Category Archives: foreign films

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.

Ladrones

LadronesDirected by Joe Menéndez, Ladrones follows a pair of modern day hoods who rob the rich and give it to the poor.  This is the sequel to the hit movie, Ladrón Que Roba a Ladrón. Starring two of Univision’s biggest stars, Fernando Colunga and Eduardo Yáñez, they play Toledo and Guzman.  The hoods set out to steal the original 1848 Texas land grants and return them to their rightful owners. The grants were stolen from the lawful owners by Miranda Milroy, played by Jessica Lindsey. She plans on leveling the ranches in order to build a cultural center where she plans to sing opera.  How these two pull off this caper is quite good.

The movie is in Spanish with English subtitles throughout.  It feels like a movie made for TV, though.  Comedy is not raunchy but mild, so I can’t figure out why it is rated PG-13.  The storyline is simple with a little bit of action that makes the movie slow at times. On an upbeat note, Jackie played by Cristina Rodlo is funny as super intelligent, and her ranch hand boyfriend played by Vadhir Derbez is undoubtedly hired for just his looks. The characters keep the movie fun and entertaining, but the plot is just too straightforward with not enough hooks to keep me strongly interested.

Though you think this is a guy’s movie, it is not. Families with older kids can watch this movie without much flack. Some points in the story go unexplained or are just too simple to bother me.  Like when Toledo and Guzman nabbed the land grants. The situation should be handled, but it didn’t. The conflict kept going, which didn’t make sense.

Born to Win

BorntoWinWritten and directed by Frans Cronjé, Born to Win is a Christian Faith movie based on a true story that will get believers inspired and follow one man’s journey to find his faith.

From the producer of the hit faith movie Faith Like Potatoes, which sold over 2.2 million DVDs in 17 languages worldwide, Born to Win is not quite as good, but still tugs at your heartstrings.  The movie follows Leon Terblanche, played brilliantly by Greg Kriek (Momentum), a teacher at a school for disabled children. He finds himself confronted with the question: “Where is God?” This sets him on a journey where he discovers that he has never been alone through all the hurt and brokenness of his past. Leon learns that no matter how broken you are God is always our only living hope. Born to Win shows how God turns the hurt, frustration and emptiness of a man into hope, faith and victory to inspire people to be the winners they were born to be.

The movie is beautifully shot by Jorrie van der Walt with an endearing soundtrack by Simon Ratcliffe. Both set the movie’s rhythm and poise creating intense, realistic, and heart driven levels of pain with impossible odds. Leon goes through a failed relationship and circumstances beyond his control. What he experiences with the children is pure heartache.

The movie was theatrically released in South Africa in 2014 and received the Golden Crown Award for Best Evangelistic Film in 2015 (ICVM).  The movie is poignant with very touching performances by other cast members including Leoné Pienaar (Break Away), Nadia Beukes (Mooirivier), Cobus Venter (Skin), Marie Cronje (Faith Like Potatoes), Dorette Potgieter (Citizen Verdict), Anrich Herbst (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Sylvia Mdunyelwa-Kobus (Tula Tula), Garth Collins (Zulu), Merlin Balie (Break Away), Tim Theron (Mooirivier) and  Leandie Du Randt (Semi-Soet).

Dragon Blade

Dragon BladeDirected by Daniel Lee, Dragon Blade is a fine example of the materialization of the growing motion picture market in China. The industry is so dominate in Asia that Western stars arrive on the scene in Chinese productions.  Like Dragon Blade, the movies are cultural dramas on a grand-scaled of historical epics.  Lee’s movie has done well as a moneymaker, gaining over $120 million in the China market.  The storyline is unique and pleasurable with Jackie Chan, John Cusack, and Adrien Brody. Cusack and Brody appear out of place in the empire of men swinging swords and wearing sandals, whereas Chan does a fine job of martial arts and plays a familiar role.

The movie transports the story back to 48 B.C. where Huo An, played by Chan, is a well-intended and compassionate leader of the Silk Road Protection Squad. His squad comes across as a dedicated group. Huo protects and fights altruistically in order to hold harmony for the sanctioned Road.

Thereupon, Huo and his men are framed for gold smuggling and are banished to Wild Goose Gate. They are required to rebuild an entire city in two weeks or be put to death. Clearly an impossible task, something miraculous happens, and they connect up with a lost Roman army. Command by general Lucius, played by Cusack, is a scoundrel. He immediately picks a fight with Huo. After the brawl, they become fast friends with singing, parades, and drinking. Lucius confesses he is trying to avoid being captured by the Romans and has a sick boy, Publius, played by Joey Jozef. The boy is the lawful heir to the Roman throne, and his evil brother, Tiberious, played by Brody, is out to assassinate him. He recently just murdered their father, so we know he is serious. With that in mind, Lucius’ men and other local tribes along with Huo turn the city into a symbol of the peace. Something Huo has desired for most his life.

The visuals are not only majestic but also ambiguous. Seeing Chan in a sword fight with Cusack is conflicting. We are in Asia and here is a Westerner. It is intriguing but unreal for an epic. The $65 million budget availed gigantic spectacles where Lee effectively created a war-torn China during the Han Dynasty.

This is purely fictional with no regard for historical authenticity. True. The Romans and Asians shared commerce and the Silk Road, but nothing more. The many battle scenes are exceptional with the combination of Roman fighting techniques and traditional Chinese martial arts. The movie is invigorating while witnessing the development of a friendship between Huo and Lucius.

Overall, Dragon Blade is a movie worth seeing with Chan outshining his Western co-stars.

The Dead Lands

deadlandsThe movie takes place in New Zealand before colonial times when Maoris ruled New Zealand. Polynesian people are the ancestors of the Maori. They originated from south-east Asia and migrated to New Zealand. The movie is about two Maori tribes that have ancient rivalry.  The conflict has been put to rest, and the tribes live amicable.

Until, a young war chief called Wirepa covets the glory gained in battle by rekindling the ancient rivalry. He violently attacks the other tribe. The Chief’s son, Hongi, survives with a few other members of his tribe. Hongi goes after them with full out assault on revenge.

As a strategic plan, they decide to cross through the `Dead Lands’, hence the movie’s name The Dead Lands, where it is believed that a warrior spirit lies in wait. The spirit will devour any person who trespasses, adding a haunting tale to the storyline.

The rest of the movie is action packed outing, with a bunch of martial arts fighting, blood splattering and other violent plundering. The backdrop of the movie is a beautiful tropical forest with the harsh contrast to the story, and the music adds a fair amount of intensity to the movie. A standout actor in the upheaval is Lawrence Makoare as the Warrior, who drives his role with vim and vigor, emotion and pure charismatic presence.

The movie is entirely in Maori with English sub titles. Don’t get caught up in the sub-titles, just watch the movie and the story will unfold. I recommend this movie if you enjoy real violence in a rather barbaric fashion that gets under your skin.