Tag Archives: Ken Watanabe

Months in Review: February, March & April

The tail end of winter seems to have left us and, with it, the start of a new romance in my life. For that and other professional reasons, I have, once again, neglected this blog of mine. Even so, my appetite for movies remains unchanged even if life has a way of sneaking up on the time you thought you had.
In the last three months (February, March and April) I have watched a total of 24 films. The average rating for these has been a solid 3.34 out of 5. There have been a handful of highlights courtesy of a group of films from 2016 that sit among the best reviewed of the year. Such are Fences, Edge of Seventeen, Hidden Figures and Lion. However, I have also been disappointed with cinematic efforts that I was genuinely excited to see. Such are Florence Foster Jenkins, Ghost in the Shell and, to some extent, Hacksaw Ridge.

Below is a list of short reviews for all of these films in the order in which they were seen:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) [ 2.5/5 ]

There are few things as dull in the cinematic landscape than live-action superhero films that cannot give a human dimension to the comic or cartoon they are based on. The first in the Captain America series adapted to the big screen attempts to create tangible and believable humans out of its heroes until it introduces its main villain and offers up a rather simplistic and comical world-spanning conflict that lacks detail and depth. Dare I say that while Chris Evans is a great casting choice from a physical point of view, I think the actor’s performance was a bit of a disappointment. His more recent efforts as Captain America show he could have done better here.

THE INNOCENTS (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A touching drama that deals with yet another dark story of oppression and injustice in times of war and violent foreign occupation.  What I found especially notorious was the film’s careful depiction of piety and religious devotion because it carefully challenges its value to society without preaching a more liberal point of view. The Innocents is a modest yet effective piece of film making well worth watching.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016) [ 3/5 ]

At its best, Florence Foster Jenkins is a moving portrayal of a larger-than-life personality whose love and devotion to music could conquer all. At its worst, the film is a silly comedy that dares not to rise above watching a talentless songstress (Merryl Streep) take the stage gleefully unaware of her obvious limitations. Hugh Grant was a nice surprise in his role as Ms. Jenkins’ devoted husband.

WOMAN IN GOLD (2015) [ 3/5 ]

A miscast Ryan Reynolds is completely out of his depth next to an ever convincing Hellen Mirren playing a Jewish lady who having escaped Nazism in her youth, decides to fight for her family’s lost inheritance: a priceless painting. Unsurprisingly, I found her personal story the most compelling bit of film even if the director and cinematographer did little to make it more visceral.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO… (2014) [ 3/5 ]

A largely self-promoting short documentary about the most coveted award in cinema. It is neither a valuable historical document, nor a moving reminder of some of its best pop culture moments. Instead, it is a documentary that attempts to give meaning to the Oscars, offering some interesting insights along the way.

JULIETA (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

Another nearly masterful pulp from the inimitable mind of Pedro Almodovar. Though Julieta is as well-crafted and stylized as any other film Almodovar has made, the layers of suspense and intrigue don’t quite add up to a satisfying payoff. At the end, the story felt too loose and unresolved and I left the theater wanting more.

LOVING (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A small and timely film that pushes a tragically little known love story that, despite its very humble beginnings, managed to change the rule of law in the United States. Both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Nega were stupendous in roles that demanded a great deal of nuance, silence and introspection. Perhaps the film’s commitment to match the modesty and pace of the leading characters was its greatest flaw, never daring to loosen its strings to the source material.

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) [ 4/5 ]

An effective and purposeful bit of cinema that excels in the retelling of a great story with the use of an apt and charismatic ensemble cast that manage to marry drama and comedy effortlesly. Hidden Figures is the kind of feel-good film that ticks all of the boxes of good ol’ Hollywood entertainment whilst falling short of cinematic artistry.

HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

The truly surprising thing about the film is that it is the kind of bland and slightly sugar-coated retelling one would expect from a director who hasn’t made some of the most violent films of the last 10-15 years. When Mel Gibson directs a war-themed movie, one could have frankly expected borderline cringe-worthy violence, larger-than-life performances and non-stop action. Perhaps Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s way of telling his many detractors that after movies like Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ, he is also able to make an audience-friendly Hollywoodesque film that ticks all of the right boxes without ever truly exceling at any particular thing.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) [ 4/5 ]

Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 films

The kind of teen dramedy that I have been waiting for. Hailee Steinfeld is nothing short of superb in a role that fit her like a glove. This is a film that, despite its intrinsic lack of maturity, manages to be both funny and, at times, profound. The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best coming-of-age American stories of the last few years. Extremely re-watchable.

MISS SLOANE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

A severely tacky and misguided attempt at liberalism masked by Hollywood flair and very adept acting courtesy of Jessica Chastain. Though Miss Sloane seems like a film concerned with its story and its characters, the end reveals it was actually more concerned with surprising us and making a political statement. Though I believe there is certainly a place for films with a clear political agenda; this is a project that was so eager to drive its anti-gun and anti-corruption statement across, that it forgot to give these characters a human dimension that went beyond archetypes.

FENCES (2016) [ 4/5 ]

I have always had my reservations when it comes to adapting plays and theater to the big screen. Though Fences is every bit as moving and complex a character and social study as you are likely to see, it never ceases to feel like a play that is best suited to the stage.
Having said that, there is much to appreciate and consider in Fences such as its still relevant source material and the extraordinary pairing of Viola Davis and Denzel Washington.

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) [ 3/5 ]

A visual spectacle that successfully creates a futuristic world that is both compelling and beautiful. Fans of the anime have been divided in their praise even if the film clearly attempts to cater to them by staying faithful to some of the most notorious elements of the series. Beyond that, the film lacks the depth and invention to create fully fleshed out characters, leaving many plot opportunities largely unexplored.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY (2016) [ 2.5/5 ]

An awesome cast whose talents were largely wasted in a film that touches on typical holiday movie themes and sentiments, but without it ever feeling effortless. The twist in the last act is not entirely surprising and even though there are some truly heart-touching moments, most of these are diluted by a tacky and uninspiring script.

THE SEA OF TREES (2016) [ 3/5 ]

When The Sea of Trees abandons the weird metaphysical vibe that seems to hang over almost every bit of dialogue and plot device, there are moments in the latest Gus Van Sant project that hint at a kind of introspective depth that belongs in a better film. Matthew McConaughey was not in his A game, even if he had at least a couple of scene-stealing moments. Aside from his sometimes stupendous performance, the talents of Naomi Watts and Ken Watanabe are criminally underused.

20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

Every bit of 20th Century Women takes us back to the 1970s, in the midst of the Vietnam War, where Comunism was seen as a threat to American life, and where there were women who after having joined the workforce during WWII, could not simply go back to the status quo. The film is about the women who grew up in this time period, and the women who came after, both young and old. The film is also about their relationships to men but, more importantly, to a teenage boy who may, after all, need less guidance and help in growing up than they all think.
I wish the film had focused a bit more on the relationships between these characters and spent less time attempting to be offbeat. I’m also not sure if the repetitive flashbacks helped the pace of the film which, at times, felt a bit fluffy and empty.

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016) [ 4/5 ]

 Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a funny and charming New Zealander adventure film about a rebellious boy stranded in a forest with his foster uncle that, due to some miscommunication and misfortune, quickly develops into a national manhunt of hilarious proportions. Both Sam Neill and teenager Julian Dennison are perfectly cast and have enough chemistry to make a franchise out of this. The film is thoroughly entertaining, in the way that the Goonies or the Sandlot were.

PATERSON (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A character study of great introspection and nuance. Paterson zeroes in on the rather unremarkable life of a bus driver (also bearing the name Paterson) whose gifts as a poet are only lower than what we imagine to be his overbearing humility. I saw Paterson as a typical American male type, taught to keep his feelings within and avoid confrontation at all costs. Even though he loves his girlfriend and finds himself liking his job at times, there is an undeniable air of deep frustration and anger that flirts to be exposed. It is precisely that flirtation with a blowout that makes Jim Jarmusch’ latest film an equally frustrating and engaging viewing experience.

THE DISCOVERY (2017) [ 3/5 ]

With elements of science fiction, horror, drama and some dark comedy, The Discovery is a film with many interests, but in doing so it lacks focus and purpose. Stars Rooney Mara and Jason Segel are perfect for the roles of troubled offbeat outcasts. Unfortunately while each one works on their own, together they lack chemistry. In its last act, the film also becomes hostage to its desire to surprise, giving us an ending that seems at odds with the pace and character of the rest of the movie.

ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016) [ 3/5 ]

Having played the game, it is remarkable that the film adaptation chose to focus on all the aspects of the game that were least enthralling. After all, we saw very few of the acrobatics and lethal killings that came to define the series and, instead, remained held up by a lackluster story that seemed to be strewn together from The Da Vinci Code franchise and National Treasure. The film is only saved by a surprisingly strong cast with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Brendan Gleeson and Jeremy Irons.

LION (2016) [ 4/5 ]

Lion is a fine film in that it tells the extraordinary true story of Saroo Brierley with a lot of heart and empathy. In what should be a career-defining performance for young Dev Patel, Lion pulls at the heartstrings of anyone human enough to relate to the feeling of being a son and/or a parent. The ending alone is emotionally wrecking.
Beyond the strength of the central story, the film is a bit light in both content and cinematic value.

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012) [ 3.5/5 ]

In a world that is increasingly more divided between rich and poor, The Queen of Versailles is a timely documentary about excess and greed that is told with surprising compassion. Though there is a clear intent to criticize a society that equates success to wealth, the film avoids lecturing us by letting the actions of the family it focuses on to speak for themselves.

DIOR AND I (2015) [ 3/5 ]

For the fashion connoisseurs, few documentaries will be as gratifying as Dior and I. The film is both a celebration of one of the last “great houses” of haut couture, and an inside look at the process of crafting a fashion line from scratch. To those interested in the artistry and validity of documentaries, Dior and I will play as a long television episode rather than a feature film focused on the ascension of a bright new designer (Raf Simmons) to a very old and respected house of fashion. Nothing more, nothing less.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004) [ 3/5 ]

Of all of Wes Anderson films this one is perhaps his most quirky, but lacking the charm of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the pulpy quality of The Grand Budapest Hotel and the childlike spirit of Moonrise Kingdom. It doesn’t help that every character in the film is terribly unlikeable, with a Bill Murray at his most drab and mellow.

Months in review: March, April & May (part II)

Continued from last post.
Below a list of short reviews of films, books and videogames watched, read or played in the last couple of months. Due to unexpected delays, I had to add films that I’ve watched in May. Hopefully I can catch up by next month.

FILM: (cont.)

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) [4/5]

American Hustle

 

Probably the wildest and funniest film by director David O. Russell up to this point. Find my full review here.

Continue reading Months in review: March, April & May (part II)

IMDB Top 250: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

I continue my IMDB challenge with another Clint Eastwood film, the third I review after Unforgiven and Gran Torino. Having already watched other masterworks like Mystic River (4 out of 5) and Million Dollar Baby (4 out of 5) before I started the challenge, I will close my analysis of the great Clint with what is the highest-rated of all his films: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in an upcoming post. Today though, it is time for his underrated Letters from Iwo Jima.

There are two sides to every story. For Clint Eastwood “Iwo Jima” was a chance to tell the Japanese story during WWII. The film was to stand in direct contrast to his other motion-picture release in 2006: “Flag of Our Fathers” which elegantly portrayed the American side of the conflict.

A great deal of credit should go to Mr. Eastwood for crafting a movie that delicately meanders through sensitive material that attempts to show us that war is as equally tragic and raw for both sides of a conflict. It is a testament to Eastwood’s sensibility that such a movie got the go-ahead from a Hollywood establishment that knew, as do we, that if a movie that is sensitive to the Japanese during the war was ever to be made, there could have hardly found anyone better that the detailed-oriented and mild-mannered Clint Eastwood to direct it.

Having said that, no one could expect “Letters from Iwo Jima” to be a factual representation of the events that transpired on the island. In fact, most of the artistic licenses taken probably made the film more effective as it help show that it was not a movie about the specifics of the war, but about the tragic human conflict that transpired on the ground. Once again, Eastwood makes a film that is elegantly embedded with layers of meaning that try to tackle the complexities of the human spirit in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. Eastwood does not take sides. His statement is to simply show that war is a calamity no matter what side you are on and that most of the soldiers are simply victims of higher powers.

There are aspects within “Iwo Jima” that are rather commonplace in a film touching upon WWII. There are the cowards, the fanatics of war, the patriots, the courageous leaders of men and, of course, the followers. In fact, the film suffers a bit when it relies on these typologies a bit too much. However, Iwo Jima has a dramatic power that comes from its realist feel of the struggle. Some of the merit for the effectiveness of this film should go to the casting director who assembled a very talented group of Japanese actors led by Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi.

The manner of the direction immerses us as one of the soldiers. The proximity to the men in the caves and their struggle to survive speaks about a film that is more interested in exploring the battered spirit of the Japanese soldiers, many of whom knew they had come to the island to die, leaving their families and lives behind, away from the mainland. In this context, the harshness and austere quality of the terrain where the movie was shot helps to bring out the sense of solitude and helplessness that the Japanese soldier must have felt while patiently waiting inside make-shift caves, as the grand fleet of American forces was deployed on the shores.

Overall, Iwo Jima deserves some praise, but when compared to other war-time films like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler List, Iwo Jima appears to be a bit too modest and a bit too careful to equal some of the modern masterpieces that tried to capture the tragedy of WWII.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (very good)

Niels