Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! Interesting cross-section of genres this week.
Jackie Chan Presents: Amnesia (2015) original title Wo shi shei
Starring: Ocean Wang, Ken Lo, Xingtong Yao, Rongguang Yu, Lanxin Zhang,
Director: Yinxi Song
Synopsis: library synopsis: Finding himself at a murder scene, bike courier Li Ziwei tries to escape, but the culprits force him off a bridge. The amnesia from his head injuries means he can’t recognize the faces of his enemies, who have framed him for the crime. Now, carrying the parcel that’s his only clue, and with the help of sassy hitchhiker Tong Xin, Li Ziwei must outrun killers and cops while racing to clear his name of the mysterious murder.
Impressions: fast-paced, cross-country, subplots with the two young leads (the courier, who also pulls his hot rod out of storage for the road trip, and the hitchhiker) as they get to know each other on the journey. It’s fairly clear of violence, swearing, sex, drugs, etc. Seems to be targeted to innocent young adults. The premise was a clever idea – with amnesia, he can’t recognize the faces of his enemies – but it just doesn’t work well as a compelling plot line. Yao and Wang as the two leads are likeable, and the villains are ok. Some decent landscape shots.
Etc.: Chinese film; in Mandarin Chinese with subtitles; remake of the 1998 movie, “Who Am I?” (original title Ngo si seoi); movie jacket very misleading! She never touches that sword!
Awards: none known
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959)
Starring: Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre, Anita O’Day, Jack Teagarden, Chico Hamilton, Sonny Stitt, George Shearing, Big Maybelle and many others.
Director: Bert Stern
Genres: documentary, live music
Synopsis: Set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, the stage is just one of places the camera goes. The music is the hub of what the rest of the film revolves around. There is also a big yacht race going on in this sleepy little seaside community at the same time as the concert. No dialogue.
Impressions: Excellent creation of atmosphere with a fabulous opening shot of the waves on the water set to the music which makes it look like sound waves. Director does a great job of creating a very cool vibe with the musicians, their music, the audience feeling the music, the small town cutaways to people partying elsewhere, the boats on the water, the “rich people” letting their hair down. To see music lovers of all ages and skin tones enjoying the music together was a good message. Iconic film that is a work of art as much as anything else.
Etc.: watching the mini-doc included on the disc, the director had never made a movie before; he was a successful still photographer. He used his photographer’s eye very well in this!
Awards: 1 win
P.S. The whole film is available on youtube!
The Great Debaters (2008)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, Denzel Whitaker, Jermaine Williams, Forest Whitaker, Gina Ravera, John Heard, Kimberly Elise, Devyn Tyler, Trenton McClain Boyd, and many others.
Director: Denzel Washington
Genres: historical drama, biography
Synopsis: library synopsis: “Melvin B. Tolson is a professor at Wiley College in Texas. Wiley is a small African-American college. In 1935, Tolson inspired students to form the school’s first debate team. Tolson [mentors] a group of [brilliant] students into an historically elite debate team which goes on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.” At the time this real life story was unfolding, black people were still being openly lynched!
Impressions: I was very happy to learn about this piece of history that never showed up in my history books in school. Denzel as Professor Tolson was excellent. He challenged his students to realize their full potential, and this, despite so many barriers. I really liked the way it showed the different backgrounds of the students and how they shaped them. Forest Whitaker is an actor I have mixed feelings about, but I adored his character in the film as the highly educated, stern father of one of the debate students. All of the cast in this are excellent and give superior performances which really brings the story to life.
Etc.: Denzel Whitaker plays the son of Forest Whitaker in the film, but he is not Forest’s son. Warning: there is a graphic scene of violence that is difficult to forget once seen.
Awards: 11 wins and 10 nominations
Trivia from imdb:
On December 19, 2007, Denzel Washington announced a $1 million dollar gift to Wiley College, so they could re-establish their debate team.
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn, Clark Duke, John Malkovich, Edin Brolin, Vivica Fox, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jacob Zachar, and many others
Director: Clark Duke
Genres: crime drama
Synopsis: two drug distributors (Hemsworth and Duke, who also directs) in The Dixie Mafia are promoted, but it hardly feels like a promotion to them as it’s a berg of a place in nature in Arkansas. Head of this family is Frog, who remains unknown and unseen but who calls all of the shots. There are multiple flashbacks of how Frog got to be Frog. Being in a boring wilderness for two young, ambitious guys, it isn’t long before a little chaos is injected into the calm.
Impressions: Hemsworth does good work in this, as does Duke and Malkovich. Vaughn is good as usual but the other actors give him a run for his money. Decent support cast. The events in Arkansas feel like they could be a template for drug dealer hierarchies across the land, where the trajectories of its players are predictable. I enjoyed the quirkiness of it. The film was good but had the potential to be great. I will be keeping an eye on Duke.
Etc.: Based on a novel by John Brandon; filmed in Alabama and Arkansas; Clark Duke wears a different professional wrestling T-shirt for each day.
Awards: too soon
True History of the Kelly Gang (2019)
Starring: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Thomasin Mckenzie, Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe, and many more.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Genres: historical drama; biography
Synopsis: Life story of Australian Bushranger, Ned Kelly (b.1854-d.1880) and his gang. Looking at wikipedia and comparing the plot with it, it follows the true story pretty closely. The first half of the movie shows young Ned growing up out in a piece of wasteland with his family. It shows the early beginnings of his hatred for the British law enforcement who look down their noses at poor Irish. The second half shows Ned and his criminal cohort interacting with that same law enforcement, resisting it, and finally absconding from justice and evading it for a couple of years.
Impressions: I liked the first half of the movie better than the second. It has Charlie Hunnam (even though he plays a despicable character it’s so tough to hate him) and Russell Crowe in it. The second half sort of falls apart. I was happy to learn more about Ned Kelly and his gang, which were different in several ways from your usual gang of outlaws.
Etc.: run time is over 2 hours. Made in Australia. Based on the book by Peter Carey. Scenes of graphic violence and some sexual acts.
Awards: 5 wins and 11 nominations
Trivia from imdb:
The director Justin said to George MacKay, “I see the Kelly Gang as a punk band. So we’ve booked you a gig in a bar in Melbourne in three weeks as yourself. You have got to come up with a name, write an album and perform a set.” The band formed by George Mackay, Earl Cave, Louis Hewison and Sean Keenan were called Fleshlight and two of the songs made it onto the film soundtrack (Desperate and I Am Everywhere.)
Starring: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg. Jonathan Aris, Senan Jennings, Eanna Hardwicke, and a few others.
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Genres: sci-fi, horror (imdb says comedy, but a bleak stretch of one if one at all)
Synopsis: A couple (Poots and Eisenberg) are looking to buy a home in the new suburban subdivision they keep hearing about. Finally going to the real estate office, they follow the agent out to it to take a tour. From that moment forward their lives are irrevocably changed. Intense character study that feels like a psychological experiment that one cannot escape from.
Impressions: The sterile environment is unnerving. The “experiment” is unnerving. Without much of anything to bounce off of, Poots and Eisenberg do a commendable job of making the plot work. The opening act of the movie has a clever allegorical connection to the rest of it. The casting choices are excellent.
Etc.: filmed in Ireland and Belgium
Awards: 3 wins and 4 nominations