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WE LOVE MOVIES

THE FRONT LINE (2011)

by easyeights

Not one of the better Korean war movies out there, but a moving screening nonetheless.

I guess the war movie genre in Korea has gotten so established that it has a unique, stereotypical cast readily identifiable to anyone familiar with the genre: the haunted, psychologically scarred platoon commander; the jolly, happy-go-lucky veteran that is the sergeant; the fresh, naive rookie who is killed early on; the grotesque, unsympathetic battalion commander. And so on.

What Front Line does not deal in, however, is the heroic machismo and grandstanding available on tap in movies such as Taegukgi and My Way; it makes no bones about the neurotic sacrifices required of men under heavy mental duress in combat.

What I liked best

The set-pieces that detailed the company’s slow spiral into self-doubt and insanity even as the end of the war approaches: they implicitly recognise the senselessness in a slaughter not of their own making but yet of their own (oft unwilling) participation – regardless of whatever they choose to do in order to alleviate its surreality. American bombers massacre them after they inadvertently carry the attack too far behind enemy lines; a private machine-guns his own platoon after they are found to be hindering a hasty retreat during the chaotic early years of the war; and what is arguably the climax of the movie, both sides leave parcels of rice wine and letters for each other in an underground bunker on a hill that frequently changes hands during the fighting.

The film does not stinge on the horrors of war. If anything, it is depicted with a realism that is so real as to be almost surreal: the futility of attacking up steep, denuded slopes full of mud, blood and bodies; the incredulity of hearing a Southern pop song sung with gusto by Northern soldiers just prior to an expected attack.

What I did not like

That it got draggy in some parts and was frequently interrupted by the red herring (except towards the end) by the female sniper. I honestly did not see a need for her inclusion, and that the story would have been significantly tauter and snappier without her in it.

What I genuinely think about it

This is not a movie for the faint of heart, nor for those with extremely limited patience – that is to say that it is not your typical war movie with screaming, blood and gunfire a la Saving Private Ryan – yes, that movie by which all war movies must be judged. Think of it as the long-awaited Korean take on the Thin Red Line, and lower/raise your expectations accordingly. Jang Hun is no Terrence Malick, but he does an admirable job nonetheless.

Rating: 4/5

CORIOLANUS (2011)

by easyeights

This is why all Shakespearean plays have to be seen to be understood – and believed.

A massive tour-de-force by Ralph Fiennes (better known as Voldemort from the long-running Harry Potter series) in his directorial debut. He plays the eponymous Coriolanus; a brilliant, but ultimately flawed Roman general in a tale of the dangers of elitism at the highest echelons of government.

What I liked best about it

That it was a parable equally applicable to modern times as it was then (to say nothing of the period in which it was set), and wonderfully updated to reflect that. Both the medium and the message receive a solid 5-star rating – not least because it’s Shakespeare, but also because it’s a thoroughly illuminating piece through which the zeitgeist of the times is perfectly viewed. A most refreshing perspective amidst the generic cut-and-dried attempts at being edgy (think Lions for Lambs and State of Play – to be fair, excellent movies in their own right); if anything, it really goes to show how much history tends to repeat itself in spite of our attempts to forestall it.

What I did not like

The stilted Old English of the 17th century seemed rather incongruous with the modern uniforms and weaponry; while the script could have received an equivalent update, I do suppose it would have lost some of the magic of the obfuscatingly beautiful Shakespearean script. The acting went a long way towards helping understanding – even if some of the things they said were remarkably hilarious or did not make any sense whatsoever at times – and it only served to show that the Bard was a true genius beyond repute when it came to art.

What I felt genuinely happy about

That it was a rare gem I plucked off the shelf at the rental store on a whim after I couldn’t find the movies I was hoping to watch. I really should do this more often.

Rating: 5/5

We Bought A Zoo

by puahz

Heart-warming, inspirational stuff. Romantics will go swoon but cynics will scoff. Cast saved the screenplay.

What I liked best 

Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee. I like his kick-ass can-do spirit and sentimentality. In the show, freelance writer Benjamin Mee quits his job and moves out of town to escape the painful memory of his deceased wife Katherine. He struggles to connect with his teenage son Dylan. One day Ben makes the daring all-in move of buying Rosemoor Animal Park. He did it so that his daughter would be happy. He also did it to busy himself and his family with a project and hopefully take away the pain. Managing the zoo and its inhabitants prove both physically and mentally exhausting for Ben and his team of zookeepers, who initially lost faith and saw him as another come-and-go investor who was going to have a rude shock over what he signed up for.  But Ben pulls himself, his family and his team together to win over Walter Feris (John Michael Higgins) who plays the strict and intimidating zoo inspector and eventually the wider community who turn up in large numbers on opening day.

What could have been better

I cant really think of much. If you read about the true story that inspired the movie, the hollywood spin deviates slightly. In the true story, Katherine dies just months short of the zoo’s opening. In the true story, a 150 lbs jaguar escape, not a North-American Grizzly. Neither is there any mention of the snakes. And course there is no hot and lonely zookeeper for the keepers, such is the stuff of Hollywood. But Benjamin mee in the true story did always love animals and was quite the adventurer, as accurately portrayed by Matt Damon.

Quotes 

Maybe it’s just me but this movie has quite awesome quotes.

First and foremost, the ultimate pick-up line for the guys:

Benjamin Mee: Why would an amazing woman like you even talk to someone like me? 

Katherine Mee: Why not? 

Second (and this is my favourite), the quote that makes u want to say things to people you don’t dare say.

Benjamin Mee: You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.

 

 

The Dictator- Spoiler warning!

by puahz

Meet General Admiral Aladeen, supreme leader of the Kingdom of Wadiya!

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Borat and Bruno fans won’t go away disappointed with this romcom.

Scenes that had the audience roaring. 

General Aladeen orders his henchmen to execute of any subject who makes him look bad or simply disagrees with him. The hand gestures mimicking the slitting of throat and his moronic facial expression are simply hilarious.

Sex-crazed Aladeen takes a picture with a supermodel escort he pays for sex with. At the end she demands a jet out of Wadiya after payment and poses for the couple-shot with the general. Best thing is, the polariod is framed up alongside hundreds of other polariod memories in Aladeen’s bedroom – the likes of linsey lohan and katy perry.

Aladeen tries to mask his identity in a anti-Aaladeen pub full of former Widaya citizens he ‘executed’. The pub owner is highly suspicious of the new customer who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dictator save for the characteristic beard. When asked for his name, Aladeen invents pseudonyms on the fly improvising with signs on the wall, inserting random pauses and using a strong arabic accent.

Bad taste humour 

No value judgment here but there are some kinds of humour that liberals and conservatives would agree is distasteful. Firstly the child birth scene and vaginal jokes. I get the point you’re supposed to take these things light-heartedly. But still it’s distasteful. Secondly, Aladeen’s messing around with a dead African-american’s head – the oral sex prank in particular. That was too much for me.

The dictator-who-hasnt-jerked-off-and-finally-finds-his-hand-part was just about right in terms of sexual humour.

So yeah if you are the mega conservative sort this film is not for u. Sasha Baron Cohen and all his works are not for you for that matter.

What I personally enjoyed about the show

I really like how green vegan hairy armpits Amherst-educated tomboyish hobbit-girl Joey (Anna Faris) was cast. Human rights champion who’s particularly fond of political refugees. Classic new age american hippie cum modern woman. She takes a desperate Aladeen in and offers him employment at her organic market unaware of his true identity. She falls in love with his brazen and funny character while he falls in love with her righteous and passionate self.  (yes i’m talking about Aladeen’s lingering stare when Joey harangues the police officer for wrongfully arresting Aladeen and his mad-scientist friend because of racial stereotypes.) Honestly I’m so glad she wasn’t LBGT.

Aladeen’s speech about democracy at the Lancester Hotel after he ripped to bits Wadiya’s unsigned constitution has got to be the climax of the show. The quintessential message: America’s already like a dictatorship of the ruling class. Democractic in form, ‘tyranny of the upper class’ in substance.

Concluding words 

First-rate political satire with romantic comedy appeal. The character of General Aladeen is also very well-developed –  Hard-nosed brutal dictator with strutting around with a self-obsessed exuberance but underneath belies a soft inner core and the need for love and affection. The references to corporate greed and America’s human rights hypocrisy forces us to re-examine our basic political beliefs about democracy and what we think is good for the middle east regimes. (“the people of Wadiya love to be oppressed”) The Arab-spring timing is perfect.

L4YER CAKE (2004)

by easyeights

Typically smart English gangster movie. 

Seen ’em once, seen ’em all; but it never gets boring, and Matthew Vaughn seems to have taken a leaf out of Guy Ritchie’s playbook in delivering a complex, witty and by turns intelligent film.

What I liked best

Daniel Craig takes the lead role in the movie that led him to Bond fame. Several notable scenes and vignettes serve to underscore this winning choice: as the dapper, genteel accountant who prefers to outsmart rather than outgun his enemies, Craig handles the steady evolution to gang lead with a cool panache that is only reserved for the English.

What I did not like

Sienna Miller, who seems rather out of place in the whole film as a tacked-on love/sex interest for Craig’s character. She’s hot, but it doesn’t stop her from being a red herring.

What I felt genuinely happy about

English gangsters in London make up a sub-genre that is a guilty pleasure for me; unlike the brash braggadocio of their American counterparts, these tend to make for more enjoyable watching.

Rating: 4/5

 

THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX (2008)

by easyeights

Yoof and young manhood. ¡La liberacion!

A German film about the Red Army Faction that terrorised West Germany in the 1970s. It suffers from slow pacing but redeems itself with an intimate glimpse into the lives of the first generation of communist terrorists who sought to portray themselves as saving Germany from itself.

What I liked best

The violence was not overdone – as is typical of European films – and is tastefully used to move the story along. It does not glorify the terrorists or their actions, but is used sparingly to highlight the things they did.

What I did not like

It was a generally slow movie and for the most part conducted in German. I found myself more occupied with researching the history on the Red Army Faction than actually watching the movie.

What I felt genuinely happy about

German sexual liberation in an Arab terrorist training camp. It has to be seen to be believed.

Rating: 3.5/5

PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009)

by easyeights

Run-of-the-mill Hollywood gangster movie. You know how it ends. 

Johnny Depp stars in an above-average take on the life and times of infamous Depression-era Chicago mobster John Dillinger. The props and costumes are authentically 1930s, but the film style puts a modern spin on the storied gangster’s tale.

What I liked best

Marion Cotillard as Billie Frechette. ’nuff said.

What I did not like

Some of the gunfights felt a bit too draggy and Depp’s associates were played with a lackluster vibe that generally slowed down the pacing of the movie. Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis was generally passable as the on-the-ball agent who could have done with a tad bit more screentime.

What I felt sad about

It was a movie with promise – i.e that could have been executed a little tighter. The sound was frequently off in some parts, although it was probably more to do with the DVD than anything else.

Rating: 3/5

THE LAST SAMURAI (2003)

by easyeights

Good popcorn movie. Nothing more.

With the notable exception of the Matrix trilogy, I like to think of the early ’00s as the transition period between the over-dramatised and thoroughly unrealistic action scenes of the ’90s and the marginally more intelligent (and more expensive CGI) of the later ’00s.

Edward Zwick’s Last Samurai is no exception. If you can get over the highly implausible storyline – which, it must be added, twists history to suit its rather implausible premise – and Tom Cruise’s unremarkable acting, then it makes for a half-decent way to pass two hours and approximately thirty minutes of your life.

What I liked best

Tom Cruise is a good actor. Don’t get me wrong. But I think he over-did the part of a jaded American cavalry officer who has seen too much of the Indian wars. As with everything else, he is at his most brilliant when he is emotional – i.e shouting, crying, anything that requires extremes. Which isn’t too hard to pull off, but still.

What I did not like

Samurai were supposed to be bad-ass. They took no prisoners, and if they did, it was as a courtesy – their prisoner (presumably someone high-ranking, obviously) was expected to commit ritual suicide out of the shame and humiliation at his defeat.

Foreigner or no, I’m sure the same rule applied equally to all prisoners. Capturing Tom Cruise and raising him like you would a Tamagotchi is quite possibly the the last thing you would expect from a bunch of samurai who hold themselves to the ancient traditions.

What I felt sad about

The whole production was over-done and simplified for the sake of American audiences. It lacked nuance and deeper subplots that could have made the story a lot more interesting – though you have to admit, it fell apart after he decided to spare Tom Cruise’s life.

Rating: 3/5

WAR HORSE (2011)

by easyeights

A story that was more about the horrors and privations of the First World War than about the horse itself. 

I’ll say this: You know a war movie is in good hands when it’s directed by Steven Spielberg. The man doesn’t disappoint, delivering in full detail the shock and awe of the mud and blood in the trenches along the Western Front and the very palpable sense of terror in the early stages of gas, machine guns and indirect artillery fire.

Then I remembered the movie was about that damned horse.

What I liked best

It’s a part of that new trend in mainstream filmmaking by attempting to convey as much as possible through gorgeous landscape and close-up cinematography than through actors’ dialogue. Where actually present, the lines serve instead to enhance rather than to move the plot along, and thus lends the movie an authentic feel of the period in which the movie is set.

What I didn’t like

The Germans and French speaking heavily accented English. It does away with unnecessary subtitles, but it seemed so incongruous.

What I felt genuinely happy about

A good, solid war movie, if nothing else. Do you like horses? I don’t like horses. So there.

Rating: 4.5/5

MY WAY (2011)

by easyeights

I rented the DVD only to realise that it was currently being screened in theatres island-wide.

Long story short, if you thought the excellent Taegukgi (2004) was South Korea’s answer to Hollywood’s unsurpassed Saving Private Ryan (1998), then you haven’t seen My Way. I’ve been watching a lot of war movies of late that involve soldiers who were previously athletes – think Mel Gibson’s groundbreaking turn in the moving Gallipoli (1981) – and suffice to say that the seemingly innocuous and unrelated story arc eventually becomes the one that ties the whole movie together.

While the basis for the movie is very real, the part about being marathon runners is pure fiction. Sohn Kee-chung, on the other hand, did exist, and serves to provide extra juice for the vivid depiction of Korean resentment during the colonial period under Japan.

What I liked best

The epic fight scenes. The protagonists fight in battles that defined the course of that turbulent period: from Nomonhan to Operation Barbarossa, and thence forth to the Normandy landings. The battles are realistically depicted and do not stinge on gore and special effects while maintaining that harried sense of realism that is frequently absent in other war movies.

What I did not like

The inclusion of Fan Bing Bing as the Chinese sniper which only served as an outlet for more anti-Japanese venting and possibly to give some idea of the scale of the Japanese conquests in China prior to the Second World War proper. Her presence was a red herring, nothing more, and the plot could just have easily been advanced (and the rather lengthy movie reduced by quite a bit) without her.

What I felt genuinely happy about

It was an intelligent war movie that played on Asian emotions and drew on a very large part of history to make it work. My Way is reportedly the most expensive Korean film to date; in spite of the incredible premise, there is absolutely no need for suspension of disbelief at all. A thoroughly excellent work, and one that comes highly recommended.

Rating: 6/5