Quick Takes: Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis

1Sheet_Master.qxdEastern Promises (2007)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack, Mina E. Mina, Jerzy Skolimowski, Donald Sumpter
Directed by David Cronenberg

Eastern Promises is one of the few Cronenberg films I had seen before starting this current run through his filmography. I liked well enough back then, but I remember also wondering why everyone loved it so much. Seeing it within Cronenberg’s catalog of films definitely gives it a new context, and understanding his style and proclivities also added considerably to the experience. Like A History of Violence before it, Eastern Promises is a near-perfect, darkly engaging film. Its story beats are somewhat familiar if you’ve seen a few gangster movies, but the way they are approached is different. Cronenberg’s signature graphic violence is also incorporated, here becoming something like “body violence” instead of body horror. It creates the same squirms and winces that his horror films do, but to a greater degree than any of his previous non-horror films. Eastern Promises really goes for it, and to great effect, with the stand-out moment being the intense, raw bathhouse fight between two knife-wielding assassins and a naked Viggo Mortensen. Once again, Cronenberg elicits incredible performances from the entire cast, crafting yet another phenomenal film. If you haven’t seen it, and you have the stomach for it, definitely check it out.

dangerous_methodA Dangerous Method (2011)
threestar

Starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon, André Hennicke, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey
Directed by David Cronenberg

It was bound to happen. After so many Cronenberg films surprising me and winning me over, I knew they couldn’t all be like that. A Dangerous Method is this film for me. In general, I prefer a character’s action or forward movement to propel a story, instead of the more dialogue-based approach here. I wouldn’t say that I disliked the film, but more that it didn’t seem quite as solid and confident as Cronenberg’s other works. The timeline seemed to shift at random, oftentimes for reasons I was unable to comprehend. Repeat viewings might clear up some of these issues, but I don’t know that I really care to see this one again. I trust Cronenberg as an artist, though, especially by this point in his career, and his ability to craft exactly the movie he wishes to. In this case, A Dangerous Method is a film that I’ll have to reckon with in order to understand. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I guess I’m just used to having a more viscerally positive reaction to his films on a first viewing.

cosmopolisCosmopolis (2012)
onehalfstar

Starring Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Durand, Abdul Ayoola, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Bob Bainborough, Samantha Morton, Zeljko Kecojevic, Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka, Mathieu Amalric, Patricia McKenzie
Directed by David Cronenberg

Well, if A Dangerous Method was the inevitable Cronenberg film that didn’t win me over, then Cosmopolis is the natural progression as the first Cronenberg film I outright didn’t like at all. It’s nearly impenetrable and hard to follow. Like Cronenberg’s previous film, this one is propelled almost entirely by dialogue, but this time it also primarily takes place in a singular location: a limousine. Cronenberg’s camerawork is impeccable and impressive — it never seems like the confines of this space limited his camera placements in any way — but when all it captures is talking heads with monotone voices, it’s just not all that engaging. There are elements and themes that intrigue me, and the third act does imply that a re-watch might be in order, but I think it’s too boring for me to ever truly enjoy. I’m sure Cronenberg made the film he wanted to, without compromise, but unfortunately Cosmopolis didn’t move me in the slightest. A true disappointment.

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

the_man_with_the_iron_fists_2012Starring RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Byron Mann, Lucy Liu, Dave Bautista, Jamie Chung, Cung Le, Daniel Wu, Zhu Zhu, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Andrew Ng, Grace Huang, Andrew Lin, Chen Kuan-Tai, Leung Kar-Yan, MC Jin, Pam Grier, Jon T. Benn

Directed by RZA

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

twohalfstar


The Man with the Iron Fists is a strange movie, without a doubt. But I don’t think it’s bad; it’s more oddly misguided than anything else. What’s weird is that it feels this way based almost completely on how much RZA gets right in his homage to the classic kung fu films of the Shaw Brothers. Yes, “right.” The sets are magnificent and recapture the opulence of Shaw sets beautifully, the wirework is delivered with top-notch Hong Kong skill, and the story is filled with the wide range of colorful characters that any good wuxia demands. The weapons are suitably eccentric, and the battles are all well choreographed (by Corey Yuen), too. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that The Man with the Iron Fists was actually a Chinese production. RZA actually managed to resurrect the spirit of classic kung fu films, but — and this is where the “strange” comes in — the lens we experience all this classic kung fu goodness through is that of modern American filmmaking.

So because the film has so much good working for it, the bad sticks out and demands to be reckoned with in more apparent and frustrating ways than would otherwise be noticeable. The choice to film primarily in English is an expected one, but, at least for me, many of the actors sounded more like ’70s kung fu dubbing than actual actors in a scene. This could be bad acting, poor direction, or it could be by design. If it is intentional, that’s one hell of a bold choice for an unproven, first-time director making what is essentially a large-scale vanity project, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true. I’m sure RZA grew up watching the dubs that made their way to the States in the ’70s, and as a result has a nostalgic fondness for them. No matter what the reason, though, it’s off-putting, especially to someone like me that has never really grown fond of those iconic dub jobs.

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Stephen reviews: A Letter To Momo (2012)

11180762_800A Letter to Momo [ももへの手紙 Momo e no Tegami] (2012)

Starring Karen Miyama, Toshiyuki Nishida, Cho, Kouichi Yamadera, Yuka, Takeo Ogawa, Katsuki Hashimoto, Kota Fuji, Daizaburo Arakawa

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura


While watching this film I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something familiar about it. I couldn’t figure it out until later when I looked up its director, at which point I realized that it was all done by the same guy who made Jin-Roh. Suddenly that familiarity made sense, and the resemblance in the character design (also Okiura’s job in both films) became apparent. But, man, you couldn’t pick two more different films if you tried, and this perhaps better than anything showcases the changes of the anime industry over the past decade. Jin-Roh is a cynical dystopian thriller filled with violence and brutality. A Letter to Momo is a sweet family film filled with sunshine and humor. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino suddenly directed a Disney film.

The ’80s saw the rise of more mature anime, and the films of the time reflected the new freedom from television censorship that theatrical and direct-to-video releases allowed. This era gave us a lot of violent classics like Fist of the North Star, Akira, and Ghost in the Shell. Now, however, the industry has realized that having a more kid-friendly rating on a film opens it up to a wider audience, and potentially larger sales. So now we’ve gotten much lighter fare like Wolf Children, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and now A Letter to Momo, which is a style that was previously rare outside of Ghibli films (unless we go way, way back to before Ghibli was even founded). I love all those old violent crazy films, but it’s kinda hard to hate on the new direction the industry is headed when they have consistently made entertaining films. A Letter To Momo may not be the greatest thing ever, but it still succeeds at being a charming family film that gives you the warm fuzzy feeling that family films are supposed to have.

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Stephen reviews: Blood-C: The Last Dark (2012)

1Blood-C-The-Last-DarkBlood C: the Last Dark [劇場版 BLOOD-C The Last Dark, Gekijouban Blood-C: The Last Dark] (2012)

Starring Nana Mizuki, Kenji Nojima, Ai Hashimoto, Hiroshi Kamiya, Yūichi Nakamura, Yuki Kaji, Kana Hanazawa, Yuko Kaida, Jun Fukuyama, Masumi Asano, Junichi Suwabe

Directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani


Blood C is the latest version of the Blood franchise which started with Blood: The Last Vampire. The Blood franchise is an odd one in that every installment seems to be a complete reboot of the series, which makes this film unique in being the only one to actually be a sequel. The Last Dark follows the TV series of Blood C, but it stands on its own fairly well. The only really important fact you’ll be missing is that the main villain, Fumito Nanahara, used to be a father figure to Saya before he betrayed her.

The Blood franchise started as an action/horror film, but it has evolved over the years to lean more closely to the action side and now has very little horror to it. The biggest horror element that The Last Dark has is in the opening sequence on the train, which is really more of a homage to the opening scene of the original Blood: The Last Vampire. The film does still have its share of big creepy monsters. In fact, they are bigger and creepier here than in any of the previous incarnations of the franchise. However, they are never dealt with in a horror fashion. Instead they are just oversized enemies for Saya to get into a huge brawl with.

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Stephen reviews: Wolf Children (2012)

wolfchildrenWolf Children [おおかみこどもの雨と雪 Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki] (2012)
AKA The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

Starring Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Haru Kuroki, Momoka Ono, Yukito Nishii, Amon Kabe, Takuma Hiraoka

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda


Like Mamoru Hosoda’s other films, Wolf Children is a lighthearted, feel-good movie. It’s a movie that begs to be called “charming” and “heartwarming.” Even more so than his previous films, this is a story about family while still holding on to his usual themes of growing up. I usually prefer darker and more adult fare, but luckily for for me Hosoda excels at making these family-friendly stories engaging. He’s crafted a wonderful cast of characters that are easy to love and care about.

This time the story is focused less on growing up and more on raising children. Of course the two overlap, but in most coming-of-age stories the parents are off in the periphery. In Wolf Children the mother, Hana, is as much of a main character as anyone. The film follows her struggles to raise her two children, Ame and Yuki. The twist is that the kids’ father was half wolf, and so Ame and Yuki can change back and forth from human to wolf, leading to extra complications for Hana as she is also stuck raising the two children on her own.

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Pitch Perfect (2012)

pitchperfect_7Starring Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Kelley Jakle, Wanetah Walmsley, Shelley Regner, Caroline Fourmy, Nicole Lovince, Adam DeVine, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Benjamin Hickey

Directed by Jason Moore

Expectations: Low.

threestar


Pitch Perfect is a film that I have a hard time knowing if I actually liked it or not. I definitely didn’t think it was ultra-awful, and to be honest I don’t even know if I thought it was kinda bad. It is kinda bad, but I enjoyed it for what it was: a piece of dumb, mainstream fluff with a lot of singing. To say that I liked it would technically be right, but it also feels so wrong.

This would be a good time for someone to tell me that I felt guilty about liking it, and all that nonsense above is really just smoke and mirrors around the fact that I liked it, but I don’t want to come right out and say it because I’m embarrassed. I assure you that this is not the case, I actively liked and disliked it at the same time. It’s like a B-Movie in that way; I liked it despite the numerous reasons and negative aspects that should have made me dislike it.

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My Brother the Devil (2012)

MyBrothertheDevil_1Starring James Floyd, Fady Elsayed, Anthony Welsh, Amira Ghazalla, Nasser Memarzia, Aymen Hamdouchi, Arnold Oceng, Saïd Taghmaoui, Shyam Kelly, McKell David, Leemore Marrett Jr.

Directed by Sally El Hosaini

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


My Brother the Devil tells the story of a family of Egyptian immigrants who live in the London Borough of Hackney. Elder brother Rashid (James Floyd) is involved in the local street gang, selling drugs and whatever else it takes to make fast cash. His younger brother, Mo (Fady Elsayed), looks up to him and wants to be just like him. Rash does his best to protect Mo from his “job,” but the allure is too strong for him to completely quash the idea in Mo’s mind. So Rash reluctantly asks Mo to perform a quick pick-up for him, but this goes sour when Mo runs into some members from a rival gang, setting in motion the plot’s cascading dominoes that fall until the film’s finale.

There have been many films with this kind of plots, but the plot isn’t what I found compelling about My Brother the Devil. The plot is everything it needs to be, but it’s pushed forward by its characters and how their actions, thoughts and desires inform their actions. It is this quality that makes My Brother the Devil great, as the characters constantly challenged me and had me thinking. There isn’t a lot of communication between the brothers, and this leads to a lot of repressed emotion and frustration for both characters. This emotion is bubbling under the surface of the entire film, and this takes what could easily be a rote, seen-it-all-before film and turns it into something special.

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