Tag Archives: Film Review

‘A Harlot’s Progress (2006)’, directed by Justin Hardy – review

71+BMGiROqL._RI_Throughout human civilization, prostitution has been arguably something of a necessary evil, intentional or unintentional, an institution of erotic bartering between a client and s prostitute for wants of flesh and fortune. For a client, it’s all about releasing his rapacious libido in a brothel, whereas for a prostitute offering a pleasure of the flesh can be a means to a social mobility in a period when women’s place was confined by biological determinism. But that social mobility would be possible with the intervention of Goddess Fortuna. ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ follows a life of an unfortunate prostitute named Mary through the eyes of William Hogarth, an English painter and social critic renowned for choice of his subjects crossing the strata of the social class system for inspirations.

The painter Hogarth chooses Mary as his unofficial muse for various paintings depicting modern moral subjects as a series of picturesque statements of social criticism on the oppressed conditions of the poor whose lives are already determined by their biological and social statuses. Likewise, Mary’s downfall from a beautiful courtesan to a common, over-the-hill backstreet slut is already a foregone conclusion for the nature of the profession. Besides, she’s not exactly cut out for a fine prostitute with artful plans to forward her rank and condition; she has a pride but no courage. She yearns for a polite society, but her frailty of character prevents her from advancing in her career to a mistress of a high-birth man. In other words: Mary chose a wrong job that ruined her life.

The film is said to be based upon a true story with references to the famous figures of William Hogarth and his friend Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones. It gives the veracity of the event with a charge of authority, rendering the story of lachrymose life of Mary emotionally powerful and factually unchallenged in the veneer of historicity. Yet, in terms of objectivity of the stance that the film takes, its view on prostitution in the 18th century London is clearly askew on the side Mary because she is cast as being a victim of the social evil with her purity of the soul torn apart by men’s rampant animalistic sexual desires as presented by all uniformly unattractive and perverted men on screen. In fact, the only pitiful character in the film seems to be Mother Needham, who is mercilessly abused on the pillory for three consecutive days and nights of stoning, defiling, and cursing from the public who were once or twice her clients and neighbors. The sight is sufficient to incite pathos because of her plea for life authentically delivered by the excellent performance of actress Geraldine James.

No one can throw stones at Mary for her life of “sin and depravity” because there’s no one who is immaculately cleared of guilt and sins to judge her character as arbitrator of morals. But then she is responsible for her own life with her own free will to choose to be a harlot. For not all destitute women driven by abject economic conditions are succumbed to the trade of the flesh. Nonetheless, this film is a good period drama that resurrects the ethos of the time with the parlance, habits, and costumes of different classes peculiar to the 18th century, well executed by a cast of classically-trained fine thespians.

‘After the Storm’, by Hirokazu Kore-eda – review

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Life reminds me of a Baroque fugue that begins with the exposition of a short melody developed by another successive busy melodies and interwoven into a dramatic final entry in tonic. For It is a continuous surrendering of the old and a trust in new beginnings with lots of in-between episodes, intricately interwoven by multiple strands of occasional chances called “luck,” failed expectations, and grace of hopes that creates a curiously riveting toccata. In this film by Kore-eda, Ryota’s is a ballad whose vicissitude of life diverts him from completing it. But then Ryota is a soft troubadour, who wants to sing a happy song with his fractured but beautiful family.

Ryota, once a promising novelist, now a divorced middle-aged struggling writer, makes a living as a part-time private detective under the pretext of enriching his writer’s imaginativeness for his next best oeuvre. He loves his ex-wife and his son dearly, so he always hangs around them surreptitiously. But he does not understand that how he feels about them is unrequited because he is not in their lives any longer. In fact, Ryota is even unsure of himself, of his reason for writing, and of what he wants to become amid his dwindling writing career and growing distance from his already fractured family. There is a sense of drift in his life, that feeling of emptiness, loneliness, and disappointments, all fragmented in the detritus of broken wishes, unpaid dues, and lost dreams. He has nonetheless a heart of gold, and his humor is his saving grace that helps him get going. Ryota’s life has been in the doldrums for so long that he forgets he has to move forward to get out of the stasis binding him in the longing for bygone days. A stream of pathos oozes out to see Ryota thinking, ‘Who would have known my life would turn out like this?’

Director Kore-eda uses the storm, more accurately a typhoon, as a medium to free Ryota from the memories of the past, from the obsession of his past, in order to give him a new meaning of life, will to meaning. Kore-eda does a beautifully nuanced job of capturing the innermost feelings of the characters without elaborate lines or supra-abudance of emotions throughout the scenes. It is a Japanese film, but the sentiments and judgments of the characters are rendered communicative to the hearts of the universal audience.

Suspenseful and Delightful: ‘Life on Mars’ – review

b5e443781078a20c96d0659effa12d5ed7444463A good detective drama propounds you with an jolting twist in a story line with verve and gusto, making it an enjoyable and enlightening view. In this regard, Life on Mars is an ingeniously crafted TV drama, packed full of elliptically well-written scripts, impressively executed performance of a fine cast, and highly detailed periodical background setting that renders all the more convincing verisimilitude of each episode that resurrects the past in a mind blowing way.

The story evolves around the protagonist Sam (brilliantly played by John Simm), a clever, sharp-witted DCI with a heart who after a near-fatal car accident, finds himself awake in the year 1973, four years later he was born, as DI in the Manchester Police Department. The cause of the mysterious teleportation to the decade and the dilemma of Sam trapped in the past are the gist of this wonderfully thought-provoking drama which otherwise would be just another cop/crime drama with gratuitous hot car pursuits, bloodshed crime scenes, and mindless half-nude scenes. Sam constantly wants to return to what he believes to be the present or the reality, but the police department of the past needs his help. And that’s how the entire two seasons of the drama are unfolded.

Life on Mars is fun to watch with a delightful combination of 70s American cop drama appeal in appearance and scintillating synthesis of SCI-Fi and Psychological Suspense in content. It is a modern detective procedural worth the watching. You will have no guilty feeling of indulging in  the entire two seasons at one setting on your Kindle Fire because it will both entertain your senses and spur your mind on to think about your own reality.

Jane Eyre (1983 BBC TV Mini-Series)

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Jane Eyre, the Timeless Classic

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (under the pen name of “Currer Belle” to discombobulate her biological determinism) is neither a romantic novel about a lonely young woman falling for her rich master nor a proto-feminist literature subtly championing women’s economic independence and choice to select their lovers on their own. It is a story of a resilient and noble spirit armed with education, clothed in canopy of humanity, and adorned with reflective beauty of the mind that transforms physical plainness into comeliness. That’s what makes our heroine Jane Eyre timelessly unforgettable, undeniably attractive; perchance, that’s why this novel has been made into a series of film versions for television and cinema resurrecting the ambience of the period and bringing the hauntingly impassioned characters into life. Of all the dramatized adaptations of Jane Eyre, this 1983 BBC mini-series version merits itself in the movie firmament as the magisterial translation of Charlotte Bronte’s original novel, wonderfully delivered by a cracking screenplay, a brilliant cast of performers, and a truthful setting of the story, resembling none other than themselves all together in this riveting panoply of Bronte’s dazzling creation.

Dramatized by Alexander Baron, this TV series is composed of eleven episodes that faithfully capture the epochal moments of the passionate heroine Jane Eyre from the moments she was cruelly castigated by her callous aunt and her equally sordid cousins to her eight years of boarding school experience, to the fateful encounter with the brooding but vulnerable Mr. Rochester, and to the consequential events packed full of surprises and serendipity worth every reward to the lonely Jane. The gem of this BBC miniseries is that each of the episodes is treated as a small story – that is, a story embedded in a whole story as if it were a short story itself – so you can skip the early years of Jane and jump into her employment as governess for Adele, the only daughter of Mr. Rochester at Thornfield without feeling adrift from the previous story that will defenestrate you to the middle of nowhere in the whole story. Of course, for those of us who have read and re-read the novel since the time immemorial, it’s a foregone conclusion, but even if you haven’t, take heart and play it fast forward to meet the grown Jane (although she’s only nineteen years old.) in her tantalizing suspenseful moments with Mr. Rochester and even St. John Rivers.

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Zelah Clarke as Jane Eyre and Timothy Dalton as Edward Rochester

At the heart of the drama lies the commendable performance of the characters: Jane Eyre, played by Zelah Clarke, Edward Rochester aka “Mr. Rochester”, by Timothy Dalton, and St. John Rivers, by Andrew Bicknell invest the drama with the beautifully nuanced dialogues and gestures, which are never outlandishly displayed, vying for individual attentions, but harmoniously concerted that impart the gusto and the verisimilitude to the story. In fact, the appearances, gestures, and diction of these three characters are exactly what I have always imagined them to be in my mind’s eye. Clarke’s rendition of Jane Eyre is the finesse itself that would make Charlotte Bronte happy with her performance as well as physiognomy. Jane is a passionate soul, but conservative, if not conventional. She is an intelligent woman who loves her gruff but deeply hurt and lonely Edward Rochester as her equal despite a sea of age difference and his petulant past. Unlike other Jane Eyres played previously and posteriorly, Clarke’s Jane epitomizes the heroine of oddly beautiful enigma personified: the plain but pretty, expressive but demure, passionate but docile, sensitive but strong, patient but yearning… Which is befittingly summarized by St. John Rivers, wonderfully and unforgettably played by Andrew Bicknell: “She has rather an unusual face…The grace and harmony of beauty are wanting in her features, she is not at all handsome…” I have seen other film versions of Jane Eyre, but none other than this Clarke’s Jane Eyre has won my approval in terms of all things regarding the heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s original novel.

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Andrew Bicknell as St. John Rivers

That goes the same for Timothy Dalton’s irrepressible Edward Rochester and Andrew Bicknell’s stoical but misguided St. John Rivers. On a personal note, Bicknell seems to nail the role down as handsome and intelligent St. John Rivers, who prioritizes his religious duties as a parson over his human feelings and emotions for his beautiful and kind-hearted admirer Rosemund Oliver in arbitrary belief that stoicism is the grist for the mill of vocation as a man of cloth. He believes that it is his calling to be a missionary in India and that it behooves him to abnegate sensuous delights to which a man is naturally inclined with all his might. Watching Bicknell playing the character makes me wonder if the casting director or the screenwriter had the uncanny ability to conjure up the spirit of Charlotte Bronte and ask of her the fitting image of the character prior to the production of the drama. The tall, imposing manly figure of St. John Rivers with beautiful Grecian facial features and golden hair is just as the description created by Bronte in the novel as if she had seen Andrew Bicknell in the peculiar alchemy of literature that enabled her to look into the future and to see her character incarnate.

All in all, this 1983 BBC miniseries of Jane Eyre will arrest your full attention to the every scene of the episodes without infelicity and pomposity that classical period dramas sometimes tend to produce on account of obsolete diction and outlandish gestures that look incongruously emphatic to our modern senses and sensibilities. This is a quaintly gorgeous drama without the ostentatious glamor of television drama exhibiting luminous Vanity Fair; it shows that just simple good scripts based on the loyal adaptation of the original novel and excellent performance of the fine cast that seems to be destined for the roles can translate the imaginative world of the author into the visual firmament of television drama this beautifully and impressively in a way that makes you feel the emotions of the characters by passing over to their inner worlds.

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Villain got heart too: review of Oliver Twist (1985 BBC TV adaptation)

1330854631What distinguishes Charles Dickens from his contemporary writers is his belief in redemption, forgiveness, and benevolence of a human spirit triumphing over poverty, guilt, and death, the three cardinal ordeals of existential phenomena. For almost every character in his oeuvres, including villains, heroes/heroines, and even minor characters, has some shred of redeemable traits, if not goodness in the case of swindlers, pickpockets, or murderers. The question of morality in the Dickensian world is never proprietarily imposed upon the reader, and thereby leaves out harsh puritanical judgment of a character because humans are more sinned against than sinning. That’s the beauty of Dickensian reality set in the background of the stuffy Victorian reality. That’s why I can’t hate any of his characters, such as Bill Sikes, The Artful Dodger, and even Fagin from Oliver Twist in the parade of humanity.

The TV adaptation of the novel by BBC (1985) is truthful to the original context, capturing every moment of emotions and feelings as finely portrayed by a skillful cast of the characters. The story of an impoverished orphan child whose resilience and innocence got him through misadventures and ultimately rewarded him with a bounty of loving family and well-deserved munificent largess may look to be a typical rags-to-riches fable. But such a presumptuously precarious judgment of the story will deprive the reader of the beauty of Dickensian characters as aforementioned.

Take Bill Sikes, a tall and lean professional burglar whose callous treatments of Nancy, his live-in girlfriend also a pickpocket, and his loyal mutt Bull’s eye are downright contemptible. It goes without saying that this Bill Sikes character is in no way likable or pitiable. Yet, such egregiousness that only invokes contempt is what makes Sykes a fortiori pathetic. After he killed his beautiful-hearted Nancy in a paroxysm of rage, Sikes shed a cascade of tears that looked to me more of guilt and regret than of any other reason I could think of. As a matter of fact, watching the Sikes character shedding tears perturbed my heart because I could glimpse at his heart hardened by his life of poverty that had led him to the life of crime.

What about Fagin, a boss of juvenile pickpockets, who is driven half mad at the thought of his being hanged at Newgate? Maybe it’s because his character was visually manifested on screen, but he also won my sympathy over such madness, which made me wonder if his insurmountable surge of remorse for his crime made him mad. Also, the artful Dodger, the most skillful pickpocket of the gang captured and tried at the court, was the figure of pathos. Would he have fallen into the world of crime had he been born into a well-to-do family? Or if a divisory lot – that is, a play of chance given by goddess Fortuna – had been favorable to him, would he have found himself in where he was?

Call it childlike credulousness or a feminine streak of maudlinness, but I don’t want to make draconian measures against these antagonistic characters by putting them into a Procrustean bed of morality one by one. For it is necessary without a gesture of condescension or insolent attitude masked in charity to get into the inside world of the characters to understand what made them choose the life they lived in the face of poverty, hopelessness, and loneliness. I cannot help thinking that a game of chance each of them tried to get was against him and scoffed at his attempt to make it right in his life. In that regard, this is the question that Dickens asks to us: what would you do if you would put yourself in their shoes?  Dickens tacitly implies that only the goodness of our heart that comes from our empathy can save the world. Come to think of it, it is no wonder why Catholics and Marxists alike wanted to claim Dickens to be one of their own in his era. For these reasons, his novels should not be confined in a genre of Victorian literature because the subjects are timeless, and the characters appealing with universal traits of humanity that know no cultural, linguistic, and social barriers.

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