Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hard Boiled

As I'm about to begin my last year of studies in history, I'm astonished that many people never saw at least one film John Woo directed before heading to Hollywood. Like any other films he directed (except A Better Tomorrow 2) back in his heydays in Hong Kong, Hard Boiled is definitely one of those films that put Hollywood to shame given that it only had a budget of $4 million. Although the last collaboration between Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo didn't give a masterpiece like The Killer, it still remains entertaining and decent.


Sgt. Tequila Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat), a police officer of Hong Kong, has been on a case of gun smuggling for a while. While the Hong Kong police ruins a transaction between smugglers at a teahouse, Tequila loses his partner. In order to bring Johnny Wong (Anthony Wong), a ruthless gun smuggler, and to get revenge, Tequila teams up with Tony (Tony Leung), an undercover cop.

Obviously, if you're watching John Woo's last film made in Hong Kong, don't expect to see a masterpiece. At best, Hard Boiled is a film in which Woo decided to have fun as much as director Zhang Yimou did with House of Flying Daggers. With that said, it's surprising that Woo manages to pull off a good film with a minimal effort, because he described the film as being "70% action and 30% script".

As a matter of fact, don't expect to see any depth or ambiguousness just like in The Killer. Obviously, while it deals with the usual theme of honour and brotherhood, Hard Boiled - just by looking at its script - looks like your usual good Hollywood action flick. This means that it sticks to the mainstream standard of what's an acceptable gunfight film solely made for entertainment. Nevertheless, Hard Boiled stands out from all of its competitors, because we see why John Woo is the reference for making action films. For instance, in the shoot out in the hospital (at the end), when Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung gets in the elevator (after they cleared one floor), the crew was just given 20 seconds to make the set look like a different floor.

All in all, this is a way of saying that John Woo masters gunfight movies the same way Sergio Leone masters the genre of Western.

Finally, Hard Boiled may not be the best film from John Woo. However, while its script is okay, the film is definitely the benchmark for gunfight films. In fact, Hard Boiled has the most intense and well-shot gunfight scenes I've seen so far. If you're a fan of John Woo, you'd certainly like it as long as you accept that the film tries to be extremely entertaining and okay.

Rating: 3.5/5



Origin:Hong Kong (1992)
Length:126 minutes
Genre:Action drama
Screenplay:Barry Wong
Director:John Woo
Starring:
Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok and Anthony Wong


Sunday, June 28, 2009

What's On My Shelves?

I've been writing movie reviews and talking about upcoming things (movies and TV) that interest me. Now, to follow a trend started by Ivy over at Do you have a flag?, I'll take the time to show you my DVD collection just for fun. Of course, there are also many books on my shelves, but the focus of this post are DVDs, right? So, check it out.



Notes:

  • The DVD next to Breakfast with Scot (yes I know, the film is not good) is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The film takes place in the 1870s when the American government was trying to strip the Sioux from their land, which are the Black Hills of the Dakotas.
  • At the time I took the picture, the film The Englishman's Boy was lent to a friend of mine. For your curiosity, the film is about a boy who joins a group of Canadian and American hunters. The boy will witness the Massacre of Cypress Hills (1873).
  • The film next to Fist of Legend is Flags of Our Fathers.
  • All James Bond films are classified in the "J" section.
  • I don't need to be told that some choices are questionable.
  • Feature films and TV series are separated, naturally.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Watchmen

The film Watchmen is so ambitious that it would have best been served if it was a miniseries. After all, do you have an idea how thick the source material is just for a comic book? Whether you read it or not, you'll find the storyline okay even though some trimmings had to be done here and there. Therefore, Alan Moore should be elated, from the top of his promontory, that someone managed to adapt a graphic novel deemed to be unadaptable. However, the film itself is also a little bit hard to appreciate given that the cast's performance is uneven.


By 1985 (in an alternate world history), the USA won the Vietnam War and costumed vigilantes are part of the society. This is the case until the Nixon government decides to outlaw vigilantes. As this is happening, Edward Blake/The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is murdered and Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), investigates that murder. As he advances in his investigation, Rorschach will ask for the help of Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), John Osterman/Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). However, Rorschach and Nite Owl II notice that Edward Blake's murder is the prelude to something that threatens the existence of humanity.

While watching this film, it's surprising to see that the scriptwriters managed to condense such a thick source material. The final result is that the storyline flows almost effortlessly. Moreover, Watchmen is not a superhero film like any other in that it's not afraid to adventure itself into the darkest corners of human nature. In fact, such an exploration is done in order to talk about our superheroes' individual cynicism or faith in the world. Besides, the plot twist at the end will amaze you.

Unfortunately, the cast's performance was uneven and also unimpressive. While Crudup managed quite well to portray a hero with no emotion and faith in the world, I just wasn't impressed by Malin Akerman even though I'm sure she's a competent actress. On another note, the film made me discover Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley.

Rating: 3.5/5


Origin:USA (2009)
Length:162 minutes
Genre:Science-fiction
Screenplay:David Hayter and Alex Tse
Director:Zack Snyder
Starring:Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode and Jeffrey Dean Morgan


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Quebec!


So, this is the day we, Quebeckers, celebrate the fact that: 1) the French language has survived for four centuries in North America; 2) we love Quebec, which is the only Canadian province where the majority (about more than 70%) of people speak French as their mother tongue. Whether Quebec decides to separate from Canada or not, there's one thing in our mind: the hope that Quebec, as a society (so to speak), will keep growing up.


Of course, since this blog is about movies, I guess the post would be incomplete if I didn't take the time to talk about my five favourite films coming from Quebec. Finally, if you scroll down the list of films, you'll notice that I respected my tradition, which consists in leaving you with a quiz so that you can test your knowledge about Quebec, whether you're from here or not. Enjoy and happy Quebec Day!

Lost and Delirious

I haven't seen a lot of teenager films in my life. However, since I know that many like this genre, I'd gladly recommend this film for you provided that you don't mind watching depressing films. Besides, if you decide to watch this film, bear in mind that the film is as powerful as Brokeback Mountain. Finally, I should also mention that the film's strength mostly lies in the well-chosen cast's performance, especially from Piper Perabo.

Polytechnique

Not a very easy film to watch since it deals with the Montreal Massacre, an event that traumatize a whole country back in 1989. As a History student, I certainly liked this film (although I didn't feel at ease while watching the film), because it tries to stick to what actually happened. Hence, the brilliant mix between fiction and documentary-making in the film.


Maurice Richard (The Rocket)

Perhaps one of the best bio-pic to come out of Quebec from my personal experience as a cinephile. Although the film deals with the ethnic tensions between French Quebeckers and Canadian WASPs (an important part of Canadian and Quebecker history), the film skilfully avoids demagoguery by talking about the life of a famous hockey player who will struggle to have his place in a professional sport dominated and financed by Canadian WASPs and Americans.

C.R.A.Z.Y.

This a film spanning from the 1960s to the 1980s about a teenager trying to get out of the closet while trying to be respected by his homophobic dad. Personally, I didn't find it as good as Lost and Delirious. However, the cast's performance is still quite brilliant, especially the performance from Michel Côté, who plays the dad, and Marc-André Grondin, who plays the homosexual teenager.

Les ordres

This one might be a classic dating back from the 1970s, but I'll always like it. As you'd expect any good historical film to be, Les ordres shows a very balanced presentation of the way the Canadian government applied martial law in October 1970 in order to track down the terrorists of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a political group seeking the independence of Quebec through the use violence if necessary. Although the film is far to be a documentary, it sure documents really well the effect of mass-detention (without the issuance of arrest warrants) on innocent citizens.

***



1. Which Quebecker dramatic TV series has had its format sold to some European TV networks under the international name of Windfall & Misfortunes?
a) Les Lavigueurb) Minuit, le soir
c) Nos étésd) François en série

2. In the 1960s, which Quebecker historian created a controversy by writing a book on the practice of slavery in what is now Quebec from the 17th century to 1834 (the year when slavery was abolished in the British Empire)?
a) Guy Frégaultb) Ronald Ruddin
c) John A. Dickinsond) Marcel Trudel

3. What is the real name of "Bill 101", the law making French the official language within Quebec?
a) The Edict of Quebec Cityb) The Charter of the French Language
c) The Laurin Actd) The Public Language Act

4. Who am I? Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, I did more than 1,800 play-by-play comments in English (on both radio and TV) in hockey games involving the Montreal Canadiens from 1952 to 1984.
a) Don Cherryb) Foster Hewitt
c) Danny Gallivand) Bob Cole

5. Which known hockey player from the Montreal Canadiens was nicknamed "The Chicoutimi Cucumber"?
a) Jacques Planteb) Georges Vézina
c) Maurice Richardd) Jean Béliveau

6. Who am I? Born in Chicago in 1952, I moved to Montreal around 1980. Moreover, I'm known for following the American tradition of socially engaged and historical novels.
a) Taras Grescoeb) Colin McDougall
c) David Homeld) Mavis Gallant

7. Which Quebecker singer is known for selling his tickets for his concerts right in the street by calling out people and making them hear a sample of what he sings (on a CD, naturally)?
a) Bernard Lachanceb) Sam Roberts
c) Éric Lapointed) Bloodshot Bill

8. Quote from a poem: "Canadians will ye basely bend,/ To win a heartless tyrant's smile,/ Your Fathers' page of glory rend/ And wear oppression's fetters vile?/ Will you with you to your graves/ Bear the foul and guilty name/ Of Traitor, Coward, Prideless slaves,/ And clothe your house with lasting shame?" This poem was written during what specific historical event?
a) The Lower-Canada Rebellionb) The Boer War
c) The Conscription Crisis of World War Id) The Vietnam War

9. Which Quebecker poet has often been compared to French poet Arthur Rimbaud?
a) Gaston Mironb) Émile Nelligan
c) Octave Crémazied) William Chapman

10. This famous movie director is known for directing classic films such as or playing on stage in plays such as The Andersen Project. Who is it?
a) André Forcierb) Jean Beaudin
c) Robert Lepaged) Léa Pool


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trailers: Durham County (season 2) and The Pacific


What's coming in a few days and what's coming next year? In Canada, the second season (can't wait for the DVD since I don't have cable) of the award-winning Canadian TV series Durham County will premiere on July 13 at 9 PM (for Pacific Time, it's 8 PM) on The Movie Network, a premium cable network. As for The Pacific, a miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, I just know that it will premiere next year.


Returning for a second season, it appears that Durham County promises to be darker. Homicide Detective Mike Sweeney (Hugh Dillon) got newly promoted after he arrested his neighbour Ray Prager (Justin Louis) for serial killings in the first season. While Mike tries to keep his family together, Audrey (Helen Joy), his wife, asks for a divorce. As for Saydie (Laurence Leboeuf), his daughter, she tries to psychologically get back on track given that she came really close in the first season to getting killed by Ray. Moreover, at work, Mike develops a bond with Penelope Verity (Michelle Forbes), a troubled forensic psychiatrist. Finally, while investigating a new murder, Mike finds himself caught in a game of cat and mouse against a much more cunning and ruthless criminal.


By the way, I'd like to thank Diane over at TV, eh? for providing these informations.

Secondly, through Tom over at Plus Trailers, I heard about The Pacific, a new miniseries by HBO. From what I know for now, the miniseries follow three U.S. Marines - Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), John Basilone (Jon Seda) and Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello) - through an intertwined story that brings us "from the first clash with the Japanese in the jungles of Guadalcanal to the triumphant return home after V-J Day". By the way, the miniseries is also the follow-up of Band of Brothers, which I really enjoyed.



He's Just Not That Into You

In case you were wondering, you're not an illiterate. I actually saw this chick flick yesterday because I had nothing to do before going to sleep after a dull day at work and that I have a "celebrity crush" on Scarlett Johansson. Honestly, under any circumstances, I wouldn't have watched He Just Not That Into You even if some sub-plots in the film are cute.


Loosely based on a popular pseudo-psychology book written by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, the film revolves around five women and four men who are connected to each other in a certain way. Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) hasn't found the one and turns to Alex (Justin Long) in order to seek advices on men. Ben (Bradley Cooper) and Janine (Jennifer Connelly) have been married ever since their years in college. However, Ben cheats on her with Anna (Scarlett Johansson), a yoga teacher who is Connor's (Kevin Connolly) object of desire.

Neil (Ben Affleck) and Beth (Jennifer Aniston) have been together since seven years. Besides, while Beth wants a marriage, Neil doesn't want to hear anything about it. Mary (Drew Barrymore) is starting to get tired of setting a date through MySpace, e-mails, voice mails and Blackberry. This is why she wonders if her boyfriend of the moment is really that into her.

Although the film can make you laugh at times, it's just not that good mostly because many people can feel that it's not original at all. Despite having an all-star cast many might feel that the film has too many sub-plots that could have been taken out since they add no interest to the film. For instance, although Drew Barrymore does a fairly good job the sub-plot involving her character slows down the storyline's evolution. As for the other ones, although some are interesting, they just have the same problem: despite the false illusion of tension, we all know what's going to happen at the end of each of them.

All in all, although all the sub-plots are ridiculously predictable, He's Just Not That Into You can rely on some of actors' charisma. For instance, Ginnifer Goodwin's character is probably the one you might care about the most. As for Scarlett Johansson, although her talent for comedy is a little bit wasted in this film, each of her presence is always a blessing moment. Thirdly, the Jennifer Connolly/Bradley Cooper couple is by far more interesting than the Jennifer Anniston/Ben Affleck one since it's played with more conviction.

Finally, He's Just Not That Into You is not necessarily a film that is absolutely to be loathed. Its only problems are the predictable nature of all of its sub-plots, its display of gender stereotypes and its lengthiness. In fact, the latter is due to the presence of the sub-plot involving Drew Barrymore and the other with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Anniston.

Rating: 2.5/5



Origin:USA (2009)
Length:129 minutes
Genre:Romantic comedy
Screenplay:Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein
Director:Ken Kwapis
Starring:
Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Conolly, Scarlett Johansson, Bradley Cooper, Justin Long, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Anniston, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Conelly


Monday, June 22, 2009

TV Review: Durham County, season 1

Are you tired of watching crime dramas that take place in the big city? If you are, I'm sure that you'd welcome with open arms the 6-episodes TV series Duraham County. In fact, since the show deals with violence and criminality in the suburbs, expect this TV series to be so dark that it could only be played on cable. Moreover, I don't need to tell you that this is one of the best TV series I've seen in my life.



Mike Sweeney (Hugh Dillon), a police officer, and his family move from Toronto to a suburb called Durham County because he wants to lead a peaceful life. Moreover, he's looking forward for having a transfer from Toronto's police department to that of Durham County done smoothly. However, things go wrong in Durham County. When at least four women are all killed more or less the same way, Mike thinks that the serial killer in question is his neighbour Ray Prager (Justin Louis) who lives across the street. In fact, ever since their years in High school, Mike has always suspected that Ray has serious mental problems that make him violent...


I don't need to tell you how much I recommend it to you. First of all, this is certainly one of those original cop TV series that you should consider watching. In fact, forget the big city! The scriptwriters took the occasion to play with the myth telling us that everything is fine in the suburbs. Through this premise, the storyline tries to show us that 1) many people may have an unsuspected penchant for violence and that 2) there's just a fine line between good and evil (a line that many characters cross easily). Moreover, this previously mentioned element is something that many TV series lack. With that said, don't even expect any clear identification between the "good" guys and the "bad" ones.

However, no matter how the TV series turn the genre of thriller upside down, many people might find Durham County unaccessible since it comes from a premium cable network (The Movie Network). In fact, to actually understand Ray Prager's unsuspected explosion of violence, one must have advanced knowledge of psychiatry. Still, this doesn't mean that the show is not worth seeing. Although the TV series gives away the identity of the killer, Durham County sustain your interest because you always wonder how the hero (Mike Sweeney) is going to catch the real killer.



Rating: 4/5



Sunday, June 21, 2009

News: After The Girlfriend Experience

Through many of my fellow movie bloggers, such as Joseph, a fellow Montrealer, and Ivy, who is possibly the world's biggest DVD hunter, I've heard quite often about The Girlfriend Experience. However, I haven't had the chance to see it because it hasn't been released up in the Greath White North. All right, now, let's get to the point. In an interview given to the newspaper La Presse, we learn that Sasha Grey will play in a film that combines horror and comedy.


This film is called Smash Cut and here's the poster (click on it to see a larger version of it):


Secondly, here's the synopsis provided by Shockya.com:

Smash Cut is a satire of the filmmaking industry and the challenges of independent filmmaking, with a story that draws on the filmmakers’ real-life experiences. It follows the murderous exploits of Able Whitman, a horror-film director whose films are panned by critics and audiences alike - until he starts killing people and using their body parts as props in his new flick.

For anyone who is interested, the movie will premiere next month in Montreal during the Fantasia Festival. Finally, judging from the trailer, the film looks a little bit dumb, but I'll watch it just to give you my thoughts. Why? Because I care about this blog's readers, obviously.

Update (11:38 PM): Actually, I won't go see Smash Cut since I don't have the habit to waste my money on films that I'm prepared to loathe. It really depends of my mood.



Friday, June 19, 2009

J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)

In Quebec, if you live in a place where mass media can't reach you, I wouldn't be surprised that you haven't heard about this film since May. Given that Xavier Dolan's first feature film was well appreciated at the Cannes International Film Festival (specifically during the Directors' Fortnight), was the hype surrounding J'ai tué ma mère deserved? Honestly, Dolan has a bright future ahead of him as a director and as an actor. However, it's hard to suppress the thought that the film's script is a little bit draft.


Hubert (Xavier Dolan), a Grade 10 student, lives with his mom Chantal (Anne Dorval) in a suburb South of Montreal ever since he was seven years old. At 16 years old, Hubert unashamedly displays his visceral hatred towards his mother, doesn't really feel like talking to her and has a love relation with Antonin (François Arnaud), a friend from High school. Since his grades in school are low, Hubert's parents (who both reunite just to take a very important decision) decide to send him in a boarding school in Coaticook. Needless to say that Hubert will hate his mom even more and one wonders if his relation with her is doomed forever.

Obviously, many people have labelled Dolan as a "young prodigy" since he's in the beginning of his twenties. At the first look, such an honour is deserved given that Dolan, as a director, shows his vast knowledge of cinema. In fact, despite having a budget below one million dollars, Dolan impresses us with his cinematography that reminds us of Wong Kar-Wai's style (i.e. shots from behind reminiscent of In the Mood for Love) or even the TV series Six Feet Under (short scenes that express the character's thought and not what they're actually doing). All in all, talk about a student who uses tricks from the great masters, because they work.

Moreover, although some scenes (the ones in which Dolan's and Dorval's respective character yell at each other) can seem overacted, the cast's performance is impeccable, especially from Xavier Dolan and Anne Dorval, who form a good team. Besides, I don't need to tell you how the supporting actors do a good job (Suzanne Clément, Patricia Tulasne and François Arnaud) as characters who are here to show Hubert that in an imperfect world, there's always a reason to be joyful.

However, J'ai tué ma mère's script is somehow draft if we look at the elaboration of the relation between Hubert and his mom. Since we're dealing with a love-hatred relation, it's surprising to see that despite being constantly lashed out by her son, Chantal's love for her son remains unshaken (no, this is not a joke). How realistic! Had the script been a little bit more developed, the film would have had a touch of tension that J'ai tué ma mère needed, this means having Chantal questioning her love for her son as the film advances (ex: threats of kicking him out of the house). Besides, although we know that Hubert doesn't feel listened to by his mom, what specific event actually brought him to hate his mom so much?

Finally, despite feeling incomplete in canvassing the relation between the two leading characters, J'ai tué ma mère should be considered for what it is. In fact, watch it as a first feature film by a young promising director/actor who will sooner or later have his name standing next to many great directors in the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Clint Eastwood and Atom Egoyan just to name a few. All in all, although J'ai tué ma mère may not appeal to the mainstream public, I'd recommend it to people who are looking for a good independent film.

Rating: 3.5/5



Origin:Canada (2009)
Length:96 minutes
Genre:Drama
Screenplay:Xavier Dolan
Director:Xavier Dolan
Starring:Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, Patricia Tulasne, François Arnaud and Niels Schneider


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ce qu'il faut pour vivre (The Necessities of Life)

Given all the praises that Ce qu'il faut pour vivre has received, I decided to rent this film yesterday. Honestly, I didn't personally like the film, because it really bored me to death. Moreover, I couldn't believe that this film was Canada's latest official entry for the Oscar. However, despite its slow pace, the film did deserve its praises and sure will find a public of its own.


The story takes place in 1952 and follows Tivi (Natar Ungalaaq), an Eskimo from the Baffin Islands. Given that he's sick, Tivi is brought to Quebec City by boat in order to have his disease treated at the Hôpital de la charité. Once there, Tivi will feel alone among white patients, because he doesn't speak French and these white people don't speak Inuktitut. Moreover, this also makes communication between the hospital's staff and Tivi quite hard. However, despite feeling far from his family, Tivi feels less lonely when he meets Kaki (Paul-André Brasseur), a young Eskimo patient, who can speak French and help him.

Obviously, I don't need to tell you how much I found this film extremely boring to death. However, at the same time, it's good to see films about Aboriginal Canadians being made. On that note, even though I don't feel like saying anything constructive about this film, I have to admit that Benoît Pilon's film is a good film about loneliness when one is among people who don't understand one's language and vice versa. With that said, although the film's point wasn't to make itself look like a historical film, Ce qu'il faut pour vivre can be seen by many as a simple and beautiful film saying that no matter how people are culturally unrelated, it's always possible to build bridges. This can be seen through the white patients' condescension towards Tivi and later on their comprehension toward him since they're commonly affected by a disease.

Finally, as I say it, many of you might not like this film. However, if there's something that I did like about Ce qu'il faut pour vivre is the well-chosen cast's performance. As Tivi, Natar Ungalaaq is a proof that you don't have to be a star to possess a remarkable talent.

Rating: 4/5


Origin:Canada (2008)
Length:104 minutes
Genre:Drama
Screenplay:Bernard Émond
Director:Benoît Pilon
Starring:Natar Ungalaaq, Éveline Gélinas and Paul-André Brasseur


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Indigènes (Days of Glory)

Like any other war films, Indigènes is a tribute to veterans who fought during the Second World War and we're not talking about any type of veterans. In fact, director Rachid Bouchareb seizes the opportunity to explore an unknown chapter of French history, which is the involvement of African soldiers in the Free French forces that contributed to the liberation of France. As a whole, the film succeeds in its two missions, which are to give us a decent action film and a film d'auteur. However, despite being well directed and acted, Indigènes contains a historical bias making it feel incomplete.


In 1943, more than 233,000 soldiers hailing from the French colonies of Africa are mobilized. Obviously, their objective is to free France of the German occupation, which has been lasting ever since the signature of the armistice of 1940. As the film documents the injustice that the African soldiers faced in the French army, the story follows four men. Saïd (Jamel Debouze) is an Algerian shepherd who excels in throwing grenades. Corporal Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) enlisted in the army to fight "for freedom".

In fact, he believes that at the end of the war, France's colonial (read: "coloured") subjects will get the same rights as French citizens. Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), the group's gunner who has patriotic feelings toward France, plans to settle down in France after the war because he feels respected by people in Marseilles more than he ever had felt back in his own country by the French colonial authorities. Yassir (Samy Naceri) enlisted in order to have money.

Since the film talks about oppressed ethnic groups within the Free French forces, Indigènes, from my experience as a movie viewer, paved the way for Miracle at St. Anna. Obviously, unlike the latter, the former does a better job in looking at the issues of racism and camaraderie. Indeed, unlike Miracle at St. Anna, this film has a focus. By talking of four soldiers' individual fate, Indigènes brilliantly shows how these Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian soldiers courageously fought for a country that, in many respects, doesn't consider itself as their country. As the character of Abdelkader (who believes in the French republican values) pointed it out, if France claims to be a protector of freedom, equality and brotherhood, how can it discriminate soldiers on the account of their ethnicity? For instance, we learn that the highest grade a "coloured" soldier could reach was corporal despite his talent.

Obviously, while there's a certain distance between the director and the subject itself, it's hard to suppress our feeling that the film is somehow biased. In fact, by presenting a very rosy image of the "coloured" soldiers from the colonies, the film only focus almost entirely on the bad treatment given to these soldiers. After all, given that the "indigènes" fought in Italy, it's surprising that Bouchareb doesn't talk about the massive rape of Italian women and girls by Moroccan soldiers.

Despite that minor flaw, Indigènes is a film that should please to both history buffs and people seeking entertainment alike. It's certainly a smart film that underlines an important irony in France's history. Indeed, while France needed its African subjects to be free, it has only showed gratitude to its white soldiers (up until the 2000s). All in all, Indigènes is not the most historically accurate war film one is likely see, but it sure will help France to live in peace with its dark past.

Rating: 3.5/5



Origin:France/Morroco/Belgium (2006)
Length:120 minutes
Genre:War drama
Screenplay:Rachid Bouchareb and Olivier Lorelle
Director:Rachid Bouchareb
Starring:
Sami Bouajila, Jamel Debouze, Roschdy Zem, Samy Naceri


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Detective

After I saw The Eye, which was directed by the Pang brothers, a friend of mine suggested this film directed by Oxide Pang. First of all, the film itself has a quite decent storyline. Besides, Aaron Kwok did deserve his Hong Kong Film Award for "Best actor" last year. Obviously, I'm not a huge fan of thrillers in which a murder is being resolved, but I'm sure The Detective will find an audience for itself given its certain effectiveness.


Tam (Aaron Kwok) is a private detective who has always worked on case of adultery. One day, a drunk man comes in his office and offers him money. This man wants Tam to investigate about a woman (who appears to be missing) who might possibly be a killer. However, as Tam's investigation advances, many suspects will die and his life will be threatened.

Have you ever read any novels featuring Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes? By being darker and a little bit more violent than its predecessors from the last century, The Detective is the good "whodunnit" you'd expect to see nowadays. While the film is fairly interesting, one might complain that as the film advances, the film becomes a little bit predictable. This means that the identity of the killer is actually given away. However, this doesn't affect the film that much, because The Detective manages to sustain our interest by exploring guilt through some supporting characters and the attempt of Aaron Kwok's character to become a true private eye.

As a result of that, The Detective works quite well as a nice small thriller. While the film uses the same plot structure as The Eye, The Detective's conclusion is somehow satisfying. In fact, although I'm not a fan of stories about dementia, I thought that given the complexity of the case in the film, everything falls into part in a quite logic way. However, since I have one complaint to make about the film, I'll target the pace, which tended to be slow in the first half.

Finally, I didn't find this film better than The Eye, but I'll recommend it to you. In fact, when you watch this film, think about a "whodunit" from the last century (ex: Agatha Christie) with a dark atmosphere.

Rating: 3.5/5



Origin:Hong Kong (2007)
Length:109 minutes
Genre:Thriller
Screenplay:Oxide Pang and Thomas Pang
Director:Oxide Pang
Starring:
Aaron Kwok, Liu Kai-Chi, Kenny Wong, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Shing Fui-On, Kiki Sheung and Natthasinee Pinyopiyavid


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Growing Op


Your host is far to be a fan of teen comedies. However, besides having a good time with Growing Op I thought that the film, as a whole, wasn't that bad despite its flaws. In fact, even though Growing Op might look like other teen flicks, it dares to take a different path with a plot twist at the end. Moreover, it's also rare to see a teen films that manages to get the most out of ludicrous situations to make you laugh.


In a suburb of Moncton, New Brunswick, Quinn (Steven Yaffee), who is 18 years old, lives with his parents (Rosanna Arquette and Wallace Langham), two drug producers and sellers. Since he has always been home-schooled by his mother, he wants to go to the local high school because it's attended by the beautiful girl next door, Crystal (Rachel Blanchard), who just moved in the neighbourhood with her parents. Quinn's parents have reservations about seeing their son going to high school, but let him go.

Obviously, like any other teenager films, Growing Op can't prevent itself from being a little bit formulaic. In fact, how many times have you seen a film about a loser (Quinn, in this case) trying to get the school's hottest girl (Crystal)? Moreover, what teenager films don't have scenes in which the "loser" is taken advantage of so to speak? This goes without saying that Growing Op can't make us forget how the film seems familiar since the characters' depth is thin and doesn't try to explore the meaning of growing up as brilliantly as Léa Pool's Lost and Delirious.

However, despite being ridiculously simple as a teenager film, Growing Op still manages to entertain us without being uselessly vulgar. Besides, what would the film be if the well-chosen cast couldn't use at its advantage the dialogues that are surprisingly sharp and funny? For that matter, let's raise our hats to Steven Yaffee who did a great job by holding the film on his shoulders of newcomer.

Finally, despite being formulaic, Growing Op is a teenager film that tries to stick to a script. However, let it be said that despite being cute, the script is more or less predictable. Obviously, if you're looking for something that will make you laugh, consider renting or buying this film.

Rating: 3/5


Origin:Canada (2008)
Length:100 minutes
Genre:Comedy
Screenplay:Michael Melski
Director:Michael Melski
Starring:
Steven Yaffee, Wallace Langham, Rosanna Arquette, Katie Boland and Rachel Blanchard


Thursday, June 4, 2009

TV: First Thoughts On "The Listener"

The cast from left to right: Craig Olejnik, Ennis Emer, Mylène Dinh-Robic and Lisa Marcos


You've probably heard about CTV's new original TV series called The Listener and it premiered yesterday in simulcast on CTV and NBC. Judging from the pilot, it's hard to expect this TV series to be a serious prize contender at the next Gemini Awards (which is the Canadian equivalent of the Emmy Awards). Besides, although The Listener is fairly entertaining, one wonders if the remaining episodes can add depth to it given that the show feels flat.


Meet Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik), a young paramedic. Since his childhood, he has a gift that makes him hear people's thoughts. Although he's repeatedly tried to suppress his power, Toby realizes that he can use it to help people. After his partner Osman (Ennis Esmer) and him saved the life of a woman from a car accident, Toby decides to save this woman's kidnapped son (after he heard her thoughts). Obviously, in his attempt to play the hero (without necessarily wanting it), he'll come across Det. Charlie Marks (Lisa Marcos), who wonders why Toby is always a step ahead of the police.

First of all, there's nothing wrong with Canadian TV networks exporting their products to Europe and the USA. In fact, I've heard about many good TV series receiving that honourable treatment (ex: Durham County, Flashpoint, Being Erica, Intelligence, The Border, The Line, etc.), but The Listener is simply no match for any of these previously mentioned TV series.

Yes, I know, the plot doesn't use mindless plot twists. Of course, some will say that the pilot sets the tone well by indicating the four leading characters' role throughout the series. However, The Listener only cares about transporting you, without much surprises and depth, throughout its predictable story and entertaining you (and that's not a compliment). Hopefully, the cast does a passably good job in portraying their character. I'm not interested by the show, but I'll watch it for Lisa Marcos, who plays the hottest and sexiest [drooling] female cop I've ever seen on TV or even in movies. Besides, although her character could have been played in a more authoritative way, we can't say that she's not trying. By the way, the second episode will be aired tonight on CTV and NBC at 10 PM.

In other TV news

According to recent news, CBC will add another reality show in its schedule grid for this fall. The show is called Battle of the Blades. The concept? Many figure skating stars will be paired up with present or retired NHL stars. Of course, the duo will have the time to train in order to present to the public their choreography. When I heard about Battle of the Blades for the first time, I laughed a little bit.

Nevertheless, I said to myself that if many people enjoy watching Dancing With the Stars, why don't they give a chance to Battle of the Blades? Moreover, if the show is renewed for a second season by CBC, wouldn't it make sense to let, besides the retired or present NHL stars, female hockey players be part of the guests? For that matter, I can think about Kim St-Pierre, Charline Labonté, Cassie Campbell and so on.



Miracle at St. Anna

The story in the film is interesting, because very few movies deal with black soldiers' experience in the Second World War. However, the execution of Miracle at St. Anna's story is a little bit inarticulate and has no focus. In fact, a part of the film, which takes place during the war, is fairly good in exploring the absurdity of asking black soldiers to serve a country that doesn't consider itself as theirs through the behaviour of most whites. As for the part in the 1980s, it's abysmal.


The story begins in the 1980s in New York. An old black man, who works at a postal office, kills a customer. Rewind in 1944 during the Italian campaign of World War II and it's said that this man's name is Hector Negron (Laz Alonso). He serves in the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, which is despised by the white high officers of the American army. During a battle with the German on the Gothic Line, while most of the 92nd followed Cpt. Nooke's (Walton Goggins) order to withdraw, Hector, 2nd Staff Sgt. Aubrey Stamps (Derek Luke), Sgt. Bishop Cummings (Michael Ealy) and Private First Class Samuel Train (Omar Benson Miller) succeed in crossing the line. Besides, Nooke and the other officers don't believe that the four men crossed the river. As they enter a Tuscan village, the four of them stay there since they believe they're surrounded by German troops.

If Saving Private Ryan is the reference for intensity in action scenes, then Miracle at St. Anna lives up to our expectations. In fact, with all the explosions and the bullets that fly around, the war scenes in the film are amongst the most amazing that one will see in his/her life. Besides, at some point, director Spike Lee manages to use the intensity of the war sequence on the river to illustrate the futility of war, the importance of life and above all, the characters' views on the war. Obviously, the movie's part in the 1940s certainly has its flaws, but it does minimally try to get us interested to the leading character's relation with the war. For instance, 2nd Staff Sgt. Stamps believes that the war will give to the blacks equality with the whites once and for all. On the other hand, Sgt. Cummings, who feels more welcomed in Italy than he ever felt right in his town, thinks that the USA will never move forward.

With that said, the problem with Miracle at St. Anna lies in its script. By trying to give to the present tense (the 1980s) as much importance as the past tense (the war), scriptwriter James McBride does no good to the film. In fact, at nearly three hours in terms of length, Miracle at St. Anna unfortunately tries to be too many movies in one, which is a war drama combined with an underdeveloped cop drama (i.e. Hector's murder). This means that Spike Lee should have used the present days only to serve the movie's purpose, which was to give an homage to the black soldiers' service during the Second World War (which, according to the film, tends to be ignored).

Finally, if you're looking for a good war film in this one, you'll just be frustrated by the disjointed elements in the plot. Besides, no matter how amazing they are, the battle sequences can't save the film. In fact, while we can agree that the film is somehow better than Pearl Harbor, Miracle at St. Anna just doesn't have the focus of Indigènes (Days of Glory), a war film that deals with the contribution of North African soldiers in the French army during the Second World War.

Rating: 2.5/5


Origin:USA/Italy (2008)
Length:160 minutes
Genre:War drama
Screenplay:James McBride
Director:Spike Lee
Starring:
Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller and Matteo Sciabordi


Monday, June 1, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

At last, here comes the review of one of the most appreciated Westerns of all time. Forget history while you're watching this film! Instead, admire Sergio Leone's skill to craft a story with simple characters and to capture sceneries with the eyes of an artist. Moreover, this goes without saying that the three leading actors of the film, with their performance, built the most memorable characters of the Western genre. All in all, after seeing this, one almost feels the envy to qualify The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as a literally perfect film.


During the American Civil War, Angel Eyes (Lee Van Clef) is tracking down a confederate soldier named Bill Carson. During his mission, he learns from a man who once served with Carson that a handful of bags of gold were hidden somewhere. In the desert, Tuco (Eli Wallach) drags Blondie (Clint Eastwood) at gunpoint in the desert. However, both of them end up coming across an agonizing Bill Carson in the desert. Tuco learns that the treasure is hidden in Sad Hill Cemetery. Since Carson seems to be unconscious, Tuco is gone getting some water. As Tuco returns, he now finds Blondie next to Carson and with the knowledge of the gold's exact location within the cemetery, which means under that famous grave. Since Blondie doesn't want to reveal the exact location of the gold, Tuco and him must form an uneasy alliance against Angel Eyes and get to the Sad Hill Cemetery before Angel Eyes does.

While you watch this film, just think that the film doesn't have the slightest pretension to talk about history like The Telegraph Trail, which was anyway produced at a time when racism toward Native North Americans was okay. While Leone's classic knows how to stay faithful to history through some details (e.g.: costumes, guns, etc.), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a Western that unashamedly displays itself as a movie made for entertainment. Nothing less. Nothing more. Of course, one might have the feeling that nothing is happening at the beginning. Nonetheless, in spite of the film's length, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly progresses without difficulty toward its unpredictable end.

Besides, with such a choice, Leone came up with one of the best scripts in the Western repertoire. In fact, the film relatively leaves aside history to focus on the director's very goal, which was to show how the aim for fortune (a mentality inherent in the conquest of the West in the USA and also Canada) shape three men's psyche. Even though the leading characters look simple on the surface, Leone depicts men who sometimes have to make hard choices to satisfy their interest with shades of grey that you don't necessarily see coming. For instance, while he doesn't know the grave that hides the gold, Tuco decides, out of realism, to keep Blondie (who knows the answer) alive. Needless to say that the three leading actors really own the film. While Eli Wallach adds some humour to the film, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Clef bring some toughness that would make Chow Yun-Fat's characters (in films made by John Woo) look like pussies.

Finally, if you're a fan of Westerns, watch this film! It's definitely a classic that every Western fans should see! It's the film that make Sergio Leone one of the most cited movie directors from the last century. Moreover, with this film, Clint Eastwood went on to build a brilliant career, Lee Van Clef redefined the way to play a tough guy and Eli Wallach proved that you don't have to be a star to achieve immortality in the collective conscience of cinephiles.

Rating: 5/5



Origin:Italy (1966)
Length:179 minutes
Genre:Western
Screenplay:Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone
Director:Sergio Leone
Starring:Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Clef and Eli Wallach


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