Movie Movies. Films Reviewed: Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill PLUS AKP Job 27

Posted in 3-D, CGI, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Gladiator, Rome, Serbian, Silent Movie, Toronto, Uncategorized, Yakuza by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Do you ever get tired of movies with deep meanings and avant-garde styles? Do you ever just want to see a “movie” movie? Well this week I’m looking at some movie movies, each with a bit of a twist. There’s a sword- and-sandal romance that’s also a disaster movie, an action-thriller that’s a family comedy, and a Yakuza movie… that has no lines!

Pompeii HarringtonPompeii (in 3D)

Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson

The Roman empire is reaching its apex, planting the golden eagle on Brittainia.  A particularly cruel general named Corvus battles the Celts. When it’s over he says to his henchman: Kill them all! But one little boy survives.

Milo (Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones) grows up to be a champion fighter, with stringy hair, a wispy beard and killer abs. He’s sent to Rome to compete as a fighter-slave. But on the way he comes to the aid of a beautiful, upper-class woman with porcelain features named Cassia (Emily Browning) Her horse has an accident, and Milo has a way with horses. He was “born on horseback”, he says. But will they ever meet again? You can count on it.

Pompeii Kit Harrington, Emily Browning

Now, Milo is sent to Pompeii (a holiday spot outside of Rome) to fight to the death in the arena there (Cassia’s dad controls Pompeii’s stadium). The ultimate fight will be between Milo and his rival Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Pompeii, Kit Harrington, Atticus Adewale Akinnuoye-AgbajeAgbaje) an African gladiator about to win his freedom.

Who comes to town, but a suitor, a senator from Rome. He says he’ll approve the new stadium, if — and only if — Cassia marries him. But she hates him (they had an earlier run-in in Rome) and she has a thing for Milo. And who is this Pompeii Sutherlandsenator? Why it’s Corvus (Keiffer Sutherland) who, along with his henchman Proculus (Sasha Roiz) massacred Milo’s family as a child!

So all of these plots are going on right at the base of Mt Vesuvius. And as we all know now, the volcano is about to blow, pouring lava and volcanic ash over Pompeii, Sasha Roizeveryone, rich and poor, who doesn’t get out of there soon.

This movie has three things going on. There’s the frequent action scenes – lots of fights, great gladiator matches, chase scenes; then there are the romantic parts: Cassia and Milo are constantly risking their own lives to rescue each other from death and danger; and there’s the inevitable disaster part: ground rumbling, buildings crumbling, spectacular collapses… The movie uses way, way, way too many CGIs. It makes everything look dark. You long for some blue skies. Nevertheless, I totally enjoyed this movie. Excitement, interesting plot, fights, romance, tears… it’s got everything.

And believe it or not, this movie about ancient Rome was shot in Toronto’s west end, all in enormous  soundstages and backlots.

Costner, 3 Days to KillThree Days to Kill

Dir: McG (The O.C.)

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is just a regular guy who wears Dockers and roots for the Pittsburg steelers. He’s been away from his wife and daughter for five years. Why? Because he’s also a CIA assassin. He is in Belgrade to kill a sadistic criminal named the Albino (played by Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis as a James Bond-type super-villain). He’s known for chopping off the heads of his enemies. A young CIA agent named Vivi (Amber Heard) is there at the same time to kill another criminal known only as the Wolf. But something goes wrong.

Ethan collapses to the ground just when he should have shot the Albino.

Turns out he has inoperable brain cancer. He decides to spend his last days with his estranged wife and resentful teenaged daughter Zooey (Haillee Steinfeld, True Grit) in Paris.  This is where the action is supposed to turn to laughs.

Back in Paris, his apartment has squatters: an extended family from Mali. (He’s white, they’re black… Get it?) And his teenaged daughter Zooey is angry because he neglected her. (She’s young, he’s old… Get it?) Well, somehow, he convinces his wife he can be trusted to take care of their daughter for three days while she’s away on a business trip. But then Vivi reappears to say: I’ll cure your cancer with some secret drugs if you murder the Wolf (Ethan’s the only one who saw his face in Belgrade.) So now he has to juggle bonding with Zooey, with dying of cancer, and torturing suspects and killing alleged criminals.3 Days to Kill Amber Heard

This is such a craptastically messed-up movie. Believe it or not, the script was originally co-written by Luc Besson, the notorious French action movie director. So it does have some good chase scenes and shootouts.

But the humour? So lame, it’s absolutely devoid of laughs. Costner is a terrible comic actor, and Amber Heard is embarrassingly bad as the multi-wigged Vivi. The script feels like it was written in French, rewritten in Serbo-Croation with the English version courtesy of Google Translate, alpha edition. Just dreadful.

A016_C094_11139EAKP Job 27

Dir: Michael Suan

And in a tribute to the old Luc Besson comes a silent gangster pic from Toronto. A Yakuza hit man travels to on assignment in Canada and falls for a beautiful woman in the sex trade… who reminds him of a long lost love. This is a purely visual movie with a smorgasbord of images: gunshots in a field of air A007_C076_1102PN3turbines, sex scenes in red and blue. There is too much slo-mo and choppy jump cuts for my taste —  at times it feels like an extended 1980s music video. But it’s commendable as a first film, with Suan re-imagining a noir-ish Toronto as a city full of dark allies, rainy streets, neon lights, and strip bars.

Pompeii, Three Days to Kill and AKP Job 27 all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The glorious Chilean film Gloria continues, and also opening this week is Tim’s Vermeer.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

 

March 9, 2012. If You Love This Planet. Movies reviewed: The Lorax, John Carter

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

With globalization, things affect the whole planet all at once even if they only happen in one place. The Earth is all shook up! Like last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan – I remember seeing those horrific scenes of towns being swept away, and the ongoing tension about the nuclear leak at Fukushima.

In gratitude for the support of the international community, the Japan Foundation in Toronto is offering a series of free films next week at Innis College called Light Up Japan. The documentaries are all about what has happened since the disaster in that area and how the people are coping with it. Check out the Japan Foundation ( jftor.org ) for more information.

So in keeping with the theme of global events, this week I’m looking at two movies with whole-planet-sized topics. One is about a kid trying to save the earth from total destruction; the other is a man who finds himself a part of the potential ruin of Mars.

The Lorax

Dir: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

Ted lives in Thneedville, a plastic suburban shopping mall town where life controlled by a Mr O’Hare, a nasty rich guy who made his fortune bottling air, and who spies on everyone in town. Ted has a crush on his neighbour Audrey who is into trees – which don’t exist anymore (people use plastic trees instead). Audrey says she wishes she could see one.

So taking his grandmother’s advice, Ted climbs into his vehicle – a sort of a unicycle/ segway/ scooter – and sneaks out of the city to find the Once-lear – the only person who still knows the truth. He discovers that the vast wasteland outside of Thneedville once was a land of rainbows, happy fish, droopy birds, and teddy bears who ate the berries from the puffball trees, and lived happily and peacefully. An industrialist uses the puffballs to make a knitted stringy thing, the thneed, that consumers buy by the millions. He decides it’s cheaper and easer to cut them all down rather than using their puffballs as a renewable resource. Only the Lorax, (a tiny mustachioed environmentalist who descends from the heavens in a thunderstorm) can save the day, if only people will listen. He speaks for the trees…

I thought this movie was OK, but it really seemed to stretch the short Dr Seuss book into a 90 minute song-and-dance musical. It soft-pedals the problems of industrial pollution and consumerism, and reduces the motivation from ardent environmentalism to a boy wanting to kiss a girl. It relegates the Lorax story to flashback status, and kept the wonderful Seuss-like scenes of the valley to a minimum, while over-emphasizing the non-Seuss humdrum suburban scenes, filled with your usual 3-d sitcom characters.

It’s not a bad movie, and of course it’s great to tell kids about environmentalism and privacy, but the songs were dull, the characters not-so-interesting, the story not very original, and the animation and character style not up to what I expect from a Dr Seuss story.

Interesting fact — The Lorax earned more money in its opening weekend than Hugo did in its entire run.

John Carter

Dir: Andrew Stanton

John Carter is a mean and strong fighter, a cavalry man from the civil war. He can escape from jails, scrapple with anyone – weapon or not – is good on horseback and keen with a sword and a rifle. And he doesn’t take sides – Apache or US Army – they’re all the same. He doesn’t want any part of it. He just wants to find his cave of gold in the Arizona desert. But when he encounters a stranger in the cave, and repeats the word Barsoom while touching a glowing amulet, he is magically transported to Mars a land of great civilizations, far beyond earth’s imagination.

Strong John Carter, though smaller than the four-armed tusked Tarks – some of the creatures who live there – soon discovers he can leap high in the air and jump long distances, because of the different gravity there. He soon finds himself in the middle of a huge war between the city of Helium and the bad Zodanga. And he meets Dejah, (a beautiful princess-warrior, as well as a physicist, inventor and a great swordswoman) who is being forceed into marrying a bad guy from the other kingdom. Meanwhile, the shape-shifting super-gods who are manipulating everyone on that planet, are messing things up. It’s up to John Carter to save civilization – but he’s not sure he wants to – he just wants to find the amulet and go back to earth. But with the help of his speedy and faithful dog-monster Woolla, and the noble and honest Thark-guide Sola, he and Dejah must find mutual trust, truth and possibly true love in their search for the secrets of this planet.

As you can tell, this is a very long, plot-heavy story about an adventure on Mars. Like comics, manga and pulp fiction, the story takes precedent over feelings, emotions or characters – it’s more the action, the twists, the background, the secrets, the fights, the betrayals and the fantastical, sex-tinged images. But it carries it through amazingly well in this 2½ hour epic. (People call everything epics now, but this is an actual epic). I thought it was amazing.

It’s done in the style of Frank Frazetta’s illustrations: fiery-eyed women in exotic garb with pendulous breasts and black tresses; snarling men with steely gaze and bared chests, brandishing their swords toward the red skies…..  but through a Disney filter, making it sexy, but not sexual.

It feels more like Roman sword-and-sandal story than science fiction. (It’s based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels.) It has a mainly British cast, plus Canadian Taylor Kitsch — just great in the title role. I liked Lynn Collins (never heard of her) as Dejah, and Dominic West (The Wire) as one of many assorted bad guys in this cast-of-thousands picture. Want to be overwhelmed by an elaborate, exciting movie getaway, with a complicated fantasy plot that never lets up, even for a second? Then this is the one to see.

The Lorax is playing now, and John Carter opens today in Toronto, and the Japanese documentaries are playing all week at Innis College.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

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Men, Honour, Trust and Responsibility. Films Reviewed: The Eagle, Biutiful

Men are in a mess – or so say contemporary movies. Dragged down by family disgrace and personal difficulties, or unable to hold onto the responsibilities of wage-earner and father. Can they stand up to villains? Can they take responsibility for disaster? Can they confront their enemies? Can they judge who is to be trusted and who is to be opposed? How can they know?

This week I’m looking at two very different movies, both with strong, male lead characters — one by a British director, another by a Mexican filmmaker.

Biutiful

Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a nice guy. He helps recent migrants from West Africa and China get along in Barcelona., He helps them find jobs, and protects them from the police and immigration agents, brings them gifts, ad warns them about upcoming trouble. He feels a personal attachment. He also raises his two kids, and is considering getting back together with his estranged wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). And occasionally, he uses his psychic abilities to help send messages from the recently dead to their living relatives left behind. He’s a regular Mother Theresa. But, things aren’t actually all that good.

Looked at another way, he’s exploiting dirt poor, desperate migrants by acting as the middle man for virtual slave-drivers; he’s the equivalent of a bag boy for unsavoury gangsters and corrupt cops; and his kindness can back-fire leading to potential disaster to the people he’s trying to help.

Then there’s his family. He lives a slovenly existence with his meager wages, and he has to deal with his immoral brother who gets “massages” from Uxbal’s unhinged, estranged wife (she says she needs the money). The wife, Marambra, is a hilarious character with a funny nose who talks a mile a minute, but can she be trusted to take care of their kids?

He’s also facing physical difficulties – his urine is turning dark, and despite the fact he wants nothing to do with blood tests (the hypodermic needles bother him for some reason) the results are clear: his body is being rotted away from the inside. His friend and advisor, a psychic like he is, urges him to settle his financial and moral debts before he dies. Will he be able to provide guidance and support for his children, comfort for a Chinese mother and child, help for his friend a West African migrant and his wife?

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Biutiful is a complicated, and at times moving drama, with great acting, and a beautiful, very distinctive look to it all.  Fish and flowing water — on the wallpaper, on a bathroom tile — appear in almost every scene. And like his own movie, Babel, a few years ago, the story jumps from language to language and culture to culture (with appropriately colour-coded subtitles: white for Spanish, blue for Chinese, another colour for a west African language.)

It’s also almost more than one movie can hold. With so many complicated stories, and engrossing events, there’s a denseness, all centred around Bardem’s character, Uxbal. But he holds it together. My one criticism – and this is not exactly a spoiler, but skip ahead if you don’t want to hear — is in a dream or memory Uxbal has that’s repeated, verbatim, in two parts of the movie; it gives it a glibness or corniness that didn’t seem to fit. Still, Biutiful is, as its title suggests, a broken but beautiful film.

Next, a much easier film to follow, with a more linear, straightforward stpry, but one that also deals with trust, honour, responsibility, and interestingly, questions of loyalty toward the people from your country vs foregners, and the ones in your family.

The Eagle

Dir: Kevin Macdonald

Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is a Roman who decides to go to occupied Britain, to find out what happened in a battle that was lost by his father a generation earlier. The Ninth Legion completely disappeared, possibly massacred, in a battle in the hills of Scotland, losing all their members, and the symbol of that division, a golden Eagle that was carried on a pole. He’s scoffed at by the Roman officers stationed there, but he soon proves his mettle by saving their fort from the wild British savages. And they are really savage – they attack the troops like hi-speed zombies, clamouring all over the romans, and looking like they’re about to tear them apart with their spears teeth and bear hands. They shriek out words of attack, and their wild-haired, long-bearded leader looks like he’s falling into a bloodthirsty trance before charging.

Marcus fights until he collapses and doesn’t awaken till he’s being tended by his uncle (Donald Sutherland), and discovers he’s been released from the military due to injuries. Well, one day he attends a gladiator  match, where a huge masked and armed roman, looking like a pro-wrestler, is pitted against a scrawny local, surely to be killed in seconds. But he local fighter… refuses to fight in the unfair match. Marcus, to the surprise of the crowd, gives him a thumbs-up, and the local is now his slave. Esca (Jamie Bell , the child lead in the gotta-dance movie, Billy Elliot, from 2000), the son of a local warrior himself, hates the Romans but must pay his debt to the man who saved his life. No Romans will venture past Hadrian’s wall, but, despite objections from the Romans, Marcus decides to search for and recapture the Eagle, with Esca as his guide, and to find out what really happened to his father and the 9th Legion.

The movie follows the long adventurous journey to the land of the Seal people with their painted faces, where evidence still survived of the lost legion. When they are captured by that fierce nation, the power dynamc shifts. What is a Roman worth without Rome to back him up? Will Marcus find out what happened to the 9th?? Will he capture the Eagle? Can Esca be trusted? Can they exist as master and slave? Or are they friends, brothers, or something more? Or enemies to the death?

This is a good action/adventure/ fighting epic, with very fantastic outdoor scenes, from locations in Scotland and Hungary. So superficially, it’s a Disney “boy’s own adventure”-type film, with an old, conventional, somewhat predictable plot, that devolves at times into a simple buddy picture. But there are some really different aspects of this movie: I think the director is making some subtle comments on the past decade, and the US as a classical imperial power.

Unlike most “Sword and Sandal” movies, the Romans all have American accents, while the slaves have British accents! He’s even managed to find “upper class” American accents to represent the Roman gentry and Senators, modeling them on Washington DC-style politicians, and their prep-school kids.  Says Marcus: “A silk-assed politician’s son is pissing on my family name!” And the Roman legion is decididly made to look like the US Marine Corps, complete with their running style, lines, and presentation. Even the terminology they use is straight out of American military lingo – with Marcus recieving an “honourable discharge”.

Is The Eagle a critique of American wars abroad? Or a militaristic, ode to tea-bagger-land? Not sure, but it is a good, though quite violent, movie. No female characters though – this is yet another all-male fantasy – with no room for love, except between friends.

The Eagle and Biutiful are both playing now. Check your local listings.

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