Tag Archives: violence

The Devil’s Backbone – Review

3 Oct

When I think of some of the best film makers working today, one of my go to names will always be Guillermo del Toro. At his most personal, his stories delve into the darkest of fantasies and bring them to life using real world consequences. We see this with films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak. On the flip side, del Toro can create spectacles for the big screen with a vision completely different from any other big budget film maker. Think of the two Hellboy films and Pacific Rim. With it being the beginning of that wonderful season of Halloween, I thought it would be a great time to check out one of del Toro’s most praised ghost stories, The Devil’s Backbone, from 2001. He’s stated that this film is a sort of cousin to Pan’s Labyrinth and it’s clear why. This is a sombre tale of war destroying people’s lives, while also offering a spooky ghost story and a message of strength that bursts through the sadness to offer hope. To put it simply, The Devil’s Backbone should be considered a modern classic.

Carlos (Fernando Tielve), an orphan who’s father was recently killed in the Spanish Civil War, is taken into an orphanage the wise Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi) and his fellow administrator and teacher for the kids, Carmen (Marisa Paredes). Upon arrive there, Carlos finds something very odd about the place, and it’s a something that’s quite obvious. There’s a bomb in the middle of the courtyard that landed and got lodged in the ground, but never detonated. He also hears stories from the kids there about an orphan named Santi (Junio Valverde), who mysteriously went missing when the bomb landed. One night, Carlos is out looking for water and comes across what seems to be the ghost of Santi who warns Carlos that many people are about to die. This apparition keeps appearing to Carlos, and it doesn’t take long for the other kids to believe him. Meanwhile, the groundskeeper, Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), with the help of his friends begin scheming to rob the safe that Casares and Carmen have hidden in one of the buildings. As tensions rise between all parties, Santi’s warning of violence and death becomes an inevitability.

There’s so much to love with The Devil’s Backbone, it’s hard to find a place to start. Let’s go with the story. Guillermo del Toro is a master storyteller, and he works really well with telling these creepy tales through the innocent eyes of children. We see what Carlos sees and we know only what Carlos knows. There are only a few scenes where we are privileged enough to look behind the closed doors of the adults at this orphanage and see an establishment that is haunted by both the ghost of a young boy, but also crime, deception, and lust. While being a horror story and a drama and an allegory for war, The Devil’s Backbone has a strong mystery at its core. What’s the deal with the bomb in the middle of the courtyard? How did Santi really die? What does the warning of violence and death that Santi give mean? There’s so many questions asked during the slow burn of the plot that it had me riveted. I had to keep watching to find out more, and the payoff is quite literally explosive.

One of the most fun reasons to watch one of del Toro’s movies is his blending of genres and the fantastical with the brutal realities of life. The Devil’s Backbone is definitely a traditional ghost story at its core. A boy goes to an orphanage during a time of violence and is haunted by a ghost of one of its former residents. That may have been enough to support the movie, but it goes the extra mile. The humans in this movie often become creepier than the little ghost boy. The talks of the war and brutality that is happening in Spain is an ever present discussion by the adults in this movie that the kids can’t seem to comprehend. Jacinto also provides most of the actual horror in this film. He’s conniving and unpredictable and a true sociopath if I’ve ever seen one. Who’s stuck in the middle of all this? The children. They’re caught between the horrors of the real world and the people who inhabit it on one side and on the other the manifestation of the consequences of their actions. It’s not horror in the traditional sense, but it’s horror nonetheless.

Amidst all this terror is a film that’s shot beautifully. There’s something about Guillermo del Toro’s eye for things that isn’t extravagant, but it’s enough to hold your attention. It’s hard to explain, but he just has a way of showing just what needs to be shown in the exact way it needs to be. Can I get any more vague than that? Probably. Just give me the chance. The design of the ghost is also great, and it’s clear that he puts a lot of effort into creating his different specters and creatures for his movies because they always seem to stand out in some way. Santi is one of his greatest creations. He’s just a pale ghost that can be seen through, but what really makes it special is the trail of blood that comes out of his head and slithers through the air. Try to get that image out of your head. I dare you.

What else more can I say about The Devil’s Backbone? I absolutely loved this movie. It’s a haunting tale of ghosts, violence, and war but ultimately ends with a message of strength and bravery even for the most innocent of people. This is a film that masterfully blends gothic horror and the drama of the real world with the victims here being children. Sounds pretty heavy, right? It is and I respect del Toro for making a movie like this. He truly is a master and this is one of his greatest creations.

Final Grade: A+

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Tears of the Sun – Review

18 Sep

It’s always an exciting feeling to finally get around to watching a movie you’ve been trying to watch for years. I remember seeing the trailer for Tears of the Sun years ago when I was younger and first getting into war movies. I thought it looked excellent and I really wanted to see it, but never actually got a chance to. Now, 14 years after the movie was first released, I’ve gotten around to seeing it. I had high expectations going into it since it’s been a recurring thought to me for years and also the fact that it’s helmed by Antoine Fuqua. Unfortunately, these expectations were nowhere near met. Tears of the Sun does have its surprises and some truly gripping scenes, but it too often falls into the clichés of the genre which really just leaves it as a middle of the road war drama.

After a coup leads to a rebel uprising that results in the murder of the Nigerian president and his family, violence inevitably erupts throughout the entire region. U.S. armed forces are deployed off the coast, including a team led by Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis). After completing a mission, the lieutenant and his team are sent back into the hot zone Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt) to extract Dr. Lean Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American citizen running a mission and hospital in the middle of the conflict. Nothing in Waters’ orders does it say for him to also extract the able bodied Nigerians staying at the mission, and at first he isn’t planning on it. After seeing a particularly brutal massacre, however, Waters decides to go against orders and lead both Kendricks and the civilians from the mission to the Cameroon border. With rebels hot on their tails, Waters and his team have to keep everyone moving as fast as they can, but a conflict with the rebels chasing them eventually becomes inevitable.

Tears of the the Sun is an extremely muddy movie and that’s what really holds it down. It starts off interesting enough, but once Waters, Kendricks, and everyone else start their journey through the jungle, it just turns into a mess. There’s scene after scene after scene after scene of just everyone hiking through various locations with an attempt to progress the drama. Unfortunately, the characters are so dull that this drama isn’t anything special and just gets lost in the uninspired performances and gray cinematography. There’s also plenty of lines of dialogue that I said before the character even had a chance to say them because this movie is loaded with your standard war clichés. A change of location might have changed things up after a while, but every scene looks almost exactly the same it felt like everyone was just walking in circles. This could’ve been an interesting element in the movie, how the immense jungle can cause confusion, but no.

Like I said before, the characters in Tears of the Sun are just dull. There’s very little to say about them because most of them lacked individual personalities. The men in Waters’ team were all pretty much the same person. They were all the hardened soldier that still had the wit to crack a joke from time to time. None of them stood out and anyone of them could delivered any line. When things get hectic during the climax and their lives are in danger, I didn’t really care because none of them really made me care about them. The same can be said about Willis’ character. His performance is so one note that it was hard to connect with him in the least. This role could have been played by anyone and he was just a boring protagonist. The only person that really stands out is Monica Bellucci who gives a very heartfelt and honest performance as Dr. Kendricks. She’s one of the only people who actually seems to be trying.

There are a few moments that do stick out in the otherwise muddled plot. The beginning was interesting and did pull me in to the setting easily enough. There’s a gut wrenching scene in the middle of the movie that shows just how truly horrible the situation is during this conflict and the prices that people trying to live their lives are paying because of it. The scene actually got me back with the movie and created a whole new layer of drama and suspense, but once the same old hiking through the woods started up again I began to drift once more. The climax is less than spectacular, but the very end of the movie features a scene of Willis actually acting like he wants to be in this movie. It’s a satisfying ending that wraps everything up well, but it certainly doesn’t make up for the rest of the movie.

Tears of the Sun is a watchable movie, but that’s all I’m really going to say about it. Besides Bellucci, the performances are one note, the cinematography is boring, and the constant walking through the jungle with characters I didn’t care about just became boring after a while. There are a few scenes that stick out, but they really are few and far between. Tears of the Sun is reminiscent of other movies that are just done better, while this one if meant to live in the realm of mediocrity. This isn’t a necessary movie nor is it one that will be remembered. It isn’t exactly bad, but there just isn’t too much to say about it.

Final Grade: C

Detroit – Review

9 Aug

In 1967, Detroit was shaken by the 12th Street Riots which lasted from July 23 to July 27. In just 4 days time 23 civilians were killed and 16 police and military members were also killed. The number of wounded on both sides go way into the hundreds. It was a very dark time in America’s past that was caused by racism, classism, and poverty and the tensions among the three being pushed to their very limits. In the middle of all this, an incident occurred at the Algiers Motel in which 3 people were killed under unknown circumstances. This is the focus of Kathryn Bigelow’s new film, Detroit, a shocking look at what has remained unseen for 50 years. While it’s true no one really knows what happened, it’s clear that Bigelow did a lot of research and investigating of her own, and Detroit will remain as one of the high points of film for 2017.

Amidst the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, multiple lives are affected while some are changed forever. Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) is a private security guard and factory worker who is called to defend a small convenience store overnight, which is situated right beside a National Guard outpost. Larry Reed (Algee Smith), the lead singer of The Dramatics, and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) become separated from the rest of the group and end up at the Algiers Motel. It’s here that they meet Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) and try to hit it off. A prank involving a starter pistol attracts the attention of the National Guard where Melvin is and they all head over to the Algiers. It also attracts the attention Officer Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), a racist cop who believes he has complete authority over the streets of Detroit. At this convergence at the Algiers Motel, violence and hatred erupts which ends in the death of 3 people and a subsequent investigation that held the eyes of all in Detroit.

Detroit is a very intense movie that depict real life events, so it’s important that Kathryn Bigelow and the rest of her crew depict things in a very specific way. Luckily, Bigelow has shown herself to be just the person to portray very dramatic real world events with her other films The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. With Detroit, a sense of environment is very strong and it succeeds at putting the viewer right in the middle of things, regardless of how chaotic and disturbing something may be. There are times where this film is a marvel to look at and listen to. It feels so genuine and authentic at times that I actually felt like I was transported back to a certain time and place. Part of this has to do with the excellent cinematography. Handheld camera work is something that can be completely overdone nowadays, and it’s often used in movies where it’s unnecessary and is just something to be seen as “artsy.” It’s used perfectly in this film and it never feels out of place. There’s also a very heavy usage of close ups where character’s faces are held in full frame for a good amount of time. It’s a risky move for Bigelow and it requires her to also have found just the right actors for the parts.

The performances in this movie are so good it’s almost scary. In fact, in a couple cases it is scary. John Boyega isn’t in the movie as much as I thought he was going to be but he gives such a natural performance that feels completely unlike his role in Star Wars, which is a good thing since it’s practically impossible to compare these two movies in any way shape or form. Will Poulter, who plays Krauss, is a force to be reckoned with in this movie and it’s by far one of the best and most complex performances of the year. His character is a complete psycho, and the frightening thing is that he doesn’t see that he’s doing anything wrong. Poulter gives a performance that is as horrific as it gets. Finally, the breakout star of this movie is Algee Smith, who I’d say is more of the focal point of the ensemble cast. His IMDb only has in credited in some random things and a part in Earth to Echo, which I think MAYBE three people saw. He is outstanding in this movie and has a bright career ahead of him. Seriously, Hollywood, keep your eyes out for this guy.

Detroit also had pacing that I wasn’t expecting, but it’s really the best way the movie could have been done. When I saw that the run time was about two and a half hours, I was a little concerned that it would be overstuffed with useless plot elements that could have easily been removed to turn it into a two hour movie. I really had nothing to worry about, however. The first part of the movie sets the stage for the riots and the characters for a while. Once we get to the Algiers, however, we remain there for a very long time. The whole incident is shot in real time and during this whole event we hardly leave the premises of the motel. This goes on for a really long time, but it never feels boring or overlong. Finally, the third part is the aftermath which keeps the stress from the time at the Algiers raised high. I hate using this word, but the storytelling really was riveting and I couldn’t peel my eye away from the screen for more than a second.

This has been a pretty wild summer for movies. There has been so much great stuff that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Amidst all of the cinematic joy, Detroit stands tall as one of the best 2017 has to offer, and yes I realize how often I’ve been saying that. This is a powerful movie about a really dark and tense time in American history and Kathryn Bigelow has the hard task of dramatizing it. The performances and film making are all top notch in this movie and it has to be remembered come Oscar season.

Final Grade: A+

Filth – Review

8 Aug

One of my favorite movies of all time is Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting, which was based on a novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. Welsh is an author who expertly weaves pitch dark comedy with serious drama that has made a major impact on my movie watching life. In 2013, another of his novels was adapted into a film, this time starring James McAvoy and the title being Filth. I recently had the joy of watching this movie and I have to say that it’s definitely an Irvine Welsh story and it’s also a really excellent character study. It is hard not to compare it to the two Trainspotting movies, which are superior, but even though it doesn’t reach the heights of those two movies, it’s a film that’s grown on me more and more since I saw it.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is truly one of a kind. As a highly respected detective for the Edinburgh police force (in his own mind anyway), Robertson feels sure that he’s a shoe in for the big promotion to Detective Inspector. What he fails to realize however is that his massive addiction to cocaine and alcohol, combined with his highly abusive sexual behavior and bipolar disorder may really put him at odds with other people in his task force. This shouldn’t pose much of a threat however, since Robertson is a master manipulator and likes to take part in what he calls “the games,” which is really just another form of psychological abuse where he uses other people’s insecurities and weaknesses to his advantage. After a foreign exchange student is brutally murdered, Robertson is put on the case and while investigating the death is faced with some insecurities and problems of his own which sends him deeper and deeper into a psychological and drug fueled meltdown that puts himself and everyone else around him at risk.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There are plenty of great actors in this movie that perform very well, but the movie belongs to James McAvoy and this is clear proof that he’s one of the most charismatic and versatile actors working today. Bruce Robertson is not an easy character to tackle for so many reasons. Like Mark Renton in Trainspotting, Robertson is troubled but unlike Renton there’s no reason to put any faith in Robertson’s character. Bruce is a drug addict, thief, Machiavellian manipulator, and endorses violence on a sociopathic level. He is a villain of villains, but he’s also the star of our movie and he’s also suffering from a severe case of bipolar disorder. This is quite a handful for McAvoy. He has to portray and evil man while at the same time portraying the same man that longs for the quiet life he once had where he was surrounded by people he loved. Along with his more recent role in Split, his performance in Filth ranks as one of his best.

While Welsh has stated that Filth serves best as a commentary on the corruption of Scottish institutions, I feel like it’s best experienced as a character study. Sure, there are plenty of strong opinions about Scotland that come through in the screenplay which I’m sure are in the novel, but I have to admit that I’m pretty unfamiliar with it all. I just found a lot of joy watching Bruce Robertson completely lose his grasp on reality. This didn’t just stem from him being a monster of a character, but just because of McAvoy’s performance and also from a strong storytelling standpoint. The story of Filth is very intriguing and it’s hard to look away from it even at its most depraved, and depraved it gets. I’ll get more to the positives of that notion in a moment, but I do want to touch on the negatives. Irvine Welsh isn’t one to shy away from crude humor, and that shows in Trainspotting to spectacularly memorable results. In Filth, it’s much more hit or miss. A lot of jokes fall completely flat or just don’t feel executed properly. This is a major hit since this movie is a dark comedy over everything else. At times it just felt a little too juvenile for what the story deserves. With source material like this, easy laughs are the least important ones, and this movie does go for plenty of easy laughs along the way.

While the film does lose its footing a little bit with some of the humor, I really have to commend Jon S. Baird for taking this shockingly ugly subject material and not backing down. Adapting this story into something marketable couldn’t have been easy, but he managed to do it. Not only is Filth not afraid to live up to its title and show some truly reprehensible behavior, it manages to do so using and abundance of style and flash that helps it fit right in with the two Trainspotting films. The different lenses used for different scenes mixed with some chaotic and rhythmic editing makes Filth an achievement in film making as a craft. When the story starts to slow down or wear a little thin at some parts, Baird keeps your attention with his film making techniques. This is the kind of movie that succeeds in making you feel a certain way using its style, and it’s also the kind of movie that may make you want to take a shower after viewing.

I had pretty high expectations going into Filth, and while some areas were clearly weaker than others, it was a memorable film that left me feeling gleefully disgusted. This is a double-barrel shot to the senses and it will leave you with lingering thoughts and feelings. McAvoy is excellent as Bruce Robertson and I’m very proud of writer/director Jon S. Baird for making the film that he envisioned. This isn’t always an easy film to stomach, but I definitely recommend Filth for anyone willing to run the gauntlet.

Final Grade: B+

Free Fire – Review

6 May

Have you ever been so excited for a movie, but knew you had to wait so long to see it that you were convinced it would never be released anywhere around you? Well, that’s how I felt about Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. I saw the trailer for this movie months ago, and was so excited to see the cast and the insanity that the trailer had to offer. It also is worth mentioning that this movie has Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. All of the pieces were in place and I’ve finally gotten to see the movie I’ve been so excited for… The disappointment has really set in hard.

Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are two IRA members who have travelled to America to buy rifles from a known arms dealer and all around douche bag, Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Along for the ride is Vernon’s associate Ord (Armie Hammer), the intermediary Justine (Brie Larson), and some other hired hands to help with the transaction. This is a pretty volatile bunch to begin with, but once it’s revealed that Vernon has brought the wrong rifles and that there are hidden tensions shared between a few of the hired hands, things start to go south until shots are fired. Now the two groups are split at opposite sides of the abandoned factory they are meeting in with a suitcase full of money and crates of rifles and ammo standing between them. Whoever is left standing wins.

This as an idea sounds perfect. Put a bunch of volatile criminals in a room together with guns and money and see what happens. It’s not something we haven’t heard of before, but it looked like a movie that was going to take the idea and inject it with some high energy and lots of laughs. I’m not really sure what happened. As the movie started, I was into the dialogue and the characters. They were setting up the scene very well and when a new character was introduced, I liked seeing their personality matched with everyone else’s. I had this picture in my mind that this was just going to be a raucous clash that didn’t have time to slow down, but Free Fire is surprisingly boring. There’s a lot of sitting around and yelling insults and when a shot is fired, someone is either just clipped or missed all together. And this goes on and on it seems, until things finally pick up the way I wanted it to in the last act of the movie. If the whole film had the energy of the last act, this review would be going a whole other way.

I do have to give it to all the actors in this movie. All of them give their best to their performances, which is really the strongest point of the movie. The characters are what’s going to be remembered most. Cillian Murphy,Michael Smiley, and Brie Larson work off each other very well and they spend most of the movie together. If their chemistry didn’t work than that would have been a real problem. I also have to give it to Armie Hammer for being surprisingly hilarious as Ord, who just seemed to have an answer for everything. How could I talk about the good performances in Free Fire without talking about Sharlto Copley? This guy is one of my all time favorite actors, and for good reason. He has all of the best lines in this movie, and quite frankly, it’s clear that Wheatley wrote Vernon as his favorite character. It shows in every line Copley delivers. He’s the best part of the movie, hands down, and I know I may be a little biased in saying that, but I don’t really care.

When I think of all my favorite parts in this movie, they all come from the last half hour or so. I was looking at the time all throughout the movie wondering how they were going to fit in what I wanted to see with the time running out so quickly. This is not a long movie, so when I got to the 45 minute mark, I kinda lost hope that this movie was going to be as exciting as I originally thought it was going to be. Then the third act happens and it was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t help but wonder where all that energy and excitement and humor was for the beginning and the middle. Ben Wheatley did not handle the material well in his writing and seriously undersold what this movie could have been. The whole thing is a huge missed opportunity, which is sad because I see so much potential.

Free Fire had everything it needed to be a cult classic. It had a really cool idea, memorable characters, a great cast of actors, and a writer/director that has proven his skill in the past. I’m still not sure what happened. The finished product is a lackluster action/comedy that provides a good deal of laughs but is bogged down by an overly short run time and a surprising lack of energy. This film could have been an incident of hilarious contained chaos, but it never reaches this potential which left me wanting so much more. This is one of the bigger cinematic disappointments I’ve seen in quite some time.

Final Grade: C-

Logan – Review

6 Mar

The X-Men series of movies seems to have been around forever. The beloved team of mutant heroes were shown onscreen in live action for the first time back in 2000, and there are a few of these actors that are still playing the same roles almost two decades later. In this case, I’m talking about Hugh Jackman as Wolverine/Logan and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier/Professor X. Now, here in 2017, we’re seeing the departure of these two actors from their respective roles in the newest film of this series, Logan. What a movie to go out on. This isn’t just the best X-Men film to date, it may very well reign supreme as the best superhero film ever made.

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In the not so distant future, mutants are on the brink of extinction and have to go into hiding to avoid certain death squads and other forces that want them gone. One of these mutants is a much older Logan (Hugh Jackman) who is working as a limo driver to support his vices while also supporting a sickly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). A chance encounter with a nurse ends with a little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), being left with Logan and Charles who are tasked with transporting Laura to a safe haven for mutants. Laura is soon revealed as a mutant test subject known as X-23, who is on the run from the company’s head of security, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and his soldiers called the Reavers. Against Logan’s best wishes and attempts to rid himself of the responsibility, he takes both Laura and Charles out of their compound and begin their journey to the haven with Donald and his men hot on their tails.

There’s so much about this movie I want to dive right into that I have to force myself to stay focused. Let’s talk story first. I tried to keep my summary as vague as possible because there are so many layers and feelings that start to peel away as the movie goes on. It would be impossible to try and cover everything that is important in this movie because there isn’t one frame that is unnecessary. The story to Logan isn’t like any other X-Men movie, and it plays out like a very intense character drama as much as it is a graphically violent action film. The main reason this movie worked so well for me is because of how deep the story is and how it explored parts of these characters that were never seen before. The story is about Logan and Charles protecting X-23, but it’s also a story of family, regret, and severe, relentless pain. It’s can be a rough one at times, but I commend writer/director James Mangold and his co-writers for going there.

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The decision to make Logan rated R was a very smart move from 20th Century Fox, especially after the over the top success of Deadpool. This works great for the drama that I’ve already talked about as well as the action sequences. Let’s talk action, now. This is still a superhero movie, and a superhero movie completely devoid of action would be weird. Wolverine has always been viewed as an angry character prone to violent outbursts, and we’ve seen that in previous X-Men movies, but never like what I’ve just witnessed in Logan. This is Wolverine at his most unhinged. Limbs fly, heads roll, and the scenery is often times showered with pieces of whoever got in Logan’s way. What’s cool about it, also, is that it isn’t violence for the sake of violence. There’s a fair amount of action sequences that go heavy on the violence, but it has weight backing it up, and it never gets to a level that’s solely exploitive and gratuitous. It’s very well handled and was never anything less than exciting.

Finally, Logan has an excellent cast of characters and actors who play them to perfection. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have been playing these parts for years, so it’s pretty clear that they have their roles completely covered. Stewart gives a subtle and often sad performance here, where we see Professor X in ways that I’ve never thought I would. As for Hugh Jackman, this is simply his best performance. It’s controlled while also being ferocious, but the quieter and more contemplative scenes is where Jackman really shines by making Logan so vulnerable and appear so broken. There’s also some great newcomers to the series that are memorable. Dafne Keen, despite her relatively young age, is outstanding as X-23 and can really hold her own in terms of the ferociousness that is expected from the character. I also really enjoyed Boyd Holbrook’s portrayal of Donald Pierce, whose villainy oozed through every scene he was in. It’s exactly how I like my comic book bad guys.

I really wasn’t a fan of X-Men Origins or The Wolverine so I was really hoping that Logan was going to do the character right. Well, it sure does and it does even better than I could have hoped. It’s sad to see Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart bowing out of their roles, but this was the send off that they deserved. This is a powerful film that has some really heavy storytelling that will leave you teary eyed yet incredibly satisfied. This is the best written and executed entry of all the X-Men films and it brings something new and exciting to the superhero genre that can potentially change the game. I absolutely loved Logan.

Final Grade: A+

The Flowers of War – Review

10 Feb

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Zhang Yimou’s newest movie, The Great Wall. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m going to hold all judgement until I actually do, but I wanted to point out that Yimou is still responsible for some really fantastic and visually striking films that shouldn’t be ignored. The two that I’m most familiar with are Hero and House of Flying Daggers. In 2011, Yimou went in a sort of different direction with the historical war/drama film, The Flowers of War, a chronicling of the Rape of Nanking during the Second Sino-Japanese War. This film has a lot of power behind the story, and the performances are to be praised along with the visual flair behind it. There is something holding the movie back from being a classic, however, and some of the detractions of his newest film can also be noticed here.

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in 1937, Nanking is completely overrun by Japanese troops, which puts every person in the city in extreme danger of torture and murder. Amongst these people are John Miller (Christian Bale), and American mortician hired by a Catholic church for his grim services, and a group of schoolgirls looking for cover wherever they can. One of the schoolgirls, Shu (Zhang Xinyi), runs into John on his way to the church, and he escorts her to safety there. While they are in hiding, a group of prostitutes, led by the beautiful and strikingly wise Yu Mo (Ni Ni), also find refuge in the church. These different people all have major differences in beliefs and practices, but they are soon forced to overcome these biases to protect each other when a representative for the Japanese, Colonel Hasegawa (Atsuro Watabe), makes his and his troops presence known and essentially barricades them inside the church until he can figure out what to do with them all. Thus begins a daring escape plan formulated by the reluctant John and Yu Mo to get as many people to safety as possible.

Right off the bat, The Flowers of War has a subject that is very difficult to tackle. This is a very dark time in human history, so it must really be handled with care. Luckily, under the direction of Zhang Yimou, I think that it’s handled very respectfully and without any kind of exploitation. That doesn’t mean that there is no controversy surrounding this movie. One interesting thing to point out is that this movie is banned in Japan for reasons that are pretty obvious. This film definitely shows the horrors that were inflicted by the Japanese unflinchingly realistic detail. There’s also been some critics who have pointed out that this is another example of a “white savior” story arc. I’m not one to usually point this out, but I do see where these critics are coming from. The entire cast is made up of Chinese and Japanese actors with Christian Bale being the only western actor for most of the movie. While it’s fine that he’s in the movie, a lot of the film revolves around him protecting the people inside the church. That being said, unlike some other movies that suffer from this cliché, the supporting characters do handle themselves very well and show smarts and grit in times of suspense and intensity.

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When I think of the movies by Yimou that I really like, the first things that come to my head are the colors that highlight every scene of his movies. The Flowers of War is toned down a little bit, but don’t be fooled. This is a beautiful movie to look at and, even when something isn’t jumping out at you in a shot, just look at the framing and lighting. Zhao Xiaoding, who has worked as Yimou’s cinematographer on House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, returns for this movie and works perfectly with Yimou to frame and light this movie just right. There’s not enough that can be said about the visuals. There’s also great usage of slow motion photography and one particular tracking shot that sent shivers down my spine. Say what you will about anything in this movie, you have to give a lot of credit to the technical proficiency and artistry behind the camera.

While also being great visually, Yimou has shown his strengths at telling a story, and it works here for the most part. He gets the best out of his actors, for sure. Christian Bale and Ni Ni are fantastic, and the child actors are also put to great use and feel very natural. There’s a lot of power in the telling of this story, but it doesn’t really keep the power going for some parts. The film starts off very strong and just keeps building in tension and drama, but it starts to fall apart during the overlong third act. This is when the planning of their escape starts, which is all fine, but there’s a romance that forms and a lot of other unnecessary scenes of dialogue that could have been cut out or trimmed down. It just felt awkward having this slow down happen so late in the movie after so much has just happened. This is the film’s biggest detractor. It has a nice flow for most of the movie, but the third act feels so unnatural and weird at times that I started to check how much time left a little bit too often.

The Flowers of War is a really good retelling of a very dark time in human history. Zhang Yimou continues to show his strengths as a director and storyteller, even though the narrative starts to slump heavily during the overlong third act. The characters in this movie are very well rounded and it’s a beautiful film to look at. I can see people getting upset over the certain elements of the movie, but I think they should try to get past it, if not just a little bit, to see the greater story being told. This isn’t a classic, but it’s a valiant effort from a very talented film maker.

Final Grade: B+