July 2 – July 8
- Crossing Delancey (1988)
- La nana (aka The Maid) (2009)
- Triangle (鐵三角) (2007)
- Red Cliff – Part I (赤壁) (2008)
- Red Cliff – Part II (赤壁) (2008)
- Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
- The Male Animal (1942)
- The Duchess (2008)
- Niagara (1953)
- For All Mankind (1989)
- For Your Consideration (2006)
Books Read: None
- Once – Shooting script (January 2006) – written by John Carney
Crossing Delancey is a predictable romantic comedy. Within the first fifteen minutes we know exactly where the story will go, and some of the dialog sounds manufactured. The main male character is one dimensional. He is a typical chick flick fantasy character – single, generous, patient with old ladies, good looking, polite, understanding (geez, what more can you ask for? Just marry him already!).
BUT, despite all these flaws, this little movie has charm. And the characters have charm (but of course they would be even more charming if they had better lines). It’s an enjoyable romantic comedy, which is a high praise considering how bad most movies are in this genre.
As a modern take of the master/servant genre, La nana (The Maid) has a simple premise. But the story and the characters are complex and unpredictable. Catalina Saavedra (who plays the title character) doesn’t give much away for most of the film and keeps us guessing of her character until the third act, which pays off surprisingly well at the end.
The title “Triangle” not only refers to the three main characters, but also to the three iconic Hong Kong directors who helmed this film. The three directors deliver basically what is expected of them: Tusi Hark’s first act is narratively incoherent, a trait he has no intention of changing after all these years; Ringo Lam’s second act is the most violent; and Johnny To’s third act turns the film into an absurd dark comedy and is ultimately the most enjoyable of the three acts.
Romance of the Three Kingdom (三國演義) is one of the four classic novels of Chinese literature, and the “Battle of the Red Cliff” is probably the most famous chapter of the novel. But the film Red Cliff (Part I & II) (赤壁) is actually based on the historical account of the period, Records of Three Kingdoms (三國志). The major difference between fiction and fact is, the main character Zhou Yu (周瑜) is portrayed as a jealous and tragic figure in the novel, even though the real Zhou Yu was a brilliant strategist who really was a hero. While I applaud the filmmakers’ effort to be historical accurate, I couldn’t help but wish that they had gone with the fictional version of Zhou Yu, simply because he is a much more complex and multi-layered character. The novel is successful because its characters are all so colorful. The Zhou Yu in the novel, while still a brilliant general, is always one step behind the god-like Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮), and it is his jealously that makes him so tragic and interesting (much like the fictionalized rivalry between Salieri and Mozart in Amadeus).
I chose to watch the “International” version of this film, which has two parts, and has a combined running time of close to 5 hours. The U.S. version cuts it down to 2hrs and 38mins, and I read that it focuses on the battle scenes and leaves out a lot of the “talking” scenes, and therefore makes the film more confusing to people who are not familiar with the characters. And there are a lot of characters.
The battle scenes look grand and amazing, and it shows the potential of the Chinese movie industry in terms of producing big budget blockbusters that can rival Hollywood productions. The talkie scenes, never a strong suit for director John Woo, are hit and miss. Probably more misses than hits. Especially the love scenes, and the “romantic” scenes. But still, I enjoyed this epic a lot and the 288 mins running time did not bother me at all.
Non-linear narrative became a bit of a fad in the 90′s when Pulp Fiction inspired a flock of wannabes, but few applied the technique in an appropriate fashion where it adds to the narrative rather than simply being a gimmick. Christopher Nolan’s Momento is one rare example of perfectly utilizing the strength of non-linear narrative as it is the best way to tell that particular story.
Written by Kelly Masterson and directed by Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is another superb film that really takes advantage of non-linear storytelling to build one sharp suspenseful moment after another. It is also done seamlessly without drawing attention to the technique. As for the actual film, it is a superb family melodrama/thriller/heist movie all rolled into one big Greek tragedy. I highly recommend this one.
Caught this on TCM. I am always interested in films set in universities. The Male Animal is about a quiet, untenured English professor (Henry Fonda) who must overcome academic pressure to teach what he believes in. Though it is about academic freedom, but the real human issue is about fighting like a man, physically and metaphorically.
The Duchess is elegantly shot, with gorgeous costumes and everything. A definite “A” in art direction. Much like having realistic CGI in action movies, beautiful art direction is pretty much a minimum requirement for this genre of movies. The big revelation here is the emergence of Kiera Knightley as a leading actress.
Niagara is a minor Marilyn Monore work and she is the only reason to see it. She is, as usual, the center of attention in every scene she is in. Unfortunately, the movie is just a run of the mill noirish thriller with unmemorable characters, coupled with an indistinct protagonist.
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1990, For All Mankind (directed by Al Reinert) uses real NASA footage and audio recordings to compile a “Best Of” collection of all the Apollo missions. Looking at the now primitive looking spacesuits and equipments (not much different than those in old sci-fi movies), I marvel at their determination and bravery to take on the danger of space travel. The visuals (in and from space) alone is worth seeing the film.
Considering the quality of Christopher Guest’s previous works (Waiting for Guffman, Best of Shows, A Mighty Wind), For Your Consideration is a bit of a disappointment. Hollywood is an easy target for satire, but at the same time, the whole movie industry is so famously wacky, so integrated into our everyday consciousness, that it is actually very difficult to satirize it in a way that we haven’t seen before. While this film doesn’t offer any fresh insights, Guest and his usual ensemble are always enjoyable to watch.
Once (the film) has such an improvised feel to it that got me interested in reading its script. With so many songs in the film, it’s not a surprise that the screenplay is pretty short (only 62 pages). It is also written in a way that is distinctively not “Hollywood”, which means that it probably would not get any attention in the industry as a script. It could only be a low budget indie film, and I am very glad that it got made the way it did.
Pick of the Week:
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Total films watched: 180 (in 189 days)
Total books read: 11 (13 to go)
Total screenplays read: 18 (34 to go)