Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fist of Legend

I have only seen one Bruce Lee's movie, which is Fist of Fury and for all I know, Fist of Legend is a remake of Chinese Connection. I watched Fist of Legend with the assumption (and with good reason) that it's better than its Bruce Lee's counterpart. However, if you just take out the fight scenes here's the result you get: while this film tries to have a decent script, the cast's performance makes it look really dull at times. If you're willing to forget such a detail, you'll be in for quite an entertainment, speaking about the fight scenes.

In the 1930s, Chen Zhen (Jet Li), a Chinese kung-fu expert, studies engineering in Kyoto. At the same moment, the Japanese army has already taken Shanghai. When he learns that his master died (so it seems) in a duel with a Japanese master, Chen Zhen decides to go back to China even if it means leaving behind for a while Mitsuko (Shinobu Nakayama), his lover and classmate. Afterwards, when he learns that his master got poisoned in reality, Chen Zhen decides to get revenge by fighting the Japanese who are behind this.

I remember that I liked this film a lot because of its fight scene when I was in Grade 8. However, I have to admit that as you get old, you just see a film differently. First of all, in comparison with the Bruce Lee version, I'm glad that this film doesn't have any racist bias toward the Japanese protagonists. Indeed, they are given a chance to express their thoughts. However, any praise for the film stops there.

As a matter of fact, although the film is entertaining because of its fight scenes, I had the feeling that I was either watching: 1) a bad soap opera; 2) a bad comic book adapted to the big screen; or 3) a parody of a the first John Wayne films (shot in another historical period). In addition to the cold performance, most characters give you the feeling that they came out of a mould. For instance, while Jet Li (Hero) plays a fearless hero who never has any problem, Shinobu Nakayama plays nothing but a love object that you barely care for. Besides, let's also mention that the Japanese general played by Billy Chow (High Risk) seemed to be programmed to only express one feeling, that is anger.

Unless you forgive the actors' lack of manoeuvre in their portrayal of their respective character, you'll probably say to yourself that Fist of Legend is, at best, a movie about peace and respect of people. This message of respect can be seen through Chen Zhen's love for Mitsuko and her wish that there will not be a war between Japan and China. Hence, the denunciation in the film of some Chinese characters' black and white vision about Japanese people (ex: if a Chinese person loves a Japanese, then that person is a traitor). However, don't expect much dramatic depth because of the dialogues that don't allow us to go that much into the character's political opinions (especially Mitsuko's) and enjoy the fight scenes.

Rating: 2.5/5

Fist of Legend
Origin:Hong Kong (1994)
Length:103 minutes
Genre:Action drama
Screenplay:Gordon Chan, Lan Kay Toa, Kei To Lam and Yip Kwong-Kim
Director:Gordon Chan
Starring:Jet Li, Shinobu Nakayama, Chin Siu-Ho, Billy Chow and Yasuaki Kurata

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Zombie films embody a dead genre because they just look repetitive. However, with all due respect to what other countries do, it took a Canadian film to convince me that horror films can be effective without having the budget of an American, Korean or Japanese horror film. By the way, if you're looking for a mainstream film that tries to be visually scary as much as possible, then skip this film, because the story only takes place in one place: the radio station of the town of Pontypool, which is actually located in the province of Ontario.

Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is a radio host who works at a radio station of a small town from Ontario named Pontypool. On one day, he learns through the news, along with his colleagues Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) and Sydney (Lisa Houle), that many people in Pontypool display erratic and violent behaviour. Eventually, the trio learn from Ken (Rick Roberts), the radio station's "helicopter correspondent" that many people became zombies, so to speak. Besides, the infection is spreading through the use of some words in the English language. Later on, Grant, Laurel-Ann and Sydney are joined by Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) who avoided being infected.

Given its low budget, Bruce McDonald's Pontypool has no difficulty to seize the opportunity to be more original than most movies of the same genre. Forget the extremely flashy special effects thanks to a big budget or even the attempt to show gruesome scenes one after another! This film turns the zombie genre upside down by efficiently showing the characters' fear not necessarily in reaction to what they see, but what they know about what's going on. In fact, as the film advances, the four characters try to know how the mysterious epidemic looks like and they get what they're unwillingly looking for: the description of what the epidemic does to people (erratic and violent behaviour). For that matter, let's acclaim the cast for its performance, because horror films that bring to the surface the characters' fear with such a nice development are rare.

Finally, Pontypool is a deliciously unconventional film for it relies a lot on suggestion rather than visual eloquence. Although Pontypool brilliantly combines horror and a little bit of humour (i.e. the absurdity of people trying to speak French in order to avoid being contaminated by the use of some English words), I doubt that the mainstream public will embrace this film. Anybody who is willing for a change should find this film very entertaining.

Rating: 4.5/5

Origin:Canada (2009)
Length:95 minutes
Screenplay:Tony Burgess
Director:Bruce McDonald
Starring:Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak and Rick Roberts

Friday, March 20, 2009

One Week

What would you do if you had one week to live? That is the question asked by the film. Although Michael McGowan's One Week is passable, I wouldn't, in good conscience, watch this film again if I learnt that I only have one week left to live. Although the film is visually appreciable for it brings you in some parts of Canada, its script hurts you a little bit while you're watching the film. So, if the script was James Bond, it would probably say out loud: "What would I do without you (the cast)?"

After he learnt that he has a stage four cancer, Ben Tyler (Joshua Jackson), an English teacher from Toronto, quits his job and leaves behind his family along with his fiancée, Samantha (Liane Balaban), for a while. Now that he bought a Norton motorcycle from a man who couldn't have his licence renewed because of some sight problems, Ben decides that he'll ride on his bike from Toronto, Ontario, to Tofino, British-Columbia. As a matter of fact, Ben does it because he wants to avoid being treated by doctors for his cancer. Moreover, he thinks that by being treated, he'll be stuck in the hospital for an indefinite time. Hence, his desire to go West starting from Toronto. By the way, does it mean that Quebec and Canada's East Coast are not important? Hey, I want my money back! Just kidding.

While being blatantly Canadian, One Week might be visually appreciable, because it brings you almost everywhere in Canada. With an okay pace (and thank god the film was not much longer than it is) and a rather rich soundtrack, the script manages more or less to explore the fragility (or sadness) of an individual's very existence and at the same time the joy that one may find only if he/she goes after it. Hence, Michael's desire to visit this country and his impact on people that he comes across like, for instance, the farmer woman from Manitoba who fixes his bike or the woman from Alberta who sang the folk song "Un Canadien errant". Moreover, although the performance by the cast may look a little bit cold at times, the know-it-all narrator helps you to delve into most character's psyche and past.

However, despite a few qualities, you might feel that the feel is way too long than it has to be and that the script is thin despite the potential. In fact, the film contains a few long periods here and there. Besides, the script feels thin because although the character of Ben has his idea about why he wants to go West, the scriptwriter doesn't fully try to put scenes in which Ben is actually sharing his thoughts with people about the meaning of life and his cancer. For instance, while being with characters that he mostly talks to (the Albertan woman, the Manitoban farmer woman or the guy met in an Ontario motel), we sometimes feel that these scenes are just filling a void. So much for dialogues that could have been elaborated a little bit more and that have potential.

Well, that's a little bad, because One Week could have been way better if it had been written as a stage play or improved for the big screen. Despite its flaws, One Week can rely on the rather average performance of its cast, especially from Joshua Jackson (Bobby) who bear the film on his shoulder. Moreover, at best, One Week is also a feel-good film that tries to tell us that no matter what happens to us, we should always pursue happiness and never back down while doing it.

Rating: 3/5

One Week
Origin:Canada (2009)
Length:94 minutes
Genre:Road movie
Screenplay:Michael McGowan
Director:Michael McGowan
Starring:Joshua Jackson, Liane Balaban and Campbell Scott

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This Beautiful City

At the first look, you just don't know what to think about this film when you're going through it. However, if the slow pace didn't get on your nerves, it's only at the end that you realize how much this film is not that bad. Indeed, every elements that form the story fall into piece. Moreover, it's also at the end that you see how the cast's performance gives so much effectiveness to the film despite the slow pace that is not justified, the clumsy (?) cinematography and above all, the small budget.

In Toronto's West Queen West neighbourhood, which is near downtown, we meet five people. Carol (Caroline Cave) and Harry (Noam Jenkins) form an upper middle-class couple living in a condo. Johnny (Aaron Poole) and Pretty (Kristin Booth) are respectively a drug-addict (who pimps Pretty to pay the rent and his drugs) and a prostitute. Peter (Stuart Hughes) is a cop who patrols the neighbourhood. When Carol plummets from her condo balcony the lives of all the five characters collide. In fact, Pretty and Johnny were eye-witness to Carol's attempt of suicide while Peter, as a cop, went to help her.

Wait a minute, is this movie named Crash (2004)? I'm just joking! In the end, This Beautiful City has a more coherent storyline than its American counterpart for every elements of the story are linked together.

On another note, most of you would probably want to immediately return This Beautiful City to your local video rental store if you rented it. In fact, after about half an hour through the film, there will certainly be many people who would wonder what this film is all about after we saw the character of Carol apparently tries to commit suicide. Well, for those who didn't have enough nerves to watch this from A to Z, you missed a different experience. In fact, This Beautiful City is not your usual film whose story gradually unfolds before you. Despite its irksome and slow pace, thanks to a few conversation scenes that don't get to the point, this film can only be understood if you've figured out what the ending conveys.

If you forget This Beautiful City's flaw, which is its pace, you have quite a beautiful film. In fact, the story uses the couple of Harry and Carol as its driving wheel to show that behind a veneer of perfection, one can find dissatisfaction. While the film doesn't necessarily elaborate on why Carol leaped from her condo's balcony, it does provide a good ground for Gass-Donnelly to depict his characters. In fact, the five characters seem doomed in a certain way (as if nothing can get better for them) and try to find at all cost happiness in human relation. For instance, this can be seen through Harry's attempt to have a friendship with Pretty, because Carol feels estranged (without never saying why and that doesn't matter) from him. Or to take another example, we can think about Carol budding friendship with Peter.

Finally, if you don't like independent films, you might overlook the film's biggest quality: the performance of the cast. Of all the members of the cast, it's the performance of Caroline Cave (The L Word) who amazed me the most not because the rest of the cast is incompetent. Far from me the idea of having such a thought! What I mean is that she plays such an underwritten character and yet, through her character's clumsily masked feelings, Cave manages to convey the idea that money doesn't necessarily buy happiness. In relation with the character of Carol, Noam Jenkins (Adoration), who plays Carol's husband, is convincing as a puzzled husband and Stuart Hughes is brilliant as a friend who responds brilliantly to Carol's concern. Moreover, this film is also an occasion to see another facet of Kristin Booth (Young People Fucking) and to get to know Aaron Poole.

Rating: 3.5/5

This Beautiful City
Origin:Canada (2008)
Length:85 minutes
Screenplay:Ed Gass-Donelly
Director:Ed Gass-Donelly
Starring:Kristin Booth, Caroline Cave, Noam Jenkins, Aaron Poole and Stuart Hughes

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Les femmes de l'ombre

Known in English as Female Agents, this film might make some people say: "Oh no! Not another film about World War II!" Guess what? It's really enjoyable for its simplicity although its historical aspects might look a little bit hard to understand at the first sight. Moreover, this thriller has everything one is looking for: action, good performance and a smart writing in the storyline. All in all, if you like entertainment, you won't be dismayed by this film.

During World War II, Louise Desfontaines (Sophie Marceau), a French resistant (who is a trained sniper), flees to Great-Britain after her husband got killed before her eyes by a German soldier. Despite her brother's, Pierre (Julien Boisselier), reservation, she joins the British Special Operation Executive (SOE), a unit specialized in sabotage and intelligence, and is asked to recruit three other women for a mission that consists in bringing back a British army geologist who got captured by the Germans while doing some reconnaissance on the Normandy beach. That geologist hasn't talked yet, but time is running short for Louise to recruit three women for the mission. To that matter, lies, blackmail and promises are not excluded.

Jeanne (Julie Dépardieu) is an ex-prostitute who can coldly kill people and joins the SOE in order to be exonerated from the murder of her pimp. Suzy (Marie Gillain), a former cabaret dancer, who has a knack in seducing men, joins in order to erase her past days as a lover of a German officer. Gaëlle (Deborah François) is a young chemist who has been making explosives for the SOE (out of patriotism for France) and wants finally to see some action. The four women are completed by Maria (Maya Sansa), a Jewish Italian working for the French resistance. However, after their successful mission, something comes up. Indeed, the SOE orders the five women to go to Paris to carry out a suicide mission: kill colonel Heindrich, the German man who interrogated the geologist, because he knows too much about what the Allies want to do in Normandy.

Shot with simplicity, Les femmes de l'ombre might be a work of fiction, but is nonetheless really good on a historical perspective. In fact, it talks about an unknown chapter in the history of the French resistance during Second World War, which is the courageous involvement of women. With its fairly good action scenes, harsh torture/interrogation scenes and dark ambiance throughout the film, Les femmes de l'ombre has no difficulty to depict the danger, fear, betrayal and courage that these women are feeling. As we advance in the story, the film shows well that the courage of some women in the squad contrasts with the fear of others who either had - prior to carrying out the mission - a naive conception of what is war (ex: Gaëlle) or is frightened by the mere sight of blood (ex: Suzy). Regardless of each of the five women's strength or weakness, they all become a heroine in their own way.

Unfortunately, at the beginning, the performance doesn't look really natural. In fact, Julien Boisselier looks a little bit bland and unconvincing as a man who is supposed to be tough at the beginning, but he's fine as the movie's end approaches. My nods actually goes to Sophie Marceau (The World Is not Enough) for leading the four other actresses who all do a hell of a job in supporting her. In this film, you'll find Marceau correct with her deliberately cold performance of a heroine who has seen enough action on the field to be courageous.

Rating: 3.5/5

Les femmes de l'ombre
Origin:France (2008)
Length:117 minutes
Genre:Historical thriller
Screenplay:Jean-Pierre Salomé and Laurent Varchaud
Director:Jean-Pierre Salomé
Starring:Sophie Marceau, Julie Dépardieu, Marie Gillain, Deborah François, Maya Sansa, Julien Boisselier, Vincent Rottiers and Moritz Bleitbreu

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Machine Girl

Last year, when I read about this film in the catalogue of Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival, I first thought it was a joke. Now that I watched this, I still think that this film is a joke. Nonetheless, in some way, The Machine Girl is, without any doubt, an entertaining film that wouldn't have any difficulty to find its audience among us, North Americans. In fact, to be amazed by this film, all you have to do is to forget how this film doesn't take itself too seriously as an action film. By the way, if you have a weak stomach, skip this film for obvious reasons.

We begin through this film by following an ordinary Japanese High school girl, Ami Huyga (Minase Yashiro), who lives with her younger brother Yu (Ryôsuke Kawamura). Besides, she takes care of him ever since their parents committed suicide after allegations of murder. One day, Yu and his friend Takashi are bullied by Sho Kimura's (Nobuhiro Nishihara) gang, who happens to be the son of a yakuza leader. When Yu and Takashi die, Ami tries to avenge her brother's death, but has one of her forearms cut by the yakuza's leader. Later, the couple who lost their son, Takashi, helps Ami by making a machine gun that she can stick to her arm.

Always bear in mind that this film is just made for entertainment. Nothing less. Nothing more. With its very simplistic storyline (speaking about the structure) you'll be brought to the action scenes very quickly. In other words, the story itself is a sort of no-brainer that doesn't take itself too seriously if you think about its cartoon-like extreme violence. In addition to that, the story is little bit predictable and the cast's performance, which is awesomely ridiculous, would simultaneously reminds you of what you saw in the French Canadian TV series Le coeur a ses raisons and, to another extent, Kung Pow.

Although I put a rating for myself, rest assured that I'm viscerally convinced that The Machine Girl will entertain you for some obvious reasons. You like action films? Go for it. Ever thought about watching another film that is as gory as Kill Bill with its depiction of blood geysers when a limb or a head is cut? Go for it.

Rating: 2/5

The Machine Girl
Japan/USA (2008)
Length: 97 minutes
Genre: Action
Screenplay: Noburu Iguchi
Director: Noburu Iguchi
Starring: Minase Yashiro, Ryôsuke Kawamura, Nobuhiro Nishihara and Kentaro Shimazu

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Red Cliff

After a forgettable stint in Hollywood, director John Woo comes back to his native China. With this film made with an estimated budget of $80 million US (the most expansive Asian movie up to now), we now can appreciate the man that we were praising in the time of The Killer and Hard-Boiled. Forget the guns and enjoy Woo's unsuspected talent to direct an epic film! As a historical film, Red Cliff is one film among many others that has an unique effectiveness. Just like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Red Cliff's maturity lies in its ability to jump from one point of view to another and also to build a coherent storyline although the film is said to be based on the classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The first part of a story that was divided in two films takes place in 208 A.D.,near the end of the Han dynasty. What we now know as China is divided in three kingdoms, because the Han monarchy conquered the Northern kingdoms. As a matter of fact, the two other remaining kingdoms are in the South: Eastern Wu, which is led by Sun Qan (Chang Chen), and Shu Han, led by Liu Bei (You Yong). Although these two kingdoms don't intend to do war, Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), the Prime Minister of the Han monarchy, wants to conquer them and, by extension, eliminate Sun Qan and Liu Bei.

In fact, the Prime Minister convinced Emperor Xian, a puppet ruler, that Sun Qan and Liu Bei covet the throne and are preparing a rebellion (which turns out to be false). After his troops fell back at the Battle of Changban, Liu Bei sends Zhuge Liang (Takashi Kaneshiro), his chief advisor, on a diplomatic mission in Eastern Wu to seal an alliance between Liu Bei and Sun Qan. Although Sun Qan doesn't have any military experience, he becomes convinced that he has to ally with Liu Bei in order to repel Cao Cao's invasion.

Once again, watch this movie if you've been waiting after all those years to see John Woo at the helm of a serious film. Although Red Cliff is based on the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Woo and his fellow scriptwriters, showed a lot of maturity by relying mostly on the historical record Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms rather than the novel itself. Thanks to that, we get a relatively accurate historical portrayal of the major characters rather than mere one-sided caricatures. For instance, although Cao Cao would have been regarded as a blood thirsty politician by the other major characters, the film makes justice to the character by showing us with a certain depth his lust for power, his desire to go to war and even the way he feels about his "followers".

Given its ability to jump from one major character's point of view from another, Red Cliff is one of those rare war movies that offer a study about why some people want to go to war. For instance, while Sun Shiangxiang (Zhao Wei), Sun Qan's sister, believes that women should care for their kingdom as much as men, Sun Qan's on the other hand, wants to prove to others that he's truly a man of honour like his late father who was nicknamed "the Tiger" at 19 years old. While the film doesn't hopefully glorify war, it's one of the few that explore human being's relation and feelings toward war despite the numerous war scenes.

As for the well-chosen cast, they manage to make the film work the same way a whole hockey team works as a team to win the Stanley cup. From what we see, nobody, whether they play a minor or a major role, vies for our attention because they don't need to do it. While no actor stand out for their performance, the cast should be acclaimed for its ensemble performance. All in all, Red Cliff shouldn't dismay John Woo's fans and also enthusiasts of historical films.

Rating: 4/5

Red Cliff
China (2008)
Length: 146 minutes
Genre: War drama
Screenplay: John Woo, Chan Khan, Kuo Cheng and Sheng Heyu
Director: John Woo
Starring: Tony Leung, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Takashi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi and Shido Nakamura

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Accepting an Honour

I owe many thanks to Blake and Norma who both respectively nominated me for the Dardos Award and the Superior Scribbler Award. The first one is given to blogs for promoting cultural, literary, and personal values in the form of creative and original writing. The second award is given to people who brings a contribution to the blogosphere in various subjects. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

The rules for the Superior Scribbler Award:

  1. Name five other Superior Scribblers to receive this award.
  2. Link to the author and name of the blog that gave you the award.
  3. Display the award on your blog with this LINK which explains the award.
  4. Click on the award at the bottom of the link and add your name to the bottom of the list.
  5. Post the rules.

Speaking about non-cultural blogs, they're so many people that I like to read. Since I can only choose five, I'll pick: Léonard from Commentaires inutiles sur la politique futile; Tracy from degenerasian; Vincent Geloso and Bryan Breguet from GB pour Geloso-Breguet; Miss Miller from Le hockey pour les filles; the team of Entendu à Montréal.

As for the Dardos Award, in accepting the award, which I gratefully do, I must do two things:

  1. 1. Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
  2. 2. Pass the award to another five cultural blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

To this matter, I chose Manon Dumais from Cinémaniaque; Norma from The Flick Chick; Blake from Bitchin' Film Reviews; Marc-André Lussier; Do you have a flag?

Once again, thank you for Blake and Norma for nominating me and also for making me discover some films I've sometimes never heard of (and that I obviously put on my "to watch" list).

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