Rebecca Redshaw's "SOFA CINEMA: An Easy Guide to DVDs Volume 1" is available at your local book store, at the Sequim Gazette and online at www.rebeccaredshaw.com.
The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer.
"King of Masks,"
Why wait until your son or daughter is a sophomore in college and comes home to preach the virtues of foreign films? First of all, you already know the perspective of filmmakers from other parts of the world differs distinctly from "Westerners" and that their efforts not only entertain but educate. Second, the labor of reading subtitles under non-English tracks is a mere inconvenience measured against the wealth of fresh ideas, new talent and worldly exposure a non-studio, independent foreign film might offer.
Why this exposé? "King of Masks." This Chinese movie falls into the category of Hidden Gem and Foreign Film and viewing it is the perfect opportunity for youngsters (third grade and up, or younger if they are particularly precocious) to experience the world of filmmaking beyond our borders.
Wang Bianlian is an aging street magician known as the King of Masks. An old man, he is a master of a fascinating dying art that will disappear if he does not find an heir with whom to share his secrets. A famous entertainer in Chinese opera admires his work and offers to include him in his performance, but Wang is a troubadour and dedicated to his art and performing in the street. Married early in life, his wife took his young son and left him long ago so he searches for a child to adopt. Given the time and custom, adopting a girl would not do.
The movie is set in China in the 1930s when it was possible to adopt a child for a few dollars. The relationship between "Grandpa" and the child he affectionately calls "Doggie" is the heart and soul of this movie. The outcome of their travails is not as predictable as one might imagine and it demonstrates that courage, loyalty and compassion can come in very small packages.
"King of Masks" probably was not intended as a children's picture. Unrated, yet suitable for all ages, you don't have to watch this movie with children to enjoy it. But it doesn't hurt.
"The Good Earth"
The adaptation of the novel "The Good Earth" to the screen was remarkably true to the story fictionalized in the novel by Pearl S. Buck. Having lived in China for many years, the author had an excellent grasp of customs and behaviors in the 1830s when most of the world was unaware of this mysterious Eastern culture.
Wang Lung (Paul Muni) is a peasant farmer who toils long hours to make his small plot of land productive. Acquiring a slave woman, Olan (Luise Rainer) as his wife, Wang Lung's fortunes slowly and steadily grow as together they tend to the earth.
Their world is complicated by forces of nature including drought, famine and plague as well as political unrest on a global scale and demanding relatives on their doorstep.
Directed by Sidney Franklin in 1937, "The Good Earth" casts few Chinese in speaking parts but because the story is so powerful, that lack of authenticity seems incidental. The struggle to survive under difficult circumstances is universal and Wang Lung and Olan only serve to bring that struggle home.
"Trouble the Water"
Filming techniques have come a long way with the advent of hi-tech affordable cameras and post-production magic. Today's documentaries often have a sleek, glossy look regardless of the subject matter. Such is not the case in "Trouble the Water."
Filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin combined their footage with the raw, home videotape of Kimberly Roberts. With the prediction of rising flood waters in New Orleans in 2005, Roberts decided to document the days to come with her camcorder. The result is eye-catching video of a neighborhood's preparation for Hurricane Katrina, watching the waters rise and witnessing harrowing rescues to higher rooftops.
It's one thing to be safe and dry and miles away watching the news and then going about a normal life. It's another to realize that many inner city people didn't have the means, either money or transportation, to escape the inevitable. The added catastrophe of government mismanagement of resources contributes to the disastrous outcome.
"Trouble the Water" is not an easy documentary to watch and sometimes difficult to understand. It does serve as a reminder that as Americans we are not "created equal" on many fronts and raises the question as to how we resolve the differences.
Rebecca Redshaw can be reached at r2redshaw@
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