Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Speaking of drawing on sympathy for illegal aliens (see my review of Welcome here), who can wish for a political refugee, who only wants a safe place to raise her teenage son, to be deported?  In Illegal, Tania, a Russian, lives in Belgium with her son.  Randomly stopped on the street without proper ID, she winds up in a detention center, stuck in the bureaucracy and frustration of separation from her son and appealing to be granted asylum.
In an almost documentary format, Tania experiences and witnesses the abuse and confusion of immigrants in Belgium.  Countries have a right to secure their borders, but they have an obligation to treat all within their borders humanely.  Activists who would point to films like Illegal and Welcome for examples of the plight of refugees refuse to acknowledge the need for border while focusing on examples of abuse.  But I guess that wouldn't make as good a story.

Illegal is well-made, emotionally stirring, but wholly inadequate for a debate on immigration.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Micmacs à tire-larigot

Great movie.  I was, of course, predisposed to like this one, knowing that this was from the same director as Amelie, one of my all-time favorites.  But Micmacs stands all on its own for its creativity, memorably motley cast of characters, and a comically satisfying revenge story.
Welcome to our junkyard home!
Poor Bazil.  When he was a boy, his father was killed by a land mine and his mom went nuts, leaving him an orphan.  Years later, he's nearly killed by a stray bullet during a street fight.  By chance, he stumbles across the identities of the arms manufacturers who made the mine and the bullet, and, with the assistance of his new friends, sets out on finding some revenge on both.
Bet you can't do that!
His friends live as a sort of family under a junk heap.  A lovable collection of rejects, they put their assorted gifts together in an elaborate plan to set one arms manufacturer against the other.  Their methods and attitudes cracked me up. The whole movie is a visual treat, imaginative and full of interesting details. Anyone who likes to see the little guy win (not to give away the ending or anything) will love this one.  It's a fun show, sure to please.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cosa voglio di piu (Come Undone)

These people are so stupid.  Based on a random meeting, Anna and Domenico strike up a hot and heavy illicit affair.  So they're attracted to each other; they gave themselves plenty of opportunities to let reason take hold, but still kept meeting.  Anna has a very nice, if a bit goofy, live-in boyfriend.  Domenico has a faithful, attractive wife who stays home caring for their young children.  Needless to say, Anna and Domenico are simply selfish, creating an unsustainable, costly, and irresponsible relationship, if you can even call it that.  Basic story, they meet, they decide to have sex, they know they should quit meeting but can't, wonder, "Why couldn't we have met sooner?", then they have to figure out whether to stay together.  Sorry not to have anything to say about the quality of this movie as a movie, I just couldn't stand it.

Bottom line, no stars.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Living in Texas, we hear a lot about the threat of illegal immigration and the social consequences it brings.  I guess I never think much about illegal immigration to other countries.  Welcome tells the story of a young Kurd from Iraq who works his way to France and tries to stowaway on a truck bound for England across the English channel.  He gets caught hiding in a truck and tries to come up with other options for crossing the channel.  He jumps on the obvious, but difficult, option of swimming across.  He begins training with a swim coach who befriends him and helps him out, and determines that he will swim the channel to be reunited with his long lost love.
Hey coach, how far is it to England?
Welcome challenges notions of immigration, drawing the viewer emotionally to the side of immigrants and their advocates.  The movie definitely plays on sympathy for the poor teenager who has traveled hundreds of miles to escape hardship and oppression in his homeland.  After all, why wouldn't any country welcome someone from the oppressed Kurdish people of Iraq?  And on top of that, he wants to be reunited with his sweetheart?  How can any bureaucracy deny him that?

I don't know much about immigration laws.  I was surprised how openly the immigrants lived in France; it was as if the French were happy to provide a launching pad for immigrants wanting to go to England.  Welcome doesn't set out to seriously address immigration policy, it only appeals to emotion, demonstrating that a moving story should not move policy.

Bottom line, 2 1/2 stars.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Great Dictator

Here's a fascinating and entertaining historical relic.  Charlie Chaplin had no love for Adolph Hitler.  Best known for his silent films, The Great Dictator was Chaplin's first "talkie."  He plays both Adenoid Hynkel, a thinly veiled parody of Hitler, and a Jewish barber who looks just like Hynkel.  His exaggerated comic portrayal of Hynkel, the dictator of Tomainia, must have enraged Hitler and delighted everyone else.  Released in 1940, the movie served as anti-Nazi propaganda before the extent of the evils of Nazism were fully known.

Even without the historical background, Chaplin's trademark humor comes through and the movie can be enjoyed on his merits alone.  His sputtering mock-German may have been offensive to Germans (and may be funnier if you know German--there was probably some real German mixed in there) but I found it amusing.  This globe scene is classic.
After the slapstick and satire throughout the film, Chaplin as the simple Jewish barber takes an opportunity at the end to give a powerful speech excoriating the Nazi regime. Having been mistaken for the dictator, he addresses a massive political rally, imploring for peace.
Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don't hate, only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers: don't fight for slavery, fight for liberty. . . . Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfill their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise.
Real Nazis didn't get to hear the speech, at least not for a while; the movie was banned in Germany.  I wonder why? You can watch the whole speech here:

Bottom line, 4 stars.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Angelina Jolie is cool.

Some actresses can make even a bad movie look good, and make a good movie great.  That's how I feel about Angelina Jolie. 

Her most recent movie, The Tourist (well, her most recent live-action movie. She did have a role in this year's Kung Fu Panda 2.)  She plays Elise, charming, seductive, beautiful, rich, and on the run. She's under surveillance by the police because her lover is wanted for tax evasion.  Her lover, a mysterious financier whose identity is unknown, bilked a gangster for billions, so is on the run from the gangster and from the police.  Elise randomly selects Frank, an American schoolteacher played by Johnny Depp, pretending like he is her lover, in an attempt to fool the police, but that gets Frank into trouble.  Much chasing and shooting and capturing and escaping ensues.
She looks great, even after being shot at and driving a boat in a daring escape.
The Tourist, a hodgepodge of genres, plays out sort of like Hitchcockian slapstick.  The beautiful, mysterious stranger, the bumbling but likable tourist, the easily outwitted cops and beefy bad guys, all come together in story of deception and daring with some well-placed twists.  It ain't Shakespeare, but we know it's not supposed to be.  Jolie and Depp play the whole thing with a smirk (it seems).  They probably had fun with this movie, and you will, too.

On a bit darker note, Jolie plays CIA agent Evelyn Salt in Salt.  When a Russian defector claims he has information on planned assassination attempts on the presidents of Russia and the U.S.  He even names the assassin: Evelyn Salt. Suddenly under suspicion, she goes on the run.  But is she running to prove her innocence or running to accomplish the assassination?  It's a fun ride, with plenty of unbelievable action sequences, wildly convoluted conspiracies, and impossibly duplicitous characters.  I am a firm believer that some of the most enjoyable movies are also some of the most outrageous.  The good news: Salt 2 may be in the works!
You don't want to mess with Salt!
Speaking of unbelievable, how about the gun action in Wanted?  Jolie is part of the Fraternity, a secret society of assassins who have mastered a technique of controlling the trajectory of a bullet after it is fired.  Far-fetched?  Of course it is!  As is most of the action and story!  What did I just say about outrageous movies?  The action sequences are sometimes cartoonish, true to Wanted's comic book roots.  Jolie has had larger roles, but the number of her tattoos we see is larger than ever.  Wanted is a bit strange, but fun to watch with the crazy, over-the-top action sequences.  (By the way, she also plays an assassin in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but that movie falls more into the romantic/ action/ comedy genre of The Tourist.)
I don't think these are movie make-up tattoos.
I won't say I'll watch anything Angelina Jolie is in, but my perspective is that she's in some great movies, and she makes every movie she's in much better.  She's not always an action hero like she is in these movies.  Her early role in the not so great Hackers (my review here) certainly made that movie more bearable.  More recently, she played a detective in the otherwise mediocre Taking Lives (my review here), to which she added some spice, so to speak.  So action, drama, whatever, I'm always interested in what she's working on next.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Assassins are cool.

Have you ever noticed that, according to Hollywood, assassins are cool?  Who can argue that James Bond is the epitome of cool?  I've never met an assassin (that I know of), and I don't really want to, but I have a feeling they're not all so cool and fashionable.  I reviewed Killers a while back (here), with the supposedly charming and sexy Ashton Kutcher starring as an assassin.  Here are a few more recent movies with a variety of assassins.

The most stylish assassins are, of course, English, as we learn in Faster.  They're also cocky, well-traveled, and brilliant.  Right.  "Killer" (the character is unnamed in the movie) fits that description, but he may have met his match in Driver (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). Driver, just out prison, goes on a killing spree seeking revenge for his brother's killing, but he's got Killer coming after him, too.  Killer turns out to be a disappointment, and not even the cool action sequences, Johnson's tough guy acting, and Billy Bob Thornton's cop character can rescue this bungled mess.

Speaking of bungled messes and convoluted plots, whoever is responsible for Operation: Endgame ought to have a contract on his movie career.  It's not without its clever spots, unexpected twists, and quirky characters, but for the most part, this one was painful to sit through.  Two rival teams of government assassins meet up in a secret underground facility and start killing each other off.  I won't bother you with the why.  It's a motley group, with some messy killing, and few laughs.

The assassin in Machete is actually quite the opposite of the stylish, sophisticated operative of the prior two movies.  The title character, played by scary-looking tough guy Danny Trejo, was hired to kill a senator, but then realizes he's being set up, so he sets out for revenge.  (Assassins can be pretty vengeful.)  The result is a violent, bloody mess, but this is actually a pretty good movie, if graphic yet purposeful violence doesn't drive you away.  One thing I love about Machete is its origin.  It started as a fake trailer for Grindhouse, but fans wanted to see the movie, so viola, here it is.

The final assassin movie for today is the much more mainstream Red.  You wouldn't know it by his boring persona now, but Bruce Willis is a retired assassin.  When someone starts coming after him, he has to visit some of his old colleagues to figure out who has the hit on him.  Along the way, his dream girl, who he's never met face to face, gets stuck in the middle of it.  Also starring Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, Red has plenty of star power, the brand of action/humor we expect when Willis is on the screen, and a clever conspiracy and revenge plot, all of which combine for a satisfying flick.  Red also features Rebecca Pidgeon, whom I loved in The Spanish Prisoner and who does not get enough big roles. I think she's terrific.

There may be a place in this world for an assassin.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously played a part in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler.  I guess you could call Seal Team 6 assassins.  But I have a feeling that real-life assassins of whatever stripe would scoff at their big screen portrayals.  In the meantime, the mystique is there, and will be as long as Bond novels are written and others want to share his success, even if most efforts miss the mark (so to speak).