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La otra conquista (1998)
A beautiful, thought provoking film
A film that takes place during the Spanish conquests of the Aztecs, but doesn't show Montezuma, has Cortez as a minor character, and shows only one human sacrifice??? Salvador Carrasco's The Other Conquest is a delving look at the melding of two cultures physically and spiritually with a microcosm view. Carrasco has gone through great pains (a seven year process fighting the Mexican powers that be) to make this film. Telling this story from an indigenous viewpoint and using a short, dark, thin, actor named Damian Delgado (who looks like he could have stepped right out of an Aztec temple 500 years ago); Carrasco defied the long held Mexican prejudice of their non European-half. The cultural diversity of both the Spanish and Aztecs can be seen. There is no stock Spainiard or Aztec look. Each person is physically diverse and individual even within a family.
The story is told through Topiltzin, a Aztec codex-writer, historian, and possible son of Montezuma. Through him we go on a spiritual journey very similar to madness as he must leave behind the old mother goddess for the new one (the Virgin Mary). His forced conversion and eventual acceptance of the new mother goddess causes a melding of the, already similar, faiths in his tormented mind. This melding of the old and the new also reflects the Spanish and Aztec blood mixing as well. The character of Father Diego full of religious fervor, seeks to save the "savage" soul of Topiltzin by conversion. Topiltzin is named Tomas after the apostle Thomas, the famous doubter and skeptic. What ensues is a battle of wills between a man determined to hold on to the quickly disappearing culture of his people and a man full of religious zeal unwilling to be defeated in his spiritual conquest. The line that sums up the film for me is from Topiltzin "You and I, deep inside share the same belief, Friar Diego, even though we come from different worlds. We live in all times and in all places. From the beginning we have been meeting in different ways. That is why you and I don't mind being locked up here together. Our encounter is inevitable... and eternal." In the end it is Diego who is converted and accepts the melding of the old and the new.
This film is a step forward for the film industry. A step forward in finally getting past relatable stereotypes and cliché. The one negative is that most of the action happens in the very beginning of the film and the last 3/4ths of the film is very cerebral. If you're not ready for it the transition can make the film a little boring at some parts. There is an inherent humor that runs through the film considering the subject matter, that may give you a look into Writer/Director Carrasco's mind and a look at what more this talented director promises to bring.
La battaglia di Algeri (1966)
Many other reviews here will give you a plot synopsis of this film, tell how realistic the cinematic feel is or how it can help you to understand a culture so different (or not so different from your own). But what impresses me the most about this film is what it tells you about yourself.
Director Pontecorvo purposefully gave this film an omniscient birds eye view so the situations can be examined unbiased and without overt emotional attachment. There is no blatant attempt to garner favor for the NLF (National Liberation Front) by showing oppressed Algierians. The French Colonialists are not shown as the evil oppressive outsiders. Col. Mathieu, who leads the anti-terrorist task force, is just a good soldier. He follows orders, he accomplishes his goal. Does he hate the terrorists or what they stand for or is he there doing his job? I think this is summed up when he replies to the reporters questions about his brutal tactics. "Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer "yes," then you must accept all the necessary consequences."
Ben M'hidi plays the voice of the NLF's conscience. He does not pander for the audiences acceptance of their violent tactics, but explains in plain clear terms why they do what they do. "Acts of violence don't win wars. Neither wars nor revolutions. Terrorism is useful as a start. But then, the people themselves must act. That's the rationale behind this strike: to mobilize all Algerians, to assess our strength."
Yes there are heart wrenching scenes and brutality shown on both sides of the war, no power is given to either side by the filmmakers. The French are in a superior position, making the Algerians the underdog. So there may seem to be a lean towards the native Algerians, but that is mostly a state of mind. This film forces you to make a decision on a very hard topic; by making the characters neither inherently evil or good and the actions understandable if not agreeable.
The Pentagon uses this film as an anti-terrorist training video. The way you view this film tells you a lot about your state of mind.
Once Were Warriors (1994)
No Muss No Fuss
This film tells the story of a Maori family in New Zealand that live in a violently chaotic household until a tragic suicide forces them to make some much needed changes. Powerful, ironic, tragic, moving, deep but always well acted and real.
Each person has a distinct multi-dimensional personality. In fact the films seems to thrive on the idea of duality. The father, Jake the Muss, is a man's man. He beats up the tough guy trouble makers in the bar, throws parties at his place and sings duets with his wife Beth. But this is only to make the reality all the harsher. Jake beats his wife brutally and without mercy when he gets drunk and she defies him in any way. The long suffering Beth, one of the toughest women in cinema, is made of iron, mentally and physically. She allows her children to suffer in this situation along side her and you wonder why. The answer turns out to be an act of defiance not of submission, making her character even deeper than she was previously thought. And Grace the young, imaginative, sensitive daughter who makes the ultimate sacrifice that in the end helps her family find redemption.
There are many parts of the film where you want to scream at the characters. Push them to do something or to deter them from doing something, to change an already plotted course and this is a sign of a great film, one that will neither let you sit on your laurels or remain without an opinion. The film has dual layers. It can be seen as a shallow (but still amazing) film about an abusive husband and the tragic outcome or a deeper more disturbing film about the result of losing cultural identity and your link to the past. In the end you see truly human characters that expose so much humanity it becomes a bit hard to watch. This is a must see film and it will stay with you a long time.
Fung wan: Hung ba tin ha (1998)
A triumphant mix of Western SFX and Eastern imagination.
The makers of The Storm Riders took a chance when making this experimental film. They did something that had never been done before by fusing extreme computer graphics into a Hong Kong style martial arts film. Needless to say they were very successful. I have never seen the amount of visual graphics found in Storm Riders in any film prior. With the help of SFX all the characters gain divine fighting abilities. In fact it's like watching battles between gods rather than humans. I enjoyed this film greatly and would have loved to have seen it on the big screen. The story is straight out of Asian folklore and the acting is painless. The only flaw I found in this film is also it's strength. Though beautiful and powerful, Storm Riders relies on SFX too much. There is actually very little fighting skill used. Most of the fights are completely computer enhanced and the actors never truly cut loose. The good news is that the creators of this fine film learned from it and did a little fine tuning in their next attempt, A Man Called Hero.
Jung wa ying hong (1999)
A martial arts movie for those with complex tastes.
Finally a film that combines good visual effects, impressive martial arts skills and an interesting storyline. This film is the second venture by the makers of Storm Riders. It surpasses it's predecessor in that it doesn't use special effects to such an extent that it becomes a crutch. The actors actually do some real life physical fighting which was greatly missed from Storm Riders. The jumping from past to present maybe confusing too many, but it gave the film an Art House feel. I enjoyed the retelling of the title characters life through 20 years worth of flashbacks and totally support the story set up. I was impressed even more when my wife, who despises all I adore in film, told me she was getting into the movie. I have been watching Asian cinema for a long time(before it became popular to do so) and like to believe I know what I'm talking about in all genres. This movie has been given some negative reviews by other viewers. My only explanation is if all you've consumed your entire life is liquids, the first time you have something solid you'll probably dislike it. If all you want is action and bad acting bring your bottle and bib. Ladies and Gentlemen, it's time to get off the breast milk and have some steak and potatoes. Go see A Man Called Hero and bring the A1.
Irony at it's best
I bought this film about a year ago and just got the opportunity to watch it last night. This film was beautiful brutality, simplistic complexity, unjust justice, and traditional tragedy. The sword duels are quick and brutal, the battle scene is long and horrific. The film jumps through time and space at a frantic pace with out warning. And yet the plot is slowly revealed through the hurried pace. I highly recommend this film that examines the complex psyche of Norii the Ronin. My only warning is that there is a lot of dialogue and it wears a little thin at some times. And the subtitles go by so fast at times it calls for some rewinding. The action is so fast in some parts you will want to watch in freeze frame. One scene looked so real, I would almost swear that they actually had to kill the guy. Go see this film now.
The Matrix (1999)
Technology and action make for a sweet movie.
Do you like sci-fi? Do you like Hong Kong action and Kung Fu films? Well, welcome to heaven a.k.a. The Matrix. Like a Japanese anime coming to life, the Matrix is a continuous feast of eye candy; concentrated adrenaline, if you will. The film focuses on a young computer hacker ,Neo (Keanu Reeves), who must choose between two worlds. One world is an illusion and the other reality. In doing so he will decide the fate of every one on the planet. Take a little Dark City, a lot of Terminator, and about 15 Hong Kong shoot em' up-chop socky movies and you pretty much have the plot. The fighting scenes were choreographed by the same man responsible for Jet Li's finest action film, Fist of Legend. So we ain't talkin' souped up Van Damme. We're talkin' 100%, grade A, home grown Kung Fu fighting here. In Hong Kong it is commonplace to get that level of grace and power in action scenes, but in America it's as good as we have ever gotten to that coveted level. This is probably the best American made Kung Fu movie since Enter the Dragon. It's that good. Get together with some friends, don't blink, and get ready to experience over 2 hours of the stuff dreams are made of.