Friday, January 26, 2007

Film Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari; Yasujiro Ozu, 1953); Glorydive (musical group) performance

As I mentioned back when I saw it in July, Tokyo Story is one of my favorite films and is also often rated as one of the top fifty films of all times by film critics. I teach a course on the films of Yasujiro Ozu, the filmmaker (and Satyajit Ray, a Bengali filmmaker), and adore Ozu's style. Tonight, my friend "moviediva" showed this masterpiece as part of the art museum's winter film series, and, though I've seen the film almost a half dozen times, couldn't miss it. You can see moviediva's excellent comments about the film. I am including a clip that I found online here with the delightful actor Setsuko Hara, who often plays the dutiful, happy, and unselfish daughter (called Noriko in this and other films) showing just how unselfish she is near the end of the film.

My wife performed in 2005, and is scheduled to perform in the next event, delayed from the fall to early 2007, for A Night of Dreams, a charity event in downtown Raleigh. One of her sitar pieces introduced the group Glorydive (which was then called Taylor Roberts Music; check out their MySpace page). We enjoy their music, especially the masterful electric violinist Mark Nippert and quite enthusiastic hand drummer Brian Tavener, as well as guitarist and lead singer Taylor Roberts and bassist Alex McKinney. It had been a while since we had seen Glorydive, and they were performing in downtown Raleigh tonight at the Pour House Music Hall, so we went to see them.

Luckily, they only allow smoking on their second floor, but it still was a little smoky. They had a backup band, that we didn't much care for, with Glorydive coming on a little after midnight. We enjoyed them, as always - a rock band, they play mainly original compositions but also some covers (such as Bono and U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and Charlie Daniel's Band's The Devil Went Down to Georgia), but what makes them special is the violin and so-fun and energetic drumming. It was by no means the perfect combination - sentimental Ozu followed by rock music - but was a fun evening.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Film Solyaris (Солярис or Solaris; Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972); Magical Anjali British synthpop sitarist

Wow, what an experience my wife and I had tonight seeing Solaris, based on a novel by one of my favorite science fiction writers, Stanislaw Lem (my favorite work of his is his humorous set of short stories, The Cyberiad, written in Polish in 1967 and translated into English in 1974 , about two inventors of robots, who themselves are robots). It was the first film in the They Came from Beyond international science fiction film series at the Duke Screen Society.

As we knew from reviews we had seen, it is a very long film at 165 minutes with many drawn-out but compelling scenes. Though it's a classic and has much to recommend it highly, I must admit that the first half I found a bit difficult to sit through - having just had a nice pasta dinner and some chocolate didn't help :-). It is such a complex film that it probably takes at least two or three viewings to feel that one has understood much of it.

The basic story is that a Russian spaceship in orbit around a planet has been sending back confusing status, and Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is sent to investigate. He finds out that the crew has been experimenting with sending pulses of radiation into the planet's vast ocean and are in turn manipulated by some sort of innate intelligence on the planet. "Guests" materialize on the ship, crafted from mental elements of the crews' minds.

The first night there, Kris himself wakes up to find his long-dead love Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) by his side. The other two crewmates, scientists Dr. Snaut (Jüri Järvet) and Dr. Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn) puncture any misconceptions that Kris may have by clarifying that "she" is not real, and invite Kris to try looking at a blood sample, which clearly is not human ("she" does "bleed" when hurt, but the "blood" can be easily wiped away). The scientists in fact want to experiment on sending an annihilation sacrificial pulse of radiation to the ocean below, and imply, it seems, an interest in using Hari for that purpose.

The film is unlike anything that I have seen before, and begs many philosophic questions about the nature of reality and existence, the meaning of love, time and timelessness, and much more. The sterile and very unnatural milieu of the spaceship, as well as the melancholic and minimalistic music and sound effects, make one despair for being in nature, and reflect on the early lakeside scenes. The ending (no spoilers here!) leaves room for interpretation and even understanding of just what happened. Hauntingly amazing.

On a more upbeat note, a friend sent a link to a UK commercial, below, with very nice music from a popular sitarist who goes by Magical Anjali (Anjali Bhatia). She is apparently planning a US album release. Check out her MySpace page; the song accompanying the commercial reminds me of Beat Generation 60s party music with beautiful sitar. Rock on!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Film The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, 2006)

My wife and I saw The Last King of Scotland tonight; it was a powerful piece of historical fiction with impeccable acting and cinematography that aptly captured the temperament of Idi Amin's reign. In addition to the imdb page, you can visit the official film website.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Charlie Rose - MacArthur Fellows including my wife's friend Dr. Atul Gawande

I often watch Charlie Rose, a captivating, in-depth, interview show that comes on at night for one hour each weekday. Tonight as the show was starting, my wife mentioned that she knew Dr. Gawande who was on! His father and her father are particularly close friends. It's great that he is a 2006 MacArthur Fellow!

Segment 1: A discussion with four of the recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship: artist Anna Schuleit, author George Saunders, physician John Rich, and surgeon Atul Gawande.

Segment 2: Author Adam Gopnik talks about his latest book, "Through the Children's Gate".

Segment 3: Director Anthony Minghella and actress
Juliette Binoche talk about their new film, "Breaking and Entering".

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Nine Short Films

Tonight as part of the Duke Screen Society, nine short films were shown. I missed the first, but am copying here the description from the Screen Society about all nine, with my comments {in curly brackets}. I'm glad that school is back in session and the Duke films have begun!

Mt. Head/Atama Yama ( dir. Koji Yamamura, 2002, 10 min, Japan)A stingy man eats some cherry seeds, only to find that a cherry tree has grown from his head. Mt. Head was nominated for an Academy Award® for best animated short. {I'm sorry that I missed this - from what I heard, it sounds interesting with a recursive plot.}

Recycle (dir. Vasco Lucas Nunes & Ondi Timoner, 2004, 6 min, USA) Recycle is a portrait of a day in the life of Miguel Dias in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park. The homeless poet is recovering from substance abuse through the philosophy of recycling life. Diaz uses all the thrown away items he collects to make a community garden in the median of his street, while offering his insights on survival and nature. It has played at Sundance and Cannes and won the Sustainability Award at the Media That Matters Film Festival. {I did not find this to be particuarly interesting.}

The Box Man (dir. Nirvan Mullick, 2002, 5 min, USA) In a cold empty city, a man encounters a cardboard box. The box has a small rectangular slit that compels him to take a closer look inside. A tale of urban paranoia and the desire to remain hidden. The Box Man was Winner of the AFI Fest Audience Award and a Student Academy Award® Finalist. {It was somewhat interesting, but disturbing.}

Black Rider/Schwarzfahrer (dir. Pepe Danquar, 1993, 12 min, Germany) Pepe Danquart's Academy Award winning short film captures the dignity of a man confronted with a problem many of us may have faced in a foreign culture. And when dealing with ignorance and intolerance, nothing makes more of a statement than the power of humor. {Somewhat interesting but I didn't follow the importance of some seeming irrelevant quirks, such as time spent on a man whose motorbike wouldn't start - what role did they have especially in such a short film?}

Time Out (dir. Robbie Chafitz, 2003, 8 min, USA)In this dark comedy, which was originally performed live onstage, two hard-bitten kindergartners--played by adult actors--share a "time out" in a remote corner of the school playground. Together they enter a world of anxiety, despair, revenge and cooties. This film premiered at Sundance and was named Best Comedy Short at the New York International Film & Video Festival. {I quite enjoyed this unique film! It was quite funny!}

Birthday Boy (dir. Sejong Park, 2004, 10 min, Australia)The Korean War, 1951: it's little Manuk's birthday and he is playing on the streets of his village dreaming of life on the front lines where his father is a soldier. When Manuk returns home he opens a birthday present that will change his life. Birthday Boy was nominated for an Academy Award® for best animated short film. {I didn't quite appreciate the film's significance.}

Lick the Star (dir. Sofia Coppola, 1998, 14 min, USA)Sofia Coppola's directorial debut revisits adolescence and explores the politics of teenage girls during a pivotal time in their lives. Four middle school girls obsessed with the V.C. Andrews novel, Flowers in the Attic, plot to poison the school's boys. Their campaign: poison the boys in their school in a secret plan, codename: "Lick the Star." {I didn't enjoy the film or its unreal and cruel plot.}

Two Cars, One Night (dir. Taika Waititi, 2005, 11 min, New Zealand) Three children in two cars, wait for their parents one night outside a rural pub. A little love story. {Cute and fun.}

The Mantis Parable (dir. Josh Staub, 2005, 9 min, USA)Created in its entirety by first-time filmmaker, Josh Staub, The Mantis Parable is the tale of a humble caterpillar trapped in a bug collector's jar and in need of a helping hand. This film has won awards at over 10 film festivals, including the Seattle International Film Festival. {The best of the films shown tonight, the animation was phenomenal and the story engaging!}

Monday, January 15, 2007

Film The Painted Veil (John Curran, 2006)

Tonight, I saw the film The Painted Veil, based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel. The story is of an independent-minded woman, Kitty (Naomi Watts), in mid-1920s England. Her family is anxious to marry her off, and she finds herself with Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton), M.D. and presumably Ph.D., researcher of infectious diseases. He takes her to Shanghai and then the remote village Mei-tan-fu in Guangxi in the interior of China, where he has volunteered to help, without even asking Kitty, to help combat a deadly cholera epidemic.

The story is one of marriage to a man so focused on his research that he only speaks when something needs to be said, a passionless relationship that almost formulaically leads to extra-marital passion. Almost as penance, Walter announces that they are going to a place that Kitty feels no (English) woman belongs, without, it seems, regard to Kitty's interests or well-being. The stark choice is to face shameful divorce or join in; when Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber) all too predictably declines to leave his wife and marry his love, Kitty, there seems to be no choice at all.

Despite strong performances, particularly by Naomi Watts, a pleasant appearance by Diana Rigg as a nun in charge of an orphanage, gorgeous scenery, and strong expectations to like what I thought would be a romantic period film like many films I have seen and enjoyed (such as Merchant Ivory Productions' 1992 Howards End or 1985 A Room with a View), I wasn't so enamored by The Painted Veil. I thought that the story was rather predictable.

Walter, I found, was unrealistically coldly detached, and Kitty bore the cross of her predicament in a manner that didn't seem consistent with her pre-marital characterization. Their relationship never made sense to me, though at the beginning I was able to see it as a pressure-imposed one. Dr. Fane's almost total self-absorption and lack of sensitivity (such as initially banning all of the villager's sources of water without considering how they would drink - not much of a boon to the community or a cogent public health approach) further hardened and distanced his characterization.

Clearly there was Dr. Fane's attitude, but in general there was little plot development about anti-colonialistic resentment of the Chinese toward the English - precious little to appropriately set the stage for elements key to the story. More could have effectively been done, I think, without using up much time. Much as Kitty's character is developed reasonably well, with few exceptions (such as slightly eccentric neighbor Waddington played by Toby Jones), the other characters are relatively flat.

Though I was a little disappointed, the scenery and its portrayal was fabulous. Kitty's spirit and the scenes in the orphanage provided much needed respite from the stern, unsharing Walter. I am not at all averse, and in fact generally quite like, romantic period pieces (if this film can be called "romantic"), and, based on other reviews I had seen, quite expect many others to enjoy The Painted Veil more than I did. I do recommend for those that those who want to see it to see it while it's on the big screen; the impact of the mountains, rice fields, and landscapes in general needs to be appreciated in the large.

In addition to the imdb page on the film, you can visit the Warner Independent Pictures official film site. Also, the trailer follows below.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Exhibit Monet in Normandy

We had the great fortune of getting tickets to the Monet in Normandy exhibition at the NC Museum of Art. I wish we had gone earlier; it opened October 15 and runs through this Sunday, January 14. We became members of the museum and took among the last tickets remaining for 4:30p today; they are going to be open 24 hours over the weekend and even those tickets are now sold out (the last to go were, I heard, for 3:30a Sunday morning entrance)!

Impressionistic painter Claude Monet (1840-1926), of course, is a great French painter whose painting Impression, Sunrise defined the term impressionism. He spent much of his life in Normandy painting outdoors en plein air. This amazing exhibit collects 50 of Monet's paintings from private and public collections, exploring his work while in Normandy (and Giverny, such as his famous waterlilies from his garden). The exhibit, I believe, is visiting San Francisco, Cleveland, and Raleigh only (last June 17-September 17 in San Francisco's Legion of Honor, and opening next month February 18-May 20 in the Cleveland Museum of Art).

Any one painting of Monet's is moving. But seeing fifty is an amazing treat. I particularly loved images of the Seine river (including one, The Seine at Giverny, Morning Mists (1897), that is in the permanent collection of the NC Museum of Art itself!); The Cliff Walk, Pourville (1882); The Path of La Cavée, Pourville (1882); Wheat Field (1881); and images of the huge arched Manneporte in Etretat. By the way, the local Raleigh News and Observer newspaper has a nice page online that includes multimedia, including a display of 23 of the paintings in the exhibition.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Film The Pursuit of Happyness (Gabriele Muccino, 1962)

Tonight, I saw The Pursuit of Happyness directed by Gabriele Muccino and featuring Will Smith as the protagonist Chris Gardner along with his real-life son Jaden Smith playing Chris Gardner's son Christopher. It was entertaining and interesting, a story of a man who struggles in 1980s America for making a living, though not particularly memorable.

By the way, a friend forwarded this amazing video of marionette-like puppetry; there's a little bit of French at the beginning and end, but it's worth watching the full 8+ minutes of this otherwise dialogue-less performance:

jerome murat
Uploaded by segalier

Friday, January 05, 2007

Film Army of Shadows (L' Armée des ombres; Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)

The NC Museum of Art Winter Film series began today with the film Army of Shadows (French L' Armée des ombres) directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Though it is a film from 1969, apparently it was released in the States recently in 2006.

It is a difficult film to see about the French Resistance to Nazi occupation in WWII. It moves quietly and quickly through intrigue and, for me, difficult to see violence and assasinations for the larger cause. A well made film, it takes some strength to get through, especially for sensitive viewers, but is an unforgettable story of the dedication of an underground resistance and its will to use any means necessary to achieve its goals.

My friend "moviediva", the curator of the films, has always interesting notes about the films, which she uses for her introductions and posts a day or so after the screening. You can read her comments about Army of Shadows.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Dance/Music/Culture - Last day of the 21st annual KwanzaaFest, Durham, NC

We enjoyed, as always, seeing "Baba" Chuck Davis and his African American Dance Ensemble last night at First Night. He mentioned that there is a Kwanzaa celebration underway and today would be the last day. I enjoyed attending much of the event; you can see a gallery of images and videos that I took.