Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! I borrowed a series of Criterion Collection films from the library and 2 of them are featured this week. Unfortunately I didn’t watch the special features disk of either of them (there are never enough hours in the day to do it all.)
Old Joy (2006) Criterion Collection spine #1008
Starring: Daniel London, Will Oldham, Tanya Smith, Lucy (the dog,) and a few others
Director and Writer: Kelly Reichardt
Synopsis: Set in Oregon, Mark (played by London) and Kurt (played by Oldham) have been friends for a very long time. These days Mark is married, about to be a father, owns a home, and has a 9-5 job; where Kurt appears to still be a free spirit and living a transient lifestyle. The story begins where Kurt is in town and calls Mark to invite him to a weekend trip in the Cascade Mountains as there is a particular place he wants to show him that he’s found there.
Impressions: It’s a very low-key film that puts the focus on philosophical dialogue and natural beauty. Minimalism at its best. The title is appropriate.
Etc.: same director as “First Cow”, this is Kelly’s 2nd film she wrote and directed
Awards: 5 wins and 5 nominations
Bitter Rice (1949) Criterion Collection spine #792
Starring: Vittorio Gassman, Doris Dowling, Silvana Mangano, Raf Vallone, Checco Rissone, Nico Pepe, Adriana Sivieri, Lia Corelli, Maria Grazia Francia, Dedi Ristori, Anna Maestri, Mariemma Bardi, Maria Capuzzo, Isabella Marincola, Carlo Mazzarella, and many more.
Director: Giuseppe DeSantis
Genres: drama, crime, love
Synopsis: Francesca (played by Dowling) and Walter (played by Gassman) are grifters in the big city. The police are hot on their trail when Francesca decides to slip onto a train carrying mostly women who are heading to the annual rice harvest season. These women use the money and the rice they are given in payment to last them through the rest of the year. When Francesca gets settled into the living barracks she gets cozy (not romantically) with Silvana (played by Mangano,) the beauty of the camp by anyone’s estimation. Of course we can’t have high drama without some men in the mix. Marco (played by Vallone) is a sergeant in the military who is about to retire and hopes he can convince Silvana to run away with him. Walter later finds his way to the fields, but by this time Francesca sees him for the worm that he is. Around these 4 is a wonderful parallel story of the rice harvest itself that also works labor practices and the exploitation of the workers into the mix.
Impressions: I enjoyed so many women and relatively few men focused on in the cast. The barracks is a setting where a lot of “girl talk” takes place. I loved the way they showed the actual labor and the joy that these women have working as a team to harvest the rice. The men, for the most part, are supportive, peripheral characters until the love story part starts to heat up. I’d like to say that having the women half-dressed and wet in the water was purely cinematic on the part of the director and cinematographer – and it is! — but there is a certain lurid voyeur aspect to it that needs to be acknowledged. Silvana is captivating in the most carnal way as the moody, fickle beauty. Francesca is a more complex character with a magnetic intensity. Gassman as Walter does a convincing job as the toxic narcissist. Vallone as Marco does also as the handsome idealist.
Etc.: Italian film, English subtitles; filmed in Vercelli, Piedmont, Italy; per imdb: The Italian word “riso” has two meanings. One meaning is “rice” and the other being “laughter.” The title “BitterRice” can just as easily be translated as “Bitter Laughter.”
Awards: 2 nominations
Breaking News in Yuba County (2021)
Starring: Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, Ellen Barkin, Matthew Modine, Jimmi Simpson, Keong Sim, Juliette Lewis, Clifton Collins, Jr., Samira Wiley, Bridget Everett, T.C. Matherne, Dominic Burgess, Chris Lowell, and many more.
Director: Tate Taylor
Genres: comedy, crime
Synopsis: Sue (played by Janney) is the invisible, quirky, and clueless wife of Karl (played by Modine) who is a sleazebag every which-way. When Karl turns up missing, Sue gloms onto a realization that the family of a missing person gets a lot of celebrity and starts to play it for all it’s worth. There is a zany and quite hilarious cast of support characters who orbit this carnival atmosphere of televising Karl’s disappearance. Sue begins to wonder if it might have been better to stay invisible.
Impressions: This is a screwball comedy but make no mistake it has a very dark streak running through it. The cast is polished and has the necessary high energy to pull off the hijinx. There are some editing issues that make it a little clunky but still worth the watch.
Etc.: filmed in Natchez, MS; Janney and Modine are real life husband and wife; warning: there are a few scenes of sudden graphic violence.
Awards: too soon
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Laine McGaw, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon, Karen Hasson, Frank McCusker, Lalor Roddy, Helen Madden, Des McAleer, Geoff Gatt, Rory Mullen, Ben Peel, Helena Bereen, Paddy Jenkins, Liam Cunningham, Billy Clarke, Ciaran Flynn, B.J. Hogg, and several more.
Director: Steve McQueen
Genres: biography, drama
Synopsis: The fictionalized biography of Bobby Sands (played by Fassbender,) a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Ireland in the 1970’s and 1980’s. When the story begins, Bobby is in prison for helping plan a bombing of a furniture company and then getting into a gun battle with the local constables; however it never mentions that part of it but focuses instead on Bobby and the others there who consider themselves political prisoners. Bobby is the leader of the IRA prisoners and makes a decision to do a hunger strike when he and the other political prisoners have certain privileges revoked.
Impressions: The film rubs your nose in the ugliness of the prison cells the prisoners are kept in and how they are treated by the guards. It feels like a major mutual hostility between those on either side of the bars for each other. The inhumanity of their treatment and the extreme extent the prisoners go to in their resistance is shocking and horrifying. Very very difficult to watch. There is a glaring imbalance in the lack of relief this viewing experience provides. My guess is that the director wanted to put the viewers inside the walls of the prison and leave them there; and if that was the intent, the director succeeded.
Awards: 49 wins and 38 nominations
Hunger is known for its unbroken 17 minute 10 second continuous shot, in which Catholic priest Father Dominic Moran tries to talk Bobby Sands out of the Hunger Strike he and his fellow 75 IRA members plan to start. The camera remains in the same position throughout the scene. To prepare, Liam Cunningham moved into Michael Fassbender’s apartment, and they rehearsed the scene 12-15 times per day. On the first day of filming, the actors got it perfect after 4 takes.
Starring: Alan S. Kim, Yeri Han, Noel Cho, Steve Yeun, Darryl Cox, Esther Moon, Ben Hall, Eric Starkey, Will Patton, and many more
Director and Writer: Lee Isaac Chung
Synopsis: Set in 1980’s Arkansas, the story begins as the Korean family of parents, Jacob (played by Yeun,) and Monica (played by Han) and their two children arrive at their newly purchased piece of land that comes with a mobile home. Monica absolutely hates it and continues with a bad attitude until Jacob agrees to invite her mother, Mrs. Oh (played by Moon) to live with them. Mrs. Oh travels from Korea and moves in with the family, where everyone adjusts to her presence. Jacob busts his butt to get his crops growing with the help of an eccentric neighbor, Paul (played by Patton.)
Impressions: Very fluidly put together movie. The ensemble works well together. Low-key for the most part. It’s a movie I’d like to watch again as it feels like it is a primer in how traditional Korean family interact with each other behind closed doors. There is a palpable yearning that was felt while watching it that generated empathy for anyone who travels to a foreign place and tries to be successful beyond the pigeonholes that the foreign place might want to push you into.
Etc.: from imdb: Lee Isaac Chung receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Director, along with Chloé Zhao for Nomadland (2020), marked the first time two directors of East Asian descent have been nominated in the category in the same year.; the movie is set in Arkansas but it was filmed in Oklahoma.
Awards: 108 wins and 218 nominations