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July 15, 2010 Edition

The Great Queen Seondeok


Fans of Dae Jang Geum, rejoice! Here’s another multi-hour South Korean soap opera that will be perfect for our long winter evenings. Set during the period of the Three Kingdoms, this is the story of the life of the younger twin of the Silla royal family, Deokman, abandoned at birth because of an unfavorable prophecy. When fate rejoins her with her family, Deokman sides with her twin sister and General Kim Yusin in saving the throne from the greedy machinations of one of the royal concubines. Her twin is killed during the struggle and Deokman becomes the heir, and in due time, queen. Sacrificing her personal happiness for the good of her country, she brings peace to Silla during her 14 year reign.

Night Watch


Day Watch


This pair of movies are the first two of a horror-fantasy trilogy (the third is not yet in production) by the same titles. Centuries ago, when the lord of the light realized that his forces were evenly matched with those of the dark, the two lords struck a truce with each other. The two forces, composed of vampires, witches, shape-shifters, and other supernatural beings, will watch each other to ensure that peace is maintained while they wait for the Great One arrive to shift the balance. In modern day Russia, Anton is a member of the Night Watch who discovers that he may hold some influence over the Great One. Darkly beautiful, these films are rich with unexplored avenues and crowded with characters that give psychological weight to the impossible. Remarkably well-dubbed by actors, not a reader, so non-Russian speakers have the option of dispensing with subtitles.

The Barbarian Invasions


When Sebastien tries to reconcile with his father, who is dying of cancer, it doesn’t go well at all: they’ve always been opposites, and Sebastien’s capitalist ways grate on Remy’s socialist outlook. Still, Sebastien can’t let Remy, who has always been so full of life, die in the bleak hospital room, and sets about making things better. Bribing the hospital to let Remy have a whole floor to himself, finding heroin to help ease his pain, and bringing his father’s friends, colleagues, and former lovers together takes organization and money, but Sebastien makes it happen, ensuring that his father leaves this world the way he lived in it: surrounded by friends, conversation, food, and wit.

Rumba


Although this gem is considered a foreign film, there really isn’t much dialogue: the majority of the story is carried out in body language and sight gags. Fiona and Dom are a happy couple, teaching elementary school children how to speak English by day (and having great fun with it) and indulging in their passion, Latin Dancing, by night. But one night, giddy with victory in an important competition, they encounter a man trying to commit suicide by car and in evading him, crash. And when they awaken, their world is over: Fiona has lost a leg, and Dom has lost his memory. But they carry on, until Dom goes out one day and doesn’t come back, having forgotten where he lives. This is a quirky and creative comedy, dark in parts, owing much to the physical comedy of Jacques Tati, Charlie Chaplin, and John Cleese.

Dodes’ka-den


First released in 1970, this is Akira Kurosawa’s first color film, and (in an era rich in monster movies) a commercial flop because of its artsy, experimental style and depressing realism. Seen today, however, it is a masterpiece of slices of life in a Tokyo slum in the style of Short Cuts, Crash, and Babel. Color is used expertly for continuity, comedic effect, and mood. A teenager with the mind of a child provides the title for this moving film: Rokkuchan makes his way through his neighborhood every day in his imaginary trolley car, saying “dodes’ka-den, dodes’ka-den” (clickety-clack, clickety-clack), wandering wherever the taunting children will let him. Other characters include a pair of couples who live in color-coded homes and drunkenly swap partners, a father and son who sleep in an abandoned VW bug and pass time by imagining their dream home, and others in equally desperate straits.

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