Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Bike Movies : Seasons

I bought my first commercial bike movie DVD and I have to say it’s a great one : Seasons by The Collective.  It chronicles the life of a series of downhill, 4X, and dirt riders over the course of 4 seasons.  You really get a feel for the type of life they live.  The hardship of training, the excitement, thrills and disappointments of racing, the camaraderie, the passion and the simple joys of going for a great ride, simply stunning nature and trails, all come across brilliantly.  Shot in 16mm, this film is really beautiful.  Poetic but exciting at the same time.   You can see the trailer for the film hereunder.  I have watched the movie several times now and consider it something akin to what “The Endless Summer”is for surfing.  A masterpiece !

The Shadow : Fun Pulp Fiction

Glamorous locales (from New York to Egypt, from Tibet to Paris), strange adventures (mummies, monsters, cannibal tribes) happening in the twenties and thirties, beautiful women and tough-guy heroes, this is what characterizes pulp fiction and why the genre is still hugely popular in books and movies (think Indiana Jones or The Mummy).

A short search on google delivers the following definition for Pulp fiction: “Novels written for the mass market, intended to be “a good read,”–often exciting, titillating, thrilling. Historically they have been very popular but critically sneered at as being of sub-literary quality. The earliest ones were the dime novels of the nineteenth century, printed on newsprint (hence “pulp” fiction) and sold for ten cents. Westerns, stories of adventure, even the Horatio Alger novels, all were forms of pulp fiction.” This definition is also true for the average Pulp movie as they tend to be B-level films at best (although so much fun).

Last night I saw on TV a prime example of this: a 1994 movie starring Alec Baldwin called The Shadow. It really had all the ingredients of a good Pulp story. I had never heard of The Shadow. After a bit of research, I found out that he was in fact a signature hero of the Pulp period who, all cloaked in black, fought mobsters, evil scientists, crazed old men and foreign invaders with two blazing automatics and a laugh that chilled the hearts of evil. He did this from the spring of 1931 until the summer of 1949. There were magazines, radio shows, serials and movies devoted to the character so he must have been quite popular. I really enjoyed the movie though. It had it all : the locales (Warlord China, fabulous Art Deco Jazz age New York, the Archaelogy museum), an evil descendant of Gengis Khan, the requisite beautiful blonde whose father is a distracted scientist , a cool hero.

The Shadow is a really fun B-movie that I watched with a big wide grin !

Kingdom of Heaven

crusaders1.jpg
I didn’t go see this movie when it was released as the critics were really bad. But with the release of the DVD (and the media blitz that accompanied it), I couldn’t resist and so I bought it. I have always liked Ridley Scott. Movies like Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down are amongst my favorites. And somewhat to my surprise, I really enjoyed Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll admit that the plot is not plausible (blacksmith turns knight, saves Jerusalem) and that the storyline isn’t very captivating. I’ll also admit that the Crusades were certainly not as depicted in the film. The twist to evil Templars and good Saladin smacks of contemporary political correctness. But visually the movie is stunning. Costumes and sets are truly beautiful (as is Eva Green by the way ;-) ). The photography is, as always with Ridley Scott, simply sublime. The action and battles scenes are of epic proportions. I think this movie got a bad rap from the critics. I really liked it !!!

Hollywood’s Idealized Asia

lastsamourai1.jpgIn the West, there is a fascination with Asia that goes back a long way (we could probably go back to the time of Marco Polo). But it is a certain idea of Asia that is the basis for this infatuation and this idea is very well represented by the current crop of big spectacle films such as The Last SamuraiCrouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Hero. These films have in common the presentation of an ideal China or Japan such as it exists in our imagination. And they’re all great in playing with extraordinarily beautiful visuals that reinforce this image. Zen landscapes and ideals mix with legend, temples and martial arts to present an immensely seductive dreamscape of Asia. But we have to remember that this is really Hollywood at it’s best.

I remember being in Japan at the time of the release of The Last Samurai and discussing it with Japanese colleagues. They all thought the movie was a giant joke and absolutely not representative of anything even remotely approaching historical reality. For them, this ideal vision of the Samurai never existed. They were just brutal, cruel and oppressive warlords whom’s passing nobody regrets. A common trait of Japanese and Chinese people is that they are, for the most part, forward looking people. The future is what interests them and they really don’t romanticize the past like we tend to do. I think this contributes to their dynamism but I love “our” romantic Asia and will keep watching for the next big film that will contribute to this mythology.

Together (the movie)

together.jpgIn this movie by Chen Kaige (Farewell my concubine), Xiao Chun is a 13 year old violin virtuoso from somewhere in the chinese countryside. He comes with his father to Beijing to find a teacher to help him develop his gift. It’s a tale of fatherly love and sacrifice in a China divided between the old and the new, a society in rapid change where good and bad is to be found on both sides of the development barrier. The language of this film is music which pervades every aspect of the story. The emotions conveyed by the masterful violin solos are incredibly strong and lend wings to the entire movie. I was moved by the film. And I ordered the soundtrack … ;-)

P.S. The image is the french poster of the film where the title is translated as “L’enfant au violon“. Together is the english title and in chinese it is “Han ni zai yiki“.

Wasabi

wasabi.jpgYou will have gathered that I like Japan and I recently watched a french movie “Wasabi” that is worth mentioning here. It portrays elements of what fascinate me in Japan.

Wasabi stars Jean Reno and other less known actors. It’s about a an ex-secret service agent turned cop who 19 years earlier had fallen in love with Miko, a japanese counterpart, got dumped, and became bitter and never loved another. Upon being informed of her death, he also learns that this lady names him the executor of her will. Upon arrival in Tokyo for the funeral and the opening of the will, he finds out, to his great surprise, that he has a daughter, now 19, that Miko never told him about and that he has to take care of her until her 20th birthday (when she becomes an adult). Follows the building of a relationship between a tough but sentimental frenchman and a typical wild, very pretty but excentric japanese teenager. This while a group of Yakuza chase them to recapture 200 million USD that was stolen from them by the now dead mother. You get the picture. A nice little action oriented comedy feature.

What is interesting about this film is that it quite accurately points out what is specific (and bizarre to western eyes) about japanese youth. Japan puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on youth (even though it has one of the oldes populations on Earth). Youth is the time when everything is allowed and one does not need to conform or be governed by all the obligations of adulthood. Japanese teenagers never cease to surprise me by their crazy attire (everything is possible) and their seemingly endless freedom. They also spend their parents money like there’s no tomorrow. A contrario, by the time they reach the age of 25 and have integrated the workplace or for women, when they start having children, all trace of their former individuality vanishes to be replaced by a very dutiful, respectful and conformist attitude (and attire, which automatically becomes conservative). The cycle then starts again with a new generation. It is a very different way of functioning from our’s and forms the basis of the appeal of this film. Ryoko Hirosue, the actress who portrays the daughter, does a great job introducing us to the quirkiness of japanese youth culture and it all make for good comedy ;-)

w4.jpg

The Day after Tomorrow

Just walked out of the theater and l’m already posting my review. The movie opened today in France so this is really fresh news ;-)
libertyisland.jpg
The Day After Tomorrow was made by the same people who gave us Independence Day. This is another classic Hollywood doomsday extravaganza. The story goes roughly like this : Climate expert predicts global warming will change ocean currents possibly causing a new Ice Age; prediction comes true sooner and faster than expected; storms, tornadoes, hailstorms and ocean surges devastate the Northern Hemisphere; father (climate expert) searches and rescues stranded son in frozen New York City.

Nothing special in terms of plot but the visual effects are tremendous and the movie keeps you bolted to your chair. Compared to other disaster movies, this one fares much better in part because there is no excessive characterization. After all, when you go to see a movie like this, you’re going for the disaster. The characters are there to give a human dimension but no more. This movie, from the 1st minute, wastes no time in getting started and doesn’t let up until the end. This is a Hollywood feature that aims to entertain. It does so quite well.

A couple of additional comments :

- For those of you interested in an environmental take on this feature (after all, this film gets it’s premise from global warming) see this story on ENNHumans, nature mix things up in Day After Tomorrow

- I’m surprised that 20th Century Fox would release such a film at this moment. Fox is part of News Corp. and owned by Rupert Murdoch (a very staunch Bush supporter). This movie is very pro-environment and critical of the USA’s actual policies regarding Climate change. It will be a hit and will contribute to putting another issue on the table for the Bush administration (and they’re already very much in trouble as it is). To sum it up, a good entertaining movie, surprising source, important issue and trouble for the Bushies. There is nothing to complain about here ;-)

Troy, the movie is better than one could expect

OK… There are hundreds of articles out there about this movie. We’re talking Brad Pitt here ! What reason could I have to write a review or comment ? This weblog is like a new toy for me but the software I’m using (iBlog) has some quirks. In this case, I have several categories predefined but they won’t appear unless there is an entry relative to them. So if I write this “review”, the movies category will appear. it’s magic ;-)

So then, Troy…. The Iliad is probably the first book I read. No, not Homer’s opus (which I did read much later on), but a little childrens book called “The Wooden Horse of Troy”. I loved that book and used to reproduce with great care the illustrations of the armored hoplites and the walls of the city. All of the epic moments were already in this 20 page book and needless to say I have this story printed in my mind. So there were no plot surprises (though as can be expected, for Hollywood’s sake, there are some modifications such as Agamemnon not making it home).

It’s for the memory of this first book that I decided to go see the movie even though Brad Pitt with his Missouri accent and blond hair didn’t exactly fit with my ideal of Achilles… The movie is much better than I expected. Brad Pitt pull’s off a very credible Achilles and Eric Bana as Hector shines. Orlando Bloom, cast in an anti-Legolas role as Paris, is probably the best of a very good cast in that he manages to make Paris acceptable and give the story some weight in as to why so many people should die over him stealing someone else’s wife. Helen, though pretty is forgettable (I already forgot the actress’s name). Peter O’Toole as Priam is up to his usual standard and I rather liked Brian Cox as Agamemnon who ended up giving some comic relief (maybe unintended…) in a movie that is otherwise very serious and heroic.

This is a war movie and the battle scenes are numerous and impressive. They are in the same league as those that feature in Lord of The Rings and Gladiator. If you liked those, you will enjoy this as well. The movie is however less good than Gladiator (and doesn’t even begin to compare with the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Troy clocks in at 2h40 min. It’s long and a bit ponderous as it tries to manage all of the twists and turns of the book. I did look at my watch a couple of times during the film but as it built up to the great duel between Hector and Achilles and as the “Wooden Horse of Troy” entered the gates of the city, I relived those childhood moments and savored them.