Friday, June 29, 2012

War of the Arrows

The two key elements of this film are held in the title: War and Arrows. Set in the 17th century, the film uses the animosity on the border between Korea and Manchuria as a building block for plot. Chinese invaders into Korea conquer villages and take slaves for return to China. In this story, a girl is taken for the slave march out of Korea while her brother (who has sworn to protect her) evades capture. He follows the invading army and eventually defeats them all. The arrows refers to his weapon (and the weapon of his father). He is a master archer (perhaps the best that ever lived). The war refers to the ugly, bitter reality of slavery, subjugation and murder. I appreciate, at least, that war here is not soft pedaled. In war, while there may be a victor, there are no winners. This is portrayed well as both conqueror and conquered are defeated and in the end, we are not sure which people fall into which category. The film is well made and much better than most 'war glamour' films that we see. Because it made me think...
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Midnight Eagle

The jacket cover on this reads like a typical war/action film. A stealth bomber crashes in the Japanese Alps carrying a nuclear payload. The Japanese government sends in special forces to recover the bomb before terrorist agents can beat them to it. Sounds exactly like some that could be named The Expendables. But this is much better than that. While the description is true, it really isn't an action film. This is a Japanese film that gives pretty good insight into the culture and psyche of the Japanese people around the idea of war, fighting and nuclear weapons. I find it fascinating that an entire country can have pacifist leanings, having ingrained aversion to combat and fighting. This film illuminates this thinking using journalists who are working to get the scoop on this story as well as former war reporters who have first hand seen the atrocities of war and had their ideals blown up in the process. It is a good treatment of some of the difficulties of a nation without an army and tries to show how the subtle differences between and army and self defense force are not subtle, but essential difference for many people. Very thought provoking.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Arn: The Knight Templar

Fictional account of Arn Magnusson, a 12th century Swedish fighter who transitions from living in a monestary to become a knight fighting to preserve Jerusalem in the crusades and back to his homeland to maintain peace among the clans of Sweden. Loosely based on history (the crusades happened and Sweden was a collection of clans that did not unite into a unified kingdom until the 12-13th centuries) this was more a story about faith, love, morality and loyalty than about historical veracity. The characters were (in my mind) too stunning to be true 12th replicas, but would we watch a film that was more truthful in its look? In the end, just an average drama.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anthony Zimmer

French crime thriller where the bad guy never shows up. He knows he is hunted and his girlfriend is followed by both the police and the Russian mafia. So she finds some random guy to throw everyone off the trail. Unfortunately, the random guy sort of falls in love. A pretty film that has a bit of action, a bit of suspense, a bit of romance. A solid, entertaining, entry. Thanks Netflix for recommending it...
4 stars (out of 5)

Safety not guaranteed

Three journalists (or one journalist and two interns) from a small, locally distributed Seattle magazine travel to a small coastal town to investigate a classified ad. The ad requests candidates for a time travel experiment/partnership and the journalists think it might make for a good human interest story. One of the interns (Darius) is herself quite the depressed 20-something back in Seattle and has been so since the death of her mother several years back. Even the possibility of time travel pricks a hole in the shroud that has draped her life and off we go. All four main characters are opened to new understandings of life through the pursuit of this time-travel story and all four are changed in some way. Perhaps the biggest form of time travel here is them being yanked from the past and allowing them to live in the present. Well done.
4 stars (out of 5)

Largo Winch: The Heir Apparent

A billionaire dies and leaves his entire fortune and control of his empire to his adopted son. The son, while well trained in the art of being rich, is not necessarily ready for the job. In addition, he has his own interests in life and is not quite ready to be put in charge. Somehow, his training includes the ability to be Bourne-like in his approach to trouble, and this talent is integrated seamlessly into the film - treated as if of course this man has the ability to evade South American police on foot while crawling over buildings. And as a viewer, if you buy into this basic conceit, you will enjoy the film. Because then you can also enjoy the unfolding conspiricies and intricacies that shape both the future of Largo and are revealed in his history.  Light hearted action hero fun with a few twists in the road that are not so sharp as to not be able to enjoy the anticipation of their approach.
3-stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Real Steel

This has been on my list of films to see since my friend worked on it. I like to think he created and programed the entire robot cast, but in reality he worked for the company that invented the robot motion capture software... or something like that. Anyway, his name is on the credits, which is pretty darn cool in my book. The film itself is a generic absent father reunites with son and begins relationship story. What makes this film cool is the robots, and how seamlessly they are integrated into the cast. I also was quite entertained by how many times the losing robot owner/controller let out a primal scream when they lost. I like a good patch up the relationship film, especially when it has robots. Did I mention I like robots? Great summer flick. Great climax scene. Have fun with it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I Am Number Four

Don't know how I missed this last year, but I rather enjoyed it. It is strange that it is the third film I have seen in the last two weeks about alien races that are intent of destroying the earth and then moving on (see Men in Black III and Cowboys & Aliens). Here, the novelty is that living on earth are 9 good aliens who were put here to protect the earth after their own planet had been destroyed. They have some sort of rule that requires that the bad guys kill them in order. So we open with the murder of number three and follow the life of number four. Of course, four falls in love with a human, gets some help from a UFO believing kid and loses his guardian that came with him. But in the end, this is a nicely written, adequately acted action film that wrapped up sufficiently so that I wasn't mad at being sold a series. Even though this clearly could be a good series and is based on a book series. I really liked the subtle humor and look of the bad aliens. I really like that I was curious for most of the film about whether the gecko was good or bad. Nice job not revealing everything at once. Since it didn't make much money last year, the chance at the sequel is probably slim. Guess I will have to read it...
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It is not often that you get a coming of age story and an end of life tale in the same film. It is probably even more rare to have the same characters fulfill both portions of the film. Here we have a host of actors who could (and have) each carry a film on their own joining together to make something very good. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, etc. This group of elderly English have for various reasons signed on in retirement to travel to India to become guests of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - for the Elderly and the Beautiful. What they encounter challenges their expectations, their purpose in life, and their relationships. As they encounter and think about the ends of their careers and lives, they also begin to grow and make new realizations that would be fitting in any film of high school angst. And each discovery is authentic and groundbreaking. Very well done.
4 stars (out of 5)

The Outsiders

Every once in awhile I am reminded at how many seminal films I have not seen. Last year it was Footloose an this week it is The Outsiders. I don't know how many times I have said "Stay golden Pony Boy" without ever having seen the film or read the book. So now I guess I can say it with integrity. The story is a typical two-sides-of-the-tracks tale, with the greasers and the socs battling it out. Pony Boy is a greaser and his friend Johnny gets into some trouble with a Soc and they have to skip town for awhile. A heroic turn later, the two return and Pony Boy somehow begins to bridge the gap between the two rivals, more in his own thinking than in reality. But he makes the effort. Not particularly amazing as a film, but groundbreaking for its time, and probably more so for the number of careers that it launched. While watching, I kept getting a sense of East of Eden, perhaps from the coloring and dialogue cadence, but I am not sure.
3 stars (out of 5)