Saturday, September 15, 2007

Watched August 27 - September 2, 2007: Bunuel and Hwang

Gran Casino (Luis Buñuel, 1947)

Gran Casino was Bunuel's first Mexican film -- a musical about chicanery in the oil fields of Tampico. Two ne'er-do-well drifters go to work for an independent oil well owner, whose claim is coveted by a local crime boss. When the owner "disappears" at a shady night club, the drifters wind up in charge. When the owner's younger sister (a singer) comes to visit, she suspects foul play -- and takes a job at the night club incognito. Our hero, of course, loses his heart to her -- and so does the crooked boss. What will happen to the hero? the heroine? the wells?

The script for this film is -- shall we say -- a bit light-weight. The acting is mostly just passable. But I actually enjoyed the (mostly gratuitous) musical numbers. I was surprised to find a lot more little touches suggestive of the once and future Bunuel than I expected. There were some interesting links to Huston's soon-to-follow Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- including the appearance of Alfonso Bedoya as leader of the crooked boss's gang of enforcers. As the screen shots here show, the new Lionsgate DVD of this film looks quite fine.

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The Young One / La Joven (Luis Buñuel, 1960)

Young One is a lot more substantial piece of work than its companion in the Lionsgate set-- arguably one of Bunuel's best films. One of two English language films made by Bunuel (the other being his Robinson Crusoe), this one deals with both racism and the sexual exploitation of a minor, handling the issues in a fashion that is not particularly conventional. The cinematography (by Gabriel Figueroa) is absolutely gorgeous. While I generally find Zachary Scott a bit wooden (and this is not an exception), the performances of Kay Meersman (as the girl) and Bernie Hamilton (the fugitive jazz clarinetist) are superb -- and Bunuel regular Claude Brook portrays (well) yet another (mostly) admirable religious figure. If one really wanted desperately to complain about this film, one could note that the Mexican island (near Acapulco?) on which this was filmed doesn't look remotely like a Carolina barrier island. But I'd just as soon not complain (on this score -- or any other).

This is a film where I find any attempt at verbal description largely inadequate, the screen shots say far more about the film than I ever could. The Lionsgate DVD of this looks simply superb -- so it is unfortunate that the discs in this set are mis-marked (in order to see this film, one needs to watch the disc labeled Gran Casino).

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Chulsoo & Younghee
(HWANG Gyu-deok, 2005)

A rather sweet good-natured tale of life and love among middle schoolers. Younghee is a transfer student, who has come to live with her grandmother (the proprietor of a small florist shop) following the death of her parents (who were musicians). Chulsoo is one of the class clowns in the classroom to which Younghee is assigned. Chulsoo tries to gain the approval of Younghee (often counter-productively), eventually resorting to pleading for math tutoring from her (which he badly needs). Meanwhile, Younghee develops a crush on the kindly (and handsome) proprietor (played by star JEONG Jin-yeong) of a CD store across the street from her grandmother's shop. Learning of Younghee's love of music (and lack of a CD player), Chulsoo gets a job as a paperboy to buy her one for Christmas. Not high art, but sweet -- it must have come out at a bad time in Korea (where it played in only two theaters and sold less than 3,000 tickets).

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