I. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in his film, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her most shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she has never imagined to exist, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s. 10/10
Continue reading “Recently Watched: Films: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994) & Close-Up (1990)”
The Wife (2018)
There is a saying that behind every successful man there is a woman, and “The Wife” exemplifies this saying like no other film. More often than not, society concerns itself with appearances, and people often only see what the façade presents – be it in relation to a relationship or a family. What is going on behind closed doors or what people may feel inside may be another matter altogether. “The Wife” is just that thought-provoking film that deals with this and other issues. Based on a novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, the movie is about a married couple Joe and Joan Castleman (Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close) who receive rather exciting news – Joe is to be given a Nobel Prize for Literature. The duo, together with their son David, travel to Stockholm to receive this honour, and while there, both Jo and Joan experience a crisis of faith, and one big secret of their lives comes dangerously close to being unravelled. The film has its faults, but Glenn Close’s performance ensures that the film is sincere and convincing. If the first part of the film is this slightly mysterious story of whether there is something wrong in the happy marriage and the professional lives of Joe and Joan, than the second half is all about unsaid things emerging and letting themselves be known.
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My favourite to win: The Shape of Water
It is a bit of a surprise that “Phantom Thread” as well as “Get Out” made this list. “Get Out” is a horror (not the Academy Awards’ favourite genre), which was released a bit less than one year ago. Even though it is good to see the Academy nominating such a dark-horse, the amazement is still there. For all its unforgettably tense psychological atmosphere, “Get Out” is still a flawed film (see my review here), and one may wonder whether, as with “Moonlight” the year before, there were not some “race politics” involved in this decision as well. On the other hand, such a great film as “The Florida Project” is nowhere to be seen here, which is astounding. I guess the Academy thought that by nominating “Call Me By Your Name”, they would be done with it when it comes to paying their dues and nominating aesthetically-pleasing, independent-spirited films. The limit is ten nominees per category, and, surely, “The Florida Project” deserves its tenth place on this list.
Continue reading “Academy Award Nominations 2018: Some Commentary”
Today, the Academy announced its 2017 Awards’ nominations. Many nominations were predictable, e.g., “La La Land”, while some omissions/inclusions were surprising. Here, I will briefly comment on 7 categories: (1) Best Picture; (2) Best Actress; (3) Best Actor; (4) Best Animation; (5) Best Foreign Language Film; (6) Best Documentary; and (7) Best Original Song.
- Best Picture
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Hell or High Water
- Hidden Figures
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
In my review of “La La Land”, I said how the movie was a perfect Academy Awards material, celebrating what is, in fact, Hollywood, well…even the Academy Awards itself. So, it is no surprise to see so many (14!) nominations for the movie. That is, of course, on top of the fact that “La La Land” is an excellent movie in its own right. “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” are predictable nominations, but, I think, that “Lion” was nominated on the strength of its story, rather than on the quality of the film per se. Going through the list I did not expect to see there “Nocturnal Animals”, and it was not included, but I think the movie was unjustly bypassed in some other categories, such as the Best Actor/Director/Score categories.
Continue reading “Academy Award Nominations 2017”
La La Land (2016)
Universally acclaimed, “La La Land” is the kind of a film which could melt the most cynical and toughest of critics. As romantic as it is visually stunning, the main charm of the film lies in its simplicity: a guy, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and a girl, Mia (Emma Stone) both dream of professional success in Hollywood, and first find true happiness in each others’ arms before the practical realities of their chosen star professions separate them. With an uncomplicated plot and an absolutely stunning soundtrack, “La La Land” has all the appeal of an old musical, while keeping things interesting and original with notes of modern music, the showcasing of modern technologies and with the demonstrations of a competitive side of today’s Hollywood business. In “La La Land”, Damien Chazelle (director) shows that, in the 21st century, it is still possible not only to make a financially successful old-school musical-comedy, but also to produce a real gem of a movie capable of leaving the audience breathless with its heart strings’ pulling and sheer inventiveness.
Continue reading ““La La Land” Review”
A Dutch director known for “Basic Instinct” (1992) and “Total Recall” (1990), Paul Verhoeven, has produced his first French-language film to date – “Elle”, based on a novel by Philippe Dijan (who is also known as a book writer behind “Betty Blue” (1986)). “Elle” has already competed for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2016, and deals with a very sensitive topic of a rape perpetuated on a successful businesswoman Michele Leblanc, whose complex relationship with her family and the deeply-seated psychological childhood trauma lead her to have an unconventional response to the attack. This film is as disturbing as it is engrossing, and, overall, proves to be a very satisfying experience, thanks to the outstanding performance by Isabelle Huppert (“The Piano Teacher” (2001)) and to the masterful (though also confusing) mix of a psychological thriller, a Hitchcockian detective story and French black humour.
Continue reading ““Elle” Review”
Two Days, One Night (2014)
“Two Days, One Night” is a critically acclaimed French-language film directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, probably better known for their previous film “The Kid with a Bike” (2011). The plot here is uncomplicated: Belgium; a depressed married mother of two Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is having problems at work. The management of her solar-panels-making company proposed to make Sandra redundant if the majority of the staff (9 out of 16 workers) agrees to do so (there will be a secret vote). If the majority votes for Sandra to be redundant, each of the workers will receive €1,000 bonus, but will also be required to work slightly longer hours. In that vein, the film portrays the two days and one night which Sandra spends trying to convince her co-workers to vote in favour of her staying with the company (and against their bonus).
Continue reading ““Two Days, One Night” Mini-Review”
I won’t title this blog “The Academy Awards 2016: Controversial, Emotional & Predictable”, although I want too. What have we had so far? Protests regarding the representation of black people and women nominated, and nominated actors who you can so safely bet on winning – the chances that they won’t is like forgetting your own name. Diversity & Competition or rather a lack thereof. Here, I will only comment on the Best Picture, Best Animated Film, and Best Actor and Actress categories.
The Best Picture Academy Award went to Spotlight (other nominees being The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Brooklyn, and Mad Max: Fury Road). Surprising? Hardly. Room may be too traumatic or misunderstood for the Academy to applaud, The Martian too science-fiction to take seriously, and The Revenant just not good enough to win.
Continue reading “The Academy Awards 2016”
The “Best Picture” nominees:
1. The Artist
2. The Descendants
3. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
4. The Help
6. Midnight in Paris
8. The Tree of Life
9. War Horse
I predict ‘The Artist’ to win the Academy Award in the “Best Picture” category this year. The least likely “Best Picture” winners are clearly “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and ‘Moneyball’.
Continue reading “The Academy Award Nominees 2012: Best Picture & Actor/Actress in a Leading Role”
With the nominations for the Academy Awards 2012 coming up in January 2012, it is a convenient time to review and comment on the Academy Awards 2011. Here, the focus will be on two categories: “Best Picture” and “Best Actress in a Leading Role”.
As it is well-known, ‘The King’s Speech’ won the Academy Award in the “Best Picture” category in 2011, and other runner-ups were ‘Black Swan’, ‘The Fighter’, ‘The Kids Are All Right’, ‘True Grit’, ‘Inception’, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Winter’s Bone’, ‘The Social Network’ and ‘127 Hours’. It could be argued that ‘The King’s Speech’ won the Award not because it represented some exceptional cinematographic achievement, but simply because it had no real serious competitors in that year – in the eyes of the Academy. To put it simply, ‘The King’s Speech’ won the “Best Picture” Award not because it was so good, but because other films in its category did not conform in any way to the Academy’s ideas of what the “Best Picture” winner should look like. That “ideal” was set in the past. Though such things happen at the Oscars every year, arguably, the year 2010 has seen some of the worst examples of cinematography compared to the past thirty years, with the Academy Awards’ standards falling the lowest since the early 1980s.
Continue reading “The Academy Awards 2011”