Sunday, August 29, 2004

Weekend Flicks

1) Memories of Murder (by Joon-ho Bong): Rating a solid 8/10

Memories is based on the real life Serial killings in South Korea (around 1986-87 or so). There was no clear motives for the crime & the only common link was the fact that all the victims were women (unfortunately as all serial killings seem to be about). The small town cops are not equipped to handle such a case and stumble from vague guesses to even more hazzier motives. Enter a detective from Seoul who decides to shed some light onto the case. Based on the collective efforts, the police are finally able to piece together the face of the killer & his plan. The killer's face is never shown nor are his motives revealed. And even when the police chase the killer, they are unable to do anything because of inconclusive evidence.

The movie is a gripping thriller which keeps us guessing. And the movie tries to be as objective as possible without diving into contrived situations. The ending is unlike any other ever shown in a Hollywood serial killer flick which is what makes this a very good movie. The acting, the cinematography, editing, direction are all top notch. So why is it only an 8 out of 10? Not sure. But well worth the watch.

2) Sada (by Nobuhiko Obayashi):

It had to happen someday and it did -- I finally rented a Japanese movie without english subtitles. Since I don't understand chinese either, the chinese subtitles were not any help :) The movie is about the real life of geisha Sada Abe who shocked society when she sliced off the penis of her lover and wandered the streets with it (in 1936).

From what I could gather, the movie follows her life from the first time she lost her virginity, to her first love (a true mystery man), through a series of lovers to her court case. The movie is mostly in colour with some parts in black and white. An interesting scene starts in colour, shifts partly in black and white with only Sada in color (and her lover in b&w) until the entire scene is in b&w.

3) The Dressing Room (by Sanjay Srinivas): Rating 5/10

Another cricket movie but thankfully much better than the disastrous Stumped (2003). The movie tries to show a behind the scenes look at what goes on in the players dressing room on the eve of a big match. The story is around a goodwill cricket match between India and Pakistan to be held in Srinigar. The match may not be played due to terrorist threats (a bomb had gone off earlier in the week close to the stadium). The players are expected to continue training while the two governments try to reach an agreement regarding the match.

Since the movie is a low budget flick, we are not shown the match, which is a good thing. Sometimes a low budget can be a boon as it helps the director to focus on the story. But in this case, the story is contrived and rushed to a predictable climax. There are some bright moments tucked away in this movie. Sonali Kulkarni plays a tv reporter who does a decent job. But the real gem in this flick is Tom Alter, who for decades played a villain in Bollywood flicks. One wonders why no-one ever gave him a decent role in a movie? This time around he is the coach & physio for the Indian team.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Batoru rouiaru II: Rekuiemu (2003)

Battle Royale II (by Kinji & Kenta Fukasaku): Rating 5/10

Having been a huge fan of the Original movie, I was hesistant to watch this movie because as we all know that sequels hardly live up to the original. And in this case, the sequel is muddled, confused and a plain mess. Part of the reason could be that the original director, Kinji passed away before the movie was completed. As a result, his son Kenta took up the job of finishing the movie. The movie looks to be in two different mind sets.
Also the original was based on a book which laid the foundation for the material really well. The second one had to work on an original script. Anyway, on with the review...

BRII takes place 3 years after the first one. In the first one, the adults had come up with a game to teach the youth a lesson -- every year a class of troubled youth is selected & put on an island where they to have them kill each other. Only one survivor should remain otherwise all the students would be killed. Well in the first one, there were two survivors (one male and female). The start of BRII shows us that the male student (Nanahara) has started a terrorist organization to take revenge on the adults. Nanahara is tired of adults waging wars and killing innocent children all over the world, especially Afghanistan. His terrorist organization is residing on an island (just like the island in the first one, hmmm). The adults decide to send the new group of BR students to the island to kill Nanahara.

The movie starts off as the BR game, transforms into a war movie (the landing on the island is eerily similar to Saving Private Ryan), morphs into a terrorist/political movie before turning into a tribute to Afghanistan and ending as a journey movie. Yes there are comments relating to a certain country which bombs other countries whenever it feels like it, yes this other country hardly shows any adult behaviour, but the comments do not fit in the movie. They seem forced.

On a positive note is the role of Takeuchi Riki. In the first movie, Takeshi Kitano was the impressive teacher. This time around the role needed someone with more edge, more hatred. And Takeuchi (of Dead or Alive movies) is perfect for the role. But even his evilness falters near the end and....

Enough said!! I was hugely disappointed with this movie.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Heaven, Head of State, 101 Reykjavík

1) Heaven (by Tom Tykwer): Rating 7/10.

10/10 for the first half of the movie, 4/10 for the second half.

What happens when you combine a famous German director (Run Lola Run), a legendary Polish writer (Krzysztof Kieslowski), a talented English Actress (Cate Blanchett), a rising American actor (Giovanni Ribisi), well known foreign producers (Anthony Minghella & Miramax to name a few) and put them together in an Italian movie?
A slice of Heaven? One would expect so!
But although Heaven has a very intriguing setup, the movie completely strips reasonable logic in the second half. The police station is always empty, anyone can walk in unquestioned, a person can be murdered quietly, etc.

Even though the original story was by Kieslowski, the movie has echoes of Tykwer's The Princess and the Warrior. Tykwer's Run Lola Run was fast paced and relentless, but The Princess was downright slow and reflective. And Heaven follows in the same poetic paths.
It's not a perfect movie. But it is worth seeing. Oh yah, the cinematography by Frank Griebe is stunning.

2) Head of State (by Chris Rock): Rating 4/10

Oh what a mess! Chris Rock's directorial debut is a plain mess. It does not know what it is -- a spoof, a comedy or a political satire. The movie does try to poke some well needed fun at the current American administration's attitude and policy, but it is wasted.

3) 101 Reykjavík (by Baltasar Kormákur): Rating 8/10

What can one do in a cold and dreary place? If it is always snowing, what can people do besides drink and have endless parties to forget their misery?

The movie is centered around Hlynur and his aimless life. Hlynur is almost 30, still lives at home with mom, does not have a job, nor does he know what to do with his life. His girlfriend, Hofi, is a pain and always on his case. Enter Lola: the Flamenco dancing woman who is a friend of Hlynur's mom. Lola stays with Hlynur while his mom is away, and well things happen. Upon retuning, Hlynur's mom reveals to Hlynur that she is in love with Lola. And Hlynur still has feelings for Lola. So what happens next?

The movie is oddly amusing and very watchable.

Monday, August 23, 2004

August Movie Talk

I will only focus on the commerical movies as opposed to the festival screenings. Also, next to each movie is a quick rating (out of 10). Here goes:

1) Control Room (documentary by Jehane Noujaim): 10/10, A+
This is a really good movie. It shows that despite all the negative media coverage that Al Jazeera might be the only remaining democratic media outlet on the planet. There are two sides to every story. But Al Jazeera has tried to show the story by taking the middle path. In doing so it has drawn criticism both from the Arab World and the Western World. A must-see.

2) Secret Window (*ing Johnny Depp): 5/10
If it were not for Johnny Depp, this movie would be an utter waste. It is a decent movie until the last third. What makes it terrible is the predictable ending. That is not the fault of the director though -- the movie was based on an old Stephen King story. But one wishes that a different take was done on a highly predictable conclusion.

3) Breaking News (Dai si gein) by Johnny To: 6/10
Hong Kong's happening director returns with a bang! Breaking News is dull at the start & the end but strongest in the middle, where the director superbly incorporates some of the cat-mouse-mind-games elements from his earlier work, PTU. The movie is about a few gang leaders cornered by the police in an apartment building. The police were humiliated earlier by the gang leaders, so in order to save face, they decide to control the media information and spin the news to their advantage. Each police officer has a camera in their helmet and the police control room gets to decide what to show. For example, a particular chase sequence ends when the gang members safely run into an apartment and explode a gas tank in the hall, thus keeping the police at bay. But the police only decide to show the sequence where the gang members run into the apartment and edit the explosion scene out making it look like the police won. One of the gang members captured the real events via his camera cell phone & decides to upload the information on the web from the apartment. This results in the media accusing the police of lying and escalates the mind games between the police and the gang.
The most interesting sequence of the movie features the gang leaders cooking calmly while the police await outside -- a stylish scene that will surely be copied by Hollywood in the future.

4) Samsara (by Nalin Pan): 10/10
One of the most beautiful movies I have seen this year!! Perfect. It is a long movie but manages to be entertaining throughout and ends on a philosophical note. 'How do you prevent a drop of water from drying up?'. The entire movie essentially focuses on this question. A Buddist monk decides to renounce his religious life for the worldy pleasures of sex and love. But despite getting married, he begins to realize that satisfying one desire, always leads to other desires. The movie highlights his journey but more importantly, it tackles the spiritual question from a woman's point of view as well. It is always men who are willing to get up and leave for the mountains. But what about the women they leave behind? Did anyone ask what happenned to Buddha's wife?

5) Zhou Yu's Train (by Zhou Sun): 4/10
I was so looking forward to this Li Gong flick but was hugely disappointed. The movie moves backward and forward in time, all the time splicing Li Gong's train travels with the poems of her lover. But I lost interest very quickly. Maybe one day I might revisit this one.

6) Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston): 6/10
First time director, Joshua Marston, made a splash with this movie. Maria, won the audience award at Sundance and newcomer Catalina Sandino Moreno won the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival. Yes, the 23 old Catalina has acted wonderfully. But what about the movie? The story is about drug mules who carry pellets in their stomach from Colombia to the USA. The movie takes a realistic approach showing Maria's life in Colombia and how in order to make some quick money, she agrees to become a mule. Anyway, this is sort of the movie the West loves to applaud and admire. But despite good acting and cinematography, the movie is ok.

7) Les Invasions barbares (aka The Barbarian Invasions) by Denys Arcand: 10/10
This is a wonderful movie by the Canadian director Arcand. It is sort of a sequel to the 1986 movie, The Decline of the American Empire. Having not seen the 1986 movie, I really liked Barbarians. A must see.

8) Drunken Master (by Woo-ping Yuen): 8/10
Jackie Chan established himself as a martial arts legend in this 1978 movie. The martial arts movies in this movie are absolutely amazing. One can see how this movie has served as 'inspiration' for a whole array of movies, including the recent Kill Bill.

9) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (by George Clooney): 5/10
Maybe I was not in the mood, but I really lost interest in this movie after 20 minutes or so. A failed talk show writer gets recruited by the CIA for assignments around the world. Hmmm...