Monday, August 20, 2012

Grab Bag: Tunes of Glory, Another Woman, Underwater Love (Onna No Kappa)

Hey, I have another three reviews ready here, just thought I'd throw in a quick little disclaimer. In my third review, there is a photograph of a lady's BOTTOM. I know, scandalous, right? I just thought you should know that this entry is mildly NSFW (Not Safe For Work, for the internet lingo uninitiated), so don't go scrolling down when your boss is walking by, alright? You've been warned!

Tunes of Glory, by Ronald Neame, 1960

Screen legends Alec Guinness and John Mills face off in a battle of wills in this story of two commanding officers vying for dominance and respect in a peacetime Scottish army regiment. Guinness plays Jock Sinclair, a tough-as-nails, frequently drunk major, who is beloved by his men. Mills is Lieutenant Colonel Barrow, assigned to take over the unit, and determined to whip the men into shape after the lax discipline of Sinclair's command. The two strong-willed commanders clash, ultimately leading to tragedy.

This is a powerful film, with a well written script and understated direction from Ronald Neame both serving to enhance the strong performances of its two leads. Guinness believed this to be one of his best performances, and he might have been right. Within all his big speeches and boisterous Scottish bluster, there is a much more subtle side to Guinness' character, that of a functional alcoholic. Jock Sinclair is pretty much always drinking and/or drunk, but Guinness doesn't telegraph it, it's just a part of who this man is. Mills has a tough role to play as well, having to make sympathetic a character that the audience is basically told not to like. He's not even doing anything wrong, but the men love Sinclair and don't respect Barrow. Ultimately, both characters are sympathetic and heartbreaking.

Tunes of Glory is an excellent military drama, and worth watching for the performances alone.

Another Woman, by Woody Allen, 1988

Like Alice, which I recently wrote about, Another Woman is one of the Woody Allen films I hadn't yet seen. It isn't one of his comedies, which, of course, I prefer, and that may have been a reason why I had never sought it out. Another Woman has an interesting premise: it's about Marion Post, a middle-aged woman (Gena Rowlands) who rents an apartment for the purpose of having the privacy to finish writing a book. She then discovers that she can overhear everything being said in the therapist's office next door. The patient's (Mia Farrow) fear that her life is empty resonates with Marion, and drives her to reevaluate her life.

I thought Another Woman was pretty solid, possibly one of Allen's more underrated films. I'm never as into his dramas as I am his comedies, but I thought this was a pretty well-made film. Rowlands does good work, and I also liked Gene Hackman as her husband's best friend that Marion missed her shot with. I see on Wikipedia that he drew heavily from Ingmar Bergman, a well that Allen has dipped into often in his career. Much to my shame, I haven't seen any Bergman films yet. Guess I should get on that, huh?

Underwater Love (Onna no Kappa), by Shinji Imaoka, 2011

Underwater Love may be among the strangest films I've seen: a Japanese pink musical fantasy about a girl who falls in love with a magical turtle man, with stunning cinematography by Christopher Doyle, perhaps best known as the cinematographer behind Wong Kar Wai's films. By the way, "Pink" films in Japan are sex movies.

It's about Asuka, a 35-year-old woman who works at a fish factory, engaged to its manager. When she finds a fish still alive, she rushes out to the nearby lake to return it to the water, where she encounters a Kappa, a legendary Japanese creature which is a turtle with a beak and a bare scalp that must never get too dry. If the turtle-with-a-beak part sounds familiar, I think it might be because Kappa are the basis for Koopas in the Super Mario Bros. games. I don't know that for sure, but I suspect. Anyway, this Kappa happens to have been one of Asuka's classmates in a past life, and his high school love for her lives on.

The movie gets crazier from there, with the Kappa getting a job at her plant, working his way into her life. When his motives are made clear, they journey into the marsh together to find a magical "anal pearl" that makes Asuka invisible to Death. There are also musical numbers where characters sing catchy songs by the German pop group Stereo Total, and dance hastily put together, but still charming, dance numbers. Underwater Love was shot in about a week on a tiny budget.

Now, the sex: I think they're really doin' it. I couldn't tell for 100% sure, but I'm pretty sure they were. The actors in the movie aren't glamorous, fake looking porn stars. They all look like normal, out-of-shape, everyday people. The scenes are (somewhat) tastefully shot, with no full frontal nudity. Well, besides the Kappa's gigantic fake rubber turtle dong, they make sure you get plenty of good looks at that. Yeesh. Anyway, I'm not really an adult movie kind of guy, so I'm glad to say that the musical numbers do outnumber the sex scenes.

I think we can safely file Underwater Love in the "NOT FOR EVERYBODY" category without encountering too much controversy. It's mainly for people like me, nerds who hear about some weird-ass foreign film on a weird-ass foreign film website, and decide that this is a film they HAVE TO SEE. It's nuts that stuff like this even exists, and I'm glad it does. The movie isn't great (not even sure it's very good), but it's quirky and charming and raunchy and even kind of sweet, and the beautiful cinematography elevates it from being just a cult curiosity into something resembling, well, legitimate art. This movie has screened at festivals!

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