the exaggerated Swedish accent of Lars Jorgensen and the idiotic drawl of Laurie's goofball suitor, Charlie, are played up for comic relief. Characters like these two are shallow stock figures and stereotypes, a far cry from the depth of the sullen Ethan. A little humor on the side of a moodier film can be a good thing, but this is jarring and overdone in the extreme. (On occasion, however, it works. The fool, Mose Harper, pops up in the movie every now and again, and actually becomes an endearing and colorful character.)
Then there is that scene near the end which has somehow become legendary. Ethan pursues the fleeing Debbie, apparently with the intention of killing her because she has assimilated into the Indian culture. This is the moment for his boiling rage and passionate hatred to climax much of the film has led up to this point. Yet instead of doing her in, Ethan gathers her gently in his arms and rides her home. Why? What is the reason for this remarkable turnaround and change of heart? What's going through his mind as he looks at her? What, for that matter, is going through HER mind as she looks at HIM? Natalie Wood looks lovely as Debbie, but is given little to work with and is underdeveloped. How does she feel seeing the people she has lived with for five long years being routed by the cavalry? Is she saddened, in shock? Does she care at all? Earlier scenes suggest she shares some bond with these Comanche, though she happily embraces Martin, who she knew in youth as her brother. These mixed attitudes towards her supposed rescuers and captors seem to merit further examination and study. But they are not examined or studied. Neither are the thoughts of Ethan, whose inexplicable act appears to go against much of what is known about his character. If he has his reasons for doing what he does here, they are not told to the audience. One guess is as good as another. As it stands, this famous scene feels as awkward and contradictory as the tacked-on ending of Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons".
In spite of its flaws, I still enjoy "The Searchers". But it DOES have flaws, and I find it too rough around the edges to call it a masterpiece. The superior portions of the film are juxtaposed with sections of considerably less quality. This creates an end result that can be somewhat inconsistent and patchy, although it admittedly has bright flashes of brilliance.
Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" begins with shots of ravishing beauty,
gliding across the gold and green lushness of the countryside. But with
the coming of the Great War, the colors fade. It becomes a film of
muted browns and grays, well befitting life in the trenches.
It is the story of a horse, Joey, swept up by the war. Yet it is equally the story of the humans he encounters. It is the story of the young man who trains him and is forced to see him sold away, the story of two boys who find their brotherly bond stronger than their orders and the threat of death. It tells of the compassion of an anguished German soldier whose duties are to tend horses that endure unspeakable labors. And in one of its most poignant sections, it shows a bright-eyed girl and her grandfather whose lives will be splintered by tragedy and ravaged by the war In one way or another, these characters all of them good souls are inescapably caught in the senseless, horrific conflict.
Nonetheless, Spielberg has stated that his film is not a war film but a love story, an assertion that many will apply to the relationship between Joey and his first owner, Albert. But it is just as applicable to any episode mentioned above. Love is the uniting cord that weaves together this series of events. It is shown in the muck of the trenches by soldiers to each other as they struggle to survive the anarchy of battle or the swirling phantasm of gas. It is seen in the grandfather's fierce and devoted protection of his granddaughter. Also, it is evident that Albert's mother (played beautifully by Emily Watson) holds her husband close to her heart and still has some strength to have faith in him despite the mistakes of his past.
War is ever in the background, even penetrating scenes where there is no sign of fighting. At the film's heart, however, is love, as Spielberg has said love not just between human and horse but between human and human, love for the whole of mankind. No matter their side in the war, characters are depicted with the same amount of sympathy. It is a vast, all-encompassing love that extends to both man and beast, transcending the boundaries of the battlefield.
Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" has become a staple of the
Christmas season. It will invariably be played around the holidays,
whether broadcast on T.V or picked out by a family from their DVD
collection. But watching it again this year, I realized just how little
it has to do with Christmas. To be sure, the famous final sequence
takes place around then, but the full film is a broader celebration of
life, humanity, and the human spirit. Confining it to simply a
glorification of the Christmas spirit seems too narrow.
Through the story of the life of George Bailey and the lives of those around him, "It's a Wonderful Life" celebrates basic human kindness and compassion. It praises selflessness and putting others above oneself, as George does time and time again forsaking his dreams for the betterment of those more unfortunate than he in Bedford Falls. It condemns greed, heartlessness, and fierce manipulation of fellow persons on Earth through Henry F. Potter, the shriveled and devious old businessman played to malicious perfection by Lionel Barrymore. It extols the worth of the life of any living being, no matter how poor or pitiful they appear and whatever their flaws may be. Consider the way George extends a caring hand to his dearly daffy Uncle Billy or to Violet Bick when she has fallen on hard times. Think of what he saves them both from when he could have easily cast them aside on account of their vices and imperfections, turning them away.
Are these values appropriate for Christmas? Yes, of course. But they are just as appropriate for any time. Calling this "a Christmas film" somewhat underestimates the power of its themes, themes that are ageless and universal (or so I would hope). This is a film that deserves to be kept in the heart all the year round.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |