Now that I had finished writing my book reviews for the month of July, I thought it was time to catch up on movie reviews as well. August was vacation month, which turned into an extended break from writing book and movie reviews through September as well. Following this review, I am planning on writing up another two book reviews for the "Asia by the Book" blog. I think I have taken a long enough vacation from there as well. Mostly foreign films this time around with the exception of "Role Models", "Bolt", and "Ninja Assassin" which stars popular Korean idol Rain. I left out "The Departed" on purpose as well since it is a remake of a Hong Kong film. Anyway, enjoy.
L’INSTINCT DE MORT (2008) – A French film (obviously!) and not one that fits the image of your typical French flick. The English title is “Mesrine : Killer Instinct”. The film is based on the real life criminal Jacques Mesrine. I knew I just had to watch this. Why? How the heck do I know who Jacques Mesrine was? Well, the reason has nothing to do with French films. You see, in the early ‘80s, I used to buy a lot of import albums. One of those being a French rock band called Trust. One of their songs was used in the soundtrack for the original “Heavy Metal” movie (the animation one). The record I bought was “Repression”. The last tune on the B-side of that album is a number called “Le Mitard” which is also sung in French (the album I bought is the English version and this is the only song that is in French). There is also a tune called “Instinct de Mort” which was the title of Mesrine’s autobiography. The subject of those songs is Jacques Mesrine. As a lyric sheet was also included with the album and included a translation of “Le Mitard” in English, I found it to be about one of France’s notorious criminals, sited as Public Enemy No.1 by the French Police, who spent time in a prison called Fleury-Mérogis. Some books refer to Mesrine as the “Robin Hood of France”, while others say he is similar to US criminal John Dillinger. This first movie (the Mesrine story is in two parts) are about his early days. The simplest way of describing this film is calling it a French version of “Goodfellas”.
L’ENNEMI PUBLIC NO.1 (2008) – This second movie opens with the French police pulling in front of the BMW Mesrine was driving with his girlfriend, while 19 shots were fired through the windshield killing him dead! The second part of the story of Jacques Mesrine, titled “Mesrine : Public Enemy No.1” in English. As described above, the French government under President Giscard labeled Mesrine as “Public Enemy No.1”. Not only was he known to rob banks, he was also accused of numerous burglaries, kidnappings, and according to his own autobiography he wrote in prison, that he was responsible for up to forty murders. Having been caught numerous times and then escaping from the authorities, the French police were made to look like fools. The French Minister of the Interior forced the police department to put more effort into capturing Mesrine. Both movies star Vincent Callo who gives a great performance. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Jacques Mesrine than I highly recommend both movies. In a side note (taken from Wikipedia), “French police announced the operation a success and received congratulations from President Giscard. Afterwards there were complaints that Mesrine was not given any warning, that the police had not acted in self-defense, and thus that Mesrine's death amounted to an execution.” You will have to watch the movies and decide if the police were in the right in their methods.
THE DEPARTED (2006) – It was aired on network television and since I really enjoyed it the first time I had seen it, I had to watch it again. The 2007 Oscar winning film by Director Martin Scorsese. It’s an excellent remake of the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs” (which I can’t believe the Internet Movie Database site doesn’t credit). Now I have seen all the “Infernal Affairs” movies (there are three) that when I heard Hollywood was going to a remake, I thought, “Oh no, Hollywood is going to ruin another great flick that doesn’t need to me remade!”. It appears my fears were misplaced. Although I’ve seen this film when it first came out, it is worth watching over again and again. Jack Nicholson is the Irish Mob Boss, Leonardo DiCaprio is the undercover cop and Matt Damon is the mole in the police department. With star power like that, this makes it a Hollywood winner in the “name game” but how is it movie-wise? EXCELLENT! Great storyline. To put it simply, two men from opposite sides of the law are undercover giving information to the mob and police. When their identities are about to be discovered, it’s a race to see who is the spy in the police department and who’s working as a spy in the mob. Now, you all go do yourselves a favor, look for and rent the original – “Infernal Affairs” series. You will be glad you did.
NINJA ASSASSIN (2009) – Just in case you didn’t know, the star of this blood-letting action extravaganza is Korean pop star idol Rain as Raizo. That particular line in the movie gave me a good chuckle when Raizo is captured and chained to the wall and one of his captors says, "He looks like he should be in a boy band." Too damn funny, before going solo, he was part of a boy idol band called Fanboy. And deviating just a bit from talking about the movie, my wife is a big fan of his and I was forced to go to his concert last year at the Saitama Super Arena. I couldn’t believe the number of elderly women who attended is show. Anyway, back to the movie. Raizo was raised in an orphanage run by the Ozuno clan where all the orphans are trained as assassins (hey, doesn’t this sound like “Azumi”?). Anyway, he turns his back on the clan and now seeks them out and kills them for their merciless murders. Catch Rain in his latest music video “Love song” and get a good laugh at his dance.
MAN SOM HATAR KVINNOR (2009) – Based on Swedish novelist Steig Laarson’s bestselling book. The Swedish translation of the original title is “Men Who Hate Women” however the English title of said book and film is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. And although I praised “The Departed” as a Hollywood remake, I have heard rumors that Hollywood is also planning on remaking this film as well. Be sure to check this out before you see some lousy imitation that Hollywood thinks will sell to its gullible public. This is an excellent story. A mystery. Harriet Vanger, the daughter of one of Scandinavia’s wealthiest families has been missing for over forty years. But even after all these years, Harriet’s uncle still seeks the truth into her disappearance. He hires a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who had recently been lost a libel suit, to investigate the matter. Blomkvist is joined in his search by Lisbeth Salander, “the girl with the dragon tattoo” of the title. I also haven’t read the books – the Millenium Trilogy which also includes “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (also turned into films as well), but will do so in the near future.
ROLE MODELS (2008) – A friend of mine sent me this as part of my birthday package. As it hadn’t been released in Japan yet, it was a treat to watch. Damn funny! Two guys in their 30s, Danny and Wheeler, work as a rep for an energy drink. Danny is sick of his job and has a dim outlook on life which in turn drives his girlfriend away. Wheeler loves his job and chasing women and probably hasn’t grown up since his high school years. When they get into a fight with a tow-truck drive, they are given a choice – go to jail or do community service. They opt for the community service in which they have to become Big Brothers. Danny becomes Big Brother to Augie, a total geek who is into a weekend medieval role-playing re-enactment society. Wheeler becomes Big Brother to a potty-mouthed kid with a bad attitude. These two goof-balls need to be “Role Models” for the kids. Can they do it. You know what’s really great about this movie though? Using KISS and KISS tunes to explain the meaning of life to the foul-mouthed kid. Any KISS fan should watch this flick.
KONYEC – AZ UTOLSO CSEKK A POHARBAN (2007) – This is a cute little Hungarian film. Yep, I know, I like to be adventurous in what I choose to watch. The international English title of this movie is “The End” – not to be confused with the long forgotten Burt Reynolds flick. An elderly couple is living on a retirement income which is not enough to pay the bills. The man has one item he refuses to part with – a classic Soviet vehicle which he hasn’t driven in ages. At things reach a boiling point, the man takes his car out for a spin. Inside the glove compartment, he has kept a gun as well. On a whim, the old man robs a store. As he gets away with, the police try to get his wife to co-operate with them as they imagine he will call her sooner or later. When he finally does, the police encourage the wife to meet him and plan to arrest him then. What the police didn’t count on, was the wife running away with her husband. They become the elderly “Bonnie and Clyde”. But can they continue to escape the police? This really is a great movie so you should make the effort to go find it in your foreign movie section of your local DVD rental shop.
BOLT (2008) – Hey, it’s Disney! You’re guaranteed a happy ending! An animation flick featuring the voices of John Travolta (as Bolt) and Miley Cyrus. Bolt is the star of a popular science-fiction/action show and believes his superpowers are real. Bolt witnesses his co-star Penny being taken away and believes it’s up to him to save her. When he busts out of his trailer home and heads out into the real world, he feels his superpowers are not up to speed. It isn’t until he meets a couple of other characters who inform him that he is just a television star and that he has no real superpowers. Of course, Bolt doesn’t believe them at first, but little by little, he discovers that they were telling the truth. However, being the loyal dog he is, he still goes in search of Penny. Predictable but fun.
借りぐらしのアリエッティ [Karigurashi no Arietti] (2010) – The latest film produced by Studio Ghibli, home to Hayao Miyazaki and credited with such gems as “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, “Ponyo”, “Spirited Away” and others. As this has not yet been released in the States, I’m not sure what the title might be. My guess is “The Borrowers”, which is based on a Mary Norton book of the same title. Arietti, along with her father and mother, Pod and Homily, are little people who live below the floorboards of a normal house. They live by borrowing what they can from the big people’s who’s house they live in. The only rule that Arietti’s father instills in her is not be seen by any of the big people. Arietti’s father is worried because there is a new resident coming to the house. A small boy. Arietti has just turned fourteen and wants is about to go on her first “borrowing” adventure. Everything seems to have gone alright but no, she’s been seen! By the boy. When she tells her parents, they are shocked. The father says they can no longer live safely in the house and forbids Arietti to see the boy again. Homily is fearful and doesn’t really want to leave the only home she’s known but will follow Pod. But Arietti being young at heart and a pure spirit, she grows fond of the boy and a relationship blooms between the two of them. But the house-keeper who has also seen Pod, wants to capture them and show them off to the world. What will become of the “borrowers” if they’re caught? Will they be caught? Will they escape? Cute movie, but the ending leaves you kind of hanging. This can’t be helped as even the powers of Studio Ghibli couldn’t possibly cram the story of all five books into one two-hour long animation. So, if you feel a little let down, then read the following books that follow the first.
少年メリケンサック [Shonen Merikensaku] (2008) – Another fun comedy from Kankuro Kudo and starring Aoi Miyazaki (who’s just too cute for words!). This particular movie reminds me of the British film “Still Crazy”. This was released internationally as [Brass Knuckle Boys]. An office lady working at a record company discovers the band Shonen Merikensaku while surfing the internet. She thinks they’re the next big thing to happen and wants to represent them. What she neglected one vital point – the video was of a live performance some 25 years ago. She tracks down the members only to find that the members are these washed up middle-aged men and not the cool band members she saw in the video, however contracts had already been signed and her job is on the line. But if you want my honest opinion, the British film “Still Crazy” is the better of the two, even if it doesn’t feature someone as cute as Miyazaki