Friday, November 28, 2008

So Close

With this movie, director Corey Yuen (The Transporter) just confirms that he's able to give us mindless movies as well as fairly good ones. Because this movie involves a decent scriptwriting, So Close is not just a mere action movie that you watch and forget; it's Asia's smart response to Hollywood's Charlie's Angels. All in all, So Close has a focus in the script (minus the humour) and a good performance by the cast. Besides, it's definitely a movie that should please to men with its three beautiful stars and also to women especially for the action scenes.

Lynn (Shu Qi) and Sue (Zhao Wei) are two sisters who inherited of a worldwide computer surveillance system. Because of that, they're the best killers for hire in Hong Kong. However, after having killed a shareholder from an investment company that would make Norbourg look like a bedtime tale, a client wants to eliminate them. Besides, add to that Hung (Karen Mok), a cop who is on their tail while investigating two murders related to the investing company in question.

With its attempt to look serious, So Close's script takes quite a lot of time to be clear cut. In fact, the movie's script strangely evolves, at the beginning, like a TV series' episode with its sub-plots converging toward a central point. Hopefully, once this is done halfway through, we're left with an exciting and fairly good story that takes avenues that are associated with thrillers. I don't want to reveal any more, but if you liked John Woo's The Killer, the plot twist - which is So Close cornerstone - at the end will amaze you.

Although Corey Yuen has never been really known to make serious movies, this time, I was surprised to see his clear attempt to show a back story for the three main characters, which shows a little bit of maturity in his style. However, this creates the movie's weakness as Yuen brings us back into the past of Lynn and Sue. Indeed, although we know what brought them to become killers, the script doesn't mention how they got trained. In the end, going into such a detail wasn't worth it, because you'd have to justify any detail. This means that we could've had a story that just doesn't mention how Lynn and Sue became killers.

Hopefully, let's say that Shu Qi (Millennium Mambo), Zhao Wei (Shaolin Soccer) and Karen Mok (Black Mask) manage to show their thespian ability. However, of all these actresses, it's Zhao Wei who delivers the most interesting performance because its looks so natural. If Shu Qi can be seen like a femme fatale with ass-kicking techniques, Mok, on the other hand, brings a little touch of masculine roughness with her tomboyish character.

Finally, the movie does make you forget any blockbuster films that dismayed you in the past. Its spectacular fights and its slow-motion gunfight scenes always eject us from our seat. As a matter of fact, choreographing fight scenes just like Yuen did is a hell of an exploit given that Shu, Zhao and Mok are not the martial artists they seem to be on the screen! Moreover, this movie is a proof that once in a while, blockbuster movies can be taken a little bit seriously.

Rating: 3.5/5

So Close
Hong Kong (2002)
Length: 111 minutes
Genre: Thriller
Screenplay: Jeffrey Lau
Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Shu Qi, Zhao Wei, Karen Mok, Michael Wai and Wan Siu-Lun

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anthony Zimmer

[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

Jérôme Salle's Anthony Zimmer would certainly please to many lovers of gripping police films. Although the movie is okay, few people would appreciate it because this is the sort of movie that you must watch twice to thoroughly understand it. In fact, I dare to say that this movie is not my cup of tea. Other than that, the film is stuck with a few incoherences in the plot. Hopefully, the acting is there.

Since many years, the French customs agency has been trying to arrest Anthony Zimmer, an international criminal who knows how to make dirty money gets into Europe through legal fronts. However, things are rather complicated, because Zimmer changed his face (and even his voice) after going through a heavy make-over. Despite that, Det. Akerman (Sami Frey) intends to use Chiara Manzoni (Sophie Marceau), one of his agents, to arrest him. When on mission, Chiara randomly meets François Taillandier (Yvan Attal), because she believes that he's Anthony Zimmer. How right is she?

Of course, the movie does a good job when it comes to simultaneously entertaining uswith its rather quick pace and its twist plots. What is rather astonishing, is that Anthony Zimmer manages to keep a certain plausibility. Even though the script is a little bit complicated, we have here an effective thriller. However, as the movie evolves, one may believe that the movie has some plot holes that can be seen in the dialogues, because we never get to fully know what is the link between Chiara and Anthony Zimmer/François Taillandier. In fact, while the movie focus correctly on Det. Akerman's attempt to arrest Zimmer (and he uses Chiara to do it), scriptwriter Jérôme Salle missed the occasion to deal - at least slightly - with the corruption within the French customs agency through Chiara.

Even though the movie leaves off some important details that could have augment the depth of the script, the performance of the cast won't dismay you. Whether it's Sami Frey (La fille de d'Artagnan), Yvan Attal (Bon voyage) or Sophie Marceau (The World is not Enough), just expect to see a contained, but well controlled performance. With such a control, the cast manages to suggest a lot of things through their words or even through their silence.

Finally, if you like thrillers that don't contain much action scenes, then you should probably like this one. After all, even though this movie has a little plot hole, I'm sure that Alfred Hitchcock would have liked Anthony Zimmer.

Rating: 3.5/5

Anthony Zimmer
France (2005)
Length: 90 minutes
Genre: Thriller
Screenplay: Jérôme Salle
Director: Jérôme Salle
Starring: Sophie Marceau, Yvan Attal, Sami Frey, Gilles Lellouche, Daniel Olbrychski and Samir Guesmi

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Rebel (Dòng máu anh hùng)

After one year of waiting, Vietnam's biggest box-office hit (and also first action movie ever) finally comes to Canada on DVD! With a budget of about $3 million US for this film, Vietnam has no lessons to receive from other Asian countries and even less Hollywood on how to shoot action sequences. However, lower your expectation, because The Rebel is not a masterpiece like Hero, Ran or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when you look at the script and the acting.

1922: Vietnam is under French colonial rule and anti-French rebellions occurs nationwide. To deal with that, the French use Vietnamese agents, like Cường (Johnny Nguyễn), to track down the leader of a nationalist movement. However, as Cường gradually becomes inspired by Thúy's (Ngô Thanh Vân), the daughter of the leader in question, patriotism after an encounter he fights back against the French and Sỹ (Dustin Nguyễn), his superior. Nevertheless, Sỹ follows Cường and Thúy, because he has a hunch that they will lead him to the leader of the rebels.

Obviously, the film shouldn't bore you because its pace is quicker than that of Tran Anh Hung's movies. Besides, The Rebel's script doesn't resort to mindless plot twists. All in all, we're left with a simple storyline meant to be used as a feel-good movie. However, since the scriptwriters seemed to be in quite a rush, the development of the characters is a little bit sloppy. In fact, the scriptwriters give us the feeling that all they want to do is to lead us as quickly as possible to the movie's finale. Unfortunately, by doing so, they leave us with a relatively incomplete character development, because, for example, Cường's change of allegiance is too sudden. After all, we don't get to know much about Cường's own critique of the French colonial system or even his perception on Vietnamese nationalists (the same thing can be said about the Vietnamese villains in the movie).

Although the script is fairly good, the performance of the cast is a little bit unequal. Indeed, those who play our two heroes, who are Johnny Nguyễn (The Protector) and Ngô Thanh Vân, sometimes display stiff emotions in normal scenes of conversations despite all their efforts. In short, this is when you see their obvious lack of experience for playing scenes that are supposed to be dramatic and to convince us about the chemistry between them (if there's any). As strange as it might look, those who play the bad guys, be they French or Vietnamese, manage to be more convincing, especially Dustin Nguyễn (Heaven & Earth). Well, from what see, it must not be that hard to play a caricatured villain!

Anyway, if the unequal performance dismayed you a little bit, well, there's always the action scenes if you like entertainment. In fact, for us, Canadians (if not Westerners), this is a rare occasion to see Việt Võ Đạo, a spectacular and beautiful martial arts that is rarely seen here. Of course, what would a Việt Võ Đạo movie be without those strangling scissor kicks!

Finally, let's hope that the film will at least entertain you with its fight scenes (especially those at the beginning and the end). Although the development of the characters is thin, the actors do their best to play them. So, to describe The Rebel in a few words, it's a simple, entertaining and a little bit clumsy mix of martial arts and historical drama that hopefully isn't stupid. So, The Rebel is neither a masterpiece nor a trash.

Rating: 3/5

The Rebel
Vietnam (2007)
Length: 104 minutes
Genre: Action drama
Scriptwriters: Johnny Nguyễn, Charlie Nguyễn and Dominic Pereira
Director: Charlie Nguyễn
Starring: Johnny Nguyễn, Ngô Thanh Vân, Dustin Nguyễn, Nguyễn Thắng and Stéphane Gauger

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Die Another Day

To celebrate his 40th anniversary, the creators of James Bond promised us an outstanding movie that would change the franchise. However, while the film itself tries to be something, it gives us the feeling that it just came out straight from a Hollywood studio after we've gone halfway through Die Another Day. Here's one word to describe the film: action.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent in North Korea in order to find a link between the smuggling of conflict diamonds and colonel Moon. Betrayed and held in captivity by the North Korean regime for fourteen months, he's set free but is traded for Zao (Rick Yune). After he's released, Bond goes after Zao and is led to a millionaire, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who possesses a satellite that can project a laser beam.

At the beginning, one may have many hopes that Die Another Day can be the best movie of the franchise. After all, we had the right to expect it given the bitter taste left by Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is not Enough. With that said, we expect in this movie more character development just to see how James Bond lives his post-captivity period, because the movie obeys too much to the same formula that has been applied in previous James Bond movies. Therefore, this movie just confirms that scriptwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade should have been fired a long time ago. In fact, while the story is extremely exciting, everything tends to become quite predictable in the middle. Besides, add to that the excessive focus on action scenes. In the end, while the movie progresses, one wouldn't care that much for the characters, but would rather wait for the action scenes to come.

Of course, one would probably say that few people watch a James Bond movie for a sophisticated script.

Hopefully, the performance delivered by the cast is just what you would normally expect from a James Bond movie: a very ordinary performance. Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye) manages more or less to find a balance between a humour à la Roger Moore (The Spy who Loved Me) and a roughness à la Sean Connery (From Russia with Love). All in all, you should just expect Brosnan to display a line of incisive lines and shooting some bad guys. Halle Berry (Monster's Ball), who plays Jynx, just looks more like an ornament who delivers an ordinary performance.

In the end, if you really like entertainment, this movie should appeal to you. However, while Die Another Day is entertaining, it certainly won't revolutionize the franchise. After all, here are what you should expect from this movie: bland vilains, amazing action scenes, a thin script and an ordinary performance by the cast. All in all, Die Another Day is also a proof (before Casino Royale came out) that the franchise is getting exhausted and needs a reality check (because of its formula).

Rating: 3/5

Die Another Day
UK/USA (2002)
Length: 132 minutes
Genre: Espionage
Screenplay: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rick Yune and Rosamund Pike

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

La peau blanche (White Skin)

Don't expect to see something as quick and terrifying as an Asian flick! For a first movie, Daniel Roby did his best to adapt Joël Champettier's novel and keep as smartly as he can the combination of sensuality and horror. In the end, we can say that his mission is accomplished. However, to call a cat a cat, this film, in comparison with the novel, does have a few plot holes.

Even though Thierry (Marc Paquet) met Claire (Marianne Farley), a girl with red hair, for a very short period of time, he madly falls in love for her. Indeed, he loves her even though Claire has a very pale skin (something that Thierry doesn't like). Although Claire implores Thierry to stay out of her life, they're both attracted to each other. However, as Thierry discovers that Claire's young sister savagely attacked Henri (Frédéric Pierre), his roommate and best friend, in a hotel, he starts wondering who Claire really is.

Strangely enough, La peau blanche takes a little bit of time to take off, that is to get to the story's point. Nonetheless, when the storyline gets to its point, that is the first time when Thierry meets Claire, the story becomes extremely interesting. Indeed, it even leaves some space for some unpredictable situations that avoid being idiotic in themselves. However, the execution of the script seems slightly sloppy, for the scriptwriters often take the easiest ways to make the movie progress: instead of relying on elaborated dialogues between Claire and Thierry during their first meeting, the scriptwriters make them fall in love for each other in a sudden way with few explanations. Besides, add to that the few plot holes that don't emphasize enough on who Claire and her family, in comparison to Thierry, really are unlike what we saw in the novel.

Despite the flaw in the script, La peau blanche manages to stay on track thanks to Joël Champetier's talent to build coherent, incisive and also deep dialogues in most parts of the movie. From that, comes the solid performance of the well-chosen cast. In fact, what is surprising here is that the actors, especially Marianne Farley and Marc Paquet, play their character in such a natural way that we feel disarmed. All in all, with a performance that renders just correctly any emotion, there's no need to ask more from the cast!

Finally, although one may find that La peau blanche doesn't contain a particularly memorable or scary scene per se, it's a movie that should be taken for what it is. In a few words, it's a relatively troubling "horror" movie that focuses more on its script (that can be a little bit predictable and thinly developed at times) instead of absolutely trying to frighten viewers and eventually fall into sheer stupidity. However, be reassured: if you like small-budget horror films and a fairly good script, I'm sure that this one will keep you pinned to your seat until the very end. Oh, and for the information, the DVD title of this film in the USA is Cannibal.

Rating: 3.5/5

La peau blanche
Canada (2004)
Length: 92 minutes
Genre: Thriller
Scriptwriters: Daniel Roby and Joël Champetier
Director: Daniel Roby
Starring: Marc Paquet, Frédéric Pierre, Marianne Farley, Jessica Malka and Julie LeBreton

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spider-Man 3

With a third movie arriving in the franchise, the bar was already extremely high for this film. This can evidently be explained by the fact that the second instalment of the series met success both in the box office and worldwide critics. This third chapter of the Spider-Man is amusing to watch, without a doubt. Unfortunately, it’s not amusing for good reasons. Despite trying to look good, Spider-Man 3 is nothing more than a movie that could have been better.

While being in the midst of his glorious days, Spider-Man is being more and more appreciated by New Yorkers. During a night with Mary-Jane, Peter absorbs, without knowing it, a black substance from space. Moreover, when the substance takes effect, Peter notices that his powers are "enhanced", but his relatives notices that he's become more arrogant. Are Spider-Man's ideals (justice rather than vengeance) and Peter's relations threatened?

I certainly wanted to say to myself that Spider-Man 3 looks more mature than the two previous movies because of the theme that it deals with. To draw a comparison with the position of force occupied by the USA in world politics, Spider-Man 3 can be seen as a metaphor about the destructive effect of power. In the case of the movie, Peter Parker/Spider-Man becomes stronger after he absorbs a black substance coming from the space. However, Peter Parker does look like a brat who doesn't know how to use his power for good reasons. Of course, such a theme gives to the well-chosen cast the chance to push their thespian skills into deeper psychological abyss, especially when we think about how Peter's relatives react to his erupting arrogance.

Unfortunately, this is only the movie's beautiful façade, because the script hides some flaws. The first flaw is that the movie tries to have such a sombre tone that near the end, Spider-Man 3 becomes a little bit laughable. Secondly, while the film progresses too slowly toward the climax, we just feel that some of the main characters are over-developed. For instance, nobody needed to see the scene in which Peter dances in the street with black clothes, because we don't need to be told twice how arrogant the character is. Seriously, that scene could have been removed so that we can move on the to the climax! Aside from that example, the movie drags some long periods that add no dramatic interest to the film.

Finally, one may not like this film as much as the second instalment of the franchise. Hopefully, while the script has difficulty to progress smoothly, the cast's performance delivers a fine performance. To that matter, let's think about Thomas Haden Church (George of the Jungle), as Flint Marko/Sandman, who plays an interesting character always torn between the desire to hurt nobody and to unleash his brutality.

Rating: 3/5

Spider-Man 3
USA (2007)
Length: 140 minutes
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Scriptwriter: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War

While Taegukgi: The Brotherhood deals with the Korean War (1950-1953), the movie captivates us for its presentation of its historical topic and its extremely well-shot action scenes. Nonetheless, no matter how good the movie is, Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War is not necessarily a masterpiece because of some minor flaws in the script. Despite that, it still remains a watchable war movie.

The story follow two South Korean brothers. Jin-tae, a shoemaker and the elder, dropped out from school in order to work and to help his young brother, Jin-seok, to go to university. However, when North Korea invades South Korea, both brothers are compelled to join the army. On the battlefield, Jin-tae will do his best to protect his young brother. However, their bond will be tested by war.

Obviously, Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War is shot in the tradition of Hollywood's war movies (in the good sense of the term) because of its visual and technical aspect. However, unlike what we may think, the presence of some scenes - that are a war movie's trademark and adapted to the South Korean context - doesn't plague the movie: a soldier watching the picture of his girlfriend, a bunch of soldiers introducing themselves during a break, a student who joined the army out of patriotism, a radical anti-communist, etc. After all, American producers don't hold the monopoly on the right to re-create as realistically as possible the life of soldiers on the screen!

However, speaking about the script, the real weakness of the film is actually its attempt to be a little bit like Saving Private Ryan and especially Band of Brothers. In fact, while the script writers bothered to apply nuances in the evolution of the two brothers, we're left with a bunch of supporting characters (the South Korean soldiers who accompany Jin-tae and Jin-seok) that are almost as useful as Christmas ornaments. As a result of that, there are too much supporting characters meaning that we can hardly have any interest for them. Nevertheless, despite being bland on the edges and all made-up, these supporting characters are competently played by their respective actor.

All in all, Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War is one of those historical movies that you'd rather imagine as a miniseries.

Hopefully, scriptwriter Kang Je-gyu avoids to display exaggerated heroism on screen by actually showing how war can unfortunately instill violence in a soldier's mind. Although the movie mostly shows the South Korean point of view, Kang's script shows a lot of maturity by being relatively impartial. Therefore, don't expect a line to be drawn in order to say who are the bad and the good guys. In fact, the movie also shows bad behaviours coming from some South Korean soldiers: intending to kill disarmed North Korean soldiers or even violently mistreating them, for instance. In the end, although the film is not a documentary, I'm sure that it'll please to history buffs and action lovers alike.

Rating: 4/5

Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War
South Korea (2004)
Length: 140 minutes
Genre: War drama
Scriptwriter: Kang Je-gyu
Director: Kang Je-Gyu
Starring: Jang Dong-kun, Won Bin, Lee Eun-ju and Jang Min-ho

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Alphabet Meme

I thank Blake, from Bitchin' Film Reviews and Norma, from the Flick Chick, for tagging me in their own alphabet meme. In that game, which started here, you pick your favourite movie for each letter of the alphabet. Afterwards, you tag people to do it. Personally, I'd have liked to tag my friend SC if he had a blog. As you can see, I just don't recall seeing any movie beginning by "V" in the past ten years. As for the letter "P", since I'm a fan of war movies, my heart told me to put Passchendaele, but my personal judgement told me that Pulp Fiction should be there. Ok, here's my list and I hope you'll find something to watch for your week-end if any of these movies interest you:

B- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

C- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

D- Dernier tunnel, Le

F- Face/Off

G- Grande séduction, La (Seducing Dr Lewis)

H- Hero

I- Infernal Affairs (2002)

J- Jurassic Park (the first movie)

K- Killer, The

L- Last Samurai, The

M- Maurice Richard (The Rocket)

N- No Man's Land (2001)

O- Ordres, Les (1974)

P- Pulp Fiction

Q- Quiet American, The

R- Road Home, The

T- Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War

U- Untergang, Der (The Downfall)

V- ?

W- Where the Truth Lies

X- X-Men 2: X-Men United

Z- Zwartboek (Black Book, 2006)

For the challenge, I tag:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Curse of the Golden Flower

This could have been Zhang Yimou's finest film ever had it not been because of a minor flaw in the script. On a bright side, Curse of the Golden Flower is Zhang's visually most beautiful movie. After having tried to at least smartly entertain us with House of Flying Daggers, director Zhang Yimou (Hero) stays loyal to his newly built reputation and his first days as a director of the "Sixth Generation": giving us in a balanced way entertainment and sophistication.

Based on Cao Yu's (1910-1996) play Thunderstorm, the story takes place during the Tang Dynasty. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, the emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) and his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou), unexpectedly returns to the palace. The emperor wants to celebrate the holiday with his family. However, given the cold relation between the empress (Gong Li) and the emperor, the former secretly plans something to humiliate the latter and also to contribute to his downfall...

Unlike some of his movies from the 1990s, Zhang manages to set the tone right from the beginning with this story that takes place during the Tang Dynasty, a period of "glamour" and artistic ostentation. Thus, the movie follows the premise that behind gold and jade, there are rot and decay just to paraphrase an old Chinese proverb. Therefore, the movie actually evolves in a way that the main characters' secret are shown in order to illustrate the polarization that prevails within the Forbidden City.

However, the only thing that can be reproached to Curse of the Golden Flower is a mere plot hole. In fact, although the plot about the Emperor's first wife is used by the Empress as a tool of humiliation, we just never to thoroughly understand the back story between the Emperor and his first wife. Although the Empress has her own reason to want to prove that the Emperor has always been a bad husband and a liar, we just never understand what caused the "divorce" between the Emperor and his first wife. All in all, even though the movie wonderfully illustrates how divided (and dysfunctional) the Imperial family is, we get the feeling that some details are missing.

Hopefully, the performance by the cast is top notch. While Chow Yun-Fat (The Killer) is authoritative on screen, Gong Li (Farewell my Concubine) plays with a lot of nuances a manipulative woman who lives without regretting what she does. Moreover, add to that the breathtaking cinematography by Zhao Xiaoding (House of Flying Daggers) that reminds us Christopher Doyle's (Hero) style. As strange as it might look, the cinematography slightly masked the bitter taste left by the movie's plot hole.

Finally, Curse of the Golden Flower could have been Zhang Yimou's finest movie. However, anyone who appreciated Zhang Yimou's movies from the 1990s movies shouldn't be too disappointed. As for those who are looking for a martial arts flick, this movie is not recommended for you for there are not a lot of action scenes.

Rating: 4/5

Curse of the Golden Flower
China/Hong Kong (2006)
Length: 114 minutes
Genre: Historical drama
Screenplay: Zhang Yimou, Wu Nan and Bian Zhihong
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Liu Ye, Ni Dahong, Qin Junjie, Li Man and Chen Jin

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