Archive for July 27th, 2015


By Marilyn Ferdinand

The immigrant experience has been fertile ground for many and sundry films throughout the decades, from David Butler’s Delicious (1931) and George Stevens’ I Remember Mama (1948), to Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and James Gray’s The Immigrant (2014). Of course, the seminal immigrant film, which I reviewed here back in 2011, is West Side Story (1961). The parallels between the disaffected, semi-rootless youths from barely established immigrant families in New York and their Taiwanese counterparts in A Brighter Summer Day are very striking, indicating the universal problem of trying to adapt to an alien world. Where director Edward Yang’s first masterpiece differs from West Side Story is in its broad, intricate consideration of entire families of mainland Chinese uprooted by the ascendency of Mao Tse-tung and its examination of the transition from one set of cultural values—respect for authority and one’s elders—to another—Western individualism, emancipated youth, and possession-oriented consumerism. In addition, although there is a central love story of a sort in this film, it is not the enmity of gangs that pulls the lovers apart, but rather their conflicting values adrift in an unsettled and unsettling land.

The action revolves primarily around two rival gangs, the Little Park gang and the 217 gang; 14-year-old student Zhang Zhen, nicknamed Xiao (“little”) Si’r (Chen Chang), his parents, and four siblings; and Ming (Lisa Yang), a beautiful 13-year-old girl whose boyfriend and leader of the Little Parks, Honey (Hung-Ming Lin), has run off. The film takes place in 1960, a mere decade after Si’r’s family fled Shanghai in 1949. The Zhangs and other immigrants like them are still looking for a secure foothold in their new country. Mrs. Zhang (Elaine Jin), though a fully qualified university instructor in Shanghai, cannot seem to get certified in Taipei. Mr. Zhang (Kuo-Chu Chang) is a civil servant with a going-nowhere career. Their finances are shaky: they buy their groceries on credit from Uncle Fat (Zhuo Ming), who periodically goes on the warpath to collect what he’s owed, and treasure little but Mrs. Zhang’s good watch and the promises of one of Zhang’s colleagues that he can get them the good jobs they need to really feel established. Their provisional status and free-floating anxiety has their children looking for a sense of belonging and status as gang members. (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe

To say that Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 fantasy El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) borrows from Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s novel Alice in Wonderland is an understatement. But this film is no kids’ tale. Whereas Alice’s adventure serves as a relatively tame diversion from the rigors of boring school lessons, Labyrinth’s sumptuously visual wonderland is, by necessity of the subject matter, a wholly darker, and far deadlier, place.

Taking place during the post-Civil War era in Spain, amid the ongoing struggles between soldiers of the Franco-controlled government and guerilla fighters (the “maquis”), Pan’s Labyrinth focuses on Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), whose pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), brings her to live in an old mill in the countryside that serves as a base of command for her new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Vidal, a cruel and sadistic commander who has been tasked with hunting down the “maquis,” cares little for his new family; his only concern is for the healthy delivery of his soon-to-arrive son, even if it comes at the expense of his bride’s life.

During their trip to their new home, Ofelia encounters a large insect which she instinctively recognizes as a fairy, and later that evening follows the fairy into the crumbling stone labyrinth behind the mill. There she encounters a faun, who claims that she is the lost “Princess Moanna,” who long ago her father’s underworld kingdom for the surface, lost her memory, and died. Per the story, it was foretold that the princess’s spirit, residing in the body of another, would one day find her way back to the underworld, and the faun gives Ofelia three tasks to complete in order to prove that she is indeed the reincarnation of the long-lost princess. (more…)

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stanford prison

by Sam Juliano

The Childhood/Adolescent Countdown registered its strongest numbers yet this past week, so I can only assume the scorching weather kept people inside and on the PC.  Ha!  The biggest day of all was Thursday, when the post on Ordinary People attracted over 30 comments and around 160 page views.  The post on Stand By Me (published Tuesday) scored around 150 page views and over 20 comments.  The reviews for Dead Poets Society and Careful, He Might Hear You also registered impressive numbers.  Hopefully this is proof that the countdown has taken hold with readers, and will continue to thrive.  The venture as stated previously will run into October, ending with the essay for the Number 1 film.

Congratulations are certainly in order for Allan Fish (and for Wonders in the Dark) for the ‘thank you’ comment from Philippine actress Hazel Orencio, who played one of the female leads in the Lav Diaz review he posted late Saturday.   The comment was entered on the comment thread.  Just fantastic.

Lucille and I attended a 50th anniversary party for the 1965 Fairview Babe Ruth League baseball championship team at La Fortuna Restaurant in town on Friday night.  It was thrilling to see people I hadn’t seen in decades, though these men are five years older, and my memories are strained.  We only saw one movie in theaters, but managed to see quite a few more on blu ray or DVD on out 4K flat screen.  Some were repeat viewings of films I reviewed for the countdown this past week, and are huge personal favorites.


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