Tag: 2010

Movie Review: Incendies (2010)

To quote The Mummy, “Death is only the beginning.”

I don’t care how irrelevant that seems, it completely applies to Incendies, the riveting familial drama that garnered a Best Foreign Film nomination for Canada at the 2010 Oscars. The film opens on a will reading, with twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) hearing their deceased mother’s (Lubna Azabal) last wishes. She was a secretary and single mother living in Quebec, with a complex war-torn past that her children knew little about.

In her will she requests that they find their father (whom they believed dead) and brother (whom they didn’t know existed) to deliver them letters she wrote. Simon is initially uninterested in catering to his mother’s crazy wishes, but Jeanne travels to her hometown and old university in what I believe is Lebanon (I’m sorry, they only ever said city names that I didn’t recognize, and when I looked it up I couldn’t find any concrete mention of the setting, but the writer of the play is from Lebanon and the events coincide). With her brother’s begrudging help, she discovers a number of shocking truths about her family’s past, following a trail of breadcrumbs around the country in a seemingly futile mission.

I have seen several films that have left me with feelings of hopelessness and desolation, usually touching on too-real subject matter or historical injustice or doomed relationships. Often I will recognize how excellent these films are, but their bleakness might make me hesitate to recommend it to a friend or even watch it again. While certainly dismal in many ways, Incendies is so thrilling and twisted and good that I would recommend it to almost everyone. The parallel stories of Jeanne’ s amateur sleuthing and her mother Nawal’s horrendous journey through both sides of a civil war are expertly pitted against each other. As the audience learns the truth about Nawal’s history, we are eager to see Jeanne and Simon understand what she went through. However, the biggest mystery of all- the identities of their father and brother- are kept a secret from most of the characters and the viewers until the end, making it a truly enticing and staggering mystery.

Both Azabal and Poulin give dedicated performances as mother and daughter separated by a lifetime of lies. Azabal portrays Nawal through several stages of life, from lovesick teenager to self-assured freedom fighter to world-weary working mother. She is simultaneously expressive and unreadable, creating a strong, intricate character with a wealth of motivations and influences. Poulin is softer as Jeanne, a math lecturer driven by an unknown force to seek out the whole truth, even though it seems impossible and even though the more she learns the more she wishes she hadn’t.

Shot over a range of rocky, desert landscapes and crumbling towns, and edited to perfection, Incendies is captivating visually, but the real success lies in its completely fascinating story. It is tense and dark and beautiful, blending subtlety with shock value for a masterful final product.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There are some similarities to Oldboy, but that would be one intense evening. To lighten the mood but keep with the Middle Eastern theme, I might suggest British terrorist black comedy Four Lions. Or any of those movies where you learn more about a person after he/she is dead, you know.

Further Reading:
Incendies at The Dark of the Matinee (where I first heard about the film)

Movie Review: Loong Boonmee raleuk chat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) (2010)

The camera settles on a cow tied to a tree trunk, watching passively as it attempts to escape its bonds. Filmed on a quiet night, the only sound is the ambient noise of the forest. Unsure just what kind of movie I’ve settled down to see, I sit transfixed along with the rest of the audience (except for the twentysomething jerks who came in late and made a fuss in front of me), ready for anything and everything and nothing to happen on our screen. And it does.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a gentle, tranquil examination of a sick man awaiting his fate. Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar), a widowered farmer suffering from cancer, is visited by his sister-in-law and nephew during his last days. While they pad around his isolated estate, Boonmee’s long-dead wife appears as a ghost, and his long-lost son soon follows, now transformed into a red-eyed “Ghost Monkey” (some sort of forest spirit, as far as I could tell).

Flitting between pensive rumination on death and the afterlife, snippets of remembrances of past lives, extended shots of nature and people, and stirrings of the supernatural, Apichatpong offers a varied and ambiguous film shot through a Buddhist lens. The dead interact freely with the living, just as the trappings of Boonmee’s natural environment seek to exist harmoniously with the humans who populate it. Bits of weirdness are accepted with little opposition. Nothing much actually happens, and everything that does seems to happen at the same time and across huge spans, as in a dream. I remember once my world religions teacher tried to explain the Buddhist concept of time using that scene in Spaceballs (“We’re in NOW now”). I guess it was sort of like that.

I am truly at a loss to describe this film or sum up why I liked it so much. It is peaceful and inviting, eliciting a warm response coupled with intrigue due to its many mysterious elements. The visuals are at once idyllic and haunting, from pastoral landscapes to creeping monsters, with each image stamped on my brain long after viewing. Apichatpong seems to favor long, thoughtful shots that allow audiences to drink in the surrounding atmosphere. There is no soundtrack (at least, not that I recall), relying on ever-present background noise like cricket chirps and running water for ambiance. Death and life are portrayed as equally beautiful.

I won’t say “This film really makes you think”, because that’s kind of a dumb thing to say, but it might make you daydream.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There’s little I can compare this to or set against off the top of my head. It should be something beautiful and strange and possibly black and white… perhaps Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies or Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire or Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise.

Wing Chun Double Feature: Ip Man (2008) and Ip Man 2 (2010)

It’s good to know that other countries will skewer biographical depictions of historical figures as much as America does. Known by many today as the teacher of kung-fu legend Bruce Lee, Ip (or Yip) Man was a master of the Wing Chun style. Ip Man and Ip Man 2 tell the apparently highly fabricated story of his rise to fame as a sort of Chinese folk hero fighting against the Japanese and British presences in Hong Kong in the 1930’s and 50’s. Despite attempts to remain a pacifist, he must often resort to kicking everyone’s ass in order to promote peace. You know how it is.

Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is a kind and successful businessman who practices martial arts in his spare time, residing in a town where almost every able-bodied man seems to constantly promote in some kind of fighting style. The townspeople often hound him to open his own school, but his frequent dabbling in Wing Chun frustrates his wife and son, and he believes himself primarily a businessman. When the Japanese invade China and subjugate the entire nation, he is forced to fight for a haughty Japanese general’s entertainment, and eventually becomes a representative for his entire nation.

A decade later, no one in his family has aged (seriously, his son is still like 7 years old and his wife is just as hot), and everyone is struggling to make due as the British act like dicks to everyone. There is mad corruption in the police force and the chubby kung-fu mafia don Master Hong Zhen Nan (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) basically runs the town, but in turn he must answer to his money-hungry British superiors. Ip Man tries to set up a Wing Chun school so he can support his family, but the martial arts schools are all controlled by Master Hong. Eventually he is pitted against a professional jackass/boxer from the UK, Twister (Darren Shahlavi), in a deadly match to resurrect Chinese pride at a time of Western dominance.

Packed with exciting fight scenes, interesting characters, and unexpected gravitas, both films are gripping looks at a period in Hong Kong history that I know little about. I loved the sepia-tinged visuals, laced with intricate sets and costumes that mix Chinese and European influences. Donnie Yen is excellent as the title character, with a serious but friendly demeanor that segues into confident battle scenes with ease. The first film has higher stakes, so the story is more affecting, but both scripts feature enough drama to make the action even more thrilling.

Ip Man’s story is populated with a strong sense of nationalism that defaults to racism against non-Chinese characters. Most of the Japanese soldiers are sadistic and heartless, with at least one resembling an American anti-Japan cartoon. The British depicted in the second film are just the worst people in the world, completely egotistical and cruel. But really, this isn’t at all surprising, considering the treatment these two groups gave Hong Kong. It’s like depictions of Nazis in WWII films.

As much as I love mindless action flicks in general, it’s nice to have incredibly badass and strongly-choreographed fight scenes set against a dramatic story and historical background. Sure, it’s not exactly accurate regarding the real Ip Man’s life, but it makes for an entertaining and moving double feature!

Ip Man: 4.5/5
Ip Man 2: 4/5

Movie Review: Gekijouban Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010)

Dang it’s been a while since I’ve watched an anime film! Which is weird, since I feel like I watch anime television fairly often. Trigun was one of my favorite anime series in high school, but it has sort of a crappy dvd release in the US so I never bought it. Recently I discovered it on netflix instant and have been avidly re-watching the entire show and remembering why I completely love it in the first place. While talking about its run on Cartoon Network and subsequently researching the entire history of Toonami, it was discovered that there was a Trigun movie made just last year! And it premiered at San Diego Comic Con! Otherwise it wasn’t really shown in the US and isn’t actually available here easily! Hey! Luckily, we have a secret weapon: The Internet.

So for those of you unfamiliar with the basic premise of the show, Trigun takes place on a desert planet with two suns and a fairly lawless, disparate society. It’s very Old Westy. Vash the Stampede, our hero, has been designated a “human disaster” and has a huge bounty on his head because he accidentally destroyed a city with his magic gun arm, but actually he’s a really nice guy who uses his crazy gun powers for good, always refusing to kill anyone. Trouble just follows him around, but he and his friends do their best to right all wrongs and protect the innocent, etc.

In Badlands Rumble, Vash foils the heist of a proud bank robber called Gasback, who twenty years later seeks revenge on his treacherous co-conspirators as well as the legendary gunman. Bounty hunters galore show up to a small town where Gasback is rumored to be, and Vash finds himself caught up in a strange war between old enemies, with a mysterious and skillful young woman throwing a wrench into any plans for a peaceful solution. Vash’s old comrades Nicholas D Wolfwood (a trigger-happy priest), Meryl (a pragmatic, dillinger-wielding insurance claim agent), and Millie (her goofy, stun gun-toting partner) are all thrown into the action as well.

Ok so the thing here is if you’re not into Trigun already, this movie isn’t really for you. Theoretically it can be viewed separately from the show or manga, since it takes place before the series gets heavy into its over-arching storyline, kind of like the Cowboy Bebop movie. But, I assume that without already knowing all about these characters, it would be a lot less fun to see them all together again on another adventure. I think it’d be an ok place to start if you wanted to see what it was like, but I don’t think you can get as much out of it as you can the show itself (which is only 26 episodes, incidentally).

BUT if you’re like me and you smile every time you look at the gorgeous Vash print by Sara Richard on your living room wall, then this movie is perfect. It’s got all the fun and gun-fightin’ action and weird technology of the series, plus an appropriate amount of emotional weight (though not as much as the show gets toward the end). It is essentially an extended episode, with an isolated Western town in trouble, Vash there coincidentally and trying to help, Meryl and Millie on his tail, and Wolfwood doing his own, smooth thing. I really love these characters. Not only is everyone totally badass in their own ways, but they’re equally believable during comedic and dramatic moments. I felt that Meryl and Millie weren’t given much to do, but I did enjoy the addition of Amelia, an intense bounty hunter with motivations of her own and strong high kick.

The animation is gorgeous, and it was so nice to see it in high definition on a big screen. I’ve always appreciated the show’s art style, and can see certain influences I’ve unconsciously taken from it in my own drawings. There’s great costume and character design, excellent fight scenes, and a nice brownish color scheme. It’s a bit slicker than the show, which had a slightly unpolished feel in its visuals, and I wonder if that was a conscious effort by the artists or if that’s what they’d always wanted to go for but didn’t have the money or something. Good music too, as expected!

I am going on and on about this, oops. Well I really love Trigun and I’ve just been on a real kick with it lately. I’m even doing some more art for it- hopefully something a bit spiffier than my old high school drawings! I know if you don’t know what Trigun even is or if you aren’t into anime, this is all useless, but if you’re into sci-fi westerns I highly recommend both the film and the show! It’s quite imaginative in its over-arching storyline, and Wolfwood is one of my favorite-ever anime characters.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well, the Trigun series itself makes the best companion, as I said. Or maybe… Serenity? Any good sci-fi western, I suppose.

Super (2010) at 366 Weird Movies

Ok so Super finally came out around here. And naturally I went to see it. As a dark superhero comedy with Ellen Page, Rainn Wilson, and Nathan Fillion, it seemed hard to mess up, but unfortunately James Gunn’s weird tonal shifts and some annoying plot choices rendered it sort of mediocre in my book. Of course, I still love Page, and she was the best part. That and the awesome animated opening sequence.

For my full review check out my piece at 366 Weird Movies! It’s super great, hah!