Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ern's Monthly Visual Victuals (December 2010)


I know the month is almost over and I hadn't written my latest movie reviews. It was a simple act of procrastination. I watched a wide variety of films for the end of the year. Independent films, Hollywood blockbusters, domestic Japanese film, some animation, a lot of action flicks and movies from France, U.K., Korea, Israel, and Denmark. Enjoy!

MY LIFE IN RUINS (2009) – Nia Vardalos, star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is back with another delightful romantic comedy. This time, the movie not only features Greek culture, but a Greece location as well. Georgia is an American who was working at a university with ancient Greek ruins being her specialty. But she lost her university job and is now making a living as a tour guide and hates her job. For one thing, her boss keeps giving her the most difficult tourists, mostly Americans who don’t care about history or ruins, a bus with a broken air-conditioner and a driver who seems to speak absolutely no English. But an admirer keeps leaving her daisies, so Georgia thinks there might be some good fortune heading her way soon. It reminds me of my kindergarten days when I actually lived in Greece and do remember going to places such as the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon or my father taking the family to the beach every weekend. Watching this film will make you want to take a vacation to Greece as well. Oh yeah, one last thing, the Japanese title of this film is "My Big Fat Dream". Sometimes I wonder who comes up with the title for the Japan releases. I mean, okay, Nia Vardalos starred in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" but this movie has nothing to do with that one, so I wish the Japanese movie title creators would stop trying to make unrelated movie seem like a sequel. I find that most annoying. Just had to get that off my chest.

THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) – An interesting concept and titled "The Walker" in Japanese. In a world ruined by war and chaos, Denzel Washington stars as a loner who continually walks across the land, always heading west. In his possession is a sacred book which may hold the secret to saving the rest of humankind, that book of course being the only copy left in the world of the Holy Bible. Of course any movie that deals with a Christian theme always makes me wonder how the Muslims would view this. I’m almost certain they would not make a movie where there is only one Qu’ran left in the world but I digress. This is enjoyable flick for those of you who like a bit of speculative fiction (yes, I purposely did not use the term science-fiction). However, there is another man who has been searching relentlessly for this book and will stop at nothing to possess it himself! Good clean violence (if you like that kind of stuff too) and Gary Oldman always makes a great bad guy!

GOEMON (2009) – Based on the Japanese folk hero, Goemon Ishikawa, who was considered to be a type of Robin Hood in feudal Japan. The Goemon bath which is a large iron kettle bath is named after him as he was known to be boiled alive in public in one after having failed an assassination attempt on the warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The movie uses a lot of CG action, well known Japanese stars and was directed by Kazuaki Kiriya, who also directed the live-action, CG filled flick “Casshern” (which I have yet to watch). If you love samurai movies and a lot of martial arts action, then you will be thoroughly entertained by this film as well.

FUNNY PEOPLE (2009) – I love most Adam Sandler films because they are just so damn funny (even some of them are quite juvenile). And with Seth Logan co-starring in this I thought I might be in for one long laughfest. Alas, that was not the case. As I didn’t know much about this film (a friend had sent it to me from the States as it wasn’t yet available in Japan to my knowledge) and the only thing I did know that it had Adam Sandler in it. The Funny People of the title refers to the life of stand-up comedians. Sandler plays a veteran comedian who has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease and was given maybe a year or two to survive. Not wanting to let any of his fans or anybody to know, he hires Seth, an up and coming comedian, to be his writer of jokes, personal assistant and whatnot and slowly a trust and friendship develops.

12 ROUNDS (2009) – When I watched my first John Cena film, “The Marine”, I thought it was such a generic action film in which the WWE was trying to help another former pro wrestler make the change to Hollywood action star and not really succeeding. Then I watched “The Marine 2” which had nothing to do with the first movie and didn’t even star John Cena. However, I saw the previews for this movie on another DVD and decided to give John Cena another chance. I’m sure glad I did. The first thing you need to know is that this is not a boxing movie. Don’t be fooled by the title. This is one heck of an action flick. Cena plays a straight cop just doing his job and helps catch a highly wanted criminal who’s accomplice and lover was killed by accident on the day of his arrest. Cena gets promoted to Detective and a year later, on the anniversary of the criminal’s girlfriend’s death, bad guy has escaped prison and has taken Cena’s girlfriend hostage. Cena now must play the bad guy’s game and win twelve rounds to save his girlfriend’s life. This was a very exciting action movie which reminded me a lot of the first “Die Hard” film. I later discovered that the director of this film was the director for “Die Hard” and was also made with the producers of “Speed”.

SALT (2010) – Another Angelina Jolie action flick. Personally, I think she should have stopped with the “Tomb Raider” flicks, but I did rather enjoy “Wanted” as well. So this time, she is not Lara Croft, she is not a tomb raider, but she is a CIA agent. One day some Russian spy turns himself in and says he has information on an assassin who plans to off the president of Russia – and the assassin’s name is Evelyn Salt. I don’t know, I think this was more absurd than “Wanted” but what the hell, I liked her from the days of “Pushing Tin”. I’m sure I will eventually rent “The Tourist” when it comes out on DVD over here even if one of the reviews of it I read slammed it so badly and I quote, “that smugly attempts to overwhelm you with its stars and locale while paying cursory attention to story, detail and substance.” Yep, gotta watch it and decide for myself. But I’m pretty sure I will probably agree with review.

Jackie Chan takes the martial art genre to new lows. You must take into consideration this is a family flick to enjoy it. After all, the villains are caricatures of Boris and Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoons (to me anyway). Oh, and the Japanese title is "Double Mission". Jackie is a retired CIA agent and only wants to have a nice, regular life with his girlfriend and next door neighbor, who also has three kids that think Jackie is one of the dullest guys around. But little do they know, Jackie is a secret agent. When Jackie’s girlfriend’s mother is in the hospital, Jackie offers to take care of her kids and says it will be a great way to get to know them and for them to get to know me and see that I’m not such a bad guy. But youngest kid takes a CD which he thinks is a new game but is actually has some top secret information on it, and those inept villains are after it as well, so Jackie must use his spy skills to protect the kids as well. Long time Jackie fans will recognize that the stunt scenes used in the beginning of the movie were borrowed from a couple of his Hong Kong films to add a bit of spice I suppose.

VALS IM BASHIR (2008) – One of the best films I watched this year. Even if you’re not a fan of animation, I highly recommend this. The English title is “Waltz with Bashir”. It’s an Israeli production and based on director Ari Folman’s experience of his time served in the military during the early ‘80s. The movie starts with a conversation Ari has with an old friend who served in the army with him. He tells Ari about this recurring dream he has where he’s chased by 26 vicious dogs. The same number of dogs every night. Ari says why tell me, I’m not a psychologist, but the more he thinks about, he realizes that although he served with his friend, he has absolutely no memory of it. His friend suggests talking to some of the other people he served with that might bring back some memories. He takes his friends advice and slowly, some memories return and until we as movie goers discover why he has repressed those memories. Very intense.

食堂かたつむり[Shokudo Katatsumuri] (2010) – The English title for this film is “Rinco’s Restaurant” but the original title directly translates to “Snail Diner” which would probably make no sense to an American audience. Rinco’s dream is to open her own restaurant. Her lifelong wish was about to be realized until she found that the person she married took all her money and ran. Since then, Rinco has not spoken a word. She moves back home with her mother (who told her she was the child of an affair and therefore has no real father) but that’s not an important part of the story. On her mother’s property is an unused guest house which Rinco remodels and opens as a restaurant with no menu. But whoever happens to eat the food Rinco makes, seems to have some magic power. This part of the story reminds me of “Like Water for Chocolate”. Soon, the story spreads about her restaurant and she gets a steady stream of customers. It’s a cute little movie for a relaxing evening at home.

FLOOD (2007) – An English disaster movie which was broadcast on network television and is titled "Day After" in Japanese. It reminded me of the German film “Tornado : Der Zorn des Himmels” in which a hard-head father is estranged from his son, yet a forthcoming disaster has them working together. I don’t think Hollywood would make a film like this only two years after Hurrican Katrina and since I was watching it like a zombie, I shall provide you with a better review courtesy of the IMDB website: [Flood is a disaster film set in London and Scotland. Estranged meteorologoist father Leonard (Courtnay) and Marine Engineer son (Carlyle) are caught up in a weather related disaster as spring tides meet a freak North Sea Superstorm, flooding London. Brought together at the Thames Barrier, they are flung apart again by the elements as Rob leaps into a swollen Thames with his ex wife. These two meet clumps of survivors and plucky London Transport Engineers as they journey upstream to Central London losing comrades to the waters as they go. Dad meanwhile is airlifted to the secret Government HQ to help save the capital from the flooding. With 200,000 dead and as many displaced in emergency refugee camps in Greenwich park only a bold plan to repel the rising waters will save Kensington and Battersea. Father and son unite again for the time pressured final action event back at the barrier with the added threat of a Dambuster's like air strike.] As I said, it was on television and it wasn’t such a bad movie.

BON APPETIT (2010) – Okay, so I have a weak spot for food-related films. This was advertised as a romantic comedy but I found it to be a comedy drama with more emphasis on the drama. This is an international production of Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Italy with the story taking place mostly in Zurich, Switzerland. A Spanish national has just moved to Zurich to work in a luxury restaurant. He falls in love with restaurant’s cute German sommelier but discovers that she’s having an affair with the married owner of the restaurant. And she is pregnant with the owner’s child. I would have to agree with the reviewer on the IMDB site who said “Ratatouille? Of course not. But you will wonder how an animated mouse can be emotionally more engaging then a real life human being?” This was kind of drab story and the ending is kind of meh as well.

9 (2009) – Not to be confused with the musical “Nine” is an interesting but dark little animation film. It’s really like an animated version of “The Terminator”. There was a war between humans and machines and the humans lost. The world is now without a human life. However, a burlap doll with the number 9 wakes to find himself without a voice and some strange object that he takes with him. He’s also being chased by a machine. #2 saves him and gives #9 a voice. #2 takes #9 back to his hiding place where he meets the leader #1. Then #2 is captured by a machine and #9 convinces some other dolls to save him going against what #1 says. When #9 and gang save #2, #9 finds a slot that the object seems to fit an inadvertently awakens a machine called the Brain which in turn attacks the remaining gang. #1 says “I told you so, but you wouldn’t listen” However #9 is determined. Since it was he who activated the machine, he plans on taking it down as well. Doing a bit of research on the film, I discovered that it was originally an 10 minute short film and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short (although it didn’t win). The director Shane Acker was then offered a chance to expand on his short to make it a feature film. Well worth watching.

IT’S COMPLICATED (2009) – No it’s not, really! I was taken in by the Japanese title of this film (Koi suru Bakery) in which the bakery would be the setting of the film and that it starred Meryl Streep who’s performance I really enjoyed in “Julie & Julia” (a great food-related film), but alas, I felt I was misled. The bakery pretty much has nothing to do with the movie. The main story is about a divorced couple who reunite after many years for their son’s college graduation in New York. And while the ex-husband has re-married the woman he had affair with, while in New York, the unfaithful man is now cheating on the wife he re-married with his ex-wife!! It had its moments but isn’t a film I would highly recommend.

鉄夫 TETSUO : THE BULLET MAN (2009) – You know how some blogs should not be published as books. Or how rap stars should star in action flics, well, here is another one to add to that list – some actors just should not be directors. I only have one thing to say about this film – STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! Period. Nothing else to say it. Well, if I must – bad, awful, waste of time, pathetic, boring, worthless. Yep, that about sums it up.

MADEO (2009) – The English title for this Korean film is “Mother”. It’s about a mother’s love for slightly dim-witted son. Won Bin fans will be shocked to see him in such as role. A young woman is found dead in a highly visible place. And Won Bin is arrested as the primary suspect. However, Mom thinks the police haven’t done a thorough job and no lawyer is willing to listen to her. So Mom decides to take things into her own hands and plays detective herself. Good movie but the ending is not what you would expect (however I’m not going to give it away). For the curious, you will have to check your foreign film section.

LES TRIPLETS DE BELLEVILLE (2003) – This is an interesting little French animation film. The English title is “The Triplets of Belleville” and has also been released as “Belleville Rendezvous”. Madame Souza is an old lady who also acts as a guardian to her nephew Champion. Champion at first shows no interest in anything until he is given a tricycle for one of his birthdays. Champions grows up with a love for bikes and with his grandmother as his trainer and manager, he enters the Tour de France. However, during the race, Champion and two other cyclists are kidnapped by some bad guys and are taken to the town of Belleville across the sea. Madame Souza along with her pet dog Bruno goes in search of Champion. In Belleville, Madame Souza is befriended by three elderly women who used to be a famous jazz group called the Triplets of Belleville. The women join forces to find Champion and to save him from the bad guys who kidnapped him. Very entertaining.

FLAMMEN AND CITRONEN (2008) – A Danish film based on a true story. Flammen and Citronen who were part of the Holger Danske World War II resistance group. Their main job is to kill Danish Nazis and sympathizers. They got their orders from another man who had a direct link with the Allies. But one of their targets says that the man giving them their orders is settling scores of his own which plants doubts in the minds of the assassins. Add to this, a woman who may or may not be a double agent and new orders to kill German Nazis as well and you have all the makings of an interesting flick. Unfortunately, the two men are betrayed and do not survive the war.

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