Think Westeros has intrigue (and a high body count)?
Try the court of Henry VIII in 15th century England (and, unlike the Lannisters, this is based on real facts.(Kudos to screenwriter Peter Straughan for boiling down Hilary Mantel’s two door-stopping historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodiesin this six-part BBC/PBS miniseries now on DVD.)
Award-winning actor Mark Rylance (he has won or been nominated for every major award except the Grammy) stars in a thoroughly immersive performance as Thomas Cromwell, a wily manipulator trying to survive and prosper in the court of Henry VIII (played with mercurial elan by Damian Lewis).
PS Claire Foy, so good as a young Elizabeth II in Netflix’s The Crown, portrays the doomed Anne Boleyn (although her character doesn’t know she is doomed in the early stages of this drama. Far from it!)
I’ve read a lot of articles namechecking Yasujiro Ozu over the years but I personally have never had the opportunity to access his films until recently. (When it comes to Japanese cinema, I’m more of a Kurosawa man myself.)
Perhaps Akira Kurosawa’s best-known films with their emphasis on action and/or suspense have proved to be more accessible to western audiences. (Hollywood has adapted several Kurosawa films, the most successful being The Magnificent Seven, an Americanized version of Seven Samurai ( which featured the mighty Toshiro Mifune – one of my all-time favorite screen performers.)
Mr. Ozu specializes in understated family dramas like Tokyo Story (recently voted No. 1 in a poll of 358 directors conducted by Sight and Sound magazine) and Late Spring, part of a series of “seasonal” works which also includes Early Summer and Autumn Afternoon.
Ozu films were not widely available globally until the 1970s, according to film prof Louis Giametti. They were considered by distributors to be “too Japanese” to appeal to foreign audiences. Mr. Ozu was, Prof. Giametti writes, “a champion of traditional values, particularly that quintessential Japanese institution, the family.” For that reason, things may appear to many Western viewers to be moving too slowly as Mr. Ozu meticulously records details of everyday Japanese family life. He is not interested in heavy drama. The characters move at their own speed: they will not be rushed.
Recently I spotted a Criterion Collection reissue of 1949’s Late Spring at the local library. Lovingly remastered by the Criterion folks, the package also includes scholarly yet accessible essays plus some words from the master himself. The package also includes a second disc, Tokyo-Ga, a documentary by the great German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club), recording his 1983 odyssey to Japan in search of the Tokyo which inspired Mr. Ozu’s films. Along the way he meets and interviews Chishu Ryu, a regular in Ozu films and Mr. Ozu’s longtime assistant, Yuharu Atsuta, who comments on the master’s unique style (he always liked to film with the camera several feet above the floor and using 50 mm lenses). On Mr. Ozu’s preferred method of shooting, Prof. Giametti writes “Ozu treated his characters as equals …for the most part, they are ordinary people, neither very virtuous or very corrupt … kept his camera neutral and dispassionate. Eye -level shots permit us to make up our own minds …”
Thanks to Mr. Ozu’s film I felt I really knew this family and thanks to Criterion’s thoughtful packaging and the accompanying Wenders documentary I felt I knew a little more about Yasujiro Ozu and his art.
Notably missing from Mr. Wenders’ doc is frequent Ozu leading lady Setsuko Hara. Ms. Hara, with her luminous eyes and expressive features, plays a devoted daughter to her elderly professor father (Ryu) in Late Spring. She will learn to her sorrow that she must leave her father and start her own life. Despite the appearance (to some) that little is happening the film is quite poignant and the ending can be ineffably sad. After the passing of Mr. Ozu in 1963 Ms. Hara retired from acting, resumed her real name (Setsuko Hara was a stage name), went into seclusion, refusing all requests for interviews and died in 2015. But we can still view her haunting femininity and screen presence on film.
Like most American thrillers. there is enough fetishistic depiction of weaponry to make a gun collector drool. (There is even a style of fighting in the movie which is referred to boastfully in the Extras as “gun fu”.)
Gotta give Keanu credit, though. Now in his early Fifties.the former teen heartthrob still manages to keep his name above the title.
Director Colm McCarthy and novice screenwriter Mike Carey (adapting the script from his own novel) do their best to pump fresh blood into the tired zombie genre (for example, the Z-word is rarely used – here the flesh-eating critters are called “hungries” and contacted their condition through a fungal infection).
Brit beauty Gemma Arterton dispenses with make-up to reveal the natural beauty within (and has seldom been more convincing) as a teacher who lets her emotions get in the way of her job. Veteran actress Glenn Close (sporting an unflattering butch cut) is characteristically convincing as a scientist so focused on her work that she is oblivious to her humanity.
Add Paddy Considine as a volatile soldier to the mix and you have the human ingredients for a zombie- excuse me – apocalyptic thriller with a sting in its tale.
But the film really belongs to feature film newcomer Sennia Nanua (no fair telling you who her character really is ). She joins a select group of young female performers including Oscar-nominated Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Dafne Keen (Logan) and Millie Bobby Brown (Netflix’s Stranger Things) whose seemingly effortless and naturalistic performances place them in a class all their own.
Never did understand why some white folks have such a hate-on for some black folks. It ain’t right. But if you saw and appreciated writer/ director Dee Rees’ thoughtful, moving adaptation of a novel by Hillary Jordan about two families – one white and one black – and the racism that deeply affects all of their lives you should already know that. The story is set in the rural South in the 1940s but near as I can figure it’s still going on decades later all over the U.S.
A dream cast – Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke and the great Mary J. Blige (making her feature film dramatic debut and almost recognizable), to name just a few – translates this nightmarish scenario with conviction and heart with help from the supremely talented and dedicated Ms. Rees. (She is also responsible for the excellent 2011 feature Pariah.)
Well, in the case of Blade Runner (one of my all-time favorite films, incidentally) it has been 35 years. Yet, despite the gap in time, the follow-up, Blade Runner 2049 has one of the original stars (Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard, although we still don’t know whether he is android or human. Mr. Deckard,that is, not Mr. Ford), one of the original screenwriters (Hampton Fancher) and Ridley Scott, the original director of the 1982 film, now credited as an executive producer. (The way I heard it, Mr. Scott wanted to direct the long delayed sequel but had to hand over directing duties to French-Canadian ace Denis Villeneuve due to conflicts in Mr. Scott’s schedule.)
With that in mind here are a few ideas on rebooting other so-called classics:
BICYCLE THIEF 2 Michael Fassbender is now Antonio who regains the respect of his son, Bruno (now played by Jacob Tremblay) and the love of wife Maria (now portrayed by Alicia Vikander) by getting a new bike. Unbeknownst to the two of them, though, Antonio has been stealing expensive ten-speed bicycles, motorcycles and other vehicles and has become a major player in the Rome underworld. Now directed by Roberto Benigni (who originally suggested that the movie be called Thug Life is Beautiful.)
THE SOUND OF MUSIC 2: TRAPPED BY SUCCESS
The plot has been shifted to Los Angeles where the Trapp Family has won a singing competition on a popular reality show and are signed to a contract with a major record company. The family is beset with all the usual temptations but you know the old saying “The family that plays together stays together.” Jazzed by the remake, La La Land ‘s Damien Chazelle not only signs on as director and writer but offers to rewrite some of the originals’ classic songs: “The Beverly Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Money and (in a cameo appearance by Brad Pitt) “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Angelina” (Mr. Pitt has never sung in a movie before but is reputed to have said, “If Brosnan can do it, I can do it.”) Ryan Gosling takes over the Christopher Plummer role and Emma Stone now plays the Julie Andrews role.
URBAN COWBOY 2: Urban Country
Marketing decided “Urban Country” sounded more modern. Gilley’s and the mechanical bucking bull were ditched as “old hat”. Kenny Chesney (in his major movie debut!) replaces John Travolta as Bud, the scenes are filmed in some of Mr. Chesney’s favorite stadiums (giving Kenny a chance to perform some of his biggest hits), Renee Zellweger was originally scheduled to play the Debra Winger role but citing “scheduling conflicts” she has been replaced by Miranda Lambert (in her major movie debut!) Ben Foster plays the role of the con man originally played by Scott Glenn. Kanye West replaces the late James Bridges as director. (Mr. West insists he can do anything. We’ll see. He says he will even direct from the hospital if he has to.)