A Summer Walk

One of my favourite poems is William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud. Here’s the first stanza:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Last week, that’s what I did. I followed a trail I seldom took and let it lead me to serendipity, like sighting this bald eagle. I didn’t see any daffodils, but lots of wildflowers which I couldn’t name.

Many, many summers ago, I was pondering about which subject to major in for university. Botany came to mind, for I was fond of plants. At the end, I decided on studying humans instead, hence, remaining illiterate when it comes to flora of all kinds, especially their technical terms. I must say, though, as you may well know, humans are much harder to decipher. Knowing names is the easiest part.

Here are some of the wildflowers I saw. If you can help me name them, so much the better. But let’s start off with this one which I know, and that’s our Provincial Flower: The Wild Rose.


Are these some kind of wild daisies?


Love the colour of these delicate blue petals:


A kind of Goldenrod?


Fuchsia isn’t a favourite colour of mine, but it looks stunning for flowers. This one particularly stands out, for it’s almost 6 ft. high:


I’d to stretch my hands way up to take this closeup:

A similar kind that’s a bright bluish purple. I caught it just when an insect was heading straight to it:


That’s when I realized, surely, for me these might be objects of natural beauty, for many, they are food and sustenance. Like these bees feeding on nectar:


And of course, berries for the birds:

I’ll let Wordsworth have the last word. Just replace daffodils with any of the above…

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

________________

Try it, dancing on the couch.

The Summer Day

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

––– Mary Oliver

***

Books to Screen 2020 and Beyond

As things go these days, uncertainties abound as to when movies will come out and in what way, big or small screen. So, for those who like to read before you leap, summer’s the best time to catch up with some of these books before their adaptations are released.


Hillbilly ElegyHillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

The runaway bestseller of 2016 is now an upcoming movie on Netflix, directed by Ron Howard. Born and raised a ‘hillbilly’ in Ohio, Vance’s memoir narrates his struggles to arrive at Yale Law School, a personal victory over poverty and a dysfunctional family and culture. He shares insights as an insider of an impoverished social sector. Screenplay by Oscar-nominated Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water, 2017). Early Oscar buzz for next year’s Academy Awards and Amy Adams a possible nom.

.

Deep WaterDeep Water by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith is no stranger to fans of suspense and psychological thrillers with Carol (2015), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), and the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train (1951). Deep Water (first pub. 1957) is another marital suspense thriller, directed by Adrian Lyne, who’d given us Fatal Attraction (1987), Unfaithful (2002) and the like. So, we know it’s in good hands. Gone Girl‘s Ben Affleck should be quite familiar with playing such genre, add in Ana de Armas, who’s superb in Knives Out, this one should be a thrilling escape.

The Last DuelThe Last Duel by Eric Jager

The historical novel is The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France, sounds like a sensational movie subject. Author is Eric Jager, medieval literature prof at UCLA. Director is the iconic Ridley Scott, who has brought us numerous big screen epics, Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Alien (1979, 2017), just to name a few. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon co-write and co-star, with Jodie Comer of Killing Eve fame also in.


9 Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Another TV series (Hulu) from popular Australian author Liane Moriarty whose Big Little Lies has been turned into two successful, star-studded Seasons on HBO. Nine strangers meet at a wellness resort dealing with their own issues and discovering secrets behind the place. Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy co-star. Moriarty has written 8 novels, so far, 5 of which are in various stages of development for the screen.


NomadlandNomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

Nowadays you hear a lot about migrant workers. Back in the time after the Great Recession, there were workers living like nomads in their trailers and vans, travelling across the western states to look for work. Bruder’s book is about one such ‘workampers’, a woman in her sixties who becomes a nomad worker after losing her home. Frances McDormand stars. Written for the screen and directed by Chloé Zhao, who gave us the soulful The Rider (2017).


ShirleyShirley by Susan Scarf Merrell

Based on the second novel by Merrell published in 2014. Shirley here refers to the American horror/suspense writer Shirley Jackson, played by Elisabeth Moss. The story’s about a graduate student Fred and his wife Rose (Odessa Young) move in to live with professor Stanley Edgar Hyman, a literary critic teaching at Bennington College and his wife Shirley Jackson. Drama ensues when the characters interplay in their peculiar relational dynamics. Directed by Josephine Decker.

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney

Irish millennial lit turned TV. And you thought the upstairs-downstairs kind of stories happen only in Downton Abbey. Rooney’s acclaimed book is about the clandestine romance between rich gal Marianne and Connell whose mother cleans her house. The 12 episode TV series adaptation is affective and well performed by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal under the helms of Lenny Abrahamson (Room, 2015) and Hetti Macdonald (Howards End, 2017) On Hulu, BBC3, and CBC Gem now.

Mothering SundayMothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Just announced. Booker Prize winning author Graham Swift’s novel will be adapted into film with a stellar British cast. Mothering Sunday was a day given to domestic servants time off so they could go back home to visit their mother and family. Again, a clandestine romance between two young people of different classes. Eva Husson (Hanna, 2020) directs onscreen royalty Olivia Coleman (QEII in The Crown), Colin Firth (KGVI in The King’s Speech), Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown), and Odessa Young. 

 

__________________

 

Recent Movies and Series Directed by Women

Yesterday while driving I heard the stirring theme music of the movie The Piano (1993) played on CBC Radio 2. Memories flooded my mind. I recalled watching it in the movie theatre way back then. A deaf-mute unable to speak but can overwhelm others as she plays the piano to express herself.

I thought of Jane Campion, writer/director of the film, marvelled at her skills in conveying thoughts and emotions via the visual medium, and thought of other women directors who’d helmed many of my favourite films. I’ve had two previous posts on Women Directors here and here. Now taking stock mentally of the recent movies and series I’ve watched on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Kanopy while home-staying, I notice several of them are created and/or directed by women.

The Piano

Consider the following list with my capsule reviews an update of my previous Women Directors posts.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Amazon Prime) – Directed by Marielle Heller 

Director Heller and the screenwriters transport Mr. Roger’s child-friendly, essential human wisdom to realistic, adult situations. The film isn’t so much about Mr. Rogers but the real-life story of journalist Tom Junod’s life-changing encounters with Fred Rogers for a magazine assignment. Tom Hanks is ideal as Mr. Rogers, and Matthew Rhys is effective in playing journalist Lloyd Vogel.

Who’s Matthew Rhys, you might ask? I highly recommend you watch “The Americans” series. Or, if you’re an Austen spinoffs fan, he’s Mr. Darcy in the mini-series “Death Comes to Pemberley”, adaptation of the novel by P. D. James. And, if you were around to watch the original Raymond Burr detective series on TV, the Wales-born actor is the new Perry Mason in our time.

Little Fires Everywhere (Amazon Prime) – Created and screenplay by Liz Tigelaar, Directors Lynn Shelton and Nzingha Stewart. 

The 8-Episode mini-series is the screen adaptation of Asian American novelist Celeste Ng’s second novel. My full book review can be found here. The thematic elements of race, motherhood, family secrets, clashes of generations and values are visualized and made more acute as Kerry Washington is cast as an African-American artist playing against Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Richardson, the gatekeeper of the white upper-middle-class community of Shaker Heights, OH. The artist Mia Warren in Ng’s novel isn’t black, but turning her into one makes the conflict of the story more timely and pressing.

Four episodes are directed by Lynn Shelton who sadly died in May, 2020. Another female director Nzingha Stewart helmed two.

Never have I Ever (Netflix) – Created by Lang Fisher and Mindy Kaling. Directors Linda Mendoza and Anu Valia 

Here’s a recent trend that’s encouraging. Movies and series are created to feature minority cultures in America. The talented Mindy Kaling, who wrote the screenplay and co-starred with Emma Thompson in Late Night (2019) plus many other credits, created this comedy series about high school girl Devi’s experience growing up Indian-American, something Kaling knows full well. Many LOL situations and dialogues throughout the ten episodes. Kaling scouted Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in Mississauga, ON, Canada, to play Devi. A fresh look into the multi-cultural humanity that our North American population comprises. In recent years we talk a lot about representation. This is a humorous and realistic look into a vibrant sector.

The Half of It (Netflix) – Directed by Alice Wu

Here’s another lens to look into our younger generation growing up bi-cultural. The full length feature directed by Chinese-American Alice Wu is this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature winner. A shy academic ace, Ellie Chu, earns her pocket money from writing essays for her fellow classmates. When one day, she’s recruited by the school jock Paul Munsky to be a ghost writer of poetic love letters to a girl he tries to date, Ellie begins to feel a moral dilemma. The characterization and storyline make this feature a contemporary twist on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Humor is situational with some poignant scenes, making the film all the more enjoyable.

Unorthodox (Netflix) – Created by Anna Winger, Directed by Maria Schrader

Inspired by the memoir of Deborah Feldman, who broke away from her strict Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, NY, and escaped to Berlin where she changed into a new persona and started a different life. I haven’t read the memoir but I know the four-part mini-series take the liberty to re-imagine how she goes about changing her life while in Berlin. The series is captivating as viewers are introduced to the Hasidic, male-dominated and authoritarian community. Again, there are many cultural sectors in our society and through films we get to know a little bit more of how others live and the struggles they go through.

Ophelia (Netflix) – Directed by Claire McCarthy

Adaptation of the book by Lisa Klein, screenplay by Semi Chellas, Ophelia is a re-imagined story of what happened in the royal castle of Elsinore and in particular, Hamlet’s sweetheart. Lots of liberty in tweaking and twisting but still interesting to watch, albeit a lightweight Hamlet compared to the original. Notable cast includes Naomi Watts as Gertrude, Clive Owen as Claudius. Hamlet is played by George MacKay before his titular role in the WWII movie 1917, and Ophelia is Star War‘s Rey Daisy Ridley.

Hamlet (Kanopy) – Film Direction by Margaret Williams, London Stage Direction by Sarah Frankcom

A filmed recording of the play performed in Royal Exchange, Manchester. This Hamlet is a fresh take with Maxine Peake as the emotionally devastated and revengeful Prince of Denmark. Only after watching that I Google search to find the first female to play Hamlet dates back to 1796 in London Drury Lane, then 1820 in New York. Several others had followed since. But this is my first time watching. Maxine Peake’s performance almost instantly cast away all my preset feelings. She’s high-octane energy; her voice, physical stage presence totally captivate, convincing yet delicate. She’s herself and not an impersonator. Modern costume makes it more natural and, love her haircut. Peake makes me look at her not as a female taking up a male role, but a superb actor playing the ‘Everest of roles’.

Cloud Gazing

To avoid the crowds these days, I take late evening strolls. I’ve a painter friend who likes to look at clouds, which prompted me to notice them more intentionally. Last evening, I saw the clouds change from a placid white to orange to dramatic red.

Here’s the sequence, just within 20 minutes before sunset at 9:30 pm. Yes, wait till June and we get light till ten. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I just used my cell phone. For authenticity, I’ve kept these photos in their original form.

I’ll begin with this view from the escarpment high up, the same spot I saw my moose/elk neighbour:

Evening Sky

After a few minutes, the clouds began to change to a golden hue:

Evening Sky 2

Then into a Turner painting:

Turner Painting

From golden to pinkish delight, marshmallows in the sky:

Pinkish Delight

And in another part, the scene was more dramatic with a streak of lava splitting through:

Orange Lava in the sky

Here are the panoramic takes of the lava in the sky:

Lava Panoramic

Red Lava Pano 1

Red Lava Pano 2

Red sky? Or red clouds and blue sky? No matter, with scenes like these, words became unimportant. But words did come up in my mind… Red sky at night, birder’s delight. I knew what tomorrow would be good for.

 

‘Benjamin Button’: A Curious Look at the Movie Adaptation

The idea of a baby born as an old man and then grows younger––a reverse trajectory of the human experience––is the premise in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story published in 1922, reviewed in my previous post. Prompted by a remark made by Mark Twain, Fitzgerald unleashed his imagination and wrote the story.

The tale was adapted into a 2008 movie directed by David Fincher who brought it all the way to the Oscars with 13 nominations the next year. I watch it for the first time in 2020 and am surprised to find its relevance: the fear of strangeness in our age of xenophobia.

As for the 13 Oscar nominations, the movie won only three: Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects. These are difficult feats and deserving wins. Unlike the Academy’s (and some critics’) aloofness in embracing the film’s other achievements, I much appreciate the adapted screenplay and Fincher’s 166 minute visual rendition.

Here’s an exemplar of how a film adaptation diverges from the original literary source and yet still keeps its main concept, but instead of faithfully following the thin, short story, carries it to a different direction, creating an expanded and more gratifying version.

Benjamin Button

Screenwriters for the adaptation are Eric Roth and Robin Swicord. Roth is known for his Oscar winning adapted screenplay for Forrest Gump (1994), and Robin Swicord for her 1994 version of Little Women. They had chosen to turn Fitzgerald’s farcical, acerbic fantasy into a serious film in the vein of magical realism. The magic lies in the imaginary, reverse growth trajectory; the realism is love.

This is not just about love between two star-crossed lovers, Benjamin (Brad Pitt) and Daisy (Cate Blanchett), but about a woman with a huge heart, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), who embraces a Gollum-like baby abandoned at her doorstep. Instead of a non-mentioned mother in Fitzgerald’s story, Queenie raises Benjamin with devoted affection. There’s love and acceptance as well from those in the old folks lodging house where Queenie works. Further, the movie adds one more layer, and that’s Daisy at her deathbed, sharing the story of her lost love with her daughter Caroline (affectively played by Julia Ormond), leaving her with a legacy of love.

The film makes amends to the sardonic tone of the short story by creating a moving love story. For a short period in their lives, both Benjamin and Daisy are of approximate age, but such joy doesn’t last as one grows older and the other younger. Yet unlike the short story, their love endures, for as long as one can hold on to it despite separation. And we find out that one can, all the way to her deathbed; the other is just too young to remember. What’s left is the transience of time and inevitable fate.

The setting is early 20th century on the cusp of WWI in New Orleans where Benjamin is born, and not 1860 Baltimore. As he grows younger, Benjamin goes through WWII instead of the Spanish-American War in the short story. The movie starts off with a modern time with Daisy’s final hours revealing to her daughter who her real father is. That’s 2005 New Orleans, during a hurricane when the hospital is preparing to evacuate. A disastrous storm as a backdrop in the telling of a billowy story. A name to denote the significance: Katrina. 

The movie is a divergence for Fincher too considering he’s a master of crime thrillers –– Zodiac came out just a year before in 2007, and more recently Gone Girl in 2014, Benjamin Button is Fincher’s only ‘romantic’ drama (The Social Network, 2010, is drama but definitely not ‘romantic’). Crafted in signature Fincher styling with low-light, sepia colour to enhance the period effects, the aesthetics in set design and cinematography bring out the notion of ‘every frame a painting’. 

Brad Pitt’s understated performance characterizes Benjamin aptly. Instead of remaining ‘the other’, Benjamin strives to connect, albeit in a gentle and quiet way. His love at first sight with then 7 years-old Daisy is a poignant encounter. Elle Fanning is a perfect cast. A child who holds no prejudice, she’s fascinated by the ‘strangeness’ in Benjamin. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter comes to mind.

Other curious finds: music by Alexandre Desplat, Tilda Swinton in some memorable sequences, Queenie’s husband Tizzy played by now two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Green Book, 2018 and Moonlight, 2016).

You probably have watched it before when the film first came out. How the world has changed in just twelve years. Watching it again now would probably bring you a different feel, and more relevance.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

***

 

 

More Films by Female Directors

Let’s continue to celebrate women beyond just one day or a weekend.

Previously on Ripple, I posted a list of my favorite films that happened to be directed by women. Here’s another list, not a personal favourite list but one just to show the variety of movies female directors have helmed, to shatter the myth and misconception that some might hold: ‘if we leave it to them, they’ll only churn out chick flicks.’

In alphabetical order, not ranked, director and year released in brackets, a list to hopefully inform, remind, and maybe surprise. There are many more, of course, but I’ll just stop at 65. How many have you seen? Which other ones you’d like to add?

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>***
___

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, 2019)

A Thousand Suns (Mati Diop, 2013)

A Wrinkle in Time (Ava DuVernay, 2018)

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

The Arch (Cecile Tang Shu Shuen, 1970)

The Assistant (Kitty Green, 2020)

The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola, 2017)

Bend It Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002)

         Big (Penny Marshall, 1988)

Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan, 2020)

Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, 2019)

Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999)

Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018)

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018)

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden, 2019)

Captain Marvel's Carol Danvers

Charlie’s Angels (Elizabeth Banks, 2019)

Chocolat (Claire Denis, 1988)

Cloud Atlas (The Wachowskis co-direct, 2012)

Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)

Frozen / Forzen II (Jennifer Lee co-directs, 2013 / 2019)

High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

The Hitch-hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, 2019)

The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 2011)

Late Night (Nisha Ganatra, 2019)

Leave no Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008)

The Matrix / Reloaded (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1999 / 2003)

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

Miss Julie (Liv Ullmann, 2014)

Money Monster (Jodie Foster, 2016)
..

Jodie Foster directs

 

Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)

Mulan (Niki Caro, 2020)

Mustang (Deniz Ganze Ergüven, 2015)

My Brilliant Career (Gillian Armstrong, 1979)

Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2013)

Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2009)

Pay It Forward (Mimi Leder, 2000)

Pitch Perfect 2 (Elizabeth Banks, 2015)

Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)

…….The Prince of Tides (Barbra Streisand, 1991)

Queen and Slim (Melina Matsoukas, 2019)

Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair, 2016)

Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975)

Selma (Ava Duvernay, 2014)

selma-bridge

Shrek (Vicky Jenson co-directs, 2001)

Something’s Gotta Give (Nancy Meyers, 2003)

The Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion, 1996)

The Secret Garden (Agnieszka Holland, 1993)

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)

Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008)

Unbroken (Angelina Jolie, 2014)

Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2012)

Washington Square (Agnieszka Holland, 1997)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002)

What Women Want (Nancy Meyers, 2000)

Winter’s Bones (Debra Granik, 2010)

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

The Zookeeper’s Wife (Niki Caro, 2017)

 

***

 

 

 

Women Directors of My Favorite Films

In 92 years of Oscar history, only five women have been nominated for Best Director:

Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties, 1976), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2003), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, 2017).

How many of them had won? One. Kathryn Bigelow in 2010.

Does that mean there aren’t many women directors around? Definitely not. It just reveals how things are for these artists striving under the glass ceiling. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative research is a good frame of reference for annual facts and trend of women in the film industry. According to their newest study entitled “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair: Analysis of director Gender & Race/Ethnicity Across 1,300 Top Films from 2007 to 2019” (Jan. 2020), female directors of top-grossing films reached a 13 year high in 2019: 10.6%, breaking an average of just 4.8% throughout the past 12 years. Maybe studios have begun to see women can be trusted to make profitable movies after all.

Yet, how many women are nominated for Best Director in the 2020 Academy Awards?

None.

This is not a post of protest, nor of analysis, but of reminiscence. I’ve made a mental inventory of some of my favorite films, ones that have stirred some ripples in the Pond, and found many of them are directed by women. Their works might not have made it to the ‘top-grossing’ list… but, this just shows where my interests lie.

Varda by Agnes
Agnès Varda in the director’s chair. Photo Courtesy: TIFF19

***

Here they are in alphabetical order, with my favorite films bolded. Links are to my reviews:

Kathryn BigelowThe Hurt Locker (2008, Best Picture Oscar, Best Director), Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Bigelow is the only female to have won an Oscar in Directing. She has shown that when a woman takes on a military movie, she can master the conflicts both external and within.

Jane Campion – The New Zealand director is one of the five women in Oscar history to be nominated for Directing. The Piano (1993) is visually stunning and bold in its depiction of the yearnings of the human heart. Campion is the first (and only, so far) woman to have won the prestigious Palm d’Or at Cannes with this film. Bright Star (2009) is a lyrical portrayal of English poet John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne before his untimely death at 25. A beautiful tapestry weaving together the visual and the word.

Nora Ephron – I miss Nora Ephron. It seems with her passing in 2012, romantic comedies aren’t the same anymore. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998) will remain iconic from a period that still valued face-to-face meeting over the telephone or emails. And for some reasons, Meg Ryan seems to have gone out of sorts too. Hopefully she’ll make a come-back like Renée Zellweger did with Judy (2019).

Sarah GavronBrick Lane (2007) prompted my interest in the British director with her focus on a Bangladeshi wife in London; Suffragette (2015) depicts women’s personal struggles against a monumental period of British social history, but Rocks (2019) is the gripping, down-to-earth drama following a black teenage girl being left alone to fend for herself and take care of her little brother when their single mom deserts them, achingly real.

Greta GerwigLittle Women (2019) is a production that I’d enjoyed far more than Lady Bird (2017) for which Gerwig got a Best Director Oscar nom in 2018. It’s plain snubbing of her achievement in this year’s Academy Awards where the slate of Directing nominees are all males. Recognized at the Oscars or not, Gerwig’s Little Women will remain a definitive and worthy contemporary adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic.

Mia Hansen-Løve – In Things to Come (2016), the French actor-turned-director Hansen-Løve presents a woman at the crossroads of life. Isabelle Huppert plays a philosophy professor whose husband leaves her for a younger woman, while her elderly mother with dementia needs her constant care, her publisher finds her text book no more relevant, and her two children have grown and lead lives of their own. What are the things to come for her?

Mira NairThe Namesake (2006) is the movie adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel. A delightful and humane look at the generation gap within an immigrant family from India, and the clash the son has to face being caught between his present American life and his cultural roots.

Sarah Polley – Polley adapts Canadian Nobel Laureate Alice Munro’s short story for the film Away from Her (2006). At age 27, the Canadian actor-turned-director wrote the screenplay of an elderly couple facing separation as the Alzheimer stricken wife has to move away to live in a care home. Polley’s directorial debut sent veteran British star Julie Christie to the Academy Awards as a Best Actress nominee, and Polley herself for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Dee ReesMudbound (2007) is the adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s novel set in the American South at the end of WWII. Two military men, one white, Jamie, and one black, Ronsel, came back from Europe’s war zone to their home in Mississippi, each faces a different predicament. And for Ronsel, a decorated soldier who had fought under General Patton, home is a totally new battlefield.

Kelly Reichardt – Reichardt’s styling is naturalistic, casual but nuanced. Certain Women (2016) is a triptych of three short stories by Maile Meloy. Against the vast landscape of Montana, lives can be very ordinary, but Reichardt shows there’s no ordinary life. Similarly, Wendy and Lucy (2008) is a simple narrative about a young woman looking for work drifting through the Pacific Northwest with her dog Lucy. Reichardt has major stars in her cast who all look very comfortable being anonymous.

Lone Scherfig ­– Scherfig’s forte is her pleasant styling even when depicting a troubling story. Their Finest (2016) is England in her darkest hour during the Blitz in WWII but with the mood of a romantic comedy. And in 2009, Scherfig tells the story of an innocent teenage girl and her parents being duped by a man in An Education (2009). Carey Mulligan in her breakout role, landing her with a BAFTA win and an Oscar nom for Best Actress.

Agnès Varda – In her last film shortly before her death in 2019, Varda by Agnès, the French New Wave icon stated three crucial concepts in her filmmaking: Inspiration (the why), Creation (the how), and Sharing. The soft-spoken but astute artist has left us with a treasure trove of works, albeit not readily accessible in N. America. I’ve been able to watch several, including my favorites Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) and Faces Places (2017).

Lulu Wang – The premise of the Chinese American director’s real-life family experience in The Farewell (2019) could be shocking to Western viewers, but that just shows the divides separating us who are framed by different cultures: to tell or not to tell an elderly family member of her terminal illness diagnosis. What Wang has ingeniously achieved in her film is to bridge the chasm separating the two sides with a human touch that transcends borders. Amazing feat.

Chloé Zhao – I hope this is a new trend, that is, let Asian Americans, or any underrepresented Americans of various cultural roots, to have the chance to showcase deserving works. The Rider (2018) is a poetic narrative of a contemporary cowboy–a rodeo bronco rider– recovering from debilitating head injury. Chinese American director Zhao is an unlikely person to tell the story; yet this is her vision after befriending the Sioux community in a South Dakota reservation.

 

***

 

‘Parasite’ Makes Oscar History and more…

This morning you’d probably waken up to Parasites everywhere. What is Parasite, you might ask. In case you’re one of those who avoids watching the perennial award show of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after 92 years, they have opened their door and allowed a non-English film to win the top prize, Best Picture of the Year.

 

Parasite
Looking for Wi-Fi connection are brother and sister Woo-sik Choi and So-dam Park, a scene in “Parasite”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, the South Korean, genre-bending dark comedy directed by Bong Joon Ho garnered four Oscars. Other than Best Picture, it won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. Haven’t heard of Best International Feature Film either? It’s the new name for the old category Best Foreign Language Film, an effort to dispel the awkwardness of the term ‘Foreign’. Even within the continent of North America, many languages are spoken.

Previously, no non-English film had ever won Oscar Best Picture even though nominated: Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1974 Oscar), Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Michael Haneke’s Armour (2013), Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2019). Parasite makes a monumental win in Oscars’ 92 years history by being the first non-English language film to reach the highest prize.

By opening this door, the Academy begins to reach out to tap its potential, international stature. The closest I can think of is Cannes. The most prestigious film festival in the world that takes place annually in the small resort town in the French Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur has maintained its status of bestowing the highest cinematic accolades across national borders.

About borders, director Bong’s vision is global: “I don’t think it’s necessary to separate all the borders of division if we pursue the beauty of cinema.” Referring to Chinese American filmmaker Lulu Wang’s Indie Spirit Best Picture win for her film The Farewell just the day before the Oscars, Bong said: “Like Lulu, we just all make movies.”

When it comes to breaking down barriers, Bong’s own acceptance speech at the Golden Globes is succinct and spot-on. As translator Sharon Choi relayed in English, the director’s commentary on differences and the language that unites is inspiring for our divisive world:

“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films. Just being nominated along with fellow amazing international filmmakers was a huge honor.” And in English, he added, “I think we use only one language: the cinema.”

I’ve had the chance to enjoy some refreshing cross-border collaborations at Film Festivals. Just to name a few from last year:

Frankie – the Cannes nominated American Ira Sachs directing two veterans of the cinema, French actress Isabelle Huppert and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson in a film shot in Portugal. Language: English, French, Portuguese.

To the Ends of the Earth – Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa shot the film in Uzbekistan (a former Soviet republic close to the Eurasian border) on a commission to celebrate the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Uzbekistan. Language: Japanese, Uzbek

The Truth Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda directing the legendary Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke (no need to declare nationality, I think you got the idea) Language: French, English

Maybe the art of cinema could well be the lingua franca to unite us all.

 

***

 

Related posts on Ripple Effects:

My review of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell

 

 

A Visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario

Whenever I’m in Toronto, the AGO is a must-see. Over the Christmas holidays I had the chance to catch the last few days of an awesome exhibition there: Early Rubens, plus some impressive works from other artists.

I use the word ‘awesome’ not casually, I mean exactly as the word is originally intended. Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens’s (1577-1640) paintings are huge, depicting Biblical characters and narratives in epic scale. On a wall I read this Rubens quote:

I confess that I am by natural instinct better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities. Everyone according to his gifts; my talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size or diversified in subject, has ever surpassed my courage.   –  Peter Paul Rubens, Letter dated 1621

Glad he mentioned ‘Everyone according to his gifts’, or else those who are afraid of heights would never be able to score any artistic achievement.

Anyway, this one in particular haunted me, The Massacre of the Innocents, around 1611-1612. Mothers try desperately to protect their sons against muscular men:

Massacre of the Innocents

Those entangled, near-naked bodies are men following an order from King Herod to kill all babies under the age of two after hearing that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph took their baby son Jesus and fled to Egypt to escape a ruler’s jealous rage and his desperate cling to power. Yes, Jesus and his parents were migrants, one of the early political refugees escaping from a ruthless government.

Fast forward several centuries to 1903, and in contrast to the massive scale of human tragedy of the above painting, I was drawn to this very quiet, seemingly simple painting of a mother giving a bowl of soup to her child. The mother looks unwell and seems to give away what she needs to her child. This poignant and sparse scene entitled The Soup is Pablo Picasso’s social statement of poverty and homelessness:

Pablo Piccaso The Soup

A more relaxed social scene. This painting from the 19th C. French landscape painter Eugène Boudin, Beach Near Trouville, linked my thoughts to a movie scene right away. Boudin’s work is dated 1864, that’s around the same period as Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. Boudin depicts Parisian high society mingling on the beach town of Trouville. Notice the women’s dresses:

IMG_9395

My mental association was naturally the Greta Gerwig directed Little Women beach picnic scene. I couldn’t help but compare their formal attires even at the beach and the actual chairs they sat on in Boudin’s painting with the beach scene in Little Women, so free and casual (not displayed in AGO):

Beach Scene in Greta Gerwig's Little Women

Don’t you want to fly a kite with the March sisters on that sandy beach?

From the historic to the futuristic, the iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) has invented visions of infinity with her experimental installations for three decades. Her work was exhibited at the AGO in 2017 and now the Gallery has a permanent set up Kusama called The Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever. I had to reserve a time slot ahead for my visit. At my appointed time, which was another hour later, I still had to wait in line to go into the room.

It’s a room of silver spheres suspended from the ceiling and arranged on the floor set against mirrors. A person standing in the room will see seemingly infinite reflections:

Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room

Here’s the image of one silver ball in the middle of the room. I didn’t do any colour changes, so just interesting to see what looked to me was a silver ball came out green in the photo:

One silver ball

You can actually see me taking the picture. What does this all mean? According to Kusama, the room gives a person a sense of infinity and limitlessness.

Only two visitors were allowed inside the room at one time. And how long could we spend in there? One minute. A staff with a timer in hand monitored the flow of visitors. When our time was up, she knocked on the closed door for us to go out and another two would go in. Call it a visual oxymoron if you will: A one-minute taste of infinity. O the limits of our human experiences.

 

***

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Alex Colville and the Movies

Bernini’s Corpus and Modern Movies

My review of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women

 

 

 

Concord revisited with ‘Little Women’

Five years ago, I took a New England road trip with my cousin. It was a major endeavour for me coming from Western Canada, over 2,500 miles away. The photos here were taken during the road trip that fall. We began our drive across three States starting from Wayland, MA. Nearby Concord was our first point of interest. This is where Louisa May Alcott grew up and later transposed her real life family onto the page to write Little Women.

Thanks to writer/director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation, fond memories flash back as I watch the New England scenery captured so beautifully on screen. One of the memorable scenes is the panoramic autumn hillside in which Laurie made his failed attempt proposing to Jo. Another one was the Christmas morning breakfast give-away as Marmee led the girls to exercise love-in-action.

CONCORD, MA

A major attraction in Concord is Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. The Alcott family owned Orchard House from 1857 to 1884, within which period all four Alcott girls Anna, Louisa, Lizzie and May had their most influential growing up years. The house is now a museum:

Sign

The rooms and furniture, Louisa’s (Jo) writing desk, the costume and props the girls made for their plays, Anna’s (Meg) wedding gown, and all of May’s (Amy) original paintings on the walls of her room are preserved inside the Orchard House Museum:

The Orchard House Museum

Louisa transposed her family onto the page, creating parallel characters in the March household. In the Little Women Garden, the March sisters had their own flower bed, each planted their section according to their taste or maybe, character. Here’s from the quote on the sign indicating their choices:

Meg – roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree
Jo – never alike two seasons, for she was always trying experiments
Beth – old-fashioned fragrant flowers, sweet peas and mignonette, larkspur, pinks, pansies, southernwood, with chickweed for birds and catnip for the pussies.
Amy – honeysuckle and morning-glories hanging their colored horns and bells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall white lilies, delicate ferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants.

The Garden

***

Here’s the issue many have questioned: Did Greta Gerwig alter the Little Women characters to appeal to modern day viewers, or, is she merely revealing Louisa May Alcott’s true image?

From Orchard House we went to visit the Concord Museum. Among plaques presenting some of Concord’s famous residents is this one of Louisa May Alcott. The quote on there comes from a letter Louisa wrote dated November 29, 1856:

I think I shall come out right, and prove that though an Alcott I can support myself. I like the independent feeling, and though not an easy life, it is a free one, and I enjoy it. I can’t do much with my hands; so I will make a battering-ram of my head and make a way through this rough-and-tumble world…

 

LMA

The Alcott parents, Bronson and Abigail were abolitionists and environmentalists. Bronson was the first teacher in Boston to admit a black student to his class despite protests from white parents who threatened either the black student go or they go. Bronson’s school was left with very few students consequently as he insisted his stance.

But his educational ideals must have been embraced by students as Bronson introduced the idea of raising their hands to speak in class, and he was the one who invented recess in school. There you go for a Jeopardy question.

Louisa’s mother Abigail was one of the first social workers in Boston, and was active in Women’s rights. She’d said, “I will go to the polls before I die if my daughters had to carry me there.”

The Alcott’s close friends and neighbours included prominent intellectuals and writers of the day: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne. They made frequent, mutual visits, and had personal influence on Louisa’s formation and writing.

Down the road from the Alcott’s was Emerson’s home. Emerson had helped the financially strapped Bronson with acquiring Orchard House:

Emerson's Home

And living minimally by choice as an experiment, here’s Thoreau’s cabin (replica) at nearby Walden Pond:

thoreaus-cabin

 

Thoreau's Lake Side Cabin

Growing up under such stimulating milieu where thinkers and writers are free to explore new ideas and generate new philosophy, it was only natural that Louisa grew up grasping the values and the spirit of her parents and their friends, becoming a non-conformist herself.

Louisa had admitted she’s Jo in Little Women and added: “I didn’t make her half-bad enough.” If she’d been here today and directed the movie, I’ve a feeling she’d make Jo twice as radical and assertive. Gerwig is admirably restrained and for this, kudos to her.

 

***

 

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Little Women (2019) movie review

Can a movie adaptation ever be as good as the book?

A New England Fall Foliage Road Trip

 

Top Ripples of 2019 and the Decade

Best of the decade lists have been sprouting up everywhere now that we’re wrapping up  the second ten years of the 21st century. As Ripple Effects has been around for over 12 years now, I too have the privilege to post my own decade favourites, with links to my reviews. A disclaimer is, obviously, I can only rate films that I’ve seen. For 2019, I’ve yet to see 1917 and Bombshell.

But first off, before looking back to the decade, here’s the list of

Top Ripples of 2019:

  1. Little Women
  2. A Hidden Life
  3. Varda by Agnès
  4. An Elephant Sitting Still
  5. Pain and Glory
  6. The Farewell
  7. Parasite
  8. Marriage Story
  9. American Factory
  10. Rocks

.
Top Ripples of the Decade:

  1.  The Tree of Life (2011) –– Director Terrence Malick’s visual treatise on life, death, and everything in between… and after.
    .
  2.  Roma (2018) –– Nothing’s too mundane for a filmmaker, especially with childhood memory. Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s autobiographical work that won him 3 Oscars, Best Directing, Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film.
    .
  3.  Ida (2013) –– Polish-born director Pawel Pawlikowski’s gripping depiction of a young woman’s choice of the sacred or the secular.
    .
  4.  An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) –– A last outcry of a young talent, the first and last masterpiece of Chinese writer/director Hu Bo who took his own life after making the film at age 29.
    .
  5. Little Women (2019) –– No matter what your previously held memory of the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic is, Greta Gerwig’s 2019 rendition is worthy to be the definitive version from now on as we head into the third decade of the 21st century. Surely lots have to be left out in a 2 hr. movie; take it as a good prod to go read the book.
    .
  6.  A Hidden Life (2019) –– Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter gave up everything to stand by his conviction, refusing to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler. Terrence Malick’s newest film is a meditation on the meaning of life, and death.
    .
  7.  Silence (2016) –– Martin Scorsese’s epic adaptation of Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s novel, a harsh and audacious look at the persecution of Christianity during 1600’s Japan. Similar to Malick’s A Hidden Life but depicts a totally different choice and outcome for its protagonist.
    .
  8.  Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) –– French director Olivier Assayas’s mesmerizing tale of being famous, ageing, becoming obsolete, and the young rising. Juliet Binoche and Kristen Stewart offer interesting interplay, but it’s Stewart who stands out.
    .
  9.  12 Years A Slave (2013) –– Two Brits takes over the American story: Director Steve McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays Solomon Northup. I wrote this in my review: the subject matter may be ugly, but the medium depicting it can be artistically gratifying, thus, conveying the message with even greater potency and inspiration.
    .
  10.  Certain Women (2016) –– Director Kelly Reichardt has chosen three short stories by Maile Meloy to form a cinematic triptych. The seemingly mundaneness of life is actually the very essence of it. The women are what make this film quietly impressive: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, Kristin Stewart.
    .
  11. Pain and Glory (2019) –– “The child is father of the man”, iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s autobiographical sketch of his childhood, later life and career up to this point. Beautifully shot, a film for artists.
    .
  12. The Farewell (2019) –– Chinese American director Lulu Wang has put her family story on screen and captured the hearts of many, making Awkwafina the rising star this awards season. To tell, or not to tell, that is the question… and the answer is obvious depending on where you’re from.
    .
  13. Faces Places (2017) –– Agnes Varda at 89 goes on a road trip with photographer/artist JR, adorning dilapidated buildings and unlikely places with human portraits larger than life.
    .
  14. The Rider (2017) –– Chinese-American Chloé Zhao tells the rarely told story of a modern day cowboy’s existential crisis after he suffers a debilitating head injury. How she tells it is poetry on screen.
    .
  15. Arrival (2016) –– Admirable collaboration: French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s adapts Chinese American sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, rendered with sensitive performance by Amy Adams. A film packed full of ideas, condensed sentiments, yes, like poetry.
    .
  16. Frances Ha (2012) –– Noah Baumbach has created a character that’s a perfect fit for partner Greta Gerwig, an aspiring dancer trying to find her place in NYC. The scene of Frances running and dancing through the streets of NYC has become an archetype for freedom and exuberance. (Look for it at the beginning of Little Women)
    .
  17. Varda by Agnes (2019) – The only female director of the French New Wave, Agnes Varda had left us with an inspiring legacy. This is her summing up, her last work wherein she went through every film she’d made, commenting with valuable insights and wisdom.
    .
  18. Our Little Sister (2015) –– I’ve to say this could well be my favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda movie. Koreeda is a master in filming family relationships, reminiscent of Ozu but with contemporary scenarios. This is a heartwarming film for the unhurried heart to savour.
    .
  19. Life of Pi (2012) –– What Canadian author Yann Martel has succeeded in literary form, Ang Lee has realized in this visually stunning cinematic offering, filming what is considered the ‘unfilmable’. Aligned with its magical realism, Lee ventured into flashy 3D.
    .
  20. The Past (2013) –– Iranian Director Asghar Farhadi elicited some amazing
    performance with this absorbing story. The film came out two years after A Separation, his Oscar winning film. I’d enjoyed The Past more.
    .

 

***

 

Other Top Ripples not on the above lists can be found on the sidebar. Click on the image to read my review.