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Décalage horaire (2002)
Love at second sight
Movies are personal experiences. Jet Lag touched my emotions. If you're patient, you might be rewarded too. I say patient because it's a foreign film; unless you're fluent in the language, reading subtitles detracts from the performance. Rewarding because the acting is superb. Fortunately, the English language dubbing for the film was done by the lead actors themselves. So if you choose, you can watch Jean Reno and Juliette Binoche act out their parts, free from translation.
The story itself is slight and critics found the Paris airport setting contrived. But the film's director, Daniele Thompson, sees loneliness in the crowds there. In an interview, she says, Life comes to a standstill in airports. People can become vulnerable in the forced cessation of familiar routines. The situation allows her to explore the romantic possibilities between total strangers. Enter Rose and Felix, a beautician and a chef become businessman. In the style common to romantic comedy, coincidences bring and keep them together. Here, the chance meetings serve a twofold purpose: to depict their differences and also allow each to catch inadvertently personal glimpses of the other's life. Like the most modern of men, Felix conducts his affairs over a cell phone. En route to a funeral in Munich, he's preoccupied with launching a new line of frozen food products. Rose is fragile, seeking a new life in Mexico and leave behind a man, who required her to abort their child. The story arc builds to a room service dinner in the Airport Hilton.
It's prickly. Simple disagreements over the food--mostly uneaten--become confrontations of character. When Felix inquiries about her sex life, Rose divines the meaning of his invitation to dine together. She voices the potential of the occasion. "Let's take advantage of this situation," she says. "We'll never meet again. So go ahead and ask me all the questions you're burning to ask." Felix does so then invites Rose to do the same. It gets personal. She takes her leave. By contrast, Felix has been taken utterly by surprise. Rose's fragility is matched by a simple strength of character. He rushes after, demanding to know her plans. "I'm going home," she says. Felix is infuriated, thinking she's retreating in confusion. He stops her. Gaining access to the hotel kitchen, he cooks fresh food for them both, while telling his life story. In the middle, he stops and asks, "Are you staying or going? What's the current trend?"
The best stories have self-revelation about them. Here, total strangers make the most of an opportunity to engage in some soul searching, which under other circumstances they might well avoid. When their flights are finally called, they part company as people transformed by a shared experience. Each goes on to make a meaningful change in life. The performances make it all believable and I found it great fun to see people acting with an enlightened sense of themselves. It seems such a rare thing; neurosis is the order of the day. So I watched closely: engaged by the adult themes and fascinated by accomplished actors expressing subtle emotions in a romantic comedy.
One of my favorites scenes occurs at the end in the Acapulco airport. Rose is met with a note, containing a cell phone PIN number. In one wordless moment, her face passes from puzzlement to epiphany as she realizes the only logical explanation. Others who've commented on this film note how lovingly a camera can dwell on Ms. Binoche. Beyond her beauty, there's a distinct emotional intelligence. In an interview, she notes Jet Lag was her first romantic comedy. "I took the opportunity as a gift, and every time I see Daniele, I thank her."
Speaking personally, I've never seen her or Jean Reno so at ease with their clear abilities. And the bit players fulfill their roles too. Witness Felix' father, as initial curiosity in his face turns to longing when he recognizes his son standing in the driveway. The abundance of good acting in this films brings me back to the beginning. The performances must be seen to be believed. Subtitles necessarily distract. Put it this way, if the players can't act, the observer misses nothing; but if they can, missing the performance becomes a personal loss.
Just as movies are personal, so is music. If you're susceptible to the moods music makes, you'll also be rewarded by Jet Lag's score. Ms. Thompson's choices combine American material from W. C. Handy to John Barry and the original work of a fine French composer named Eric Serra. The music resonates, especially towards the end. Two of the pieces employ the harmonica to underscore the poignancy of separation and feelings unspoken between the man and woman. Finally there's the memorable music over the closing credits. The piece is titled Vas Adelante, by M. Serra, with lyrics written and sung by Clementine Celarie. I don't pretend to understand the words, but the song sure makes a joyous sound. If you end up as captivated by it as I, a CD of the film score (not the soundtrack) was distributed in England & France. It contains M. Serra's compositions including the end title theme.
Saw it first 35 years ago; and the second time tonight
I remember going to see Goyokin because of a movie review. The film critic called it an anti- samurai samurai film. And that's exactly what it is. While I'm not very knowledgeable about the genre, I've seen enough to know the form. This one's different! I'm going to digress. If you're acquainted with a short story by the Russian writer Dostoyevsky called the Grand Inquisitor, Christ returns to earth just in time for the Spanish Inquisition. He experiences a church in his name completely removed from his example. That's the spirit which inspires Goyokin. It's simple, literate story telling with plenty of significant detail and dialogue to make the plot of a very Japanese film comprehensible to more Occidental sensibilities. A tale of revenge set in a cultural context of official greed in the last years of the Tokugawa era.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS The opening scenes establish the degree of criminality to which some samurai resort to meet the burden of taxes imposed by a corrupt government. The rest of the movie devotes itself to one man and his helpers seeking to prevent a repeat of that history. END SPOILERS END SPOILERS END SPOILERS
After 36 years, this film is finally available as a DVD import. It's bare bones. English subtitles only (with no options on my copy for other languages). Plus chapter headings. That's it. But the film transfer is gorgeous; its rich colors which once I could only try to recall came alive again and the cinematography is spellbinding. Out of sheer curiosity, I wish I knew some background of Goyokin's story. If it's indicative of director Hideo Gosha's work in general, he's a real original. Watching it again this evening, I couldn't help but wonder who Gosha watched to develop his own style of storytelling, or is it just practice, practice, practice?
Bakuto gaijin butai (1971)
Brand new to the genre
This film was sitting among the "New Releases" at the videostore. Got it, watched it, liked it. Also seen enough to suit my taste. Don't need to get into Yakuza (Japanese organized crime) films along with everything else in life. BUT Sympathy for the Underdog is very good movie making and I feel fortunate for having happened on to it.
If Yakuza films are anything like their predecessors, Samurai movies, the genre is huge and varied. In this one from 1971, director Kinji Fukusaki tells the story of a Yakuza boss getting out of jail. All his trappings of power are gone. All he's got are his brains and some very loyal friends.
Among the Extras on the DVD I rented, there are excerpts of an interview with the Director's biographer, a man named Sadao Yamane. It's a very informative interview, where he explains the rise of the organized crime genre. Post World War II Japan began in chaos. Those who could leave the past behind and exploit the present tense could rise to power. The protagonist of Sympathy for the Underdog had been there, done that. Now he has to do it all over again.
While the genre must be very formulaic, there's got to be room for fresh takes. Fukusaku's s style consists of quick takes: the dialogue is curt, information is conveyed in a multimedia of ways; the editing is very tight. And then came a big surprise for me. Towards the end, a moment of genuine tenderness poetically expressed. That's when I heard the quality of writing in this film.
So let's just say Sympathy for the Underdog helped define the art of its type. If you like movies about the world of men, this one's well worth watching.
On the Beach (1959)
Who's Got Your Back?
I just saw this film for the second time on DVD after viewing it in its theatrical release 45 years ago. I lack the attitude that can label a movie like this "as boring as the book"; or the cool detachment of one "scientific" reviewer here who claims that despite the worst, there are always options (though the writer failed to specify a single one). While the rationale to stockpile nuclear weapons no longer goes by the name mutually assured destruction (acronym MAD), the fate fictionalized by Nevil Shute and Stanley Kramer still lingers. It's a part of the context of the world we live in; but mostly hidden from view behind a Babel of words and images meant to delight and distract us.
In the latest go round of "defense" spending, there are some in our government who do not want to make nice with North Korea. Disarming that crazy country's leadership (not its people who've been reported to eat tree bark and grass just to fill the hunger) might prevent deployment of the so-called anti-missile weapons systems. The development of this already dubious program is currently budgeted at 60 billion dollars. It's all told, there in the papers and media, should you care to go beyond the babble.
The characters in the movie are baffled how the war began. That's true to life. Cuz if it does happen, a lot of last questions will wonder how and why.
Who are the people we're supposed to trust with our fate? I've learned enough over the years always to listen but mostly decline belief in their words. Look at their deeds if you wish an understanding. Know that in the event of nuclear conflict, they've got places to go: places underground, in Colorado and elsewhere (see the movie War Games for a hint, or the evergreen Dr. Strangelove). These places are stocked with food and water; and IF the electro- magnetic pulse which shocks the atmosphere upon the explosion of nuclear weaponry fails to fry the electronics underground, well the country's leadership will get to preside over the dead on the surface with a command and control system too.
In other words, by accident or design, the very people whose policies lead to catastrophe get to save themselves. Me, I don't have fantasies of violence which lead to much good any more. But it's also true that death can come in a second; life requires nine months. It's easier to destroy than create. Regard that as a challenge, the biggest doggone one facing the species today.
That's what I liked about On the Beach. Twas thought provoking.
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Hotel Rwanda - genocide and conscience
My 19-year old son and I saw this movie when it opened in New York.It's one of those stories, which is so powerful in fact that it need notlike so much of Hollywood's farebe over dramatized. Fortunately, director Terry George kept the storytelling simple and straightforward. As a result, the movie depicts the manager of the Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda, as a good man who rises to a state of grace under fire.
Early on, as ethnic tensions mount, there's a brief discussion about the ethnic differences between Rwanda's Tutsi and Hutu peoples. The physical differences are negligible. As one of the script lines says, "They had to measure our noses to see if there was any difference." But historically, the Belgian colonizers of this country selected some of the natives as colonial administrators, leaving the majority to do the their bidding. That's the difference.
As war breaks out, simple survival becomes a daily struggle. Hotel Manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle in his finest role to date) becomes an adept at sparing the war's refugees, lodged in his care after the Europeans visitors have been evacuated. While a few of the film's reviewers on this Board expressed disappointment over a perceived lack of drama, I'd argue they weren't watching or listening closely. The drama resides in the hotel manager's quality of thought and action, premeditating and improvising the stratagems that allow him and his wards to live another day. Stratagems of bribes, promises, favors owed and collected, words and deeds, which a book I once read termed "the weapons of the weak." Thank god, good people rise to the fore in the worst of circumstances, armed only with their wits and willing to pit them against guns and the men and boys who wield them..
A long time ago, I heard an interview on the NPR show "Fresh Air." The guest described the "ethnic differences" between the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. Again the differences were negligible. But the guest noted, the racial distinctions were so similar that the different groupings (Bosnians, Croats and Serbs) often resorted to mutilation to eradicate the very appearance of similarity.
When Don Cheadle appeared as a guest on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," he noted it took 5 years for Terry George to raise the funding to make this film. Kudoes go out to him and (from the credits) the British, South African and Italian interests, which jointly invested in the production to bring this kind of story to light.
Everyday People (2004)
Everyday People - storytelling with heart
This is a bare bones film. Plain and simple. It begins with the morning shift at Raskin's restaurant in Brooklyn; and ends when the place shuts down that night. Life goes on over the course of an 18 hour day.
Just like the title, the viewer glimpses lives of ordinary folk. Dramatically structured to involve our interest in the passing moments of those lives. They're young and old, black and yellow.brown and white. All of them sympathetically drawn, not good or bad, but in the hands of director Jim McKay, rendered thereafter without judgment. And done so well for me that this little film came to be about real people. Caught in the context of their neighborhood in transition. Most unaware of the changes to come while others are banking on them. For the rich and poor, better or worse?
It'd be easy to label Everyday People boring. Speaking personally, it's less about labels than what a viewer brings to the experience. And I say this knowing I can fail to bring the proper suspension of disbelief to another person's work. But after watching Everyday People, I'm reminded of some other good movies, featuring an ensemble of players, involved in a community of interests. The same, but different.
There's Ice Cube's on going love affair with Barbershops (I & II are both laugh out loud and touching). And another, likely harder to get, but worth it: Robert Redford's adaptation of the John Nichol's novel, The Milagro Beanfield War.
The China Syndrome (1979)
The difficulty in making movies like this one
If memory serves correctly, the script for China Syndrome was hard to sell. Without the prestige and commitment of Jack Lemmon and Jane Fonda, the movie would never have been made. But it was produced and, upon release, experienced the fortuitous circumstance of a real life nuclear plant accident: at the Three Mile Island facility in Pennsylvania. Others comments on this Board have duly noted the "coincidence" of art and reality. The film is noteworthy for its plot development. It builds slowly, educating the viewer about nuclear plant construction as it exposes real world cost cutting measures which can make the facilities break down in crisis. As I remember the plot, I don't think there was one false note in its description of nuclear energy generation and the regulatory environment in which the plants operate. If you've ever seen photographs of the victims of Russia's Chernobyl plant, it might help to explain why all the "green" types (like me) prefer that future forms of producing energy consider safer alternatives.