Friday, September 30, 2016

Nosh 34: 'Our Little Sister,' 'Bridget Jones's Baby' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER (reviews of Our Little Sister and Bridget Jones’s Baby)
Unless your need is animation or heavy-duty violence, we mostly go to Japanese movies for a subtle lacing of form and ritual within delicately nuanced drama. That is also true of some of the best violent ones, as when Akira Kurosawa made some of the greatest samurai action follow the rhythms of nature and village life in The Seven Samurai (1954), or when the quiet swordsman of Yoji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai (2002) sought refuge from the warrior world in domestic tranquility. And it dominates bravura works by sensitive male directors devoted to largely feminine themes, like Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse.

The new master in this line is Hirokazu Koreeda, whose Our Little Sister – not to be confused with Sisters, Little Sister or Little Women – carries forward the beautiful intricacies of his Nobody Knows (2004) and Still Walking (2008). In this picture, adapted from the graphic manga novel Umimachi Diary by Yoshida Akimi, three sisters have been raised by their grandmother. Their father left for a woman; their mother fled as well. The three live in the late granny’s old, wooden home in Kamakura, a town best known for its Great Buddha statue. Sternly maternal, the elder sister at 20 is the elegant nurse Sachi (Yoshino Koda). She takes lovely, sexually adventurous Yoshimi (Ryo Kase), 22, and cute, amusing Chika (Kaho), 19, to attend the father’s funeral. Ritual and relatives stir up covert feelings, and the sisters share a revelation: their half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose), a pretty girl of 13 whose gentle eyes are almost pleading.

They take Suzu home, to live with them, and Koreeda explores the town, its natural setting, family secrets, and a sisterhood beyond any trendy rhetoric. At times amusingly, he opens up each sibling, plus some lively side figures. Using a light palette visually, a light touch dramatically, the movie renders increasingly layered emotions about domesticity, work, romance and obligation. There is the Japanese devotion to nature, with a beloved plum tree and the cherry blossom celebration. Some soft music murmurs “Fifties soaper,” but is under control.

Our Little Sister has an impeccable love for its people, without the somewhat tricky stylization of Kon Ichikawa's The Makioka Sisters (1983). More may remember Tampopo and Jiro Dreams of Sushi, because the "girls" are so often cooking, eating, talking about food, recalling old treats. Chika's "I'm so hungry, can you cook something?" is almost the main theme. Note to theater managers: rent a sushi bar for your vending counter.

Bridget Jones’s Baby
At 47, after a six-year break from movies, Renée Zellweger is back as Bridget Jones, at 43 “the last barren husk in London.” So Bridget says, but who is she kidding? She is still Zellweger, nicely older, with those peachy cheeks, that adorable accent, that goofy-dear smile, that floppy way of flailing, failing but springing right back. Not as sharp as the 2001 original, Bridget Jones’s Baby beats the dumb 2004 sequel. Yes, even with predictable plot turns, mooning, childbirth agony, ethnic and gender clichés, old songs (“That’s Amore,” “We Are Family,” etc.) to trigger scenes, and Colin Firth looking stern and wary in his return as fabled flame Mark Darcy.

Past, rakish suitor Hugh Grant opted out – his better option was Florence Foster Jenkins – and his amiable sub is Patrick Dempsey, an American biz-hunk courting Bridget while Firth hovers like a rather magisterial moth. She gets pregnant and, golly, who’s the dad? You may wince, you may laugh. If you prattle about small signs of Zellweger’s age, you’re a pig. If you grouch about obviousness, you are ignoring the small, true charms. Zellweger is still an ace actor, and she owns Jones. Emma Thompson appears wittily, and helped script. There is something OK about a comedy with zings like “ironic beards” and “Gladolf Hitler.”    

SALAD (A List)
For what it’s worth (loads of yen), here are my Twelve Favorite Japanese Films, not animated: High and Low (Kurosawa, 1963), Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954), Ikiru (Kurosawa, 1952 ), Ugetsu (Mizoguchi, 1953), Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Naruse, 1962), The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, 1958), Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953), An Actor’s Revenge (Ichikawa, 1963), Yojimbo (Kurosawa, 1961), The Twilight Samurai (Yamada, 2002) and Our Little Sister (Koreeda, 2015). Clearly, for me the top master is Akira Kurosawa.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
As he knew, Orson Welles never had a better female actor than his old radio reliable Agnes Moorehead. In The Magnificent Ambersons, 1942, “Moorehead conveys Aunt Fanny’s torment in every birdlike gesture of her body, frequently drawing the spectator’s eye into little corners of the frame, where she dominates the screen without saying a word. In later scenes Moorehead’s depiction of the maddened spinster is so intense that it completely overshadows Tim Holt’s performance as George: ‘I believe I’m going crazy!” (From James Naremore’s The Magic World of Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
In essence, La Dolce Vita is a renegade Catholic film, and “the one bedrock idea is Catholic guilt, engorged by pagan pleasures. ‘I know that I am a prisoner of 2,000 years of the Catholic Church,’ Fellini confessed, ‘because all Italians are.’ The Church raged, and Fellini became the pope of cinema.” (From the Marcello Mastroianni/La Dolce Vita chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Humphrey Bogart lights up as jealously paranoid Dix Steele, In a Lonely Place (Columbia Pictures, 1950; director Nicholas Ray, cinematographer Burnett Guffey)

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

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