Sunday, January 28, 2007

January 28th Log

2006, Ronnie Yu, China / Hong Kong, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

Jet Li’s Fearless is said to be the action stars last martial arts film, and in many ways it represents a definitive farewell. Essentially the film is (like it is for Li’s character) a reflective one, as it tells the story of Huo Yanjia, the founder of Shanghai’s Jing Wu Men martial arts school. There are typically graceful moments of martial arts fighting (choreographed by world renown Yuen Wo Ping), but Fearless offers an unexpected level of dramatic force as well as a beautifully lyrical tone. This emotional tone reaches it’s melodramatic peak in the final climax. Of course the primary focus of the film is Li’s farewell to a genre that made him an international star.

2000, Stephen Frears, United Kingdom / United States

Repeat Viewing, DVD

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This opening moment of dialogue quickly establishes the intelligent and enjoyable tone of what it ultimately a likable romantic comedy. The film succeeds mostly through smart writing of characters, or relationships, and of settings. Stephen Frears heightens the emotion by giving the Chicago surroundings and the large musical influences a sense of atmosphere and feeling. John Cusak, who co-wrote the screenplay from Nick Hornby’s book, gives a strong lead performance and he is aided by some wonderful supporting roles. Especially terrific is Jack Black’s hilarious turn as his musically snobby friend and co-worker. This is a definitive role for Black who is hysterical and of course full of comic energy. You can’t help thinking about Woody Allen in both style and substance with this film, yet Frears and the cast always remain fresh and original.

1995, Ang Lee, United States / United Kingdom

Repeat Viewing, DVD

Sense and Sensibility is the first novel written by Jane Austen. Here it gets adapted by celebrated British actress Emma Thompson (who won the Best Screenplay Oscar and was nominated for her leading performance). Like all of Austen’s work, there is a warm peacefulness to these characters that easily becoming absorbing and enriching. You want to see and know more about each and every one of them and this is in part because they are so well developed under Thompson’s script, Ang Lee’s direction, and terrific performances. After reaching international success with his previous two Taiwan hits (The Wedding Banquet, and Eat Drink Man Woman), this was Lee’s first English language film. On the surface, lee would seem an odd choice to direct, but he proves the universal nature and spirituality of Austen, and of course his own life in Taiwan can probably draw many similarities to the social life of 19th-Century Britain. Sense and Sensibility is a social satire and a family drama, but above all it is a love story. The film examines life and love, or more specifically class and marriage. Lee shoots the film with long takes and through visual compositions and space, he heightens the undercurrent expression of contrasting entering and exiting as a theme. This is particularly captured through the use of doorways and windows in the frame. The entire cast is terrific, with Emma and Kate Winslet most notably shining (each respectively playing the roles of the “sense” and the “sensibility”). There is plenty of British wit at play and Lee adds his own knowledge to expand the universal expression of the themes of love and family.


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