I absolutely loved this.
In a time where loud and cynical entertainment is the norm, a movie with gentle un-ironic humor is a much welcome change of pace. The fact that it also features one of my fondest childhood memories just makes it better.
Having said that, not everything here works. There could have been some better payoff for certain things (whistling…really…that’s it?) but it’s such a pleasure seeing familiar faces that the missteps are easy to ignore. Of course, since it’s a Muppet movie, there are a ton of cameos. They are all great and I won’t spoil any of them for you. Credit should go to Jason Segel who co-wrote the script and is a perfect cheery fit as the token human. Amy Adams and Chris Cooper are great too.
If you leave this without a giant grin on your face, you may want to check to see if you have a soul.
Four maniacal laughs out of five. ****
Ah, the elegance of noir.
I can’t believe I’ve put off watching some of these Japanese New Wave gangster pictures. They’re great!
While the New Wave movement is often more closely associated with French cinema, Japan had it’s own avant garde movement. This one pre-dates Melville’s ‘Le Samourai’ by three years and the two have a lot in common.
A recently released yakuza returns, unceremoniously, to his former life. He betrays little emotion and says little. He is in the midst of an existential crisis. There is a great scene early on where he returns to his former lover, who lives in a clock shop. The clocks ticking in the background work like the score and building to an almost deafening crescendo which also emphasizes the ever present nature of time progressing but without progress. What is his identity? He spends the length of the film trying to figure it out. Of course, since it’s noir, there’s also a woman mixed up in all of this. There is also a pretty strong political allegory working here, with the protagonist representing Japan caught between two struggling powers during the height of the Cold War.
The climax (and the word was never used more appropriately than it is here) is artfully done. No sound; just music. It was so good, I had to rewind it and watch it again. Speaking of music, the soundtrack for this is great. It it’s very reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s stuff which just adds to the ambiance.
This isn’t as much fun as some of the campier stuff from Suzuki, but if you want a deep, complex, and (for lack of a better word) cool gangster picture, you need look no further than this.
Four Severed Fingers out of Five. ****
This was a very hard film to watch.
The film takes place during the weeks and months that followed the Japanese invasion and occupation of Beijing during the Second Sino-Japanese War (later merged into the much larger conflict of World War II). The film opens with the fall of the city and proceeds to be told from several perspectives, including a resistance fighter, a Chinese worker in the international refugee zone, and a Japanese soldier.
Although most of what happens in the movie is unspeakably horrible, this is nowhere near on the level of graphic violence of similar movies, but that manages to make it even more powerful. I won’t list any specific examples and rob them of their impact, but trust me, they’re very shocking.
The black and white cinematography really captures the somber and gritty realism, giving the feel of a documentary or newsreel. This is one of those movies that I can’t even begin to imagine being in color (although I guess it was shot in color and converted to b&w in post). There is a terrible beauty to it.
I can’t really comment on how it functions as propaganda, and while I know a little on the subject, I’m too far-removed from Sino-Japanese relations to comment on that either. I will say that, as a work of art on its own merits, it is one of the best films of the year.
**** out of *****
Why, oh why, did I wait so long to watch this?
This was my first time watching one of Kurosawa’s non-Samurai films (although films like ‘Rashomon’ and ‘Red Beard’ aren’t technically ABOUT samurai, they still have samurai in them) and if this is any indication of the quality of the rest of his work, then I have a lot to look forward to.
This film focuses on the life and death of a government bureaucrat named Wantanabe. Finding out he has stomach cancer and six months to live, he reflects on his life and finds that his years of toiling away in paperwork and bureaucracy have amounted to nothing. Though is son lives with him, they’re practically strangers.
It’s not so much that he’s afraid of dying. It’s the revelation that he’s never actually lived which upsets him. He withdraws a sizable amount of cash but doesn’t even know how to spend it.
Thus begins Wantanabe’s search for meaning and purpose. At least, that’s the first half. The second is played out almost like a mystery, with flashbacks from various characters at his wake (in non-chronological order) that reveal bit by bit his motivations. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoiling anything, but it’s a very thought-provoking and moving journey.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. I absolutely loved it.
I will say though, that the transfer on the dvd I picked up is atrocious. This is a definite re-buy when it inevitably gets a blu-ray release.
Probably one of the more morally ambiguous films I’ve seen.
This is directed by Christopher Smith, the guy who did ‘Severance‘, which was a pretty decent horror film. While there were some pretty big laughs and toying with genre expectations, ‘Black Death’ is played completely straight. It kind of plays like ‘Aguirre: The Wrath of God’. Men on a mission venture into the unknown only to find…well, I can’t really say anything more without giving anything away. It’s unexpected though, and definitely worth watching.
Anyway, it’s far better than ‘Season of the Witch‘.
Starring Korean Ron Swanson
I attended my first ever North American movie premiere tonight for Ha Nong-jin’s ‘The Yellow Sea”. His first film, “The Chaser” was one of my favorite’s from 2010 so I was really looking forward to this.
On top of which, Ha Nong-jin was actually in attendance to introduce the film and take questions afterwards.
The film was phenomenal. Not quite as tight as “The Chaser”, but the scope was a lot grander and there were a lot more players involved in the drama. Many of the same themes were explored and, like his last movie, this was riddled with riveting chases and brutal violence. Lots of hatchets and knives with an occasional blunt object thrown in for variety.
The Q&A afterwards was a little disappointing. Mr. Ha speaks absolutely no English, so the questions were filtered through an interpreter. I couldn’t help but feel that there was something lost in the translation and that nobody was really getting any satisfactory answers. In addition, he’s a very quiet and mild-mannered sort of guy, so there were no colorful responses or wild tangents. It could just be nerves, but oh well.
Anyway, find a way to watch this as soon as possible. It’s definitely one of the best films this year.
I watched Yojimbo with my pal Steph for the first time in…well, I’m not sure how long. Since college, I think.
Iconic in so many ways. Toshiro Mifune is the baddest of the bad, and he knows it too. This was my first time watching it in HD, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Found out the film historian on the commentary is also the author of the book on Kurosawa that I picked up from Half-Price Books last weekend. Debating on whether to go ahead and listen to it or to read the book first.
And the theme music is what I listen to at work when I need to walk around and feel like a badass.