Posts Tagged ‘Foreign’

MOVIES: Five in 5-7-5

April 13, 2009

Okay, look, I’m way behind on movie reviews, and the reason I’m way behind on movie reviews is because I keep watching GOOD movies instead of BAD movies, and writing about good movies is kind of boring.  Once in a while, it can be fun.  But more than three in a row is, like, absolute torture.

To reset things a bit, I’m now going to review five decent-to-good movies for you using only haiku.  Then we can get back to the crappy movies, which are just a heck of a lot more entertaining to say stuff about.  (Tip: If you want a real plot description, click on the “Netflix me” link and you can find one there.)

The Changeling (2008)
Drama
Angelina Jolie (looking sad and red-lipsticked), Jeffrey Donovan (channeling Gabrielle Anwar’s really bad Irish accent from S1 of Burn Notice), John Malkovich (NOT playing a dick for a change).  Directed by ex-BoTW Clint Eastwood.

Based on a true tale —
I really wish it had been
A half-hour shorter.
[Netflix me]

Milk (2008)
Drama
Sean Penn (is amazing), James Franco (is skinny), Emile Hersch (is wearing the same glasses I had in 1983), Diego Luna (is going to break your heart), Josh Brolin (is really, really talented).

I cannot believe
We are still having these same
Damn rallies (we suck).
[Netflix me]

Doubt (2008)
Drama (based on play)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (is creepy from scene one), Meryl Streep (is totally overrated in this), Amy Adams (is cute, but isn’t she kinda always?)

Everyone loved it.
I thought the acting was good
But the plot was meh.
[Netflix me]

Tell No One (2008)
Drama, Foreign (French with English subtitles, sorry, Lizzie)
Francois Cluzet (my God, it’s Bob from French Kiss!), Kristen Scott Thomas (speaks French sort of oddly, but is cute about it)

When this one ended
I thanked the screenwright aloud
For his new ending.
[Netflix me (available for Watch Now)]

The Secret Life of Bees (2008)
Drama
Dakota Fanning (tween), Queen Latifah (queen), Paul Bettany (mean)

Sure, it is cheesy.
Who cares, when it stars The Queen?
She is teh awesome.
[Netflix me]

MOVIE: As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me (2001)

December 9, 2008

Ordinarily when I’m on vacation at the Wood Family B&B, my mom and I avoid renting movies that have subtitles because, like, yo, if we wanted to READ, we’d go to the library not Hollywood Video.  But we somehow managed to rent this one without realizing it was in German until it was too late, and then we decided, eh, might as well branch out and challenge our lazy selves a little bit.

The dumb part of this, of course, is that almost every foreign movie I’ve seen in the last several years has ended up being utterly amazing in some way, if not in every way, and this one was no exception.  So why this mental block about foreign films, I ask you?   It’s dumb.  And it’s definitely not the subtitles that are the problem — we frequently turn on the English ones when we watch movies that are IN ENGLISH, so it’s not like we aren’t reading our movies all the time anyway.  (Note: we do this because it helps prevent this otherwise frequently-recurring conversation:  Me: What?  Mom: I missed it.  Me: Should I rewind?  Mom: I. . .yeah, rewind.)

We’re dorks.  There — I’ve said it.  Not that you didn’t suspect this already, of course.

Anyway, this extremely wonderful film is about a German soldier, named Clemens Forell in the story, imprisoned as a POW in a Siberian gulag right at the tail-end of World War II.  Sentenced to 25 years of hard labor, Forell can think of nothing but getting back to his wife and daughter.  And so, with the help of the camp’s doctor, a fellow prisoner himself, Forell manages to escape.

Only, when you’re a German busting out of a Siberian gulag in the dead of winter, you’re really a LONG way from home and you’ve got some pretty harsh obstacles to overcome.  Such as:  freezing to death, walking 86 gazillion miles without decent footwear, getting caught by the gulag warden who is totally obsessed with you, starving to death, falling, breaking a limb, being eaten by a wolf — dude, the list goes on and on.  The bulk of this film is about Forell’s attempt to get past these obstacles and back home, something it takes him over three years to accomplish.  THREE YEARS, people.  Terrified and half-frozen the entire time, he manages to cross some of the most inhospitable terrain on the entire planet.  And then he FINALLY makes it to Iran, where he’s . . .

. . . Promptly arrested as a Soviet spy.  CURSES!

It’s quite a story.  And if you know me and my tastes in movies, you know it’s not going to end with you pulling out your hair and sobbing “Why? WHY?  WHYYYYYY?” into a hankie,  rest assured.

The box for the DVD said it was “based on a true story and novel,” which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, so I looked Forell up at Wikipedia.  Turns out, he’s not a real guy — that is, there IS a real guy who actually did this, but when he told his story to author Josef Bauer, it was on the condition that his name be changed (for fear of KGB reprisals, apparently).  The book version of his story, published originally in 1955, riveted the German people and ended up being made into a German TV series in 1959 that was an enormous hit, bringing a lot of hope back to the German family members still waiting, even then, for their own relatives to somehow return home.

According to Wikipedia, the real Clemens Forell was named Cornelius Rost and died in 1983.  Cornelius, you da man.

(You know, except for the part where you were a Nazi.)

Recommended!

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Genre:  Drama, Foreign
Cast:  Bernhard Bettermann, Michael Mendl, Anatoli Kotenyov

MOVIE: [REC] (2007)

June 4, 2008

Okay, I gave myself a couple of days to try to figure out how to talk about this movie without peeing my pants, and I’m still not sure how far I’ll actually get. I packed a change of undies for today just in case.

But before I tell you anything about the actual plot of this Spanish horror movie,  let me give you the bad news: You can’t actually get this movie in the U.S. It hasn’t been released here, for some ungodly reason.

I know! What the. . .?!

But wait!  It gets worse!  It now appears that the plan is to skip releasing [REC] here altogether and instead go straight into American-remake-mode instead (the American version will be called Quarantine).

And we all know how good America remakes of foreign horror movies usually turn out, right?

In unison now:  CRAP!  (Though Quarantine will star Jennifer Carpenter, who I love, so maybe we’ll get lucky?)

There is, obviously, a way we Americans can see this movie.  I’ve seen it, after all.  So have Final Girl and the coolies over at Evil On Two Legs.  Give it some thought.  Mayhap you will figure it out.  Don’t tell me how you do it, though, because la la la, I can’t hear you breaking the law, la la la!

Anyway, enough of that nonsense, let me see if I can tell you what happens in this flick without giving into the overwhelming urge to cower under my desk (hard to type from under there, see?).

[REC]opens with an extremely cute young woman standing in front of a fire truck doing a couple of takes with her cameraman. We quickly realize she’s some kind of news reporter, and she’s there to do an installment in a series called “While You Were Asleep,” in which she goes out in the wee hours and hangs out with night-shifters. This installment takes her into a fire station and the plan is to let us normal day-shifters see what it is los bomberos do all night long. (Isn’t “bomberos” a great word? That’s Spanish for firemen, if you hadn’t figgered that out yet.)

At first, it looks like the short answer might be: not a whole hell of a lot. But just when it seems like the newswoman (Angela) is about to go bonkers from the mind-numbing lack of anything newsworthy, the bomberos finally get a call.

Someone is reporting that an old woman is trapped in her apartment and is screaming bloody murder. The gang loads into the truck, including Angela and her cameraman, and they take off for the building. Inside, a group of tenants has gathered in the lobby and they quickly tell los bomberos that the woman has been yelling and they can’t get inside her apartment because the door is locked. Los bomberos run up the stairs and break down her door. They walk into the now-silent apartment and see a woman with long stringy gray hair wearing a bloody slip standing down at the end of the hallway and kind of pacing around. She’s moaning and making weird sounds and then she leaves the hallway and goes into an adjacent room.

The firemen follow her, and are trying to figure out if she’s bleeding or otherwise hurt when all of a sudden, she takes a big CHOMP out of the neck of a nearby policeman.

The next thing we know, everybody’s running down the stairs, carrying the cop’s flailing body, and they’re struggling to put pressure on his wound when WHOMP! the body of one of the fireman comes thundering down from the landing above and crashes onto the lobby floor, face chewed all the way to the bone, skull shattered by the impact.

Immediately, the reporter and the firemen dash to the building’s front door to try to get out and find some help, only to find they’ve been locked inside and are now surrounded by cops and people from the health department, who announce they can’t leave the building until tests have been run because there’s been a report of some kind of disease outbreak.

And holy crap, you guys, things get incredibly crazy, incredibly fast after that. And then later on, the lights go out. And then after that, the little girl! OH MY GOD!! THAT LITTLE GIRL! And then after that, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! DON’T GO INTO THE ATTIC, PABLO!! HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?!  OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?!

Holy Sweet Mother of Pete, this movie was awesome.  When the final credits rolled, I was literally sitting in front of the screen with my hands clasped over my gaping mouth, absolutely stunned by its total awesomeness.

Please, for the love of all that is holy in this world, RELEASE THIS MOVIE ON REGION 1 DVD AS SOON AS POSSIBLE so I can buy copies for every horror movie fan I know.

[official web site]

Genre: Horror
Cast:  Manuela Velasco, Javier Botet, Ferran Terraza, Martha Carbonell, Claudia Font

MOVIE: Funny Games (1997)

March 31, 2008

In my review of No Country for Old Men the other day, I mentioned that I’d seen another movie last weekend that featured similarly dispassionate violence in it.  And I think I also mentioned that I found that other movie — that is to say, THIS movie — so disturbing on so many levels that I needed a few more days to process it before I could formulate an opinion.

I have no idea if I’m actually ready.  But here goes nothing.

This Austrian film opens with a happy family on their way to their summer house for a couple of weeks of vacation — it’s a husband (Georg, played by Ulrich Muhe from The Lives of Others), his wife Anna (Susanne Lothar), and their young son.  As they are pulling into the neighborhood where their summer house is located, they see one of their friends off in the distance standing next to two young men dressed all in white.  They wave and yell something about hooking up for golf the next day, and then continue the drive up to their house.

Excited to be on vacation, Anna heads into the kitchen to put the food away and start dinner while Georg and his son head down to the water to get their sailboat into the water.  The neighbor and one of the young men in white come over to help Georg unload the boat, and meanwhile, the other young man in white goes up to the house and asks Anna if she can spare any eggs.

Having just seen the man with her neighbor, Anna lets him in the house and hands over four eggs as requested.  But after about five or ten minutes of conversation with the young man, Anna’s intuition starts to buzz, and she soon begins to feel increasingly uneasy about him.  The next thing she knows, he’s been joined by his friend — let’s call them “Peter” and “Paul,” since those are two of the names they use in the film (along with a variety of others — we never learn their real names) — and the two are just acting. . . strangely.  They won’t leave, they keep demanding that she hand over her last four eggs — their social mannerisms are just off somehow.

Georg comes up to the house and finds Anna nearly in hysterics.  At first, he’s completely confused — why is his wife so upset with these two young men who simply wanted to borrow some eggs?  But when they refuse to leave when HE asks them to, he slaps one of them gently across the face, and the next thing he knows, the other has taken a golf club to his kneecap, shattering it.

From there, things spiral into . . . well, not chaos, actually.  In fact, it’s the total opposite of chaos.  Everything is calm, controlled, and practiced.  And that’s the part that is so disconcerting.  We slowly begin to deduce that these two young men are there to torment the family for no reason other than their own entertainment.  They aren’t there to rob them, aren’t there for sexual gratification — they’re just there for something to do, really.   But their torment is unlike anything we’re used to seeing in movies like this one.  There’s no real violence at first — they don’t hurt them (aside from breaking Georg’s knee, but that was sort of self-defense at the time), they don’t yell at them, there aren’t any direct threats, really.  It’s all very controlled and unemotional. 

And it just totally freaked me the hell out, not the least because I would’ve opened the door for that kid who wanted to borrow some eggs myself without even thinking twice about it. 

Anyway, without going into too much detail, bad things start to happen, and they are bad things of a nature we’re just really not used to seeing in American movies.  But the fascinating thing is, we don’t actually SEE ANYTHING happen — we just know it has, and we know it’s utterly unbearably awful.  The first person to die in this movie is the very last person who would ever die in a movie like this made in Hollywood, and while that person is killed, all we see on-screen is the OTHER killer hanging out in the kitchen making himself a sandwich.  While he’s slicing cheese and spreading mustard, we’re frantically counting to 35 in our heads (long story) trying to figure out who is about to get shot in the other room, and we figure it out just as the gun goes off in the background.  And even THEN we cannot believe it.  CANNOT BELIEVE IT!

At one point, the wife manages to turn the tables on the killers (in the only scene in the entire film where we actually see someone get shot, I might add — no accident, that) and we let out a cheer, hurrah!  Things are finally going the way we’re used to having them go!  But before the film can progress any further, one of the killers grabs the remote control from the couch and hits rewind, and the scene we just watched goes back about five minutes and then starts over again.  This time, no tables are turned.  There’s no hurrah.  There’s no sense of relief that finally this movie is going to settle into a more comfortable pattern.  No promise left of an ending that will make any sense whatsoever to us as human beings.

And it was right about then that I started to realize what the director, Michael Haneke, was doing, something I confirmed when I watched an interview with him in the special features in which he says the only people who are going to watch this film from start to finish are the people who actually NEED to watch this film from start to finish.

You see, those of us who “enjoy” watching movies in which innocent people are tormented and killed by bad guys — Haneke thinks there’s something wrong with us.  In fact, he thinks we’re complicit in the deaths of the innocents we see in front of us on the screen.  So, in this film, he decided to turn the tables on US — the viewers — to show us just how sick and twisted we truly are. 

And I will confess that this kind of threw me for a few days.  I’ve said many times before that I have no idea why I enjoy watching horror movies — why I find watching people get eaten by zombies or chopped up by serial killers so relaxing.   It does disturb me sometimes.  But it wasn’t until this movie that I realized WHY, and, unfortunately for Haneke, it means his plan here kind of backfired. 

You see, in the horror movies we’re used to seeing, things progress in a predictable manner.  Sometimes the wrong people die at first, but usually by the end, someone good is victorious and the bad guy gets his comeuppance, even if he comes back to life at the last minute to make yet another in a long line of worsening sequels.  And that’s the part that is relaxing for me — in the world of the typical scary movie, I know what to expect, and I know that 9 times out of 10, things will end in a way that makes sense to me in the Great Cosmic Scheme of Things.  It’s not that I likewatching people get chopped up (well, if they’re blonde and stupid, sometimes I do, I will confess) — it’s that I like it when scary things are resolved satisfactorily.  It helps me cope with my own, much more pedestrian fears.  If the smart girl can make it to the sequel, surely that means there’s hope for me as well?

In this movie, on the other hand, things onlygo wrong.  Haneke clearly knows the genre — watched a few horror movies yourself, eh, Mike? — because not only does this movie turn every “traditional” horror/thriller scene on its ear, it even throws in a few extra details, like a moment of foreshadowing in the beginning of the movie that we cling to for the rest of the film, fully expecting it to come back at the end and save the day for SOMEONE.  But no — not even that goes the way we’ve come to expect it to.  In fact, it goes the way we always heckle bad horror movies for NOT going, frankly.  It goes the way it probably would in the real world, where killers like this aren’t stupid or careless.  Where they don’t care about justice or logic or reason or humanity.  Where they decide to kill someone. . . and so they do.

But here’s the thing — Haneke means to shame us for watching his movie all the way through, right?   The movie HE THOUGHT UP, and, even worse, the movie he made not once but TWICE (there’s a Hollywood version in theaters now, starring Michael Pitt, Tim Roth, and Naomi Watts, that is essentially, I gather, a frame-for-frame remake also directed by Haneke)?  Dude, not even at my most depraved and bloodthirsty (typically the weekend before Halloween, in case you’re wondering) could I have come up with the script for this film.  And it’s not because I lack the self-awareness or intelligence needed to knuckleball a genre like this.  It’s because I’m just not twisted enough to be able to put down on a piece of paper the things that happen in this film.  This movie is brilliant (it really is, in my opinion), but it’s also incredibly horrible.  I watched it to the end not because I was enjoying it, but because I couldn’t believe what was happening and kept waiting for it to play out the way it was SUPPOSED to play out: the predictable, “safe” way. 

Which means I’m kind of all right in the head after all, if you ask me.

I have no intention of seeing the remake, before you ask.  Not just because once was plenty with this puppy, but also because I don’t find Naomi Watts that interesting and I already find Michael Pitt plenty creepy enough, thankyouverymuch.  Of all the people who need to get back to doing romantic comedies. . .  Pitt, you were so cute on Dawson’s Creek!  What happened?

Oh, and one last thing — in case I didn’t make this clear enough in my review of The Lives of Others, I’d like to state officially for the record now that Ulrich Muhe was an acting GOD.  He has a scene in this film that I will never forget as long as I live, and all he does in that scene is sit on the floor and cry.  It’s one of the most painful moments I’ve ever experienced on film. We lost a good one when we lost that guy — man, I hateit when that happens.  Frak.

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Genre: Horror
Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering

MOVIE: The Lives of Others (2007)

December 22, 2007

Note: I’m heading out this afternoon for a week in California, so there won’t be any new posts after this one until December 31st. Check back then for my “Best of 2007” lists and some new movie reviews!

Set in 1980’s East Berlin, this quiet, intelligent movie (which won last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) provides an extremely fascinating and emotionally devastating look into life under the watchful eye of the East German secret police (the Stasi). Gerd Wiesler, played by Ulrich Muhe, who died shortly after this film came out, is one of the Stasi’s best “Big Brothers.” He spends his days listening in on the lives of people the Stasi suspect of being a threat to Socialism, most of whom are guilty of nothing more than being artists. One day, he is assigned to listen in on a famous local couple, a playwright named Dreyman and his girlfriend, an actress named Christa.

At first, it’s business as usual, as Wiesler clamps a massive set of headphones over his ears and begins typing up notes about what Dreyman and Christa are up to. But the more he listens to them going about their lives, the more he begins to internalize their lives, mesmerized by the fact, I think, that they actually HAD lives. Wiesler himself mostly lives in the shadows — a serious man with no family or friends. Dreyman and Christa are exciting people, and it doesn’t take long before Wiesler has essentially come to adore them, eventually starting to lie in his notes and to his superiors in order to protect them.

In essence, this movie is the ironic story of a government that was so afraid its people would become disloyal, it drove them all to disloyalty. We see it happen first to Dreyman, then to Christa, and finally to Weisler himself. But one of the things I loved most about this movie was its ending. Without giving too much away, I think that an American film would’ve ended about twenty minutes sooner, following a traumatic scene that you know will change the lives of everyone involved forever.

Instead, the film jumps ahead several years, first to when the Wall comes down, and then to a few years after that, when Dreyman learns about what Wiesler did for him way back when. Instead of a startling and unresolved ending — the type so many movies seem to have these days — we get a real sense of closure for the characters. I was surprisingly satisfied when the final credits rolled, and that was a really nice feeling!

This is one of the most interesting and unique films I’ve seen in a really long time, and I’m so glad I watched before the end of the year so I could include it in my “Best Movies of 2007” list (which will be posted on December 31st). If you haven’t seen this one yet, I strongly urge you to give it a rental. Maybe not the cheeriest movie you could rent over the holidays, but it’ll sure give you something to think about.

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Genre: Foreign/Drama
Cast: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Kock, Ulrich Tukur

MOVIE: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

June 26, 2007

Wow — just. . . wow. I had heard so many great things about this movie that I was nearly 99% positive I was going to totally hate it. The only thing that gave me a smidgen of hope was that it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who directed one of my favorite Spanish horror films, The Devil’s Backbone, as well as a number of other solid flicks like Hellboy.

Ten minutes into Pan’s, though, I knew I was a goner. This is one of the most utterly magical films I have ever seen. Visually, it’s absolutely stunning — gorgeous colors, incredible creatures, masterful effects. And the story itself? Simply brilliant. It was described to me as a fairy tale for adults, and it’s got every single quality a fairy tale requires, including a test at the end for the main character, a test that ultimately provides us, the viewers, with a solid lesson on morality. The tale itself centers around a little girl whose widowed and pregnant mother has just remarried. She is taking her young daughter to her new husband’s house, a huge mansion way out in the middle of the woodsy nowhere in Spain. The new husband is a captain in the fascist army (it’s 1944), and his side of the story involves preparing for battle against a group of rebels in the forest. He’s a cruel man who couldn’t care less about his new family and is only focused on the baby his new wife is carrying — a baby he wants as his heir.

Struggling with her new life, the little girl, Ofelia, takes to wandering in the woods, where one day she comes across a strange creature with the head of a goat. He tells her she is a princess from the underworld, reincarnated as a human girl, and that he has a series of tasks she must accomplish if she is ever to return to her real, royal family. This creature is no sweetheart, though, and his tasks are hard, scary, and often violent as well. The whole time I was watching, I was terrified for Ofelia — was this creature really someone we could trust or was he using Ofelia to carry out a set of evil tasks for him that would eventually cause her harm? But the ending of this movie, a solid lesson in the dangers of fascist principles, felt totally right-on to me. It’s exactly the ending you’d expect from a fairy tale — it’s magical, educational, and extremely thought-provoking.

This film is absolutely brilliant (though, again, it’s a fairy tale for ADULTS — there is some pretty graphic violence, not to mention a whole host of utterly terrifying creatures, like eyeballs-in-the-hands-guy!). You can bet it’ll be number one on my list of favorite movies from the year, come December. Highly, HIGHLY recommended!

Genre: Horror/Fantasy
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu