Nowhere in Africa  – ★★★★1/2
When I heard about The Home Sweet Home Blogathon, I knew I had to participate. Homes and families have always been such an important theme in films, and it is one of my favourite topics. I previously talked about the meaning of homes in my post “Housing Films: 99 Homes (2014) and House of Sand and Fog (2003)”, and this is another opportunity to focus on families in films, the loyalty that binds them together despite hardships they endure.
Directed by Caroline Link, Nowhere in Africa is a German-language film and a winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is perfect for this blogathon because it focuses on a family reunion and separation, on familial misunderstandings and hope, as well as on finding home in a new place. It is based on a memoir by Stefanie Zweig that tells of a life of one Jewish family that had to emigrate to Kenya in 1938 because of Nazi persecutions in their native Germany. The family, mother Jettel (Juliane Kohler), father Walter (Merab Ninidze) and their small daughter Regina (Lea Kurka), settle on a farm and soon make friends with their cook Owuor (Sidede Onyulo). They initially have very few ideas of what really lies in store for them on the new soil. This film, which has beautiful production design and a feel of a real life lived daily, is something much more than one’s usual story of a new settler or a story of the WWII told from a perspective of someone living in Africa. The adaptation is a touching tale of a family enduring frightful separations and hopeful reunions through the years, staying true to their family bond despite immense hardships. It is a film about the meaning of home and identity, an important story to tell about the need to welcome and cherish people’s differences.
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Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and Jay from Cinema Essentials are hosting The World War II Blogathon, and I am happy to participate (check out film reviews from Day 1 here). Some of the world’s best films were about the World War II and events related to it, including Schindler’s List (1993), Life is Beautiful (1997) and The Pianist (2002). This time, I am talking about Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-language film Letters from Iwo Jima, a film which Eastwood produced after his patriotic Flags of Our Fathers (2006). Both of these films depict the Battle of Iwo Jima, in which the US army landed on the island of Iwo Jima and battled with the Japanese in 1945.
Letters from Iwo Jima  – ★★★★★
Letters from Iwo Jima does not merely portray another battle in the World War II. When US army (navy and marine corps) landed on the island of Iwo Jima (an island of immense strategic importance) on 19 February 1945 (after air bombardment prior to that), they thought the battle would last five days, but it lasted for over a month. It has been called the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific, and the Japanese, under the command of fearless General Kuribayashi (played by Ken Watanabe) demonstrated unexpected smartness (tunnels, strategy, etc.) and courage. All the odds were against the Japanese in this battle, but, looking at the fierceness of the battle, as well as the number of American casualties, one may even assume the opposite. Masterfully directed and brilliantly acted, Letters from Iwo Jima showcases compellingly the horrors of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective, the desperate situation in which Japanese soldiers found themselves in, and the instances of both good and evil found on both sides of the battle. Also, coming from an American director in particular, Letters from Iwo Jima could also be said to be a very special film: sympathetic and respectful to another culture, tradition and point of view, being compassionate and humane. In many ways, this is an anti-war film that underlines our common humanity no matter on which side of a war we find ourselves at any given time. Given the above, Letters from Iwo Jima is not merely a film that makes a powerful statement – the film is a powerful statement in itself. Continue reading “The World War II Blogathon: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)”
The Bookshop  – ★★
Leo Tolstoy once said that all literature can be divided into two types of stories: a man goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town. The Bookshop falls into the latter category. The film first caught my attention when it won a number of Spanish Goya Awards, including the Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Awards, and also two Gaudi Awards. It is based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald and is set in England in 1959. In this story, Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), a widow, opens a bookshop in a small coastal town and is taken aback by all the amazement of its inhabitants at such a move. Florence begins friendship with a reclusive book-lover Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy) and employs a schoolgirl Christine to assist her bookshop, not even realising the strings that a local woman of power Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson) is willing to pull to whisk Florence out of her property and turn the bookshop premises into an art centre. It is clear that this little film can work its charm to the hearts of the audience. However, it has so many problems, including the incredulous tension/antagonist moves and the slow pace, that the film may be best described as what looks like a cinematic present wrapped in a mawkish gift paper which takes too long to open and, when it is opened, nothing but a pile of saccharine and a bitter sense of disappointment found inside.
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The Lost City of Z  – ★★★
“There is very little doubt that the forests cover traces of a lost civilisation of a most unsuspected and surprising character” (from a letter of Fawcett to the Royal Geographical Society, December 1921, Grann (2009) at 55).
🌴 Based on a great book by David Grann titled The Lost City of Z, the film tells a true story of Colonel Percy Fawcett, an eminent explorer who believed that there was a hidden ancient civilisation to be found deep in the Amazon jungle and who vanished with his son in the jungle in 1925 while trying to prove its existence. This beautifully-shot film, directed by James Gray, tries to remain faithful to the timeline of the true story as it focuses intensely on the will and determination of Colonel Fawcett, played with dignity and zeal by Charlie Hunnam. The supporting cast comprises of Robert Pattinson as Corporal Costin and Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s wife, but the biggest appeal of the film is probably the fascinating true story of one explorer on a mission to prove his cause. However, the film’s length is worrying (circa 140 minutes), and, although the film may shine sporadically as a “biography” film, it is largely disappoints as a “jungle adventure”. NB. As I will talk at length about the story, there will be SPOILERS.
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The Mercy  – ★★1/2
⛵ There is a method in his madness. This is the way some were able to characterise Donald Crowhurst’s insane desire and, ultimately, attempt to finish a single-handed, non-stop round-the world trip or the Golden Glove (Yacht) Race sponsored by Sunday Times in 1968. Completely amateur, Crowhurst, nevertheless, entered the race, and, overcome with growing boat problems and despair, started falsifying his positions in log books so as to make it appear as though he is making an excellent progress in the race. The fascinating bit is that the film is based on a real story, which has so far been the subject of numerous books and other films (for example, see a better recent film Crowhurst (2018)). Despite the cast of Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz in the lead roles, The Mercy cannot keep itself afloat and never quite manages to raise its sails up, portraying a very predictable (to the point of boring) voyage, with an almost unconvincing and foolish “hero”-character at its centre.
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The Founder  – ★★★★
“It’s not just the system, Dick. It’s the name. That glorious name, McDonald’s. It could be anything you want it to be…it’s limitless, it’s wide open…it sounds like…America” (Ray Kroc).
The McDonald brothers’ success was to the 1950s what the social network’s success was to the 2000s. The story of McDonald’s, one of the most recognisable food chains in the world, is sure to fascinate and intrigue. Not only The Founder is based on a true story, but it has a stellar performance by Michael Keaton (Batman Returns (1992), “Birdman” (2014)) in the role of Ray Kroc, who takes the McDonald brothers’ concept of a fast restaurant service and turns it into a global fast-food empire. The year is 1954, and Kroc, a milk-shake mixer salesman, meets Richard and Maurice McDonald, two brothers who run a food joint focusing on three specific menu items and on the rapidity of their service. Kroc has never seen anything like this before, and proposes to the brothers a deal.
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Hacksaw Ridge  – ★★★★1/2
An inspiring story about an unconventional hero? A graphic tale of the brutality of a war? A touching and believable love story? Mel Gibson can do it all, and brilliantly. His latest film Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a kind, deeply-religious young man who also happens to be a conscientious objector, enlisting to serve in an army, while having a deep conviction against the commission of violence/murder and would not even touch a gun. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, Hacksaw Ridge is that kind of a film which one can easily define as “great”: a moving, heart-felt story is matched by a dedicated director and a committed actor who do their work exceptionally well.
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Silence  – ★★★★1/2
“This is not the sort of film you “like” or “don’t like”. It’s a film that you experience – and then live with” (Matt Zoller Seitz).
“…wandering here over the desolate mountains – what an absurd situation!…I knew well, of course, that the greatest sin against God was despair; but the silence of God was something I could not fathom” (Rodrigues [Endo: 90]).
Martin Scorsese’s 28-years’ “passion” project culminated in the film Silence, based on the acclaimed novel by Shūsaku Endō. The film is about two 17th century Portuguese Catholic priests Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver), who decide to travel to Japan in search of their former mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who, most believe, betrayed his holy cause in the foreign land. Touching delicate moral and religious issues, the film is powerful both in its vision and in its message, achieving its desired cinematographic goal to awe, thanks to Scorsese’s dedicated and masterful direction, breath-taking cinematography and inspiring original material. Although the plot is uncomplicated and could even be considered “thin”, underneath every action and thought of the main character lies (and could be sensed) a myriad of contradictory emotions; culturally-divisive inner turmoil; and dormant causes for the later spiritual/religious re-awakening.
Continue reading ““Silence” Review: From Book Comparison to Character Study”
Indignation  – ★★★★
Indignation is a directional debut of a screen-writer and producer James Schamus, known for adapting the script of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and being the producer of Brokeback Mountain (2005). Adapting a book by Philip Roth, in Indignation, Schamus presents the life of Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a bright lad who, while working as a butcher in his father’s store in New Jersey, receives a prestigious scholarship to attend a college in Ohio. What follows is the depiction of Marcus’s troubles of fitting into his new college environment as he simultaneously tries to deal with his socially-unacceptable abhorrence for organised religion and with the confusion of his sexual-awakening. Schamus’s film is a particular kind of a film which is heart-breaking in individual scenes and bitter-sweet in its overall presentation, and the director manages to convey the story masterfully, paying particular attention to the character presentation and dialogue.
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Florence Foster Jenkins  – ★★★★1/2
Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen (2006) & Dangerous Liaisons (1988)), Florence Foster Jenkins is a comedy based on a true story of Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), a New York socialite whose desire to be a well-known opera singer greatly surpassed her natural abilities. Unaware that she has a poor singing voice and hearing, Madame Florence Foster Jenkins embarks on the career of a professional opera singer, hiring a talented young pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), and relying for encouragement on her devoted “common-law” husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). Knowing how much music matters to his partner, St. Clair manages to keep the appearances of Florence having vocal potentials often enough, or maybe until the time Florence gives a thousand tickets to soldiers to come and hear her live at the Carnegie Hall, a large prestigious music venue in the centre of New York. Florence Foster Jenkins is the kind of a film one is happy to have watched: it is funny in its individual scenes, and melancholic and moving in its overall presentation; Meryl Streep’s Florence is breath-taking, and Hugh Grant gives the performance of his career.
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12 Years a Slave  – ★★★★★
Coming from Steve McQueen (director of Shame (2011)), 12 Years a Slave can now be comfortably described as this year’s cinematic sensation. The film, based on a self-autobiographical novel by Solomon Northup, tells the story of a black free man, who lives a happy family life in Saratoga, New York in 1841. After he is tricked, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South, his life turns up-side-down, and once brilliant musician and educated family man is now forced to endure an unjust hard life of a slave in Louisiana. The film is truthful to Northump’s novel, and is filled with so much realism that when one of the characters at the end of the film starts talking about freedom and black people’s rights, the audience may find it hard to believe a word he says – so engrossed they have become in the political/social ideology of that time and in black people’s lives on a plantation in Louisiana.
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The Quiet American  – ★★★★1/2
Directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games (1992)), The Quiet American (2002) is a marvellous adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic novel of the same name. This book-to-film adaptation is so good, it arguably suppresses the majority of previous Graham Greene novel adaptations, and the film is certainly better than the latest Greene novel adaptation Brighton Rock (2010). The Quiet American captures the spirit of the book, and even at times goes beyond the boundaries of the book’s captivating narrative.
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The Year of Living Dangerously  – ★★★★
💥 Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously, starring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt, is an underrated romantic drama and adventure film set in the backdrop to Indonesia’s political unrest of the mid-1960s when the country was making its transition to the so-called “New Order”. The film, based on the novel by Christopher Koch, was, therefore, banned in Indonesia until 1999.
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The Painted Veil  – ★★★★★
“Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread….” (Percy Bysshe Shelley)
The Painted Veil is a moving romantic drama set in China in 1925, and based on Somerset Maugham’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name. This is a truly timeless story about the values of love, marriage, fidelity, understanding, etc., while also exploring a clash of cultures, to name just a few dominant themes. Directed by John Curran, this film is, arguably, the triumph of a book-to-film adaptation.
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