Category Archives: Foreign

2001 Best Movie Bracket

When you mention the year 2001, one event comes to most Americans’ minds. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of history and things have never been the same. It was also the year that I graduated from high school and left for college. When 9/11 happened, I was in my first semester of college and was over 200 miles from the only home I had ever known.

Little did we know that our little college campus would be rocked with a tragedy less than two week afterwards that felt more significant than towers falling. There was a van accident which killed three of my peers as they were returning from a ministry event. It was a very sad time, but it drew me closer to the beautiful woman that would become my wife. We grieved together and drew strength from each other’s faith.

Film was one of the last thing on my mind during that time, but it seemed that just a few months after this tragedy many Americans were finding refuge from the pain of reality through the imagination of a handful of master storytellers. Two film franchises were born during this year and they would persist for many years following. I’m speaking of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

While both of these were good films and left a lasting impression on film, they are merely footnotes or honorable mentions in this competition for the best film of the year. Before I get to my top 3 films of the year, you should know that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to my 4th best movie of the year, A Beautiful Mind. Other honorable mentions are: AmelieThe Others, Donnie Darko, Training DayThe Royal Tenenbaums, and Ocean’s Eleven. All of my Top 3 are at least a bit surreal and dive into and out of the deepest and most intimate place in all of us, our memory. That is appropriate since I have such deep memories of this year.

#1 – Spirited Away

The first time you watch Spirited Away you are blown away by the visuals. Hayao Mizayaki’s decadent hand drawn animation is always moving and is totally beautiful. You are left thinking about the meaning and the symbolism that is deep under the surface of this story of a young girl who gets lost in a spirit world and has to find her way back. Every time after that, you will be sucked deeper into the symbolism until you realize that this is a commentary on growing up in a Capitalist culture but not losing the innocent wonder of childhood.

Chihiro means “thousand questions.” It means that she is inquisitive and takes nothing for granted. We see this wide eyed girl lose her parents to greed and consumerism. She gets a job at a bath house and trades away part of her name. The name is a symbol of a person’s character and she becomes Sen which means “thousand.” Literally, the questions have been removed. She is warned not to forget her name because that is the secret for her escape. I won’t go any deeper than that in case you haven’t seen it, but I just might do a full spoiler laden breakdown at some point.

#2 – Memento

Technically, Memento was released in 2000 but it wasn’t seen on US soil until 2001, so I had to put it in this year. Long before Christoper Nolan started diving into the brains of his characters and viewers in Inception, he was beginning at the end with Memento. Simply put, it is the non-simple, non-linear story of Leonard who suffers from a Dory-like version of short-term memory loss. He retains memories from before his accident but cannot create any new memories. Instead, he litters his jacket pockets with Polaroid pictures and scraps of note paper, and covers the canvas of his body with tattoos to remind him of his overall purpose.

We learn through 22 vignettes that Leonard is hunting a man called John G. who is behind the rape and murder of his wife. I don’t want to spoil too much because it is such a fun puzzle to put together, but let me just say that you will be engaged and guessing with the story until the very end. This is one of the films that made Christopher Nolan the brand name that he is today.

#3 – Mulholland Drive

Have you ever had a dream that freaked you out and left you gasping for breath as you rushed back to consciousness? When your loved ones come in the room to check if you are okay all you can say is I had a bad dream. Invariably, they will ask what it was about, but we can’t say because the dream is quickly retreating into our sub conscience, and because no matter how well you explain what happened in the dream you sound psychotic. Mulholland Dr. is that creepy dream.

More people have become familiar with David Lynch since the new Twin Peaks was released. I would recommend this movie as a good starting place, but I would encourage you not to analyze too much. To truly enjoy it, you must surrender yourself to it. As Roger Ebert said, “If you require logic, see something else.” David Lynch loves to make films which defy logic, but Mulholland Dr. follows no conventional plot structure, it simply ebbs and flows like a dream.

Did I get something wrong? What would you change? Have you seen any of these three? Let me know in the comments or on social media.

The Internet Has Already Named The Passion of the Christ Sequel

Yesterday it was reported that Randall Wallace, the writer who worked with Mel Gibson on 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, is currently at work on a script for the sequel. The writer, who recently wrote and directed the 2014 faith-based film Heaven Is For Real, told The Hollywood Reporter that he and Gibson are working on a sequel and that the project has become too difficult to keep under wraps.

 Despite the fact that Sony just put out Risen, a film that tells the story of the resurrection, Wallace says that there’s an underserved community of moviegoers that is clamoring for more undead Jesus of Nazareth. “The evangelical community considers The Passion the biggest movie ever out of Hollywood,” he explained. “And they kept telling us that they think a sequel will be even bigger.”

While the project is yet to find funding — as Wallace explains, “It’s too early to talk money. This is such a huge and sacred subject.” — We know that coming up with the perfect name for your movie can be difficult. So, the Internet has already taken up the mantle of naming the new film. Here are a few titles being thrown around the internet:

  • Christ Harder
  • Passion of the Christ 2: Electric Bugaloo
  • Muhammad v. Jesus: Dawn of Justice
  • 22 Jesus Street
  • Passion 2: Double Cross

Whatever title they pick, it is going to be the best Zombie movie to ever grace the screen. Do you think that it could help to provide some legitimacy to Mel Gibson and help to bring him back into the Hollywood community?

Source:

Where to Invade Next (2015)

What’s a conservative Christian like me doing watching a documentary from progressive activist and documentarian Michael Moore? I have actually watched all of his documentaries, most of which focus on a mean-spirited critique of America’s economic and social structure. Most of them make some good points about how Americans have allowed corporate greed and political bureaucracy to get us away from being the nation that our founding fathers established.

His most recent film is all about this theme, however he changes up his theme in a big way. It is not a critique, but a graceful and witty film that offers possible solutions to the problems that Moore believes plague the United States. He identifies these solutions by “invading” countries in Europe and North Africa with the hopes to take some of their best ideas back to the US.

Moore admits that he looks only at each country’s positive achievements and ignores its problems. He uses each country to illustrate one way government can help citizens navigate through the various stages of their lives – education, employment, parenthood, and retirement. Moore celebrates the ways these countries have found to temper Capitalism with strict regulations and a solid set of social-welfare programs.

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In Italy, he chats with a couple about a law that compels employers to provide up to 22 weeks of paid maternity leave. As Moore reminds viewers, America is the only country in the world besides Papua New Guinea that doesn’t provide its citizens with paid maternity leave. In France, he hangs out at a public school that treats the lunch hour as part of the curriculum. The school chef cooks fresh meals daily using local ingredients. It’s far cheaper per head, Moore argues, than the gross frozen food that American schools buy in bulk.

He visits a factory in Germany where he learns that, by law, rank-and-file employees must make up 50 percent of each company’s governing board. Another law forbids bosses from contacting employees who are on vacation. These examples show that Europeans – at least those Moore profiles – value quality of life far more than wealth.

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Where to Invade Next is Moore’s most radical film because it shows there are countries that refuse to shape policy according to the logic of profit and wealth alone, but also factor in the notion of the public good. The higher taxes their citizens pay goes to establish free health care, cheap day care, well-funded public schools. If those needs are met, Moore argues, people are less likely to be obsessed with wealth and more concerned about forming social bonds. It would take a massive revolution to make these things happen in America, but our nation was formed through a massive revolution, perhaps it is time for another one that brings us back to where we should be.

Seven Samurai (1954)

Roger Ebert – Great Movie Review – 2001:

A farming community learns that the upcoming harvest will result in a raid by a group of thieving bandits. An outspoken worker suggests that they should go to the nearest town and find a group of warriors who will protect them and help them defend their land…

Wait a second, I think I accidentally put A Bug’s Life into the DVD player instead of Seven Samurai… Sorry about that, I’m always getting those two confused. Obviously, I’m not saying that A Bug’s Life is a remake of Seven Samurai, but there is no doubt that it borrows some of its basis for a story on this original ensemble battle film, as did:

MIFUNEThe Guns of Navarone (1961)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
The Road Warrior (1982)
Die Hard (1988)
Ronin (1998)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The 13th Warrior (1999)
The Phantom Menace (1999)
Three Kings (1999)
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
The Inglorious Bastards (2009)

Clearly, this Akira Kurosawa masterpiece tapped into a concept or trope that was so simple it could be the basis for kids movies, westerns, and space comedies. It is the universal desire to see the strong protect the weak and the fact that with a varied group of warriors, we can each find our own place in the story. But just because Kurosawa did it first, does that necessarily mean that this movie is great? Why has this 3 hour and 27 minute epic held the attention of the cinematic community for over 60 years. Why is this movie regarded as highly as it is? Well, let’s recount the basics of the story’s theme along with some character analysis, then we’ll look at Kurosawa’s skill as a director which I believe sheds some light on what makes this film shine after 60 years of imitators have tried to recreate its charm, power, and craftsmanship. Continue reading Seven Samurai (1954)

Day 18 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie That You Wish More People Would’ve Seen

Today’s challenge was simple. If I can only recommend one movie to anyone, it is this delightful gem from Roberto Benigni. And it is a rare occasion that they have already seen it. I wonder what prevents people from seeing this film. Is it the fact that it is a foreign film or maybe that there are no recognizable movie stars in it? Perhaps it is the fact that the subject matter is generally so depressing. But the funny yet haunting Life Is Beautiful, is quite possibly the best most satisfying movie I have ever seen.

Life Is Beautiful is the story of clever Italian waiter named Guido Orefice (played masterfully by writer and director Benigni himself). Over in Germany, Hitler is making his malevolent preparations, but for the first half of the film, world politics are only a backdrop to Guido’s comic attempts to woo a beautiful schoolteacher named Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), away from her fiance. Benigni’s brand of physical comedy reminds me of Charlie Chaplin. He even has touches of political satire a la Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, for instance, Guido’s automobile has malfunctioning brakes and his frantic waving people out of the way is mistaken for stiff-armed salutes. But where Life Is Beautiful turns into something rare and extraordinary is not until midway through the film.

Fast-forwarding a few years, Guido, now owns a small bookstore. Guido and Dora have married and have a young son. It wasn’t until writing this review that I found that his son’s name is “Joshua” spelled Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini). A Nazi presence is now creeping into their Italian town, and signs have begun to appear in shop windows: “No Dogs or Jews Allowed” Guido, who we learn is Jewish himself, jokes to a confused Giosue that he should put up a sign on their store: “No Spiders or Visigoths Allowed.” The film shifts gears when his family is arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Dora, who is not Jewish, chooses to follow her husband and child. It is at this point that Life Is Beautiful changes into a very different film. I was impressed at how seamlessly the comedy moved into the world of the death camps.

It’s a risky transition, as Guido continues to struggle to shield his son from its harsh realities and atrocities of the Holocaust, but Benigni handles it with class. He accomplishes this minor miracle by shifting the focus and audience of his humor to Giosue. He makes the camp and its officers look foolish not to make us laugh but to spare his beloved son from the trauma of this horror. Some detractors see it as making light of tragedy, but they fail to realize is that its humor does not make light of the genocide but rather exalts the sacrifice of a parent.

Do you have any lesser known gems in mind that you would recommend to everyone? I watch a lot of movies that every one else passes up. I hope you will share some with me in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Three Colors: White (1994)

There is almost too much to say about these three films. In fact, only one film in the trilogy actually made it onto the IMDB Top 250 list, that being the final film, Red. Although these are each excellent as stand-alone works, they are best when seen as a whole. For that reason, I am going to review each of them separately. For the unfamiliar, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s last work, “Three Colors Trilogy” takes its name from the colors of the French flag and its themes from the ideals represented by those colors: blue (liberty), white (equality), and red (friendship).

White is the second film in Kieslowski’s Trilogy, and it deals with the idea of equality. In my opinion, it may not be the strongest “film” of the three, but it is the one that I enjoyed the most. It maintains a balancing act between comedy and tragedy. The tone and feel of White was different, almost to the point of feeling out of sync, from the entire trilogy. The lead character is male unlike the other two films, even though Julie Delphy technically gets top billing, she only appears in about 15-20 minutes of the film. Polish actor, Zbigniew Zamachowski (Now you know why Delphy’s name was on all the promotional material!), puts in a powerful performance that goes from comedic pantomime to heartbreaking despair. Finally, White is told in a very plain way when you consider the imagery of Blue or the wonder of Red. White is simply less artsy, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. Sometimes, forcing myself to sit through artsy films is like making my kids eat their vegetables, they don’t really want to do it, but they are good for them. I think most moviegoers could use a good dose of eating their cinematic vegetables and cut back on some of the “junk food,” but that is a post for another day.

White follows the journey of a very misfortunate Polish hairdresser named Karol Karol. I have to wonder if Kieslowski didn’t make this film as an ode to the great Charlie Chaplin because Karol means “Charlie” in Polish. We see Karol approaching a courthouse in Paris, as he looks up seemingly hopefully at a bird flying in the air, his hopes come crashing down as the bird uses him as a toilet. This brief scene sets the tone for the rest of the film in which we will see Karol being used and abused repeatedly. He is at the courthouse because his wife, Dominique, who is a Paris native, wants to divorce him because the marriage has never been consummated. He is impotent. He is forced, in the courtroom, to use a translator because his French is weak, this only adds to the feeling of his impotence, he can barely even stand up for himself. She testifies that she no longer loves him, and he pleads with her to come back to Poland with him. But after we see Juliette Binoche poke her head in the courtroom (a tie-in from Blue). The divorce is granted, and Karol is on the streets with all his possessions in a big suitcase. His bank account is frozen and Karol can do nothing but watch as a bank employee cuts up his card. And as if that weren’t enough, she also frames him for arson. Unfortunately, there is no background given to Dominique’s character to reveal why she has such hatred for Karol. We see images of her smiling face at their wedding, but besides that, she is merely painted as an evil character.

Now homeless and penniless, he takes to playing “music” on a comb in the train station in hopes for a handout. While playing a Polish folk song, he catches the ear of one of his countrymen named Mikolaj. They strike up a conversation about how he got in that situation and Mikolaj offers to pay his way back to Poland, but he cannot leave the country in such a public way because the authorities are still looking for him. So they come up with the plan that he should stow away in the suitcase, and leave behind the alienation and isolation of France. This seems like a strange way for a French financed movie, in a series about the French national colors, on the topic of equality to begin. I wonder if Kieslowski didn’t harbor some feeling of alienation against his adopted country, himself being Polish like the lead character. Mikolaj agrees to this plan and hopes that his new friend can survive the four-hour flight crammed inside a suitcase with a few personal belongings and a stolen bust that reminds him of Dominique, who he still loves.

However, once the plane lands in Warsaw, in an unsurprising but hilarious twist, Mikolaj learns that the luggage has gone missing. We then catch up to Karol in a garbage dump outside Warsaw, where some luggage thieves have inadvertently taken him, probably thinking the weight of the bag was a good indicator of the value of its contents. Of course, they try to rob him, but besides the stolen bust (which they break) and two francs which he fights for, he has nothing for them to steal. Perhaps out of pity, they beat him, but do not kill him, and then leave him lying in the snow. Karol struggles to lift his now bloodied face and looks out to see the white snow swept garbage dump and says, “home at last!”

After staying with his brother and working at the family hairdressing salon at which he is extremely popular. Karol decides that if he can’t get Dominique back, then the very least he can do is balance the scales and get back at her. Using his ingenuity and taking advantage of the new free market economy of post-communist Poland, Karol amasses a fortune. Then with the help of Mikolaj and a trusted employee of his new company, Karol fakes his own death and leaves his fortune to Dominique. When she comes to Warsaw for the funeral, he sneaks into her hotel room and, after the initial shock, they make love, finally consummating their relationship. However, in the morning, Dominique awakes to the police at her hotel room door, but Karol is gone and despite her pleading in French that he is alive, Dominique is arrested for Karol’s murder. At the end, we see Dominique signing to Karol through the window of the prison in which she is being held. She tells him that she still loves him and is willing to marry him again, if she can get out of prison. Karol begins to cry. He has succeeded in achieving equality with his ex-wife, but it is a bittersweet victory. This film is not uplifting like Blue or Red it is a dark comedic tragedy.

The idea of resurrection is a strong theme in this film. Karol metaphorically dies in order to leave Paris, throwing away all his diplomas in the train station, and being buried in the suitcase, and he arises in his homeland and begins his life over again as a businessman. In Machiavellian fashion, Karol fakes his own death as a bid to lure Dominique to Warsaw to exact his revenge. Mikolaj is also resurrected. Being suicidal, he pays Karol to shoot him, but since he is his friend, he loads the gun with a blank. After pretending to kill him, Karol warns him, “The next one is real.” Karol gave Mikolaj some perspective and a new lease on life.

If you remember in Blue, Julie is so absorbed in her own emotions that she doesn’t even notice the old woman and the recycling bin. But she also shows up in White while Karol is shivering on the streets of Paris. Karol notices her but only grins as she tries to put her bottle in the bin. I tend to think that Karol is happy to see someone to whom he finally feels equal. Finally, this is the odd man out of Kieslowski’s trilogy, because it is less artsy and more straight-forward it makes a good introductory film to get into Kieslowski’s work. But even though the ending seems like a hopeless tragedy, the true ending of White is actually revealed at the end of Red, where we see Karol and Dominique have reconciled and are re-married.

Three Colors: Blue (1993)

There is almost too much to say about these three films. In fact, only one film in the trilogy actually made it onto the IMDB Top 250 list, that being the final film, Red. Although these are each excellent as stand-alone works, they are best when seen as a whole. For that reason, I am going to review each of them separately. For the unfamiliar, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s last work, “Three Colors Trilogy” takes its name from the colors of the French flag and its themes from the ideals represented by those colors: blue (liberty), white (equality), and red (friendship).

Blue, the first of the trilogy, takes place in Paris. It stars Juliette Binoche (Unbearable Lightness of Being, The English Patient, Chocolat) as Julie, the wife of a famous composer. She has to deal with a great deal of unwanted freedom when a car accident claims the lives of her husband and her daughter. At first, while recovering in the hospital, she tries to kill herself by swallowing a handful of pills stolen from the hospital, but she cannot. From that point on, she seems to devote her energy to disassociating herself from the memories of her past, a sort of emotional suicide. She sells the family home and all the furniture, moves into a small apartment in Paris, and even destroys her late husband’s last and highly anticipated composition. Along the way, she befriends Lucille, her downstairs neighbor; falls in love with Olivier, her late husband’s aid; and helps Sandrine, her late husband’s mistress who is carrying his child.

Because of its name, Blue, you can’t help but look for that color in the film’s carefully crafted images. With his expert usage of color, Kieslowski has forced the audience to pay attention to the slow-moving story that is unraveling on the screen. The most noticeable visual technique would be the odd fade-out/fade-ins that occur four times in the film. At each of the four points, Julie is at a crossroads, having to decide whether to push back the memories of her life before the accident, or to acknowledge them.

For a large part of the film, Julie is in a trance, trying to shut out the world around her. This could be a very boring role in a less capable actress’ hands, but Binoche turns in the best performance of her career. We frequently see Julie swimming completely immersed in a pool, bathed in a blue light, which symbolizes her past life. At one point, she immerses herself completely and stays underwater for as long as possible. But soon, she has to come up for air. In the same way, Julie can’t help but re-establish the connections with her past, and like the continent upon which she resides, she shifts from a state of liberty into a state of union. She gives the family home to her husband’s mistress’, completes her husband’s unfinished composition, and even builds a relationship with Olivier.

Being a trilogy, of seemingly unrelated films, there are little Easter eggs that will become prominent as you view all three films. Pay particular attention to the scene where Julie is at the courthouse. She walks into a courtroom where a trial is in session, and the audience is briefly given a glimpse of a divorce trial. The significance of this odd scene is revealed in White, where Julie walks in on the trial in the background. I am not in agreement with the IMDB list. I think that this is the best of the films when viewed separately. I believe that Red received a higher ranking because people use it to refer to the trilogy as a whole. Kieslowski did an amazing job of using film as a form of literature, combining the cinematography, music, lighting, and dialogue all to bring emphasis to the overall thesis of the film. I’m not a huge fan of foreign films, but this is one that can be viewed again and again.