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2012年5月

Dragonfly 映画評論

Dragonfly

starring Kevin Costner, Joe Morton, Ron Rofkin, Linda Hunt, Susanna Thompson and Kathy Bates

written by David Seltzer, Brandon Camp and Mike Thonmpson

directed by Tom Shadyac

The Japanese title for this film is “Calling.”  It is kind of a male version of the Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg movie Ghost.  I mean, if you will call Ghost a “chic flick,” then maybe you will call Dragonfly a “guy flick.”  I did not like it nearly as much as I enjoyed Ghost mostly, I think, because Dragonfly lacks the comedy of Whoopi Goldberg.  Or, any comedy whatsoever, for that matter.  It is a serious story of the pain and lonely heartache of a recently widowed physician who comes to believe that his late wife’s ghost is trying to communicate from beyond the grave  -  hence the Japanese title.  But for that reason it is not only a “serious” story, but also a fanciful one about extrasensory perception, or mysteriously “feeling” the wife’s spirit through a series of bizarre events in his life.  As it turns out, communication from beyond the grave is exactly what was going on, or so we are left to believe.  (For the sake of telling a 90-minute story on film we need the premise.  Otherwise, there is no story.)  But try convincing one’s friends of such a thing especially if you are a doctor and people will soon question your mental as well as professional competence.

The wife (Emily) is lost in a bus crash off a muddy, mountainous jungle road in some South American country during a hurricane.  Emily is there in the first place performing compassionate, humanitarian charity work.  Her doctor husband (Joe)  -  who did not accompany his wife into the wild  -  is eventually attracted/driven to the crash site in search of his wife, who he believes  -  because of the bizarre phenomena that have been going on in his life back in Chicago  -  might still be alive.

This is when we meet the aboriginal people  -  a strange twist.  Maybe it is a reflection of a popular modern preoccupation with the plight of south American Indians.  Anyway, Joe negotiates himself into a restricted Indian village where he thinks he will either find his wife, or else find his wife’s grave.  He finds a burial site.  And, surprise, he discovers a daughter that he never knew he had, rescued by the local Indians from his mortally injured wife.  Here, presumably, is the source of the psychic energy calling to him from the great beyond.  It is a happy love story after all.

Grant先生(英語の先生) from Live English House (http://www.live-english.com/

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The American President 映画評論

The American President

starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox and Richard Dreyfus

written by Aaron Sorkin

produced and direted by Rob Reiner

This is not a recent film.  It is somewhere between five and ten years old.  I do not know exactly, so I asked a few people and got various answers.  I hesitate to call it an “old” film, although attention spans being what they are, most people probably would do so.  Some of the people I spoke to about the movie consigned it to the garbage heap of cinema.  It’s the worse movie I’ve ever seen.  It made me vomit on the plane.”  And other similar views.

I was surprised, though, because I feel almost the complete opposite.  It has grown to become one of my favorite movies, and I have happily re-watched it on video dozens of times already.  It is a romance set in the White House (between a widowed President and an attractive political lobbyist in the furor of an election year).  I can only guess that it appeals to me as much as it does because as I get older I become more sentimental and romantic.  Maybe it is a hormone balance thing associated with aging.

This sweet and endearing story is quite likely the very reason why my acquaintances do not like it.  But it is the reason why I like it.  It is a happy, positive story.  Not real or realistic at all, maybe, but happy.  I think the acting is excellent, with a good dose of humor, especially from Michael J. Fox.  In particular, Rob Reiner filmed it in such a way that it glows with an appealing, warm, soft light and the sound is good.  In many movies these days, the sound varies from too loud to too quiet:  over-loud action sound effects and music coupled with over-quiet dialogue, forcing me to fiddle repeatedly with the remote control.  But in this film the sound levels are adequate and comfortable throughout.

Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is a popular liberal (Democratic) president who came to office as a widower.  Entering his third year in office, and faced with an upcoming election, he meets and falls in love with Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) a political operative employed by an environmental lobby group in Washington, D.C.  He falls for her immediately and, against the advice of the Chief of Staff (Martin Sheen) and other policy advisors (Michael J. Fox), decides to date her.  His popularity suffers as rival conservative politicians led by Senator Robert Rumson (Richard Dreyfus) try to cast him as an un-American cad and scoundrel for daring to be sexually active in the White House.  (I guess this was made before the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair in the U.S. evidenced a widespread public unconcern with presidential sex in that country.)  His popularity in public opinion polls quickly sinks as he looses the sympathy of voters for his widowhood.  This decline in his popularity negatively affects his ability to pass the legislation he wants:  important environmental and crime control bills.

I think the film gives an appreciable presentation of the fast pace of the President’s job:  constant meetings, balancing domestic politics with international affairs, dealing with the various politicians on Capitol Hill and the myriad interests they represent, a gaggle of aides and advisors scheduling his entire day for him, the complete lack of privacy, the carnivorous, scandal-seeking tabloid character of much of the media corp., etc.

We catch what I think is an interesting glimpse into some of the issues and forces swirling around in the American  cultural soup:  free speech, sexual morality, conservative political and religious forces, presidential accountability versus privacy, the operation of a political office and preparation for a campaign, the buying and selling of legislators’ votes, compromise in the pursuit of viable deals, environmental concerns in particular the fight against the causes of global warming and, the obligations of citizenship.

Michael J. Fox went on to perform in a popular political TV show, Spin City, where he played an  advisor to the Mayor of New York City.  (He has since retired from performing for health reasons.)

Martin Sheen went on to play the American President himself in the current popular TV show, The West Wing.  That show is a much better dramatization of the White House culture and the president’s job than this movie is, I think, and you might like to watch it if you can.  The West Wing was created by, and is co-produced and co-written by Aaron Sorkin, who is the script writer for The American President, hence the similarity between them.  I don’t know anything about his interest in The White House as a setting for movie and television drama.  Maybe he woke up one day and said to himself, “I want to write fictionalized drama for the big screen and small screens based on The White House.”  Maybe Sorkin is an avid Democratic  Party (liberal) supporter who actively uses his work to communicate his convictions.  Not that I blame him.  But it is just interesting to think that one can comprehend the jigsaw puzzle of another person’s life and motives.  Of course, I could be completely wrong.

The West Wing currently airs in Tokyo at 11:10 p.m. every Saturday night on NHK.  But if you are a romantic, I think you might enjoy The American President.  And, you might manage to avoid vomiting.

Grant先生 from (http://www.live-english.com/

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Catch Me if You Can 映画評論

Catch Me if You Can

starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye and Amy Adams

written by Jeff Nathanson

directed by Steven Spielberg

Another great performance by Tom Hanks, and a fair one by Leonardo DiCapiro.  Based on the true life story of 1960s American conman Frank Abagnale Jr., considered the most successful bank fraudster in U.S. history.

The story of Frank Abagnale is interesting and engrossing in no small part because it is true, and because he was so young when he lived a runaway life of fraud.  Between 1964 and 1967, before he was even 19-years-old, Abagnale successfully impersonated a PanAm airline pilot, a pediatrician in a Georgia hospital, and an assistant prosecutor in the State of Louisiana.  He forged and cashed about $4 million in fraudulent checks, which is what led the FBI’s Financial Crimes Division to pursue and apprehend him.

Teenage crime is noting new today, but being a teenage criminal in the 1960s was probably much more uncommon/unusual (and deviant).  Especially so because Abagnale was a white-collar criminal, not a car thief, a vandal, or a drug offender.  He gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “juvenile delinquent.”

How could a teenager  - 17-and-18-years old at the time  -  succeed so long, fooling so many people so completely in professional occupations?  Couldn’t people tell just by looking at him and listening to him that he was a boy, not an adult man?  First, Abagnale was a quick thinker and a quick talker. He could put on a convincing show.  Second, and more significantly, is that people believe what they are told more than what they see with their own eyes.

People believe what you tell them,” he says on the telephone to the FBI agent pursuing him, Carl Handratty (Tom Hanks).

I have found this myself, and I sometimes play the lying game just to see if people will believe me.  Or, to see what they will believe from me.  Surprisingly, people will believe almost any outrageous thing I say if I make it sound convincing (not too far from the truth), if I say it with a straight face, and if I appear honestly to stick by my story.  (Note to the reader:  I never part company with a person and leave them believing a lie I told them as a joke.)

Here is an important lesson about human psychology and personality.  We are succeptible to tricks.  We watch a magician performing tricks.  The magician tells us that he will saw the lady in half, or pour water into his hat, or make the rabbit disappear, but he never fails to admit that it is a deception.  And yet the audience still marvels at the convincing look of it, temporarily forgetting that the performer just admitted that it is a performance and not real.  Maybe people want to suspend their belief in reality.  The professions of airline pilot, doctor andlawyer are so marvelous in people’s eyes (or were, anyway) that the magical glow of the job obscured the reality of the boy putting on the show.  Amazing!  Could I spot a convincing fake?

The Financial Crimes Divsision is not sexy crime fighting.  It is a lot of tedious desk work, and does not feature car chases through the city, violent gun battles, or leaps from one rooftop to another.  But financial crimes do carry a lot of punch.  They are what put famous Chicago gangster Al Capone behind bars.

Grant先生(http://www.live-english.com/

pilot,

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Pirates of the Caribbean:The Curse of the Black Pearl 映画評論

Pirates of the Caribbean: 

The Curse of the Black Pearl

starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom,Jonathan Pryce and Jack Davenport

written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossia

directed by Gore Verbinski

Ever since the end of summer vacations I have been asking people, “Did you see Pirates of the Caribbean?” or, saying to them, “I saw Pirates of the Caribbean” and then hearing them confirm that they saw it, too.  And everybody’s reaction to it is positive and excited.  Everyone loved it.  I did, too.

This is a fun action film and I recommend it if it is fun you want.  It is a swashbuckling pirate movie that reminded me of the Geena Davis pirate movie Cutthroat Island from a few years ago.  I eagerly waited for Pirates to come out in theaters in Tokyo, but it came out on the very day that I was going abroad on vacation to my hometown.  Then, when I got home, I found it playing in movie theaters there.  Lucky me!

As you might recognize from the name, “Pirates of the Caribbean” is taken from the Disneyland amusement park ride.  But any comparison between the two ends there, I think.  Far from being a slow, tame amusement for children, Pirates is fast, non-stop action:  sword fights; ship-to-ship cannon battles; pirate raids on coastal hamlets; kidnapping; romance; treasure.  (I was told that Disneyland is now planning to renovate and spice up its stodgy old Pirates of the Caribbean ride to bring it more in line with the feeling of the movie.)  The script is written by a pair that produced animated hits such as Antz, Aladdin, and Shrek, so perhaps their cleverness alone was enough to propel the movie to summer time hit-dom.

The biggest drawback that I can thin of is that the seventeenth century pirate costumes are over-done.  I mean, the costume designers/managers/directors might have gone too far and created campy pirates.  But then I have to remember it is based on a Disneyland ride, after all, so maybe it’s okay.

Johnny Depp plays Captain Jack Sparrow, a pirate trying to reclaim his old ship, The Black Pearl, currently captained by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).  The crew of The Black Pearl have stolen an Aztec Indian treasure that put a terrible curse on them  -  they are zombies who cannot be killed, but at the same time cannot enjoy any of the benefits of living (like eating and drinking, tasting, sleeping, etc.).  In the light of day they look like normal men.  Well, pirates, anyway.  But under moonlight their true condition becomes evident in some really great, ghoulish scenes. (I won’t describe them. You must see the movie yourself.)

Over time the Aztec treasure has been dispersed here-and-there.  To lift the curse from themselves the captain and crew of The Black Pearl have to locate and retrieve all the original treasure.  The last piece of gold belongs to Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), daughter of the local British Governor (Jonathan Pryce).  The Governor intends his daughter to marry a local naval officer, but she prefers a poor childhood friend and commoner, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom).  But when Will teams up with Jack Sparrow to re-take The Black Pearl he becomes an outlaw.  So there are at least two conflicts at play.  There is the love conflict.  Then, there is the conflict of interests:  Captain Barbossa wants the girl while Jack Sparrow, to whom the girl is tied through their relationships with Will Turner, wants only the ship.  Here lie grounds for a double-crossing deal among pirates.

I look forward to it coming out on video so I can watch it again at my leisure.

Grant

http://www.live-english.com

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Gangs of New York 映画評論

Gangs of New York

starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Bleeson and Liam Neeson

written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kennth Longergan

directed by Martin Scorsese

When Gangs first came out on video in my local shop I did not want to rent it because it was very long (about 168-minutes), because the leaders for it that I had seen on other videos made it appear unpleasantly violent, and because it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I do not like.  But when I asked a British friend, whose opinion I trust, about it he recommended it enthusiastically, so I went ahead and rented it myself.  And, I do not regret it.  I think it is a great movie, and quite informative about he history of New York City, and 19th century America, as well. The film opens in 1846 with violent territorial clashes between rival ethnic gangs in the New York slum called “5 Points” (because of the intersection of streets there).  By way of self-justification or rationalization of the violence and the hatred behind it, the clashes are dressed up by the participants as ideology  -  nationalist patriots battling invading (immigrating) outsiders.  Of course, it is a child’s way of thinking, and weaker than a wet paper bag from a debating point of view.  But in the heat of hatred who cares about sense, logic, proportion, propriety and truth?

Next, jump ahead twenty years.  The American Civil War is in full swing and Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio)  -  the child of a gang leader (“the Priest,” played by Liam Neeson) killed in the 1846 skirmish  -  is released from the government asylum where he was raised after the death of his father, and returns to 5 Points for revenge.  Amsterdam is focused only on organizing his father’s old gang.  The Dead Rabbits, for revenge against The American Natives, headed by Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis).

Neither Amsterdam nor the Butcher pays any attention to the Civil War which looms in the background.  Or, rather, they are oblivious to it.  They think that the war will not reach into 5 Points and touch their lives.  This is a mistake.  Conscription into the Union Army was a big social issue of the day  -  people resisting it, politicians questioning people’s patriotism for resisting it, etc.  The 5 Points gangs trust that their bribes to corrupt politicians and their heavy-handed support of those politicians (illegally stuffing ballot boxes at election time) will protect them from the storm taking place outside their ghetto.  But it is not so.  By the end of the movie the city government requests federal troops to quell gang violence in 5 Points that spills out of that neighborhood and threatens the rest of the city with chaos.  These scenes reminded me of episodes from America’s civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 60s, when federal troops were deployed to ensure admission of black students to colleges, to check negro protest demonstrations, and to smother anti-Vietnam War protests.  Dramatic stuff.

I was moved by the final scene.  All people end in the grave.  Even mortal enemies in life can find themselves side-by-side in death, which is what happens to the Butcher and the Priest (Amsterdam’s father).  Over time the complexion of American society changes, and the dead and their causes are forgotten, but their grave markers remain.  In this case, their tombstones look over the East River from Brooklyn at the Manhattan skyline in the distance.  While the closing credits are scrolling up the screen the Manhattan skyline changes. Year-by-year, from the 1860s to the present skyline, one scene (or, recreated scene) is segued into another.  Finally, we see the twin towers of the World Trade Center come and then go.  It was a melancholy feeling, and good cinematography.

グラント先生(http://www.live-english.com/)

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Kung Pow - Enter the Fist 映画評論

Kung Pow  -  Enter the Fist

starring Steve Oedekerk, Jennifer Tung and Leo Lee

written and directed by Steve Oedekerk

I have watched this film about two dozen times already, and I have not yet stopped laughing myself into a tummy ache over it.  It is a comedy, a spoof on Hong Kong martial arts films like Bruce Lee’s famous Enter the Tiger.  What Steve Oedekerk did was take the 1976 Hong Kong movie Hu He Shuang Xing, or Tiger and Crane Fists, remove the sound and substituted an English script with a completely different story.  So there is a lot of comedy right here already, regardless of what the story of the English script turns out to be.  Not only does the dialogue not synchronize with the mouth movements  -  something that we have all come to expect from Chinese movies and a perennial joke in America about Chinese cinema  -  but the English story does not synchronize with the visual story taking place on the screen, either.  Oedekerk used computer technology to insert himself into the scenes of the original Chinese movie, then he added a few scenes of his own to smooth things over a little.  The result is supremely stupid and clever at the same time.  Stupid like a university student’s gag  -  a bunch of friends getting off by turning the sound down on the TV and then making up their own words to go with the pictures.  Or, like driving your car down the highway, listening to your favorite songs on the radio.  But the lyrics are not clear and you never bothered to learn the correct words, so you have to substitute your own  -  what you think they are  -  to keep the rhythm going.  (This is how the singer Weird Al Yankovic  -  a dentist by education, I think  -  began his hilarious career.)

I showed this video to all of my students as an end-of-term video.  After their in-class end-of-tem test was finished and returned I always show them an English video rather than start something new on the last day.  Students are not always enthusiastic about my choices, but this year they raved about Enter the Fist.  I have to say that I think it is the most age-appropriate movie that I have ever shown them.  They were interested, they laughed at all the right places, and afterwards students approached me to ask questions about it  -  the title, etc., because they wanted to rent it themselves to watch at home.

That was an excellent reaction, I thought.  But I could not understand the reaction of some of the Japanese English teachers who sometimes watched it with me.  In one class a teacher ordered me to turn it off.  Afterwards she said to me that she thought the movie was “not noble.”  I thought, “Noble?  It’s a movie.  You want nobility then go to church.  It’s funny and the kids love it.”

Grant http://www.live-english.com/

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スカイプを使って各種試験対策キャンペーン 2012年6月から!

スカイプを使って各種試験対策キャンペーン 2012年6月開始
  
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随時受付けております。

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John Q 映画評論

John Q

starring Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Anne Heche, Eddie Griffin, Kimberley Elise and Ray Liotta

written by James Kearns

directed by Nick Cassavetes

Not a great Denzel Washington effort, I thought, but a gripping story of a father struggling for his son’s life against the bureaucracy f the U.S. health care system.  It was okay, but not superb.  The acting was competent, no more.

Washington plays a middle class, blue collar factory worker.His only child, a son, suddenly falls ill at a minor league baseball game and is diagnosed with an eventually fatal heart condition. The cruel choices for the parents are either to waste time aiming for the unrealistic, out-of-reach expense of a heart transplant, or else resolve themselves to the inevitable death of their son and just try to enjoy his remaining time together, making him as comfortable as possible.

Tragically, these are choices that some parents really have to make, even in the United Staters today  -  the richest country in the world  -  because so many people do not have adequate health insurance, or because the fantastic cost of high technology medicine exceeds whatever health insurance they do have.

The parents cannot raise the money for surgery.  The boy’s condition deteriorates. His death is imminent.  To forestall disaster, John takes a gun to the hospital  -  possibly with the intention of forcing the heart surgeon to perform a transplant.  But it is clear that the father is neither clear nor decided in his own mind what his intentions are when he begins his craziness.  If worse comes to worse, his intention seems to be to kill himself and let his own, compatible heart be used in his son.  “John Q” is the name that he gives over the telephone to police negotiators who eventually arrive at the hospital, seal it, and prepare to defuse a textbook hostage situation.

John Q’s action is vengeance on a monstrous health care system/hospital bureaucracy that appears immovable towards, an unconcerned  with the tragedy overtaking his child.  For this reason, John Q reminded me of another movie about parental vengeance on an uncaring health care system, Ben Kingsley’s film The confession, which I reviewed in the January-March 2001 edition of this newsletter.

But this is a happy story, not a tragedy.  John Q doesn’t kill himself.  A suitable donor heart becomes available just in time through the hands of Fortune plus the intervention of a suddenly sentimental and sympathetic hospital administrator (Anne Heche).

Canada’s health care system, like Japan’s, is government-run socialized medicine.  There are a lot of inherent problems with socialized medicine, namely long waiting times, high taxes, and limited services.  America, by comparison, has capitalist, free-market health care offering more services, faster, but at excruciatingly high cost.  I prefer the socialized health scheme.  I will tolerate the slowness and the bureaucracy for the knowledge that the politicians who are charged with administering it are responsible to me through the ballot box.

Parents must sometimes wonder, “What will we do if our child becomes gravely ill?  How will we react?  How will we pay for treatment?  How can we live without our baby?”  John Q might not be a really exceptional film, but it has an emotional punch to it.

グラント先生(http://www.live-english.com/)

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The Ring 映画評論

The Ring

starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderseon, David Dorfman, Richard

Lineback and Daveigh Chase

written by Ehren Kruger

directed by Gore Verbinski

I looked forward to seeing this movie because it was talked about so much when it came out in movie theaters last year.  Now I have seen it and I am satisfied.  I watched the original Japanese movie of the same title, and while I was watching the American movie on video with my wife and daughter I was often distracted by their complaining shouts, “That’s different!”  “That’s not the same as in the real movie.”

I tried to point out to them that any discrepancy between the American Ring and the Japanese Ring might be accounted for by the fact that the American movie is based on the novel of the same title by Koji Suzuki and not on the Japanese film itself.  But it is hard for me to tell because I have not read the novel -  yet  -  and my Japanese is too weak to understand much more than the gist, or the story line of the original.

One thing is correct, though.  The Ring is not really that scary.  It remains a good story.  But I thought it could have been scarier. I think Japanese are highly emotional, really not inscrutable like what racial stereotypes once described, and they like a good scare as well as a good cry.  (Consider the popularity of haunted mansions, or obakeiyashiki at summer and school festivals.)  But the Japanese Ring was not stark raving scary, I thought. Neither was the American Ring.  To me the Japanese film felt too much like it was following a form defined as “horror movie” (regardless of whether or not it was really spine chilling), and that the actors were always holding back, while the American film felt too much like a copy of something (which it is).  So all-in-all it was a good film with some scary moments.  But not enough to give a person nightmares.  That is what I want form a horror movie.  I want nightmares to prove to myself that I am really alive.

(グラント先生)http://www.live-english.com/

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