Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts

25 November 2020

Film review: Disrupting Wine (2020) by Johan Rimestad, ***


Synopsys
 

Documentary about the founder of Vivino, Heini Zachariassen.

Vivino has more than 43 million downloads worldwide and has its HQ in San Francisco. (from the film’s website) Of course: for wine just as for anything else innovation blooms in silicon valley.

Review 

Too much about the life of the founder and his family and not enough about the Vivino application, its features, its very useful role in the hands of wine lovers and sommeliers alike. While some facts about Heini would obviously be in order to understand the genesis of the app, this is not supposed to be about him but about IT, VIVINO! Also, one gets the impression that the creator of Vivino treats wines as if they were any other commodity, he could have made an app about different kinds of detergents. I feel that is not the case but Heini's passion for wine does not come through.


 

09 November 2020

Film review: Somm, into the Bottle (2015), by Jason Wise, ****

Synopsis

Sequel to the previous Somm movie of 2012, this documentary takes the viewer into the private world of famed producers (who open exceptional bottles for the occasion).


Review

A peek into cellars that most of us humans will never get into, and a good dose of self-irony about a profession that means different things to different people. Definitely recommended after the first.

We learn that the word "spirit", used for alcoholic beverages, comes from the fact that wine has been used in religious functions for a long time, it takes the "spirit" out of the body, especially when abused! Not sure it is true, but it sounds fun.

We also learn that Julius Cesar instructed his legionaries to drink at least a liter of wine a day, more before going into battle.

One somm opines that aging wine in wood is like adding salt to food: you may need it to exalt the flavor, but not too much. Some may not like it at all, of course. But if you do choose to oak a wine, beware: your barrel is going to be like a wife for your wine, choose well or your wine will pay the price for your mistake!

A few spoke about scoring wines. Some find it useful, some hate it as an oversimplification that is not reliable: no single somm will score the same wines the same way if given the same bottles blind over again.


03 April 2020

Film review: L'Esprit du vin (2011) by Olympe and Yvon Minvielle **

Synopsys

A film sponsored by Château Lagarette, a biodynamic producer in Bordeaux.

A dozen or so biodynamic wine-growers express their vision of the present and make proposals for the future.

They ask eminently social and even political questions: What food? How Could humanity restore the ideal of living together?

Through their stories, practices, and the accumulation of knowledge from their experiences, the producers of the film and a group of farmers, biodynamic wine-growers, try to open a path. They want to show how the spirit of bio-dynamics could provide answers to these questions.



Review

This film is an all-out passionate defense of biodynamic viticulture. I say defense because most of the interviewees talk as if they are under siege, as if the evil forces of modernity are out to extinguish the feeble flame of tradition. No alternative point of view is presented in the film. If you want to hear alternative voices, skeptical or critical of biodynamic wine, you have to look elsewhere.

Clearly, the growers interviewed are very passionate about their wine, but often they get carried away. Just a few pearls from their statements. A basic theme of the film is a high level of hostility toward "technology": there is "technological" wine, which is artificial and then there is biodynamic wine, which is natural. Oddly, little attention is paid to organic wines, although biodynamic certification requires a wine to be organic to begin with.

A couple of speakers identify "technological" wines as the result of American influence and specifically the work of Robert Parker, while, on the contrary, "Europe" is the custodian of genuine winemaking. Well, Parker has nothing against biodynamic wines and actually promotes it. And, of course, there are lots of American biodynamic producers and in fact the USA is the biggest biodynamic farming producer in the world.

One speaker argues that biodynamic vineyards are better equipped to resist the negative radioactive impact of Chernobyl, thus lumping together as if it was a dogmatic truth a whole host of questionable assumptions.

A major problem for me is when, as several speakers repeat in this film, the argument is put forward that what is important in biodynamic wine is NOT the result, but the relationship between man and nature, a new philosophy of daily life. Assuming the latter is somehow better served in biodynamic farming, for me the end result, ie good and healthy wine, IS WHAT MATTERS.

Technology, a word that is often repeated with a grimace by many interviewees, destroys the relationship man and nature, farmer and vineyard. Biodynamic preparations restore the correct energy flows! A corollary of this argument is the open hostility of one speaker to established wine associations such as the Masters of Wine. In his view, these associations have been created to serve technology against the natural traditions of wine.

One speaker is very honest when he says biodynamic farming is like a religion: you can not demonstrate it, you can only believe it. Another one compares it to acupuncture: not scientifically proven, but many believe it anyway. Not surprising that biodynamic farmers also accept homeopathic principles, as they use extremely diluted solutions in some of their preparations.

A quirky claim toward the end of the film is that biodynamic wine is especially appreciated by women! Maybe so, as a woman grower claims to have produced a "concert wine" in her biodynamic vineyard because both wine and music share a spirituality for people to appreciate.

If you already believe in biodynamic farming this film will make you feel really good. If you are trying to understand more, it will give you only half the picture.

For a wise and cool view of the subject, read Jancis Robinson, one of the world's most respected authorities.

You can watch the film reviewed here on Youtube.

You can buy the DVD (in French as well as English) here on Amazon. Hard to come by and very expensive, however!





01 March 2020

Film review: Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) by Scott Hicks ****

Synopsys

Scott Hicks' screen adaptation of David Guterson's best-selling novel. On San Pietro Island, shortly after the end of World War Two, local fisherman Kazuo (Rick Yune) is on trial for the murder of another fisherman. The hearings are attended by Ishmael (Ethan Hawke), a local reporter who was also the childhood sweetheart of Kazuo's wife, Hatsue. As the hearings progress, Ishmael gradually begins to realize the extent of anti-Japanese feelings which still remains, and suspects that it could affect the course of the trial.


Review

A gripping historical novel about a lesser-known (unless you are a Japanese-American) aspect of domestic politics in the USA during and after World War II. A dark page in American democracy but a message of hope at the end. Also, it shows how immigrants in the American melting pot do not always, well, melt in the pot but keep cultural, if not political, affiliations to their country of origin.





You can buy the book here



Compra la versione italiana qui

26 July 2018

Book review: The Judgement of Paris (2005) by G. Teber, *****

Synopsis

The Judgement of Paris was a blind tasting that pitched American wines from California against French reds from Bordeaux and whites from Burgundy. The name is a play on the "Judgement of Paris" in Greek mythology.

The author was the only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976—a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France’s best—for the first time introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine.

The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. At this legendary contest—a blind tasting—a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France’s best.

George M. Taber, the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks—repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. With an eclectic cast of characters and magnificent settings, Judgment of Paris is an illuminating tale and a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old.

Review

The definitive book on this historical event. French wine had been the uncontested world leader until that day, and maybe continued to be the leader, overall, but it was now hotly contested!

Spurrier put Bordeaux vs similar blend Californians, and Burgundy vs Californian Chardonnays. It was initially intended to be a tasting to introduce Californian wines to sceptical French experts, but once everyone was around the table Spurrier told them the real plan: a challenge.

The test was not scientifically exact: more American wines (6) than French wines (4) were included in the sample. And yet, take the whites: every single French judge scored an American chard first.

Another charge was that French wines were too young and would give their best later on in life. But several rematches years later saw the Americans prevail again.

A very detailed book about a pivotal point in wine history.

See my review about the film "Bottle Shock" about the same story which I reviewed in this blog.






11 December 2016

Film review: A Perfect World (1993), by Clint Eastwood, ***

Synopsis

Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood confront each other from opposite sides of the law in A Perfect World, an acclaimed, multilayered manhunt saga (directed by Eastwood) that rumbles down Texas backroads toward a harrowing collision with fate. Costner plays Butch Haynes, a hardened prison escapee on the lam with a young hostage (T.J. Lowther in a remarkable film debut) who sees in Butch the father figure he never had. Eastwood is wily Texas Ranger Red Garnett, leading deputies and a criminologist (Laura Dern) on a statewide pursuit. Red knows every road and pothole in the Panhandle. What's more, he knows the elusive Haynes – because their paths have crossed before.





Review


A film about America's south in the 1960s, its gun culture and trigger-happy police. The story unfolds against the background of pre-civil rights movement racial relations. A culture that is still to a large extent there, half a century after the time when this movie is set and despite eight years of a black American president.

Clint is his usual hard-nosed expression-less man, and Costner plays very well the role of an equally tough criminal who reveals his inner kindness, even to the child he loves and who eventually contributes to his death.

The movie is a succession of apparently casual events that decide the life or death of people, seemingly by fortuitous coincidences. In a perfect world, there would have been a happy ending, or rather this story would not have started at all!



Choose your favorite Clint Eastwood movies here.

In the US buy it here



Buy other movies by Clint Eastwood here.

10 December 2014

Film review: Mississippi Masala (1991) by Mira Nair, ****

Synopsis

The story of an Indian family who after always having lived in Uganda, Africa, are forced to leave under the orders of dictator Idi Amin when he declares that Africa belongs only to 'black' Africans. The lawyer, his wife and little girl Mina, move to Mississippi where again, years later, racism presents problems. This time between the Indian and American/African community, coming to a head when the now 24-year-old Mina falls in love with a black carpet cleaner. 'Masala' in the film means a 'mixture of hot spices' which is how Mina sees herself through having come from such a rich mixture of cultural backgrounds.


Review

This is a film about globalization that was shot before people started talking about the term. Indians from Africa move to America to meet descendants of slaves and contribute to the melting pot that makes America great. The plot may not be super original (boy loves girl, girl loves boy, girl's parents are not happy) but the context is. It made me feel of "Guess who is coming to dinner" and it could almost be considered a remake. of course, in a different context and twenty-five years later. But the romance drama intermixed with the racial friction makes it very current and as I watch it in 2014 it is ever so relevant!

See my other reviews of films about India in this blog.




23 November 2014

Film review/recensione: A Walk in the Clouds (1995), by Alfonso Arau, ****

Italian text below

Synopsis

After returning home from the war, Sutton (Keanu Reeves) accepts that his wife has no interest in him or his plans for the future, and sets out in search of a new life on his own. He soon meets up with a vineyard owner's daughter (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), but she finds out she is pregnant and fears for her life when it comes to telling her father. Sutton then agrees to help her by pretending to be her new husband, a decision which will change both of their lives forever.

Review

A film about love: love for a family, a woman (you can see more men loving women, in their own way, than the other way around in this film) but especially love for the land and its wine. Catch the moment, life will offer unexpected treasures if one has the mental predisposition to catch them on the fly! Be ready to change what you planned, don't wait until you must.









Sinossi

Tornato dalla guerra, Paul Sutton, dopo aver riabbracciato la moglie Betty, che per la verità non sembra aver trepidato per lui, visto che non ha letto una sola delle molte lettere inviatele, riprende l'attività di rappresentante di cioccolatini. Una serie di contrattempi fa sì che si ritrovi a "fare" da marito ad una giovane di origine messicana, Victoria Aragon, figlia di un ricco viticoltore delle valle di Napa, che possiede il vigneto modello "Le Nuvole". La giovane, che frequenta l'università in città, aspetta un figlio illegittimo dal suo professore e teme che il padre, Alberto, la uccida.

Accettato il ruolo solo per breve tempo essendo deciso il giorno dopo ad andarsene con una lettera d'addio, Paul incontra subito l'aperta ostilità di Alberto, geloso della figlia e irritato per non essere stato avvertito, ma la simpatia della madre Marie José e soprattutto del nonno, Don Pedro, ritardano la sua partenza. Il rito della vendernmia poi, con il clima bacchico e solare della pigiatura dell'uva, fa perdere quasi la testa a Paul, che decide di rispettare Victoria, pur essendone attratto e ricambiato. Orfano, Paul trova nella famiglia della giovane un rifugio dagli orrori della guerra che ancora lo traumatizzano. Il fatto che i due non dormano insieme insospettisce Alberto che, colpito dalle manifestazioni d'affetto del finto genero per la figlia, decide di farli sposare con rito religioso.

A questo punto Victoria è costretta a dire la verità al padre, mentre Paul a malincuore si allontana per tornare dalla moglie che però, nel frattempo, ha provveduto ad annullare il matrimonio. Libero, il giovane fa ritorno al vigneto, ma trova Alberto ubriaco che si scaglia contro di lui e roteando una lampada a petrolio per colpirlo la lancia nel vigneto, incendiandolo. Vani sono i tentativi per domare le fiamme, poi Paul estirpa la radice, che ha resistito al fuoco, della pianta madre del vigneto, che rivivrà. Alberto fa pace con la figlia e Paul può sposarla accettando di essere un buon padre per il nascituro.

Recensione

Un film sull'amore. Amore per propria famiglia, la propria donna ma soprattutto per la terra ed il vino. Carpe diem, la vita può offrire inaspettate opportunità a chi ha la disposizione mentale per cogliere l'attimo. Bisogna essere pronti a cambiare i programmi per i quali si è lavorato, anche per anni, quando cambiano le condizioni. Meglio non aspettare di essere obbligati a farlo!





22 October 2013

Film review/Recensione: Finding Forrester (2000) by Gus Von Sant, ****

testo italiano in fondo

Synopsis

Talented basketball player Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) has dreams of becoming a successful writer, and finds help in the form of William Forrester (Sean Connery), a reclusive novelist who lives in his neighbourhood. The pair meet when Jamal breaks into Forrester's flat, but a warm student-teacher bond soon develops between them, with Forrester helping Jamal improve his writing and Jamal helping Forrester overcome his reclusiveness. However, when Jamal rewrites a piece of his new friend's work for a school assignment, his vindictive professor Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) accuses him of plagiarism, a charge which could seriously effect his school career.


Review

Finding Forrester is a movie that is hard to categorize. I would say most of all it is about human relationship and how an open mind to the unexpected can open the heart. Agoraphobic writer Forrester had locked himself up in his apartment and basically given up on life when he meets young James Wallace, to whom he can teach a lot but from whom he picks up a new lease on life, to the point that he wants to go back to his native Scotland to die. He then relates how this was the happiest period of his life, his Sunset, which is also the title of his second and final novel he leaves on his desk, unpublished, waiting for James to write a preface.

It is also about hope in the face of seemingly unsurmountable odds, as James, a black from the Bronx destined for crime and a life in the streets, can use his intelligence, his basketball skills and not a little luck to make a real life for himself.

The movie also says a lot about life in the Bronx (though things have improved there since) and about how elite American schools are ready to close an eye on academic performance to attract athletic talent in their recruitment process.

A good line to remember:  to impress a woman, give her an unexpected gift at an unexpected time. Well we all knew that, kind of, but good reminder.

This is the next to last appearance of Connery in a film before his retirement.









Sinossi

Da una piazzetta del Bronx, dove giocano a pallacanestro, alcuni ragazzi di colore guardano le finestre di un appartamento sovrastante. Lì abita sotto falso nome un misterioso individuo che da anni non esce più di casa. Un giorno uno dei ragazzi, Jamal, accetta per sfida di andare a vedere chi c'è veramente in quella casa. Si introduce, viene scoperto, scappa ma dimentica lì lo zainetto con libri e quaderni. Intanto un esclusivo liceo di New York ha messo gli occhi su di lui e gli offre una borsa di studio, soprattutto per le sue doti nella pallacanestro. Ricevuta indietro la propria roba, Jamal si accorge che sulle cose scritte nei quaderni ci sono correzioni e giudizi. Il ragazzo, 16 anni, va nella nuova scuola, comincia gli studi e scopre che quell'individuo è William Forrester, scrittore vincitore anni prima di un Pulitzer e poi misteriosamente scomparso.

12 June 2013

Film review: Flags of our Fathers (2006) by Clint Eastwood, ****

testo italiano di seguito

Synopsis

The film is about a photograph by James Rosenthal, one of the most famous war pictures of all times. Thematically ambitious and emotionally complex, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is an intimate epic with much to say about war and the nature of heroism in America. Based on the non-fiction bestseller by James Bradley (with Ron Powers), and adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis (Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. wrote an earlier draft that was abandoned when Eastwood signed on to direct), this isn't so much a conventional war movie as it is a thought-provoking meditation on our collective need for heroes, even at the expense of those we deem heroic.

In telling the story of the six men (five Marines, one Navy medic) who raised the American flag of victory on the battle-ravaged Japanese island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, Eastwood takes us deep into the horror of war (in painstakingly authentic Iwo Jima battle scenes) while emphasizing how three of the surviving flag-raisers (played by Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe, and Jesse Bradford) became reluctant celebrities – and resentful pawns in a wartime publicity campaign – after their flag-raising was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in the most famous photograph in military history.


Review

A typically Eastwood approach. He takes a highly unusual point of view to reveal the lesser known aspects of a very well known subject matter, in this case the flag raising photograph of the battle of Iwo Jima. Of the six men, three were killed in action a few days later. This is not a film meant to show bravery, though there is plenty of it. It is a cynical film to show how the American war propaganda machine manipulated the three survivors of the flag raising to ... raise money for war bonds. We learn how the flag itself was a coveted object of contention among politicians and military leaders. And how in the end those who were less interested in the iconic photograph were the people in it. They were there to do a job, and being in a photograph was not part of it.

Pretty amazing CGI. For example, technicians artificially reproduce the Pacific theather as a background for the rugged terrain in Iceland where the film was actually shot! You can see it's not real, but it's pretty close to look real.

Watch this film together with "Letters from Iwo Jima", also by Clint Eastwood, that tells the story of the battle from a Japanese point of view. I will review this most interesting film soon in this blog.

Region free BD



Buy the book here





Recensione

Approccio tipicamente Eastwoodiano. Clint affronta l'argomento da un punto di vista molto inusuale per rivelare gli aspetti più nascosti di una vicenda ultranota, in questo caso la celebre foto della bandiera di Iwo Jima. Dei sei uomini nella foto, tre sono morti in combattimento nei giorni successivi. La macchina della propaganda bellica americana ha manipolato gli altri tre allo scopo di raccogliere fondi per finanziare il prosieguo della guerra. (Siamo a Febbraio 1945 ed il Giappone non ha ancora nessuna intenzione di arrendersi.)

Alla fine si capisce come i sei personaggi nella foto erano i meno interessati alla foto stessa: erano a Iwo per uno scopo ben preciso, e posare in una fotografia non rientrava nei loro compiti.

Buoni effetti speciali: i tecnici hanno ricreato lo sfondo dello sbarco e lo hanno inserito dietro le montagne islandesi dove si sono svolte le riprese. Sembra quasi vero.

Consiglio di vedere questo film con "Lettere da Iwo Jima", sempre di Clint Eastwood, che racconta come quella drammatica battaglia fu vissuta dai giapponesi.

BD in italiano



Compra il libro in italiano qui



24 March 2013

Film review: Namesake (2006), by Mira Nair, ****

Synopsis

Namesake is a Bollywood drama by Mira Nair, based on the best-selling novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and Ashima (Tabu) are a young couple who are brought together in an arranged marriage and soon leave Calcutta to seek their fortune in America. Before long, Ashima gives birth to a baby boy, and pressed to choose a name, they dub the infant Nikhil (Kal Penn), though he soon picks up the nickname Gogol, after Ashoke's favourite author. By the time the child is old enough to attend school, he insists upon being called Gogol at all times, and he displays little interest in his Indian heritage.

Several years on, Gogol has decided he wants to be called Nick (and is now played by Kal Penn) and has become a thoroughly Americanised teenager, openly rebelling against his parents, smoking marijuana in his room, and dating Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), a preppy blonde from a wealthy family. Ashoke and Ashima are uncertain about how to deal with their son's attempts to cut himself off from their culture, but Nick begins expressing some uncertainty himself when he meets Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson), a beautiful girl who also comes from a family of Indian expatriates.


Review

Multiple stories in this film. Indian immigration in the 1970s, with a bright young engineering student who finds opportunities at M.I.T., the dream university for many scientists around the world. What a coincidence, I went to M.I.T. in the seventies, same university and same decade! Some of my classmates and best friends were just like Ashoke!

Also a touching family love story, with the problems faced by parents of adolescent kids in every country.

The strong role of the family bonds in Indian culture is a message not to be missed, and from which we in the West have much to learn.

I found the puzzlement of the American born kids when they go back to visit India the most entertaining and amusing part of the film.

Everything rotates around the quirky name that Ashoke has chosen for his son, and the meaning of this name which only becomes clear to the son after his father's death.

See more of my reviews of films about India in this blog.

Buy your European Region 2 DVD here



For the US buy or download here




Buy the book here




17 March 2013

Film review: Escape from Alcatraz (1979), by Don Siegel, *****



Synopsis

One of Clint Eastwood's two most important filmmaking mentors was Don Siegel (the other was Sergio Leone), who directed Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara and this enigmatic, 1979 drama based on a true story about an escape from the island prison of Alcatraz. Eastwood plays a new convict who enters into a kind of mind game with the chilly warden (Patrick McGoohan) and organises a break leading into the treacherous waters off San Francisco. As jailbird movies go, this isn't just a grotty, unpleasant experience but a character-driven work with some haunting twists. --Tom Keogh for Amazon



Review

This is a great movie that entertains with lots of suspense while telling the real story of three inmates who pulled off the only successful escape from the notorious Alcatraz prison.

Eastwood is his usual self: cool, smart and cynical to the extreme, but also human. Highly recommended. Other supporting actors contribute to a great film.


Buy your European disc here



Buy your American disc or instant video here (PAY ATTENTION NOT TO BUY REGION 2 DVD FOR US)




10 March 2013

Film review: Outsourced (2010) by John Jeffcoat, ****

Time magazine cover, 2006
Synopsis

Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) spends his days managing a call centre in Seattle until he gets the bad news from his boss his job has been outsourced to India. Adding insult to injury, Todd must travel to India to train his new replacement. He expects the worst experience of his life, and it certainly begins that way! As he navigates through the chaos of Bombay and an office paralyzed by constant cultural misunderstandings, Todd yearns to return to the comforts of home. But it is through his team of quirky yet likable Indian call centre workers, including his friendly and motivated replacement, Puro (Asif Basra), and the charming, opinionated Asha (Ayesha Dharker), that Todd realizes that he too has a lot to learn - not only about India and America, but about himself. He soon discovers that being outsourced may be the best thing that ever happened to him.


07 February 2013

Film review: The Thin Red Line (1998), by Terrence Malick, ****

Synopsis

After directing two of the most extraordinary movies of the 1970s, Badlands and Days of Heaven, American artist Terrence Malick disappeared from the film world for twenty years, only to resurface in 1998 with this visionary adaptation of James Jones’s 1962 novel about the World War II battle for Guadalcanal. A big-budget, spectacularly mounted epic, The Thin Red Line is also one of the most deeply philosophical films ever released by a major Hollywood studio, a thought-provoking meditation on man, nature, and violence. Featuring a cast of contemporary cinema’s finest actors—Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking, Milk), Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides, Affliction), Elias Koteas (Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, The People vs. Larry Flynt) among them—The Thin Red Line is a kaleidoscopic evocation of the experience of combat that ranks as one of cinema’s greatest war films.


13 November 2012

Film review: Bananas (1971) by Woody Allen, ****

Synopsis

Woody Allen's second film as a director was a wild, unpredictable and unlikely comedy about a product-tester named Fielding Mellish (Allen), who can't quite connect with the woman of his dreams (Louise Lasser, Allen's ex-wife). He accidentally winds up in South America as a freedom fighter for a guerrilla leader who looks like Castro. Once he assumes power, the new dictator quickly goes insane--which leaves Fielding in charge to negotiate with the US. The film is chockfull of wonderfully bizarre gags, such as the dreams Fielding recounts to his shrink about dueling crucified messiahs, vying for a parking place near Wall Street. Look for an unknown Sylvester Stallone in a tiny role--but watch this film for Allen's surprisingly physical (and always verbally dexterous) humour. --Marshall Fine for Amazon


09 September 2012

Book review: The Dark Tourist (2010), by Dom Joly, ***

Sinister looking WW I artillery on Monte Grappa
Synopsis

'Dark tourism is the act of travel and visitation to sites, attractions and exhibitions which have real or recreated death, suffering or the seemingly macabre as a main theme'

Ever since he can remember, Dom Joly has been fascinated by travel to odd places. In part this stems from a childhood spent in war-torn Lebanon, where instead of swapping marbles in the schoolyard, he had a shrapnel collection -- the schoolboy currency of Beirut. Dom's upbringing was interspersed with terrifying days and nights spent hunkered in the family basement under Syrian rocket attack or coming across a pile of severed heads from a sectarian execution in the pine forests near his home.

These early experiences left Dom with a profound loathing for the sanitized experiences of the modern day travel industry and a taste for the darkest of places. The more insalubrious the place, the more interesting is the journey and so we follow Dom as he skis in Iran on segregated slopes, picnics in the Syrian Desert with a trigger-happy government minder and fires rocket propelled grenades at live cows in Cambodia (he missed on purpose, he just couldn't do it).


20 July 2012

Film review: Julie and Julia (2009), by Nora Ephron ****

Julia Child in Time magazine
Synopsis

A culinary legend provides a frustrated office worker with a new recipe for life in Julie and Julia, the true stories of how Julia Child's (Meryl Streep) life and cookbook inspired fledgling writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams) to whip up 524 recipes in 365 days and introduce a new generation to the magic of French cooking. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) co-stars in director Nora Ephron's delicious comedy about joy, obsession and butter. It was to be the last of her movies, as she died in 2012. Bon appetit!


17 July 2012

Book review: Prisoner of the Japanese, by Tom Wade, *****

English prisoners freed in Japan, September 1945 (AP Photo)
Synopsis

On 15 February 1942, the Japanese captured Singapore and took 130,000 Allied prisoners of war. One of those prisoners was British Lieutenant Tom Wade. For the next three and a half years he was to suffer the indignity and hardships of captivity and the torture and brutality of his captors, first in Changi, then in Korea and finally in Tokyo.

This book is the story of those years in captivity. They were years of horror and despair, characterised by harsh treatment at the hands of sadistic guards who believed that a soldier who has surrendered has lost all humanity. At Tokyo Headquarters Camp in particular, Wade and his fellow POWs had to suffer the paranoid beatings and victimisation of Sergeant Matsuhiro Watanabe, who successfully avoided prosecution by the War Crimes Commission at the war's end.

Wade's moving account of his period of captivity is characterised by the sense of determination, hope and endurance which sustained all those who shared his experience.


10 July 2012

Film review: Sand Pebbles (1966) by Robert Wise, ****

Synopsis
"The Sand Pebbles" tells many stories. It's the story of China, a slumbering giant that rouses itself to the cries of its people - and of the Americans who are caught in its blood awakening. It's the story of Frenchy (Richard Attenborough, passionate!), a crewman on the U.S.S. San Pablo who kidnaps his Chinese bride from the auction block. It's the story of Shirley (Candice Bergen, not her best performance here), a teacher and her first unforgettable taste of love. It's the story of Captain Collins (Richard Crenna), ready to defy anyone for his country's defense. Most of all, it's the story of Jake Holman (Steve McQueen, who does great, maybe his best ever!), a sailor who has given up trying to make peace with anything - including himself. McQueen gives what is probably the best performance of his career. It's not surprising that he, Mako and the movie were up for Oscars. Portraying a character with conflicting loyalties to friend and flag, McQueen expertly conveys the confusion that leads into his final line: "What the hell happened?" It's to his credit that we already know.

Review
A movie made at the time the Vietnam was escalating and beginning to raise questions in America. The parallel is obvious: China in the 1920s was a divided country with foreign powers meddling in its internal affairs and supporting the opposing sides of the civil war. Japan had invaded, the USSR supported the Communists, the Western powers supported the Nationalists. Western powers did not invade but had a military presence on the coast and, as this film shows, inland as well.

It is an anti-colonial film too. It shows how China, while not strictly speaking colonized, had been in fact the object of foreign interference and prevarication for many decades. Yet the film also shows the brutality of the colonialists' victims, with Chinese killing Chinese, sometimes for very little reason.

The human dimension of the film reminds me of Vietnam too. Frenchy falls in love with a Chinese woman and wants to marry her amidst many difficulties, just as it happened for many GIs in Vietnam.

The Blu-ray edition also contains interesting extra features, like an interview with the director and cut scenes, as well as a "the making of" featurette. This was before any CGI of course, so it is interesting to see how special effects were done in those days.




09 July 2012

Film review: Pushing Hands (1992) by Ang Lee, ****

Synopsis

Mr. Chu is a recently widowed tai-chi master who moves from Beijing to New York to live with his son. Chu's American daughter-in-law, Martha, can't stand having him around the house. He finds her Western ideas on raising children and keeping a home to be curious at best. These conflicts test family bonds and Mr. Chu's highly developed sense of balance. This was the first feature as a director for Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility) and has many of the hallmarks of his later, better-known works: finely observed characters, gentle yet pointed humor, and the ability to see and understand both sides of a cultural divide. The charismatic Sihung Lung (who also starred in Lee's The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman) plays Chu with strength and understatement, but Deb Snyder is miscast in a thankless role. The title refers to a tai-chi exercise that's at the center of the film's best scene, a standoff in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. --Geof Miller for Amazon


Review

Another great movie by Ang Lee and superb interpretation ny Sihung Lung. The eternal problem of how do deal with our elders. Difficult to keep them at home with our spouses, yet difficult to abandon them in a hospice for old people. It can be a lose-lose situation. Or it can be a win-win situation if all concerned make an effort. In the end, in this movie, the grandfather successfully blends his need to keep in touch with son and grandson, but without interfereing in their lives too much.

As always with Ang lee and Sihung Lung, food and cooking plays out all along the film. It is a healthy reminder of the central role food and eating together plays in family life in any culture. Tai chi is not a central part of this movie, and therefore I'd say the title is a bit out of context. Also, some of the fighting scenes where old Sihung Lung beats dozens of younger men while practically standing still are a bit exaggerated!

I found this movie thoroughly enjoyable and very perceptive. The movie is set in the US with a Chinese protagonist, and as such does provide insights into the problematic meeting of Western and Eastern minds, though the issues it addresses are really universal. Strongly recommended.

You can read a list of movies about China I have reviewd here on this blog.