Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Informant! (Para-Review)

Mark Whitacre has worked hard to secure his future with ADM, a Fortune 500 agri-business giant. However through an apparent moral decision, he decides to leak information about the company's involvement in a large price fixing scheme to the FBI. With this information they decide to pressure Mark into becoming an informant to secure enough evidence to take down the corruct executives. He quickly becomes more and more comfortable with his new position, believing himself to be a "Secret Agent". However as Marks little white lies start overwhelming him, his new world becomes less and less confortable.

I didn't really know what to expect, the trailers played it up to be much more of a comedy then it ended up being. However it was still really good, great performance by Damon, and unless you already knew the true story(I didn't)then the events really keep you guessing what is really going on, and may give you a few "What the. . ." moments. I mean that is a good way.

The highlight of the film was the narration, which is basically random and irrelevant ramblings, and strange facts playing in Whitacre's head that have nothing to do with the story at all. Example;

"When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in, because they've got those black noses. They'd blend in perfectly if not for the nose. So the question is, how do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water and think, "I'd be invisible if not for that." That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear. "

. . .amazing!


A Film by Steven Soderbergh

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mother (Madeo)

Everyone knows the phrase ‘quality over quantity’, well that is the best way to describe Korean director Bong Joon-ho. In 10 years he has directed only 4 full length features, and a couple short films. Including the highlight of the compilation film ‘Tokyo’ titled ‘Shaking Tokyo’. In 2000 he debuted with the lesser known ‘Barking Dogs never Bite’ (which I shamefully admit I have not seen). 3 years later he amazed fans and critics alike with the absolutely brilliant ‘Memories of Murder’, a film telling the story of the most notorious unsolved murder case in Korean history. Another 3 years later, and he took the mainstream world by storm with the internationally acclaimed ‘The Host’. Now after another 3 years we have what some has called “the follow up to Memories of Murder”, and eventually the topic of this review, ‘Mother’.

Taking place in modern day Korea, the film tells a simple tale of a Mothers love for her son, but uses the dark setting of a murder mystery. Kim Hye ja plays the mother in question who lives alone with her mentally disabled son(Won Bin), who innocently finds himself getting into trouble hanging out with a local ‘bad-ass’. This leaves his poor mother struggling to manage her shop, and try to keep him out of trouble. Their struggle only gets worse when a young girl is found murdered one morning, and all evidence points to him, even though he only remembers going home and to sleep the night before. There is no way she is going to believe that he is the killer, even though nobody is on her side, and the police are ready to close the case. She is willing to go to all lengths to prove her sons innocence, even if it means breaking the law herself. Putting herself into some of the most tense situations you will witness on screen.

Kim Hye Ja’s performance is superb, her portrayal of a poor, struggling, alone, but loving mother is heartbreaking, (and has nabbed a couple awards). In fact the screenplay for the film was actually written for her, and around the filmmaker’s faith that she was meant for the role, a gamble that she has proven to be a wise one. Also notable is the return of actor Won Bin, who had taken a few years off to serve his mandatory time in the military, and who’s last film ‘My Brother’ was also a family drama that delve into themes of a mother /son relationship.

From the moment we are introduced to the young girl’s death, the suspense doesn’t stop; it only gets stronger and stronger up to the final scenes. Bong has done it again, and further proves that he not only one of the most talented directors to come out of South Korea, but has proven to be one of the best directors in the world.


A Film by: Bong Joon-ho


Clean tells the story of Emily Wang, a past-her-prime ex-MTV star caught up in her hopeless dreams of super-stardom, along with her ex-rock star husband. However, her already spinning out of control life takes a sudden dive when her husband unexpectedly dies of a drug overdose in a rundown hotel in Hamilton, Ontario. Now she has been busted with drug possession and sentenced to six months in prison. Once released from prison, she now realizes that her life is quickly wasting away. So she decides she wants to turn her life around, and in it she wants to include her neglected son Jay. Now she must fight to prove to her son’s grandparents that she is capable of raising him, that she is clean and is ready to be a mother. But it won’t be easy.

Maggie Cheung is a beautiful woman, there is no doubting that. In ‘Clean’ she has managed to somehow hide herself behind a trashy, burnt out drug addict. And she does it so well. Maggie Cheung is phenomenal in ‘Clean’ (she won the Best Actress Award for her duties at the 2004 Cannes film festival). Despite her bad choices, you really care for her character, you really want to see her get her life together. Even if her son is kind of irritating. The acting in the film was great all around; Nick Nolte was equally great, playing Maggie Cheung’s caring and concerned, but harsh father in law. However, there are times in film when a bad actor, especially a child actor can kill a wonderful scene. Maybe I am being too harsh; he was not all that bad. . .

Another aspect of the film that needs to be mentioned is the music. It has a beautiful soundtrack, with a handful of tracks performed wonderfully by Cheung herself. Which they also managed to fit into the story of the film, as Cheung’s character continues to pursue her dream of being a singer.

The film also hits home for me, literally. The opening scenes of the film are shot where I live. Hamilton Ontario (well I live just outside by a few blocks.) so a lot of the shots are quite familiar, including the absolutely beautiful shots of the Hamilton Steel Mill Which I can assure you in reality smells far less beautiful. The cinematography is stunning in ‘Clean’ there are some very nicely filmed scenes, and some great camera work.

Clean tells a very sweet, and sad story. It may not be for everyone, some could be turned off simply by its style. A style which really sets it apart, however Maggie Cheung fans, and Asian cinema fans alike might really enjoy seeing such a different side of Maggie Cheung. She has blossomed so well as an actress, it’s hard to believe that the woman you are seeing on this screen is the same girl who bumbled as Jackie Chan’s sidekick/girlfriend in the 'Police Story' series, or who displays such grace and beauty on screen in ‘In the Mood for Love’, and 'Hero'. So give Clean a chance, it is very much a hidden gem, a film that may leave quite an impact on you. Or for the very least show you how nice the Hamilton steel mill looks at night.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0

A Film By Oliver Assayas

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Come with the Rain

A former police officer turned private detective (Josh Hartnett) is hired over a voice masked phone by someone rich to go to a jungle somewhere and find his son. He goes and finds out the son is dead, but then he’s not . . . he is in Hong Kong according to some other guy. So josh Hartnett goes to Hong Kong, meets up with what appears to be a friend (?)(Shawn Yue), who is also a cop. Then he somehow doesn’t notice that the guy who’s picture he has been carrying for weeks is right across a glass window from him, though he makes eye contact. . .*sigh*. Oh but its okay because he magically realises later on when it’s a whole lotta too late. We also find out that this missing son apparently is a healer of some kind, sort of like Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile I guess. . .oh and an older hairless Casey Jones beats up, then bites Josh Hartnett during the film’s opening prologue, I guess that’s important to the plot. But since that stops making any sense a third of the way in, we can just forget about that.

As you may be able to tell, I really didn’t like I Come with the Rain, which is by far the biggest shock of my film watching life. I can’t begin to explain how excited I had been for this for over a year since first watching a trailer. First off I have always liked Josh Hartnett, he is usually a great actor in my books. However he really looks bored out of his mind in this (can’t blame him), and was probably being paid in potato skins. I also like Shawn Yue so that was good. However the apparent clincher for me was that one of my favourite actors in the world, Lee Byung Hun plays the films villain (I might add that term must be used lightly). The trailer looked awesome, the cast looked awesome, and I was stoked. And like a slap to the face it ended up being a jumbled, incoherent snore fest that felt like an overachieving artsy film student’s thesis project. However if you like half naked people rolling on the ground, clenching themselves and groaning, then this is the film for you. Imagine the awful rave scene in the second Matrix lasting 2 hours, and you might have an idea.

Maybe I am being too harsh? But over all I just didn’t get it. I will admit I usually go for the bizarre incoherent “Lost Highway esc” indie films. But this was just too much, the longer it went on the less it made sense until I finally started to forget why the characters were where they were, and doing what they were doing in the first place. Perhaps a second or third viewing is needed, but to be honest I really don’t see that happening. I also don’t see this getting much worldwide support, a US release? Not likely anytime soon. However if it does, then do yourself a favour, don’t watch it!


A Film by: Anh Hung Tran

Nobody Knows

Four siblings, Kyoko, Shigeru, Yuki, Saki, and the oldest Akira all live quite happily in a small apartment with their mother. The four children all have different fathers, but seem to get along and love each other very much. The landlords only know of Akira. Shigeru, Yuki, and Saki all must stay hidden. Despite their imperfect lifestyle, the family appear to be happy, and their mother also appears to be a loving parent. Even though she does not let them go to school. Then suddenly their mother disappears, only leaving a little money and a quick note which appoints Akira to watch over his three younger siblings. Things go along ok, and after a few months their mother shows up again. But not for long, after a short visit she leaves again. And now begins these poor children’s grim story. The four children, lead courageously by oldest brother Akira, must somehow find a way to survive in their new world of sudden unexplained abandonment.

Review: ‘Nobody Knows’ is one of the most beautiful, and heart breaking film I have ever seen. You immediately begin to adore these four children. Especially oldest brother Akira (Played brilliantly by the young Yuja Yagira). I can’t say enough about the acting from these four kids. The movie just feels so real, like you are watching a documentary.

Nobody Knows is a fairly long film, running just under 2 hours and 20 minutes. So some may find it too long, or a bit slow. I however certainly did not. The story really doesn’t take off until about 45 minutes in when their mother leaves for good. Then begins the children long and horrendous struggle to survive. What is really great about this film is how well you get to know the kids, and also how much they all change by the end of the film. The oldest boy Akira, and his slightly younger sister Kyoko at first are very happy kids, who always have big smiles of their faces. Akira especially who seems to always have a happy smirk. The same can be said about the two youngest kids the hyperactive boy Shigeru, and the adorable Yuki. Both can rarely be seen without a smile. They are simply happy kids. However, once they are abandoned you slowly see they happiness fade, and the grim realization of what they have endured set in. Seeing these happy children turn to grim is heartbreaking. Which brings me back to Akira. The development of his character is outstanding. You really see the despair set in heavily as he tries so hard to keep his family together. You may ask yourself why they do not just call the police, or child services. But he refuses, he does not want himself and his siblings to be split up.

Nobody Knows is a wonderful film, something that I can highly recommend to anyone. Even though it is a very sad story, it does also kinda make you smile. Seeing just how much these kids care for one another, and how hard they work to keep their loves together after being left in abandonment is, simply said, beautiful.


A Film by: Hirokazu Koreeda


In Amsterdam, hired Killer Park-yi (Woo-sung Jung) while on a job in a quite countryside spots, and instantly falls for Hye-young (Ji-hyun Jun), a young street painter who was visiting the secluded location to paint a field of daisies for a coming art contest. While trying to cross a log bridge she slips and falls into a shallow creek. She is able to climb out, but loses her backpack to the current. Witnessing the fall, but unable to reach her in time Park-yi manages to salvage her backpack and soon after decides to build her a wooden bridge so that she can cross into the field with ease, and also leaves her backpack for her to show that the bridge is for her. Back in town he is unable to bring himself to approach his new love, so he decides to leave her a pot of Daisies every day. He also watches her from his window as she paints on the street trying to secretly visualise his life with her. Little does he know, Hye-young has fallen for her secret admirer and wants nothing more than to find him. Enter the third peace of this love triangle, Interpol Agent Jeong Woo(Sung-jae Lee).

Jeong Woo is in town on assignment to track down and apprehend a gang of traffickers, who as fate would tell, is stationed directly behind where Hye-young paints her portraits. To get a good vantage point Jeong woo decides to pose as a customer, and have her paint his portrait. After returning a few times not only does he find himself falling for her, but our poor street painter is now convinced that Jeong Woo is the mysterious stranger leaving her flowers, and immediately falls in love with the wrong man. Unable to admit he is not her secret love he goes along with it. His little white lie begins the inevitable showdown that would lead to a series of tragic events that are better left unsaid. . .

Daisy is a co-production between Hong Kong and South Korea, and helmed by half the Infernal Affairs directing duo Andrew Lau. Who is best known for his dark Hong Kong thrillers; however he is able to pull off the Romantic Drama genre very well. One thing that shows strongly with this film is Lau’s wonderful visual style, using some superb shots to add to the films overall tone. It’s a beautifully told, but bittersweet story that is lead by an absolute stellar cast. It is a perfect role for the uber-talented Ji-hyun Jun, who is best known for her roles in other Korean melodramas like il Mare, Windstruck, and of course My Sassy Girl. Her on screen charm carries this film very well.

It must be noted that this review is based on the original Korean version. I have not seen the longer Directors Cut, but it’s been said that version is quite different and superior to this one. This version of the film does carry with it a slight bias towards one of our male love interests over the other, which is supposedly more balanced in the DC. If this is true I can see this in itself being an improvement. However the DC with be watched and will no doubt deserve its own separate review.


A Film by: Andrew lau

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Academy award winner, and deservedly so!
‘Departures’ is not only one of the best Japanese films I have seen, but one of the best period. I am still in awe and even finding hard to find the words to write. A truly beautiful story about a failed cellist who gives up his big city life, and moves back to his hometown. Then through circumstances best described as "fate", a typo in the want ads of a newspaper leads him to discover his calling as a mortician. Not only does this change his life, but it would lead him to re-discover lost parts of his own past.

After finally landing himself a spot as a cellist in a Tokyo symphony, Daigo Kobayashi finds himself jobless when the entire orchestra is disbanded by its owner. Deciding to give up his passion he parts with his yet unpaid for cello and returns with his wife to his hometown moving into his inherited house left by his deceased mother. However he does not give up his passion completely, as throughout the film we are treated to some wonderful moments when Daigo picks up and plays his old childhood cello. Needing work he finds an ad for a position in “Departures”, which states that no experience is necessary. Assuming this is some sort of travel agency he heads off for his interview and is hired on the spot by ‘The Boss’. He soon learns of the typo and that ‘Departures’ was actually supposed to read ‘The Departed’. Unable to resist the lucrative pay he takes the job, but shamefully refrains from telling his wife exactly what he is doing at his new job. After a short while he starts to view death in a far different light, even the sight of a dead chicken for dinner or a floating fish in the stream has a profound impact on him. However it wouldn’t be long before his wife learns what it is he does, and without a full understanding of what that is, leaves him until he decides to quit. A choice he cannot bring himself to make.

Departures is not only a great film, but it’s a wonderful education on the Japanese tradition of preparing the dead. In a gracefully ceremonious fashion the body of the deceased is cleaned, re-dressed, and made up in front of his or hers mourners and prepared for the casket. At the same time they too wipe the face of the departed and say their farewells. The best moments of the film come during these ceremonies, and you soon see just how passionate Daigo has become, especially in the film’s final moments when he performs the ceremony on an especially important person. A moment that brought a few tears to my eyes!

Call it what you will, A “spiritual journey”, a “coming of age” story. Whatever you call it one thing’s for sure, Departures is a film that will leave a lasting impression on anyone who takes the time to watch it. It’s unfortunate that being a foreign language film this will be passed over by many people at the video stores, but for anyone who decides to give it a try they will not be disappointed.

A Film by: Yojiro Takita