Friday, 13 December 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: STALINGRAD 3D



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We open in Japan. It is 2011 and the country has just been rocked by a tragically known earthquake. The German backpackers are caught under the rubble and a Russian peacekeeper tells them a yarn to keep their minds occupied. The story is about his mother and five men who protected her, the men he calls his fathers. Thus we go back to 1942, STALINGRAD, where one apartment block is a final bastion between the German troopers and Volga river.  There are five desperate men in the house and they are ready to fight to the end. But there’s someone else they want to protect. Its nineteen year old girl Katya who they all had fallen in love with. A dramatic stand begins. But do we really care?

STALINGRAD has a great production values. Shot on crazy by Russian standards 30 million dollar budget it had an IMAX, 3D release and is a visual and technological achievement indeed.  It is a great action film with lots of air shots, explosions, shooting and plane crashes. But unfortunately underneath it proposes no substance.

The problem is the story. We know too much from the very beginning. We know that the soldiers will sacrifice themselves for Katya and Katya will survive. Therefore intrigue is almost absent.  The other problem is with the characters themselves. The love stricken soldiers are an unlikable bunch and Katya herself, apart from being the only female among them, lacks charisma. We are being told she is a survivor, she is a person of a strong character, but the script doesn’t allow her to prove any of these statements. 

The same goes for the rest of the characters. A narrator, whose preaching tone is a little annoying, tells us short stories about the men’s past lives before the war but do we really want to know? Who cares who they had been. The way they behave right now gets them no sympathy. In this department our heroes are easily upstaged by villainous  Nazi commander, who has his own reasons to wage war, and it is not to win it for Hitler. His story line is surprisingly developed in comparison to the saint protagonists, which have already risen some eyebrows with Russian film-critics.

Fedor Bondarchuk is from a great film dynasty. He is a talented director and his previous film UNIT 9 about the war in Afghanistan deserves praise it was given five or so years ago. Unfortunately STALINGRAD missed the mark completely. It is a big budget B rated movie with incredible visuals but mediocre acting and bad writing. Grossly underdeveloped and totally lacking originality it raises a question why it was made on the first place.

Monday, 9 December 2013

JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL MOVIE REVIEW: A SUMMER EQUATION





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A woman is stubbed to death crossing the bridge on a winter night. Another woman tells her daughter that they have a secret they will keep forever. Many years later a murder occurs in a quiet Inn on the ocean side. Are two murders connected? It’s up to professor Gallileo to find out.

A MIDSUMMER EQUATION is based on the fourth in the series of novels by  Keigo Higashino featuring professor of physics Manabu Yakawa (AKA GALLILEO). Unlike many mystery writers Higashino takes the focus off “who-dun-it” to “how it was done”.  All his novels a praised for an original twist that was worth to look forward while reading the book. A MIDSUMMER EQUATION has it’s twist. And the journey towards it is no less but remarkable.

At the heart of the story is a friendship between a middle aged professor of Physics who cannot stand children (he even gets hives around them) and a little boy, who is surprisingly insightful into the details of a murder mystery of the guest who stayed at the INN owned by his Aunt and Uncle. The friendship between the two is an unlikely occurrence in the age of phobia we live in and the key feel good string of the movie.

It is typical for Higashino villains to be the ones who actually need help and protection and A MIDSUMMER EQUATION is no different. The films main focus is on family values, self sacrifice and bonds shared by a parent and a child. But it is also has a sense of a place, an atmosphere of never ending summer and the innocence of childhood. This innocence in A MIDSUMMER EQUATION is preserved at a greater cost.

There are a few good performances in the movie and it has a well measured pace, with the exception of the ending, that over explains everything (come on, I had been watching this for two hours, I had seen murder mysteries before and don’t need to be spoon fed).

The truly satisfying experience in the movies is rare these days, and A MIDSUMMER EQUATION is a great effort to make you feel good about the times and the world we live in. Maybe a little overdramatic, it hits the mark with the statement that true loyalty does not come without a price.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

JAPANESE MOVIE FESTIVAL REVIEW: PLATINUM DATA



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In future police implemented the new technology of DNA recognition. When everyone’s DNA is stored in the main database called PLATINUM DATA it becomes impossible to get away with any crime. But then a terrible murder occurs inside the headquarters of the PLATIMUM DATA institute. When the head scientist of the program, a young genius Ryuhei Kagura tests DNA of the culprit he finds that computer incriminates him. Believing that something had gone wrong deep in the system itself he becomes a fugitive. A detective named Reiji Asama, who had never approved of the program on the first place, is hot in pursuit.

PLATINUM DATA is a cross between the MINORITY REPORT and THE FUGITIVE. Bring in the split personality issues and some BIG BROTHER twists and here’s is a new angle of a familiar story. PLATINUM DATA is an action film at its best with the chases, explosions and a murder mystery to compliment. With the running time of over two hours the movie is amazingly easy to watch. It is entertaining and twisted and apart from a couple unresolved storylines it will not disappoint.

Disappointing is the character development and some credibility issues. There are many fabulous reviews of this film on the net and I wanted to love it with every fibre of my heart. In the end it was just one of those action flicks you will easily dismiss and forget about when the final credits will roll.

PLATINUM DATA is based on a bestselling novel and I believe a book would be much more entertaining. Especially the unfortunate who-dun-it part, the resolution of which you can see miles away. In the end the movie simply does not have one of this crazy sequences everyone will be talking about, like CARY CRANT running away from a plane in  NORTH BY NORTHWEST or TOM CRUISE jumping from one moving car to another in MINORITY REPORT.

There’s nothing that puts it apart from many other action flicks and a very simple resolution of so-called mystery did not help to appreciate a could-have-been high concept. 

But some interesting ideas simply cannot be dismissed. In a digital age, when personality is nothing but a set of numbers in an online catalogue, what does it take for a human soul to prove that it is unique, and what does it take to survive? 


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

JAPANESE MOVIE FESTIVAL REVIEW: SAMURAI LAST NIGHT



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When Kenichi’s wife dies in hit and run accident his life is broken. Five years later the man responsible for the accident, Kijima, is out of the prison. Kenichi decides his wife’s killer deserves death sentence, so he starts sending him threatening notes, promising to kill him on the day his wife’s death anniversary. Kijima knows who is sending the notes and in his own turn starts blackmailing Kenichi’s brother in law. No one believes that Kenichi can really go through with his revenge, but as final night is approaching the tension is building and the lives of both men unravel towards it in a tragic way - as senseless and spontaneous as the accident itself that scarred their lives. Will they have any future beyond this last night?

SAMURAI LAST NIGHT is inhabited by little people with broken pride. Each of them deals with it in his own way, fighting loneliness, fear and loss with every mean available to them, even if it requires threats and intimidation. The protagonist Kenichi is a perfect Dostoyevsky character - an insignificant man who is punched around, but who is starting to rise from his knees, slowly finding a way to deal with his loss. 

Film is episodically shot, dividing time between Kenichi and Kijima almost evenly. We understand Kenichi better but we are embarrassed by his behaviour and indecisiveness. We learn what a spiteful creature Kijima is. We learn to hate him, but does he deserve to die?

While every form of art is a form of manipulation it doesn’t become one until you feel being manipulated. Unfortunately SAMURAI THAT NIGHT makes you feel exactly that - you can almost feel the strings attached to your joints and when they are pulled its not a nice feeling. The movie also is a about twenty minutes too long.

The final scene of fighting in the mud in the pouring rain is definitely a nod to classic Akira Kurosawa - SEVEN SAMURAI. Unfortunately this is the only comparison found here to the work of the great master.

SAMIRAI LAST NIGHT would have hit a better mark if it wasn’t so slow and so manipulative. Although I found the ending satisfying one has to be very patient and determined to watch long enough to get to it.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

JAPANESE MOVIE FESTIVAL REVIEW: BRAIN MAN




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Tokyo is shattered with terrorist attacks. There’s a suspect in custody - a young man whose reactions and behaviour puzzle both police and medics alike. A young doctor has a task to analyse his mental state. What she uncovers she finds hard to believe and so she digs deeper into his past, while the real psychopaths slowly but carefully closing on her…

BRAIN MAN is based on a best selling novel, which explores the themes of forgiveness and saviour complex. But don’t look for much depth here. It is no more than enjoyable yarn that occasionally makes you think, and this is exactly what I want from my thrillers.

The main villain is quite unbelievable which ruins the film a little, but it will not stop you to hate her all the same. This young girl who blows up busses full of kids is incredibly annoying.  (no spoiler here by the way).

The music is a little too melancholic for a tightly scripted thriller (bing in Marco Beltrami please), but maybe I am just used to the haunting Hollywood scores too much.

In many ways it’s the novel-like structure that saves BRAIN MAN. The plot is always focused and the director seems to be in control and always leading you somewhere interesting. If nothing else the movie will make you seat on the edge of your seat wishing to know what happens next.

The mystery of a young emotionless killer is the centre of a story, and even though there will be no major revelations here, it unravels with a slow satisfying determination and a truly enjoyable process. Action will hit in in the final third of the film with a lot of explosions (according to producers the real pyrotechnics had been used - no CGI) and even though the final confrontation  in the underground garage cannot be called spectacular it is truly disturbing.

The movie doesn’t end there, and concludes one secondary story arc in style of Stephen King, which is a nice surprise.  All in all BRAIN MAN doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but is well written, directed and acted, an achievement for any blockbuster that we should praise.