Category Archives: Foreign

Through a Glass Darkly (1961, Ingmar Bergman)

At eighty-nine minutes, Through a Glass Darkly never has a chance to get tedious, which is part of the problem. Writer-director Bergman has just introduced the characters, just established the ground situation, when he tries a graceful segue into the characters and their relationships being familiar in the second act. They’re not. They’re still being established, which makes the purely expository relationship between Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow something of a time suck. A beautifully acted, beautifully directed time suck.

Glass takes place over twenty-four hours. Popular but intellectually bereft author Björnstrand has returned home to his family after finalizing the draft of his latest novel. There’s twenty-something daughter Harriet Andersson and seventeen year-old son, Lars Passgård. von Sydow is Andersson’s husband. Presumably von Sydow and Andersson have had to take care of Passgård, as Björnstrand seems a rare presence in Passgård’s life.

Andersson is recently out of a mental hospital. It’s unclear, initially, what’s going on, only it’s incurable (or likely incurable). That discussion is von Sydow and Björnstrand’s first scene together alone. Bergman plays it more for character development than exposition, which is far different from the second half of the film, when he eschews character development for exposition. He doesn’t need much character development second half because it turns out to be action packed.

Before Bergman identifies it as schizophrenia–which is made somehow less terrifying by the tranquil isolated island setting (there’s not running water, electricity maybe)–he’s got the rest of the character setup to get done. So a half hour at least because Andersson gets a scene to herself, experiencing her symptoms.

While the film never looks stagy–quite the opposite–Bergman’s script feels not just stagy, but a little too pragmatic. Like he was adjusting around actors schedules. Andersson and Passgård get paired off for scenes whenever von Sydow is busy with Björnstrand. Otherwise it’s von Sydow and Andersson. Björnstrand gets like a scene and a half alone with his kids, the full scenes coming right at the end for the emphasis. He’s a bad dad, who isn’t a particularly good writer. There’s more exposition later, but never time for Björnstrand to do anything with it as far as character development. It’s filler. It’s that time suck.

Because Bergman’s actually got some big time drama in store for the family and he’s got to pace it right.

The problem with the big time drama is it turns out to be a MacGuffin. All the action in the second and third acts turn out to be MacGuffins, since the point of Glass is Andersson and how Bergman presents her character. The film drags a little in the second act, before it’s clear just how well Bergman’s made Andersson seem reliable. The more unreliable Andersson gets–always precisely essayed, in performance and presentation–the more effective Bergman’s initial pacing becomes.

Bergman makes the boring bits essential.

Until he gets to Björnstrand’s big confession scene to von Sydow; it proves as narratively inert as it does for character development. Because then it’s action time, because Andersson’s not just shattering her reliability, she’s going to stomp it into dust.

And it works, no doubt. Bergman sells it. He’s got a great cast. Andersson, Björnstrand, von Sydow, Passgård until the third act. There’s some phenomenal acting in Glass.

Bergman’s not really interested in the characters, he’s interested in the reveals. It’s all kind of melodramatic, actually. As melodramatic as Bergman can get, actually.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Ulla Ryghe; music by Erik Nordgren; production designer, P.A. Lundgren; produced by Allan Ekelund; released by Svensk Filmindustri.

Starring Harriet Andersson (Karin), Gunnar Björnstrand (David), Max von Sydow (Martin), and Lars Passgård (Minus).


1961-5

THIS POST IS PART OF THE 1961 BLOGATHON HOSTED BY STEVE OF MOVIE MOVIE BLOG BLOG.


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The Great Monster Varan (1958, Honda Ishirô)

The only thing more tedious and lethargic than the first half of Varan is the second half of Varan. The first half has a motley crew of lepidopterologists awakening a giant monster. The second half has these lepidopterologists consulting with the military to destroy said monster.

Not sure why the military thinks a bunch of butterfly scientists will have good ideas about how to kill a giant monster. Eventually Hirata Akihiko shows up with the solution. Hirata killed the original Godzilla, which is only appropriate in Varan, since the monster has the exact same roar as Godzilla. Varan is done on the cheap. The real cheap.

The film has its share of behind-the-scenes drama. It was originally for television–a coproduction between Toho and an American company, but then the American company went bankrupt. So the two-part TV movie became a single eighty-six minute feature, in “TohoPanScope,” which had them cropping the television framing. I suppose that cropping is why a lot of director Honda’s shots are so bad. Even still, it doesn’t explain away the bad acting or godawful pace.

Or the lousy giant monster suit, which always seems in danger of coming apart onscreen.

There are numerous… well, they’re not exactly plot holes but narrative skips. Like when there’s a forest fire all of a sudden, or how–in the second half–the military attacks have nothing to do with what the Secretary of Defense orders. It makes sense as the Secretary of Defense (Yamada Minosuke) is utterly out of his depth. Yamada’s acting is bad, the script is bad, but even so, when he listens intently to the ideas of chief lepidopterologist Senda Koreya, there’s no plausible reason for Yamada to be listening to Senda. Senda’s writing is probably better, but his performance is so much worse. It’s a risible performance amid some decidedly unimpressive ones. Senda comes up with the solution at the last minute for saving the day, which is another of the film’s narrative skips. He all of a sudden remembers something–which the film doesn’t actually show, but should’ve–as the deus ex.

The first half makes Nomura Kôzô the hero for a while. He’s the intrepid lepidopterologist who dares to return to the giant monster’s territory after it kills two of his colleagues. He brings along Sonoda Ayumi; she’s a reporter and sister of one of the dead lepidopterologists. Varan has so little character establishing, her job is never important. There’s some stuff with newspapers reporting the monster, but it’s before she even shows up.

Bad editing from Taira Kazuji, piddly photography from Koizumi Hajime–though, really, who knows how Varan is really supposed to look (Toho apparently destroyed the original aspect ratio version of the film). But what remains isn’t adequately, much less impressively, photographed. The constant use of stock footage makes the experience even worse.

Ifukube Akira’s score is bad. Though he revised some of the music for later Toho kaiju movies to far better effect. Taira doesn’t really cut with the music in mind. Or sound. Maybe it’s because there are supposed to be commercial breaks. Seeing Varan cut into with commercials might help the overall viewing experience.

It’s an awful film. Especially when it refuses to end; the second half just goes on and on and on. There’s one single good miniature effects shot–and one good composite shot–but otherwise all the effects are bad. I suppose some of the matte backgrounds at the beginning are good. They aren’t godawful at least.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kuronuma Ken; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Taira Kazuji; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Shimizu Kiyoshi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nomura Kôzô (Kenji), Sonoda Ayumi (Yuriko), Senda Koreya (Dr. Sugimoto), Matsuo Fumindo (Horiguchi), Hirata Akihiko (Dr. Fujimora), Murakami Fuyuki (Dr. Majima), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Katsumoto), Yamada Minosuke (Secretary of Defense), and Sera Akira (High Priest).


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Delicatessen (1991, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Delicatessen is often adorable. There’s a romance between Dominique Pinon and Marie-Laure Dougnac; they’re both adorable, so Delicatessen is often adorable. They’re star-crossed, though Pinon doesn’t know it (Dougnac does), living in a post-apocalyptic future where people eat people (though there are some vegetarians, but they’re considered terrorists).

I suppose they’d actually be vegan, give all the animals are gone.

Anyway, Pinon works for Dougnac’s father–Jean-Claude Dreyfus–as a handyman in Dreyfus’s building. Dreyfus is mainly a butcher. He hires handymen, kills them, sells their meat to his tenants. Delicatessen is rather dark, but never too dark. Darius Khondji shoots the film with a haze (mostly greenish) and directors Caro and Jeunet are extremely expressionistic with their composition. But even without that visual distance, the film never tries harder than farce. Peculiar farce to be sure, but farce.

Dougnac isn’t happy with her father–who doesn’t care his daughter’s falling for his next victim and is more than happy to foist her off to the gross postman (Chick Ortega). The mail service’s fascist, post-apocalypse. Ortega’s dimwit. Dougnac doesn’t welcome the dimwit fascist’s violent affections. She much prefers Pinon, who used to be a clown with a chimpanzee sidekick.

Delicatessen has a lot of style. But it never wants to talk too much about that style. For instance, it would appear the apocalypse happened sometime in the fifties, but it’s immaterial to the story. It does provide some mood–particularly for Pinon, who’s excellent and able to find a lot of nuance in the part. Of course, he does have the most thoroughly realized part in the script. But he’s just one of the many excellent performances.

Caro and Jeunet get some phenomenal performances of Delicatessen’s cast. Dougnac, for instance, is better than Pinon, even without as much nuance. She’s got the family problems with Dreyfus, but they don’t get anywhere near as much attention as Pinon’s backstory. His backstory crosses subplots, bringing in Dreyfus’s lover Karin Viard (she’s his lover for free meat), for example. Pinon’s the mystery to be discovered, even though he’s the one in danger from the mystery he has yet to discover.

Most of the first half deals with Pinon getting situated at the building and the film introducing the various other residents. Silvie Laguna, who keeps trying to kill herself with these Rube Goldberg contraptions, gets a lot to do even though she doesn’t really figure into the main plot. Delicatessen is always willing to meander, especially in the first half. In the second half, there’s just not enough time because it all of a sudden becomes very intense. Even with the film played for humor–the revolutionary force of de facto vegans are silly looking guys (all guys) in raincoats–once Dreyfus decides it’s time for Pinon to go, Delicatessen all of a sudden gets rather dangerous.

Because for all the cannibalism and post-apocalyptic whatnot, it’s always a lot of fun. Not even gross fun. There’s more hinted gore in the introduction than in the rest of the film. It primes the viewer, gets them on edge, but Caro and Jeunet use that attention for other things.

Like that touching love story between Pinon and Dougnac.

So Pinon, Dougnac, and Dreyfus are great. Viard’s good but she doesn’t have much of a part (she’s excellent in the situational stuff). Ortega’s good. Anne-Marie Pisani is real good. Laguna’s great. Rufus is great (he’s got a crush on married Laguna). All the revolutionaries are fine. They’re played a lot broader than anything else. How could they not be with the raincoats and headlamps.

Technically, the film’s marvelous. Caro and Jeunet’s composition, Khondji’s photography, Caro’s production design, the costumes, all of it. But then there’s Hervé Schneid’s editing, which is exquisite. And might be why the film can get away with what it gets away with. The cuts, especially in the third act action sequence, smoothly move between the contrary, exaggerated shots. It’s marvelous.

Delicatessen is beautifully acted, technically marvelous, imaginative but unfocused farce.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; written by Jeunet, Caro, and Gilles Adrien; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Hervé Schneid; music by Carlos D’Alessio; production designer, Caro; produced by Claudie Ossard; released by Union Générale Cinématographique.

Starring Dominique Pinon (Louison), Marie-Laure Dougnac (Julie Clapet), Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Clapet), Karin Viard (Mademoiselle Plusse), Chick Ortega (Postman), Ticky Holgado (Marcel Tapioca), Anne-Marie Pisani (Madame Tapioca), Silvie Laguna (Aurore Interligator), Jean-François Perrier (Georges Interligator), Rufus (Robert Kube), Jacques Mathou (Roger), Boban Janevski (Young Rascal), Mikael Todde (Young Rascal), Edith Ker (Grandmother), Patrick Paroux (Puk), Maurice Lamy (Pank), Marc Caro (Fox), and Howard Vernon (Frog Man).


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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017, Seshita Hiroyuki and Shizuno Kôbun)

The first half of Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is surprisingly good. The film sets the scene during the opening titles–giant monsters attack in 1999, followed later by unstoppable Godzilla, two different space aliens show up to help in exchange for residency on the planet. Godzilla kicks everybody’s butt, driving the last 4,000 people from Earth (including the aliens) into space.

The movie opens twenty years later. The refugees can’t find a habitable planet. There’s some drama establishing lead Miyano Mamoru as a soulful military captain who hates Godzilla. He was a kid when they evacuated Earth and Godzilla not only killed his parents, Godzilla also made him drop some family heirloom. This hot alien priest dude, voiced by Sakurai Takahiro, takes pity on Miyano (well, not exactly pity–Seshita and Shizuno’s best work as directors is the sexual tension between the two). With Sakurai’s help, Miyano anonymously publishes a plan to kill Godzilla. The leaders of the refugees read the plan and think, hey, why not try going back to Earth.

Thanks to lightspeed and whatnot, it’s hundreds of years later. Or is it more?

Everything is fine until they get back to Earth. When the movie becomes Miyano’s, it goes to pot. Seshita and Shizuno are fine with the space ship drama and so on, but they’re crap when it comes to action. They apply live action logic to Planet, which is animated (though Godzilla is CG-assisted to questionable result), and the action scenes are choppy and absent thrills. Possibly because the characters become more and more unbearable as the film continues.

A lot of the fault is Urobuchi Gen’s screenplay. The characters are, at best, thin. At worst, they’re grating like Miyano.

The battle stuff is also poorly written. The timeline on Planet of the Monsters is always questionable–unless all the soldiers are actually children. Otherwise the years don’t line up. And the soldiers are a problem anyway because they’re all using awesome mechanized war machines (one alien species is religious fundamentalists, the other are tech nerds). How did they learn how to use the machines? The tween soldiers. They grew up on the space ship.

One of the soldiers is Hanazawa Kana. She’s either Miyano’s sister or his cousin. They have the same grandfather. But they don’t seem to know each other well. Their family relationship takes a while to get revealed (and it’s still never clear). At first I was wondering if she was the love interest, in which case I was going to be mad because the forbidden elf alien priest love thing. Right, the religious aliens look like Lord of the Rings elves.

Later I didn’t care because I just wanted Planet of the Monsters to end. And for Miyano’s character to die so if I ever saw the sequels (it’s the first in a trilogy), I wouldn’t have to suffer through him again.

But then the movie kept getting worse. Turns out the only thing Sehsita and Shizuno are less impressed directing than action is Godzilla. Unless you really like Godzilla marketing campaigns because the big CG Godzilla is often nothing more than a static image in a familiar poster pose.

For a while, it seems like Hattori Takayuki’s music is going to hold up. It’s good on the space ship. It takes some hits on Earth, but Hattori at least keeps it interesting. While he never uses Godzilla themes, he does do the same type of mood for sequences. Then he just goes to pot too.

Planet of the Monsters isn’t quite a monstrosity (though it’d be more amusing if it were); however, it’s still quite bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Seshita Hiroyuki and Shizuno Kôbun; screenplay by Urobuchi Gen; music by Hattori Takayuki; production designers, Ferdinando Patulli and Tanaka Naoya; produced by Yoshizawa Takashi; released by Toho Visual Entertainment.

Starring Miyano Mamoru (Haruo), Sakurai Takahiro (Metphies), Hanazawa Kana (Yuko), Sugita Tomokazu (Martin), Suwabe Junichi (Mulu-Elu Galu-Gu), Miyake Kenta (Belu-be Rilu-Elu), and Ono Daisuke (Leland).


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