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Anachronistic and poorly written escapist would-be-Downton Abbey
My wife and I have started watching period dramas in bulk since she fell into the Downton Abbey wormhole. We've now watched almost all of first season Poldark. Poldark at its best is almost as good as Downton Abbey at its worst, by which I mean that the dialog and plotting is so predictably bad that you can no longer pretend that you are not watching a soap opera with better costumes. That rarely happened in Downton, at least in the first few seasons.
In Poldark, the heroes are all good and the villains are cartoonishly bad/evil/slutty/weak. The heroes act like enlightened souls from the 21st century. One has to suspend one's disbelief every 5-10 minutes, not just from anachronisms but more because the characters would be unbelievable in any century. One of the joys of MadMen was seeing *everyone*, even the good characters, basing their actions on an outdated moral compass.
We have managed to get through so many episodes because the main actor is good looking enough to fascinate my wife and enough of an actor to convincingly spout the moody dreck he's given to say and do. We're looking for some other period drama, stat. Based on the reviews here, maybe we'll check out the 1970s Poldark.
Passing Strange (2009)
Great music, great heart, fun look at America
It has been around 4-5 years since I saw this film, so that can tell you that it left a strong impression, but also that I will not be able to give my full, considered opinion. However, it is a fun and passionate musical, and capturing the stage performance in a simple, no-frills way makes it one of Spike Lee's greatest films. The music is great, the lyrics are touching. I particularly remember the stories of growing up in a church community, and the trip to Europe (Amsterdam) with the song "She Gave Me Her Key". This film deserves a wider audience. Parental concerns: there are brief discussions of homosexuality and sex (nothing explicit--it's a stage show), the use of marijuana and teenage drinking is a major subplot.
Lyubov s aktsentom (2012)
Fun and silly Russian/Georgian co-production
I saw this as "Love With Accent" on Amazon Instant Streaming. This film is light-hearted, fun, and silly. There are about seven different, intertwined love stories that involve Russians visiting the republic of Georgia. At times it can be tough to keep the characters and stories straight, since the editing switches from story to story w/o interruption. I get the sense it would be a stronger movie if one or two plots were pruned out.
One thing that makes it hard to keep characters straight is the East European dubbing technique. All dialog is subtitled in English, but for the Russian audience, all dialog that was originally in Georgian (and some French) is spoken in the original by the character in low volume, overlaid by a monotone high-volume narrator saying everything in Russian. So arguments and love declarations between two characters speaking Georgian have one monotone voice speaking both parts. You can't tell by ear who is saying what and what is going on. Get rid of the dubbing for international releases!
Der König von Kreuzberg (1994)
Fun low-budget lark
I remember seeing this and another work with the same director and actors (Die Kunst Ein Mann zu Sein) in the Kellerkino in Berlin. I wish I could stream them again, mainly out of nostalgia for Berlin and Kreuzberg, but I did enjoy the narration of these two films. Both films are shot in black and white with no sound except for narration added in post production. I remember more of the plot of Die Kunst Ein Mann zu Sein than Der König von Kreuzberg, except that it involved a Turk in Berlin who believed he could fly. As I recall, he and his friend worked in a restaurant as cooks or something. The director ran the Kellerkino in Kreuzberg near Kottbusser Tor, which sat about 20 people tops and showed just these two films almost every evening in 1991 and 1992. Why this film has a 1994 release date I can't say. It was possible to order VHS versions of the film back in 1992.
The Suitors (1988)
Well worth watching--entertaining and thoughtful
It has been over a decade since I saw this film, but I have seen it at least 2 times since it was in the theaters. It begins with a comic/tragic death within the NY city Iranian community. The film shows the young widow trying to experience NY and American culture, but trapped by her lack of English, the confines of the Iranian expat community, and by her Iranian village mentality. This film does not fit into one of our usual plots (coming of age, journey to wisdom, romantic comedy, issue drama, action), but I found it had great, darkly comic moments, a great insight into an interesting subculture, and a tragic heroine worth comparing to Euripides' Medea. Like Medea, we understand her tragic situation. We also do not approve of her choices.
Ping Pong Playa (2007)
Not Deep but Fun
I don't like sports movies, but this film was the compromise choice for our family, our 18-year-old son who doesn't want serious drama, my wife who doesn't want even a whiff of violence, and me who would normally watch Lars von Trier or a Russian documentary.
But the whole family found something to laugh out loud at. Parts followed the nauseatingly sweet pattern of a Disney sports movie, but other parts would NEVER have appeared in a Disney movie. Not that they were violent or inappropriate, but just off message. That made the film rewarding.
If you want to pass a few hours being mindlessly entertained, this movie is for you.
Soul Power (2008)
Poor editing, no soul, little music
"When We Were Kings" was a great film with soul and spirit explaining how this music festival and a world boxing match with Ali wound up in Zaire in 1974. I was hungry for more.
This short film just has 20 minutes of music and a lot of boring pointless dialog. Leon Gast had been hired to do the rockumentary of the festival so presumably the whole thing is on film. Most of the performances must still be on filmstock in Gast's apartment. This film is a disgrace and feels like the leftovers from "When We Were Kings"
Pros: Anytime James Brown or Muhammad Ali is on screen the world lights up. Miriam Makeba is awesome!
Cons: Only one song by Bill Withers. Only one song by BB King. Only one song by Miriam Makeba.
Sûpâ no onna (1996)
Deservedly unknown in the U.S.
I loved Tampopo, Min-Bo, A Taxing Woman, and The Funeral. I thought Supermarket Woman would be of the same quality. Instead, Supermarket Woman was a long, stale formula. Was it made for TV? What constraints was Itami working under? The narrative strategy (no plural), acting, cinematography, and moral universe are almost equal to "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective." Itami's wife is the protagonist again. She gives good and obvious advice. The villains are cartoonishly evil. They are easily defeated. Everyone cheers. Repeat about 20 times. Perhaps this is funnier in the original Japanese, but the formula seems to bore even the main protagonist. If you are an anthropologist writing about how Japanese pop culture celebrates capitalism, this film *might* be worth digging up. Until I saw this film, I ranked Itami as one of my favorite directors. Now my faith is shaken. What happened? In contrast to Tampopo or The Funeral, there is no material in Supermarket Woman that would be objectionable for younger viewers. There is one scene where characters almost remove clothes. The chase scene and other "punches" are cartoonish and are less violent than "Toy Story" or "Home Alone". The lack of inventiveness and objectionable material made me wonder whether this was made for TV.
A funny visit to the extremes of the human condition
An unexpected look at an apparently simple contest. This movie has tension, humor, insight, and heart. For so many Americans the divide between making it and failing is a working car. In a small town we see what some people will do to win a fully-loaded new pick-up truck.
One person here commented that the film exploits the poor people in the contest. I disagree. The people are presented as rounded individuals and the film includes interviews with the main characters, showing their viewpoints and not in a condescending way. The audience will find them amusing, but the tension comes from taking the contest seriously, and therefore, we take the contestants seriously too. We laugh at the human condition.
It's a shame this DVD is out of print. We still need this film!
Amazing and yet amazing that this film is not on DVD!
I saw this at an African film festival in DC in 2002. It follows a history student from Senegal who studies and works in Paris.
Better than La Haine, this film shows the stresses and strains of African expatriates in France. The student wants to get his PhD and return to Senegal to better life there. Everyone else in Paris (natives as well as other Africans) think he just wants to stay in France.
The protagonist is torn between two worlds. The ways of Senegal are now foreign to him, but neither is he European.
There is tension, violence, and sex and a good story. I wish I could show this to more people, but it's not available!!??!
UPDATE: Just found out that it is available for streaming and download at the African Film Library.