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Dare mo shiranai (2004)
Tough Children to Survive Domestic Mishaps
It was 14 years ago when I first saw this. More than a decade went by, knowing the main actor (the big brother in the movie, Yuya Yagira) winning the best actor award at Cannes at 14, watching director Hirokazu Koreeda's other work such as "I wish", "Our little sister", "Like father, like son", and recently "Shoplifters", it is time to revisit his earlier work and see how his themes evolves.
And there are lots of recurring themes. Like his other work, this bittersweet movie exposes the dark side of the modern Japan society. What is more appalling is that the movie is based on an even more tragic event happened in 1988. Four children aged 3 to 14, malnourished, were found abandoned in their apartment in Nishi Sugamo in Tokyo. In the previous autumn, the mom met a new man. Leaving 50,000 yen behind, she asked the oldest son to take care of his siblings and disappeared. With different fathers, the kids were not even registered and did not go to school. The children have been living in the tiny apartment alone for nine months without anyone knowing their existence.
Yet the movie shows very strongly that kids are tough and there is hope. As in the director's other movies, children are the center of attention and the portrayal of their mundane everyday life just steals the show, especially the elder brother, grade six student Akira (Yuya Yagira). He is great in showing the responsibility he shoulders without any complaint. He just silently endures and never questions his selfish mom (YOU) who left a note one day and disappeared. Yet when an emergency happens, he knows where to call and when he finds he gets nowhere, he just bangs on the phone and throws his mom's clothes away the floor. Great directing and expression of emotion. The other kids are also very good, except the younger brother Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) should be made thinner after months of starvation. The youngest sister Yuki (Momoko Shimizu) was so cute but when she was sweating and feeling hungry in the power off apartment dripping in sweat, one cannot help but feel sorry for them. My heart really sank at a scene when Shigeru's chewing woke Akira who asked what his brother was eating. Shigeru murmured an answer as he turned over to try to sleep. It hurts more to see him turning his back.
Written by the director, nobody knows has a very strong script. Knowing his mother is not coming back for a while, all Akira does and thinks are practical solutions. He asks help to make New Year gift money packs to his brothers and sisters and continues to shop and feed them. He himself is still a kid, he likes to play and has his dream too. On the practical side, he goes to Pachinko to make friends and hope to get some food from them. On the dream side, he plays baseball for an absent student.
Lots of issues are revealed: selfish parents, lack of child care support, stigma against single parent family etc. In addition, school bully deters some kids and even parents from sending children to schools.
But the kids are strong and practical. They have their own ways to survive. They never complain and always hope that one day their mom will come back with gifts. Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura) even stays in the aroma of her mom by hiding in the closet. Even after a tragedy Akira had his own way of dealing with it. Just too much for a young kid who did not even go to middle school! Adults who abuse children's trusts and hope make me so angry.
I like how the director presents the passage of time by showing the grown hair, the change of seasons, the wildly grown plants in the balcony, the shoes to flip flops, the sweats on the kids' faces, their dirty and worn out clothes and their hungry and weary faces; yet even amid all these setbacks, the children venture out of the apartment to clean themselves and have fun. The plants sprung out from the ditch is just like themselves although they ask "Are they abandoned? How sad!" Abandoned kids feeling sorry for abandoned plants and take them home to treasure - a similar representation we would later see in "Shoplifters." In the end four kids walk in the sun, as if they belong to the same family - a similar theme in "Our little sister" where the core siblings take in an extra sister.
Although their birth parents are selfish, some adults are caring, such as one of mom's former boyfriends and the convenient store clerk. Very sad to hear that in the real incident an extra sister was killed by the friends of the elder brother. It is more tragic than the movie. Sometimes reality is more horrible and and I believe the director wants to show the resilience of children and his hope for the future.
Great movie though a little heavy. Highly recommended.
Manbiki kazoku (2018)
What if you can choose your parents and kids in a new family?
In a portrayal of a lower class Japanese family, director Hirokazu Koreeda explores again the theme of family and the driving force of children. Yet to him, a family may not be blood related. Only care and respect defines a family - except here the parents teach the kids to shoplift.
The film opens with a father (Lily Franky) and son (Jyo Kairi) picking up a girl (Miyu Sasaki) shivering in her cold balcony and brought her to their warm home with hot meals. The audience then slowly see other members of the family - mother (Sakura Ando), grandma (Kirin Kiki) and granddaughter (Mayu Matsuoka). But as the story unfolds, we would discover more how they are related.
Although it is not blood that links them together, the family is close with an interdependent relationship or team work that also involves love and care. Grandma has her retirement fund but she does not want to die alone, and she cares for others with very sharp perception and emotions. Would this be a better alternative than putting the lonely elderlies into a nursing home? The characters do not ask the government to change policy. Instead, they take the matter in their own hands and form their own way of existence.
Mom and Pa probably have fertility issues but they care for each other and bring in more children in their own ways. Here it echoed the director's theme in "Like father, like son" - it does not matter if it is blood related as long as there is love, also in "Nobody knows" - many family secrets and the community is kind to kids. It was not clear how Akiko, the grandma's hubby's mistress' granddaughter got into the family. But she is a lonely soul and seeks comfort from another lonely patron (Sosuke Ikematsu) who is also a marginal character in society. In fact, all the family members are marginal members in society, living in the crack of the city center and can only "listen" to the fireworks.
Echoing the importance of quality time as shown in "Like father, like son", here all the meal times are bonding time. A trip to the beach naturally slide in sex education. All these require sensitive and perceptive adults even though they do not have kids/grandkids of their own. This can be a wake-up call for the aging Japanese society with decreasing birthrates and growing trend of singleton. Would this pluralistic family be an alternative for the basic human need of affection?
Of course the controversial part is the family's profession - shoplifting. But in their perception, they just reuse and recycle what other people abandon. They do not snatch. They just pick up people/things that others do not want - wife, son, daughter, grandma, clothes and household items (if they are in the store they do not belong to anyone). Then they treasure whatever they have or whoever they are.
Very smooth and delicately written script. Excellent acting: low key and natural and yet so believable. But it was the kids that steal the show. Their innocence yet determination makes you feel both sad and happy. In this extended but close-knit family where all members were picked up by chance, there is lot of love. The family decides to stick together and stay on. Even the picture book Shota the son reads is a story of uniting to fight a bigger enemy - swimmy fish against the big tuna. Really subtle script writing.
Sad but also heartwarming. All the adults are very sensitive and caring, perhaps a projection of the director. They are also very reserved and do not say "thank you" or "dad" out aloud.
We see lots of recurring themes here. It seems that "Shoplifters" can be an extension of "Nobody knows" where we see how kids are abandoned in their own home. "Shoplifters" give them a new home. Unfortunately it is a solution not approved by the system. Yet the same issues exist all along: kids are left in the car in "Nobody knows" - who become the picked up Shota in "Shoplifters". Dead bodies have to be buried. Mealtime is a bonding time: from curry to instant ramen to paper. Parent's haircut shows their care etc ...
Overall, it shows lots of issues in modern Japanese society and offered some light for the future, one that might deviate from the establishment/tradition or morality but built with lots of passion, hope and care. The director really cares for the society and is exploring whether a self-pick family would work. In his world it does but the system does not seem to allow it. Unlike "Nobody knows" which has bright sunshine in the end signaling hope, "Shoplifters" has a more pessimistic outlook, as if announcing the impracticality of the director's exploration of this new family formation.
Great movie. Highly recommended.
The Salt of the Earth (2014)
Humanistic photographer returns to basics after witnessing sufferings on earth
Impressive! My jaws dropped, my eyes opened wide and my heart ached as I watched these stunning images taken by veteran photographer Sebastião Salgado. It hits more as he explains the background under which he took those pictures. Born in Brazil, he is more than a photographer, a photojournalist, an anthropologist, an adventurer, a loving husband and a father. He is a humanist who shows us the world through his lens and the emotions he captured and feelings awed. He is also very lucky to have a wife who supports his dream and passion. They plan and work together to build massive projects which let Sebastião away from home for lengths spanning from month to years.
Looking at his pictures, we are like traveling in time and space while freezing at certain moments. The feminine, the skeletons, the piles of corpses, the hollow eyes of young refugees, the massive camps like ants against the beautiful backdrop of the African savana, the determination of a little boy who walked to flee expulsion. Then the workers, the Indians and Siberian tribe braving snow storms, the Nenets who live near the Arctic Circle and the polygamous Zo'é who wear a wood stick under their chin. Fascinating! What is valuable is Sebastião explains the situations under which he took the pictures and how the situations still haunt him or move him.
The pictures are stunning. The photographer's life is equally interesting. He is so honest and humble in showing how much he cares about humankind, the earth and his own family. After witnessing the sufferings on different continents, his project came one full circle to Genesis as he explored the earth, its wildlife and untouched human civilizations as it has started from the beginning of time. We saw his humbleness towards nature and animals as he described his journey. In the end, he himself came one big circle and return to Brazil to replant trees in his father's farm which had dried out for decades. After a decade, shades re-emerged and even the jaguar returned to the forest. Sebastião was hopeful that the waterfall he saw when he was a boy would eventually return.
Quite a realization after traveling around all corners of the world and starting to appreciate the very basics. I think we should all learn from him to respect nature – both the wild and human. I watched it twice in three years and I would watch it again if I have a chance. Highly recommend.
Wansei hui jia (2015)
Powerful and moving reflection of colonialism, hometown and motherland: identity exploration
It was so moving and inspiring that I watched it two times – several weeks apart. I look forward to reading the book based on which this documentary was made. With the same title, the book was written by the descendant of a Wansei – Japanese born in Taiwan during 1895 and 1945 when Japanese ruled Taiwan (Wan refers to Taiwan and Sei means born in both Chinese and Japanese). Tanaka Mika moved to Taiwan when she was two or three but she still remembered her grandparents and domestic helpers danced some funny steps and spoke fluent Taiwanese. It was not until they died that she realized they were born in the tropical island during those fateful five decades – they requested their ashes to be spread in Taiwan waters instead of the Japan Sea.
An artist educated in New York, the painter spent 12 years helping other Wansei locate their lost childhood friends in the land they were born in and grew up, digging up many buried memories. By the time these seniors finally went back to the place they grew up and sadly left, many of their friends were no longer alive. The film told the stories of a few Wansei and from their experience we learn about this part of history many people in Taiwan and Japan had forgot/ignored.
The documentary traced a chronological sequence, beginning with the end of the 1895 Sino-Japanese war which resulted in Japan ruling Taiwan. The Japanese government sent selected decent citizens to migrate to the then undeveloped Taiwan. These pioneers ploughed the land, introduced crops and built communities. The film focused on Hualien in east Taiwan where Japanese integrated well with the aboriginals. They helped developed the infrastructures and educated the local population. In Taipei, more Japanese worked in the government and their children educated in elite schools. Theses Japanese immigrants enjoyed their new life as their children had a great time growing up in this tropical paradise.
But when Japan lost in WWII and the Republic of China took control of Taiwan, these Japanese living in Taiwan were repatriated to their motherland, a strange land many of them had never been to. It was sad enough to abandon the liaison and everything you have built to go to a supposedly "motherland" you have no experience with. But the most painful part was you were forced to do that. Many of these Wansei believed that they would return to Taiwan, a place they considered homeland after a few years but it never happened. Back in their "motherland", they were ridiculed of their accent and felt forever a foreigner and found it difficult to fit in. For those remained in Taiwan because they married a local Taiwanese, their identities were often concealed for decades – what the film did not mention was some even chose to be mute for the rest of their lives so their identities would not be exposed. Others chose to roam on the street and refuse any relief or going back to Japan because they believed they belong to neither communities.
The film displayed meticulous details backed by thorough research and seamless editing. Excellent choices of quotes from the Wansei and their children were chosen to depict the ridiculous reality which striped human dignity at one point but praised human bonding on the other. On the one hand, we can say these "Wansei"s are the victims of war or the "have"s of colonialism. On the other hand, they happened to fall into a category of a marginality – that they might have two homelands or no homelands.
As I watched this film, I kept thinking why the British and Hong Kong people did not develop such close relationships. Perhaps the British were too snobbish to mix with the locals, unlike the Portuguese in Macao. The British officials were well respected in Hong Kong and would be well respected when they went back to the UK. Yet what perplexed me was how the relationship of Japanese colonialism in Taiwan differ from that British colonialism in Hong Kong. For one thing, these Wansei were forced back to Japan since Japan lost the war. Britain won the war and their relationship with the locals were not as egalitarian as the Japanese with the Taiwanese. I wonder what would have happened to Taiwan if these Wansei and their families still lived there?
A very powerful documentary. Very impressive that a civilization was brought to Taiwan at the turn of the century. Then almost a century later the local peoples' friendless moved the children of Wansei. Perhaps deep down, we were all human wherever we live and grow up and there is no boundary of ethnicity or nationality; but only family, friends and the love for the place we grow up.
About 300,000 Japanese were sent back to Japan after the war, approximately the same number of Chinese massacred in Nanjing. On this day, 71 years ago, the US A-bombed Hiroshima, it was reported that accumulatively 300,000 Japanese were killed from the bombing. A coincidence or a joke history played on us?
Intense and inspiring look at our earth from above and inside fellow human hearts
A whopping 190 minutes of intense interviews and hypnotic aerial scenes. Do not go if you are tired. But excellent: makes you wonder what it means to be human.
The film consists two main parts intercepting each other. One part is aerial videos of HD vivid colored, slow motioned, hypnotic yet mesmerizing nature scenes, packed human or city landscapes. Almost like a moving national geographic picture, it is dynamic and full of wonder as the camera closes in or zooms out or pan around to show you more story. Some of the impressive scenes include surfing in the sky with schools of birds which watching them changing leaders and maintaining their formation, or Arabian/Egyptians treading in the vast dessert with camels. Some packed human scenes included a crammed pool of Chinese swimmers, or some Africans with bags trekking behind a bulldozer like zombies on a landfill, looking for leftover treasures in a sea of garbage, or a group of Mongolian teenagers galloping on the grassland. These awesome scenes are accompanied by calm cello or tribal like folk songs, making you slow down and ponder what kind of life we are living on this planet.
These wide shots are interlaced with closed ups of people around the world, talking candidly about their experiences, their fear, love, shame, anger, plead, happiness and gratefulness. Some cited examples and talk about injustice and their beliefs. I wonder how the producers got the people open up to their inner selves and talk about their deepest secrets: many of them burst into tears or choke up when they talk about something/someone dear to them. These people (more than 2000 of them) come from a wide range of background/race (60 countries), speaking all kinds of languages on a great variety of topics yet all of them are related to what it means to be a human being. Some were in prison, others in poverty, a number are gay or lesbian, some experienced war/genocide and witnessed/experienced terrible things done to them or their families. But there are also people who are thankful and pleased despite all the adversity or their mundane life. While some question the materialistic civilization and how we treat nature, all are honest and inspiring though a little intense.
Therefore, it is great how the aerial videos space these interviews out and sort of take us away from the harsh reality and look at our life on this planet from a different perspective. Because when you step back and look at the bigger picture, perhaps everything makes sense and all of us have a mission to contribute to the history of humankind.
I did not know the movie is available on YouTube – in three sections. The HD aerial shots are probably best watched on the big screen, although in the YouTube version, you can turn on the closed caption and see in which country the scenes are filmed and where the interviewees are from. But then, you may think where they come from affect their views and lose the essence or common thread of "humanness". Nonetheless, highly recommended.
Shan he gu ren (2015)
Mountains may depart but the roots remain unchanged
I like it more than I expected. Spanning over 25 years, it showed how personal relationships changed in China amid the exponential growth in economic development. We only see the snapshots of 1992, 2014 and 2025 and had to deduce what happened in between. Many changes take place over the years but something remain unchanged – Tao, the female protagonist, is upbeat, hardworking, and does not forget her roots no matter how bad the circumstance turns out. She is like a pillar against all the changes around her. Her dumplings, her love for her son, and her love for dogs did not change. She treasures keys. She even remembers the dance steps she learnt 25 years ago.
According to Confucius teaching dated back more than 2000 years ago, a woman needs three obedience (三從): obey her father before marriage, obey her husband after marriage and obey her son after her husband is dead. Interestingly this movie mentioned these three important men in a women's life. However, the values are no longer valid with the feminist movement and the rapid changes in economic development and migration.
In the case of our protagonist, Tao has a close relationship with her father before her marriage but she seems to have chosen someone her father does not approve. More than a decade later, Tao emerges into a mature business woman who is divorced. When her father dies she has no husband to obey but instead summoned her 7- year-old son to attend his grandfather's funeral. In the third part of the movie, we are not even sure mother and son ever reunite across two continents. And her son seems to be as lost as his father once was.
Lovers, father, husband and son all left but Tao goes on with life, with the same smile, wrapping the same dumplings she had made for her loved ones. She has no one to answer to but only herself to depend on in new China and she seems fine.
On the contrary, the male characters seems to be at a loss in one way or the other. In 1999, Tao's lover Liangzi left his hometown with a broken heart after Tao chose the wealthier Junsheng. He only returned to his roots after his life dwindled and health deteriorated. Perhaps if he and Tao has been together he would not have had to leave, then he would not have been sick. He always had that sad face and it is painful to see him struggle with life. But Liang is fortunate to have a nice wife who asks Tao for financial help. We do not see Tao regretting her choice even though she has kept his keys all along and passes it back to him. She even keeps the wedding invitation she sent him but he left in the house 15 year ago. Perhaps to her, that was all part of her history.
Jinsheng is the one who changes the most throughout the years. In the beginning he wins Tao over with his wealth and material comfort. The aggressive high achiever even cuts off his friendship with Liangzi, in competition for Tao. He is so into wealth that he names his son Dollar. A decade and a half later, Jinsheng and Tao have been divorced and he works in risk management in Shanghai and sends their son to an international school. Again, he thinks money can do everything and provides material comfort to his 7-year-old son. Another decade later, in Australia, Jinsheng is a lonely old man who does not speak English and feels alienated in a strange land. He is even lonelier than before because he finally has freedom but he does not know what to do with it. He has escaped from his enemy so there is no one to chase or fight against. His freedom ironically forms an invisible jail that traps him in his huge mansion facing the beach. All his life he has been chasing for money; now he only has money: but no wife, no lover, no son, no life skills, no happiness or fulfillment. He cannot communicate with his son. From cars to money to guns, he has all the material comfort he can afford but he is still lonely and insecure and not happy. Could very well be how many rich Chinese feel because they do not know what they were working towards.
Dollar, his 18-year-old son decides to quit college because nothing excites him anymore. He can do anything but he does not remember what his mother's name was. He has not met her since he was 7. Maybe that's why he develops a relationship with his teacher who could be his mom. He is open to new opportunities but he does not realize that reality can be tough – in this sense he is just like his father. Being uprooted is tough and Jinsheng has done it two times over 25 years while dragging his son along.
Something exist throughout the three periods: dog (with Tao's old sweater), key to home, dance, Sally Yeh's song "Treasure", Tao's smile and calmness, her dumplings, mobile phone and electronic devices that supposed to be connecting people (in the third period it actually caused more misunderstanding because of Google translate) but instead making people even more alienated.
Quite an inspiring and visionary piece to force us to reflect on what kind of life we are living in China or elsewhere, and what type of life we would like to live. Great acting. Highly recommended.
Umimachi Diary (2015)
Ozu style heart-warming drama stressing family bonding
This is the 4th movie on family drama centering around children I have seen by director Hirokazu Koreeda. I love them all and I would say only until this one did I see some resemblance of him to Yasujiro Ozu, Japanese classic humanistic director.
Whatever it resembles or echoes, I quite enjoy the tranquil life in Kamakura, especially family life taking place in an old Japanese house with porch and a plum tree and a little storage under the wood floor. Any movie with an old house like that (such as "I Wish (Kiseki)," "My SO has got Depression," "Wolf Children," "Postcard" and of course "And Then (Sorekara)" would instantly calm me down.
Yet behind this tranquil life, there is family trauma where three girls have been abandoned by their mother after their father left for another woman, a similar theme appears in "Nobody Knows" by the same director. What is different though, the Koda sisters have been brought up by their maternal grandparents in the coastal and historical town of Kamakura, 50 km south-west of Tokyo until they passed away.
When the movie begins, their grandparents are long gone and the girls have been living in the family house and taking care of themselves for seven years. News come from northeastern Japan that their father died and they have to attend his funeral, where they meet their half-sister, 15-year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose) for the first time. Suzu has been living with her step mother and father since her biological mother died.
The only connection between the three sisters and Suzu was their biological father and the lack of mother. Perhaps the big sister Sachi (Haruka Ayase) sees some resemblance in Suzu to her and her sisters, she invites Suzu to move in with them. The other two sisters (Masami Nagasawa and Kaho) second the idea. Alone with her step family, Suzu left for Kamakura and we enter the sisters' world through Suzu's perspective.
Similarly abandoned by adults and take care of themselves as in "Nobody Knows," the sisters in "Our little sister" have grown to extend family tradition – making plum wine and making family styled meals and struggle to fulfill their dreams – be a good nurse, a caring bank employee, a supportive girlfriend and playing soccer. The little brother from "I Wish", Ohshiro Maeda, who played the role of Futai Ozaki, has also matured into a handsome young men and takes the initiative to introduce his new friend for the local beauty – a cherry blossom tunnel.
Sakura, the essence of Japanese culture, was beautifully captured in this movie, not only in the tunnel where the youngsters bike through, but also as a swan's call before their neighbor passes away. She said the same thing as the sisters' father said on his dead bed – that we can look at beautiful things as beautiful before we leave. Life can be hard, but if we focus on the beauty of it, it can still be beautiful.
Death appear repeatedly in this movie – besides their father's funeral, the neighbor and their grandma's deaths are also mentioned. Big sister Sachi works at the terminal care ward and faces death day in and day out. The movie portrays death as something all around us and that not only is it nothing to be sad about or afraid of, but it reminds us how to live fully before we reach this full stop.
Part of being alive is extending family tradition or capturing beauty at the right moment – like Sakura hanami, biking in a cherry blossom tunnel, making plum wine and the white fish toast and rice and playing fireworks in yukata. Part of living relates to sacrifice for a bigger cause: Koda's father and mother leaving Kamakura and Saka's leaving her boyfriend.
Excellent cast and acting. I wish I had a big sister like Sachi and lived in a big house like that. The home-cooked meals make the whole movie very homey, warm and humanistic, even more comfortable than "Midnight Diner." In the big scheme of things, family is what we have left despite all the arguments and differences. And sometimes we may have to make sacrifices for the sake of the family – a theme common in Ozu's movies. Family and food seem to be the source of support we get after all the crazy things we encounter in the outside world – abandonment, betrayal, deaths, etc. Quite heart-warming, uplifting and beautiful. A little sad and a little short, just like life and cherry blossom.
La famille Bélier (2014)
Uplifting and heartwarming family comedy with angelic voices in a deaf family
A hearing daughter, Paula Belier (Louane Emera), was born to deaf parents and has a younger deaf brother in rural France. Being fluent in sign language and French, she acts as the family interpreter and bridge to the outside world – whether it is a doctor's appointment or dealing with customers in the market when they sell their farm produce.
Not only can Paula speak, but she also has a gift in singing, as discovered by her music teacher, who decides to train her and a fellow classmate for admission into the Maitrise de Radio France, an elite choir in Paris. Now Paula has to struggle between leaving the family for Paris to pursue her dream in singing or stay home to care for her family who depends so much on her. In the meantime, there seems to be some teenage romance going on
Very swift tempo and lots of comedy when Paula links her family with the world outside. But it gets serious and tear jerking when we witness her torn between fulfilling her dreams and leaving the family she loves. It gets touching when her deaf father begins to "hear" her sing and finally realizes their daughter need to live her own life.
Totally entertaining and absolutely moving with beautiful singing. The songs fit beautifully with the script. Also great acting from the cast, especially Louane Emera who sings like an angel. Paula's parents and younger brother are very convincing too. Highly recommended and bring some tissue paper.
Inside Out (2015)
Fun, sad, education and inspiring at the same time: a creatively educational and emotional animation
This is probably the only animation that I cried throughout. I cried while watching Up and some of Hayao Miyazaki's animation but this one somehow moved me with some very raw emotions. I was weeping and laughing while being educated/inspired at the same time.
Even when I saw the pre-animation song on Lava I felt like crying because the emotion was so sincere yet sad despite the relaxing Hawaiian style of tune.
The story is mainly about young Riley has to leave her hometown in Minnesota and move to San Francisco with her parents. During this transition she is sad to leave her friends and seems to have a hard time fitting in the new environment. The movie tells us how her emotions helped her deal with this big change in her life and how she can her family cope with the new environment.
I had no idea why I cried but whenever I saw the faded baby pictures and memories I cried. I like how different emotions in each of us are introduced and they all seem to have certain roles. I think it is very educational to see how our brain works – with different emotions taking turns dominating our thinking. Then the memories and experiences get together to form some islands which are our support systems. The movie uses very lively, tangible, and colorful balls/characters to symbolize some very abstract concepts and hard to see nerve systems so it is easy to follow. Watching the memories being sucked in tube and flying around I felt like watching the neutrons dashing within our brain via our nerve system.
While we usually values Joy, Sadness has a reconstructing effects on us too because when we are too sad, we need support and build something positive on our sad memories. That's how we have grown and become what we are today. It is also how we build our support system which hold us up.
I love this movie too much. The five emotions, core memories, the island/personalities and subconscious are really cute and fun. It is almost like going into someone's brain and see how they operate. In fact, everyone has a console like that and it was really fun to see the dinner scene when Riley was upset and Mom notices it and tries to signal to Dad to ask/comfort her. Too many stories to tell from this short scene: that women are more observant and sensitive but man are usually pre-occupied with one single thing at a time. They also have a tendency not to express themselves very well which makes matter worse. The train of thought is interesting too as the emotions goes around to look for Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong to call for support. But why do we have to let him die? It is so sad.
All in all, the main theme of the story is for us to be more aware of our emotions, be comfortable with them even though they may not make us feel good. Because only when we acknowledge our emotions can we then figure out why we feel that way and how we can deal with it and move on. Also, it is OK to tell others how we feel, it is how we receive support and mutually bond and grow stronger together.
I wish the other emotions play bigger roles in the movie because obviously they - Anger, Fear, and Disgust - protect us in their own ways too. Stay for the end credit which is interesting because it shows everyone's brain and how they help us cope with reality.
Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
Strong family with mentally ill father sticking it out with lots of love, humor and patience
Love this movie. I was initially attracted by the subject: a father with manic depression has to take care of his daughters while his wife is away. Then I got more fascinated by the true personal story as the director is telling her own tales. After I saw it, I really admired all the family members' resilience, courage, patience and humor in sticking it out in real life and retelling the story with great encouragement.
Director Maya Forbes's daughter Imogene Wolodarsky plays the role of Amelia Stuart, the director herself when she was a child of round 10, growing up with a sister two years of her junior when their parents were already separated. Their father Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), expelled from Harvard University, suffers from bipolar disorder despite his talents in arts, photography and lights engineering. Zoe Saldana plays the role of their mother Maggie, a smart and strong black woman who decides she has to further her education and thus her career so that she can provide for the family.
Set in Boston, the movie starts with a breakout of Cam's illness which causes alarm and nervousness in the family. He is later admitted into an institution and then a mid-way house, thus unable to fulfill his role as breadwinner for the family. By then the couple has been separated but both parents love the girls and see each other often. Coming from a wealthy family, Cam does not receive much financial help from his heritage to provide quality education for the girls. It is also intended to be a lesson for them. Maggie therefore decides she would study for an MBA at Columbia University in New York for 18 months so that she would get a higher paid job. Before she leaves, she entrusts Cam to care for the girls, then 8 and 10, so that he would have some routine and goals in his life and the girls will be taken care of. It would be hectic for Maggie because too she would travel to Boston to see her family every weekend.
This bold arrangement already shows a lot of courage and confidence for all members of the family. It is a tough situation but they deal with it very well, after overcoming some setbacks and explosions. A great chef and handyman, Cam does a great job as a househusband and de facto single father. We can tell underneath the daily hassle and occasional breakouts that they love each other and make things work in in their own unique ways. Cam tries hard to set examples for the girls even though sometimes he has misread reality. The girls are tough as they defend themselves while protecting their father. It is heartwarming to see Cam integrating into the "mean" young neighbors who accept him as he is and appreciate his talents.
All the cast are great. Mark Ruffalo does not look a WASP but he is great in his role to show a wide range of emotions. The script is witty, precise and humorous. The tempo is crisp and involving. I laughed and cried and admire this family who went through such difficult situation.
The movie is inspirational as there are increasing diagnosis of mental illness these days and perhaps acceptance, humor, and practicality are good ways to help everyone get through it. The girls mature quickly in these circumstances and grow into sensitive, confident and humorous individuals.
The movie slightly explores the race issue which I think could have been strengthened. Their mother, in real life, upon working in Wall Street, founded the first asset management company by an African female. The parents remain separated but great parents.
The girls are really smart, tough and adorable. Cam the father in the movie is lovable and talented too. You cannot hate him but probably do not know how to love him. Director Forbes's father also has lots of skills. It is just unfortunate that he got the illness. But he should be very pleased now his loving daughter tell their family story and realistically portrays how we can live and grow with mental illness. An amazing and enticing story.
Kami no tsuki (2014)
Challenges for kind and hardworking Japanese women in modern Japan
I was looking forward to see this movie, got a little disappointed and went to read the novel. Well, there is a quite a big change during the adaptation and I have to say that the transition in the novel is better but focusing the couple in the movie is probably a better idea.
The movie is choppy because there seems to be little depiction of why the main protagonist, middle-aged wife bank employee Rika Umezawa (Rie Miyazawa) would fall for a university student Kota Hirabayashi (Sosuke Ikematsu) who could be her son. Equally unconvincing is why the young man would fall for her apart from the money and the material comfort it brings.
The economy backdrop and the social issues brought about from the movie and the book are interesting though: after the economy bubble burst in the 1990s in Japan, everyone work hard to maintain a life their parents take for granted. More women and hourly-paid workers join the work force but they are not respected or supported by their company, or even by their own family members. Yet these women work very hard, though some slight skid and falls into affairs with their supervisor while some, like Rika, begin to let greed take over.
In her work, neglected housewife Rika finds satisfaction as well as distraction from her efforts in having babies. To prove her existence, she begins to embezzle from her bank to finance her material comfort and starts an affair with a young man, the grandson of one of her clients. She sinks deeper and reaches a point of no return.
The novel describes two side lines of Rika's friends falling into the same trap of defining themselves by consumerism. But the movie focuses on Rika which I think is a clever move. Yet the building up and fading out of the affair seem to flow rather weakly. The detached marriage can also be better portrayed/ traced.
It is an excellent move to place Satomi Kobayashi as a loyal and single bank employee in comparison with Rika. She seems to serve as a conscience in contrast. This character does not exist in the novel and is a great addition in the adaptation. Both actresses are great. In fact, the whole cast is quite good, but the weak plot kind of hampers the movie.
To understand contemporary Japan and the country's predicament in dealing with the new millennium, perhaps we have to watch both the movie and read the novel to reach more insights. More food for Minister Abe to munch on too.
Relatos salvajes (2014)
Acting out our violence and soothing us amid our absurd reality
I usually develop headaches when I see excessive violence in movies. But Wild Tales makes me feel so good because I can identify with all the underdog characters who take their revenge to the extreme with very black humor. It just makes me feel exceptionally good and relieved. It is vicarious violence without having to pay any consequences! And those jerks really deserve what they finally get.
Great acting and script writing. The 120 minute film composes of six tales, all related to realistic and corrupted and abusive government or bullies in our society. To maintain the suspense, fun and unpredictability, I cannot not divulge too much details of the tales other than saying it can happen anywhere in any country. All the protagonists in the six tales are decent people but they are pressed/abused by the ruthless and ridiculous reality to a point that revenge to the extreme is the natural and only way out. It is almost like a Ben and Jerry cartoon played by real people who resort to their actions with very strong reasons. Thus I can guarantee that you would feel good.
The sad part is that reality sometimes really happened as depicted in the movie – such as the Germanwings incident and indifferent bureaucrats. But still, if you feel your life is suffocated in anyway, go see this and get wild for two hours. It will clear your frustration, makes you laugh hard, and help you look at things from a new perspective.
Sayonara kabukichô (2014)
Humanistic look at underdogs and frustrated Japanese crossing paths at a love hotel
Sayonara Kabukicho was all full during the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival so when I knew it was on public release, I rushed to see it.
Well, despite the exotic poster and the eye-catching translated title of "Kabukicho Love Hotel," it is a humanistic look at many frustrated but hardworking Japanese who happen to wind up in a Love Hotel in Kabukicho, a red light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Throughout the movie, we can see the director and playwright have great empathy and respect for all the characters – who suffer from different frustrations and setbacks in life and end up in transition in Hotel Atlas, where guest can rent a room by the hour or by the night. But it is exactly here that they find their direction and move on with confidence and dignity.
The movie basically revolves around five couples whose lives are connected with this Love Hotel: the hotel manager (Shota Sometani) is stuck here although he aspired to work in a five-star hotel. He also owes his girlfriend's parents 1.4 million yen for his tuition fees so he did not tell her he works here. His girlfriend, played by AKB48 singer Atsuko Maeda, is an aspiring sing-song writer trying to secure a record contract but is confused as how to go about it.
One of the frequent guests to the hotel is a Korean call girl working for the last day before she returns to Korea to start her own business. She only tells her live-in boyfriend she works as a hostess so as to save up money to marry and return to Korea. Her boyfriend, a chef at a Korean restaurant by night and a student at day, has his own secrets. A middle aged woman working in the hotel as cleaning lady has her own secret and her identify is exposed only when another guest's secret affair is exposed.
A runaway girl ends up in the hotel with a yakuza simply for food and rest in exchange for sexual favor. But during the course of their interaction, things changes.
It seems every character has some secrets and that's why they are in this hotel. Yet when we know them better, we feel sorry for them. We feel their predicament and want to help in some ways. The movie runs 125 minutes but it does not feel long. Pacing is good and the way the stories are told is quite engaging. In the course of 24 hours, we seem to see the real lives of the characters, all of them some kind of underdogs in our society who either has lots of bad luck or has been abused by other people in power. Yet all of these characters have dreams and pride and deal with adversity with lots of self-respect. Hence the love hotel episode is just a transition in their life before they go on to pursue their dreams.
In a way, it is a comforting tribute and encouragement to the tsunami- beaten Japan, as depicted by the hotel manager's sister and her ending up in the hotel. In the end of the movie, all the main characters say goodbye to this love hotel and move on with their lives. The progress is smooth and acting good. Great character development and excellent intercept of witty dialogues, comical scenes and moving moments. Excellent exemplification of the Japanese resilience.
Efes beyahasei enosh (2014)
Tightly structured script packed with witty humor
I was ready for some comedy and the Israeli movie "Zero Motivation" way exceed my expectation. In addition to a great script, with a well- organized and tightly structured plot, it is filled with black comedy, feminism, friendship, and work ethics wrapped with a little nudity and horror, all done with a limited budget. The acting are very good too.
The movie was divided into three parts which are linked together by two central characters, Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy), both young female soldiers working in the administration department of a military base in the middle of the dessert. They are among a group of equally demotivated female colleagues supervised by ambitious but frustrated Captain Rama (Shani Klein), the only female officer in the management team.
The film starts with good friends Daffi and Zohar reluctantly return to base after a short break. Daffi, a clerical worker in charge of paper and the shredder, is tired of being stuck in the dessert and wants to be transferred to Tel Aviv. She seeks help from Zohar who is responsible for mail and trusts her in mailing letters for her transfer. Comedy erupts when a new comer Tehila (Yonit Tobi) enters the camp and Daffi treats her as her replacement until something tragic happens.
In the second part, Zohar is obsessed about losing her virginity but she exercises her independent thinking and receives help from a fellow colleague who asserts the female ego.
It is the third part that ties all the loose ends from part one and two and we see more comedy, irony and creative action. Then everything ends in a reasonable and interesting wrap up.
I would not divulge too much plot as it will spoil the fun. But I can guarantee that it is packed with jokes and laughter while making you think about the absurdity and blessing in life, while pondering on gender roles.
Perhaps the only short coming is the military setting which is hard for most international audience to identify with. But the issues of office management, friendship and courtship are universal across industry and culture. Most importantly, the voice of female power is strong. Highly recommended.
Stand by Me Doraemon (2014)
Painstakingly rich in artistic details but storyline too sensational
Growing up watching tons of Doraemon, I feel obliged to see this like a ritual.
While the technical aspects excels incredibly, I feel the script is too sensational. Never in my life have we cried for a Doraemon episode, but this predictable story makes everyone sob.
On the whole, I cannot say I do not like it. But I cannot say I like it either. It seems it is made with a lot of sincerity and uplifting for kids who are a little insecure about themselves. But I think it is unnecessarily tear-jerking, as in the director's previous work The Eternal Zero. Just a little overly sensational. I cried a few times and I think it is the style of the director who likes to make you cry. But I think he could have achieved the same result without jerking audience's tears.
But I love the surreal and realistic graphics! The street scene and small room of Japanese house make me miss Japanese life so much. The use of light, the character's hair, the clouds, even the neighborhood scene, etc, give a very warm feeling. The ride in the future is fantastic. And Doraemon's gadgets are forever magical! There is also a strong moral that we have to do things by ourselves and never give up. Perhaps it is a Japanese virtue to sacrifice oneself for others. On that point maybe the story could have added more details.
O. The theme song is lovely and I still hum it from time to time.
Tui na (2014)
Helps you "see" a different kind of reality
A movie on a group of minority who deserves the same love and care like all of us. It helps us to look at life from a different perspective. With lots of sincerity and excellent use of camera to mimic their world. Before I went I thought it would talk about massage but it is a group drama to tell the love and lust of blind people. It cleverly uses some scenes to tell the advantage and/or disadvantages of being blind while basically telling us what life is like for a blind masseur – which is probably the same as a seeing person.
Since I have not read the original novel, I would not know the detailed background of each character. But for a movie, it seems there are a lot of story lines going on and the only thing that links them together is that they all work for a massage parlor in Nanjing. It would have been nice if more time would dedicate deeply into the main characters and their relations with each other.
I am glad I went to Dialogue in the Dark and experienced what it would be like to be blind – once your vision is lost, your other senses such as hearing, smelling, touching and tasting become sharper. You will probably have better memory and you may even "look" at the world more clearly.
Hence what the main stream considers beautiful may not matter much to a blind person. On the contrary, self-respect, is more important. The director cleverly uses the flirting scene and crying alone scene which highlights the shortcomings in the world of the visually impaired. However, during a black out, it is the blind who helps the others to safety.
Similar to the mainstream world, blind people love, have desires and dignity. They also deserve to be treated as such.
Haunting journalism violates morality
Jake Gyllenhaal makes this alive. He is such an excellent actor, seriously shedding a lot of weight to do this movie. What is left after I walked out of the theater was his bulging eyes blinking like an owl and his chilling smile.
A desperate but fast learner, Luis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) accidentally finds there is a lot of money in crime journalism and invests his time and talent in this line of work, even if it means crossing the line of using other people or violating the basic principles of journalism in checking facts and being objective.
His bulging eyes can be scary sometimes. But what is more disturbing is the way he talks – it is fluent, relevant but strictly business like. The monotone though relatively high pitch is almost like a computer generated business textbook which stress teamwork, communication, striving for excellence and all those BS. He seems to take it very seriously. He is observant and is a fast learner. But he does not have a heart. Or morals. I would not want to be his friend. In fact, he does not seem to have any friends, perhaps because he is so manipulative. I cannot say he is selfish because he was using his business as a shield. But he is sick. Even his smile is haunting. A very strong character development and smooth direction.
It is also appalling to see how sensational some TV news can get. With the advancement in technology, we can easily achieve an abundance of graphic images. But in this process, we seem to have lost sight in in- depth analysis and background research, let alone applying ethics in reporting and checking facts. It is horrifying how some paparazzi type of freelancers are out there doing their job and ruining professional journalism. But that would not have happened if TV stations buy their work. And TV stations would not have bought them if it did not help the ratings. After all, certain type of audience drives certain kind of news. It is disheartening the news director pushes for these graphics which gradually jeopardizes an otherwise would-be tasteful audience. That in turn could shape our society into a heartless mess. Great wake up call.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Tragic yet inspiring story of a man covering his own secrets while cracking more secrets
The Imitation Game, based on the true story of Mathematics Genius Alan Turing, is captivating and excels on all accounts, making it a totally enjoyable movie experience and conducive to reflect on our own lives. It is the story of a man, while covering his own secret, spending all his life unlocking national secrets to save the lives of others who eventually put him in torture. His own life is an enigma. How ironic life is!
Alan Turing is such a genius in mathematics and founder of the computing machine but also very awkward in social situations. He is absorbed in his own world, cracking codes since he was a teenager. He is also a philosopher with his own sets of logic – aware from a young age that people do not say what they mean but hope others will understand their symbols/codes. Being bullied at school and at work because he is different, Turing has developed tremendous resilience to resist violence while standing up for what he believes – breaking German codes and winning the war, even if that means sacrificing some people's lives.
With a tightly knit script, the movie touches on three time zones – when Turing studies at a boarding school, when he works at the Bletchley Radio Factory and after the war when he teaches at university. The three periods are seamlessly intertwined and flows beautifully to highlight certain aspects of Turing which last/haunt all his life and make him unique. In a nutshell, he is a complicated person and we as audience also feel a mixture of feelings while watching his endeavor, whether professionally or personally. One easily feel really sorry and despaired, but at the same time inspired and encouraged.
Benedict Cumberbatch is superb in portraying different levels of complexity in Turing's character. While others consider him arrogant and eccentric, we also see him as a single-minded, focused and smart person who just wants to break the codes and end the war. Although others consider him weird, it is exactly this quality that helps him build the decoding machine and save millions of lives by cutting the war short.
Throughout the movie, there is a strong sense of suffering endured by Turing since he was a child, despite his genius in various aspects. It becomes more complicated when his sexual orientation causes him more threat. To makes his life even more intrigue, he is involved in decoding war secrets where no traces are allowed after the war. All these mysterious elements makes the film fascinating to watch.
The support cast and sound track, as well as art direction, are excellent in depicting this unusual person in this extraordinary time. Alex Lawther, who plays young Turing, is magnificent with his limited screen time. His timid, sweet and shy smile, appreciative blinks as well as sad, repressed and determined denials make one's heart break. However, Keira Knightley is perhaps too attractive to playing Joan Clark, another mathematics expert who also feels like an outsider.
History is ironic in a sense that we have to depend on someone abnormal to bring our lives back to normal. And yet society in general, at least back then, does not tolerant people who are seemingly different from the majority and tries to convert the outliers. However, determined, patient and focused, Turing has tremendous confidence in himself which others easily consider as narcissistic and egoistic. Perhaps one needs to do that as defense when one is so different. He probably did not realize his contribution to England as well as mankind when he was absorbed in his work. All he did was work hard in his own territory. Coincidentally Mencius the ancient Chinese philosopher says that "If I believe in what I am doing, I will go ahead even if tens of thousands of people are against me." I can see that in Turing. Although some people even consider Turing as a machine, judging from his deep affection for his childhood friend we can hardly call him a machine.
From the real Mathematics prodigy Alan Turing to the award-winning screenwriter Graham Moore and Benedict Cumberbatch who acted out the character, we are blatantly told that it is OK to be weird and be different. All we need is to realize our potential and make good use of it. Someday, somehow, our efforts will be recognized. Perhaps if we keep it in mind, life is not that bad. Very inspirational and make you think outside the box. May we all be more open-minded coming out of this film.
Qin ai de (2014)
Saddening truth about the terrible state in China on multiple fronts
Dearest's trailer is sensational, showing all kinds of crying faces and I was not looking forward to see it. But I like Peter Chan, Wei Zhao and Bo Huang. So I went anyway. Well, I cannot say I like it but I think it is worth watching as it shows how disorganized and terrible China is as a country. And I think the director has presented all the facts in quite an objective way.
Based on true events, Dearest tells the heartbreaking story of a divorced couple losing their three-year old son in the coastal city of Shenzhen and the ordeal of searching for him. Yet it is not simply a child abduction story, through the story of Tian Wenjun (Bo Huang) and Li Hongqin (Zhao Wei), we realize that child abduction is widespread in China, as with woman kidnap, and the heartless scam of people tricking parents of the kidnapped kids, and the ridiculous policy of allowing parents to have a second child only after proving their first child is dead.
What the movie did not show is what the abductors do to the children – be it training them to be thieves, or sedating them to be beggars, or child labors, or child prostitute, or selling them overseas or to parents who cannot have kids More depressing truths.
But what it shows is already thought-provoking and disheartening. I cried quite a number of times. For a child, it is sad enough being taken away from your family. But what is sadder is being taken away from another family again and could not recognize your birth parents. Wei Zhao is brilliant in portraying a desperate, innocent but determent mother from a remote village who descends to the southern city of Shenzhen to look for her son. Her motive is pure and noble but the complex situation, including her husband's lies has put her in some pathetic situation.
It is appalling that this is based on a true stories as at the end credits, we see pictures of the original parents, the farmer, the abducted child and the support group of parents losing their children. Very impressive but sad because these abductions are still happening every single day.
Another thought is, with such vast geography and disparity of wealth, the quality of the people are incredibly low. So low that they often resort to physical violence to solve problems – even outside the courthouse!
We heard about these abductions in the news and on the net but this is the first time I encountered these on the big screen. Looking around us, so what if you have your kid in safety in China, you need to shop around for reliable formula milk powder that is safe. That explains why Chinese are snatching up formula milk from supermarkets all over the world from Japan to Germany, let alone Hong Kong. Life must be very tough if you were born and being raised in China. There is no system, or if/when there is, it is inhuman and unreasonable, not to mention the widespread corruption that hinders justice. Under this kind of system, it seems it would be hard to nourish caring, rational and reasonable human beings who looks beyond money and short term profit.
The ripped off paralegal Gao Xia (Dawei Tung) sums it up well though awkwardly in the movie: if people would consider others' point of view this country would have been so much better. They have just forgot/ignored Confucius' Golden Rule. How ironic. A great glimpse into the terrible life in China.
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
When hot rich dominant guy meets innocent college grad desperate for love: story of abused love
Fifty Shades of Grey is quite a disappointment, although the book is not that good to start with.
Dakota Johnson who plays Ana, the innocent college graduate who is desperate for love but has been waiting for the right person, is pretty and acts alright. But Jamie Dornan who plays the filthy rich young CEO Christian Grey is quite a disaster. Yet I think it is the plot (if there is any), the script, and the direction that kills it.
To start with, the plot was weak, as in the novel. But at least in the book there is some suspense which attracts you to find out what kind of person Grey is and how his haunted past has turned him into such a mysterious and strange person today. This suspense is fascinating as many women like to play the role of martyr/curer so as to "save" the man they think they love, even if it means sacrificing themselves. So it is rewarding seeing Grey changes his behavior patterns (eg not do the girlfriend thing, not sleep with women etc) because of Ana who probably wants to be his last woman. This in itself is a conquering feeling that would keep the audience/reader enticed.
In a way, it is almost like a modern fairy tale – Cinderella is picked up by the pumpkin-turned horse carriage and Ana is swept off the feet by all those new electronic gadgets, a brand new car, and a helicopter and a glider ride by the man she feels intrigued with, not to mention Grey always appears like a white knight who saves her from all kinds of embarrassment.
What's more, it is the abundance, spontaneous, various, intense and sometimes kinky sex that sustain the fascination in the book. Unfortunately they are drastically left out in the movie, hence making it less interesting to watch. Perhaps the hot sex would be difficult to show in pure graphic language. But better direction would have led the audience to imagine without laying everything out like an XXX rated movie
Even Grey's wealth and taste is lamely portrayed. His supposedly luxurious apartment looks drab and bland. With the empty and heartless dialogues, it feels like a trashy afternoon TV drama with a weak plot, slow pace and non-arousing love scenes only bored and overweight housewives would watch.
And all these is even before mentioning the negative criticism on domestic violence the film receives. Mind you though, Ana wants to know more about Christian and help him. That's why she is willing to step into this uncertainty, even it means letting herself be hurt. But perhaps a sensible woman would leave at such point and only a fictional character would exercise such involvement. Thus as reader and audience, we would feel safe while vicariously entering such risky relationships.
The book itself, despite its mounting sales, is of limited literal achievement. However, I must admit it serves like a manual where it is tempting to try out some new functions. But other than that, the plot, character development, and theme are quite weak. Unfortunately the movie is worse. I would not recommend watching it with your date. In fact, you probably would not miss much not watching it. Briefly scan the book instead, there might be some practical tips you can pick up.
Big Eyes (2014)
Amazing story based on true events where a talented woman is blind in love
I love true stories even if they are just about ordinary people. But this story is amazing: Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) is quite a character and has an extremely sweet tongue. But he is also a jerk who coerces the talented and budding painter, Margaret (Amy Adams) into marrying him and hiding her talent. Instead of promoting her work, he takes credit of her artwork and portrays himself to be the real artist. Of course it could not last long without his wife's cooperation, who seems to fall wholeheartedly for his convincing lies.
Amy Adams is excellent in playing a naïve woman who would do anything for love, or so she perceives. She even hides the truth from her daughter Jane (Madeleine Arthur) who fled with her from a previous marriage. Material life improves dramatically but it must be tough for Margaret and her daughter in hiding true feelings from each other. As greed corrupts Walter, Margaret cannot not take it anymore and leaves. Religion moves her and she decides to sue him. The rest is history. What an incredible story.
The Walter played by Christoph Waltz is just revolting and annoying. Just looking at his face I want to turn away. How can someone actually fall for such a jerk? Or did Waltz try too hard to play that jerk/asshole? I think they should make his character more plausible. Madeleine Arthur looks pale and need big improvement in her acting skills. Other cast are quite good in presenting this absurd reality.
The end credit was interesting as they showed Walter and Margaret in real life. She is still painting everyday! Hats off to a courageous woman in the 50s!
It is eye opening to see the original works of Margaret Keane as well as how and why she painted them. The art direction is quite thorough to show the ambiance of the 50s, including the vividly bright colors, old style cars, fashion, and clean air. And everyone smokes excessively! You would think people back then were more simple and pure but hell, no.
As a big fan of Tim Burton, this is a highly recommended piece.
Love, Rosie (2014)
Just take a deep breath and dive in. Whatever will be, will be
I love Love Rosie. Cried a few times and feel impatient for the characters. It excels in all accounts: plot, script, artistic direction, acting
especially the main actress. The subject matter is nothing new but the way the director handles it is brilliant.
Rosie (Lily Collins) and Alex (Sam Claflin) have known each other since they were five and have been good friends ever since. But they seem to believe in a curse that good friends cannot be romantically involved: some men are so dumb; some women are so stupid.
Yet as long as we put our mind to it, there is nothing we cannot do. We may meet the wrong person at the right time and disaster follows. We may meet the right person at the wrong time and let opportunity passes. But they meet the right person all the time and are just too timid and insecure to voice their feelings. Thus bad decisions are made – repeatedly - and they have to work harder to make things right.
I love Rosie's father adhering to his liberal mentality despite defying his wife's stand. I also like Alex's reference to this bravery. The witty script adds a lot of flavor to the movie and wisely highlights the situation/predicament of the characters. The punchlines often lightens an otherwise depressing situation, or paths ways for an opportunity.
Rosie seems to meet a lot of bad luck which turns to good and gradually evolves into trouble. The same applies to Alex. But their friendship and affection for each other remain strong. And that is what is so precious about this movie, and perhaps about our life too for that matter. Despite all the setbacks and mishaps, maybe we should all open our eyes and look around for someone who is already there all along
Lily Collins is pretty and lovely. She acts really well just with her eyes and lips. Alex could work a little more on his acting but his eyes and smiles are just gorgeous.
Great organization and smooth transition. Very witty script and humorous/light way in treating a subject that could be heavy and sad. Great bodies too! Highly recommended.
Good times or bad times, we grow up with the characters
Congratulations to Boyhood on winning the Golden Globe Best film and Best Supporting Actress!
Even if it does not win anything, Boyhood is quite a comfortable and pleasant movie to watch. You are bound to find some traces of yourself or your family members or your friends in some of these scenes because they are so close to life. Sometimes it even reminds me of the clips we will see before we leave this world .
Twelve years in the making, it feels like we are also growing with Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who starts as a five-year-old boy daydreaming about why things happen in life, including his parents' separation. What we are watching is not just him, but all the people around him who also grow up/mature over the years.
When the film begins, a single mother, Mason's mom (Patricia Arquette) decides to move to Houston with her two kids to be closer to her mom and go back to college, where she will meet her second husband. As a kid, Mason does not even have time to say goodbye to his childhood friends. His older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), offers a females perspective of growing up and we see her maturing into a young woman going to college.
Mom's second marriage turns sour and decides to move out with Mason and Samantha. By then she has established a career and soon enters into another relationship where her kids also need to adjust to during their stormy teens.
One of the pillar of the movie is that all through these 12 years, they meet their father (Ethan Hawke) regularly, who seem to offer a sanctuary vent for them to step back and look at their own life. Of course Dad matures over the years, gets remarried and starts another cycle all over which is another story.
Watching this film is like visiting a long term friend, catching up with him/her and realizing we have many things in common. Life can be dramatic at times but mostly it is just calm and non-eventful but it is real. Yet, whatever happens, it is and will be our collective memory. Before watching this I was a little worried because I think the Sunrise and Sunset series was kind of too much talking and not much action going on. But Boyhood is so interesting and there are so many characters to follow that it was going through a family album.
There is no big moral lesson here. We just witness people change and evolve over time and begin to realize that whatever happens, life has to move on. So just enjoy the ride while you can. Mason always have this observer smile, as if he is trying to cipher what is going on in the adult world. Yet the director does not offer any explanation. He just lay down what happens, and highlight the important moments for us to ponder. I am sure we can identify with many characters, regardless of our cultural and age differences.
Pacing was good. Mason's mom works hard to provide a better life for herself and kids. Patricia acts very well and portrays a conscientious, overworked and ambitious mother who gains weight over the years but finally decides to lose all her possessions. But not only her, we also witness everyone grow up or age over the years. Sometimes sad but hey it is part of life.
It is much more lively and visually stimulating than the sunrise series and I yearn for more. I hope director Richard Linklater is secretly doing another 12 years tracing Mason's college life and venturing into adulthood, his mom's empty nest challenge etc while intertwining with what is happening in the US. He can name it manhood.
A heartwarming family movie with animation showing British humor and hospitality
It has been a while since I last saw a heartwarming animation family movie based on a book series – with British humor. Paddington is a total success.
Overall performance is excellent: good plot and script, great art direction and visual effects. Superb performance by all cast with humor. The facial expression and fluffy fur of Paddington the talking bear is just seamless.
The whole plot is quite smooth with a British explorer going the Darkest Peru and befriended two bears, teaching them English and British manner. Forty years later, Paddington left his birthplace as requested from his aunt to go to London to look for the explorer as he would be well taken care of.
The vivid colors paints the story like a moving picture book, where we follow Paddington's adventure in London. The story flows beautifully as Paddington writes to his hometown introducing the Brown family who initially puts him up for one night but ends up developing a strong bond with him.
Totally enjoyable ride and London seems to be so appealing – with a combination of "Singing in the Rain" and "Mary Poppins" (the umbrella!). It also shows a unique sense of British humor seen from a child's perspective such as "stand on right" and "dogs must be carried."
The structure of the whole production is rather tight. It is so meticulously crafted that not a single frame is wasted and all characters, even the minor ones, such as Mrs Bird (Julie Walters), and their weird neighbor Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi), or even the pigeons all have important roles to play. Everything is connected and many elements appear at least twice to establish a linkage: the pigeons, Mrs Bird, doll house, attic, etc.
Of course the family members are excellent: Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville), a risk analyst looks stern and always quotes statistics to protect his children. He steals the show when he disguises as a maid to look for information for Paddington. The smiley Mrs Brown (Sally Hawkins), an illustrator, adores her husband who used to be much wilder in his younger days. Children Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are as adorable kids as you can get.
Millicent (Nicole Kidman), the villain, is like a witch clad in white. She is haunting and scary in her figure hugging outfits and high heels. But like all family movies the story will end on a positive note and prompt you to like it so much that you want to read the book and have marmalade.
The movie also stresses on good manner (the bear stare!), hospitality, being honest and accept people who are different from us: all things we have learnt in kindergarten and need to practice throughout our life. Highly recommended for all ages.
The Interview (2014)
Stupid comedy based on sloppy research: big disappointment
North Korea, let alone the hacking of Sony site and pulling out from theater release in Christmas, is probably just a gimmick for this stupid comedy. I am more disappointed than I expected since I have always wanted to know more about North Korea and thought it would be a brilliant idea to show a tragic and unbelievable place in a witty, cynical and yet factual way.
Yet with excessive and poor taste of comical sex and violence, the Interview feels like a third rate low budget comedy. The acting, especially James Franco, is so bad and exaggerating that I wanted to leave midway.
But what kills it is the superficial portrayal of North Korea: other than the famine that leaves millions of North Koreans starving, its Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is a liar, and the propaganda glorifies him like a God. That's about it.
In an effort to show how flimsy the research is and how patronizing American culture (as delivered by the producers) is, Kim is portrayed with superb skills in basketball, loves drinking and chicks and collecting cars, including tanks. What about his abuse of power by putting anyone against him in prison or death? What about the Juche idea? The Kim dynasty? And how the western aid all go to the military? And the black market and inventive ways people looking for food? What about the extent to which North Koreans are willing to suffer to escape from their country? How they fakes tears when their leader died and how they spy on neighbors? Or how modeled or staged Pyongyang is (like The Truman Show) for foreign visitors? Or about how they make fun of the imperial west and corrupted South Korea? It could have been so hilarious if we show these elements rather than sex and violence which we can see in any other comedies.
If the researchers for this movie could have dug a little deeper about this reclusive country, this could have been developed into something so much more informative and entertaining while ridiculous and hilarious. Even the Dictator is slightly better. But we ended up having is just very limited and recited facts of the famine stats and a moody leader.
I am angry and disappointed, not because they make fun of North Korea, but because they have missed the golden opportunity which has so much potential to sneer at western and totalitarian politics. And President Obama may eventually feel he has become part of the clowning act to be conned into publicizing this movie in the name of terrorism or cyberbully or breach of speech freedom. A real big disappointment.