Category Archives: foreign films

Blade of the Immortal Poignant Tale of Samurai Redemption

Directed by Takashi Miike, Blade of the Immortal is his 100th film. Miike is best known for directing the popular samurai movie 13 Assassins about the end of Japan’s feudal era.

Immortal follows Manji, played honestly by Takuya Kimura, a highly skilled samurai, who becomes cursed with immortality after a legendary battle. The foreboding of being haunted by the brutal murder of his sister drives Manji to continue fighting evil. He cannot die and is cursed with the pain of being sliced and hacked with swords forever more.

I found myself chuckling a couple of times when his severed hand would magically snap back to his arm. The effects were done well but a couple of shots seemed fake.

Manji wants to be able to die and regain his soul. He comes across a young girl named Rin, played beautifully by Hana Sugisaki. Sugisaki also plays his sister, which offers a correlation between him helping Rin for the sake of his deceased sister.

He promises to help the young girl avenge her parents’ death. They were killed by a group of master swordsmen led by ruthless warrior Anotsu, played by Sôta Fukushi.

The movie is in Japanese and English with English subtitles. The story is well told because Manji’s mission changes him. Kimura portrayal of Manji captured my interest and kept me watching the movie because as he changes even Manji cannot believe what is happening to him.  I am right there with him all the way.

For those who love samurai movies, this is a must to see.  The Blu-ray Special Features include a poster gallery, cast interviews, which are educational for anyone who studies movies, trailers, and a poignant interview with Takuya Kimura.

Cannes Festival Winner: The Square an Elegant Satire

Directed by Ruben Ostlund, The Square is 2017 Cannes Film Festival – Winner: Palme d’Or. The movie follows Christian, played dynamically and heartfelt by Claes Bang, who is the esteemed curator of a contemporary art museum. He is a divorced but devoted father of two girls and drives an electric car. He also supports good causes but there is an edge to him. His actions at times contradict his devotion. For example, he turns away homeless people or refuses to help a boy who is falsely in trouble with his parent’s cause by Christian’s attempt to recover his stolen wallet and cellphone. In all, the movie is a satire and a drama pointing out flaws of society’s inability to help and trust each other.

Christian’s next show at the museum is “The Square”, an installation which invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes, it is difficult to live up to your own ideals. Ostlund points out in a recent media statement, “…The Square is a drama/satire. I wanted to make an elegant movie, with visual and rhetorical devices to provoke and entertain viewers. Thematically the film moves between topics such as responsibility and trust, rich and poor, power and powerlessness. The growing beliefs in the individual and the declining beliefs in the community. The distrust of the state, in media and in art.”

Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into shameful situations that are a bit drawn out for my tastes, but I understand the director’s point. Bang takes this role and owns it. He conveys the push and pulls off what he wants to do and what he should do.

Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for “The Square”. The response is overblown and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis. I question the crisis in the story because the PR agency generates enough free publicity and social media trends that the art piece and museum will flourish.

Elisabeth Moss of The Handmaid’s Tale has a supporting role in the movie where she and Bang play off each other brilliantly and it is fun to watch. Her comedic timing cinches the point it is a satire. It is obvious why Moss’ career is taking off like a rocket in the stars. She is just too fun to watch.

So much happens in this movie and there are moments where my shadow of disbelief lifts because of the crazy situations like a man being an ape as an art piece. Silly.  I am sure some will find it funny, which make this movie so good.

The DVD comes with some bonus features like the trailer and casting clips, disappointingly Moss’ casting clip is not in the bunch.

The movie’s title comes from the name of a project that was first exhibited in the fall of 2014 at the Vandalorum Museum in the South of Sweden. The exhibition representing the ideal of consensus that should govern society as a whole for the greater good. The project became a permanent installation on the city of Värnamo’s central square. If someone is standing in Värnamo’s led-light version of a square, it is one’s duty to act and react if one needs help.

The movie is in Swedish with English and Spanish subtitles, though English is sometimes spoken in certain scenes. Hopefully, viewers leave the movie with a more understanding of how help is important and one should trust others more so there will be peace on Earth.

 

Extraordinary Mission Brutal and Raw

From Alan Mak and Felix Chong, co-writers of The Departed and director of Infernal Affairs, the movie follows Lin Kai, played by Huang Xuan, in Extraordinary Mission. The movie is razor sharp with intense lighting that heightens the tension in each scene.

The movie takes place in Hong Kong where crime is center staged. Lin Kai is an undercover officer delegated to break through the Twin Eagles drug cartel. The story moves fast and the shots are tight. I never found my thoughts wandering.  The subtitles were tough to follow at times because the movie moved fast with raw intensity.

Yihong Duan plays an impressive cartel boss and a firm conviction in his ruthlessness.  Seeing both Xuan and Duan in scenes together was like watching a full charged emotional push-and-pull. Their scenes were not just a cat and mouse game.  It was brutal and raw.

The movie takes a turn that I was not expecting. Xuan acting talent shines when Kai is coerced into gradual drug addiction while attempting to locate the cartel’s production base.  Being strung out on drugs creates more complications when Kai realizes Eagle has been plotting a violent revenge against his supervisor Li Jianguo, played by Jiadong Xing, for over a decade.

The ending is brutal but fun to watch.  The creative minds of Mak and Chong is a vision you don’t want to miss.

Andy Lau’s Shock Wave High-Action

Written and directed by Herman Yau, Shock Wave is spellbinding with all the action scenes in the movie. The fact that it seized the #1 box office spot in China and Hong Kong when it hit theaters speaks about how much explosive action there is in the movie. Producing the movie on a $23 million budget, Shock Wave is one of Hong Kong’s highest grossing domestic movies for 2017. Take a look at the movie’s trailer, and you will see what I mean.

The movie follows, Cheung Choi-san, played by Andy Lau, as he works as a bomb disposal expert among the busy streets of Hong Kong.  Along comes a terrorist who specializes in explosives, Hung Kai-pang, played by Jiang Wu, takes hold of the busy Cross-Harbor Tunnel. He threatens to kill hostages if his demands are not met.

This is a typical action movie plot, but the director executes these scenes is riveting, so unlike some American action movies. In Shock Wave, they are very realistic, almost scary. The movie is intense and kept my attention throughout even though there are English subtitles.

The movie has a flair for cat and mouse. Cheung effectively broke up Hung’s criminal gang, but in the course of the raid, Hung triumphs and escapes whereas his younger brother and allies are captured.

Seeking retribution for Cheung’s duplicity, Hung returns after seven years and plants a series of bombs in Hong Kong. The result is a public terror and attracts Cheung where he discovers the greatest plan for revenge.

The Blu-ray + DVD Combo is on the streets and includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, including an interview with Andy Lau.  Andy Lau is the most popular actor in China. His interview is worth purchasing the DVD.

In Order of Disappearance

Directed by Hans Petter Moland and The New York Times critics’ pick, In Order of Disappearance stars Stellan Skarsgard, Pal Sverre Hagen and Bruno Ganz. The movie is filled with action and is constantly moving as a diehard thriller. The movie follows an honorable citizen, Nils, played by Skarsgard. He uncovers evidence that his son was murdered and a victim in a turf war between the local crime boss and his Serbian rivals. Following his discovery, Nils embarks on a quest for revenge.

The movie is very good because Nil is a fish out of the water. Introverted and hard-working snowplow driver Nils has just been named “Citizen of the Year.” When he receives news that his son has died of a heroin overdose, nothing seems to make sense.

Disbelieving the official report, Nils quickly uncovers evidence of the young man’s murder – a victim in a turf war between the local crime boss, known as “The Count”, and his Serbian rivals.

Armed with heavy machinery and a good amount of beginner’s godsend, Nils embarks upon a quest for revenge that soon escalates into a full-blown underworld gang war, with the body count spiraling ever higher and higher.

The movie is a rocket ride and hilarious in a very dark way. Skarsgard makes the movie great, and I have a fun time watching it.

The Last King

the-last-king_rgb-3d-blurayThe Last King, directed by Oscar-nominated director Nils Gaup, follows an arduous and awe-inspiring journey through the snow-covered Norwegian mountains. Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju (Game of Thrones), surprisingly, the movie turned out to be a great adventure story. With some awesome downhill, to die for, skiing stunts, so exhilarating. I totally enjoyed it.  The story has everything from action and drama to love and revenge.

The fact that this movie is based on true events intrigued me even more. It takes place in 1204 when the Norway had been in the middle of a civil war for decades because of a battle for the throne between the Norwegian King Håkon, son of legendary King Sverre of Norway, and the Church’s Bishop henchmen.

The King, on his deathbed after falling ill from a failed coup, soon welcomes a son, born in secrecy, with a woman named Inga of Varteig and that he is the heir to the throne. Yet, half the Kingdom wants the baby dead.

To shield their newborn King from those looking to end the family bloodline, two Birch Leg warriors, Torstein, played by Hivju, and Skjervald, played by Oftebro, make the arduous journey across the snow-covered terrain to return him and his mother safely to the kingdom.

For the life of me, I didn’t know what a “Birch Leg” was until I saw this movie. The birkebeinerne or “Birch Legs” (basically are the King’s men) who fought to protect him from the Baglers, an opposing party, supporting the Bishop of course, that wanted him dead and his bloodline ended.

The movie is not English and has subtitles, but after ten minutes into the movie. I didn’t notice the subtitles. The story captured my attention with the time period and the culture. The realistic battles and beautiful scenery of snow-covered trees and mountains and the Northern Lights filmed by Peter Mokrosinski stimulated my interest in finding out if the baby King will make it back and save the country.

With that, the history of this story is amazing because of what this baby represented for Norway. The movie is about the fierce fight that saved the life of the young child who was heir to the throne. He eventually ascended at the age of 13 and reigned for 46 years. It was a peaceful reign that united the country.

Games of Thrones fans will be happy to view this movie because both Oftebro and Hivju are believable warriors. They have a strong bond and also hold a strong sense of honor in protecting the baby. The rest of the cast complemented the story and made it richer in content. It’s a gem of a movie and worth watching.

Sunset Song

sunsetsongSunset Song, directed by Terence Davies, follows Chris Guthrie, played steadily by Agyness Deyn, beginning with her in school, where she and her classmates are struggling in a French language class. Soon she meanders along as we get know her family, clearly, a struggle with her beloved mom, played heart-wrenchingly by Daniela Nardini, and her grumpy dad, played solidly by Peter Mullan.

Patently, her mother is not in a nurturing relationship, and her father is abusive with her and his eldest son, Will, played to the hilt by Jack Greenlees. Will longs to leave home because he is fed up with being abused and bossed around by his dad.  The movie meanders more with beautiful scenes of the Scottish land while Chris suffers through hardships. But, she is strong and gets through each poignant moment because the land she lives on never oppressions her and is always there supporting her no matter what tragedy she goes through.

Having Scottish decedents, I wanted to see this movie set in Scotland during the turn of the century and in the shadow of World War I. Sunset Song is the coming of age story of Chris as we follow her through personal hardships. Eventually, Chris is left alone to tend to the family farm and fend for herself against their abusive father, who eventually dies. Believing she finally found happiness, Chris marries Ewan, played intuitively by Kevin Guthrie, who enlists in the army to fight in The Great War, leaving Chris to tend to the family farm by herself. Ewan returns on leave and the brief reunion is not romantic but coarse and hard to bear. Yet, Chris stays strong and tends the farm after Ewan goes back to the front lines in France.

A tale of steadfast resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity. Yet, the meandering feel of the movie is the irony to the story. Such tranquility in the land but harsh injustice in society. Davies direction pulls it off well.

With cinematography by Michael McDonough, the movie looks more than just visually appealing from start to finish. McDonough captures the tone and era along with the heartache and loss of The Great War.

The movie is based on one of Scotland’s most cherished and notable novels in the last century.  A look at six years in the life of a peasant farm family before and just after the bloodshed of World War I. Life was severe, markedly for the women, who had no control over their destiny. The movie is worth seeing if you want an honest Scottish story that wanders incrementally from hardship to hardship.  The dialogue is totally Scottish, so switch on the English subtitles if it bothers you or just set back and enjoy the movie.

My Golden Days

MGD Train Kiss SceneDirected by Arnaud Desplechin, My Golden Days is a French film that is a masterpiece.  The movie follows Paul Dedalus played by Mathieu Amalric, who is brilliant in The Grand Budapest Hotel and is best known for playing the villain in James Bond’s Quantum of Solace.

In My Golden Days, Amalric reprises the role from Desplechin’s My Sex Life…Or How I Got into an Argument to which he experiences a series of flashbacks – most notably on his first heart-wrenching love affair.

Desplechin next installment is a series of flashbacks as well as the story follows Paul’s flashbacks as a younger Paul, play innocently by Quentin Dolmaire, and Esther, played compellingly by Lou Roy-LeCollinet, who received a Cesar nomination. Both deliver stunning performances in their first film debut.

My Golden Days reflects on the seemingly unforgettable romance shared between the two young lovers as they attempt to salvage their relationship despite the distance that keeps them apart as Paul attends University with their shifting circles of friends and betrayal. Although an unlikely pair, both Esther and Paul compensate for one another. It is endearing to watch Esther deliver as the brutally honest, sometimes haughty counterpart, while Paul remains the understanding and forgiving sense of security she’s always sought after. As Paul reflects on his formative years, his emotions run rampant and prove that Esther has left a deep impression on his heart that not even time can erase.

The story is about the older Paul Dédalus, an anthropologist preparing to leave Tajikistan. Reflecting on his life, he has a series of flashbacks starting from his childhood in Roubaix—his mother’s attacks of madness, his father’s alienating depression. He remembers a student trip to the USSR, where a clandestine mission led him to offer up his own identity for a young Russian, whom he considered a phantom twin for the remainder of his life. He remembers University life and returning to his hometown to party with his sister and her best friend, his shifting circle of friends and their casual betrayals. And most of all he remembers Esther, the beautiful, rude, haughty soul, and love of his life.

The special features are worth mentioning and include a discussion with director Arnaud Desplechin, a behind-the-scenes look at the casting session for Paul and Esther, and a sit down with the cast.

International Kissing Day is every July 6th, and My Golden Days may prove to be the best movie to watch on this celebrated day.

A War

3D_CMYK_AWarBDWrpDirected by Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm, A War begins with company commander Claus M. Pedersen, played by Pilou Asbæk, and his men are stationed in an Afghan province. Meanwhile back in Denmark, Claus’ wife Maria, played by Tuva Novotny is trying to hold everyday life together with a husband at war and three children missing their father. During a routine mission, the soldiers are caught in a heavy crossfire and in order to save his men, Claus makes a decision that has grave consequences for him and his family back home.

Asbæk as Claus is believable and visceral. The commander is an experienced, knowledgeable and admired Danish army officer in charge of a company stationed in a rocky, distant wasteland in Afghanistan. Claus’ orders are to keep the village safe from Taliban attack. The mundane and tedious patrols are edged with the potential for dangerous combats, which places Claus’ company in harm’s way.

Several firefights ensue. Lindholm films them as a vortex with spinning in combat. Such harrowing intensity, I found it worse than the usual blood and guts of other war movies.

One of his men is killed. That is a major turning point in the movie where Claus resolves to forsake his safe commander’s tent and lead the patrols himself.

I rather not go into full details on what happens next in the movie because I don’t want to spoil it for you. I want you to enjoy the movie and see how it all plays out to the end. I will say, what happens to Claus and his family is heart wrenching. War is a terrible commodity that we should never have to endure.  You would think the powers that be would have figured that out by now. Today, there is no need for war.

With that, the movie is great, and rightly so. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Movie, Son of Saul won, but the movie is so good. I am surprised it didn’t win.

Lindholm reaches the audience with realism. He once again employs those who have been closest to the conflict. In A War, he uses Danish soldiers and Taliban warriors, relatives, and refugees, as he strives towards realism.

A Hijacking is another film by Lindholm, also starring Asbæk,  that won quite a few awards, winning a Critics’ Award (Bodil) for Best Danish Film as well as five Danish Academy Awards. He is definitely a filmmaker to watch. I recommend A War.

Pay Back

paybackThe title makes it easy to figure out Pay Back is a revenge movie. Directed by Fu Xi, the movie is totally Hong Kong style and enjoyable if you like these types of movies. The style is choppy and unclear at times, which is, most likely, Fu Xi’s style.

The real reason this type of movie attracts people is the fight scenes.  Pay Back scores big time with the fight scenes, but there are a couple of mediocre ones. The tongue and cheek aren’t too bad either with a jab at being good citizens. As good citizens, we are supposed to tolerate life as it comes. Not so true oh wise one, karate chop, and jab.

The story is about a decent man, who has a wife and child, but trouble comes along. His family is taken away from him by vicious gang members. Now, it is payback time, so the gang is hunted down and fight scenes ensue.  The movie has potential, but a bit convoluted with scenes not relating to other scenes.

I am sure it is worth watching if you like martial arts.