Movies - Foreign posts
Saturday March 30, 2019
Fan Bingbing Zai Nali?
Remember last summer when Fan Bingbing, one of China's biggest and most visible movie stars, suddenly disappeared? And no one knew where and no one said shit? Then she resurfaced in October and it turned out to have something to do with taxes? Well, May Jeong at Vanity Fair has the story.
Not the complete story, mind you. It's still amorphous: why things happen when. Bad behavior, even illegal behavior, is OK until it isn‘t. Reminds me a bit of Taiwan when I lived there in the ’80s. They called it, I believe,公的秘密: gongde mimi; public secrets. For example, I was there on a student visa but I worked at a bushiban, or cram school, teaching ESL, because everybody did, and because the authorities wanted its citizens to learn English. So everyone always looked the other way. Until they didn‘t. Until the authorities knuckled down on the foreigners with their student visas in order to find the bushibans that weren’t paying their taxes.
I think that's how it went anyway.
Who knows what the real thinking is at the top levels of the Chinese government right now? Ten years ago, Xi Jinping wanted Chinese movies to be more like Hollywood movies, and just when he seems to be getting his wish—even though Chinese movies never do well abroad like American movies—he's cracking down on the stars. He's doing what right-wing nutjobs would like to do to Hollywood.
Some of the information that's leaked out seems designed to titilate readers as much as scare other movie stars:
According to the South China Morning Post, she had been held under a form of detention known as “residential surveillance,” at a holiday resort in a suburb of Jiangsu. The system was instituted in 2012, under President Xi Jinping, making it legal for the Chinese secret police to detain anyone charged with endangering state security or committing corruption and hold them at an undisclosed location for up to six months without access to lawyers or family members. Sources close to Fan told me that she had been picked up by plainclothes police. While under detention, she was forbidden to make public statements or use her phone. She wasn't given a pen or paper to write with, nor allowed any privacy, even when taking showers.
And it's not just movie stars:
Under Xi's crackdown, tens of thousands of people have disappeared into the maw of the police state. An eminent TV news anchor was taken away hours before going on air. A retired professor with views critical of the government was dragged away during a live interview on Voice of America. A billionaire was abducted from his private quarters in the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. Other high-profile disappearances include Interpol president Meng Hongwei in September, photojournalist Lu Guang in November, two Canadians who went missing in December, as well as the writer Yang Hengjun, who went missing in January. “The message being sent out is that nobody is too tall, too big, too famous, too pretty, too whatever,” said Steve Tsang, who runs the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
Not since the Cultural Revolution have artists in China been as wary of the state, and as aware of the necessity of appeasing it.
Thursday May 03, 2018
Chinese Box Office, Addendum
Leng Feng beat Americans in “Wolf Warrior II” but at the box office he sidestepped Hollywood for 28 days.
Been thinking about this post more. Wu Haiyun is arguing that the boffo box office for Chinese films indicates a rejection of western values of individualism and liberalism in favor of the following Chinese values: “collective effort, patriotism, and self-sacrifice for the cause of national rejuvenation.”
She also argues that periods in which the Chinese government don't allow new foreign films to be shown, called “Hollywood blackout periods” or, in China, “Domestic Film Protection Month,” have nothing to do with this rejection of western and embrace of Chinese values.
Chinese audiences, not the Chinese government, are turning their noses up at Hollywood.
And yet ...
Here are the highest-grossing domestic movies in China, along with how long they were protected from U.S. competition:
|Film||Dom. $$||Release date||Days w/o US comp|
|Wolf Warior II||$854||Jul. 29, 2017||28|
|Operation Red Sea||$579||Feb. 16, 2018||14|
|Detective Chinatown 2||$541||Feb. 16, 2018||14|
|The Mermaid||$526||Feb. 12, 2016||14|
|Monster Hunt||$381||Jul. 16, 2015||0|
|Monster Hunt 2||$356||Feb. 16, 2018||14|
|Never Day Die||$334||Sept. 29, 2017||21|
|The Ex-File 3||$306||Dec. 29, 2017||7|
|Kung Fu Yoga||$254||Jan. 27, 2017||14|
|Mojin: The Lost Legend||$255||Dec. 18, 2015||21|
|Journey to the West 2||$239||Jan. 27, 2017||14|
|Lost in Hong Kong||$234||Sept. 21, 2015||14|
|Goodbye Mr. Loser||$226||Sept. 21, 2015||14|
Only one movie, the original “Monster Hunt,” went head-to-head against a Hollywood competitor. Well, “Hollywood.” It was “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” so really more Brit than U.S. After that, “Monster” had more than a month without a Hollywood competitor until “Terminator: Genisys” showed up in late August. As is the case for most of the above.
Wu might also want to respond to an article on “What's on Weibo,” the Chinese social media site, that indicates that not all Chinese filmgoers necessarily want self-sacrifice; some want Hollywood movies. They want the blackout periods to end.
Bottom line: We‘ll never know how true Wu Haiyun’s words are until China actually gets rid of Domestic Film Protection Month.
Wednesday April 18, 2018
Yet Another Reason to Love French Film
This is a gangster. From a gangster movie.
Tuesday April 17, 2018
Chinese Box Office: Bragging About a Rigged Game
A “different form of national pride”? Or “Rambo” with a Chinese face?
Wu Haiyun has a piece on the website Sixth Tone, which is for “Fresh Voices from Today's China,” and her point is as obvious as the headline:
Why Chinese Filmgoers Don't Buy Hollywood's Values Anymore: Well-worn Western tropes of individualism and liberalism fail to resonate with audiences embracing a different form of national pride
Quite the mouthful.
According to her bio, Wu is an editor at Sixth Tone, she has a Ph.D., and she was a visiting fellow at the Harvard-Yenching Institute. And her piece is misleading. It's so misleading it amounts to propaganda.
She begins by talking up China's role as the world's No. 1 movie market. To give perspective: This year, with the release of “Black Panther,” the domestic market in North America had a good February, grossing just over $1 billion, a record for that month. The domestic market in China? According to Wu, it grossed $1.6 billion, which would be a record for any month in North America. That China is now, or nearly is, the world's No. 1 movie market is not in dispute. Nor is it disputed that most of those new February movies in China were domestic releases: “Operation Red Sea,” “Detective Chinatown 2,” “Monster Hunt 2.”
Here's what's disputed. She writes:
In March, major Hollywood titles like “Black Panther,” “The Shape of Water,” “Tomb Raider,” “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” and “Ready Player One” all premiered in the country. In the absence of any major domestic releases, the monthly sales of 51.6 billion yuan were only about half of February's figure.
Right. And in the absence of Chinese New Year, too.
That's the key. Seriously, who among her readers doesn't know this? In terms of moviegoing, February in China is like summertime or Christmastime in the states. Everyone is off for a week, everyone has leisure, everyone goes to the movies. It's prime movie real estate. And it‘s not available to Hollywood movies.
During Chinese New Year, as well as the summer months, the Chinese government, for years now, has instituted what it calls “domestic film protection periods,” or what the U.S. press calls “Hollywood blackout periods.” No new foreign releases are allowed. That’s why all those Hollywood movies Wu listed above were released in March. February was off limits. You want to see a new Hollywood movie during Chinese New Year? 没有了。Go to the states.
Wu mentions this, yes, but passingly, and without specifying when such policies are in place. She brings it up to dismiss it. “These claims are overblown,” she writes. “Chinese audiences, not the Chinese government, are turning their noses up at Hollywood.”
If that's true, why have the protectionist policies in the first place? Why not allow Hollywood movies to be released during Chinese New Year, to compete with “Monster Hunt 2,” or during the summer months, to compete with “Wolf Warrior II”? Instead, China clears the field. During its most lucrative months, it runs races with just the Chinese and then brags that the Chinese won.
Wu's article is full of other misleading ideas about movies and box office. She brings up the poor Chinese performance of U.S. Oscar nominees such as “Moonlight” and “The Shape of Water,” as if this is a rejection of western values (feminism, LGBT rights), and as if these movies did boffo box office in the states. They didn‘t. Oscar nominees/winners rarely do. Serious films rarely do. Not for decades now. It’s sad but it's mostly global. People go see crap.
Hell, look at the Hollywood movies that do well in China: the “Fast and Furious” franchise; “Transformers”; and the video-game adaptation “Warcraft,” which the U.S. market rejected hugely ($47 million, domestic), but which did 很棒 in China ($230 million). What does that say about Chinese values? Do we fathom a guess? Would Wu like the answer?
The truly awful thing about the article? Wu didn't have to juke the stats. Her basic premise is correct. Chinese audiences are flocking to Chinese movies more than to Hollywood movies, and I don't think it's just because of protectionism. I think it's because Chinese production values are now at such a level as to compete with Hollywood‘s. The absolutist storylines are similar, too. The difference is the faces. It’s their faces now. It's their country and language. And who wouldn't want to see their face, their country, their language, up on the screen, in well-produced wish-fulfillment fantasy, after years of seeing only the other kind?
To me it's that simple. It's so simple only a Ph.D. could miss it.
Friday September 08, 2017
‘Wolf Warrior II’ Kicks Ass in China
Leng Feng: Wearing the flag on his sleeve.
I have another piece up on Salon. Apologies in advance for all the ads on the site.
The piece is about the massive box-office success of “Wolf Warrior II,” a Chinese production that opened July 27 and has thus far grossed more than $850 million worldwide—good enough to become the first non-Hollywood movie to break into the top 100 movies in terms of worldwide box office. It's 57th with a bullet. And almost all of it ($848) from China alone. It hasn't traveled well but it hasn't needed to.
My piece is about why it might have gone into the box-office stratosphere the way it did. Was it word of mouth or was it a presidential loud mouth? Our president, not theirs. It's actually fairly intriguing and required a bit of digging.
I‘ll have a review of the film up in the next week. Basically “Wolf II” is a not-bad version of a kind of movie I don’t like: It's “Rambo”ish. Its slams at America are interesting to watch but its portrayal of local Africans is beyond problematic. You have work to do, China, particularly if you want to rake in the money internationally.
Wednesday June 05, 2013
Hollywood to Remake Audiard's 'Un Prophete'
Columbia Pictures and parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment have optioned the English language rights to remake “Rust and Bone” director Jacques Audiard's much-celebrated 2009 French crime thriller “A Prophet”...
Be prepared for a mainstream Hollywood remake, because the English-language version of this super-gritty piece of cinema realism will be produced by producers Neal H. Moritz and Toby Jaffe through Moritz's Original Film, whose filmography includes this year's “Fast and Furious 6” and “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
It's worse than that. Among Moritz's production credits, these films:
- Total Recall (2012)
- The Change-Up
- Battle Los Angeles
- The Green Hornet
- Vantage Point
- Gridiron Gang
Plus all of the Fast und Furious movies. And he's remaking my favorite film of 2010.
At one point in “Un Prophete,” a fellow inmate tells Malik (Tahir Rahim), “The idea is to leave here a little smarter." I don't think that'll be possible in the Hollywood version.
Malik (Tahar Rahim) and Cesar (Neils Arestrup) contemplate the American remake of their Cesar-winning film.
Saturday March 23, 2013
The Best Film of 2012, 'Rust and Bone,' Out on DVD
“De rouille et d’os” (“Rust and Bone”) is a beautiful film about tragic circumstances. In the hands of a lesser writer-director, it would be melodrama but Jacques Audiard (“Un Prophete”) makes poetry out of it. A bloody tooth, loosened during a fight, spins in slow motion on the pavement as if in dance. A woman whose legs have been cut off above the knee returns to the ocean, whose warm waters glisten. Later, with metal legs and cane, she walks down the steps at Marineland, where she once worked, and stands in silence before a large glass tank. She pats the glass once, twice. After a moment, a monster looms into view. An Orca. The Orca? The one who took her legs? One assumes not. One assumes that one has been killed but you never know and Audiard never says. We simply watch the whale move with her movements. It’s been trained, and she was one of its trainers. She’s confronting her past, finally, but it’s also a moment steeped in silence and mystery and beauty and forgiveness. It’s the best scene of 2012.
And here is the cover of the U.S. DVD:
WTF? Seriously, out of all of the beautiful, haunting images in that film, that's what they choose? This shot? This shot that isn't even a shot from the movie? Anyone know who decides these things? Why they went with this? Why not any of these other shots?
Here's what the DVD looks like, front and back, in France:
C'est mieux comme ça.
Thursday February 23, 2012
This Is Not a Film They Will Submit for an Academy Award: Richard Brody and David Denby on Oscar's Backward Foreign Language Award
--from “Ask the Author: Live Chat with David Denby and Richard Brody on the Oscars,” on The New Yorker site this afternoon.
BTW: The search for the poster led me to the site “Frontier Psychiatrist” and this post, by L.V. Lopez, on the best films of the 2011 New York Film Festival. In case you're looking for a good foreign film to watch.
Friday January 14, 2011
“Nhung Nu Hon Ruc Ro" at Rap Thang 8
Read Part 1 here.
On our last day in Hanoi, along with buying last-minute gifts for friends and returning to Cha Cha La Vong for the fried fish lunch, Patricia and I went to “Rap Thang 8.” which sounds like the worst MC Hammer song ever, but is in fact a movie theater frequented by Vietnamese, to see a movie called “Những nụ hôn rực rỡ.” Google translates those words into “The Brilliant Kiss” but at the time we had no idea what it was called or what it was about. We just wanted to see a Vietnamese movie and it was the only one playing in Hanoi that day. The woman selling tickets even warned us. “Vietnamese,” she said. I nodded, made hand motions and smiley faces that indicated we wanted to see it anyway. She giggled. With reason.
The cafe next door, “The Majestic,” was under construction, and I remember a lot of equipment and sawdust in the exposed lobby. The innards of the Majestic itself were exposed. It looked like the place had been bombed out. It was the exact opposite of the ultraclean MegaStar Cinema from the day before.
The posters for all three movies, along with TVs looping trailers for each, were on display behind the ticket-taker. In Phong Chieu 2, we could see “Legion.” Hollywood. In Phong Chieu 1, some kind of samurai horror movie. Japanese? And in Phong Chieu 3, our movie, “Nhung Nu Hon Ruc Ro,” a Vietnamese musical comedy.
We were told Phong Chieu 1 was through that door to the right. It looked like an exit. But we walked through it ... and into an alleyway.
“What the hell,” I said.
“Did you get the directions right?” Patricia asked.
I returned, pointed to the ticket, and the ticket-taker again pointed me to the exit. “No,” I began, “That’s...” What could I say? I wished for the zillionth time I could some semblance of the language.
Sensing my confusion, the ticket-taker pointed out the door and then down the alleyway.
“Really?” I asked. “Okay...”
This time we saw the sign at the end of the alleyway: RAP THANG 8, Phong Chieu 3.” Except there was nothing at that sign even remotely like a movie theater. We stood and looked around.
“What the hell,” I said.
“Well, you wanted a different movie experience,” Patricia said.
“Not this different,” I said.
“Phong Chieu 3 is past the bombed-out cafe and down the dank alleyway. You can't miss it.”
Patricia was the one who finally found Phong Chieu 3. It wasn’t all the way down the alley, where the sign was located; it was about three-quarters of the way down the alley on the right-hand-side. You parted some heavy curtains and there you were. The floor was almost level, the theater seated about 50, flies buzzed around. It felt like something out of community theater.
There were no subtitles to the movie, of course, so we had to figure out the plot for ourselves. In the end it wasn’t hard for anyone raised on 1960s sitcoms.
The movie is set on a remote island resort, where a member of a boy band (which are still popular in Asia) shows up ... to get away from it all? One assumes. The owner of the resort, a good-looking woman, then finagles him and his bandmembers into giving a concert to get the customers to save her resort. Or something. Shenanigans, mistaken identities and romance ensues.
Just another resort owner greeting another boy band frontman in Viet Nam.
It’s a colorful, poppy, probably supremely dopey movie, but there are two things worth noting about it.
One of the supporting players, an assistant at the resort, is an over-the-top gay character. He’s there mostly for comic effect. During montage sequences, for example, in which Girl A is pursuing Boy A, or Boy B is pursuing Girl B, he’s pursuing, haplessly, the quietest member of the boy band: a kid with one eye hidden by his hair, a la Veronica Lake, and a fedora, a la Sinatra.
No surprise that he was unsuccessful in his pursuit. One of our guide books, “The Rough Guide,” mentioned that, while there was no law in Vietnam banning homosexual activity, “Officially, homosexuality is regarded as a ‘social evil,’ alongside drugs and prostitution.” The surprise was that there was a gay character in the movie at all.
Then we got to the end, and the big concert, and the onstage confessions of love from Girl A for Boy A, and Boy B for Girl B. And everyone getting together.
Except for our gay character. He comes onstage. He talks into the microphone. He becomes emotional about what he’s saying. But no one comes out to sing with him. He’s alone. Tears well up. He’s comforted but it’s sad. The message is clear: Don’t be gay.
Except suddenly the Veronica Lakeish boy-band member comes onstage, singing the love song they’ve all been singing. And the two meet in the center of the stage and hold hands. And everyone applauds.
Then the lights go off, along with fireworks, and you see silhouettes of the principles embracing. Including our gay couple.
Then the lights go up and you see everyone kissing. Including our gay couple.
Then we get our happy ending.
Wow, I thought. Much more enlightened than I anticipated. Not only are the Vietnamese not behind us in this particular area, but ... they seem ahead of us.
A confession is made: “We're more enlightened than you.”
That’s the first thing worth noting about the film. The second is more of a punchline than anything.
I wanted to see this particular film because it was the only Vietnamese film playing in Hanoi that day, and I knew, from trying to see Vietnamese movies before we left, that they’re few and far between in the States. All that’s available is a handful of art films (“Cyclo”; “Scent of Green Papaya”; “Owl and the Sparrow”), and the long, messy history of Vietnam War movies.
But I was wrong. “Nhung Nu Hon Ruc Ro” is available in the States. You can watch the entire thing, in 10 segments, on YouTube.
Thursday January 13, 2011
Alice in Hanoi
Because, I suppose, I write about movies, I like going to movie theaters when I’m abroad. I’m curious not just what they watch but how they watch it.
In Taiwan, for example, when I lived there 20 years ago, they played the national anthem before each show. We’d all stand and sing along while they ran a short, government-created film. In 1987, when I first arrived, the theme of the film was martial in nature: troops and tanks and such. (China and Taiwan were still at war, after all.) By 1988, it became more cultural: dragon boat races, etc, and by 1990 it showcased the beauty of the Taiwanese landscape: Ya Ming Shan, waves crashing on rocks, etc. Not that “martial” was forgotten. That final film ended with the characters Jung Hua Ming Guo (“Republic of China”) dominating the screen, then appearing on a map of Taiwan. Except it wasn’t a map of Taiwan. It was a map of mainland China. The two countries were still at war but both agreed on this most important fact: there was only one China.
Then we watched “Ghost.”
So at the tail end of our Vietnam trip last spring, after all the museums and mausoleums and parks and restaurants, Patricia and I agreed to check out some movies.
We had two options. I’ll write about the second one, Rap Thang 8, tomorrow. It’s a smaller theater, shows some Vietnamese movies, foreigners rarely go there. Often for a reason. But we did.
On our second-to-last day in Vietnam, however, we went to MegaStar Cinema on an upper floor of the Vincom Towers in the southern part of Hanoi. It looks like almost any shiny megaplex in the States. They serve popcorn and colas and M&Ms and Mars bars. Also sausage and seaweed. I should’ve gotten the seaweed.
Eight movies were playing that day, seven from Hollywood, one from Hong Kong (Jackie Chan’s “Little Big Soldier”). The biggest of the bunch was Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” in both its 3D and 2-D incarnations, on its way to grossing more than a billion bucks worldwide.
I’m not sure who was responsible for marketing “Alice in Wonderland” in this megaplex in Hanoi, the capital city of communist Vietnam, just two miles from the former Hanoi Hilton where prisoners of war were held and tortured, but the results were a capitalist’s wet dream. Employees were wearing “Alice” T-shirts. There were “Alice” posters and tables and a little set in the lobby where you could sit in big-sized “Alice” chairs and pretend you were small.
It was a quiet, weekday afternoon in early April, and a few kids were hanging out in a lounge area set up just off the concession stand. There was also a big fan board for Robert Pattinson, and pleas for him not to forget his Vietnamese fans, as part of a “Remember Me” promotion. It was all very clean and empty and kind of depressing.
We had assigned seats for the movie and listened to music from XONE FM, including, oddly, “The Girl Can’t Help It,” as we watched the last of the couples straggle in. The ads before the feature were of the superloud, superbright, supercheery Asian variety: teeth whitener, a product called “Diana,” another for a drink (0°?) in which everyone is refreshed by synchronized swimmers. I don’t know if knowing Vietnamese would’ve made sense of these things. Then theater ads:
- No smoking
- No chewing gum
- No cameras
- No outside food and drink
- Please remain silent
The movie was the least interesting part of the exercise.
Tomorrow: Nung Nu Hon Ruc Ro at Rap Thang 8.
Friday June 11, 2010
My Jackie Chan (成龍) Retrospective
The remake of “The Karate Kid” opens today, starring Will Smith's son. Second-billed is some guy named Jackie Chan, with whom I have something of a history. At least I keep writing about him:
- Becoming a Jackie Chan Fan: MSNBC, August 2007
- Review of “Drunken Master II”: The Seattle Times, October 2000
- Review of “The Medallion”: The Seattle Times, August 2003
- Review of “Around the World in 80 Days”: The Seattle Times, June 2004
- Review of “The Spy Next Door”: January 2010
How big of a fan was I? Not enough to like “The Medallion,” or “Around the World in 80 Days,” or “The Spy Next Door,” but in the mid-1990s I was actually a member of the Jackie Chan Fan Club—the only fan club (officially, Salma!) I‘ve ever been a member of:
Hell, this is a dream I had back in 1994—back when I used to write down my dreams:
Jackie Chan and his entourage are on an old “Mike Douglas Show” from the 1970s. They are the main guests of the day. Jackie is so enthusiastic he comes across as clownish. He’s depicted as “the wacky stuntman/actor from Hong Kong.” There's a musical number as well, with another actor (his co-star from “Armour of God”?) singing, then sprinting towards the camera, then over the camera; one imagines him sliding on his knees toward the audience. It's so cheesey I’m embarrassed. Jackie, meanwhile, is in the background, sometimes clowning, sometimes playing an instrument. Nobody gets the talent that’s there, but they’re not exactly demonstrating it, either.
1994 was the year I tried to get anyone in America to publish anything on Jackie Chan. No one was interested. “He's the biggest movie star in the world,” I'd say, “and we don't know who he is!” They preferred not knowing because they couldn't tie it to anything being sold. The one pub that did publish something was The Stranger, an alternative weekly here in Seattle, and they did it because something was being sold. The Varsity Theater in Seattle was holding a retrospective on Hong Kong cinema in general and Jackie's cinema in particular, so they gave me 1,000 words. It was called “Fightingest Man Alive” (not by me) and appeared in September 1994. Excerpts:
I‘ll cut to the chase. Jackie Chan is the greatest action star making movies today. He may be the greatest action star in the history of cinema...
What action stars do we admire? Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. What do they do? Not much. They look strong and hold guns and enunciate (just barely) bad puns as they blow away bad guys. What does Jackie do? He fights, yes, but he also runs away. He is self-effacing. He clowns. ... His physique is the result of his training. For Stallone and Schwarzenegger, their physiques are the reason for their training. There’s a difference and it shows...
Inanimate objects become animinated in his hands in a way that has not occurred in the movies since Fred Astaire danced with hat-trees. Give Arnold a wooden bench and what does he do with it? Probably hits someone over the head. (“Have a seat.”) Give Jackie a wooden bench and it becomes not just a weapon but a thing of beauty...
Even a western star with a martial arts background like Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't compare. In Project A (1983), Chan is fleeing his enemies, riding a bicycle through narrow alleyways, when a bad guy blocks his way. Unable to turn around, Chan puts his weight on the handlebars, plants his feet on the opposing walls, swings the bike like a weapon and knocks the guy down. A second later he continues his flight, not realizing his bike seat has fallen off. Cue grimace. This is the essence of Jackie Chan: the extraordinary followed by the farcical. Van Damme, in comparison, may use his legs to suspend himself between two walls, but the way the camera lingers on this talent is narcissitic, and, in the end, duller than spit. In the time it takes, Jackie could have fought past 10 henchmen and continued his lurching flight to safety.
That was a long time ago. I'm glad he's still rolling. I hope “Karate Kid” does well for his sake. Hsie hsie ni, Cheng Long...
Friday July 31, 2009
Le Monde lede of "Adieu, Gary"
Voici déjà quelque temps que le cinéma, à l'instar d'un public touché par la crise, ne prend plus de vacances. Chaque été, entre un mastodonte de l'animation hollywoodienne, quelques titres d'auteurs confirmés, une brochette de reprises savoureuses et un lot avarié de fins de série, se glisse donc une découverte à la fraîcheur bienvenue.
The cinema, following the example of a public affected by the economic crisis, can’t take vacations anymore. Every summer, between the mastadon of Hollywood animation, several titles from confirmed aueturs, a kabob of savory revivals and a rotting batch of oddities, slips a discovery of welcome freshness.
Monday July 13, 2009
Where Goebbels and Hollywood Agree
Hey all. Just got back from a family vacation in Minnesota, where I re-encountered two of my favorite junk foods: Old Dutch Rip-L Potato Chips and Sebastian Joe's ice cream. It's a good thing I don't live there anymore or I'd be 200 pounds.
While on vacation I read Cinemas of the World by James Chapman, from which I'll be quoting in the next couple of days. A bit academic but mostly interesting and always informative. British press. Here's the first of them:
Triumph des Willens represented the high point of Nazi propaganda: it enshrined the 'Hitler myth' so completely that no further films of the sort ever needed to be commissioned. Goebbels, for his part, was firmly of the opinion that feature films should provide escapist entertainment for the masses and that direct propaganda should be confined to the newsreels.
Monday May 18, 2009
Where Have You Gone, Vladimir Visotsky?
Last week I watched a film called "Ivan Vasilevich: menyaet professiyu" (translated, in attention-getting fashion, to "Ivan Vasilevich: Back to the Future"), which I rented from Netflix as much for the description as anything:
When his time machine malfunctions, scatterbrained inventor Shurik (Aleksandr Demyanenko) accidentally transports Ivan the Terrible to 1973 Moscow and simultaneously sends small-time crook and apartment manager Ivan Bunsha -- a ringer for the despot -- to the 16th century. Wackiness ensues as Shurik attempts to set things right in this Soviet sci-fi comedy of errors featuring Yuri Yakovlev in dual roles as Bunsha and the czar.
A wacky Soviet-era comedy? Who would've thought? And it is that, although, in the end, more curiosity than laugh-out-loud comedy. It's one part "Les Visiteurs," one part Bollywood, one part "Benny Hill" without the girls. One imagines if the film had gotten out in 1973 it would've gone a long way toward dispensing the notion of the stoic Soviet empire. Yes, even in the middle of detente. But of course "getting out" was always the problem.
Halfway through the film, in modern-day (1973-era) Moscow, Ivan the Terrible, who isn't so terrible, turns on a tape recorder, hears music, and smiles. The singer was familiar. I'm pretty sure it was Vladimir Visotsky, whose angry song Baryshnikov danced to in his tennis shoes in "White Nights"— and about which I wrote for an MSN "Top 10 Dance Scenes" piece way back when.
The difference between the time I wrote that piece (2004) and now? It's easy as hell, now, to find footage of the singer. Here he is, for example, on a Soviet-era TV show, singing in his gravelly, impassioned voice. Check it out.
Monday April 27, 2009
Worst Netflix Summary Ever
The following is Netflix's description (both onsite and on their DVD sleeve) of Akira Kurosawa's “The Bad Sleep Well” (1060):
Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) is distraught after his father's demise, which he blames on the cutthroat corporate environment in which he worked. Desperate to avenge his father's senseless death, Koichi begins to tamper with the sanity of each person who ever wronged the man. He starts with the cake at his very own wedding; per Koichi's instructions, the confection has been specially crafted to remind the attendees of their darkest secrets. …
In case you haven't seen the film (and are still shamefully reading this): The movie opens with the wedding of the daughter of a high-ranking public official, at which reporters gather in anticipation of the arrest of this official and several of his right-hand men. We follow the initial police investigation into the scandal — apparently the government accepted a high bid on a construction project for kickbacks — but government and corporate officials remain tightlipped and no one's prosecuted. Then two of the right-hand men kill themselves. No, just one. Koichi Nishi (Mifune), the groom at the wedding, prevents the other from doing so. Why? We find out an hour and twenty minutes in: He's the son of an official who killed himself five years earlier — in another scandal, protecting these same guys — and he's been plotting revenge ever snce.
In other words, in their first sentence, Netflix gives away the goods. As for their last sentence? The description reminded me of that early “Star Trek” episode in which people act out their darkest secrets (Sulu turns into a barechested swashbuckler, etc.), but, in the Kurosawa film, there's nothing in the cake in question. It was simply baked in a way to remind the men of a shared dark secret. Singular.
Oh well. IMDb.com gives away the plot, too. No tight lips here anyway.
A shame because the first half of the movie is the best. It loses itself in the second.
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