Tag: 2007

Movie Review: 1612: Khroniki Smutnogo Vremeni (2007)


Alright, everyone ready for a little (well, like 2 1/2 hours’ worth) Russian government-sponsored propaganda disguised as a medieval war epic? Of course you are! Loosely based on actual historical fact, 1612 brings us into Russia’s “Time of Troubles”, a chaotic period in the early 1600’s during which no tsar ruled and several opposing forces attempted to lay claim to the throne. Beside feuding Russian leaders, Polish troops entered the country with their own future tsar. The film leads up to a pivotal moment in (you guessed it!) 1612 when, according to accepted lore, the Russian people united to oust the Poles from Moscow and reclaim their country.

There are a few bastardized historical figures, but most of the story is from the point of view of fictional characters Andrei (Pyotr Kislov) and Kostka (Artur Smolyaninov), mercenaries who join up with troops protecting the tsarina, Kseniya (Violetta Davydovskaya). She is being forced to marry the Polish Hetman (Michal Zebrowski), who hopes that marriage to a legitimate Russian noblewoman will legitimize his claim to the throne. Andrei and Kostka work to save her and eventually join forces with Russian civilian fighters who wish to curtail the Polish invasion. There’s a lot of battling and rallying and nationalism. Also: unicorns.

I knew going in that 1612 would be an overblown, propagandistic tale with exaggerated or fictionalized historical events. I guess that’s why I was a little bit impressed with the final product. While the story is thin as a photoshopped W cover model, it’s filled with archetypal characters that I couldn’t help but appreciate. Andrei is the naive, prettyboy hero, while Kostka provides the humor as his adorable sidekick. They’re very noble and heroic and resourceful, and I wanted to root for them. Kseniya is a standard, attractive woman with little ability to help herself, and the Hetman (who isn’t given a name I don’t think- more on that later) is a fiendishly greasy bad guy who’s easy to hate.

It’s very much like a typical Western fairy tale, in which personality is forsaken in favor of adventure and moralistic messages (the frequent appearances of a unicorn serving as a very heavy-handed metaphor certainly aids the comparison). As a long-time lover of fairy tales, I kind of appreciated the simplicity, and once I accepted that I didn’t need to think very hard about most of the story, I could lean back and get into the very violent and well-filmed action. Everything looks really good, from the lavish costumes and vast landscapes to the exciting battle scenes and ultra-bright, slow-motion flashbacks.

Well, continuing the theme I guess, this movie has some problems with racial prejudice. Apparently the whole “Poles invading their country 400 years ago” thing still irks some Russians, and the Polish characters here are depicted as despicable, immoral thugs whose main interests are murder and rape. While one Polish guy is pretty central to the story, he’s never even given a name, further emphasizing his perceived inhumanity. Certain historical events are changed to make the Poles seem more dastardly (for example, a young tsar is brutally murdered by Polish soldiers, when in reality he was assassinated by Russians). It’s not exceptionally blatant (they aren’t animalistic Mongols or anything), but it’s clear enough, and I was especially aware of it since my professor warned us about it prior to giving us the film.

Basically 1612 isn’t really that great, but its gorgeous visuals and likable archetypal characters kept me interested, and the story is dramatic and varied enough for some mindless entertainment. It’s wildly inaccurate, I know, but I have little background in Russian medieval history so I didn’t particularly care. And obviously, the anti-Polish prejudice isn’t ok, but it’s not a focal point of the film and it really is just reminiscent of a one-dimensional Disney villain, I guess I wasn’t incredibly shocked.

3/5

Movie Review: Sutorenjia: Mukô Hadan (Sword of the Stranger) (2007)

Sword of the Stranger was recommended to me by this discerning guy but also I realized it was Japan Cinema’s number one anime movie of the decade, so really I couldn’t go wrong no matter what. Set in feudal Japan, the story follows Kotaro, a young boy with a host of Chinese assassins after him, his stalwart dog Tobimaru, and a nameless rōnin (“Nanashi”) who endeavors to protect him. The political tensions between the isolationist-minded Japanese and the encroaching Chinese are hinted at, but the focus remains on Kotaro and Nanashi’s journey and frequent battles between the various people trying to claim the boy. The Chinese believe that an elixir of life can be gained from a mysterious ceremony involving Kotaro, and are fiercely fighting to please their emperor while Japanese samurai, lords, and monks must decide their allegiances. One vicious Chinese warrior, a tall blonde-and-blue-eyed Westerner (I think? or maybe he was just like a genetic anomaly?) named Luo-Lang, has lived his life waiting to find someone who can best him in a sword fight, and believes Nanashi may finally be the one.

Wow, this movie is awesome. For real. Before the credits even started up I was 100% into it. The characters are very well-written and intriguing, and the action scenes are phenomenal. The animation is gorgeous, with fluid movements and a dark color scheme; regardless of what was actually happening on screen, I was interested in looking at it. There are even some really great first-person point-of-view shots. Masahiro Andô has worked as a key animator in several high-profile anime films, but this is his first (and currently only) directorial feature, which makes its detailed construction and layout even more impressive.

This is the kind of movie that deals with a number of cliches, including the “man with a haunted past who doesn’t want to fight anymore” and the “annoying but endearing kid wiser than his years” and the “evil guy who’s really good at what he does and just wants to find a guy who is equally good at what he does”, but gives them such depth and intelligence that it really doesn’t matter. I could see what was coming in the climax, given the personalities and natural trajectories of the characters, but it was so badass and thrilling that I still enjoyed it immensely.

I think one small problem is the script’s reliance on the audience’s knowledge of Japanese history, as it introduces a lot of political-type characters who discuss the relationship with China and also features some mention of the Japanese aversion to “foreigners”, meaning Westerners. I have some foundation knowledge of the period, so I think that certain things made a bit more sense to me than they might someone with no idea of the history (the importance of the introduction of guns, for example). But, it’s never a central point of the film, and even though I found the political stuff a little hard to follow at first I was still completely engaged. Honestly, so much about Sword of the Stranger is done right, there’s no concern for the few minor things that don’t work. This is an amazing movie.

4.5/5

Movie Review: Netherbeast Incorporated (2007)

Hey, a horror-comedy with Dave Foley in it! I guess I will watch it. Netherbeast Incorporated primarily takes place within an office building populated by “netherbeasts” who live fairly ordinary lives as business people. Otto Granberry (Steve Burns aka Steve from Blues Clues) narrates, often with the help of animated presentations, describing life as a netherbeast, which is kind of like a vampire but less sinister. They can go out in the sun, but not for very long, and while they do need human flesh to survive, they don’t kill and maim to get it, instead feasting on the recently dead. It’s actually some sort of birth defect that’s activated when the person dies, re-awakening with these attributes.

They must always be close to a piece of “netherstone”, some sort of mystical item that radiates or something (I don’t really remember, but basically it keeps them functioning). There are no outsiders allowed in their building, and they keep apartments in the upper floors. When Turner (Darrell Hammond), the head of the company, becomes afflicted with a form of amnesia netherbeasts are prone to get, he forgets he and his friends are all vampires and brings in an outside consultant (Judd Nelson) and an innocent new hire (Amy Davidson). It’s up to Otto and the others to protect their secret, while also investigating several recent disappearances within the group.

Goodness, long summary, sorry. Anyway, I saw this movie on a lark and was surprised by how much I liked it. It’s not uproariously funny and it’s not very scary, but it’s a cool premise with an engaging script. There’s a lot going on, from the missing persons and fear of exposure, to Turner’s brain deterioration and some flashbacks about the company’s founding, and everything comes together well. I dug the little explanatory animations showing what it’s like to be a vampire, and I think Steve Burns does a good job as an average-joe-type narrator.

Dave Foley is there but stays pretty low-key (of course, it’s always nice to see any Kid in the Hall as a businessman character), and Jason Mewes has a silly supporting role. Darrell Hammond stands out as the boss slowly losing his mind. He starts off cocky and eccentric and gradually devolves into a carefree, babbling guy with a short attention span. He is definitely the funniest thing in the movie.

Netherbeast Incorporated has some really interesting ideas and an impressively detailed new mythology relating to vampires, in a premise that’s detailed and feels fully realized. It’s a good blend of workplace comedy and horror-mystery even if it goes too light on both of them. I like the cast, there’s a cute romantic subplot, and I applaud its innovation. Also, Alexander Graham Bell and James Garfield make appearances! History!

3.5/5

Movie Review: I’ll Believe You (2007)

Wow, I have been waiting about three and a half years to see this movie. I found its trailer when looking for more movies with Patrick Warburton in a live-action role, and just instantly felt like it’d be a movie I’d really love. Then it took three and a half to four years to come out on DVD (no way was a theater screening happening anywhere I could see it). Anyway here it is. I’ll Believe You introduces us to Florida late-night radio DJ Dale Sweeney (David Alan Basche), whose show “Hey, I’ll Believe You” explores reports of UFO sightings, Bigfoot, and other paranormal phenomena. Just as he’s about to be canceled by station head Mr Fratus (Fred Willard), he receives a mysterious unintelligible call.

Convinced that it’s some unknown language possibly related to an alleged crash into the ocean by some shiny vehicle, Dale hunts down his various oddball listeners for some clues. He also enlists the aid of his friends Nick (Patrick Gallo), who recently became a cop, and Paige (CeCe Pleasants), a pragmatic high school science teacher. Certain that it must be an alien stranded on Earth, he’s in for a surprise when he finally meets the mystery caller, Dr Seth Douglass (Patrick Warburton).

This movie is oddly paced and not quite as funny as it thinks it is, with some awkward dialogue and so-so acting. But I find this decidedly amateur quality wholly endearing. David Alan Basche is not that good of an actor here, but his enthusiasm bubbles over into every scene and you can’t help liking him. CeCe Pleasants’ cuteness overshadows her sometimes-uninteresting line delivery. Patrick Warburton is awesome in everything he does all of the time, meaning the second he enters the movie it really becomes much more engaging. I dug the short appearances from Ed Helms, Chris Elliot, Mo Rocca, and Siobhan Fallon, who all seemed to be having a good time.

The story is interesting, and the screenplay noticeably written with passion and a sense of fun. It takes a little while to get going and there are some strange moments in the first third of the movie because (I learned later in the DVD interviews) there was a whole subplot cut out in post-production, leading to some voice-dubbing and choppy transitions. So admittedly, I was a little underwhelmed after waiting so long. But even though there are various dialogue, pacing, and acting issues, I really enjoyed this movie. It has this beautiful naivete that I found irresistible, and which I hope the Sullivan Brothers continue to bring to their films.

3.5/5

Ode to Star L23“- We Are Scientists

Movie Review: Captain Abu Raed (2007)

I will admit that the main reason I saw this was because I had never seen a film from Jordan before. Not the best reason, I know, but whatever. The first feature from writer-director Amin Matalqa, Captain Abu Raed starts off as a deceptively simple tale of an aged, reserved, and widowed airport janitor, Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha), who finds a captain’s hat in the trash and wears it home. One of his neighbors, a young boy named Tareq (Udey Al-Qiddissi), becomes convinced that despite living in an impoverished area, Abu Raed must be a pilot and persuades him to tell stories of his worldly travels to the children of the area. Abu Raed concedes after some resistance, deciding to make up tales of exotic places outside the city of Amman, Jordan, aided by his vast knowledge gained from reading thousands of books on various subjects.

Though popular with all the kids, he becomes especially close with Tareq, whose father makes him sell candy bars instead of attending school, and Murad (Hussein Al-Sous), whose alcoholic father abuses his family. He also befriends Nour, one of the pilots who flies out of his airport. Her wealthy father is obsessed with finding her a good husband as soon as possible, but she remains uninterested and independent. Abu Raed’s developing relationships with these characters are explored, shedding light on the different struggles people of different ages and social positions might go through in this culture.

Captain Abu Raed starts off kind of sappy but sweet; it’s slow-moving and has a few montages featuring this sort of tableau. It’s not bad, just not very different from any other movie of this type. About halfway through, it takes a real turn into serious, agitated drama. It’s a bit jarring and really draws it away from the “feel-good” genre, but makes for a more gripping story. I liked this second half much better than the first, but the sudden change in tone and pacing felt off. There are lots of interesting bits and subplots here, but they just aren’t paced or detailed especially well. For example, I liked the character of Nour a lot, and there were a few scenes dedicated solely to her story, but nothing was really developed and it didn’t seem to completely fit in with the rest of the movie.

All that being said, this is still an enjoyable and well-made film. The main character is well-rounded, and the main child actors are incredible considering they hadn’t acted onscreen before. The visuals are fantastic, making great use of truly gorgeous rooftop vistas of the city and detailed, interesting interior sets around the housing complex. It seems like a good look into the culture and inhabitants of Amman, a place about which I admittedly know nothing, so its setting alone made it uniquely appealing. I just think with better pacing and a more consistent tone, this would be a more effective film. Do not heed its “feel-good family fare” premise: it gets really engaging in the second half, but not in a happy way.

3.5/5