Archive for February, 2014

Ying Xiong (Hero) – *1/2

Posted: February 27, 2014 in 2002, Action, China, Historical, War, X1/2

Tony Chio Wai Leung impressed me so much in Lust/Caution that I want to see all of his work! He also stars in Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-like epic Chinese costume action movie, which I once started to watch but failed to finish. Time to put in that forgotten dvd and persevere…

Sure, it’s epic. The cinematography is awesome. The scenes with masses of extras building up an army or guarding the king’s palace are impressive. And Tony Leung is brilliant in all the scenes he’s in. But as a whole, this is not a memorable movie. The fight scenes are choreographed like dance recitals and don’t impress. ‘Hovering in the air before finally striking’ looks very dated anno 2014. Jet Li has no facial expression at all and looks/talks/acts nothing like a hero. And there’s no captivating story.

A royal ruler accepts the invitation of a man who claims to have killed his most dangerous enemies. After each heroic account, the man is allowed to come closer to the king. At one point however, the king gets paranoid and gives his take on the accounts. These different interpretations are a great tool to see multiple fight scenes between the same people, but it’s not good storytelling.

Disappointed, but glad to have persevered this second time around.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0299977

Season two of this successful BBC show, starts in the trenches of Northern France during the First World War. After all, the story takes place in the 1910s and the Great War had a huge impact on the life of aristocracy around Europe. The count and his family decide to open up their castle for wounded soldiers who need to recover. That’s very noble of course, but nobody really watches this show for its historical references.

After a few episodes it’s very clear what this show really is: a soap opera. Mary still loves Matthew, but Matthew is now in love with Lavinia and wants to marry her. Since Mary is damaged goods she accepts the proposal of a media magnate, partly because he also threatens to reveal her secret if she doesn’t do what he says. Anna wants to marry John but Sarah warns John’s ex-wife. Daisy gets engaged to William but only because he would keep up his spirits at the front. Oh and Lady of the house Cora is so busy that Count Robert gets it on with a housemaid even though he opposes to his youngest daughter Sibyl getting married to the chauffeur.  Edith then gets it going with a married farmer.

And this goes on and on and on.

I can’t be bothered with season 3. I’m sure it’s good as a soap, but as a historically accurate period setting it’s not.

Set in Hong Kong and Shanghai before and during the Second World War, this daunting espionage thriller by Ang Lee doesn’t get you hooked until you witness a very brutal murder scene. The first half hour just introduces the characters and the setting. Japan has occupied China and at the university of unoccupied Hong Kong there’s a growing awareness of resistance. Enter a group of students who first try to raise awareness by acting in a patriotic theatre play and later decide to take their acting skills further by introducing themselves with fake identities to a powerful Chinese collaborator. The plan is easy: one of the girls in the group has to become the collaborator’s mistress and once she’s alone with him they will strike.

Two actors stand out. One is newcomer Tang Wei who plays the seducer and movie superstar Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as the collaborator. Every scene they are in together is mesmerizing and is filled with feelings of Lust and Caution as the title promises. Especially during the daring sex scenes. Movies like these can easily fall subject to stereotyping by focussing on a villain and a good whore. But Ang Lee just makes both very human in their moments together. He did an excellent casting job. Both actors and both characters fascinate until the very end. You’re never quite sure if they enjoy the lust more than the fear of getting caught.

The soundtrack is outstanding, a movie element which often is underrated. It helps create the atmosphere. The cinematography however looks very fake. The recreated Hong Kong and Shanghai from the late thirties and early forties doesn’t come across as realistic. Even though they spend millions on creating the historical set. It looks too much like a movie set.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0808357

 

 

Milkha Singh is an Indian sports hero who won several 400m races from the mid fifties until the early sixties. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag means Run Milkha, Run and tells the story of how this man became the fastest Indian ever.

It’s three hours long, but it never bores. The directing and editing are really good and quite different from the typical Bollywood movies. Nothing we haven’t seen in any Hollywood or Eastern Asian movie, but very enjoyable. The storytelling uses a lot of flashbacks, jumping between different periods in the mans life. But it’s never confusing or predictable. The compulsory dance & chant scenes are limited and the soundtrack is surprisingly cool with heavy guitar riffs during the action scenes. And the acting is superb. Especially by Farhan Akhtar in the leading role. This guy isn’t just a pretty boy, he also has the talent to move the audience in every funny, emotional and physical scene. That smile. Those expressions. That body!

This is an interesting biopic with the right balance between entertainment and drama. Life for Milkha was hard, surviving a massacre as a child, becoming an orphan, growing up as a petty thief, entering the army, competing with India’s elitist athletes and facing his own demons. You start rooting for this guy from the very first scene to the last one.

There are a lot of superfluous (but not necessarily bad) scenes that prevent this from being a classic masterpiece. But it’s a must nevertheless.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2356180

Check out this training scene:

It also has scenes like these:

Krrish 3 – *1/2

Posted: February 19, 2014 in 2013, Action, Fantasy, India, Science Fiction, X1/2

A paralysed Magneto vs a masked Superman, Bollywood style!

That’s the easiest way to describe this Indian blockbuster. It’s long and has three boring and silly musical sequences. The special effects are dated, the fight scenes weird, the editing is horrible, there is no cinematography at all.

But it’s a Bollywood superhero movie ! Which makes it funny. Fuck Hollywood, they must think in Mumbai, we want to see Indian good vs evil. And it works somehow. I totally enjoyed this pulp. And muscle king Hrithik Roshan may act like Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme, he somehow gets away with it better.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1029231

Diamantes Negros – **1/2

Posted: February 19, 2014 in 2013, Drama, Mali, Spain, Sportsdrama, XX1/2

There’s a lot of misery in this Spanish movie about the ongoing trade of minor soccer players from Africa. It’s incredibly depressing and makes you very angry at this scandalous business. You can’t blame the African kids who dream of world stardom and easily trust any scout that promises to bring them to Europe. You can only blame the scrupulous businessmen who treat their new recruits as disposable products if they don’t deliver. And you can blame the commercial game of soccer which creates these dreams and opens doors for crooks to bring on new talent.

I am not a soccer fan, apart from the fact that is a uniting game played in almost every single culture all over the world and thus an easy subject understand other societies. That’s what makes this movie appealing to a large audience. The storyline may be predictable and quite simple, but never bores and it allows for some cultural education as well. There is even room for (intercultural) humour.

The story focuses on two childhood friends from Mali who get recruited by a Spanish talent scout. They have to invest a lot of money to get the opportunity to leave for Europe, but their family and local society are convinced they will pay it back one day. So off they go to Madrid where they encounter Western Society with all its up and downs.

The two actors are obviously new to the acting business but they perform well. One is exited and nervous about the adventure and does not want to disappoint his family. The other has more talent, but is more reserved and cautious. Both are in for an emotional roller coaster ride of good and bad surprises. They carry the movie and make it worth the watch.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2362320/

Captain Phillips – **

Posted: February 19, 2014 in 2013, Action, Hijack, Terrorist, Thriller, USA, XX

Captain Phillips is an easy action thriller based on true events. It’s easy because it adds nothing particularly difficult to the linear and predictable storytelling. A captain takes a container ship from Oman to Kenya and gets hijacked by a small group of 4 Somali pirates. There are 20 to 30 crew members but the whole story focusses on one captain. Boring! And the captain is played by Tom Hanks. Boring.

It’s well made. But it just didn’t excite or thrill me at all.

It may be based on true events, but it is never explained why on earth the crew of such huge cargo ships cannot fire at criminals attacking them on a small ship. I’m sure there is some international law protecting human rights and stuff, but it would have been nice to actually have heard the crew discuss this topic. It would have just been nice to have the crew discuss anything. There is an interesting – but far too brief – scene in which the sailors tell the captain that they didn’t sign up to fight pirates. But then the captain tells them to resign as soon as they arrive in Mombasa and that’s the end if it. I have heard more heated discussions between a captain and his crew on the necessity of removing spider webs from the engine room.

And then you have the pirates of which the leader is the ugliest actor the cast director could find. It earned the him (Barkhad Abdi) an oscar nomination. But for what? Looking scary, confused and inarticulate isn’t good acting. His fellow pirate (Barkhad Abdirahman) is as scary, confusing and inarticulate. And he looks cooler.

Where is the empathy or disgust for these pirates? There is none whatsoever. Boring! There is an interesting scene – again too brief – in the beginning that tries to explain a bit how these pirates operate. What’s the background of these pirate motherfuckers? That’s what is interesting. Not how the Us Navy will end this hijack situation.

In the end you don’t care if someone survives or not.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1535109

Gallipoli – ***

Posted: February 18, 2014 in 1981, Australia, Historical, War, XXX

This remarkable movie features a young Mel Gibson as a runner in the Australian army. This WWI drama is unique in that it’s only a war movie in the last twenty minutes or so and that the first 90 minutes are an introduction to the very last scene. It never bores and excels with its cinematography, great period setting and silly humour. Mel Gibson is excellent even though he has more of a supporting role. The main focus lies with a young runner who prefers to go to war than train to become the nation’s best sprinter. After winning a competition, he is considered too young to join. But with persistence and the help of an – ironically – anti-war athlete (Gibson), he does manage to join up and leave for North Africa, where he later meets his runner buddy again.

This movie came to my intention after visiting the war memorial in Canberra where you get bombarded by tales of the Anzac spirit. The battle at Gallipoli (a place in Turkey, which sided with the Germans) has left a strange heroic impression on Australians. Strange because the battle was a massacre and thousands died. It’s a weird symbol of bravery and pride. But the movie makes you understand all the fuss a bit more. THe story only focuses on he battle at the final end and builds up to it in a poetic and enjoyable way. It’s patriotic for sure and a tad racist at one point (upon arrival in Egypt), but it feels real.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082432/

Ned Kelly – *1/2

Posted: February 17, 2014 in 2003, Australia, Drama, Historical, X1/2

Travelling from Albury to Melbourne makes you stop in several places like Beechworth and Glenrowan, that boom on the Australian hero hype called Ned Kelly. Everywhere you go you see references to this notorious and popular bush ranger who stood up against the Victorian police some 120 years ago. The first Australian movie dealt about his legacy and it has been retold in many different versions.

The last adaption for the big screen was made a few years ago with a stellar cast including Heath Ledger as Ned Kelly, Orlando Bloom as his buddy and Naomi Watts as his love interest. I guess they hoped to get the story across to Europe and North America as well.

Alas. They failed. To me, this Ned Kelly remains a lowlife criminal who defied the authorities. I don’t believe any of the romanticized depiction. Heath Ledger makes this crook so admirable and charming that it just doesn’t feel right. Naomi unconvincingly plays a damsel in distress, who doesn’t add anything to the story. But Orlando Bloom kind of surprises even though his character is just supporting. However, the actors are not to blame. The storytellers and the director are. If this is Australia’s favourite historical character, them Australia needs to create a new one fast. What a bore!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0277941