Timbuktu

I usually don’t watch a movie based on a trailer. I find most of the trailers these days tell enough of the movie to keep me from seeing the movie. Especially comedies which have most, if not all, of the jokes. Seems the trailer-making folks have forgotten that trailers are an artform. Their job is to get me to want to see the movie. Only “Gravity” recently has done that for me.

So when I saw the trailer for “Timbuktu”, I went, “Hmmm.” Then “Maybe, just maybe.” The music got my initial attention. I especially wanted to know how a blues number was in a movie that had a setting where the blues shouldn’t be. In addition, there was this contrast between the guys with the guns and the ordinary people. All this intrigued me.

I must say that my expectations about the movie had risen against my better judgement. When the blu-ray arrived from Netflix, I decided maybe this one needed a night when I could focus on the movie.

I was not disappointed. This is a film I want to see several times. The ancient Malian city of Timbuktu could be a distant world from ours. The setting did remind me of David Lynch’s “Dune” as well as Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky”. Life there is that alien to a modern westerner.

Stuck on the edge of the desert, life goes on despite the city being occupied by jihadist. The citizens find ways to thumb their noses at the occupiers. Like boys playing football (soccer) without a soccer ball. Refusing to wear gloves which the jihadist demand for some strange reason. Singing and playing music against the jihadist directive. It gives a real glimpse into how life goes on, no matter who’s in charge.

But the main story is of a cattle herder, Kidane, his wife, Satima, and Toya, his beloved daughter. It is this family’s relationship, and the ordinariness of it, that director, Abderrahmane Sissako, uses to reveal the humanity of these people.

It’s been a long time since I have been introduced to a great contemporary film. In addition to a wonderful story and great music, the cinematography was absolutely gorgeous. But I gotta tell you this is a great film. I was not disappointed at all.

The Best “Eh” Movie Ever

Has got to be “Strange Brew”.

For those of you who think Canadians are not funny, I have news for you. Canadians are some of the funniest people on the planet. Guess it’s all that ice and snow and long winters. They have a lot of free time and there’s nothing else to do but knit and tell polar bear jokes.

Like: How many polar bears does it take to break the ice? Just one. Once he’s swigged down a bottle of Péché Mortel Imperial Stout, he’s the life of the party.

Just look at a few of the members of the Canadian Comedy Establishment who have made the long, treacherous journey to the US: Dan Ackroyd, Jim Carey, Mike Meyers, Seth Rogen, Martin Short, Tommy Chong, Samantha Bee, Caroline Rhea and Ted Cruz. You’d think that there were no comedians left in Canada. But there are.

Just watch “Strange Brew” (1983). It has Canadians, of course. Those lovable mugs, Bob and Doug, the McKenzie Brothers, are just two. It has more beer than you could shake a polar bear at. You can’t get through a scene without tripping over an eh or a hoser. I’d say that is some pretty good reasons why this is a Canadian comedy.

By the way, just a footnote. “Strange Brew” is a remake of “Hamlet”. Bob and Doug are regular Rosencrantz and Guildensterns.

It’s my understanding that Bob and Doug had beer on set everyday for all the cast. So if the movie is a little hazy at times, you’ll know why.

So see it. If you can, see it with some Canadians. They can translate some of the Canadianisms for you.

To Chuck or Not to Chuck

Video for this post: 10 Things I Hate About Commandments

As y’all know, in the last week or so, we’ve had Holy Week, Passover and Easter. To celebrate I saw “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben Hur” fpr the umpteenth time.

I got to tell you “Ben Hur” is one heck of a sports movie. There’s javelin throwing. There’s rowing competition. There’s archery and catapulting fire from one ship to another. There’s chariot racing. Since it was the Romans that invented the Olympics, it was only right to feature these Olympic sporting events, performed by some Olympic style egos.

On top of all that, there’s Charlton Heston face. It has two emotions. Chuck Serious and Chuck Light. I mean that guy knew how to act. It near puts away Kirk Douglas’s Spartacus face, but not quite. It did give Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry face some competition. It was almost like Chuck had played those roles too. Nobody could out-hero Chuck. Just check out his El Cid.

His was such a face that it just about makes you want to believe Chuck was playing God, not Moses, in “The Ten Commandment”. He sure sounded like God. How Chuck got that face to do that I will never know. Anyway Chuck sure knew a lot about God. He kept meeting him in all those movies.

In “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, he met the Pope. That was like meeting God back in the olden days. And he got to paint God’s hand. So you can pretty well assume Chuck had met God and shook the Big Guy’s Hand. He was so good at the God gig that he got promoted to Cardinal as in Cardinal Richelieu. He even did a series on the Bible as if he wrote the Good Book himself. Of course, we know he didn’t. God did that. But the way Chuck did the series, it was just like God talking to you.

So, when the NRA was looking around for someone who could speak with a voice of authority, they got Chuck. You just knew that God had given us an Eleventh Commandment when Chuck said, “Thou shalt not take away my gun.”

Now, that Chuck ain’t around no more, Hollywood sure don’t know how to make Chuck movies, and I sure miss him. I mean, they have tried with “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” Hollywood went and CGI-ed the heck out of the Moses story. Only that Red Sea parting ain’t even close to the real thing. Old Cecil B. was at the parting of the Red Sea himself. If anybody could put on a parting, it was Cecil B.

It even screwed up the Noah story. How Russell Crowe spoke those lines without laughing I will never know. Guess, if they paid me the big bucks Russ got, I would say any darn thing they wanted me too.

And with “Ben Hur: The Remake,” we got a chariot race that really wasn’t a chariot race. It was s’posed to be the Roman equivalent of the Daytona 500. Only thing, that wasn’t chariot racing. Chuck knew that.

A Swashbuckling Fool

Once upon a time, there was a book and a movie and then another movie and even another movie called The Three Musketeers. Why such popularity? They were superheroes seventeenth century style.

“If you are going to swash your buckle, why not swash it for the Musketeers,” D’Artagnan advised his son. That is exactly what D’Artagnan Junior did. It was his heart’s desire to go off and become the latest in a long line of swashbuckling D’Artagnans to swash their buckles for the Musketeers.

On his way to becoming a full-fledged swashbuckling master of the Musketeer kind, he fought beaucoup number of fights, lost his virginity and had three or four duels. With Musketeers, of course. Only a Musketeer could duel a duel. Otherwise it was not much of a duel. It was a rout. No one else in all of France had enough umph to duel. Only a Musketeer had the duelling umph. ‘Cause that was what Musketeers had for breakfast. Umph with milk and a large mug of black coffee.

Since Musketeers hung their hats in Paris, it was off to Paree for our young D’Artagnan. In case your French ain’t so good, D’Artagnan means “From Artagnan”. In other words, he was from Gascony in Southern France down around Spain. It was a nice enough place to grow up. But if you wanted to be a Musketeer swashbuckler, Paree was the place to be.

That in itself is enough to get an ambitious young fellow into trouble. After all, he was a country bumpkin who dressed country-bumpkinish and rode a country-bumpkinish horse. Even if he did not look the part, he sure sounded like a hick. He would have benefitted from Madame Suzette’s Speak-Like-A-Parisian. And she, being partial to young swashbucklers, would have taught him the latest dance craze, the minuet.

But no, our young friend was of the impatient breed. Like the old saying goes, “when you gotta go, you gotta go.” D’Artagnan just had to go. To Paree, that is. So he was off to the Emerald City. Only they did not call it the Emerald City. It was The City of Lights. That’s ’cause it was well-lit four seasons a year just like Camelot by command of the king.

In case you have a hankering for some swashbuckling your own self, remember to take some advice from a very wise man. “Use the Force, Luke, use the Force.” Or is that the Farce? I never can remember.

What swashbuckler do you think lives up to the name “swashbuckler”?

“Ugetsu” Means Peace

Some years ago I suggested a foreign film to a friend. Her response was no with the comment, “I don’t read my movies.” Since then, I have come across a number of people who respond the same way. How sad.

There are so many great movies they miss by directors such as Fellini and Bergman, Louis Malle and Francois Truffaut, Kurosawa and Roberto Rossellini. They miss “Cinema Paradiso” and “Ikiru”, “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring”, “Audition” and the Swedish trilogy of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. And, of course, Kenji Mizoguchi’s great film “Ugetsu”.

Like all great films, “Ugetsu” (1953) is not just one story, but several stories layered upon one another. It is the story of how an artist, Genjuro, must suffer in order to become a true master of his art. It is the story of ambition. Genjuro wants to get rich by selling more and more pottery, no matter the risk to himself or his family. His neighbor, Tobee, wants foolishly to be a samurai. It is a ghost story. And a story of love and forgiveness.

“Ugetsu” is a particular appropriate film for an understanding of the refugees fleeing  Ukraine, North African and the Middle East. Families fleeing war because they don’t know whether they will be blown up, beheaded, tortured, gassed or robbed, the women definitely raped. All they want is to live in peace and raise their families.

“Ugetsu” takes place in a civil-war-torn sixteenth century Japan. One day one army is on top. The next day, another army. The only thing these armies have in common is the soldiers are lawless, plundering the pleasants, raping their women, and forcing the men into hard labor gangs.

Within a little over an hour and a half, Kenji Mizoguchic has created an epic film, and yet a very human one, that would take another director three plus hours.

One final thought. It amazes me the number of great films that created shortly after World War II. Many of the directors came from two former enemies of the Allies, Italy and Japan, and working with almost no resources. Films such as “Open City”, “The Bicycle Thief”, “Rashomon”, and “Ugetsu”. It had to be a heady time for the freedom those directors finally had.