Tag Archives: Foreign

Pinky Beauty Parlour

[3 stars]

This one will surprise you. It has a rocky start and is oddly constructed, but it unfolds and builds on itself. In fact, it sells itself through to the last line by keeping you guessing what happened right up till near the end. As director and writer, Akshay Singh tackled a rather complex piece for his first time behind the camera. And, to top it off, he plays a crucial role in front of it as well.

A few days ago I saw Water, which tackled a different set of cultural issues in India’s past. Pinky assaults modern issues in a present day India through drama and humor. Though to call this a comedy is to confuse Shakespeare’s clowns in any of his tragedies for the main point of the story. For all its silliness, the points to be made are rather strong.

Pinky is is definitely a low-budget effort, but it is done with heart and a lot more talent than is immediately evident. Give it time if you enjoy films from the region; it definitely has a Bollywood vibe. However, the structure of the story is different than you might expect and the result is more than just a resolution to the romance and plot. Do be warned that the subtitles are horrible translations much of the time. Unless you speak Urdu, you will need to do some quick rewrites in your head throughout for grammar and word choice. It isn’t unwatchable on that count at all, but it was frustrating on occasion.

Pinky Beauty Parlour Poster

Water

[4 stars]

This much recognized tale by director and co-writer Deepa Mehta is more than just an historical. In fact, despite its setting in 1938 India, it is disturbingly reflective of today with its abuse by the class system, treatment of women, religious fundamentalism, and general social unrest. And I don’t mean reflective of India, I mean worldwide. But commentary aside, the story alone is compelling.

In her first and only film to date, Sarala Kariyawasam, holds this film together with her young and intense presence. As a young widow (at 7 years of age) she is forced to live out the rest of her life cloistered. The collection of women she now lives with are faced with her indomitable spirit and the chaos she brings to their ordered world.

In parallel, John Abraham (Dhoom) and Lisa Ray (Endgame) provide a separate and adult focus of life and possibility. It is a tale we’ve seen before, in many ways, but one that doesn’t tend to get old if you like romance and believe love is more important than rules. That doesn’t mean this is an easy set of choices and the outcome is far from sure, but these actors bring you along the journey and help you believe the choices.

Overall, of course, there is the title: Water. The element here represents life, magic, love, and so much more and so much less. I am curious now about its companion pieces that I didn’t know about: Fire and Earth. Water completes the trilogy, which I can see given the ending, but I have no sense of the overall journey and shape from only this single movie.

This is a beautiful and emotionally frustrating film with a lot to say about the past and about the present. Definitely worth your time if you missed it till now.

Water

queers.

[4 stars]

A truly wonderful and surprising collection of eight, 20-minute monologues commissioned to celebrate the the anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, the first official step in England to decriminalize homosexuality. Each monologue tackles a different decade from 1917 up through the present. Cleverly, they do not progress in chronological order, but rather bounce from from 1917 to 1994 to 1987, 1957, 1967, 1941, 1929, and finally 2016.

The effect is one of historical context for each of the eras providing heartfelt stories without making it feel like a history lesson. And the finale, in 2016, works as commentary overall, though only through the reflection of the rest of the pieces. I laughed and cried often through the sequence thanks to mostly wonderful writing and great performances.

Originally performed at the Old Vic, these were also adapted and recorded for the BBC. The monologues succeed on different levels, some being much better than others. But each monologue captures its decade in poignant ways and every one is a frank conversation of the joys, fears, and dreams of the speaker of that time.

Driven by Mark Gatiss (Denial, Doctor Who), who also was one of the writers, the production collected up some solid talent to deliver the stories: Alan Cumming (Eyes Wide Shut), Rebecca Front (Humans), Ian Gelder (Game of Thrones), Kadiff Kirwan (Chewing Gum), Russell Tovey (The Night Manager), Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones), Ben Whishaw (Lilting)and Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk). If nothing else, it is a 2.6 hour acting and scripting class.

Make time for these if you get the chance. It is almost entirely focused on the gay experience rather than the lesbian or otherly identified, but the sense of otherness, the sense of triumph, the sense of love and need is universal.

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Summer Hours (L’heure d’été)

[3 stars]

Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria) wrote and directed this  deceptively simple, and highly awarded, story about family several years back. I say “deceptively” because there are layers to this story that are unavoidable, even if they aren’t Assayas’s main focus.

On the surface we have Edith Scob (Holy Motors) as the matriarch of a modern, dispersed family admitting and dealing with her mortality. The frank recognition of her family’s real trajectories and the “residue of the past” in the form of her house and art collection, is both honest and saddening. What she really thinks of the realities is part of what we want to know and part of what at least one of her children, Charles Berling (Elle), must contend with. Also, as the oldest, he must balance his sib’s reactions and desires. Juliet Binoche (Ghost in the Shell) and Jérémie Renier (In Bruges) balance him nicely, hinting at a deep history and long-standing disagreements that they’ve all somehow managed to balance in order to keep their relationships.

But on a deeper level, and sometimes a bit too spelled out, is the deconstruction of the collection from its human surrounds. We watch art become isolated and are forced to question the value of possessions and its meaning, absent people around it. This is true for the collection as well as the family house. While the interactions and story are certainly engaging, it was this aspect of the tale that I found most intriguing, though I wish it had been a bit subtler in the dialogue.

But Assayas wanted to focus on a different story. He was taken more with the generational aspect of life. How do things, ideas, and memories get handed down from the elders to the children. What form does that take and how does it happen? Basically, how does familial history get formed and preserved, and should it or does it need to. He explores this in various ways and to unequal effect. But the story pulls you along far enough before it simply drops you to consider life on your own. Beautifully filmed and nicely acted, it is an interlude worth the time.

Summer Hours

Vincent Has No Scales (Vincent n’a pas d’écailles)

[3 stars]

If you needed any indication of how broad the response to superhero overload is, Vincent is your answer; a quiet French indie, which shows that this trend is spreading worldwide.

Writer, director, and star Thomas Salvador takes advantage of this sensibility (and others, like The Tick) to create an ordinary man with extraordinary abilities and very little intention or need to use them in traditional ways. His adventures are a bit mundane, but also oddly sweet with Vimala Pons (Elle). It is, at heart, a simple love story; we all have secrets. That Salvador could wear all those production hats and still pull this film off in a credible way is impressive.

Deadpool signaled the mainstream embrace of the counter-superhero (as opposed to anti(super)hero, because I think it is more about story telling than good vs evil). And I expect the super hero backlash will continue to build, which isn’t a bad thing. Marvel will continue to ride the wave better than most because they never took themselves too seriously (unlike DC). But this shift in thinking is opening the possibility for more inventive and smaller stories like Vincent. For an evening of romantic 30charm and silly comedy that borders on farce at times, this will suit.

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Yi Yi (a one and a two)

[3 stars]

This three hour tale from Taipei feels more like a soap opera than a movie as you sink into its humor and pathos. It even leads off with a wedding and eventually ends with a funeral. But as it moves along, it becomes more a mediation on life and family as we watch the reflections in the generations. This final, and well recognized, film by Edward Yang is huge in scope but very narrow in its messages when it finally comes down to it.

Packed with a range of new (at the time) and established faces from Taiwan and Japan, the world of the Jiang family and their friends is slowly exposed and examined. Yang also used window and mirror reflection throughout the film to remind us of this point (and to save camera set-ups, admittedly).

I want to say I understand the English translation of the title, but I’m still turning that one to try and put it in context. I suspect it is a miss-reference due to translation. It reads as a musical cue (which works, but not particularly great) rather than as, perhaps, a countdown for a picture, which is more on point in many ways. I’m just going to have to keep mulling that for now and talk to a few friends from the island to see what more I can glean.

Sadly, the transfer of the film is really pretty crude. Even for a 1999 release the encoding is very poor. However, despite that distraction, I found myself drawn into the story and engaged with the characters and their lives; eventually, even looking at my own. You have to set aside a good chunk of an evening to watch Yi Yi, but I do recommend it if you can accept its deliberate pace and quiet sensibility.

Yi Yi

Man in an Orange Shirt

[3 stars]

Man in an Orange Shirt manages to be something different than your standard coming out story. First, it spans two time periods (1940s/50s and the present), following a family line. Second, it looks beyond just the personal turmoil of the men involved.

Director Michael Samuels had some advantage tackling this kind of story having previously delivered Any Human Heart, which also spanned decades and characters. But the surprise for me here was was Patrick Gale’s script. He managed the subtleties and range of characters so well even though this was his first major script. While it feels like a standard tale at first, it takes some rather interesting turns by the end to pull everything together. It is at once romantic and bluntly honest and cruel, though it ultimately is a tale of coming to terms rather than a tragedy.

The cast has a lot to do with the success of the 2-part drama. Joanna Vanderham (What Maisie Knew), James McArdle (The Worricker Trilogy), and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Emerald City), from the WWII era are a wonderful collection of contradictory desires and beliefs. In the present, Vanessa Redgrave (Foxcatcher), Julian Morris (Pretty Little Liars), and David Gyasi (Containment) capture current times without losing the thread to the past. 

There are also a few nice, smaller roles with Frances de la Tour (The Lady in the Van), Julian Sands (Extraordinary Tales), and Adrian Schiller (The Danish Girl). 

There are many stories about being closeted and accepting who you are. This isn’t limited to the LBGTQ experience, but that is the primary focus of stories of this sort. Man in an Orange Shirt opens itself to a broad range of emotional issues to bring you something more and different in the genre without losing its emotional impact.

Man in an Orange Shirt: The Complete Series [DVD]

The Hippopotamus

[4 stars]

A delightfully weird, wonderful, and often unpredictable comedy cum drawing room mystery. Based on a Stephen Fry (Love & Friendship) novel, you can be sure it is irreverent and witty with a keen social eye and few boundaries. It attacks art, society, family, and religion with equal and unapologetic measure, but with an oddly optimistic sensibility to the human condition. Oh, and it’s funny. Very funny.

Roger Allam (The Lady in the Van), in a send-up of Fry’s own persona, leads the story as the critical observer and assigned debunker of certain “events.” He carries the broad comedy and erudite demeanor beautifully.

Along with Allam are a host of players. Of note are Emily Berrington (Humans), Fiona Shaw (Emerald City), Tim McInnerny (Eddie the Eagle),  and Tommy Knight (Sarah Jane Adventures). They are far from alone, but they were the stand-outs for me. 

The dialogue is delightful, the satire sharp, and the humanity, ultimately, bruised, vulnerable, and triumphant in its way. It is definitely dark comedy, but with a beating heart. You’ll know early on if it is a movie for you, so you don’t have much to lose by giving it 10 minutes to convince you. I had a great time with it and look forward to watching it again as I’m sure I missed some great exchanges because I was still laughing at others.

As a side note, there is a serious sort of critical overtone to the tale, despite all the amusement. It is indicated in the title (from a TS Eliot poem), a reference made clear in the opening, but still required some look-up to fully appreciate. With or without that additional layer, the movie is far from vague and the result very entertaining.

The Hippopotamus

The Loch, Dark and Fearless

This is a collection of three new series from the UK. All three are rather intense, but all boast strong female leads and nicely complex mysteries.

The Loch [3 stars]
A serial murder mystery set in the fictional community of Lochnafoy, on the shores of Loch Ness. Full of interesting characters and plenty of suspects, it is the weakest writing of these three, but still very engaging. At issue is that there are just too many unlikable characters who do some really foolish things. On the other hand, the mystery is nicely complex and is peeled back well over several episodes. How you feel about the final resolution may vary. I was a left feeling it was a bit unlikely, but not entirely unsatisfied. Siobhan Finneran (Happy Valley) and Laura Fraser (The Missing) are the driving female presences, balancing each other well. And there is a whole town of recognizable and new faces to enjoy as the bodies pile up and the detectives focus in on their perpetrator.

In the Dark [3 stars]
The shortest of the three series in this post (it is only two, two episode stories) it is also one of the slowest to reveal its character secrets, though less-so on the suspects. Its lead, MyAnna Buring (Lesbian Vampire Killers), just off the series wrap of Ripper Street, is transformed into an entirely different woman. If aspects of her face weren’t so distinct, I don’t think I’d have even realized who it was. The mysteries themselves are solid BBC style guessing games of possibilities. The first episode is a stronger story than the second, but both build on Buring’s character and set her up as a driven and strong detective, if not a bit reckless. She is supported by a range of recognizable men in her life, some in decidedly different roles than usual. How they go forward I’m not entirely sure, but I’d go back to see more if they make them.

Fearless [4 stars]
In some ways, this is the darkest of the three tales because it is such a reflection of our times and so close to the bigger realities. It spins around the political tides of public fear, war, and espionage even while the main plot is highly personal. It is definitely the strongest of the three on offer thanks to its writing and cast. Helen McCrory (A Little Chaos) is the primary driver in this unsettling, but likely to be more common theme, of terrorism and bad government actors (particularly the US) given today’s politics. She is joined by Wunmi Mosaku (In the Flesh) and Robin Weigert (Pawn Sacrifice). Each is a true-believer in their areas and has varying degrees of integrity based on those beliefs. What lines they will cross is part of the tale to tell. There is also a host of men it was good to see, starting with Michael Gambon (The Casual Vacancy), Jamie Bamber (Marcella), and, finally, Alec Newman who had been doing mostly voice overs for the last while. The story holds its tension from the first to the last and resolves in a believable and complete way. I am hopeful that we’ll see another mystery down the road for McCrory’s character. She is set up as an icon of public justice, which not only has a huge well to draw from, but is a much needed sensibility in today’s world.

The Loch Poster In the Dark Poster Fearless Poster

Shun Li and the Poet

[3 stars] Poetry is often about the conflict and elasticity of language, how unexpected ideas and words bounce off one another. Similarly, this movie is about the conflict and confluence of people, worlds, cultures, ages, and languages. While that feels forced and uninteresting, from the opening of the film we are encouraged to consider both poetry and the protection of the heart and soul of such people.

Tao Zhao plays a woman trapped by circumstance, but not constrained. She works within her boundaries to be as creative as she can in creating a life and loving her family. Like the rules that govern a sonnet, her limitations can be worked within. As the counterpoint to Zhao’s Li, Rade Serbedzija (Taken 2) offers both friendship and comfort that grows in fascinating ways as their lives intertwine. He also has his own path to navigate through this story.

The two live in very different worlds and it is the intersection of those experiences that affect them profoundly. It is also the simple sense of humanity that draws them closer together, suggesting the barriers between them are, at least in some ways, artificial.

The story by writer/director Andrea Segre is simple in both its telling and execution, exposing both worlds, but avoiding cliches. It is warm and honest while remaining blunt about many aspects. It won many awards when it was released, and still holds up 6 years later. In fact, in some ways it is even more topical than it was back in 2011.

Shun Li and the Poet