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Fabulous Journeys for Amelie and Me!
I prefer the French title because its meaning is much more relevant to the film. I first watched "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain" (The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain) in a theatre five years ago. The film has gradually faded away since then. I have recently encountered it in Toronto's second hand market. I purchased it because I want to acquire some comedies. "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain" not only fulfills my wish, but it also brings many more elements to me. I am glad to purchase it on DVD at a very low price while regretting for overlooking it after my first viewing.
First, the use of colour is fabulous. This film is so colourful that it builds up the humorous sequences. The colours are appropriate but they do not exaggerate. They make the film bright and optimistic, which are the atmosphere that I experience.
Second, this film conveys a message while being a comedy. I like comedies that has a meaning instead of mere laughs because characters act in stupid and exaggerated manners. "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain" talks about Amelie changing other people's lives. She recaptures a man's childhood memories. She brings a man out of his obsession over his ex-girlfriend. She punishes oppressors (somewhat a social justice activist). I am impressed that she is so multi-dimensional. The film provokes me to reflect on how I can change other people's lives. I believe that everyone of us can play the role of Amelie.
Audrey Tautou was awesome playing Amelie. Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes the right decision by casting her after Emily Watson is unable to fulfill the role. I think that Tautou is much more suitable than Watson because Tautou's native background is French.
While "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain" has many funny moments, I am most impressed by its tragic beginning. Amelie had a tragic childhood according to the standard of average people. She does not dwell in the tragedies throughout her lives. Instead, she opens herself to a personal journey, albeit small and coincidental. While we can change other people's lives, we can look around us. Some small and negligible incidents can change our lives.
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Hotel Rwanda? Yes; Rwanda genocide? Not Obvious
The Rwanda genocide is certainly one of the most atrocious crime in the 1990s. Rivalry between the Hutus and the Tutsis led to the death of over a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a span of three months.
"Hotel Rwanda" is a true story based on this massacre. Unfortunately, I do not feel any pain watching it. The entire film focuses too much on people inside the hotel that the film fails to portray the horror of the massacre. "Hotel Rwanda" spends too much time inside the hotel. It does not show the events outside the hotel and how they connect one another. I notice the hotel but I do not witness Kigali and Rwanda.
I do not demand a feast of bloodshed, shootings, and corpses. However, I would also like to see how the terror moves Paul. I only notice several brief scenes where Paul actually witnesses many corpses and cries. The film needs to present more connections between the genocide and Paul's family.
This film has some shadows of "Schindler's List" but it is nowhere near the calibre of "Schindler's List." When Hutu soldiers started the massacre, I doubt that Paul's hotel can keep getting away from the bloodshed by means of personal relationships and bribes. I cannot believe that this is true.
"Hotel Rwanda" has its positive elements in spite of its weaknesses. I am impressed that they vividly portray the world's negligence. Foreign nations care more about pulling out its citizens than stopping the bloody massacre. This was the case in 1994 and "Hotel Rwanda" makes this point. In another scene, Paul tries to send his family away and determines to stay with others in the hotel. This scene touches me because it deeply illustrates Paul's sentiment and humanity. He is not a selfish individual caring only for him and his family.
"Hotel Rwanda" is not a bad film. Its subject is serious and worth us to reflect. However, it can do a better job portraying how atrocious the genocide was and how Paul and others survived.
El laberinto del fauno (2006)
Innocence: Weapon Against Sadistic Violence
Many films portray characters' fight against war and violence. Characters use different ways to stand up against the terror and hopelessness that violence brings. For example, Guido battles the Nazi terror with his humour in "Life is Beautiful." Wladyslaw Szpilman fights the same regime with his determination to survive in "The Pianist." In "El Laberinto del Fauno," Ofelia's weapon is innocence. She is so determined not to shed innocent blood for her own gain. She maintains her purity when she is put to the final test late in the film.
The film is appropriately dark and violent (hence not for everyone). It depicts the violence, cruelty, and hopelessness of the human world. The underworld is always dark but it is where Ofelia finds her true identity and personality. Her journey, however, is not smooth. If Ofelia passes all three tasks without obstacle, this film becomes mundane. Her failure in the second task highlight that our lives are prone to temptation and doubts. Steps of faith are not always easy to take.
Del Toro's ability to closely and smoothly weave the fantasy and reality world impress me. We tend to think that the two worlds are far apart and drastically different. "El Laberinto del Fauno", however, depicts violence both in the human and fantasy realms. In the human world, Captain Vidal and his Fascist troops try to weed out the rebels. In the fantasy world, monsters like toads and ogres wreak havoc to trees and children.
Ofelia maintains her integrity and innocence till the end. However, I wonder what source of hope can other people find. Ofelia has a predestined identity that other people do not. Pedro, Mercedes, and others must find ways to secure peace and hope. Unfortunately, Del Toro does not discuss how their conquests unfold. Ofelia's journey is so private and unique that others cannot share. Such is the reason for the 8/10.
The score draws me in. It gives me a sense of mystery that I am ready to journey with Ofelia, looking for the peace and hope that we long for. I listen to the entire soundtrack in the official site and it is amazing.
Powerful Images, Open Message
I agree with most reviewers that "Koyaanisqatsi" offers mesmerizing and powerful images. All of them portray different aspects of life. However, is there an absolute message in "Koyaanisqatsi"? If so, what is it? In "Essence of Life", director Godfrey Reggio says that "Koyaanisqatsi" opens up the world for the audience. It invites them to experience the film instead of feeding them a message. I have to agree with him. This film is so open that our interpretations are very much based on our beliefs and experience.
"Koyaanisqatsi" put me into a snooze at one point (hence the deduction) but I do not think that the film is bad. It makes me aware of urbanization's strengths and potential problems. If we always live in a fast and self-centred lifestyle, in what ways do we damage the world? What are human beings in the midst of the urbanized and technology advanced world? I interpret "Koyaanisqatsi" as an alert to us. We are in danger of becoming robots, machines, and slaves for technology (parallel to "The Matrix"). Technology builds up our lives in many beneficial ways. What are the effects of our lives if technology rules our daily living?
"Koyaanisqatsi" was produced in 1982. North Americans know much less about other parts of the world than today. The score draws me into the film. A person reiterates "Koyaanisqatsi" in the background early in the film. It sounds as if the world is crying in pain, or even dying. Consequently, I give it a high score.
Shichinin no samurai (1954)
A Masterpiece in the History of Cinema
Unfortunately, I can give ten stars the most. I think that a 10/10 is an understatement of this film's excellence. Kurosawa does not choreograph major fights until the end of the film. However, he marvellously develops the character of each samurai and the peasants.
"Seven Samurai" is a sophisticated film and it goes much deeper than the battle against bandits. Samurai and peasants were drastically different classes in ancient Japan. They did not and could not interact with each other. Interestingly, Kurosawa brings them together in "Seven Samurai". Peasants fought off bandits in order to survive. Samurai helped the bandits in pursuit for virtue and justice.
What happened eventually? The seven samurai and the entire class were the ultimate losers. It gradually went extinct in Japan. Some of them lost their virtues and characters, becoming bandits. Some of them could not find a lord and live as ronin (wandering samurai). Peasants were the big winners. They continued to live their routine as is.
Were the peasants good? I do not believe so. They robbed samurai and stole weapons from them. They were so selfish that they only care for themselves. Peasants living in houses on the other side of the river bank refused to evacuate. They were so narrow minded and near sighted that they were incapable of considering the need of the entire village.
I can keep on writing about "Seven Samurai" (particularly the symbol and the meaning of guns) but I shall stop here. This film is truly classic. Its characters, plot, and themes are so meticulously developed and presented that I do not experience a boring moment. Each actor (e.g. Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura) and actress plays excellent roles too. Yes, it is three and a half hours long but I love every minute of it. If you think that you are a cinema lover, you must watch it. This film is old and it is black and white. However, it is so brilliant in all areas that many colour films cannot match. I strongly recommend people to purchase the DVD. Criterion releases a new edition this September. It is expensive but it is worth the money.
The Nativity Story (2006)
The Gospel According to Catherine Hartwicke
I have been eager to watch this film since its release and I finally watched it this Sunday. While many people say that it is very original to the Bible, I disagree. "The Nativity Story" adds many elements that the Bible does not mention. It emphasizes the characters' faith much more than Jesus. I feel that the beginning song "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is the call of the film. Mary, Joseph, Herod, the Magi, and others respond to the call and the coming of Emmanuel.
The diversions from the Bible pleasantly surprise me tremendously. It makes Mary, Joseph, and the Magi more human. I identify with them much easier. I discover that the birth of Jesus probably gives them more harsh times than happy times. This whole journey of bearing Jesus is a test of faith. Mary and Joseph have to endure social disgrace. The Magi spend months travelling for apparently meaningless purposes.
Such journeys speak for our lives regardless of religious backgrounds. How do we deal with a journey in which the end is unforeseeable? Shall we take a leap of faith and walk with minimal support or shall we retreat? We must always make these difficult decisions in our lives. Who do we depend, if and when we need emotional and spiritual support? Mary, Joseph, and the Magi rely on supernatural revelations. We may find strength in a deity or people around us. We need some sorts of supports no matter what it is. "The Nativity Story" implies that we cannot go on our own.
I also appreciate the diversity of casts. Actors and actresses come from various backgrounds. Some of them are even Muslims. I notice a Palestinian actor, Kais Nashef, playing Benjamin in the film. He starred "Paradise Now" as Sa'id. I am impressed to see him participating in this film, which may be drastically different from his cultural background.
In my opinion, the acting ruins the film quite a bit. I watched it with my girlfriend. I agree with her that Keisha Castle-Hughes does not show intimate emotions playing Mary. She excelled in "Whale Rider" but she is much worse here. I wish to see her explicitly expressing her fears of bearing Jesus via words and body languages. She can directly proclaim her faith declarations (e.g. The Magnificat at the end) instead of narrating them in the background. This is why I rate "The Nativity Story" a 7/10.
Overall, the message appeals to me. The acting, however, is below average.
Brilliant Work by Almodovar
I watched "Volver" this afternoon and "Volver" is my third Almodovar film (I have seen "All About My Mother" and "Talk to Her"). A few areas of the film strike me and I am very impressed.
First, women cover the majority of the cast. Men appear very briefly and play minimal roles (some destructive too). "Volver" shows the resilience and dignity among women, especially when some of them suffer devastating tragedies. "Volver" prompts me to reflect on women's beauty. Their appearances do not make them beautiful. Rather, their characters and independence are way more important.
Second, Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura perform superbly. I have never watched Cruz's Hollywood movies. But I witness Cruz starring a film in her culture for the second time. Cruz shines in her heritage. She plays a mother that appears to be strong and resilient; yet deeply wounded throughout her life. She expresses both aspects in very real styles. I hope to see Cruz being nominated for Best Actress in the Academy Award although I will not be surprised that Hollywood actresses fill the nominees (really hate it). Carmen Maura plays the returned ghost. Her fear of meeting Cruz make the strained relationship become much more intense.
Thirdly, Almodovar's camera work is amazing. Several shots from the above captivate me. The camera portrays motherhood by showing Cruz washing the dishes and her breast cleavage (no pornography intended). The shot on Paco's body is natural and stunning, reminiscent of "Talk to Her." I recall another shot on Cruz cutting red peppers while she prepares lunch for thirty people. It strikes the busy life of a single mother, in my opinion.
Finally, this film is very humane and touching. Almodovar keeps me in suspense, not revealing the entire plot until the very end. Even though I became somewhat impatient, I appreciate Almodvar's buildup on women as people and community. We can learn quite a lot about living together in a society.
I give it a 9/10 although the aforementioned four points deeply impact me. I do not know how to explain my rating. I guess I leave the theatre with an experience of not being emotionally stunned (e.g. Kurosawa's "Ikiru" shocks me and puts me into tears). Perhaps I want to see Almodovar portraying Cruz's personal pains in more depths, as the film progresses.
A Masterpiece that Teaches us How to Master Life
This film takes a different path from other classic Kurosawa's films. It sets in modern daily life instead of ancient Japan. But it deeply touches my heart, prompting me to reflect on my lifestyle.
I have recently written an article about "Ikiru" for a church's magazine. The first half is truly amazing. I was initially bored by the second half. But after some deep reflections, the second half actually vaults "Ikiru" into the ranks of classics. It does not only criticize bureaucracy, but it tells us that a meaningful life is not based on other people's praises and recognitions. Only one worker among Watanabe's colleagues appreciate his work and spirit. Regardless, Watanabe experiences fulfillment and joy even without any appreciations.
We often wish to be glorified when we accomplish great tasks. But "Ikiru" teaches the opposite. We really live when we enrich life albeit one individual or a small community. Kurosawa calls us to serve people selflessly without seeking personal glory in the second half. Meanwhile, bureaucracy will continue to swarm and swallow people.
I do not think that "Ikiru" is about life and death. Rather, "Ikiru" discusses how we live meaningful lives every day. Watanabe's terminal cancer motivates him to search a meaning for his life. I hope that "Ikiru", instead of death, prompts us to discover our lives' goals.
"Ikiru" deserves to be one of Kurosawa's classic or even a classic or all time. When I reflect on the movie, my tears of admiration drop every time. I purchased the Criterion Edition shortly after I had viewed it in rental. It has become one of my favourite films in my collection.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Truly a Classic in the Genre of Disaster Movies
I was a little boy when I first watched it. But Gene Hackman's character is still sticking in my mind. I purchased the DVD several days ago and I watched it today. Wow! It is so intense and rich. Given the fact that it did not have any digital techniques, the special effects deserve even more credit. The waters are real, according to the DVD's bonus features (I own the special edition).
I got emotional and tearful towards the end. The characters' development flourishes the entire movie. "The Poseidon Adventure" wins my heart not because of its visual effects, but because of its acting and character developments. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine excel in their roles, particularly with their disputes and quarrels. I also like Shelley Winters playing Mrs. Rosen. She does a fabulous job in the swimming scene.
Disaster movies are usually not my taste because most of them simply feed the audience with special effects. However, "The Poseidon Adventure" is an exception. This is truly a grandmaster classic in this genre. I do not regret buying the special edition, making it one of my film collections.
The Departed (2006)
A Disappointing Remake
Being Chinese, I have already seen the original Hong Kong version (a trilogy in fact). Honestly, I am very disappointed by Scorsese's remake. Matt Damon's character does not seem to struggle in his double identity. The ending of "The Departed" surprises me in a negative way. It is really lame and dull compared to the original.
However, it is not fair to evaluate "The Departed" by constantly comparing with the original "Infernal Affairs" trilogy. I hereby turn my focus to "The Departed" as a movie of its own. This is my first time watching a Scorsese movie. He achieves a marvellous job in terms of directing the actions although they are excessive. DiCaprio and Damon are very good in acting but the best actor has to be Jack Nicholson. Playing Frank Costello, Nicholson's facial expression and acting demonstrate the charisma of a gangster leader. Scorsese does an excellent job on generating the tensions between characters too. I did not want to leave my seat for the most part of the movie.
Damon used to be an altar boy at the church that Damon can see from his home's window. He has then become Nicholson's mole in the Special Investigative Unit of Boston police. It reminds me about Damon's past. But if Damon has some struggles, Scorsese ought to do a better job illustrating them. I experience Damon's character to be naturally evil in "The Departed." "The Departed" probably has a different focus from "Infernal Affairs." "The Departed" comes across to me as an emphasis on the ones that depart after doing good works for the society. "Infernal Affairs" emphasizes the tension between people's goodness and wickedness.
If this is the case, the ending of "The Departed" makes very little sense. I give it a 5 out of 10 mainly because of the poor ending. In addition, the actions (well-choreographed) and foul languages are too much. They become too unnatural as the movie progresses. If you enjoy pure actions, "The Departed" is worth watching. But I recommend the original trilogy even more. "Infernal Affairs" is miles better than "The Departed."