Boy

A Sundance film, Boy tells the story of the kid whose name is Boy. Set in New Zealand, Boy’s grandmother has to leave town to attend a funeral and leaves Boy, age 12 or so, in charge of his brother and 4 cousins. Its plot is like The Cat in the Hat. Once the grandma’s gone, things go out of hand. At first just a little bit as Boy makes weird dinners for his charges.

Soon his father, who’s just gotten out of jail. Boy idolizes his dad, who’s promised to take him to see Michael Jackson and who impresses him with his fantastic stories.

The story has lots of charm and delights with special effects and child-like animation. I enjoyed all the Kiwi characters and getting glimpse into a slice of New Zealand. The ending wasn’t particularly strong, but all in all, Boy is a fun film with lots of heart and a touch of sadness.

Seven Samurai

p5588_p_v8_au

Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a film that left me stunned. So much action! Bam! What bold characters! Wow!

During a period of political instability in the 16th century, samurai were cut loose from their masters. Bandits roamed Japan pillaging and farmers lived in fear. In Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, a small, farming village is attacked by bandits. The bandits leave since the farmers don’t have much to steal. The bandits took most everything before. However, they do plan to return when the crops come in.

The elder of the village suggests the peasants hire some samurai to protect them. The peasants aren’t sure, but “Grandpa” is revered and no one has a better idea. So a few scouts go to town to recruit.

They luck out and find wise Kanbei, played by Kurosawa regular Takeshi Shimura, who leads the motley crew. Other samurai includes trained swordsmen, a master samurai who’s head and shoulders above the others, and the bull in a china shop, Kikuchiyo, played by another acting powerhouse Toshirô Mifune. Kikuchiyo is an outsider even in the midst of this motley crew. He’s crude and has a sense of humor that has no idea what’s appropriate when. Kikuchiyo is so fun to watch because he’s incredibly physical able to move and fight like no one I’ve seen on film.

The film is dramatic, but also funny. No character is put on a pedestal. Most defy the idealized social roles most stories confer upon them. One of the high points of the film is a speech Kikuchiyo gives deriding farmers. He tells the other samurai that they’re fools to think these people are simple and honest. He calls them out as greedy, timid and secretive. After his heated speech, Kanbei says, “So you’re from a farming family?” Yep. You called it.

By the end of the film we see that Kikuchiyo was exactly right. The farmers show their true natures. It takes nearly 3 and a half hours to see the team assembled, watch them prepare and then fight in a couple of the most compelling battles I’ve ever seen on film.

From David Ehrensteins’ essay on the film from Criterion.com:

“Japanese films all tend to be rather bland in flavor, like green tea over rice,” Kurosawa remarked in an interview, making a knowing dig at his staid rival, Yasujiro Ozu (one of whose films was actually called The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice). “I think we ought to have richer foods, and richer films. So I thought I would make this kind of film entertaining enough to eat.”

The dish Kurosawa set before audiences was certainly different from what they had tasted up until then—particularly as far as period filmmaking was concerned. Instead of the slow, ritualistic, and highly theatrical style of the typical sixteenth-century saga, Seven Samurai moved with the sure swiftness of a Hollywood action epic, like Gunga Din or Stagecoach. The characters may inhabit historical settings, but their manner and bearing were, often as not, strikingly contemporary—particularly in the case of the buffoonish Kikuchiyo, the high-spirited would-be samurai played with great gusto by Toshiro Mifune. Most important of all was the visual style of the film which, thanks to Kurosawa’s use of multiple cameras, lent itself to many unusual editing techniques.

Seven Samurai is a classic that all film lovers should see.

The Adventures of Sally

The-Adventures-of-Sally-2789701

When Sally Nichols inherits a fortune and leaves New York to . She’s dreamed of going to France and off she goes. she’s the sort of girl every man falls for, through no fault of her own.

Soon she winds up in in London and gets roped into helping her hapless brother Philmore, who’s constantly bungling into financial difficulty whether it’s through a disastrous theatrical production or some hare-brained business venture. She meets red-haired Ginger, who falls for her, but whom she keeps at a distance prior to discovering that her fiancé has married. Shortly after unconsciously winning Ginger’s love, she meets his grouchy uncle on a train and he’s soon smitten. The story goes on to follow the ups and downs of Sally’s financial and romantic life. It’s a pleasant, witty story that had me laughing out loud.

I was a worried that I wouldn’t enjoy a P.G. Wodehouse book without Jeeves, but while I think the Jeeves stories are of a higher order, I did enjoy The Adventures of Sally.

I listened to the Jonathan Cecil’s narration and highly recommend that audiobook.

Quotable Quotes:

“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

“Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious.”

“It seems to be one of Nature’s laws that the most attractive girls should have the least attractive brothers. Fillmore Nicholas had not worn well. At the age of seven he had been an extraordinarily beautiful child, but after that he had gone all to pieces; and now, at the age of twenty-five, it would be idle to deny that he was something of a mess.”

 

Antoine et Collette

th-12

A short film by François Truffaut, Antoine and Collette is a slightly melancholy look at Antoine Doinel’s attempt to get a girlfriend. First seen in 400 Blows Antoine has grown up left his neglectful, abusive home at 17. He’s on his own and works for a record company, where he gets lots of tickets to concerts.

At one concert he sees Collette and immediately falls head over heels for her. She’s indifferent to him so there’s misadventures as Antoine tries to get Collette’s attention. Once they become chummy, her parents meet and take to Antoine. This will be the story of his life, girls’ parents, but not the girls themselves liking this well-meaning, rather lost boy.

The film is touching and realistic and charms viewers in its 26 minutes. I wish it were longer and was glad to watch Stolen Kisses and see more of Antoine.

Having Our Say

xtn-500_havingprophoto_08.jpg.pagespeed.ic.FRKNFDTgNR
Based on the lives two delightfully wise and accomplished African American sisters, both of whom are over 100 years old, Having Our Say lays out the history of racial matters from the Gilded Age all through the 20th century. Sadie and Bessie Delaney recount their rather unique heritage as their mother was 25% black and never tried to pass as white. Their white grandfather and Black grandmother couldn’t marry as it was illegal in the south until the late 1960s. Still they raised their family and attended a church that came to agree that okay the only reason you aren’t married is that you can’t be so we’ll welcome you.

The play is structured as a long conversation with a reporter, who’s represented by the audience. The stories range from charming and fun to raw depictions of injustice. Yet at all times the sisters are victors not victims. Neither married and both attained professional status in an era when few African American women could. Their father was a bishop and insisted his daughters go to college, though he stipulated that they work first because he had no money for additional schooling and would not allow them to obtain scholarships because he believed that would make them beholden to whoever supplied the scholarship. Both met his challenge without complaint. Sadie became the first colored* (sic) high school teacher in her all-white high school and Bessie became the first colored woman to be licensed as a dentist in New York.

The women recount their experiences and heritage from family stories of slavery to their own experience with Jim Crow and Civil Rights. Throughout we hear their family stories, wisdom and witticisms.

This production had an inventive set that featured picture frames which would show old photos of the friends and family Bessie and Sadie were describing.

The acting was superb and I’d love to see Ella Joyce (Bessie) or Marie Thomas (Sadie) in another play. The pair brought great energy and chemistry to the play.

My only wish was that the play had more of a plot. As it stands it’s an adaptation of a memoir. So it’s a chronological telling of lived experiences. While these second and mainly first hand accounts are interesting, they aren’t as dramatic as a play that uses Aristotelian principles to give a story plenty of momentum.

I’d prefer a structure like that of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a former slave who recounts her memories on up to the 1960s. Such a play requires more characters and sets, hence more money, but it offers more suspense. Nonetheless, this is a good production, well worth seeing.

*The women didn’t feel Black or African American were terms that described them well. They were American. They felt “colored” was more accurate than Black.

A Taste of Things to Come

taste of

The musical A Taste of Things to Come is a clever, fun musical that entertains, however, it’s not for everyone. Set in the 1950s and 60s, A Taste of Things to Come is about four female friends who meet each Wednesday to cook and converse. They share their dreams and struggles while trying to win the Betty Crocker cooking contests. In the first act three of the women are married and one’s single. The single woman’s adventurous and modern, while the others are more conservative though they all are curious about social changes, which may upturn the order of this era. The play pokes fun at Dr. Spock’s advice and old fashioned feminine roles.

Act Two is set in the late 60s. Three of the women have embraced the fashion and freedoms the era offers, while Dolly, who’s a mother of six, clings to the old ways. Now three of the women have careers and are quite independent. At first the group is tentative as they haven’t gathered for ten years due to a falling out at the end of Act One.

A Taste of Things to Come is an entertaining trip down memory lane. The cast is dynamic and all sing well. The main drawback is that I don’t see the show appealing to people who didn’t live through the 60s or who doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of these decades. There are too many cultural references and the pacing is brisk so you don’t have time to find out what the characters are talking about.

The songs were upbeat, but not memorable. I enjoyed them while I watched, but I doubt anyone would have to get the CD. This is not a criticism, but I doubt any men would find the show that interesting. There’s no attempt to appeal to them. There are no male characters or no themes centered on how men were affected by these eras. All that’s fine. A Taste of Things to Come serves up an entertaining, light show, which is often what we crave.

The Code of the Woosters

th-8.jpegI’m loving the audio books of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves series. This week I listened to The Code of the Woosters where Bertie’s aunt Dahlia forces him to track down an ugly cow creamer that his uncle is obsessed with. This leads to an amazingly comic odyssey in the British countryside.

Here are a few of the thousands of great quotations:

“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

“It was a silver cow. But when I say ‘cow’, don’t go running away with the idea of some decent, self-respecting cudster such as you may observe loading grass into itself in the nearest meadow. This was a sinister, leering, Underworld sort of animal, the kind that would spit out of the side of its mouth for twopence.”

“I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old Grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot, as well.”

“I suppose even Dictators have their chummy moments, when they put their feet up and relax with the boys, but it was plain from the outset that if Roderick Spode had a sunnier side, he had not come with any idea of exhibiting it now. His manner was curt. One sensed the absence of the bonhomous note.”

“I couldn’t have made a better shot, if I had been one of those detectives who see a chap walking along the street and deduce that he is a retired manufacturer of poppet valves named Robinson with rheumatism in one arm, living at Clapham.

The book’s delightful from start to finish. How does Wodehouse do it?

He’s a comic genius if ever there was one.