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Weekly Mishmash: March 14-20

The Bad Sleep Well (1960). Another week, another Kurosawa. 1960’s The Bad Sleep Well is a contemporary melodrama with Toshiro Mifune as a man who worms his way into a corrupt company to take revenge on the men who killed his father. The film opens with an elaborate wedding ceremony which brilliantly introduces each character and their place in the story; from there on it’s a deliriously overdone ride with double crossing, death threats and fake ghosts aplenty (which also falls apart and goes on too long, but that’s a common Kurosawa problem). I’m not sure if this film is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and over the top, but I like to think of it as Kurosawa’s version of an Douglas Sirk potboiler or a silly but absorbing Warner Bros. melodrama from the ’40s. High and Low is a much better movie from the same period, but I completely enjoyed this one as well.

Departures (2008). This slick, sentimental Japanese drama is probably best known for being a surprise recipient of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year. In it, a cellist (Masahiro Motoki) finds himself adrift when his orchestra disbands. He stumbles into a new position helping to prepare the recently deceased for cremation, a move that alienates his wife and friends. Picture a Japanese Six Feet Under with a bit of Field of Dreams father-son bonding porn and you’re somewhat there — an odd amalgam of comedy and heart-tugging drama that somehow works. It was most interesting to me as a demonstration of how the Japanese view death and the mourning process. In that respect, the film was an eye-opener. The film also has a huge asset in leading man Motoki, who is very appealing (handsome, too). His perplexed curiosity drives the film, and us, to a satisfying conclusion.
Ella Cinders (1926). Last night, Christopher and I gathered up some friends and caught the latest in a series of silent films playing locally in a grand 1920s theater with live organ accompaniment (see also Scrubbles.net: Silent Saturday). Last night’s selection was the charming rags-to-riches tale Ella Cinders starring the unjustly forgotten Colleen Moore. Both of us love old movies with a Hollywood/moviemaking setting and this one is no exception. It’s typical of its era, with a simple, pat storyline and upbeat ending. With her black bob hairstyle, Miss Moore comes across like a perky hybrid of Lillian Gish and Louise Brooks. She’s no match for either in the acting department, but she certainly has the charm and panache to carry a film on her own. This is the fist vehicle of hers I’ve seen and I’m looking forward to more of Moore (her talkie version of The Scarlet Letter is on the ‘ol Netflix queue).
Fargo (1996). Another ’90s classic that I haven’t seen until now, Fargo is a pretty universally praised dark comedy but I have read a few grumblings that it’s too dark and violent and that Joel and Ethan Coen treat the characters in an overly cartoonish, condescending manner. I could see that a little, but mostly I was too wrapped up in that absorbing story to care. The acting was across the board terrific, and I loved the washed out cinematography of a chilly, desolate North Dakota. The only quibble I have with this film is its opening “based on a true story” text. It turns out the disclaimer is completely false, but why even have it in the first place? I also admire films like this that take on the challenge of being set in a recent past. Fargo takes place in the year 1987, less than a decade before it was filmed. It’s always interesting to watch the details (sweaters, cars, etc.) to see how accurately they captured the era; in this case, they got it right.
book_homersodysseyHomer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper. This book was a holiday gift from one of Christopher’s co-workers; C. enjoyed it so much he handed it off to me. Homer’s Odyssey is about author Gwen Cooper’s amazing cat Homer, midnight black and blind since birth. Instead of being an object of sympathy, Homer’s fearless and playful attitude toward life becomes a source of inspiration to Cooper, her friends and family, and finally the rest of us. It’s a sweet tale, one that probably wouldn’t convert any non-cat lovers but ideal light reading for those of us with special bonds with our feline friends. The most compelling section of the book deals with the aftermath of 9/11, with Homer and Cooper’s two other cats trapped in an apartment located not far from the World Trade Center. Needless to say the cats were shaken but made it out okay, but the account adds a new, small dimension to that terrible day. Read more about Homer at Gwen Cooper’s official site.

2 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: March 14-20

  1. Cristiane on March 22, 2010 at 5:33 pm said:

    Have you ever read Colleen Moore’s autobiography, Silent Star? It’s out of print, but lots of libraries have it hanging around. I read it years ago, and it made me like her a lot. Lots of interesting info about life in 20s Hollywood. And she had the most insanely elaborate dollhouse EVER – there’s a tour of it on the website of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

  2. I haven’t read that book, but I did hear about her huge dollhouse, and how she got her Hollywood friends to make furnishings (Disney contributed a tiny painting of Mickey Mouse). I will look out for that. Thanks!

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