Monday, August 15, 2005

Oh, the Movies I’ve Seen Part 2

(A continuation from a previous post)

Just so I don’t make myself sound even more pathetic than I need to, I should note that I have been doing other things with my summer break. I just had a cracking weekend. Sunday we went to a belly dance festival at Ajimu winery with Shoko and some of the boys. (Chris wrote about that on his blog with pictures here.)

On Saturday we had a night out in Oita city. It was a pretty crazy night actually. I observed my strict no-drinking policy, but not everyone else did, and I have a few stories of wildness and debauchery I could tell…

Or actually I probably couldn’t tell them. Not without embarrassing a few people anyway. Yet another irony of blogging: the most interesting things that happen are often inappropriate to write about, and you’re left writing about boring things like the videos you watched.

Right, let’s get straight into it then:

Hard Core by Paul SchraderAs I’m sure everyone from Calvin already knows, this is Paul Schrader’s classic movie about what happens when the Grand Rapids Christian Reformed Dutch community encounters the California porn industry.

This isn’t a particularly well-known movie even back in America, so you can imagine how surprised I was to find it in my local video store during my first year in Japan.

Shoko’s recently developed an interest in the subject. “The Da Vinci Code” has been translated into Japanese and has become a best seller over here, and Shoko has gotten quite into it. Of course the Japanese readers are a lot less familiar with the subject matter. For instance Shoko had previously never heard of “The Last Temptation of Christ” which was mentioned in “The Da Vinci Code”, so she rented the movie. I of course did my little Grand Rapids plug, and said that the screenwriter for that movie was from my hometown and had gone through the same high school and college several years before me, and that there is actually a reference to Calvin College in “The Last Temptation of Christ”. (When Jesus takes his heart out and offers it to the crowd, it is a dig at Calvin’s motto).

I then mentioned that “Hard Core” was actually available at Usa video store, and Shoko and I rented it and watched it together. I’d already seen it of course, but I pointed out to Shoko the various Grand Rapids locations that showed up in the movie: the downtown area, the park where I had Cross Country races in high school, the Church where my grandmother attends, etc.

Because I had already seen it before I fast-forwarded through a lot of the California scenes where, in my opinion, the movie tends to drag. But Shoko was quite amazed at the portrayal of Grand Rapids. Japan is not a very religious society. And most of the American media that they watch gives them the impression that America is not religious either. So the idea of people holding strong religious beliefs is almost a completely alien concept to the Japanese. “Do people really pray like that before meals?” Shoko asked. “Really? Do people really sit around the table debating the Bible in Grand Rapids? How come I haven’t seen this in any other American movie?”

Well I'm on the subject of Shrader, it's worth noting that some of his other films are popular in Japan. "The Yakuza", although an older film, is famous in Japan for the same reason that "The Last Samurai" was enormously popular: the Japanese were very excited that big name Hollywood actors were recruited to star in a film about Japan.

Another Schrader film about Japan, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, did less well. In fact it was banned in Japan because of the controversy over the way it portrayed Japanese literary legend and right wing fanatic Yukio Mishima.

The Office
A British JET loaned me the DVD set, and I was immediately addicted. I was up until 6 AM the other night watching “The Office”. Ah, summer break.

Because I’ve been out of the country for so long, I’m going to have to plead a bit of ignorance on this one. I’ve heard that this show has been popular in America as well, so maybe many of you have seen it already. But if you haven’t seen it already, rent it tonight. Absolutely brilliant. Funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s a British show, and at first glance it appears to be a classic example of the difference between British and American humor. As opposed to the American sitcom formula of: “line, line, joke, line, line, joke”, “The Office” is based on more situational humor. It’s awkward or funny situations as opposed to punch lines.

But then I heard this interview on NPR in which Ricky Gervais (the creature of “The Office”) says that he isn’t at all surprised that “The Office” has such a large American following, because all of his influences, like “Laurel and Hardy” "The Simpsons" and “Spinal Tap” have been American. He says he is more surprised that the show was such a hit in Britain.

(I also understand, via Matt Lind’s blog, that there has been an American re-make of “The Office”. Is that any good? Can anyone fill me in on that?)

How to Steal a Million Dollars
I don’t know if anyone else has heard about movie critic Steve Johnson. He seems to be making the rounds. Just in my little internet surfing I saw him on CNN, NPR, the Daily show, and their was an article about him in the Japan Times.

Anyway, if you haven’t already heard of him, his basic premise is that even though everyone is always complaining about how pop culture is going down the tubes and dumbing our society down, popular entertainment is actually getting more and more sophisticated. Steve Johnson compares the complicated plot of a lot of today’s movies and TV programs with the simplicity of older movies and shows.

If you believe Steve Johnson, than “How to Steal a Million Dollars” is a perfect example of his theory. The plot of the movie is that Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole have to steal a heavily guarded statue from a museum, to avoid Audrey Hepburn’s father being exposed as a forger.

Imagine if this movie were made today and think of all the elaborate “mission impossible” style schemes and deceptions that they would have to use to steal the statue. Just think of any of the recent stealing movies, “Ocean’s 11”, “The Italian Job”, “Matchstick Men”, etc, and remember all the elaborate plots they used.

How do Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole steal the statue? They hide in the broom closet after the museum closes, and then throw boomerangs to set off the museum’s security alarms. The guards eventually get tired of the false alarms, and turn off the security.

Still worth seeing though, if for no other reason than to see two Hollywood legends at their peak.

Video The Office

Video How to Steal a Million Dollars


SN said...
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SN said...

"The Office" fricken great. Having got to work in an office environment made it even funnier. Yes, there was an american remake of the pains me to even write that sentence. It's yet another reason why I'm not patriotic. If it weren't for the american version of the office and...the war...i'd be a patriot. Like, they basically use the same script as the British version, but they add a laugh track every 15 seconds and the cast is not nearly as good. The main boss-guy is not remotely funny. i couldn't even get through one episode. But, like you, I think sara and i watched an entire season of the British version. The humour seems to get darker and darker toward the end though, doesn't it?

i too watched an old classic this weekend. Dirty Harry. I mean, everyone knows the famous line from Dirty Harry, but how many people have seen it? It's superb...I'm a born-again Eastwood fan.

lucretius said...

I would like to first point out the place where Brett and I have common ground--the Iraq War sucks.

Now, I'd like to politely differ on several points. I'm a patriot that doesn't support the war, in a grand American tradition that includes such folks as Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Robert Kennedy.

Secondly, there was no laugh track in the American version, and I believe that humor, if not greatly differentiated from the British version, had it's own distinct, dare I say, American flavor.

Thirdly, apparently the executives at NBC felt that although critically acclaimed, The Office didn't pull in the kind of ratings they'd hoped for. So they cancelled it. Something in me died that day.

Gee, I guess I do have a reason to feel alienated from mainstream American culture after all. And Brett, I've enjoyed your and your wife's blogs.