Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Flowers of War – Yimou Zhang (2012)

I can’t in good conscience recommend Yimou Zhang’s “The Flowers of War.”

The film follows John Miller, played by Christian Bale, a western mortician posing as a priest in 1937 Nanking.

We follow him as he tries to save a group of girls who are students at the convent and a group of prostitutes hiding in the church cellar.

I talked in my review of Agnieszka Holland’s “In Darkness” about poeticizing atrocities.  That’s exactly what “The Flowers of War” does.

At one point, during a brutal sequence when a character is raped and murdered, we’re given a beautiful cutaway to a spout of blood spraying from the victim’s chest.  It looks like a gorgeous fountain and I found the beauty with which it was filmed offensive.

And that’s a shame, because this film really does have a lot of things going for it.

“The Flowers of War” is gorgeously shot, but that’s a big part of the problem I had with it.  When danger comes, the music swells dramatically and we know somebody is going to die.

And the Japanese soldiers are directed terribly.  They don’t come off as menacing or maniacal, just cartoonish.

Christian Bale’s performance is more than adequate, though.  He takes his character from scoundrel to hero with complete believability.

Atsuro Watabe and Ni Ni should also get credit for subtle and nuanced performances, no easy feat in such a heavy handed film.

At any rate, if you’re looking for a film that takes a serious look at the atrocities people are capable of during war time, watch “In Darkness.”

Zhang hams it up in “The Flowers of War,” and when you’re dealing with such a delicate subject matter, it takes a steadier hand.  And "Shanghai Triad" is one of my favorite films, so imagine my disappointment.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"In Darkness" - Agnieszka Holland (2012)

Merek Edelman 1919-2009
"In Darkness" opens up with a dedication to Merek Edelman, one of the heroes of the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis.

Edelman died in October of 2009 and it's wonderful to see he's remembered.

At any rate, the film was nominated this year for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

Here's my video review of the film.

Killer Joe Release Date & Trailer

William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" was slapped with an NC-17 rating, but it will see a limited release.

It comes out July 27th.  No word on when it will show here in Kansas City.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

"Hysteria" - Tanya Wexler (2012)

Imagine my disappointment.
I had high hopes for Tanya Wexler’s “Hysteria.”
I truly wanted to enjoy it.  I wanted it to be funny, insightful or at least entertaining.
Sadly, it was none of these.
“Hysteria” is the story of how the first vibrator was invented.
Sounds like a good premise for a period comedy.

The film centers around Mortimer Granville, a young doctor who comes to work for Dr. Robert Dalrymple who specializes in “female hysteria.”
The cure, of course is for the good doctors to give ladies a “pelvic massage.”
Sounds funny.  It’s not.
The film also goes into the merits of diagnosing women with hysteria.  I had hoped the film might say something insightful about female oppression.  It doesn’t.
It tries haplessly to make some kind of political observation, but any cultural analysis is ham-fisted and obvious.
The cast, including Felicity Jones, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, and Rupert Everett, is competent enough.
But the screenplay for this film is nothing short of abysmal.
The story stops and starts, staggering as it goes along, ineptly changing tones.
But it’s the lack of credibility in the character development that really stands out.
Dr. Robert Dalrymple’s character, played by Jonathan Pryce, is particularly bad.  The script can’t seem to decide if he’s a mentor, a villain, a father figure or a stooge. 
Dr. Dalrymple might just be one of the worst written characters I’ve seen in a film.  For the love of God, skip this movie.  Re-watch “Secretary” instead.