Escape! Movies Reviewed: Battle: Los Angeles Cosmonauta, I Saw the Devil, A Matter of Size

Posted in Sumo, Uncategorized, Weightloss by CulturalMining.com on March 17, 2011

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

I have a tendency, please forgive me, to link current news and events to what I’m seeing in the movie theatres, even though the movies were made long before the events of the last week happened. So when Saudi troops are invading Bahrain, or the Tepco Dai Ichi reactor is reaching a boiling point, I start to see parallels to what I’m watching on the screen with what’s going on… out there. And right now, the world in a fair bit of turmoil. So, to distract you from all that, here are four new films – an American action movie, an Italian historical coming-of-age drama, an Israeli comedy/drama with a Japanese twist, and violent horror and revenge movie from Korea.

First,

Battle: Los Angeles

Dir: Jonathan Liebesman

(or should I say BATTLE: LOS ANGELES!!!) is about a US marine troop sent out to save trapped civilians and invaders in Santa Monica before the city is flattened by American bombs. You see, the unexpected meteor shower that cropped up all around the world is actually a planned attack by scary, metallic, insect-like space invaders who want to kill everyone so they can suck up the world’s seawater.

Not sure why they have to kill everyone on shore, since they want the stuff in the water… but never mind, don’t ask about details in a war movie. Just go out there and KILL KILL KILL! The troop is led by Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, who lost all his guys in his last battle, somewhere far away. So the guys he commands don’t completely trust him. They have to save any civilians who haven’t been evacuated, and get them to safety. And when Santos a woman from the air force joins them, they deduce how to fight the aliens and win back the world – but first they have to find their core command, and take them out.

I went to Battle Los Angeles for the catharsis of a disaster movie, in the theory that everyday, real-life stress and tension, including repeated footage of cars and people being washed out to see by last week’s Japanese tsunami that you see on TV, on youtube, and even on screens in bars and restaurants.

I wanted lots of collapsing buildings, huge train and highway accidents, and screaming hordes of people stampeding in one direction or another.

But watch out folks, it isn’t a disaster movie at all – it’s military porn. It’s basically just one long, extended orgy of weapons, shootouts, grenades, bullets and other ordnance fired between the two sides. I was having trouble paying attention in the beginning – it was like having to watch someone else playing a military video game – maybe it was fun for the director, but kinda dull for the viewers. The dialogue: I want you to be my little marine, Hector. Cause Marines don’t quit. Says Eckhart to a kid. – was atrocious, the story was stooopid, and the acting was so-so. (though I thought Michelle Rodrigues was good as Santos). Though the special effects and some of the screechy alien weapons were sort of cool. But all in all, this movie was more of a “meh” than a “wow”.

To balance these reviews, I’m now doing a complete U-turn from the right to the left with

Cosmonauta

Dir: Susanna Nicchiarelli

It’s the late 50’s in Rome, and the Soviet Union is having its “Sputnik moment.” The whole country is rapt in wonder at the first space ship, with a little dog. But the communists in Italy are especially elated, and the Soviets seem to be surpassing the Americans in a triumph of science and technology. The Communist party was no fringe in Italy – it was the official opposition. And Luciana and Arturo, whose father was a party member, grow up venerating all things communist and Soviet.

Luciana (Marianna Raschillà) is a stalwart, straightforward crusader for women’s rights, against bourgeois capitalism, and longing for the day when a woman might be a cosmonaut (the Soviet term for astronaut.) She lives with her mother, and her traditionalist stepfather, whom she considers a fascist. She rejects the church on the day of her first communion, and looks up only to her brother a science geek who is equally enamoured of the space race.

But despite her idealistic goals, and her anti-fashion dress and haircut, she is forced to face the realities life as a teenager. She has to watch out for her older brother (who has epilepsy); she is faced with as many sexist comments at the Communist Youth meetings as in normal school life; and she’s crushing on a boy in the party but he only has eyes for the girl who plays dumb, not the one who asserts herself. Her party’s enemies seem to be not the fascists, the liberals or the Christian Democrats, but the “socialist traitors” who gave up Communism after Stalin’s crimes were exposed. And she is confronted with unanticipated sexual double standards everywhere goes.

Her crises come to a head in this gentle, historical drama when her dreams seem to come crashing down. Will she find love? Will her brother overcome his disability? Will her family get along? And will the soviets triumph in outer space?

Cosmonauta is a delightful, historically accurate coming-of-age story about a girl’s life within the cold war in Italy in the early sixties’s space race. A very enjoyable movie…

A Matter of Size

Dir: Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmore

Hertzl (Itzik Cohen) is a man in his thirties who still lives with his mother. He works as a chef, but when his boss moves him to the back of the restaurant so the diners don’t see him, he is offended and quits. He’s overweight, and gets derisive comments and abuse from all sides – his work, his mother, and especially his one social event, the support group at weight-loss clinic he attends religiously.

But when he gets a job at a sushi bar, he has a revelation he glimpses on a TV screen: Sumo! He decides he’s had enough of the battle against weight and instead to embrace his fatness, to stay heavy, and to celebrate the strength in his size, not to starve it down to submission.

With the grudging help of a strict Sumo coach (the restaurant owner) he gathers together friends from his weight loss club to join his team – a bigoted plumber, a guy who runs a donair stand, a young cameraman and his new girlfriend, a social worker. Will they get to Japan for the championships? Will he learn to become one with nature? Will he be the champion wrestler?

A matter of size is an OK comedy, that despite its topic, relies, for too many of its laughs, on fat jokes like collapsing chairs and being too big. Being a non-Japanese, it also depends a lot on the novelty and strangeness of the world of sumo. So the wrestlers have long scenes where they’re forced to run around in populated areas wearing only their mawashi loin cloths. (Incidentally, the only times I ever saw sumo wrestlers in public in Japan, they were always elegantly dressed in crisp white and blue cotton kimonos). But in the end, A Matter of Size is a sweet comedy that shows the positive aspects of being big.

I Saw the Devil

Dir: Kim Jee-woon

Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun) is a secret agent in a prestigious job, who’s in love with a beautiful woman, the daughter of a police chief. Then something terrible happens: a non-descript looking middle-aged guy driving a school minibus offers to help her change a flat tire on a snowy night. But soon we see him in his cave-life home, brutally attacking, torturing, murdering, and dismembering her in an especially gruesome way. Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is a depraved serial killer who glories in getting revenge on beautiful young women merely for looking down on him or even rejecting.

Kim is mortified so, with the help of his associate, takes time off of his job to avenge his dead love. He will hunt him down, and in an eye-for-an-eye style punishment, do to him what he had done to her (and all of the other women he killed). He becomes a sort of a Dexter, only attacking bad guys. But although he finds the killer early on, they begin a long extended battle between the two, to see who will win, who will triumph, and whose morality (if indeed there is a difference between the two) will win out.

I Saw the Devil is an extremely violent, gory and bloody pic, but, still, it is not as awful as the Saw series. It’s an aesthetically amazing movie, with stunning camera work that looks like a 1970’s American sleuth pic like Klute, with window reflections, blurring lights, views through windows. Sort of like the Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, it’s way beyond the quality you’d expect in a cheap exploitation or horror movie. It’s also really well written with a good soundtrack, great acting, appropriate special effects, and a plot that keeps you going. It’s also a great director, (the guy who did A Tale of Two Sisters, among others)

It is, though, only for people who like horror movies, because that’s what it is, and it glories in torture and violence, but thankfully, the camera cuts away from the worst parts. Well, at least for the good victims; when the bad guys are tortured, it just keeps going on and on and on…. I Saw the Devil will definitely take your mind off the rest of the word for an hour and twenty minutes.

Battle: Los Angeles is now playing, and opening today (March 18) in Toronto are Cosmonauta and I Saw the Devil. A Matter of Size opens next Friday (March 25th) in Toronto and Montreal. Check your local listings.

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