Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space is now showing “A Month of Mental Retardation” through the end of November. [In December, they will give you another chance to view Kieslowski’s fascinating Three Colors Trilogy, plus his The Double Life of Veronique.]

Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school, on the 2nd floor. Or maybe the roof. A small but nice place to view movies. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.

At Film Space on November 8, 7 pm: Laundry (2002) by Junichi Mori – Japan Drama/ Romance – 126 mins.

A young man, who's mentally handicapped, meets a young woman, with a great deal of baggage, at the laundry where he works and they fall in love. This is a very quirky love story with very quirky characters, one of them played by the very quirky Japanese actor Yôsuke Kubozuka! [He’s in the pictures to the right.] To my mind he is a fascinating, even mesmerizing actor.

He’s a bad boy – a very bad boy! – difficult to work with, and in deep trouble with the Japanese establishment for his very vocal support of marijuana use. However, he won Japan’s equivalent of the Oscars for his performance in a Japanese movie called Go in 2001, and I saw him in a fascinating film at last year’s Bangkok International Film Festival: amour-LEGENDE. It was a weird performance in a weird film that haunts me to this day. This movie, Laundry, comes a year after his award-winning film Go, and between this one and amour-LEGENDE he fell 9 stories from his apartment balcony under strange circumstances; some say he’s been even weirder ever since.

Nevertheless, he’s fascinating to watch.

Japan Times: In Japan, it's hard for an actor to stretch once an image is fixed in the public mind. Thus hot young star Yosuke Kubotsuka (or his agent) was smart to sign for Jun'ichi Mori's Laundry soon after making a big splash in "Go," where he played a quick-fisted Korean kid in a Japanese high school, which earned him a Japan Academy Award.

In Laundry Kubotsuka is Teru, a 20-year-old with a damaged brain (the result, he tells us in a voice-over narration, of an early encounter with an open manhole), who lives with his grandmother and keeps an eye on her laundromat. Planting himself on a chair outside the place, he observes the various eccentrics who flow through, including an old man who mumbles to himself, a housewife who bores him with her endless photos of flowers and a pro boxer who has yet to win a bout in 18 tries and crawls into a dryer to pout all night after his latest loss.

The Japanese affection for the sort of love story seen in Laundry goes back to Chaplin's “City Lights” (which they much prefer to his more satirical "Modern Times"). The Tramp's selfless love for the blind flower girl has inspired countless directors here to produce their own versions of the film's "a smile and a tear" formula. The films mostly range from the insufferable to the exasperating. In Laundry, Mori, an award-winning director of TV commercials making his feature debut, doesn't completely avoid the feyness endemic to these films: Teru wears a conical cap, knitted for him by Granny, that makes him look like a walking, breathing cartoon character. But Mori has a drier, quirkier sensibility than his predecessors -- "Baghdad Cafe" meets "Edward Scissorhands" -- while his script has memorable lines, ingenious twists and an ending that flows from everything that has come before, without being thumpingly obvious.

He also has Kubotsuka, who resists the urge to flaunt his virtuosity. Instead he simplifies, expressing the essence of Teru, including his neediness and hard-headedness, with economy and precision -- and none of the usual bombast and treacle. As Mizue, former model Koyuki may be a bit too much the sensitive wimp, but is a believable kleptomaniac (she has the right hard, glinty eye). Meanwhile, Naito -- a ferociously articulate TV comedian and MC -- provides a refreshing balance to these two unworldly types as the straight-talking, if comically strange, Sari.

Though packaged as an offbeat entertainment for a mainly female audience (two beautiful misfits find each other!), Laundry manages to be something more as well. Even if you don't buy its romance, its view of the world as a place where character and circumstance are not necessarily predestined is a nice counter to the more fashionable fatalism. Laundry is a cleansing film -- but not the same old soap.

At Film Space on November 15, 7 pm: The Eighth Day / Le Huitième jour (1996) by Jaco van Dormael – Belgium/ France/ UK Comedy/ Drama – 118 mins. Mixed or average reviews: 68 out of 100.

When his wife and grown children abandon him, a controlling, aggressive salesman resigns himself to a life of isolation and despair. But after he literally crosses paths with a sweet-natured Down's syndrome patient, the two forge a tender friendship based on their mutual dependence. Stars Auteuil and Duquenne (who actually has Down's syndrome) shared the Best Actor award at Cannes.

New York Times, Janet Maslin: When The Eighth Day was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it was greeted with a mixture of derision and tears. I was surprised to find myself in the handkerchief brigade, by far the smaller faction because this film is unforgivable in so many ways. It's mawkish and pushy in a manner that identifies its director, Jaco van Dormael, who also made the very well-received Toto the Hero, as a former circus clown.

But it's also touching and unabashedly big-hearted as it shows a lonely executive being shaken out of his gray corporate universe, then reminded that the natural world is full of tender little miracles. Not such a bad point for a movie to make.

The stars of The Eighth Day, Pascal Duquenne and Daniel Auteuil, shared Cannes' best actor award for playing out a familiar movie story in surprisingly fresh ways. Duquenne, an actor who has Down syndrome, is the main reason The Eighth Day invites frequent comparison to Rain Man, though his is not a subtle star turn. The performance is rudimentary -- happiness, sadness, hugging -- but it has the advantage of looking spontaneous and real. Don't be all that surprised if he makes you cry, too.

In a hackneyed odd-couple pairing, Georges (Duquenne) and Harry (Auteuil) meet by accident (quite literally, since Harry stops his car to find Georges after the car hits a dog in the road). Georges has run away from the institution where he lives, and Harry has no idea what to do with him. Impatient as he is, Harry is also at liberty, since he has been left by his wife (Miou-Miou) and two children. As the film unfolds and the two men become fast friends, there's plenty of time for Harry to stop and smell the roses.

The first thing Harry must do is get used to Georges' way of living in the moment. Georges shouts, waves, touches or flashes a thousand-watt smile at the slightest provocation. Of course, the button-down businessman finds himself beginning to enjoy this. He starts joining in the fun. He rediscovers that dread movie resource, a childlike sense of wonder. There is also an empty seaside amusement park just waiting to show Harry, Georges and Georges' friends from the institution a rollicking good time.

Amazingly, van Dormael tells this story as if neither he nor we had seen it dozens of times before. Broad strokes of magical realism also offer their share of heart-tugging surprise. In his daydreams, Georges is accompanied by his favorite singer, who sits on the hood of Harry's movie car in a purple-spangled mariachi suit and, at one remarkable juncture, appears in the form of a singing mouse. Georges also imagines a smiling, loving mother who asks, "How's my little boy?" even though his real mother is dead.

The title, which comes from the film's idiosyncratic account of the world's creation, also refers to the way Harry is able to escape his cliché-ridden real life thanks to Georges' intervention.

Georges has the magic to let Harry step out of time. The film exploits that thought with a manipulative ending that makes its amusement-park episodes look dainty, but some of its sweet, peaceful moments really do have redemptive power. All it takes, in one scene, is for Harry and Georges to lie wordlessly in the grass enjoying the sights and sounds of a forest.

"A nice minute for us," Georges says simply. It really is.

Roger Ebert: . . . Watching The Eighth Day, I felt contradictory impulses. On the one hand, I was acutely aware of how conventional the story was. On the other, I was enchanted by the friendship between Harry and Georges. Auteuil is a fine actor, and so is Duquenne, who belongs to a Brussels experimental theatrical troupe and approaches every scene with a combination of complete commitment and utter abandon. These two men shared the best acting prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, and indeed it would be impossible to honor one without the other. . . .

At Film Space on November 22, 7 pm: Rain Man (1988) by Barry Levinson – US Drama – 133 mins. Starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Generally favorable reviews: 65/77 out of 100.

Winner of four Oscars in 1988: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Original Screenplay. Everyone knows Rain Man. Everyone uses catch phrases spawned by Rain Man. Everyone loves Rain Man. Autistic savants are now referred to colloquially as "rain men." The 1988 film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four is a piece of pop culture history embedded in our collective unconscious. Rain Man is the story of two brothers, Charlie (Tom Cruise) and Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) Babbitt. Charlie is a nasty, malevolent, and greedy importer of Italian cars, the personification of 1980s excess (he could be a protégé of Michael Douglas's "greed is good" Wall Street character). When his wealthy but estranged father dies, leaving Charlie only a vintage car and some rose bushes, the 25-year-old sets out to see who "stole" his inheritance. What he finds is a 50-year-old autistic savant brother who has been institutionalized since their mother died when Charlie was two. The younger brother kidnaps the older in order to take him back to California and win custody, thereby gaining control of the $3 million trust fund. En route, Charlie—described by Cruise as an "emotional autistic"—learns to reach out and love from his clinically autistic sibling.

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