Friday, July 13, 2012

Grab Bag Smoochies Edition: The Pajama Game, A Farewell to Arms, As Tears Go By

Got three more reviews. These movies all have romances at their center, so I guess that's kind of a theme.

The Pajama Game
, by Stanley Donen and George Abbott, 1957
Ok, I admit I wasn't prepared for The Pajama Game. I knew little about it when I pressed play. I just saw that Stanley Donen directed it, and hey, I love Bedazzled. And I saw that Doris Day was in it, and with that title, I assumed it was going to be like Pillow Talk or something (which I've never seen either but have an idea in my head of what it's like). Well, instead, it was a musical about... unions.

The Pajama Game is about a guy (John Raitt) brought in to oversee a pajama factory who falls for the girl (Doris Day) who represents the workers in the union. She's fighting for a 7 1/2 cent raise and he's just trying to prevent a labor dispute, and their relationship gets in the middle of it.

I'm not one of those guys that goes "UGH, musicals". In fact, I quite like them. This one had some pretty good numbers in it, with catchy songs, though I thought some of them went on for way too long and did little to advance the story. Overall, I don't think The Pajama Game was really my thing, but I could see how the Broadway show of it might have been pretty fun.

I'm glad I watched it, though, because of all the decades of American cinema, the one I'm least knowledgeable of is definitely the 1950's, and this was a film from that period that I wouldn't have normally thought to watch. So it was worth it.

A Farewell to Arms, by Frank Borzage, 1932
A classic, Best Picture nominated adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's story, A Farewell to Arms is a tragic love story between an American ambulance driver and an English nurse set in the backdrop of the first World War. I've never read any Hemingway, so I can't judge it based on any knowledge of him, though I did read on the Wikipedia entry that the film is less pessimistic.

I enjoyed A Farewell to Arms a great deal. Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper were both very good in the leads. I totally bought into the love story. But the best part of the movie for me was the beautiful and dense black & white cinematography, for which it won an Oscar. I would recommend the movie for that alone.

As Tears Go By, by Wong Kar-Wai, 1988
I've been reluctant to watch more of Wong Kar-Wai's films for quite some time. I saw Chungking Express many years ago and loved it, and then I watched Ashes of Time and didn't care for it at all. I know he's one of the most acclaimed and respected directors out there, but I was unsure where I stood with him, after that.

His debut film, As Tears Go By, falls somewhere in the middle of those two for me. It's one of his most successful films over in Hong Kong, but I don't think it wears it's age very well. It screams 1988 in just about every way imaginable, all the way down to a Chinese cover of 80's cheese ballad "You Take My Breath Away". The cover of The Cranberries' "Dreams" in Chungking was much much better, in my opinion.

As Tears Go By is the story of Wah (Andy Lau), a mob enforcer, who is good at his job, which from what I gather is collecting money from other mob guys and beating the shit out of those that don't have it. He keeps himself out of trouble by following the chain of command and laying low. His brother, Fly (Jackie Cheung), on the other hand, is all talk and no game. His belligerent attitude gets him in trouble time and again, and it's up to Wah to keep him in line and protect him from those who hate him (EVERYONE). You already know from that set up that things aren't going to end well for these two, right?

Meanwhile, Wah is tasked with letting Ngor, a distant cousin (Maggie Cheung), stay at his place while she is visiting Hong Kong for medical reasons. They connect with each other and soon fall in love, even though she knows the world he lives in. I never felt that creeped out by the cousin thing, because it was pretty well established that she's not that closely related (Wah never even knew she existed), and found myself rooting for them to work out.

The movie is decent. Wong Kar-Wai's talent is on full display, though not as honed as it comes to be, and with a pretty low budget. His films always have such sharp and vivid colors. There are a lot of reds and blues in this, and his reds are very red and his blues are very blue. It got a ton of award nominations in Hong Kong, and won for art direction, which is unsurprising.

I found the little brother character pretty hard to bear, but I think that was sort of the point. He won the Hong Kong best supporting actor award for it. He was super insecure from having Andy Lau as a big brother, and wouldn't we all be? There's a part where Andy Lau shoves a gun down the front of a guy's pants and pulls the trigger. He doesn't hit anything, but he makes it clear that he could have. How can you live up to that?


Boy, I didn't expect that last one to be so long. That was practically a full review itself, wasn't it? These mini reviews were supposed to save me some time! Oh well, I had fun writing it. Hope you enjoyed. I've got a lot more movies to talk about, including some new releases here and there, and even one that is only playing festivals here in America.

Thanks for reading!

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