Monday, September 19, 2022

The Church of Baseball: How to Work a Miracle

“Making a good and successful movie is a minor miracle every time.” – Ron Shelton, The Church of Baseball.

I love Ron Shelton’s movies the way I love those of the legendary 1940s filmmaker Preston Sturges. Both are quintessentially American writer-directors with a wild sense of humor and a gift for using language in astonishingly fresh ways. Both work intimately with hip, canny character actors to create small worlds that are somehow simultaneously wittily devised and vividly familiar. Sturges may be more off-kilter (though Shelton can be just as nutty) and Shelton less skittish about betraying emotion (though he’s never sentimental), but both come to their material with an attitude of wry amusement and sublime common sense   You can trace both men’s approach to the same master comic voice: Mark Twain’s.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Anything Is Possible Once the Sun Goes Down: Au Revoir Taipei (Yi Ye Taibei / 一頁台北 2010)

Chun-Yao Yao in Au Revoir Taipei (Yi Ye Taibei / 一頁台北 2010).

Writer-director Arvin Chen’s feature debut, Au Revoir Taipei (Yi Ye Taibei / 一頁台北, 2010) – the Mandarin title is a pun on “one night in Taipei” – is a whimsical and slightly farcical romantic comedy that I believe could only have been made in Taiwan, and it’s on YouTube. The key to its tonal success lies in the characterization. It’s my favorite Taiwan film.

In Taiwan, we have this thing we do in social situations: we play dumb instead of taking the initiative, lest we propose something that someone doesn’t want to do, but would go along with anyway just to be polite. The film captures this idea perfectly, which is why it’s one of the few contemporary films to nail a natural-sounding Taiwanese Mandarin. In fact, almost the entire film features characters who don’t know each other very well sharing a scene, and playing dumb describes most of the dialogue.