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Posts Tagged ‘foreign’

 

Review: Yasujiro Ozu, Part Two (The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer)

Yasujiro Ozu’s oeuvre continues to grace screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the next few weeks. Among the upcoming films are The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer, which are also available in terrific Criterion Collection releases. Other upcoming highlights include Late Autumn (starring Ozu mainstay Setsuko Hara) and An Autumn Afternoon, Ozu’s final film.

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Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Starring Sumi Shimamoto, Mahito Tsujimura, Hisako Kyôda, Gorô Naya, Ichirô Nagai and Kôhei Miyauchi.

Most of the geeky kids of my generation were introduced to feature-length Japanese animation with Katsuhiro Otomo’s apocalyptic Akira, a stunning apocalyptic masterpiece. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my own introduction to it was when I was in the sixth grade or thereabouts. Lazing about the house one afternoon, I noticed that an animated feature called Warriors of the Wind was playing on HBO in a few minutes, so — budding animation buff that I was — I decided to give it a try. To put it mildly, it blew my little brain out the back of my skull.

I had never before seen anything even remotely like it. I couldn’t have. American cartoons were nothing like this. There were Disney cartoons, amusing fluff like Smurfs and embarrassing garbage like The Last Unicorn. Even action cartoons like Transformers (which I didn’t realize was also Japanese until many years later), G.I. Joe and the sadly short-lived Dungeons & Dragons were so kiddie-fied that even as I watched them, I knew they weren’t even remotely on the same level as Star Wars or other live-action films. Warriors of the Wind was on an entirely different level: it was an animated film for people with brains.

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Review: Yasujiro Ozu, Part One (Tokyo Story and Good Morning)

Twenty-five of the 33 surviving features by Yasujiro Ozu comprise the current retrospective of the brilliant Japanese filmmaker’s career at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

So far, I’ve only seen the five available in four Criterion Collection DVD sets (Tokyo Story, Good Morning, Early Summerand Stories of Floating Weeds, containing The Story of Floating Weeds and its remake, Floating Weeds). Although, if I ever get over this wretched cold, I hope to see a few more at the Siskel Film Center in the coming weeks. Each film I’ve seen has been a touching portrait of a Japanese family (or families), beautifully told.

I encourage you to see any of them that you can, particularly those that are not available on DVD, since it may be the only chance you get for some time. But since I can only properly discuss those films I’ve seen, I’ll be touching on Tokyo Story and Good Morning in this column, to coincide with their upcoming screenings at the Siskel Film Center. Next month, I’ll talk about The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer, to more closely coincide with those films’ screenings.
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Review: Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire

Directed by Wim Wenders.
Starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois and Peter Falk.

Angels are a tricky thing in movies. Anything supernatural is, really. But where I can run with demons and devils as just fun monsters to toss into a story, when you start talking about an afterlife that’s pretty much the same as the one we’re living now, except with wings and all the sucky shit taken out, it’s just a bit more than I can take.

So it takes a special sort of movie to get me past that hurdle: It’s a Wonderful Life works, for intance, because of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra’s irresistible humanity. In a way, it’s the same kind of thing that made Wings of Desire work for me, too. On its face, it’s the story of an angel, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), who has become frustrated with the unending task of invisibly chronicling the lives of us humans on Earth — specifically 1980′s West Berlin. (Chronicling for whom and why are never really mentioned, and they’re irrelevant.) But like all great stories, it’s about a lot more than just its plot.

The film is shot beautifully in black and white, punctuated by moments of almost fluorescent color representing the humans’ perspective. (A conceit  borrowed from Powell and Pressburgers’s 1946 film, A Matter of Life and Death.) The first hour of the film moved along rather ponderously. It’s at once dizzying and appropriately dull as it depicts Damiel’s job as an angel, pausing occasionally for a conversation with his fellow angel Cassiel (Otto Sander, whose face is utterly fascinating).

Damiel falls for a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommamartin) and decides he wants to create his own “story,” one way or another. Shortly after the half-way point, Damiel and Peter Falk (playing himself, in town to film a movie), share a pivotal moment, and in that one hilariously brilliant twist, and the film catapults into motion, racing towards its inevitable, sweet conclusion.

Wings of Desire is available from the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray — and, you can stream it through Netflix.