Book review: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li (2005)

This review is written as a contribution for 2015's A Fistful of Reads blind spot challenge which is hosted by A Fistful of Films.

Last month, I reviewed a book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which dealt with Nigerians in the US, and so I was curious to also read a short story collection by a Chinese author, which likewise is a window into a culture I was not familiar with.

A multi-award winning debut fiction work. Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Consists of a collection of ten short stories about life in modern China and Chinese Americans in the US. Has also been adapted into a film which I haven’t seen. 

I like the observations about how the rigid system in China sometimes causes unhappiness among its citizens. However the writer’s anti-communistic critique of the regime is too repetitive, so while interesting, the book is a bit monotonous thematically. I do think the messiness of life is handled well by the author, which is not necessarily specific to China, but universal.

My experience of reading short stories is that it’s quite demanding, because you have to keep starting from scratch after a few pages. Worth a read if China and its people interest you. Certainly a brave publication in a country that is notorious for its censorship. Although China is changing, it's still shaped by its traditions and recent history.

Of the two short story books I’ve read in the last six months, I prefer The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009), which I reviewed here

If you’d rather not have the stories spoiled, I recommend you skip over the following summaries:

1) Extra (Rating 8/10)
Summary: Grandma Lin loses her job, but is not given a pension, so she must figure out how to get by on her own. She marries an old senile gentleman who has wealth, he dies, and she inherits nothing. A relative of the deceased offers her a job opportunity at a private school. Lin cleans and does laundry, and forms a friendship with a 6-year boy named Kang, who is as much a reject as she is. Grandma Lin takes pity on him. Kang is from a divided family, where the father has a new wife, and the existing wife and child(Kang) are no longer desired. This is why Kang has been sent away to the school. Kang disappears and is found again, but Lin is fired due to lack of responsibility towards Kang. On her departure from the school her handbag is stolen, luckily she kept her money in her lunchbox. Lin speculates inwardly about missing out on love, she only had temporary loving moments in her life.

Thoughts: A critique of the regime not giving unemployment benefit, and about loneliness

2) After a Life (Rating 9/10)
Summary: Mr and Mrs Su are cousins yet married. Unfortunately their first born girl is spastic and afflicted with cerebral palsy, their daughter lives at home with them. The trio isolate themselves from friends and family, and secretly would like their girl to die so they can be free of the burden. The spastic girl keeps their son away from home, and he is missed. Mr Su becomes friendly with a man his own age. The friend says he wants to live with a younger woman and leave his wife, who is current serving time in prison. His wife is released from jail and is horrified that he would want them to live two women and a man under the same roof.

Thoughts: The Greek tragedy aspects are interesting, that the family are punished for inbreeding. I could empathize with the parenthood issues, even though it’s wrong not acknowledging your child to the surroundings. The parents are to be admired for sacrificing so much to look after the handicapped child, but it’s a high price to pay, and maybe some might say the girl would be better off in a home. It's always going to be the parent's decision how to handle the responsibility, for better or worse. 

3.) Immortality (Rating 7/10)
Summary: Takes place in a fictional country and tells the story of a young man who bears a striking resemblance to a dictator. A family policy is introduced by the dictator which encourages women to produce many children, these women are name “hero mothers”.  A scientist is tortured to death because he asked the dictator to change his politics, having predicted a massive growth in population.
The citizens due to food shortages are encouraged to eat sparrows. The dictator is described as a heartless bastard, who is not afraid of another world war and atomic bombs, because if half the country’s population should be killed, then there will still be 250 million remaining, and the survivors can quickly multiply themselves so the population once again is 500 million citizens.

Thoughts: Different approach to the first two stories, the storytelling is quite fragmented. The exaggerated absurdity is comical about the dictatorship, poverty of communism, and so on. An obvious satirical jab at China's population-control policy.

4.) The Princess of Nebraska (Rating 8/10)
Summary: Sasha is from Mongolia, and now lives in the US. She is too far into her pregnancy to have an abortion. Boshen is openly gay and currently in a proforma marriage with a lesbian friend. He is in love with 18-year-old Yang, who is an actor. The secret police halt Boshen’s efforts in China against AIDS. Boshen and Sasha know each other and consider whether they should raise the child together in US and potentially bring Yang to the United States. It turns out she befriended Yang also, and Yang is the father of her unborn child.

Thoughts: Again, a critique of the regime who are preventing efforts in China against AIDS.
The author does a fine job of depicting how you can fall in love with someone without hardly knowing them.

5.) Love in the Marketplace (Rating 6/10)
Summary: An illiterate mother works at the market, she makes the best eggs with spices. Sanson is called Miss Casablanca by her students, because she shows them this film.
Sanson is abandoned by her lover Tu, he married another woman called Min. But Min dies ten years later. Sanson’s mother wants Sanson to take Tu back without questioning the reasons for the divorce. Sanson doesn’t want to marry him, because it didn’t work out the first time.
The story concludes with a beggar asking people on the street to cut him for money. If they kill him it doesn’t cost anything.

Thoughts: The critique of the regime concerns the capital, if you don’t have citizenship there, you have to settle for lesser jobs outside the city. In comparison, in America they don’t care where you are from. The laws also limit the students opportunities, in that only students with relatives in US could have a passport to study in US.
Can you rekindle with a former love is also what the story is about, which is difficult, if the other person treated you as second best.

6.) Son (Rating 7/10)
Summary: Hung is a 33 year old unmarried software developer, with US citizenship. His mother is a  matchmaker, however Hung is gay.
Mother picks Hung up at the airport in Beijing. She gives him a gold chain and wants Hung to go to church with her. After the father’s death, many of the mother’s letters to Hung have been about her newfound faith.
At an internet café, many of the pages Hung usually frequents have been blocked, for instance gay chat and NY Times.
Hung never becomes irritated by people from churches and listens to them. Hung tells his mother that the state-authorized church see the communist party as their only leader. Hung thinks his mother’s church is deceiving people.
Children beg in Beijing, the mother gives them money, if they agree to go to church with her. Hung is more critical and notices the kids are child labor. Roles are reversed, and Hung now sees himself as someone who is protecting his mother, but she doesn’t want him to.
When the mother returns from the church he admits to homosexuality. She accepts this because “god sees all and understand all”

Thoughts: Questions whether China should block specific internet pages. The story is about empathy among children and their parents, who have grown apart. In this case, Hung perceives the Church differently because he is educated.

7.) The Arrangement (Rating 8/10)
Summary: Uncle Bing is under suspicion for having an affair with a married woman, when her husband is away. Ruolan’s mother is less irritable when unmarried Uncle Bing visits. The mother is sick yet not very old, she doesn’t work, and spends a lot of time in bed.
Ruolan is about 12 or 13 and gets her first period. Ruolan can’t talk to her mother about it and admits she’d rather speak to a stranger on the street about her period than her own mother.
Father and daughter are in the same boat, tied to the woman they are unable to love, but unable to leave. Mother refuses to divorce him.
The father is hardly better, and says he is not her father, she is her mother’s daughter, and Ruolan has to look after her mother. He has another woman he goes to see.
Uncle Bing and Ruolan are friends, he admits that for many of the children the only meal they eat during the day is porridge at school, and this is the main reason they go to school. He also tells her she is adopted.
Ruolan wants to escape and marry Uncle Bing when she becomes of age, he is uncomfortable with this suggestion, and refuses, because he is much older.

Thoughts: Nearly all the main characters are unhappy, so it’s easy to empathize. Uncle Bing is the outsider character who tries to help.

8.) Death is Not A Joke If Told The Right Way (Rating 5/10)
Summary: Visiting Mr and Mrs Pang, the child narrator can take a breather from her blood family and the obligations of being a daughter. Mr Pang is incompetent, and we follow his journey. He dies with dignity in a post office job. The narrator becomes friendly with a group of drop outs.

Thoughts: For me, the weakest short story in the collection. I quite like the ending, but the characters and story are a bit forgettable.

9.) Persimmons (Rating 7/10)
Summary: A couple secretly had a second child but didn’t rapport their firstborn. The authorities hear of this and "one child per family" is painted on their house. Mother commits suicide so Lao Da can have more children, but he loses his mind and kills 17 people. The children go to an orphanage. Lao Da becomes a killer because his son was killed. A group of judges go to the local reservoir and following an insulting remark throw Lao Da’s son into the water. The boy drowns and his father later takes revenge, the reservoir was a place Lao Da had fought for, and for the drowning to happen there made it even worse. 

Thoughts: Deals with one child per family and how it affects a family. The social commentary is that there is a drought, yet it is illegal to beg in the city. The authorities offer no social benefits or handouts. Probably the moral of the story is that on rare occasions a gentle man can turn into a violent man, and it's insinuated the laws and circumstances are at least partly to blame for his frustration.

10.) A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Rating 8/10)
Summary: Mr Shi visits his daughter in Midwestern United States. People are friendly towards him, and impressed, when he tells them he is a retired rocket scientist.
He befriends an elderly lady, the language barrier means they don’t understand everything the other says.
Mr Shi has a dysfunctional relationship with his daughter, she felt he wasn’t present enough during her childhood, and now he feels she is not present during their conversations. Perhaps she is getting her own back. 
Years earlier, he was caught talking to a female employee and degraded. He was unable to talk about what he did at his job and this hurt his home life.
Favorite quote: “life offers more happiness than we are aware of”

Thoughts: The friendship between the elderly lady and Mr Shi was quite heartwarming, who struggle to understand what the other is saying, yet appreciate each other’s company.  In contrast to the father-son relationship, which is so heartbreaking.

Overall rating of book 7/10

Are you a fan of reading short stories? Know any books/movies that depict Chinese people in America? Are you familiar with Yiyun Li or other Chinese authors? As always, comments are welcome.

2015 Blind Spot Series: Hoop Dreams (1994)

Premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. The film was ranked #1 on the International Documentary Association's Top 25 Documentaries list. Its exclusion from the Best Documentary category at the 1995 Academy Awards led to a restructuring of how the category was evaluated. Many felt Hoop Dreams was unfairly snubbed.

Originally intended by filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx to be a 30-minute short. The filmmakers followed the children back to their homes, and after several years, and with over 250 hours of raw footage, a 30-minute PBS special turned into a three-hour feature film.

The documentary follows two African-American high school students in Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, during their high-school years, and their dream of becoming professional basketball players. We are given a sense of the world they live in.

I wouldn’t go so far and call it the best film of the 90s as Roger Ebert does, but still a highly watchable documentary. Despite not being a fan of basketball, and despite its lengthy three hour running time, the film kept me involved throughout.

A coach reckons Arthur has the talent, but not the confidence. It’s not enough to have the ability to play basketball, equally important is the tuition fees, which Agee’s family are not able to fulfill.

The only minor flaw for me is the filmmakers gloss over William Gates’ injury in the last act, as if he no longer had this physical problem.

It’s a documentary not just about basketball, because the goal is also to explore issues of race, class, and education in modern America. The expectations placed on talents from such an early age is quite frightening and revealing. You could substitute the basketball angle of this with any other sport or passion that young people foster. It's really about daily life amid urban poverty, people's dreams and struggles.

I don’t know if the documentary helped instigate change and make it easier for underprivileged kids to have a career as an athlete. The pressure put on them to perform comes from both sides, family and coaches, there are financial implications where the schools are given bonuses for winning. In some ways the kids are being used, even though they want to play.

A recent guardian article covered where the main figures are now, reading the piece feels a bit like what Michael Apted is doing with the Up series. Both William Gates and Arthur Agee were able to turn the film's success and their subsequent fame into a better life for themselves and their families, so some positives came of their participation. However the families have also faced adversity, which the article spotlights as well.

As Will Di Novi wrote in his article Game Changer, Hoop Dreams was a film that took the temperature of American culture in the 1990s, while also, in its own way, redefining it, demonstrating the economic potential of documentary filmmaking to distributors. The success has affected filmmakers around the world. Hoop Dreams was one of the first feature-length films shot entirely on video, establishing a new, cost-effective blueprint for the production of non-fiction cinema.

What I will take away from watching Hoop Dreams is the sheer joy on the faces of family members, applauding during the matches. It’s really a film about family. As another reviewer wrote, Hoop Dreams seems to encompass not just a few individuals' stories, but draw archetypes out of them to personify the larger world around them.

Rating 8.5/10

Thanks for reading! Agree or disagree? Have you seen Hoop Dreams? As always, comments are welcome

Overlooked 2014 music

Get Up by Young Fathers

Loosey In The Store with Pennies by Your Old Droog

Fractals by Keep Shelly in Athens 

Every Little Thing by Röyksopp & Robyn 

Ain't It Fun by Paramore (Won Grammy for Best Rock Song) 

Our Love by Sharon Van Etten 

One Who Loves You by Alvvays

Coming Down by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Feat. Matt Berninger)

Everything Passed Me By by James Irwin

Fire Rides by MØ 

Let Me Down Gently by La Roux

Slow by Leonard Cohen

Is This How You Feel? by The Preatures

Let Me Be The 1 by Miracle Fortress

You Carry A Sickness by Astral Swans

Wrong Club by The Ting Tings

Agree or disagree? Have you listened to any of these artists? As always, comments are welcome

Guest Post: Bob Marley Turns 70

Born on February 6, 1945, Robert Nesta Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and guitarist who rose to international fame and acclaim. If still alive, he would have turned 70 on February 6 2015.
Using his birthday as a time to reflect on what the man stood for, it’s clear that he was above most of the commercial noise surrounding the music industry. Ultimately, his message was that there should be peace, love and harmony between all of members of mankind. He sought to be a voice for the freedom of the repressed masses, using his music to call for the uplifting and the unification of people worldwide.

Marley grew up Catholic but converted to Rastafarianism and remained that way for many years. Shortly before his death he was baptized into Christianity again, however his involvement in Rastafarianism molded most of his life commitments. He declared that the leader of Ethiopia was divine, and believed that smoking ganja led a person to a more meditative state. Many songs that he wrote represented the ideas espoused in Rasta culture.

Bob Marley's early life greatly influenced his music and political tendencies. First, he was born of a black woman and a white man. It seems that this caused in him a sort of transcendence above racial identification. He considered himself not to be black or white, but rather a child of God. This likely influenced his 'One Love' personal philosophy.

Despite this attitude of transcendence, Marley was always a rebel and an instigator of sorts. It could seem that the message of “universal love” does not mix well with revolution, but Marley pulled it off. His youthful experiences with poverty and a lack of political rights in Trench Town, Jamaica, firmly planted ideals that he would retain all his life. Marley preached his beliefs in a not-so-subtle way in his music and interviews. Songs such as Get Up Stand Up explicitly call for revolution. What is the case, though, is that Marley did not advocate violence or militant behavior. The broader message was one of peace and harmony.

With respect to the countercultural movements of the sixties and seventies, Marley's music helped encourage change and experimentation in a similar way to other world acts such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Eric Clapton, a British bluesman, covered the melodic I Shot the Sheriff, and his transferability is not unique to that song. Even Sting and Paul Simon say that they were influenced by Marley's music. Marley’s blend of rock and reggae would end up influencing other styles of music as well, impacting rap, hip hop and ska artists as well as members of his own family. Ziggy Marley, his son, tours in his own right, recently appearing as a musical guest on Direct TV’s popular Guitar Center Sessions, for example. Ziggy’s own success helps sustain the popularity of father’s unique reggae sound.

Unfortunately, while Marley’s music was undoubtedly created out of pure intentions and passion, it was also transformed and commercialized for the purpose of appealing to a Western audience. Once Marley and the Wailers began recording with Island Records, the titles of his songs, as well as entire albums, were culturally and commercially modified. Western rock audiences bought the most records - it made sense not only financially, but for the purpose of cross cultural outreach as well. Today, Marley’s image has been exploited on an even greater level. His popularity has made it possible for the holders of his estate to market his image not only on t-shirts, flags and posters, but on Marley-blend marijuana, cannabis-infused lip balm, and a hoard of other products. While there were definitely benefits to reggae becoming internationalized, it also exploited the true intentions of the music and the Rasta culture.

However, regardless of commercialization, the music associated with Bob Marley will continue to be powerfully moving. Throughout his short career, Marley managed to become both a political and musical figure of international authority. His messages still resonate with today's youth. Marley's music does not seem dated in the way that many folk singers' music from the early 1960’s does, both the style of the instrumentation and the lyrics are fresh and inviting. There is a reason that his song One Love is used by the Jamaican tourist bureau. Influencing both countercultural movements and mainstream culture with his music and personal ideologies, his messages allowed for the creative empowerment of many musical artists the world over.

Have you listened to Bob Marley's music? Any thoughts on the article? As always, comments are welcome

About the author:
Beth Kelly is a freelance blogger with a horror film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, analog photography and vintage film posters. You can find her on her Twitter: @bkelly_88

Thanks to Beth for contributing. Have an idea for a guest post? Feel free to contact me, and we'll sort something out. My e-mail can be found in the About Me section above.

Viewing recap January

Mr Turner (2014)
Beautifully photographed, the images echoing Turners paintings, and with an excellent lead performance by Timothy Spall. Turner is a man you both loathe and admire. The weakness is the story, the first hour or more is dull and tedious to sit through. We’ve seen many times before an artist struggling between remaining true to his cause and simultaneously having emotional responsibilities and sexual needs. My attention was constantly wandering off, there was little to latch on to in terms of plot development. The only character I liked is the woman he rents a room from. It does get better in the second half though.
I love a number of Mike Leigh’s previous films, especially Secret & Lies, Another Year, and Happy-Go-Lucky. Mr Turner just wasn’t for me, and I hope the director goes back to his usual style next time.
Rating 5/10

Birdman (2014)
A self-aware showbiz satire about big-headed actors and critics. Why are people giving this film such high praise?  Don’t get what the big deal is. Overhyped and not as amazing as the reviews indicate. The uninterrupted camera work is impressive, and Edward Norton plays the asshole well, but there isn’t any story, just people preparing for a play and chatting in a basement. The first 30 minutes is a complete bore and I had little interest in any of the characters.
The last 20 minutes are admittedly intriguing, but cannot save the film. Nearly every scene feels like a “performance”. The washed up actor trying to remain relevant is only moderately interesting. I didn’t have an emotional connection to the situations I didn’t feel much about Michael Keaton’s character. The problem is I feel Riggan's desire for recognition, but why he loved the theater is absent.
I like how Iñárritu suggests that the artists are the ones putting their lives on the line every night, while the critics can hate something so easily.
The self-centered artist looking for acclaim is basically what Iñárritu is doing, promoting himself.
Favorite quotes: “Why do I always have to beg people to love me”
”A man becomes a critic when he cannot become an artist, just as a man becomes an informer when he can’t become a soldier”
Rating 6/10

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Holly Golightly has a charm that you forget her self-centered ways. Worth seeing for Audrey Hepburn's performance, the iconic fashion aspect, and the memorable song Moon River. The stand out scenes involve a party, and shop lifting, the latter has a questionable message. 
I wonder how much money Tiffany’s paid to have their name associated with the movie, while watching you don’t feel like it’s product placement, even though it’s actually in the title.
Rating 7/10

Palo Alto (2013)
Directed by Gia Coppola, who is granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, The screenplay is based on stories written by James Franco, and he also has a role in the movie.
There’s a distinct feeling he is playing a character that is close to the real James Franco, someone who is attracted to teenage girls (it’s a condition called Ephebophilia).  There was a case recently on the news when 34 year old Franco was hitting on a 17 year old. It was noticed and he had to publically apologize. 
So while I find Franco’s character creepy, he also plays a person who the girls feel drawn to and are attracted to. Some girls are attracted to their teacher and I think it’s the same kind of thing here. However the age difference is just one aspect of the story, which also deals with teenager issues such as parties, boredom, fitting in, figuring out your boundaries and who you are, etc. We've seen films with these themes before, so it's not that groundbreaking, but the soundtrack, good performances, and loose narrative creates an atmosphere so you feel you are stepping into that world.
Rating 7/10

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Full review here.
Rating 9/10

Risky Business (1983)
A believable coming of age drama starring a young Tom Cruise. The only part that was slightly unrealistic was the Princeton guy showing up at night during the party.  I mainly watched because Tangerine Dream Founder Edgar Froese died recently, which I wrote about here. Having watched the movie, now I know why the song is called Love on a Real Train.
Rating 8/10

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
A low budget absurdist/deadpan comedy that might grow on me on rewatch, which is often the case with Jarmusch. I liked how the two male leads had different personalities, one of them with more empathy than the other.
Quirky like we know the director, but to me not as good as his next film Down By Law (1986).
Favorite quote: “It’s funny, you come to some place new, and everything looks just the same”
Rating 7/10

Down By Law (1986)
Rewatch. The sequence with the three guys in jail is the highlight. Perhaps Jarmusch’s most quotable film. The last act feels contrived though, so that's why I gave the film an 8 and not a 9.
Favorite quote: "If looks can kill, I am dead now"
Rating 8/10

To Have and Have Not (1944)
Excellent performances by Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Walter Brennan. While I really liked the chemistry, the dialogue at times is too over-explanatory, fewer words could have been used. A film that would hold up to rewatching, even though the setting feels similar to Casablanca (1942)
Rating 7.5/10

Tracks (2013)
The film is not bad, yet a bit forgettable. Based on a true story. Always reliable Mia Wasikowska gives a strong performance as woman who goes on a long and daring journey across the Australian desert. Robyn Davidson seeks to escape the patronizing gaze of a humanity that tries to fetishise her. To quote Lisa Thatcher in her review
"So while Tracks does its level best to stay out of Robyn Davidson’s way in her great event of self definition, by the very nature of the cameras gaze, we include ourselves in the act she is running from."
Rating 6.5/10

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
A few of the story elements I have seen before in films such as Aliens, Groundhog Day, and the Matrix, yet it’s still a really good action/sci-fi movie, didn’t matter about the repetitiveness, which I thought might be tiresome.
Rating 8/10

Like Father, Like Son (2013)
Interesting dilemma of two families whose children were switched at birth. A very tricky situation to deal with. Especially the two fathers are memorable. The father-son ”doesn’t matter” conversation about why they are father and mother is quietly powerful.
Of the directors other work, Maborosi (1995) I found dull and putt me to sleep. I Wish (2011) I only liked the second half. Like Father, Like Son is a story I think that will appeal to a wider audience.
I haven’t seen Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows (2004) or Still Walking (2008). 
Rating 7.5/10

Goodbye to Language (2014) 
For me, the most pretentious film of 2014, if you can even call it a fully formed film. Jean-Luc Godard's name gives the non-story extra importance.
Perhaps as a homage to the donkey in Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), a dog wanders around, and over the course of some seasons observes a married woman and a single man as they meet, love, argue and fight. Many scenes of them naked, but the relationship is too vague for me to care what happens to them.
A collection of moments and images the viewer has to make sense of. Some beautiful, some ugly. TV screens in the background but the characters look the other way. Perhaps the constantly changing focus and fleetingness of the film is a comment on the human condition, our days contain random moments with and without meaning. But I didn’t need Godard to tell me that.
I’m sure others will extract deep, philosophical meanings from the film, it’s made in such a way that you can read anything in to it if you want. It follows no rules and cares not for plot. Props that Godard used 3D at the age of 84. I can only comment on the dvd, which wasn’t the theatrical version Godard intended for me to see. I’d love to read a defense of why this film is great and awards worthy.
Favorite quote: “Everyone can stop God from existing, but no one does”
Rating 4/10

Starred Up (2013)
A love it or hate it kind of film, the main characters are quite vile and foul-mouthed. I’ve always loved prison dramas and thought this one was powerful and moving. These characters I would never want to meet in person(scary!), so fascinating for me to get a chance to hang out with them through the medium of film.
Jack O'Connell shines in the lead role as the troubled and violent teenager. The father (Ben Mendelsohn) also gave a great supporting performance, and the relationship with his son is the most memorable aspect. For me, the realism of the story and British prison slang was new, and I read somewhere that it’s more of a prison of the mind as the boy acts a similar way on the outside. 
Of course we’ve seen realism before(Steve McQueen's Hunger), group therapy(1999’s Girl Interrupted) and father/son relationships, with inmates and prison personnel doing bad things(In The Name of The Father), but Starred Up was different to me.
Rating 8/10

Camp X-Ray (2014)
Prison drama. A soldier (played by Kristen Stewart) is assigned to Guantanamo Bay and befriends a man who has been imprisoned there for three years. Better than I expected, I was emotionally involved. Deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Rating 7.5/10

Leviathan (2014)
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. For me, the audience laughter in the cinema actually was a plus, and helped me enjoy Leviathan more than I might have done by myself. It is a serious drama, but the Russian humour is not something I see every day and was fun to watch.
I'd label Leviathan a drama where the director wanted to have some amusing moments(which an audience may not know how to respond to). Even though I'm not familiar with Russian culture, I compare the film to real life, we joke around, drink or no drink, to keep our spirits up, so we can get through the day.
The last act is too spelled out, which for me prevented it from becoming a great film.
Rating 7.5/10

Foxcatcher (2014)
Overpraised oscar-baity film, the performances are the main attraction. The characters are quite dull, I never sensed they had a life outside of what we see on screen. 
There are maybe 3-4 memorable sequences(breaks the mirror, overeats, and has to lose weight on the bike), (John du Pont and the horses) (the awkward interview with Ruffalo), (the ending).
The tension between Mark Schultz and John du Pont kept me watching, but the film is too long, and with too many boring parts.
“We were his newest trophies. If you didn’t want to be displayed on his wall, he threatened to ruin you,” Schultz writes in his autobiography, also called Foxcatcher.
Rating 6/10

The Lunchbox (2013)
Heartwarming film set in India, I liked and cared about the characters. Could easily rewatch in future.
Rating 8/10

Seen any of these? Agree or disagree? Watched anything great in January? As always, comments are welcome

2015 Blind Spot series: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

My contribution to Ryan McNeil's 2015 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

A family fantasy film based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. At the time of its release, Disney didn't make feature length animated films, so this was a first and a remarkable technical feat. Beautifully animated considering it was made in 1937. The castle and forest are believable, the characters have facial expressions and shadows, and I was able to care about the characters who are likable and memorable.

Heigh-Ho, Whistle While You Work, & The Silly Song are stand-outs from a wonderful soundtrack. Someday My Prince Will Come is considered a classic too, but isn't a favorite of mine. The wishing well song (from the opening scenes) is also quite original how the echo from the well becomes the backing vocal.

The film isn't perfect. The obviousness of the diamonds in the mine is pretty laughable, but you go along with it because it’s for kids. Unfortunately the prince character is never developed as a fully fleshed-out character, which is a minor weakness. He should have had more screen time.

I had a smile on my face for most of the movie, and would place it on my top ten favorite animated films list. Even if you don’t normally like Disney or musicals, you should do yourself a favor and watch this. Definitely a film I could rewatch, which still holds a real charm today. I love that the dwarfs all have a certain quirk and they are just very entertaining characters to follow. I had a really good time and I felt I was in the cabin as part of the group.

Contains spoilers:
The film has a warmth to it that the animals of the forest (and later the dwarfs) look after Snow White when she has no place to go. Although you could say the tables are turned and she is looking after the dwarfs, cooking them food, cleaning the house, reminding them to wash! She names them Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey. However I was a bit confused if they already called themselves by those names. I would imagine they did because you can see in the background those names are carved into the wood.
Some may find it odd that Snow White as a guest would treat the hosts in a slightly preachy manner (see image above). Yet that aspect of the story worked for me because of her charm and that they are all getting along well as friends. The dwarfs appear to enjoy a female in the house. Perhaps due to her shielded upbringing she simply doesn't know how to behave among regular people.
Steve Honeywell at 1001plus questioned in his review whether Snow White is a passive and submissive character with a pretty face waiting for her prince to rescue her, and I agree with that to a certain degree. Her role at the cabin consists mostly of chores and the work of a dutiful house wife, which again could be interpreted as sexist.
The dwarfs are a happy and welcoming group, and maybe the film's aim is for us to think of them as people not to be dismissed. Dopey reminded me of the Marx Brother Harpo, and I was okay laughing at a mentally slow person. I didn't find it condescending the way Dopey was represented.
The highlight of the film for me is probably during The Silly Song, with Dopey on the shoulders of another dwarf, thereby tall enough to dance with Snow White. Other sequences I like are when the dwarfs are sleeping which is fun to watch, and when they line up for a kiss. Now I have an idea why Walt Disney Pictures have that logo. 

Rating 9/10

Thanks for reading. Agree or disagree? Have you seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)? How do you rank it with the other Disney animated classics? As always, comments are welcome


Related Posts with Thumbnails