Category Archives: Foreign

Movie Week in Review: From The Fog to Love

There were some flops last week as part of my movie challenge.

fog_poster_06It started out strong with John Carpenter’s The Fog, a film I knew little about but enjoyed both for its visual effects and solid scares. The film, based on a fable about shipwrecked—possibly murdered—men who attack the village of Antonio Bay on the 100-year anniversary of their death, builds slowly but it was an effective style choice.

As the Antonio Bay residents anticipate the anniversary, a green, thick fog approaches the village. By the time the fog is in full force, and night falls, the victims are only able to see glimpses of the disfigured monsters as they seek revenge for what happened 100 years ago.

Carpenter’s score, much like in Halloween, completes the fear factor in the film.

A test of a good horror film, in my opinion, is how often you think of it after the fact or feel the need to check if the door is locked or, even worse, if there is a mangled monster hiding in your closet. In other words, if a film has the power to send you back to age 10 and to thinking checking the closet or under your bed at nightfall is going to help you survive – it passes the test for me. Films are all about imagination and The Fog—again with its fable influence—is a creative story with just the right amount of fright that holds up today.

The Fog and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (now streaming on Netflix) are loosely connected in the strength of their visual styles. In fact, a rarity for Hitchcock, I think the visuals of To Catch a Thief are one of its stronger points over the script and acting. Hitchcock, at least the films I’ve seen so far, usually presents a triple threat but some components of To Catch a Thief faltered a bit. Cary Grant, as a retired jewel thief bumbling away at his French villa, and Grace Kelly as a tourist who takes to him (and wants to solve a mystery behind missing diamonds) shine together on screen. It’s hard to top that but, given that the film won an Oscar for best cinematography, its stylistic points to depict the mystery burglar and capture the beautiful French countryside were more memorable components of this Hitchcock picture.

Other than the wonderful Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,  which I found by happenstance at the library, the memorable moments from the films I watched last week dwindled a bit after To Catch a Thief.

I’ll save Ali: Fear Eats the Soul for last so as to end a high note, but Margaret and Urban Cowboy presented some dark times for me last week in cinematic history. Maybe I’m being a little over dramatic but not as much as Anna Paquin in her role as entitled teenager Lisa after she witnesses, or possibly causes, a horrific bus accident in New York City in Margaret.

I am still kind of baffled about how a strong cast of Paquin, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon (although his role is small and he can be blamed for nothing wrong in this world) can deliver such forced performances that lack any depiction of real emotion. The film is nearly three hours long and I stuck with it hoping their character depictions would improve, with no such luck. Paquin and Ruffalo, as the bus driver, have the biggest roles and lack any real tension even as they are at odds with each other about what happened on the day of the accident.  At one point in the film it seemed like some of the actors with smaller roles knew how bad it was and just flubbed through their lines on purpose. It was almost like watching one take of the movie being made live and they had to release whatever they made it through. I hope to find other people who saw Margaret, and made it beyond the violent bus accident scene, to know if I am just imagining how bad it was or if there is a different take on the film that I am missing.

The same is the case for Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta, because I didn’t even watch the last 20 minutes. I tried, but the last hour of the film really went downhill, in my opinion. The first hour delivered what I expected as far as a 1980s story of a rural man moving to the big city to ultimately do the same things he did before with the addition of falling in love and getting married. It was like a less-serious Saturday Night Fever with nowhere near the depth and strength in it’s story but, at least at first, entertaining nonetheless. Someday I’ll have to watch those 20 minutes to technically count it in my challenge, but for now I don’t feel like I missed much.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, however, redeemed my week of ups and downs as a perfect, unexpected love story between a Moroccan migrant worker and a German woman 20-years his senior after they meet at a bar. The description on the library DVD sounded interesting, but I had no idea the film is so well regarded or that it is so wonderful.

It’s a simple story made deeper with its commentary on culture and society shown through the responses of Emmi and Ali’s friends and family to their unlikely relationship. Stylistically, not counting teh dialogue and music, it was beautiful to watch the camera angles that provided a voyeuristic view into the characters’ lives. Of all the movies I watched last week, I definitely recommend Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. We could all use something unexpected in our lives now and then.

“Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?”

Edgar Allan Poe

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80 of 366: The Housemaid (Hanyo)

housemaid
World Cinema Project

Manipulation, infidelity, desire and betrayal are all themes explored in Kim Ki-Young’s 1960 film from South Korea, The Housemaid (Hanyo.)

The original negative of the film was restored by the World Cinema Project, an organization with the mission to preserve films with cultural and cinematic significance, and the Korean Film Archive.

The original negative was missing two reels and, after being combined with another print found in 1990,  was released two years after the restoration process started. There is also a remake of the film from 2010 with Kim Ki-Young as the writer working with a different director, Song-soo Im. Young both wrote and directed the original film, referenced in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as a marvelous discovery in film history.

The story centers on a couple in Korea in need of a maid to help care for their house and two children. The mother in the family, Mrs. Kim, is pregnant with their third child and is at first hesitant to have a maid there in fear it will be temptation for her husband, Dong-sik Kim to cheat.

Dong-sik is a piano teacher, often pursued by his female students, but the temptation of a younger woman doesn’t become real until they do hire a maid, Myong-sook, to help.

The temptation escalates solely because of Myong-sook’s obsessive and controlling behavior during the course of the film. It’s clear from the beginning she has deep desire to be more a part of the Kim family than a maid and will go to all lengths to take over the home and get what she wants.

The build to reveal her true character is slow in this suspense-thriller that uses its musical score to exemplify that something terrifying will happen at any moment.

The film’s visual style is complex with high angle and exterior shots through windows and doors that define the feeling you are looking in on a family’s secrets and struggles they don’t want anyone to know about. Dong-sik, at many points in the story, threatened to tell the police about Myong-sook’s obsessive and ultimately violent behavior toward the family but she, or even his own wife, influenced him not to act on his instincts.

The Housemaid is a haunting and beautiful story that delivers on the fact that something bad will happen, on many occasions, and goes full circle in exploring the idea of the problems temptation causes when put against people’s human instincts versus doing the right thing.

 

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

kumikoIf there is one thing I would recommend before seeing Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, it’s actually best to know as little as possible about the true story that it’s based on.

I saw the trailer for the film in February and was fascinated with the premise and portrayal of the quest of a Japanese woman, Takako Konishi (Rinko Kikuchi), to find the money buried in the movie Fargo, which she believed was real.

Watching the film with only that little bit of information in the back of my mind added to the mystery of it and Kumiko’s character as she is seen working in an office in Tokyo while plotting how she will travel to the U.S. to find her treasure.

Interestingly the filmmakers, David and Nathan Zellner, were able to keep away from media coverage of the story they were telling so it wouldn’t influence their creativity while they completed the project, according to an article from Indiewire.

The Zellners, who are brothers living in Austin, started their script for Kumiko in 2001, a year that does coincide with the true story. While they did want to stick to the facts and portray Konishi as an accurate character,  the Zellners also wanted to tell the story in their own way.

They also took their time – 10 years – developing the project. Some of the delay was voluntary, some not, but it proved to be a benefit for the Zellners, who premiered the film at Sundance last year and earned critical acclaim.

Once the film was over, my mentality (temporarily) switched from not wanting to know anything to wanting to know everything about the story. I wanted to know more about Kumiko’s character and why she thought what she saw in the movie Fargo was real and that it was her destiny to find it. Now, having thought about it for a day, I am satisfied with the mystery and unknowns the Zellners presented in the film while appreciating their technique in cinematography, writing and storytelling.

The film was made both in Japan and Minnesota and the transition from one location to the next and the differences between the cultures exemplified Kumiko’s struggle as she tries to find her treasure and — ultimately — happiness.

Visually, the composition of scenes with Kumiko in Tokyo compared to the sudden stark winter landscape she faced, seemingly without fear, was stunning to watch.

Music, by The Octopus Project, added to the haunting components of the film and overall the instrumental soundtrack was fitting to accompany Kumiko on her journey.

There was a small amount of humor in the film, but for the most part I found it to be sad and dark and hard to watch at times, even with the way the Zellners chose to portray the end to the story.

I know I’ve said it before, but movies can be a escape, especially for me. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is easy to get lost in and think about what the journey was like for her and the people she did meet along the way.

Maybe this is all too much information about the film and true story anyway, but keep an open mind about it and I definitely recommend seeing it. It turns out it is doing well in the theater and there will be at least another week of shows in Minneapolis.

Follow your destiny. It’s on page 95.

That is all.