Reviews written by registered user
|26 reviews in total|
All this movie is missing is the country standard "No Charge" playing
over the end credits. The song where a mother professes her love for
her son by saying "when you add it all up, the full cost of my love is
no charge". Well, QED, we have an example of that here in the character
of Hye-Ja. A poor woman living with her mentally retarded son, for whom
both are the entire world to each other, this hardscrabble existence is
monkey-wrenched when her retarded son is found guilty of murdering a
This movie plays like the evil twin of a Susan Sarandon issues picture, in which a plucky stouthearted heroine fights social injustice. One can imagine the Hollywood remake with Sarandon, directed by Tim Robbins in the works. However, this is far darker, subtler and Noirish. From a tender and heartbreaking examination of motherly love, it morphs into a movie that raises questions of class and justice in modern Korea.
Shattering, funny, dark and sad. This is a good one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For those who have seen the likes of Braveheart, 300 and Gladiator can
go into this movie expecting a Chinese version of all three films.
Criticized for bland and scatter-shot characterization by many while
screening in Asia, I for one loved it.
This is an ancient story known to most children in the Far East: in the Three Kingdoms period, numerous warlords partition China and the eventual result boils down to three major ones: Liu Bei, Sun Quan and Cao Cao, who was also the Prime Minister, and de facto ruler of the country. When Cao Cao was on the verge of conquering all of China, a joint force of Liu Bei and Sun Quan engaged him in a naval battle at Red Cliff and defeated him by burning his entire fleet with the aid of the wind.
So famous, and so quoted is this story in the Far East, that one would be surprised that this film adaptation is nothing but formulaic. It is almost a twist, a turnabout, on the formula of the "Big Man History" format that has dogged Hollywood epics, the whole idea that one man can inspire thousands to affect a series of triumphs. In this movie, that is entirely changed. Like Milton in "Paradise Lost", this film seems to be "of the devil's party", and it may jolly well know it, even if slyly.
The Devil here refers to the villain of the piece, Cao Cao, who also happens to be the most well-drawn character in the movie. Historically known as one of the wisest and most beneficent rulers of the day, his Machiavellian hardball politics at odds with China's Confucian orthodoxy ("holding the Emperor hostage, commanding the nobles.") have however tarnished his reputation among Confucian scholars, and here both sides of his nature are acknowledged. Power-hungry, passionate and cunning, but not without a sense of humor. This is a man who composes classic poems as he leads his troops into battle, laughs as he sends diseased corpses into enemy camps as germ warfare, and kills anyone that he so much as suspects of disloyalty. As the movie proceeds on through a series of maneuvers and counter-maneuvers by both sides, what falls Cao Cao and results in his eventual defeat (an ending known to most children in the Pacific Rim) is precisely that monstrous ego. He commands front and centre among his troops to the extent that all those around him never get a chance to shine. His monstrous ego and overwhelming power cause him to ignore or steamroll over good advice, and is key to his downfall, down to very last decisive second. In spite of his intelligence and charisma, because no one enforces checks on his power, no one is there to correct his mistakes.
Far from the case in the armies of Liu Bei or Sun Quan, Cao Cao's rivals. Within their groups, there is a division of labor, and both Sun Quan and Liu Bei are intelligent, charismatic but not egotistical. In such a situation power is at least checked within the group and tempered by a sense of mutual respect and honor, in contrast to the unwavering loyalty and obedience that Cao Cao demands of his troops. Loyalty towards the group in this case is not co-existing with loyalty to the leader. It is this mutual respect and this ability to pool good ideas and listen to good advice, that ultimate leads Sun Quan and Liu Bei to victory.
What do you know! Chinese cinema has just produced in the form of a historical epic, an impassioned allegory for the advantages of democracy. This movie is at the same time a great showing-up of the oddly undemocratic nature of the Hollywood historical epic, with its "Big Man"-centred heroic narratives.
This may be John Woo's cleverest and most understatedly subversive film yet.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film that's quite easy to understand once you know what the title
Here's the song that opens the film:
There's a place I long to be A certain town that's dear to me Home to Mohawks and G.E. It's called Schenectady
I was born there and I'll die there My first home I hope to buy there Have a kid or at least try there Sweet Schenectady.
The play on "Schenectady" (where the film is set) and "Synecdoche" (a literary device in which parts are taken for the whole) is a simple summary of where this film is headed. It's all about life being lived in "Synecdoche".
"Synecdoche": that's where most of us live our lives. Parts for the whole. We count heads when we mean people, we count hands on deck when we mean people on deck. Everyone at any moment is essentially a fragment in another's consciousness. All other people are but fragments of their entire selves, drifting in and out of the landscape of our lives. And turning it about, we too are nothing but fragments in the lives of other people. Our lives are lived in that essential no-man's land between who we are, what we expect ourselves to be, and what others expect of us, and it is in between these three forces that we are shaped, often to extents to beyond the limits of our comprehension. Every few years or so we stand back and try to reassess the directions in which our lives have gone, and we reassess it and reassess it, but we come to no definitive answer to that riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
Yet, despite all this, we come into the world alone, we leave this world alone. And what happens between does not do anything to detract from that fundamental loneliness.
Kaufman's character, Caden Cotard, is an everyman, rather than a representation of an artist per se. He could be you, or me. The film mixes surrealism and realism because what it is the most complete visualization of a frame of mind and a state of being: that fundamental loneliness of the human condition, that we are all faced with. Anything on screen could be real, could be imagined, and is often a fusion between the real and imagined with little regard for either because it does not matter which is which. When Caden sees that stripper thinking it is Olive, is it really Olive? Is it really Olive that's dying on the bed? Do weeks, months or years fly by? Is it all a state of mind or does it really matter? It doesn't. Life is so much lived in the mind anyway. That is the source of its fundamental loneliness.
Synecdoche, NY is a VISUALIZATION of this concept and how it plays out on one man's life. That one man is every man, and every man is that one man.
Three hours will fly by when you catch King Hu's amazing, spectacular
"A Touch of Zen", possibly the greatest feat in the history of martial
The surface story about a poor student skilled in the ways of tactical warfare, who helps a master swordswoman and her bodyguard overcome the shame and dishonor of her father's murder at the hands of corrupt officials, gives way to a spiritual journey of enlightenment, making this an adventure film of the best kind, where the violence is only second place to the inner journey of the protagonist.
These three hours feature subtle romance, elegant action sequences that showcase the Chinese approach to psychological and strategic warfare, while yet serving as a poignant statement about the horror of war and the possibility of redemption.
The ending will strike you with a sense of awe that you have not felt since "2001", that's how good it is. For those of you who have not seen it, none will ever forget the sheer power and scope of the story that you have been told by the film's end.
A serious indication of the spiritual immaturity of the contemporary
Hollywood approach, "Henry Poole is Here" is an overall silly film with
a few good moments that show the seriously botched execution of what
could have been a great story.
Set in a California suburb with an apparently prominent Hispanic population, Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) moves into a small house near his childhood home hoping to recapture the only time in his life that he ever felt safe. As a water stain believed to be part of a bad stucco job on his wall comes to be believed to be an apparition of Christ, Poole's house becomes a place of pilgrimage for many in his neighborhood. Meanwhile, the originally dour Poole realizes that fixing to die is so hard, that one might as well choose to live.
As a study on doubt, spirituality and faith the movie seriously fails, what with every character preaching at you about the wonders of faith in God as they experience His miracles. While Luke Wilson tries his best as Poole, the plight of his character is seriously compromised by what happens to him in the end, in a twist that reveals that he may be in fact a whiny jerk who loves to stew in his own juices, and why should we care about a character like that? Also a lack of discipline in the script and an abundance of extraneous scenes fail to keep in check the attempts at ambiguity that are at least fostered by the script for an overly compromised, "feel good" experience where a more ambiguous and thought-provoking one is required.
"Henry Poole is Here" has good moments of cinematography, some subtle special effects, and some good music, but it is an overall too silly and lacking in credibility to work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Seven Swords" remains the sliest cinematic subversion of the martial
arts epic and its entire world-view and ethics on record. Possessed of
an uncommonly sharp script and amazing sets, camera-work and direction,
it redeems for the seemingly weak cast in general.
Beyond the external framework of a band of bloodthirsty mercenaries slaughtering villagers without rhyme or reason and the band of seven valiant swordsmen recruited to stop them, Tsui Hark as a seasoned filmmaker in the martial arts genre offers a sly subversion of all that has come before.
Those who do not notice the film's characterization fail to see that it is as flab free as the genre needs be, even uniquely for such a film, incorporating the personal traits of each character into his weapon and fighting style. The amazing action sequence where the seven perform a coordinated operation of espionage and sabotage on the villain's fort is amazing in its simplicity in that the actions of each participant are entirely in accordance with their backgrounds and nature. The leader is mapping the fortress on high while casually throwing tiles at potential attackers with pinpoint accuracy, and the optimist/prankster of the bunch is feeding the horses beans (laxatives), and the feral one is setting fire to anything and everything. Even the villain while a seemingly psychotic warlord, has a sensitive streak in which he echoes the oft-said quote that bad men especially yearn the most for the comforts of childhood.
And the ending is both stirring, moving, heartbreaking and triumphant at the same time, like few films you have ever seen. Seven Swords is one of the greatest martial arts epics of all time, and a total breakthrough of storytelling.
Hang on to your hats, folks, this is one of the best films you will
"Persepolis" is one of those things that reaffirms your belief in the human spirit. That's right, I said "things", not movies. It's a movie that creates believable souls, not characters, whose laughs and tears, triumphs and tragedies ultimately become your own, because its main character follows a quest that all of us can identify with: finding our place in the world.
Marjane Satrapi grew up in Iran in the last days of the Shah. While a notorious autocrat with American backing, he presided over the remains of a fragile and proud Empire that was already a hollowed out shell underneath an exterior of openness and splendor.
It is a journey that is sweet, funny, harrowing and ultimately heartbreaking. Adapted from Satrapi's own graphic novel, which I consider one of the best books I have ever read in the past ten years. Satrapi as writer and director is a modern day Scheherazade, conjuring up and making us able to feel what a vanished world was like, so that the reign of the Shah and the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ensuing Iran-Iraq War, and Satrapi's own experiences in Europe as a teenager feel as alive and as adventurous as any voyage of Sinbad, and her instinct for storytelling matches the legendary Queen's. Under the retelling of her and co-director Vincent Paronnaud, black and white drawings do not just acquire personalities, they acquire souls and spirits.
This movie is a showcase of one of those things that only animation can do: boil a story down to its essence in the manner of a Moorish Alchemist. No amount of live action, however well done, will be able to render so starkly the brutality of the Shah's troops, so lovingly and so beautifully the minor irritances of first love, and the way that the tragedy of heartbreak segues into the childish petulances of resentment, and the freedom and bewilderment of a life adrift.
"Persepolis" is a wonderful, humane and bittersweet film, simply put, an experience to be treasured.
The dark world of Film Noir, with its complex plots, shades of gray and
evocations of unrelenting human evil, has long been one genre where
Hong Kong cinema has lagged behind Hollywood. After "Infernal Affairs",
however, things have changed, and Hong Kong cinema has finally gotten
to this profoundly affecting and challenging genre.
Jackie Chan stars as Iron Zhao aka Steelhead, a truck repairman from China's poor but happy Northeast who settles down as an illegal immigrant in Tokyo, and after a series of run-ins with the Yakuza, rises to power as the Don of Chinese illegal immigrants. However, things get out of control when Steelhead is foolish enough to believe in clean getaways in a world that offers none, and soon comes to seal his own fate. A superb supporting cast rounds up this tale of a man's tragic fall from Grace against an unstoppable tide of greed, corruption and evil.
Derek Yee creates a grandly atmospheric, neat piece of work evoking the grime and grit of Tokyo existing under the glittery clean streets, to bring out an immortal tale that has existed as long as there were cities: a tale of hard-luck immigrants who fight their way to the top against all odds in the world of crime, and for the pursuit of money and power, damn their souls to hell.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With the recent controversy started over this film by Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, the dopes in the Iranian government will never get from
seeing this flick is that the final grudge match in which the titular
character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson takes on his foe "The Ayatollah" is
really one of the funniest and most pointed satires at American
xenophobia I have seen of late. But overall, even with the sex and
drugs, "The Wrestler" remains what is probably the finest old-fashioned
Hollywood offering of late, tracing its lineage all the way back to
"The Set Up" and "Requiem for A Heavyweight". In fact, you could have
made this film back in the 50s with Anthony Quinn or Robert Ryan in the
Like those films, "The Wrestler" is a compelling narrative of wounded masculinity and spiritual redemption. Mickey Rourke stars as former 80s pro wrestling champ Randy "The Ram" Robinson, whose image seems to be a composite match-up of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Now old, lonely and living in a trailer, with an estranged daughter he has not met in years and reduced to playing the minor circuit, a heart attack causes him to rethink his direction in life. Yet it is not long before Randy finds out that the ring is the only place where he will ever feel at home, and heads for a comeback fight with his old rival, from which he likely will never return...Marisa Tomei stars as Cassidy/Pam, the stripper with a heart of gold who befriends this broken down soul as the story takes place over the course of a New Jersey winter. Both of these figures are star pupils of the school of hard knocks, but while Tomei looks set to graduate, Randy may never get out alive because he has long ago made a choice that he can never run away from.
This is probably the first film to "get it" about pro wrestling, that beyond the colored tights and the buffoonery and the xenophobia and meanness that it displays and encourages, it's really an art that brings joy to a lot of people and that ironically, requires absolute sportsmanship to be a part of.
Tough, tender and uncompromising in its compassionate depictions of two individuals in professions that revolve around physical degradation in the name of artificial beauty. Despite its use of hand-held cinema-verite style in some shots, "The Wrestler" is in all the best ways, a remarkably old fashioned film. Proof that good storytelling never goes out of style.
And the Springsteen theme song is amazing, one of the best compositions of the Boss in a while.
The first HELLBOY is one of my favorite Superhero movies of all time,
and to me one of the most underrated of them all. Its mix of cool,
urbane wit, loving references to Lovecraftian demonology, and the
framework of a medieval morality play gave it true resonance and depth.
It had its heart firmly secured in being the story about a son of Satan
himself as an everyman who is trying to do the right thing despite
temptations to do otherwise.
The second film seems however, to take its cue from classic Disney. For better and for worse. Like Disney's animated features, it is capable of great beauties, wonders and terrors, but like those features, its stance is much more conservative and guarded than one that Del Toro would normally push.If you recall the great Disney moments, like "Night on Bald Mountain", the dragon in "Sleeping Beauty" and the transformation and stained glass window sequences in "Beauty and the Beast", Hellboy 2 is like all those moments collected and on steroids, but it also has inherited the tame eco-mysticism of "Pocahontas" and the autopilot storytelling of most Disney concoctions. And for that it is missing the sinister beauty and poignancy without sentimentality of the first.
Go see it if you want to, and I recommend you go see it, just be reminded that it's not quite more of the same as the first for those who loved the first...especially if you liked it for the same reasons I did.
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