Posts Tagged foreign

The Good, The Bad, And The Weird

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I like westerns; I like Korean movies; I like movies set in the 1930s; I like movies with hot guys in them. Really, for the first half, there was nothing not to love about this film. Our three protagonists are all interesting characters (and did I mention the hotness?), and there’s a fast, punchy, tongue-in-cheek Guy Ritchie style happening as we meet all the characters and set up our central conflict. So far, so good.

Then the shooting starts. Please, don’t think I have problems with violence or gunplay in movies – I really, really don’t. I enjoyed the first shoot-out of this movie immensely. The second was good, too, but longer. The third was less entertaining, but even longer. Eventually, the time between gun battles (you know, the time when normally the plot furthers) telescoped down to 2-3 minutes, while the battles themselves bloated. Towards the end, or rather what I hoped was the end, there was a protracted gun battle on horseback. You’d think that would be pretty exciting, with the BANG BANG BANG and the horses and the running. I fell asleep after about 5 minutes of that. When I woke up, I found that 10 minutes had passed, and the horseback gun battle was still happening.

This movie is about 2 hours long, but it feels like 5. It’s really a goddamn shame, because this could have been terrific. Instead, it’s a deafening slog that barrels past the limits of patience and obliterates the joy and fun of the first section.


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I will admit that I balked at seeing this movie at the International Film Fest, and that what got me over my reticence was hearing that it was from the director of (and included several actors from) The Host. The Host was absolutely one of my favorite movies in 2006 – so unique, it was like 4 movies for the price of one. Mother sounded heavy and boring.

Well, clearly whoever wrote the blurbs at the film fest should be sacked, because Mother was a hell of a thing. It’s a mystery that slowly unravels, and I found it so gripping that I straight up forgot to breathe on occasion. The story isn’t so complex or unusual, but every character in it was extremely complex and unusual. After a while, I stopped trying to figure out the story and where they were going with it, because it never went where I expected. The moments of hilarity were laced all through it, and capped with a powerfully poignant ending.

Maybe everyone in Korea is that interesting and weird/compelling. I mean, I dig pretty much any movie that shows people in other cultures going about their totally foreign daily business, so they had me there. So now Korea can add “movies” to the list of Things I Think Korea Must Be Making For My Joyous Personal Consumption, alongside kim chi, karoake TV shows, bulgogi and college roommates.

Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto)

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Adorable! Trying to summarize this movie makes it sound contrived and cutesy, but I swear it’s the opposite. Lonely, mildly alcoholic, cash-strapped middle-aged Italian dude caring for his elderly dramatic mother gets roped into hosting a passel of extra elderly, dramatic Italian ladies and throwing a dinner party for them – wacky antics ensue! It’s not slapstick, it’s not cloying, but neither is it heavy or manipulative. It’s just sweet, real, very funny, and man, do I love watching Italian people going about their Italian business. I would religiously watch this if it was a weekly television show.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor)

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I call the ridiculously compelling and addictive trilogy of Swedish mystery novels this movie is based on “Swedish crack”, so it goes without saying that I’m going to be very hard on this adaptation. I try hard, but ultimately I can’t usually get the book out of my head while I’m watching a movie. How much I like a movie adaptation is directly proportional to how faithfully it serves the spirit of the source material, and although I may support changes to the narrative or characters, I do notice every. single. departure from the text and that can mess with my suspension of disbelief. Even more so than usual, I am totally unable to see how this movie would hit a viewer unfamiliar with the book. I am blinded by my particular devotion to the novel, so consider this a review for those who are already hooked on the Swedish crack, and skip it if you are not.

This movie is, by and large, almost slavishly faithful to the book. The opening scene of the movie is a meticulous reproduction of the opening scene of the book, for instance. Much of the dense background of the story is elucidated in a well-done montage that covers a lot of ground very quickly. The cinematography is quite excellent, as well, although I had hoped to see more of Stockholm. My only criticisms come down to the individual performances, and certain aspects of the editing, and how I don’t feel they are true to the spirit of the source.

Noomi Rapace is a thing to behold in this role, and it was a hard, hard role to fill. She could not possibly look the part more, and is incredibly authentic in it. That said, she has missed (or was forced to miss) what I feel is a central element of the character. Lisbeth Salander is a vividly compelling character, but only if you know her. To strangers or the untrustworthy, she comes off as at the very least stupid and weird, more likely actually developmentally challenged in some way. At the heart of why she is often victimized is that at first glance (or even second and third), she seems like an easy target: a strange little retard who couldn’t possibly fight back but doesn’t inspire sympathy in others.  Of course, this belies an inner steely bad-ass genius, but the whole point is that almost no one knows that, and that’s the way she likes it. Noomi Rapace has a full handle on the bad-ass, but plays Salander like that at all times, so that it doesn’t much make sense when she’s continually underestimated and attacked.

As an extension of that, I found that many scenes were reworked in a way that I felt minimized Salander’s capability and calm, and depicted her as much more the victim than she was written. This is a woman who always gives more than she gets in a fight, but this director shows her getting mugged by teenagers on the subway (in the book, it’s one person, and she kicks him in the motherfucking HEAD). I’m guessing the director wants us to feel more immediate sympathy for a character that, as written, definitely does not want our sympathy. The real sympathy she engages is more because, as the audience, we want to be in her inner circle because she’s infinitely more awesome than we could ever be, and maybe if we feel protective or fond of this fictional character, we somehow can claim a piece of that badassery.

The dude who plays Michael Blomkvist, our protagonist, is so forgettable that I can’t even be bothered to look up his name. This character is supposed to be rakish and intelligent, rumpled yet still attractive and charming enough to literally nail every single female character in the book and still have you enjoying his company and never thinking less of him. This actor, to quote a better writer than I, has a face like  a catcher’s mitt,  and absolutely no pizazz. I’m not completely certain he even has a penis. The director eliminates most of Blomkvist’s conquests, although a moment’s reflection suggests that Movie Blomkvist can pretty much only land autistic rape victims. Did Stellan Skarsgård want too much money?

Complaints aside, this adaptation is very faithful, and ultimately the story itself is so taut and compelling that even its missteps are lost in the flow. Much has been made of the fairly graphic rape scenes in the movie, but really, those scenes are fairly tame compared to the book. The whole picture was somewhat awkward and I might go so far as to accuse the director of ham-fistedness, which makes me apprehensive of the coming American remake by the same man, but all in all I am forced to admit it’s pretty goddamn good.

Forever Enthralled

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imbued with the kind of heavy import and reference that is mostly lost to a viewer who isn’t Chinese and doesn’t intuitively understand the significance of its characters and events. still, it’s very pretty and nicely-acted with notably stunning costume and set design. i found the dialog super cliche – but this could be a problem of subtitling?

altogether gorgeous, but unfortunately not enthralling for even 2 1/2 hours, much less forever.

Forever Enthralled

Wild Grass

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pretentiously weird and pointless French piece of crap.

the acting is actually great, but no possible tool could dig the characters out of this deep hole of suck.

A Town Called Panic

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this stop-motion animated Belgian…experience…is so deliciously loony and fun i can hardly stand it. i literally never knew what was happening next, but it all made an insane kind of sense and was logical within its framework of children’s fantasy logic. SO MUCH FUN!!!

it has a subtle adult sensibility about it, such that like classic Muppet Show episodes, there are hilarious implications that would fly unnoticed over the heads of the kids but warm the dark hearts of their parents.

The Letter For The King

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well-done sweeping Dutch castle epic for older kids – all the actors are natural and earnest; the plot is simple but not dumb and filled with easy-to-grasp symbolism and morals; the sword-fighting is nicely executed and the locations and cinematography are beautiful.

John Rabe

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Schindler’s List In China!

powerful and devastating, perfectly choreographed down to the last detail with flawless acting, but has a small uncomfortable whiff of “hey, everybody get off our German balls about the Holocaust! the Japanese did it TOO, dammit!!”

Garbage Dreams

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affecting and well-done documentary about the caste of garbage collectors/recyclers in Cairo.

although i did get the impression that the producer screened for the most beautiful young men of the Zaballeen – i was all “if you’re that worried about cash, move your asses to Paris and get on a runway”.