Although it’s undeniable from a recent post that my reading has waned to the vanishing point over the years, I’ve always been a fan of the silver screen.
Growing up in Manila, I always heard that everything in the U.S. was “bigger and better.” I found that to be true in highways (I’d never seen an Interstate) and malls (none of those either); but Manila was far superior in the number and size of movie screens. Since I go the movies more than I drive on an Interstate or shop (although it’s close on shopping but Manila has bigger malls than we do now), my quality of life has definitely diminished!
Although there was a small (by my standards) theater in a shopping center in the suburb where I lived, the place for the “full big screen theater experience” was downtown Manila. Most of the theaters were lined up side by side along both sides of a major street. These theaters were so cavernous that I can’t recall ever seeing them completely full. And in a country where most had very little, and even less hope of getting out of that situation, a few hours of escape in an air-conditioned theater was a big attraction.
These theaters had three seating sections. Cheapest was the orchestra, which was on the ground floor and also had the most seats. In a form of economic segregation, this was where the “poor” folks sat. Then there was the balcony, which was second largest and extended from the second floor’s back wall to the middle. The lodge occupied the center and contained only a couple of rows of prime “front and center” seats before the balcony. I usually sat in the balcony, which cost about 60 cents in the late ‘60s. (I may be confused on which was the balcony and lodge but there were two sections up there.)
On a Saturday, I could go downtown and easily catch two movies. I’d hit the first one around 11 AM, get a bite to eat at one of the many places on the street and then just walk to the next theater for the second movie.
I still remember when the newest technology – a Cinerama theater – arrived. I eagerly attended the grand opening film: “How the West Was Won.” At the theater, I also encountered another technological marvel: an escalator. Very cool!
For decades, I’ve been seeing a movie almost week. I’m not one for waiting for a film to come out on DVD or TV. I want that “big screen” experience! (I will buy the DVD for “exceptional” films I may want to see again, but I have a good half-dozen still in the shrink wrap after a few years….)
As ticket prices have increased, my attendance routine has changed. Now, I normally wait until a movie comes to our “second run” theater where I can see it for $1.25. If it’s a foreign or “art film” that I think won’t come to the second run theater, I’ll catch it at a matinee or “senior” rate admission.
OK, it’s time for the part that enquiring minds have probably been awaiting: my favorite films. This week, I’ll list my favorite foreign films, which I prefer; next week, it’ll be my favorite American films.
So in no particular order, here we go…..
Akiro Kurosawa has many “samurai” films to his credit, including “Seven Samurai” which was ripped off into “Magnificent Seven.” But this 1980-Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film is my favorite because it explores the psychological aspect of what happens when a petty criminal condemned to death is selected to be a stand-in for a warlord who is critically wounded.
Although he looks like the warlord, can he convince the enemy warlords that he is indeed “The Mountain” by behaving like a leader when all his life he has been low status? Imagine a psychological “My Fair Lady” set in feudal Japan and the wager is the clan’s survival.
Bertrolucci covers the history of Italy, principally the rise and fall of fascism, over the first half of the twentieth century by following the intertwined lives of two boys born on the same day of the same year in the same town. One is born to a wealthy family; the other is born to poverty. Starring Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu, with Donald Sutherland and Burt Lancaster. This is a “two popcorn tub” film; it runs about four hours.
Farewell My Concubine
This 1993 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film is a Chinese version of 1900. It’s the story of two boys who meet in the mid-1920s at Peking Opera school and we follow them adn their relationship as it twists and turns as they experience 50 years of critical Chinese history: the occupation by Japan, the Chinese civil war, and China under communism.
This Italian film is a harrowing tale of survival after two Italian soldiers trying to return home following Mussolini’s overthrow are captured by the Germans and sent to a Nazi death camp . The title is a reference to the principal character’s sisters.
Nominated for 1976 Oscars as Best Foreign Film, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Director. The Best Director nomination for Lina Wertmuller was the Acadamy’s first nomination for a woman director.
The five minute opening “dedication” featuring WW2 black and white film clips while a narrator intones variations of: “The ones who….. Oh yeah” is the best I’ve seen. You can see that intro online at YouTube.
Letters From Iwo Jima
Technically, this is a foreign language film even though it was directed by Clint Eastwood. I enjoyed the Japanese perspective of this battle and this is much more of a “war” movie than “Flags of Our Fathers. It “humanizes” war by showing that the “enemy” is like us, although government propaganda demonizes any “enemy” as subhuman and evil.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Winner of four 2000 Oscars, including Best Foreign Film, and starring Yun-Fat Chow and the exquisite Zhang Ziyi (who then appeared in many other Chinese martial arts films such as Hero, nominated for 2002‘s Best Foreign Language film, and with Pierce Bronson in a James Bond movie).
This is really a love story punctuated with some fine sword fighting. The Crazy 88’s bar fight scene in Kill Bill was lifted from a similar bar fight scene in this movie. (And in both, a woman takes out all the men.) That bar scene fight was also memorialized in a Visa commercial. And a Coke commerical.
I don’t know how much of this story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power is fact but I don’t really care. Beautiful fight scenes and stunning Mongolian landscape scenes make this a must see. Nominated for 2007 Best Foreign Film by both the Academy and National Board of Review. The Oscar went to The Counterfeiters but it did win the NBR award. I’ll get the DVD. (Most Best Foreign language film Oscars go to European films which I think is a “cultural thang.”) See the trailer.
City of God
A “no holds barred” look at life and crime in a Brazilian slum as it follows a boy over 20 years. It could just as easily been a Manila slum… This is a violent trailer. (Music by Peter Tosh.)
This 2006 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film is a tearjerker tale of a young girl’s fantasy world to escape the harsh aftermath of the Spanish civil war. Her nasty stepfather is hunting down guerillas in the boonies and is just what you’d expect a fascist to be. His young daughter inadvertently becomes involved with the rebels. If you don’t get misty-eyed at the end, then you just might be a fascist… 😉
Tell No One
This 2008 French mystery film has one of the most twisting plots I’ve ever seen, right through the last minute. A man’s wife is murdered while they are at a secluded lake. He is suspected of the crime but released for lack of evidence. The case is reopened years later when a body is found near the site of the wife’s murder. The husband is again suspected of the wife’s murder and it doesn’t look good for him because his alibi is very weak. Like an onion, layer after layer of complexity is peeled away before the shocking ending.
Buy.com is having a great DVD sale with prices as low as $6 and free shipping on orders of at least $25. Some of the films I’ll mention next week are part of the sale. Check the sale out here.