Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Directed by Ingmar Bergman) Swedish 8

Starring Gunnar Björnstrand, Eva Dahlbeck, Ulla Jacobsson, Harriet Andersson, Jarle Kulle,  Margit Carlqvist, Björn Bjelfvenstam

Image result for smiles of a summer night

(8-Exceptional Film)

Spirited. Charming. Bawdy.

No great fan of Ingmar Bergman’s, I often relish saying so to other film fans and steeling myself to their protestations. He has his moments though and Smiles of a Summer Night is one of his most entertaining, centered around an insular group of Swedish nobles around the early 1900s that prove to be most dysfunctional. They all love someone else other than the one they’re with. Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) is married to a sweet but much-too-young-for-him girl named Anne (Ulla Jacobsson) who, in turn, quietly admires her stepson, Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam), and Henrik loves her but wrestles with his faith and his lust for playful maidservant, Petra (Harriet Andersson). This all may sound heavy but a few more players are introduced and Smiles of a Summer Night becomes a wonderful, charming romantic farce with happy endings all around. Filmed in beautiful, shimmering black and white.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(681)

Superbia (2016, Directed by Luca Tóth) Hungarian 4

Described as a short film about, “the native people of the land of Superbia, where men and women form separate societies, face the changes sparked by the first equal couple in their history,” but whatever meaning lays within, lays deep within, buried under grotesque, crude visuals and what I’ll generously call avant-garde storytelling. With no dialogue and no distinct characters, I can only assume that Superbia is meant to be symbolic, but since there’s nothing noticeably interesting about the short. I gave up trying to figure out what it’s symbolic of.

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-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(676)

Hero (2002, Directed by Zhang Yimou) Mandarin 9

Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen, Chen Daoming

(9-Great Film)

Stunning. Epic. Awesome.

Set before China was a unified country, a nameless hero (Li) is granted an audience with the emperor (Daoming) after defeating the three most dangerous assassins in the land-Broken Sword (Leung), Flying Snow (Cheung), Long Sky (Yen). The emperor demands to hear Nameless’ story of how he managed the feat, and as the hero tells his story, we, like the emperor, begin to suspect hidden motives. Time has dulled some of the film’s technical marvels, but not its ambition, scale, and beauty. It’s a sweeping tale of myth-making and nationalism. It’s one great set piece after another with a surprising, powerful finale.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(638)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954, Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki) Japanese 10

Starring Toshiro Mifune,  Rentarō Mikuni, Kuroemon Ono, Kaoru Yachigusa, Mariko Okada

(10-Masterpiece)

Epic. Gorgeous. Awesome.

The first film in this epic trilogy charting the evolution of the legendary swordsman Musashi Miyamoto (Mifune). This installment follows Miyamoto in his early years as a rebellious soldier out for personal glory along with his friend Matahachi. After fighting for the losing side in a war, the two men forge wildly different paths for themselves, with Matahachi becoming idle after marrying an older seductress, and Miyamoto becoming a priest after a saintly man rescues him from his life as a fugitive. Added to the plot is Miyamoto’s romance with the woman who was supposed to marry Matahachi, and the story is set up for later installments. It’s a beautiful film on its own, but even more substantial as part of this sweeping series.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(628)

The American Friend (1977, Directed by Wim Wenders) German 8

Starring Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer, Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller

(8-Exceptional Film)

Enigmatic. Elusive. Haunting.

This bilingual, international classic will probably benefit from a second viewing. I admit, if I wasn’t familiar with its source material (Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith), I’m not sure  I would have understood what was going on. There are some major deviations from Highsmith’s novel, but essentially her most famous character, Tom Ripley, gets involved in seducing a decent German man, Zimmerman (Ganz), over to the dark side. Told he has just a short time left to live, Zimmerman agrees to kill a man for a large amount of money that he will give to his family. Dennis Hopper makes a strange but engaging Ripley. He projects almost nothing, while easily capturing the characters contrasting sides (Ripley the criminal manipulator and Ripley the American friend). Ganz is immensely watchable, in a way few people are. He doesn’t have to do anything to hold your attention. The photography, hallmark of Wenders’ work, is superb. The plot and themes take backseats to the mood and feel of the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(629)

The Boy and the Beast (2016, Directed by Mamoru Hosoda) Japanese 8

Voices of John Swasey, Eric Vale, Ian Sinclair, Sean Hennigan, Bryn Apprill

(8-Exceptional Film)

Moving. Imaginative. Dazzling.

After the death of his single mother, a young boy named Ren wanders the city, and a chance encounter brings him to the Beast Kingdom. There, he becomes an apprentice to Kumatetsu, a strong but reckless bear-like man who wishes to succeed the Grandmaster as the Lord of Beast Kingdom. The two slowly develop a strong bond, and the film spans the length of Ren’s boyhood. Though lesser renowned than Studio Ghibli’s work, Hosoda has quickly formed an impressive filmography. The animation here is astounding, and the story is very moving.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(625)

Seven Samurai (1954, Directed by Akira Kurosawa) Japanese 10

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura, Yoshio Inaba, Daisuke Katō, Keiko Tsushima

(10-Masterpiece)

Epic. Impressive. Unforgettable.

A quaint village suffering the tyrannical rule of a local gang of bandits must resort to outside help. With little or no money, how can they expect any great warriors to come fight for them? Eventually, they get a saintly warrior to take up the cause, and he, in turn, enlists five others. Add to this mix, the star, Toshiro Mifune, who tags along pretty much uninvited, becoming integral to their fight later on. This story has been told so many times in its wake, but The Seven Samurai remains the best of its model. The pinnacle of epic filmmaking. Grand, classic entertainment. Inspired The Magnificent Seven, A Bug’s Life, Three Amigos! directly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(622)