Archive for May 21st, 2007

Simpsons = 400 but our “Future” is already gone

May 21, 2007

Congratulations to the “Simpsons”. 400 episodes, and I look forward to the movie. It was fun to see the original sketch open the 400th earlier this evening. It’s too bad though they wasted a lot of the funny on the police dog/snake episode a week ago (one of my favorites I think). But they still weren’t bad, solid episodes in fact.  Seeing the Simpsons having come so far though makes me sad about Groening’s other cartoon venture, “Futurama”. A show I didn’t get into when it first happened upon the scene, but the more I see on Adult Swim, the more I love.

It’s sad to see some of the best shows disappear. “Arrested Development” was another. As was the cop drama “Boomtown”.

But I’m going to stick to the point. The more I see “Futurama” the more I love it. An episode hit me so hard in fact recently that I literally went from weeping in fits of laughter to weeping out of sheer sadness. Something about the episode in which we see how the hero, Fry, has been sent to the future and his dog that tries to find him, hit me somewhere deep down. I saw it coming too. I felt it sneaking up on me. I knew it was going to happen and when it did, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I couldn’t help it! It was beautiful and sad. It just shows the true brilliance of what this show was and what it could have continued being. It’s probably become one of my favorite television episodes of all time. For those of you who have seen this episode and you don’t know what I’m talking about, I pity you. For those who haven’t seen this episode, it’s a good one to start with…actually a great one to start with. Even if you don’t wish to watch the rest of the series, which I’m going to start doing. But don’t…DO NOT look up the scene on youtube. You have to see the whole friggin’ episode!

Not much makes me cry like that. I’ve been told Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” can make a grown man cry. I unfortunately put the second side of the movie in first (a two-sided Japanese DVD! You might have done it too!) and watched the second half first. I was so confused I wrote to Roger Ebert and thoroughly confused him as well, but one of these days I’ll go back and watch the whole thing and I hope it affects me in a similarly profound way. The other film of the last few years that made me weep was the first half of the HBO mini-series “Angels in America”. It overwhelmed me so that I crawled into the bathroom and curled up in a fetal position and wept for awhile. Not much gets me that deeply. Now I can add “Futurama” to the list. It’s nice to find those.

Anyone willing to admit to their’s?

Americans in Foreign Cinema

May 21, 2007

I always find it funny to watch a foreign film and to see the absolutely horrible actors they get to play American and British people.

The two Japanese war films I spoke about in my other look at foreign war films below also had preposterously bad Caucasian actors. In “The Burmese Harp” the British soldiers are a couple of the worst actors I’ve laid eyes upon. The one in charge blinks so much you want to give him an eye drop. And what was even more upsetting was that when we finally come upon the American soldiers in “Letters from Iwo Jima”…you know the ones that kill the Japanese hostages…they were horrible too! This is an American production and they still couldn’t find solid English speaking actors. I mean it’s one thing when it’s a martial arts extravaganza, but Clint Eastwood?

Thankfully one film I saw recently put some of my worries to rest. It’s interesting because it’s a film that contains one of my favorite scenes, a scene that influenced more so than most, and the first time I saw it was flipping through channels a long time ago, long before I saw the film for the first time which was actually a few nights ago. I stopped on a channel intrigued by a man dressed in white sitting on a beach. The image was in black and white. And he notices a blond young woman calling to him from the other side of a portion of the beach where the ocean water has separated them. She calls to him, trying to tell him something, but the waves are too loud. He can’t make out what she’s saying. That’s all I’m going to say, because I hate giving away endings. But I understood it, even at my young age and without having seen the whole film. One of those moments in which it hits you, the extent of what something can be and mean. Many of you will know what this movie is, some may not have seen it. I did not see the whole film until recently and I wasn’t aware that it contained this scene until the end. It gave me chills to come across this scene again especially in it’s complete context. “La Dolce Vita” by Fellini. And to get back to the point, it was nice to see English speaking actors in a foreign film that could actually act, even though it made us look very foolish, and the actress was actually Swedish. You win some…

Anyone else think of a foreign film in which we the people of America were portrayed by talentless hacks?

Foreign Cinema Soiled

May 21, 2007

I always love it when a groundbreaking film appears in our cinemas and the press jumps on top of it spewing forth grandiose phrases about how important it is to our changing cinema, when they forget to mention that another country has been doing it for years, sometimes decades.

It always bothered me that “The Matrix” got this sort of press. Somehow several decades of martial arts cinema was suddenly over looked and then everything that was released in China over the next 5 years was compared to “The Matrix”. Baffling, I say! And frustrating to one who loves Hong Kong cinema. It was nice to hear so much praise being handed to “Infernal Affairs” when Scorcese’s film won so many Oscars this last year and when Sophia Coppola praised Wong Kar Wai when she won best screenwriter for “Lost in Translation”. Credit where credit is due I say.

Which is why it always bothered me when critics and journalists praised Clint Eastwood’s”Letters from Iwo Jima” saying it might finally open up Japanese cinema to look at the war from a different point of view. And some Japanese journalists were saying this. Others have claimed that Eastwood’s vision is what Americans would like to believe the Japanese were like. I personally had mixed feelings about the film myself. I wondered specifically how accurate the Japanese men were when they acted more like American men. But like most films, we’re critiquing the American film as if no films had come before it, which I wondered if that was the case or not. Recently a film was recommended to by the lovely people at Netflix. A film directed by Kon Ichikawa called “The Burmese Harp” which was originally released in 1956. It is an anti-war film depicting Japanese soldiers in very much the same way that “Letters” depicted it’s soldiers.

*SPOILERS*

“Harp” is about a young group of soldiers just after the end of the War who are brought to a camp in Burma, India. One of these soldiers, a young officer who plays the harp, is ordered by his Captain to go and convince a group of Japanese soldiers that they should surrender to the British. The British officers give him a half an hour to convince the Japanese soldiers burrowed in the side of a mountain (imagery very similar to “Letters”). The young harp player encounters a group of soldiers unwilling to surrender, how would that, after all, help their country? These are the same conflicts brought to light in “Letters” and this is from a Japanese perspective. They didn’t need an American filmmaker to bring these issues to light. It was done almost fifty years ago! But we take credit regardless. The rest of the film follows the divergent stories of the men in the camp and the harp player and the very difficult decision he has to make. Needless to say it is an incredibly beautiful story. Worth watching.

I’ve seen several great anti-war films over the past year, many foreign.

“Forbidden Games” Dir, Rene Clement. Brilliant. War and how it affects children.

“Japan’s Longest Day” isn’t so much an anti-war film (though close) but it does give an intriguing look at the few days leading up to Japan’s surrender and some of the craziness that ensued. It’s interesting because the director doesn’t take a strong stance one way or the other.

“Underground” Dir., Emir Kusturica

“Shame” Dir., Ingmar Bergman

“The Human Condition” A breathtaking, raw and potent trilogy that at it’s 9 hours length leaves you feeling like you’ve just gone through a war youself.

One of my personal favorites is the British version of “Lord of the Flies” which is available on a nice Criterion DVD.

It feels like there’s been more, but the director of “The Burmese Harp” has several more as does Akira Kurosawa (one of my favs) that I intend on viewing soon enough.


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