Sunday, October 9, 2011

RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS: EDITION 11: "POETRY," "OUTSIDE THE LAW", "13 ASSASSINS", "THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN," AND MORE!

Well, it seems to be foreign film week for me here. 5 or the 6 newer movie (Films that were released within the last two years, are films from another country, and the one that isn't, the documentary "A Small Act," takes place in Africa and Sweden, and is multi-lingual. For those who don't care for foreign films, well, start watching them, they're usually better than American films, but I know already that next week's list of newer films will have more American films. 

Plus, for reasons that I am still trying to figure out, the blog has apparently lost a couple of my reviews, and since the films "A Summer in Genoa," and "Dark Matter," are of minimal importance, I'm simply going to give a star ratings to those films instead of trying to rewrite the review, which obviously isn't saved anywhere or I would've typed it in or cut and paste it in. Hopefully, this is a one-time thing, and I apologize for it. The blog is acting strange today, I can't explain it, but this is happening.

Also, as everybody already knows, we lost Steve Jobs this week, and I think everybody, including the film and entertainment industry is still mourning his lost. Like Edison before him, Jobs's influence is far-reaching and the film industry, which Edison invented, is no exception. From watching movies on ipads and iphones (Although I don't recommend it), to completely changing the way movies are edited with Final Cut Pro, the industry standard for film editing now, and frankly having used the software, it's mind-boggling to me how we used to edit films before it. That alone changed modern cinema, and let's not forget Pixar Animation Studios. Jobs has had a hand in all three "Toy Story"'s, "Monsters, Inc.," "Cars," "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles," "Wall-E," "A Bug's Life," not to mention their Award-winning shorts that basically created CGI-animation. Arguably Steve Jobs, has done more to change the way films are made than anybody in the last 25 years, and let's face it, this is a minor accomplishment for the guy, slightly above making Super Bowl commercials the huge event that they are now, which he also did. This is a colossal of a man that we lost this week and the fact that he was only 56..., it's scary to think, what else he could've come up. He will be missed, his presence on this planet, is long-lasting and far-reaching, and the entertainment industry is no exception.
POETRY (2011) Director: Chang-Dong Lee
4 1/2 STARS

Looking up Korean director Chang-Done Lee on imdb.com, after seeing his film, "Poetry," I wasn't at all surprised to learn that he started his career off as a novelist, and later transitioned into filmmaking. His film "Poetry," follows Mija (Jeong-hie Yun), a 60-year old grandmother, who watches her teenage grandson, and is slowly but surely beginning to deal with the effects of Alzheimer's. She has a few routines, and often cooks and even takes care of an elderly neighbor, but she finds that her life is lacking, and she enrolls in a poetry class at one of those adult education centers. The grandson seems distant, and the only times they seem to have any real moments between them is when she can coax reluctantly into games of badminton. At the same time, a local girl is found in the river. She's been raped, multiple times, and eventually killed. Mija's grandson is one of the rapists, along with numerous other kids, all of whom must come from rich families, because the parents have come together to offer payment to the girl's family, Mija included has to pay her share. Now, what I've told you so far are details of the story, but the real is not these details, its in the mood of the film. The film is slow-moving, but it's a mood piece, poetic. Constantly drifting in on certain details as Mija, even when she has the knowledge of her diagnosis, doesn't seem to change her routine that much. It's hard sometimes to tell what she is thinking, or if she's thinking, and yet, she continually goes to this poetry class every week, where she meets new friends and acquaintances and writes. She is the center of this movie, and this is an amazing performance by Jeong-hiu Yun. It's a perfectly subtle performance, of somebody who is beginning to slowly wither away, but still has enough of her mind to contemplate and strategize the situation(s) around her. This is a beautiful movie, worthy of it's title, and I wouldn't be shocked at all if Jeong-hiu Yun sneaks into a few Best Actress categories come award season, it's one of the best performances of the year.

OUTSIDE THE LAW (aka HORS-LA-LOI) (2010) Director: Rachid Bouchareb
3 STARS
One of the most expensive foreign films ever made, "Outside the Law (Hors-La-Loi)", is one of those movies that tries to have it all. It's a war movie, it's a family melodrama, and a history lesson. It's never strong enough as any one of those to make the film stand out from the more American sprawling epics it's inspired from, but it's interesting enough to recommend. Even though it was paid through European funding, mainly French, the film was Algeria's Academy Award entry in the Foreign Language Film category this year, and its got it's moments. The movie takes place over decades, chronicling the fight for Algerian Independence from French rule, by following three brothers as they travel the globe. Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) joins the French Army as the end of thier colonization of Indochina begins. One of those weird things we forget sometimes, how the French basically ruled Vietnam, right up until the war. Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) stays in Algeria, and becomes a leader in the Algerian Independence movement. The action and battle scenes of this movie are oftentimes well-shot, particularly a scene, apparently based on a real incident involving a boxing match on the streets, but they're hardly the most memorable battle scenes of all-time, and the scenes of terrorism only remind us that this film isn't "The Battle of Algiers," easily the best film made on this time historical period, and also one of the best films about terrorism and its effectiveness. Anybody who goes into "Outside the Law," having seen "The Battle of Algiers," aren't gonna find anything new, making a slightly bigger. Said, (Jamel Debouzze) the brother who was refereeing that boxing match, eventually makes it to France, and begins his career as a boxing promoter, specializing in training Algerian fighters. He hopes he has a contender that could become the first Algerian to be the French champion, while some of his family would rather Algeria be an Independent nation. There's a lot of interesting parts here, but they don't always come together as a whole, and even when the movie was good, and it is good, I really still couldn't stop myself from thinking of other films that were a little better. The money was used well, it looks a lot like an American big budget film with explosions and action, and it's certainly not a overbudget disaster, but ultimately it's disappointing.
13 ASSASSINS (2010) Director: Takeshi Miike

4 STARS
Takeshi Miike's "13 Assassins," is actually a remake of the Japanese film "The Thirteen Assassins," which was made in the early '60s. Takeshi is the influential Japanese Horror Film director, with his masterpiece, "Audition," he became one of the more famous directors in what's been occasionally referred to as the Asia Extreme movement. This is third film of his I've seen, after "Audition," and "Sukiyaki Western Django," which was a strange combination Japanese Western, meets surrealistic Tarantino violence, (QT even has a cameo in the film) that one I didn't care much for at all. Here, with "13 Assassins," he's makes a very traditional and violent action movie. There's not a whole lot of plot to it, the Shogun's Brother is crazy, plundering people and land, and violently disfiguring and enslaving some of the local women and thirteen assassins eventually come together in an attempt to kill him. The great Akira Kurosawa actually invented this kind of movie where a group of people are hired and reluctantly brought together to destroy an evil disturbance in the country with "Seven Samurai." (Famously remade in America as the western, "The Magnificient Seven".) So, the Japanese have traditionally been good at making this kind of film, and this one is no exception. The last hour or so is basically one long and elaborate fight scene filled with sword fighting, martial arts and apparently amazing stuntwork and special effects, and that's basically the only reason to watch the movie, it's a skillful but ultimately minor entry in this talented director's work, but it's also an easy recommendation. The movie knows what kind of movie it is, and it makes a very good one, and you can expect much more than that.
THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN (2010) Director: Mia Handen-Love

4 STARS
[WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT IN THIS REVIEW] The first hour of Mia Hansen-Love's "The Father of My Children," will on a first viewing give almost no clue as to what the second hour of the film is about. On a second, there will be signs that become more obvious to the audience, as well as to the characters. The movie begins by following Gregoire Canval (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a famous movie producer in France as he works to get his films made. This is mostly, the back deal producing that we don't always see in films, the hiring of a crew, dealing with suddenly and not-to-suddenly difficult artists, who insist on going overbudget to get the shots they want, as well as reading numerous new scripts, working on the future as the present is blowing up in front him. He's out of money and collateral, and the lab where they sned the film is under new management, and they won't release the footage to him until he pays the debts from the older films. At home, he is at peace. He has a beautiful and witty wife (Chiara Caselli) and three amazing daughters that spend all day waiting for Dad to come home. Then, seemingly out of nowhere,...- Gregoire kills himself. I've spent several minutes sitting in front of the computer, trying to determine whether or not to reveal that information. We that first happened, I thought, maybe this was a scene in one of his movies, but no. He kills himself, and the family is caught offguard. They don't know what to do about his current projects, and they literally don't know about the debt that his studio has incurred. On top of that, there were a few people who arrived at the funeral, who they didn't exactly recognize, and one of the kids starts digging into the past, finding out that certain rumors were true. I've seen many movies that deal with the aftereffects of the death of a relative. On bad days, I think half of American Independent films deal with that subject, but I can't think of too many film that accurately portray the way people have to literally deal with the things the loved one leaves behind. Like the business he started, and what exactly to do with it, and how much is it worth, and what are the options? That's not even mentioning the personal belongings he kept, all of which they have to go through in order to move on. In many ways, the character, especially the wife, Sylvia, don't have the time to mourn properly, and frankly must deal with the mourning of others, as well as establishing the new norm. Both parts of this film work extremely well, the day-to-day life on a business-obsessed individual, who hides so well his deepest emotional fears, that nobody can believe he'd have eaten that bullet, and the second part where the more that we learn, the more were amazed he didn't do it sooner.

A SMALL ACT (2010) Director: Jennifer Arnold

3 STARS

The documentary "A Small Act," tells an interesting, and then kinda loses it way a bit by telling another not-as-interesting story, and that's understandable to a point. The movie starts by telling the story of Chris Mburu a young Kenyan who was lucky enough to be sponsored through this Swedish woman named Hilda Back who he previously never met. (You know, like one of those Sally Struthers commercials where they ask to sponsor African children for so-and-so cents a/day) She sent $15 a month which went to his education. He got amazing grades, and eventually graduated from Harvard and now works as an anti-discriminate expert for the UN, helps investigate such crimes as genocide. He also started a foundation to have fellow Kenyan start sponsoring and funding students in his own country so they can get an education. In Kenya, recently, they made primary education free, but high ed classes cost money, and most can't afford it. He named the foundation after Hilde Back, who we find is an 80+-years old, former Holocaust who never had children, but taught elementary school for over 50 years. These are two very interesting characters, and while much of the movie focuses on the children who are trying to pass a test to qualify for the funding is heartbraking, in a "Waiting for Superman," kinda way, I kinda preferred that the movie stayed focused on Back and Mburu. That's not a criticism, there's so many details of the film and story, that I can see how documentarian Jennifer Arnold could get distracted and want to tell all of these aspects of this story, but it kinda dragged the movie down a bit for me. It's still an amazing documentary and a very powerful reminder of just how much powerful one person's small act can change lives.

RICKY (2009) Director: Francois Ozon
4 STARS
I honestly am not sure how many stars to give Francois Ozon's controversial "Ricky". I can see very good argument giving this film 5 STARS as well as 0 STARS. 4, seems reasonable to me, but be forewarn... well, I'm not sure if I can forewarn people without giving away some very important plot points, but if I don't give them out, many of you be pissed at me for steering you towards a film that, has a very surprising, disturbing and, for lack of a better word, bizarre twist. The movie begins with single mother Katie (Alexandra Lamy) who hooks up with a fellow factory worker, a Spainard named Paco (Sergi Lopez), and soon, very soon, they have a baby, named Ricky. The opening scenes of this movie seem normal enough, even when sudden disturbing marks start appearing on Ricky's back. Paco is of course accused of hurting Ricky, and eventually he leaves. I thought the marks might be made by Ricky's half-sister Lisa (Melusine Mayance), because, I've seen "The Omen." Then, Ricky somehow manages to find his way on top of a large cabinet. What next starts off like the most disturbing scene any parent could imagine, but then, "the thing" happens. I can't think of any other description of it without giving it away, so "the thing," it is. How one chooses to react to "the thing," will ultimately determine one's opinion of the film. Ozon has made some very good and interesting films, probably the most noteworthy in America is the erotic thriller "Swimming Pool." I personally love "Under the Sand," where Charlotte Rampling lies on the beach, and suddenly finds that her longtime husband is missing. "Ricky," is one of those rare movies that will split audiences and critics wildly. The way it changes tone so severely shows incredible skill, and the special effects are effective and sometimes chilling and frightening. This is a memorable movie, but come into it with an open mind, although I won't completely blame anybody if by the end it's closed again.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) Director: David Lean
2 STARS
It might be blaspomous to some people for me to give "Doctor Zhivago," a negative review. It's a classic epic, from the greatest director of epics, Sir David Lean. It won five Oscars and was nominated for five more, including Best Picture, and was famously banned in the Soviet Union for years. Has anybody seen it lately? It doesn't hold up well at all. Sure, technically it's amazing, and some of the sequences are some of the most magnificient and biggest ever filmed, but it pales compared to Lean greatest work, but let's not compare to "Lawrence of Arabia," or "Bridge on the River Kwai," for a second, this went on so long and sprawled forever in no particular direction, that around hour two, I had to think back and try to remember what the hell the story is? The story is told mostly through flashback as Zhivago's brother (Alec Guiness) thinks he might have found somebody he's been looking for for years, his brother's long lost daughter Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin). He then begins to tell the story of Yuri and Lara (Omar Sharif and Julie Christie), and then the story of WWI, then the Russian Revolution, and the aftereffects and briefly makes note in the final hour, on some of the atrocities Communist Russia applies on its own. I don't have any idea how accurate the story is to the famous Boris Pasternak novel, but it sprawls and meanders like this movie, I don't think I want to read it, and the ending, seems kind of a let down to me. It can have some exciting pieces in the moment, but when you look back on it all after, until you're trying to fall asleep by boredom, I don't think all these pieces fit together.
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (1945) Director: Leo McCarey
3 1/2 STARS
I think I good rule of thumb is that if a particular film, song, tv show, book, or any other piece of literature is reference on multiple occasions randomly, it's a good idea to if not watch, at least learn about the piece of art that's being referenced. Well, during a 3-4 month period a while back, I heard "The Bells of St. Mary's reference, about five or six times. Ingrid Bergman's Sister Benedict character is basically considered the archetype in film, and to a certain extent the outside world, of a caring nun. It seemed like a well-chosen example. It's not the greatest movie, and I wonder how anybody can think of Bing Crosby in a priest costume without thinking about the book his kids wrote about him, him and Joan Crawford's screen images have basically been forever tainted in the same way, but the movie more or less holds up. Not great, but as good as it probably could. The movie's beginning is slightly misguided as the substitute priest Father O'Malley (Crosby) arrives to take over St. Mary's school. His competition for power is Sister Benedict (Bergman), who quick-witted, athletic, and more willing to go to greater degrees to prove her point, or to beat Father O'Malley at his. She teaches one student to box so that he doesn't just take it when he gets into a fight. The school is crumbling, and the nuns pray for Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers) to eventually give them the property he's been building that's eating up their playground. In a more realistic story, this would be a fool's errand with a far more predictable result, but this is more of a melodramatic fantasy that includes a little bit of everything. Long-lost love, comedy, prayer, even illness, and Bing Crosby singing occasionally. (I wonder why the church didn't just have Father O'Malley go work as a singer for them?) I'm not sure it's a go-out-of-your-way-for film, but it happens to be on TCM early enough in the morning, it's a good film to keep you entertained, with a very memorable Oscar-nominated performance by Ingrid Bergman, that is worth watching. 
STAR REVIEWS:
A SUMMER IN GENOA (2008) Director: Michael Winterbottom
2 1/2 STARS
DARK MATTER (2008) Director: Shi-Zheng Chen
2 1/2 STARS
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