Darkest Hour

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch the new film, Darkest Hour. I have to say that this film surpassed all my expectations. First, it only highlighted how capable and talented an actor Gary Oldman has been throughout his career. He is always superb, but this may be the pinnacle against all other performances will be judged. His love and respect for Churchill shines through. As the Oscars approach, he would be my vote for best actor, even if the film does not win one for itself.

As for Churchill, this film only frames the reason he is the Lion of Britain. The fact that he was thrown out just after the war is only indicative of how idiotic the British people can sometimes act. The only quibble that I had with the film is about something I know little about, namely Churchill’s disposition before his war address to Parliament. Some, such as more knowledgeable commentators at Powerline (a conservative blog I read), have pointed out that this is nonsense and that it betrays Churchill’s memory. Others defend the piece despite their misgivings. Still, it is a great film and I recommend it.

Man of Steel…Or

Man of SteelMore like a visual metaphor for the Bible. As I was watching this really awesome rendition of Superman (so much superior to the 2006 movie), I was struck by the symbolic religious parallels in the movie. Reading later on the subject, I learned that this spiritual aspect was part of the mythology of Superman from the beginning. I have never been a comic book fan – or manga, or anime or etc. – so this was entirely new to me.

As for the film, the use of CG in this movie was ubiquitous, of course, but the plot was so much better than even I had imagined. It is a shame that the plot will be lost on so many people who are unaware of the symbolic messages. In addition, I was also struck by the portrayal of religion and patriotism in the movie. It was treated with respect and reverence. The same for military. Also, there were a lot of great actors from TV series such as Battlestar Galactica.  Probably one of the best comic adaptations that I have seen. All in all, a great movie and definitely one to add to the collection.

The Hobbit…eh, or at least the First of Three Movies

This review is beyond overdue. After returning from Utah, I had planned to watch this movie with my cousin, Jake, and mein bruder, Dougie. Doug unfortunately came down ill and was unable to accompany us. I had read some slightly negative reviews online and carried with me a little trepidation. Not over the material, but the length. Peter Jackson decided that one book would provide enough material to film 3 really long movies. This is exactly the opposite in the trilogy where he had to cut some material just to get it down to a correct length.

I was wrong to be so worried. The movie was beyond sublime. Length was not an issue as Jackson had extra material from the Tolkien histories to flesh out the story. It really felt that it in some ways just flew by. While I don’t want to bore you with the blow by blow, as you should see it yourself, I will leave you with my favorite and least favorite part. I really loved the parts with Sméagol in it. Andy Serkis is a genius, as his facial expressions were well worth the ticket price. My least favorite part was the Ogre King. His portrayal in some ways reminded me of Jar-Jar Binks. I detest Jar-Jar. Other than that, it was an awesome film and I am looking forward to the sequels. 

Hunger Games

I initially approached this series a little hesitantly. Working as a librarian when the movie was being released made it and its sequels hot items at the time. Despite recommendations from both co-workers and patrons, my level of enthusiasm was about nil. Two weeks ago or go I decided to finally watch the movie. I was very impressed. I find the dysotopian nature of this future a tad bit undeveloped, but the individual emotions that were brought out made a deep impression. The main characters of the Hunger Games performed by Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson were great and gave added visual depth to the books when I read them. Woody Harrelson was cast in a role that suited him well as all of his roles seem to be high on something.

After watching the film, I was compelled to read the books. I enjoyed the first one as it gave a deeper layer of meaning to the actions portrayed in the films. This is to be expected when limitations on time are enforced in order to make a 142 minute film. It was in the second or third book that I began to become bogged down. The character of Katniss for me seemed to undergo stagnation and character development was limited due to the need for action. I thought that Peeta’s character became perhaps the most complex, although due to outside forces of course. Not to spoil the ending for anyone who may not have read the books, but it was only at the end that Katniss seemed to come alive for me as a person that she was in the first book. This entire perception was no doubt influenced by my attachment to the film and seeing it before reading the book. It will be interesting to see if the next two movies will in any way recapture this and make me re-evaluate my feelings toward the last two novels.

The Avengers

Ah, the Avengers. Like always, my frugal nature rarely allows me to spend money on something so frivolous as a movie ticket. Ok, the truth is that I am usually broke. This means that I often get to watch movies long after the rest of the world has moved on, with the only consolidation being that I can enjoy them in my own home with both bathroom and refrigerator close at hand. Plus, there is the almighty pause button. It is hard telling a theater full of people that the movie must be paused because you were shortsighted in not going to the restroom before curtain rise. Doesn’t work that way, does it?

Back to the movie – I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed Stark’s snarky attitude and witty lines. I enjoyed the two semi-normal guys, Hawkeye and whoever Scarlet Johansen played. I even liked Thor, but not as much as the other heroes. I loved the Hulk, especially as he was beating the hell out of that half-baked dictator, Loki. What a maroon! Perhaps my favorite character was Captain America, which is surprising since I did not really care for his stand alone movie. His ability to command the situation and play to the teams’ strengths were pretty awesome.

The special effects were very well done, not surprising coming from Joss Wheldon and the ginormous budget he had at his command. However, when I saw the flying aircraft carrier, I had a moment of doubt for two reasons. 1. What a stupid idea! An engine or two gets taken out and that thing becomes a falling rock with a couple of thousand people on board. Defense Department, do not use this as a germ of an idea for a future system. We do not need falling aircraft carriers. Later in the movie my prognostication came to pass. 2. While watching those scenes, I hearkened back to my past and had this thought, “Is this freakin’ G.I. Joe?” Only that idiot Cobra Commander would think up something this stupid. Oh and look, he lost every time. Don’t get me wrong, as kid I loved all the so called bad guys – Cobra, the Klingons, the Irish Republican Army, the Empire from Star Wars. I grew up and realized that most of their ideas were idiotic at best and the writers never let them win. Such is the world.

Anyway, it was a great movie and shall go into the vault with all the other great comic book movies. Spiderman, Batman, X-Men…..crap, they are going to just keep making more of these, aren’t they?

Act of Valor

Last week I decided to go to the theaters and watch the movie Act of Valor. This is pretty unusual for me as I usually hate going to the theater. Yes, I am that cheap. Also, I do not prefer to go alone but that weekend I went. I really wanted to go and support a pro-military movie. Hollywood has put out too many movies that are in my opinion “unpatriotic.” If that offends, tough. Act of Valor did very well, in fact better than even I expected, with a weekend haul of 26 million dollars.

Commentators have poured forth a lot of ink, both figurative and literal, trying to have this movie cast into the pit. They castigate it for poor acting and that it was a “propaganda” film. You know what? I could give a…ok, breath….regain temper. Anyway, in all honesty the acting was in some places rather wooden and in other places terse. But, these guys are the real thing, not actors. This film took 2 years to film and the crew went out on actual SEAL training missions. On of the reason it was such a long process was because many of these guys also went on deployments to Afghanistan or wherever Uncle Sam needed them. I cut them some slack. As for propaganda, I have no issue with that as well. In a world of moral subjectivity, I could see the point. However, for me, the world is black & blue – you mess with the US and we will turn you black & blue. These men and some women stand on the wall while I lack the ability or desire to do so. I honor them and if more Americans want to join them after watching this film, I am all for it.

Congrats to the filmmakers, crew, and squids. You made a hell of a movie.

The Man from Nowhere (???)

As you may know from reading this blog, I am a fan of Korean food. In addition, I love Korean movies – the romantic ones, the comedies, the dramas, and especially the gangster ones. Korean gangsters, from this film at least, deserve a special little corner of hell reserved for pedophiles, mass murders and the generally more common asshat. They are not just bad, they are real scum. I just got through watching the Man from Nowhere, a film that resembled Léon very much. Except they left the building. A man scarred from his past befriends a young girl. Her idiot, junkie mother steals a great deal of heroin from two really bad brothers. They use little kids as a delivery system for their drug empire and when they are of no more use, harvest their organs for blackmarket donors. Like I said, special place in hell.

Unforunately, when they kidnap the girl and her mother as payback, they did not comprehend the revenge they brought upon themselves. The man, played by Won Bin, turns out to be your typical dark-knight badass. The actress who plays the little girl, Kim Sae-ron, was beyond great and was only 10 or 11 at the time. She very much deserves her Best New Actress award from the Korean Film Awards. This was a great film and I recommend it. I especially liked it because it did not have the typical Korean movie ending that I had come to know and dread. I will not spell it out so as to ruin the film for you.

13 Assassins (??????)

*Spoilers* I must admit that I am not an admirer of the works of Takashi Miike. His movies to me are shallow expressions of violence and sexuality seemingly existing only for its shock value. His films usually leave me cold. When I heard that he was going to do a chanbara film, I was filled with trepidation. I love chanbara – from Akira Kurosawa to Zatoichi to the works of Yoji Yamada. Because of this, I put off watching the film until last night. My final opinion was one of admiration. I feel that this work was a great expression of the duality of samurai honor in a modern perspective.

The duality exists between the two main samurai, Hanbei Kitou and Shinzaemon Shimada. Hanbei serves an evil man, Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira, who is the half-brother of the Shogun. The Lord uses Hanbei’s honor to control him all the while taunting him. In between this, he also performs such sadistic tasks as using a whole family for target practice, raping a women and then killing her husband, etc. We get the point – he needs to die, especially as he is about to join the Shogunate council leading the nation. One of the other members of the council commissions Shinzaemon to kill Naritsugu.

Shinzaemon provides an interesting contrast to Hanbei. He performs his duty in order to be obedient but he cannot hide the excitement that this job brings. There has been a long period of peace and samurai have been regulated to the mere caricatures that Naritsugu ridicules. He joins with 11 other “true” samurai for this task, picking up a 13th ruffian on the journey. Each of these men, it seems, live at the margins of Shogunate enforced peace – gamblers, playboys, hired swords, etc. All of them are looking for a way to re-enbue their lives with with real purpose and regain true samurai status. Shinzaemon’s nephew, Shinrokuro, was acted by Takayuki Yamada. I enjoyed his work in another one of the few Takashi Miike movies that I can stand, Crows Zero.

All of this reaches up to the final combat scene, which employs a great deal of violence. Interesting enough, Miike seems to eschew the blood sprays found in so many other samurai films. There is plenty of killing though, as 13 men go up against 200. The final scene leaves the evil lord crawling in the mud, finally coming to an understanding of the reality of both pain and death. Like I said, it was a great movie.