Reviews: Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall’s Memois of a Geisha doesn’t seem like it should have been a controversial motion picture. But the decision to use Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang as the films lead in lieu of a more authentic Japanese actress, caused major uproar in Japan, where the film was subsequently banned.

Now having seen Memoirs for myself, I can understand why the Japanese would be upset by something that seems to be a minor detail. This picture lacks not only authenticity but passion as well.

Don’t be mistaken. It is a beautifully scored and well-directed picture. Each shot is visually stunning with vivid colors and flawless acting. But it’s faults outnumber these glorious achievements.

Based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha follows Chiyi (Ziyi Zhang) who rises from her poor upbringing to become Japan’s most celebrated geisha. Throughout her difficult journey, Chiyi is mentored by Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) and tormented by rivals Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh) and Hatsumomo (scene-stealer Gong Li) until she becomes the geisha Sayuri. The geisha becomes a lost art form during World War II and Sayuri is driven only by her love for the Chairman (Ben Wantanabe).

Memoirs lack of authenticity comes from the actor’s inability to morph into true geishas. The performers lack the extreme femininity yet mechanical movements of traditional Japanese women seen in Japanese productions.

The acting performances are as passionate as the passionless script allows. You never feel Sayuri’s love for the Chairman, her anger after many betrayals, her heartbreak when she is separated from her sister, or her excitement and nervousness during her geisha debut.

Memoirs of a Geisha does deliver. Despite its visual achievements, Memoirs fails to captivate and it comes to a big fart at the end.

Updated October 12, 2010

Reviews: Four Movies I’ve Seen Recently

I’ll be away for the next 4 days so I’m leaving 4 mini-reviews of some movies you should (not) check out over the weekend.

Up and Down (2004)

This Czech film opens as two low lifes discover an abadoned child and consequenly sell it on the black market which leads to a series of unique events. Director Jan Hrebejk overlaps three plotlines of a childless couple, an emigre who returns to Prague to confront family issues, and the two criminals to tell this comic, satirical, and tragic tale of loss, family, love, and acceptance. Memorable scenes and humorous characters combine to create an above-average film.


Head-On (2004)

Sibel (Sibel Kikilli) and Cahit (Birol Unel) are Turkish immigrants living in Germany who are both trapped by their lives. Sibel is surrounded by her overbearing and traditional family and Cahit is a bum with no hope for the future. Upon meeting at a hospital, Sibel asks Cahit to marry her so she can escape her family. What happens next is a touching, passionate, profound, and exhilirating love story. A lovely film and a magnificent cultural experience. Ultimately worth the trip.

2046 (2004)

Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung) is a writer who has created a science fiction masterpiece about a train, 2046, that goes nowhere and after boarding you can never exit. This story, with its vivid imagery, becomes the subplot for another.

Set in 1960’s Hong Kong, the writer lives a party lifestyle and his relationships with three girls, including one played byZiyi Zhang, is the center of movie . 2046 is a story of memories, love, and the future and it is one that should not be missed.

Off the Map (2003)

A coming-of-age story set in the remote New Mexico desert. 11-year old Bo’s life is nothing short of unique. Her family lives “off the map”, on an isolated farm that has no electricity or running water. They survive on less than $20,000 per year. One summer she watches as her father battles unexplainable depression. It is during this summer that a stranger (Jim True-Frost) emerges and through him Bo learns about love and lost. Joan Allen is beyond excellent as Bo’s mother, a part Hopi-Indian with Earth Mother tendencies. Each scene is filled with humor, originality, and beaut y. A lovely, little-known wonder of a movie that leaves you wanting more.

Review: The Best of Youth (2003)

When I told my friends that my weekend plans consisted of watching a six-hour Italian movie, they thought I was insane. But let me tell you, it was well worth it.

The Best of Youth, directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, follows two brothers Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Alessio Boni) from 1966 to the present. The film opens as the brother’s are about to set out on a road trip. However, they take a detour that will forever change their lives. After this moment, they go their separate ways; Nicola becomes a successful psychiatrist and Matteo enters the police force.

This is a movie of epic proportions that tells the story of family, friendship, and love. For such an extensive and long movie, it never misses the fine points of characterization. The film will draw you in and at the end I guarantee that you will say, “Wait a second, there should be three more hours.”

The Best of Youth is film making at its best, with amazing performances, stunning images of the Italian landscape, and a certain intimacy that made me take in a second viewing.

Reviews: Junebug (2005) and A History of Violence (2005)

Here is my take on two Oscar-nominated performances in two very different films.

Junebug (2005)

A delightful family dramedy. Art dealer Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) and her new husband George (Alexander Nivola) travel to North Carolina so Madeleine can sign the next big artist. The pair stop at George’s parents house and Madeleine is immediately the outsider.

Her presence shakes the foundation of the already fragile family. There is the stubborn and unforgiving mother Peg (Celia Watson), befuddled dad Eugene (Scott Wilson) and cranky, often immature, brother Johnny (Ben Mackenzie). Amy Adams delivers a touching performance as Ashley, Johnny’s pregnant and naive wife. She is completely awestruck by everything about her new relative.

This is film about family ties is worth seeing.


A History of Violence (2005)

William Hurt’s performance lasts only 10 minutes and it was one of the few good things in the thriller A History of Violence. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this movie. It is about big city corruption versus the quiet small town life and how your past is never too far behind. It is about relationships: husbands and wives, fathers and sons, enemies (in school and in life). It is about how everyone has the ability to act violent. But it is not this great movie that all the critics are making it out to be.

Ed Harris as the man who comes back to haunt Tom Stall’s (Viggo Mortenson) peaceful family life, gives a more convincing and frightening performance. Maria Bello, who is amazing in every role she chooses, was not recognized for her brilliant work as the shocked, defenseless, and hurt wife.

But, it is what it is. And even I cannot deny that Willaim Hurt gave an excellent performance.

Review: The Constant Gardener (2005)

With the annoucement of the Academy Award nominations tomorrow, I’m reviewing a film that I feel should be included on the Oscar ballot. The political thriller, The Constant Gardener, released in August 2005, could fall victim to the being-an-excellent-movie-but-it-was-released-too-soon saga.

Adapted from the best-selling John le Carre novel, The Constant Gardener tells the story of Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat who would rather spend time in his garden than dealing with his surroundings. His activist wife Tessa (a superb Rachel Weisz) is charming, intelligent, and head-strong. But when Tessa is brutally murdered in Northern Kenya, Justin takes on the challenge of uncovering the motives behind her death. It is a journey of self-discovery that leads him across Africa and he uncovers the evils of powerful corporations. The enduring love story Justin and Tessa creates a touching and somber mood.

The core of this film is Africa. Filmed on location in the slums of Nairobi, instead recreating scenes in South Africa, The Constant Gardener has a shockingly real feeling. Director Fernando Meirelles (City of God), delivers another outstanding cinema experience. The beyond-excellent performances of Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz and the mesmerizing images create a beautiful, poetic, and touching film. This movie deserves a place on the 2006 Oscar ballot.

Updated October 10, 2010