Susannah York And George Scott – The Best Jane and Rochester

To me (or to most Chinese people who were educated in 70s or 80s), the film adaption of Jane Eyre means only one: the one made in 1970, stars Susannah York and George Scott. It is the only one I watched, remembered and cherish since my teenage years.

The movie was relatively short, probably too short comparing with original, that’s why I was disappointed the first time when I watched it. However, something dragged me back to theater, and after several times re-watching it, I had to admit, the power of the movie was almost equal to the book.

Continue reading “Susannah York And George Scott – The Best Jane and Rochester”

“Small Island” – An Underrated Masterpiece

I had not cried for long time, but recently I cried twice, both due to Ruth Wilson’s powerful performances, one of which was in Small Island (another one is in Saving Mr Banks).

Small Island is a BBC TV movie that consists of two episodes. It tells a story about lives of 4 people during and after WWII: Hortense and Gilbert, two young black people who immigrant to England from Jamaica; Queenie and Bernard, two young English people who married each other but soon they marriage is disturbed by the war. Hortense and Gilbert have grand dream about their new life in England, but after they come to the country, they not only have to endure poverty, but also racial discrimination. Queenie and Bernard also have to endure hardships brought by the war, but their different dreams and life attitudes seem to tear them apart even further.

Through out the film, these 4 seemingly unrelated persons’ lives intertwined with each other, by their dreams, love, the war, and ultimately, by the fate. There are untold secrets in both young women’s hearts, buried deep inside until the end of film, also as we can imagine, to the end of their lives as well.

Ruth Wilson plays Queenie, who is a country girl comes to London for a better life. Unlike most white people back then who discriminate “colored” people, Queenie has a loving heart for all. Her passion and braveness bring her hope and joy, also painful consequence, which makes her to pay great price at the end.

Of course, while all of this happenings tangle together, what this movie really is about, is humans’ “chronicle” problem – racial prejudice. Through the characters’ fate, we can clearly see how foolish our “hatred” is, how superficial our cultural or racial “pride” is, and our how much damage our prejudice can do to our own race.

Wilson’s performance in this movie again overwhelms me. Despite the fact that Queenie is only one of 4 main characters in the story, Wilson made her role a crucial figure that holds all characters together, so that her life seems to weigh the most through the entire movie.

I found this movie by following Ruth Wilson’s filmography. Glad I did, because this is kind of movies that I don’t see often anymore. I also believe, though an unforgettable story itself, it is Wilson’s performance that makes this movie especially outstanding.


“The Affair” – A Powerful Affair

Romance bores me, but affair doesn’t… The Showtime TV drama series The Affair, is a story about a serious affair – both lovers – Noah and Alison – are married, with their respectively royal (at least so far) husband and wife, yet they fall in love with each other at the first sight, and get more and more passionate and comfortable about each other. There are quite many sexual scenes, played by both actors intensely and realistically, make their secret passion dangerously contagious. I can imagine that it must be disturbing for audiences with conventional minds.

Again, romance is not my type, but I am addicted into this show nonetheless because there is so much more than just “affair”. There is humanity in their affair, which draws audiences sympathy “ruthlessly” to the characters, despite our moral principle; there are background stories with “secrets” from each side’s family, being unraveled slowly, but intriguingly through each episode; there is suspense – a murder is going on, which we knew from the first episode, but still know so little about it after 6 episodes. So we keep guessing.

The format of story telling of this show is unique: each episode has two parts, the first part is told by Noah, the second by Alison. Though they suppose to tell the same stories, but the contents are quite different. This is very interesting because it reflects a fact in real life, that since most of us (probably we all) memorize things in our own ways, what we remember do not always match what truly happened. So, no doubt this special structure of story telling makes story more complicated.

The reason I started watching this show was Ruth Wilson, a brilliant British actress whom I discovered through the TV show Luther. In that show, Wilson struck me by her intellectual and whimsical personality. After watching Luther, I knew I would almost watch everything this young woman played. Last night I just watched “Saving Mr Banks”, she again, struck me with her powerful performance. She seems to always be able to devoted to her roles so thoroughly and so selflessly that she is not eve afraid of making herself “ugly” (yet, of course, her beauty and confidence never fail to display). And this show “The Affair”, seems to be perfectly suitable for Wilson, because of the complication and multi-layered personality of Alison.

In episode 5, Alison’s mother says to Alison after she intuitively discovers her daughter’s affair: “… This is the first time I’ve seen your life force since we lost Gabriel. You think I”m not with you, but I am. Energetically, I am with you all the time and I know that the pain was unbearable so you shut down your heart. Well, now it’s open. You are allowing a vital flow of energy to flow through you to connect with someone else in a real way. That’s what life is, sweetie, It’s not about some oppressive set of rules from about 2,000 years ago about good wife/daughter/mother-ness.”

The Affair* is indeed a powerful affair. In my opinion, a real good art work should not just entertain audiences, but also probe deep into humanity, trigger serious controversy, let us to question our existing moral convention, so we could put effort into building a better world, which protect each individual’s happiness in maximum (Isn’t that all humanism about?). The Affair is just one of those kind.
* It’s worth to mention, that the writer of this show Hagai Levie, also wrote In Treatment, another favorite show of mine.

“Dam Street” – A Chinese Version Of Oedipus Legend

Cover of "Dam Street"
Cover of Dam Street

Yesterday my friend Marty (aka “nothingprofound”) recommend me a Chinese movie Dam Street (红颜,literally translation: Rouge Face). He claimed that it was very different from other Chinese movies he had watched. I could not wait, found a streaming video online and watched it right away. After watching it I asked Marty what’s the difference. He said that this movie “seemed to be more personal and universal at the same time”. I feel exactly the same way.

As a Chinese American who lived in China for the first 30 years of my life, I feel the same way as my American friend who never lived in China, interesting, isn’t it? I cannot speak for other Chinese people, but for me, this is the only Chinese movie I have ever seen that I would describe as “honest”. From the beginning to the end, there’s nothing pretentious, nothing were hidden or added for any different purposes from the needs of story line.

The story takes place in my hometown Sichuan province, the main character of this movie is about the same age as me, almost the same name as well (except Yun is not my legal name), so both geographic and cultural background are all familiar to me personally. Further more, the movie was shot in Sichuan dialect (or Sichuanese), which made it sounds more genuine to me than those made in Mandarins (maybe this is personal judgment, that I always feel the mandarin has “phoniest” accent among all Chinese dialects). The geographic environment is in some small town in Sichuan province, shabby and dirty. To my “horror”, first time I saw “traditional” Chinese public restroom on screen (even just one shot, the “horror” cannot be missed). The brutal scene of killing of eels for meal brought me back to those days of my early life. The genuine touch on sexual life is refreshing, especially the boy’s sexual fantasy, which was, and still is a “taboo” in Chinese culture.

Of course, all these details are not as important as the story itself. It is about a teenager girl who gets pregnant when she is 16, and since then her fate is somehow “defined”, not by herself, but by unseen fate. The story reminds me classic legend of Oedipus, the one from ancient Greece. How interesting it is, that we humans with such different cultures always embark the same voyage in this giant ocean of human life, from time to time, places to places.

This movie premiere was in Venice, won several awards which were not so recognizable. Not sure it’s ever screened in China (I talked to my nephew in China and he said he never heard of it). Of course, this is not a surprising treat for a movie without famous actors and actresses, or famous director. However, I am profoundly moved by this movie, and I hope it continues striving for recognition. I also hope the director Li Yu will continue making movies like this, provide the world more truthful images of “modern” China.

“Out Of Africa” – An Epic Romance Between Karen Blixen And Africa

It took me 3 steps to fully enter the world of Karen Blixena poster, the music, and the video (of the movie).

It was 1980s. I was still in college back in China. Rumor said that Hollywood just produced another masterpiece, Out of Africa. I liked the name, though I didn’t know why. Soon I saw the poster of  Karen (Meryl Streep) and Denys (Robert Redford) sitting on African plain. The harmony between the characters and nature was exotic and almost heavenly beautiful. Since then I knew I would love this movie. Later, I had chance to listen the soundtrack of the movie from audio tape (fancy technology!). The music was spectacular and it instantly made the movie more fascinating to me. Finally, I got chance to watch the whole movie in video. I still remember that I had “luxury” to watch it twice in a raw. I was totally overwhelmed.

My “obsession” with this movie has multiple reasons: the breathtaking African scenery, spectacular music, outstanding acting and story, exotic African culture, etc.. All of these elements were beautifully woven together. The cinemagraph and soundtrack of the movie were the most astonishing and up until today, they still remain as my favorite. Though the story line may not be everybody’s cup of tea, it is definitely mine. The extraordinary life experience of Blixen, her adventurous spirit, independent personality, perseverance during hardship, all built up the rich aroma of my “cup of tea”.

And the romance: Denys Finch Hatton, Blixen’s friend and lover in real life, played by Robert Redford. From the first moment Karen meets him on the train to Kenya, Denys exhibits a wild nature, as if himself is an unseparable part of African wildness. I have to admit, Redford’s role in this movie is the most handsome male figure among all men I saw in both movies and real life (Yes, very subjective!). He appeared to be perfectly physically fit and spiritually charming. He is too wild to tame, too beautiful to possess, even too ideal to pursue. Yet Blixen tried, succeeded, and still failed at the end, because ultimately, as she puts in the film: “He was not ours, he was not mine.” Denys, as handsome as he is, belongs to Africa, to the wild nature and the spirit of Eagle and Lion.

Despite of the beauty or the handsomeness of Denys (or Redford), the true profoundness of this film lies all in Karen Blixen herself. Driving by her willful nature, she comes to Africa with ambition. She has her enterprise – coffee plantation. She teaches local natives English, educates them with European culture. She also help local natives with her knowledge in medicine, earns their trust and love. She becomes the owner and the mistress of her world. However, as Denys puts, “What exactly is yours?… We are not owners here, … We are just passing through.” As if he is a prophet, Karen indeed loses everything at the end. Even at the moment she could had Denys again, she loses him again. At the end of movie, she says farewell to his servant, by then her only friend, and goes back to Denmark alone with nothing, except her memory.

Blixen’s memory of Africa is almost as infinite as Africa herself. It was there she faced challenge of wildness, of different culture; it was there she saw suffering of the poors, the cruelty of war; it was there she met the despair of life, also experienced the passion of true love; it was there, Denys took her in plane, flew above cloud, let her have “a glimpse of the world through God’s eye”. Yet in the end, it was in every beautiful moment she lived that she wishes she had left her marks, so Africa could remember her, in the same way as she remember Africa:

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?

"If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out"

Cover of Harold and Maude

As I was impressed so much by Ruth Gordan’s character in “Try and Catch me” (one of “Collumbo” episodes), and two friends of mine (Nothingprofound & Tom) recommended the movie “Harold And Maude”, I finally watched it, with a great pleasure!

The movie did surprised me by its story – a young man falling in love with an 79 year-old woman. But my surprise was almost immediately replaced by a feeling of great “satisfaction”: a boy falling love with an old lady, and he proposed to her! That’s the whole point – we are free to love whoever we love! Needless to mention that Maude is absolutely irresistible.

This unorthodox movie is all about “life”. For this purpose, it breaks “rules”, smashes “common sense”. How did Maude got away from “stealing” cars, violating traffic laws I don’t know; how could a young man be so creepily obsessed with death? Is it possible for a man in such a young age (Harold appears to be a boy to me) to love a 79 year-old romantically? All these are not important and the movie didn’t even care to explain, because (by my understanding) it only focuses on one thing: free ourselves from “unnecessary” bounds, thus we could feel the true joy of life.

And the joy of life is “love”. At the end of movie we see more love continues, like Maude told Harold: “Then go and love some more.” I think, all Maude  – an old lady that is about to die – brought to Harold’s life – a young life that is so obsessed with death, is just this one simple gift: the joy of life.

“Life” is all Maude cares, as we heard from the conversation between them:
Harold: Maude, do you pray?
Maude: Pray? No, I communicate.
Harold: with God?
Maude: LIFE!

Another great thing of watching this movie is to listen again all those Cat Stevens’ songs, with which I was obsessed during my college time. Gosh I did not know that all these songs were in such a wonderful movie! Interesting thing is back then, I hardly understand any lyrics but now, when I was watching movie, words came out almost crystal clearly. Also they are so simply written, just like the movie.

Yes, life is simple. If you want to sing out, sing out.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
’cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low

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I Love "Golden Girls"

I don’t remember when was the first time I watched this sitcom, all I remember is whenever I saw this show on TV, those girls made me laugh!
I never felt tired about this show. Why? Not because of “brilliant” story lines, not because of any magnificent philosophy, or psychological stunts, but simply because of vivid “personalities” of those “golden girls”: the always wise and sharp Dorothy; innocent and naive Rose; and that sexist woman of planet Blanche. Of course, I won’t miss that “the older she gets, the naughtier she is” Sophia – who seems to be so disconnected biologically with her daughter Dorothy but psychologically she does have the best chemistry with her giant daughter.

Susan Harris was the writer of this show. She was also a victim of CFS/ME, which let her wrote an episode “Sick and Tired” – a humorous demonstration of a disease that is still yet to be understood. Below was the part of this episode when Dorothy “claims” she was sick but it ends out that Blanche is the “sick” one. I do think this is the best performance of Blanche (Rue Mcclanahan) in the whole show!

Really, each of these girls is a genius to me (with Susan Harris behind all of them). Words cannot express how much I adore their daily plain but fun life.

Columbo: Try And Catch Me – A Masterpiece of Mystery

Image by whatleydude via Flickr

I first heard of TV series Columbo was almost 15 years ago, when I was a student watching the movie “Wings of Desire” in graduate writing class. Professor mentioned that one of actors in the movie – Peter Falk also played Lieutenant Columbo in TV series of Columbo. I did not pay much attention untill 15 years later, when I finally started watching this show, and found it incredible. I actually have to rand this show as my #1 personal favorite mystery TV show (I like it even slightly better than Hitcock Presents. )

The episode I just watched is Try and Catch Me, with Ruth Gordon as killer – a well known wealthy mystery writer. I must say, while Peter Falk was just as good as usual (maybe even a little better), Gordon’s performance is absolutely brilliant. She made the character so alive and pleasant, even though with a unthinkable murder she committed. Every conversation between murderer and lieutenant was witty and amusing, and how Columbo solve the puzzle at the end pushes the whole show to a breathtaking climax. It is truly an intelligent thriller! Without any bloody gruesome “special effects”.

I have to agree with one of reviews of this show (from online), that the best part of Columbo is that from beginning of all episodes you “witnessed” the murders and know who are the killers, so the rest of show all your attention is channelled onto Columbo and the killers, watching how Columbo plays with them, and feeling tremendous satisfaction when Columbo – the seemingly slow-witted one – eventually outplays the bad ones – usually the arrogant hypocrites – and brings them to justice.

I enjoyed most of Columbo episodes I’ve watched, but this one – Try and Catch Me – renewed my passion to this TV show. I watched this episode twice with equal joy! Highly recommend for mystery fans!

P.S. just got the “news” that Peter Falk died in June of this year. R.I.P the best detective in history!

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Mildred Pierce (2011) – A Mother-Daughter Complex

I had a glance at Mildred Pierce on HBO a while ago and was attracted by the “look” of this TV show. After seeing Kate Winslet’s winning Emmy award this year, I decided to watch this show from beginning to end. After I did it I was totally satisfied!

KW did a fantastic job on the rule of Midred Pierce – a hard working woman who put all her love on her daughter yet at the time spoils her daughter until it’s too late. Her performing was so convincing that every moment of Mildred’s appearance on screen was virtually real. I believe I saw one of the best acting on “mother” (another on I could recall was Night, Mother by Anne Bancroft).

Different from most other contemporary movies or TV shows that mostly focus on mystery, romance or violence, the story of Mildred Pierce focuses on protagonist’s passion – passion for her daughter and her career, and eventually, the cruelty of fate. At the end, despite of the fact that all things go wrong, life of Mildred Pierce continues.
I think it is precisely this theme (passion) that gave KW plenty of room to display her talent of acting.

After I finished watching the TV series, I found there is an original movie in 1945 by the same name. I too watched the movie. I must say, KW’s performance is not any less than Joan Crawford’s, except KW’s reached a deeper level of exploring the complexity of a mother’s emotion.

Prior to watching Mildred Pierce, I watched Revolutionary Road and The Reader. KW’s was leading actress in both movies and I was highly impressed. I will be totally proud of being called a Kate Winslet  fan. That’s how much I love her. 

Jack Nicholson and His Movies

Cover of The PledgeJack Nicholson has been always one of my favorite actors. After watching three his movies in a raw, now I must say I am a huge fan of his. His acting is superb!

“About Schmidt”, “The Bucket List” and “Pledge”(2001) are what I have watched recently. I absolutely love everyone of them, however, I would especially mention “Pledge”, an unusual mystery directed by Sean Penn. The story is based on a novella written by a Swiss writer. This is not an usual mystery with fast paced story line, but rather a slow paced and drama-like movie, yet highly suspenseful, with an end that is unexpected, pitiful, and eventually thought provoking.
For me, this movie not only depicts an obsession of a detective to his promise, but also reveals a truth of life, which I personally more and more believe: real truth is often beyond our “masterful” hands. We are helpless on this fact.
Well, does this mean we better live in illusion? I don’t know, but it might be.
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