Quantum Of Solace

quantum-of-solace
I’m not a huge James Bond fan. It’s not that I don’t like him, I’m just not that familiar with him. The Bond movies never called to me. I only recently saw my first (Casino Royale) because I knew I would inevitably be seeing the new Quantum Of Solace when it came out. And I also knew that Quantum was a direct sequel to Casino, so I didn’t want to be left behind.

It’s hard to watch a James Bond movie and not compare it to any/all of the others that have been made. I know I don’t have much to compare Quantum Of Solace to, but in the back of my head I was always thinking about all the differences between that and Casino Royale. I think for Quantum to be a successful movie, people should try to watch it with an open mind.

I enjoyed Quantum Of Solace quite a bit. There was plenty of fun action, a fantastic car chase, and lots of running and explosions. Plus Daniel Craig was as suave and bad-ass as ever. What more could you hope for in a James Bond movie? Well, I don’t know, but Casino Royale had it and Quantum didn’t. I would certainly put Quantum ranking with Casino, but it just wasn’t quite as good.

Quantum Of Solace had a lot to live up to as Casino Royale seems to be many people’s favorite Bond movie yet. Is it still worth seeing? Definitely. But try not to compare Quantum to other Bond movies. Just look at it as a fun fast paced action flick and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

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More Asian Cinema, a.k.a. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is superhuman (minor spoilers)

So I’ve been watching lots of Asian cinema recently. Not sure why it’s been such a heavy concentration lately. But there you go.  Here’s a quick run down:

Hard Boiled. Always heard it was an action masterpiece, so I decided I better watch it. The film is directed by John Woo and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Chow Yun-Fat’s character is a trigger happy cop nick-named Tequila whose parter gets killed during the investigation of Triad gun runners. In the course of the film he hooks up with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s character, an undercover cop named Alan, who’s in deep with the gun-running underground. That’s the setup, and I don’t plan to give another single thing away, because if you like action films, you have to watch this movie. John Woo demonstrates how it’s done. But kick-butt action scenes aside, what really works about this movie is Alan. Undercover work hasn’t been kind to him. He’s a guy who’s had to compromise everything he stands for to sell his cover. And it isn’t pretty. Hard Boiled is an action extravaganza with a substantial body count. But it’s also the story of a guy who got in deeper than he would have liked, and the toll it takes on him.

Hey, it's Tony Leung Chiu-Wai again!

In the Mood for Love. Not an action film. Quite the reverse. Directed by Wong Kar-wai and starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (yes) this film is set in Hong Kong in the 1960’s. The movie follows a romance that blooms awkwardly and a bit painfully after the two main characters discover their spouses are having an affair. Together. They vow never to behave like their cheating spouses, and even as they fall in love with each other, keep their relationship chaste. What I loved most about this movie was how it’s shot. Kar-wai shoots the film so that we end up being voyeurs, peering at them from inside a closet, or through a door. I felt as if I was viewing something personal and private, and it connected me to the characters, while at the same time heightening my discomfort over their awkward situation. The actors contribute an achingly subtle and understated performance, which combined with a stunning soundtrack amount to a beautiful film that explores the often complicated and dissonant relationship between the emotion of love and the social institution of marriage.

Lust, Caution. I meant to see this film when it came out, because I heart Ang Lee. But I was, frankly, stupid, and I decided to wait to get the DVD because I got wind of some less than stellar reviews. Pish Posh. That usually does not stop me, and I don’t know why it did in this instance. At any rate, I watched it recently and was bowled over by how completely entranced I was watching this film. Set in China during the Japanese occupation, the larger plot of the film follows a resistance cell as they plot to assassinate a high-ranking official in the collaborationist government. We follow this story through Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), a young college student who becomes involved with the resistance. She is to lure the target, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, surprise!) to an unguarded location where the resistance can kill him. Easier said then done. In the course of infiltrating Mr. Yee’s home, we watch Chia Chi (now posing as “Mrs. Mak) descend deeper and deeper into a troubling relationship with Mr. Yee. And while Lust, Caution is, on the surface, a film about espionage and resistance, it is also about the transformation? destruction? liberation? of Chia Chi. Which is it? Is it all three? I will be adding this film to my DVD collection. I hardly noticed the long running time (although most negative reviews gripe about it) and highly recommend the film.

Grave of the Fireflies. This film is Japanese, and does not star Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. But that’s okay! All I have to say about this film is: Just see this movie. Show it to your kids. It’s heartbreakingly sad, but its intensely personal portrayal of the horrors of war make it a film everyone should watch. Written and directed by Isao Takahata, adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies is an animated tale about a young boy and his sister who are left to fend for themselves after their town is firebombed in a WWII air raid. The animation is not as stylized as most anime, favoring more realistic renditions of people and the environment. The animation adds a strange realism to depictions of bombers flying overhead, dropping incendiaries on various towns. Perhaps it’s because seeing that kind of thing for the first time must seem a bit unreal. So the animation capitalizes on that fact, and every time I saw a shot of the bombers flying over head, I felt fear, and even found myself wondering what it would feel like to see bombers flying over Salem. That’s not something a film has ever made me stop and think about. This film is kind of a kick in the chest. On the one hand you watch this young boy (Seita) looking after his little sister (Setsuko) and you get what love is. The film is a tear-jerker for sure, but there are a lot of moments where the film will make you feel genuine happiness and overwhelming joy. On the other hand it takes place during a war. A nasty one. And on a large scale, we all know why war sucks. But it’s the small scale consequences of war that are easy to forget, and sometimes, when faced with them, the hardest to bear. Because on a small scale war isn’t about the ideologies that that nations fight over. It’s about the people who are trying to survive. So add this film to your Netflix queue. You’ll blow through a lot of tissues watching the film, but in the end you’ll probably be glad you did.

And finally, we don’t talk about television on this blog as a rule, but since this is a post about all the Asian stuff I’ve been watching lately, I might as well give a short mention to Samurai Champloo (roughly meaning Samurai Mash-up). It’s a 26 episode anime series written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed the anime hit Cowboy Bebop. It follows a young woman who, after saving a reserved ronin (Jin) and a extroverted loose cannon (Mugen) from execution, presses them into helping her find a samurai who smells of sunflowers. So far it’s pretty hilarious and has had some great fight scenes. Although I usually recommend Cowboy Bebop or Wolf’s Rain to people who want to try a little anime, I think Samurai Champloo would be a good starting point as well. Like Cowboy Bebop, the characters are fun and the soundtrack is always great!

Coming up: 2046, a sequel to In the Mood for Love.  I hear it features time travel, which I would normally be into, but find strange since In the Mood for Love did not feature any such sci-fi mainstays. But Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, that stud of Chinese film, reprises his role. He is pretty dreamy. And a damn fine actor. So that’s a big plus. We’ll see how it goes. ;-) Until next time!

Blindness

Blindness is an amazing movie. Granted, when Fernando Meirelles (the man who directed City Of God) makes a movie, you kind of expect it to be. His newest is based upon the book of the same name by author José Saramago and is simply gorgeous. The premise is that a strange disease causes people to suddenly go blind and infects the population worldwide. It’s a movie less about the disease and more about how people react to losing their sight.

Blindness has a very bleak outlook on human morality. What happens in the movie is that most people turn into vicious disgusting animals who’s only goal is self preservation. It’s one of those movies that is disturbing and depressing while at the same time makes you question yourself and your own moral compass. It really makes you wonder what your limits are.

I’ve read some mixed reviews about Blindness and truthfully, that kind of confuses me. It’s difficult for me to think of a single bad thing to say about this movie. Well, I guess some might criticize that there are no answers to any questions you would have about the disease. Where it came from, how it spreads, anything of the sort gets thrown to the wayside. Like I said, it’s a film about people, not a sci-fi scary disease movie.

It seems to me like every time someone had something bad to say about Blindness was when they were comparing it to the book. Fair enough, I guess. But the movie is still truly fantastic and visually gorgeous. If you’ve read the book, watch the movie with an open mind. It can’t be that bad. And if, like me, you haven’t read the book yet, do yourself a favor and see the movie first. That way you get to love the movie and then you can go read the book and love that, too.

Flatline Film Fest & Cinema Cafe

We apologize if you’ve been missing our movie reviews lately. However, it’s not because we’ve been slacking. Just the opposite in fact. We’ve been working hard to provide all of the Cinema Salem patrons with the coolest October ever.

We put together the Flatline Film Fest which includes plenty of horror movies throughout October and all 5 Harry Potter movies. We’ll be showing Slither, Candyman, The Blob, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a bunch more every weekend. For all the details and showtimes, head over the the Flatline website.

Also, we’ve had a few setbacks with the Cinema Cafe, but it should be open for the weekend of the 17th and 18th (we mean it this time). There will be lots of delicious espresso drinks, smoothies, a granola bar, cookies, brownies, and lots of other stuff.

All of this has taken up ridiculous amounts of our time. Hardly any time to watch movies, let alone write about them. So with that in mind, here’s hoping October will be awesome with scary movies and yummy drinks.

Eagle Eye

Basing a whole movie on that scene in The Matrix where Morpheus is on the phone with Neo, giving him explicit instructions on what to do and where to go in order to escape his pursuers seemed like a pretty god idea to me. And Eagle Eye is almost exactly that. Jerry (Shia LeBeouf) and Rachel (Michelle Monaghan) are in sporadic contact with a strange woman who gives them various directives. And somehow, no matter where they are, this woman always knows whether or not their mission was successful. We have no idea what her intentions are but it becomes apparent soon enough that she means business.

Eagle Eye is fun but not entirely original. It kind of seems like a big mash up of various movies including, but certainly not limited to, Enemy Of The State, Live Free Or Die Hard, Get Smart, and 2001. My guess is that it might have to do with this being the first movie the writers have written (John Glenn and Travis Wright).

Either way, Eagle Eye is still entertaining. There are plenty of big explosions and fast car chases to keep you happy. In fact, the entire movie is basically one huge chase, with little time for pit stops. There is a catch, however. The strange woman frequently tells Jerry, “Don’t ask questions.” The same could be said of the filmmakers. There were so many times when I paused and said to something along the lines of, “But how will they know where that tunnel is?” Oh wait! I forgot. “No questions.”

As long as you’re willing to let go of the reigns a little bit, Eagle Eye will take you on an enjoyable ride. Probably not one that you’ll remember in a year or two but still, it’s fun while it lasts.

Man Bites Dog & Eyes Without A Face

While I was partying at All Tomorrow’s Parties in New York this past weekend, I was able to catch a couple of movies. Criterion had a room where they were playing a wide variety of movies they’ve released over the years. Both of the ones I saw happened to be black and white French movies and very very weird.

The first one I saw was Man Bites Dog (aka It Happened In Your Neighborhood) and it was easily one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. It’s filmed as a documentary but it certainly doesn’t portray facts. And as much as I hate this term, there’s no denying it gets the point across: Man Bites Dog is a mockumentary. The premise is simple. A small film crew follows around an eccentric serial killer, Benoît. Most of the time, Ben talks at great lengths about everything under the sun: art, family, society, music, and in the opening scene, the best way to keep a dead body submerged under water. Very often, the crew films him as he murders and rapes various people and even though you know this isn’t real, it still brings to mind many questions. How can they possibly make an unbiased movie? Should they ever intervene to help the victims? If they don’t help, are they automatically accomplices? The lines are very blurred and the questions aren’t easily answered. The way the creators of Man Bites Dog make these questions easier to swallow is that the movie is a comedy. It’s easy to brush off such heavy topics when you’re laughing. “Of course this isn’t real. So why bother thinking about it?” Apparently, this was very controversial when it came out in 1992 and won the SACD Award at Cannes. I give this film a high recommendation.

Eyes Without A Face is a French horror/thriller that conjures terrifying images from the title alone and the DVD cover only helps to provoke those fears. It’s about a doctor who is experimenting with strange skin grafts and when his daughter has an awful accident that, um, removes her face, he attempts to put a similar looking woman’s face skin on his daughter’s. This movie has made it into many critics “Top Horror” lists and with good reason. It is by far one of the creepiest movies ever. It’s a horror film that would be ridiculously unsuccessful if it came out this year. It’s not the kind of movie that really scares you or makes you jump and scream. It’s actually really hard to describe. Instead of watching it with your hand over your eyes, it’s more like you stare at the screen wide eyed with your jaw hanging open. That’s the best I can do. Trust me, Eyes Without A Face is a true horror movie but likely not one that you’re used to. And even with the occasionally cheesy effects, this is still a very worthwhile movie.

I’ve Been Watching Movies, I Swear

So it’s been quite a while since I’ve reviewed any movies but I assure you it’s not because I haven’t been watching them. Just the opposite, actually. I’ve been watching a lot of stuff but for the most part, I’ve been watching things that I don’t really think are worth reviewing. But I figured I must have at least a few words for each of the movies I’ve been watching, so I’ll play catch up now.

There were a couple of stupid screwball/slapstick ’90s comedies I watched (Jury Duty with Pauly Shore and Beverly Hills Ninja with Chris Farley), which were hardly worth the time. I remembered liking them when they came out, but then again I was about 12 years old. I no longer have any nostalgia for them after re-watching them, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Dandelion was an indie flick that fell flat, for reasons I can’t specifically remember. It starred Vincent Kartheiser (remember him?) and it looked pretty but the story and acting were so sub-par. It was cheesy and cliche. Not something I’d recommend.

Nothing was written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, the same guy who did the original Cube (which I recently reviewed here). It sounded like it had amazing potential. Sadly, it didn’t work out. It’s about these couple of guys who are in serious trouble and wish the world would go away. Then (surprise), it does. Outside of their house is nothing. Literally. Sounds kind of cool, right? Like maybe a contemporary version of My Dinner With Andre? Wrong. These guys don’t talk about anything worthwhile and worst of all, the characters are ridiculously annoying. Two things you really can’t have in a movie about nothing.

I watched the last James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and it was my first James Bond movie ever. I thought Daniel Craig fit the role to a T. It was great, I really enjoyed it, and I really look forward to the new one coming out soon, Quantum Of Solace.

I got to see this movie called The Man From Earth which is about a college professor who reveals to his colleagues on his last day of work that he’s actually a caveman and he’s been alive for hundreds of thousands of years. Definitely an interesting enough premise to watch it, even if it’s bad (kind of like Nothing). I liked the movie enough, but it was kind of boring with everyone sitting by the fireside asking the “caveman” questions the whole night. Not much more than that. Tony Todd and Richard Riehle were in it so that was a plus. The ending was a little too literal, explaining things a little too much and I could have done without that. But otherwise it was a fun thought experiment.

I also watched my first Pedro Almodóvar recently, Volver with Penélope Cruz. It was very weird, with the whole spiritual/ghost thing going on. A couple of criticisms would be that they didn’t wrap up that restaurant side story and the fact that Cruz got a Oscar nomination for it. I’m not saying she was bad in the movie, but rather non-spectacular. I feel like there must have been some other actresses that deserved a nomination more than Cruz for her role in Volver. Oh well.

And finally, I’ve been watching the Alien series for the first time. I saw Alien: Resurrection when it came out a while ago and up until now, that was the only Alien movie I’d seen (although I don’t think it really counts). I’ve watched the first and second so far, with the third coming up soon. Man, these movies are amazing. Sigourney Weaver kicks so much ass. and who knew Paul Reiser had any talent? He plays the perfect scum bag. Aliens is Godzillamonster’s favorite movie ever (I think) and with good reason. But because these are such famous and popular movies, I felt like there wasn’t much I could say that hasn’t already be said, hence no proper reviews. Suffice it to say I truly love Aliens.

And there you have it. A complete update of almost every movie I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks. I’ll be away until next Tuesday, so I won’t have any full reviews until sometime after that. I hope this will tide you all over until then.