Sep 7, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (and he takes his time...)

directed by Christopher Nolan / starring everyone who has even starred in anything at all

Warning: A bit of a SPOILER ALERT. Also, beware of the total lack of sensible analysis.

I feel I could've written this post before I even before saw the film. I had strong expectations about how I would react to Nolan's Batman number three, and they ended up holding almost 100 % true. Would've loved to surprise myself, but nah. Maybe some other time.

Let me first briefly review the history me and Nolan's Batman movies share. I saw about half of Batman Begins something like a century ago (okay, five or six years might be more accurate), but never got to finish it because I had to return the loaned DVD (or VHS or film reel, or whatever people watched movies on on 2006) to the store. As far as I can remember, this has been the only time in my life I rented a DVD/video and didn't have the time to finish the movie. I don't really remember anything at all about Batman Begins. The villain might have been called the Scarecrow, or something, and he was something like the Boggart in Harry Potter. Maybe. I could and very well suspect myself to be wrong. I'm too lazy to check.

The Dark Knight I did see, the whole thing, and also more than once, in cinema first and then a couple of times on DVD. And yeah, it's a good film, but I doubt I ever would've bothered to watch it more than once hadn't it been for Heath Ledger. Because almost all the charm in the movie, for me, relies on the Joker.

So, when it comes to me and Nolan's Batman, you can hardly talk about a love story of a lifetime. Now we come to the third movie, The Dark Knight Rises, which I saw last weekend. I know I'm behind my time, and everyone in the civilized world saw the film ages ago, but it only arrived to this far-away part of the universe (also known as China) earlier last week. (And you know, going to the movies here always presents a bit of a challenge. (And you can only get SWEET popcorn, uuugh wtf!)) I went to the cinema knowing I would have to spend three freaking hours there, and that I probably wouldn't enjoy all of those hours. I still would have to see it, of course, because, duh, it's Nolan's Batman, and of course I would appreciate the quality of it. And then, by the end of it, I would again be left wondering what it is that all the other movie fans in the world see that I fail to. And so it was.

The biggest problem in the film, for me, was obvious: 165 minutes?? Seriously, Nolan, give me a break. The noble Sir Batman could've tried rising in a bit hastier manner. I bet I would've enjoyed myself twice as much had I missed the first half of the running time. The other half was pretty good and excting, but I even don't remember what happened during that first hour and a half. Let me see... Anne Hathaway pretended to be a waitress. I remember Michael Caine talking about stuff and having fantasies about Europe. That's all that comes to mind. At least the second half had that cool Star-Spangled Banner scene. Otherwise all that action and ka-ba-boom mostly just managed to bore me, like the case usually is. And Batman and Bane both had such boring fighting techniques. No special, cool weapons, no agile jumps, no clever tricks and tacticts. Just brutal power, yaaarrrr. Boring!
Speaking of Batman and Bane, or Bale and Bane. I think seeing Bale in The Flowers of War helped me get over some of the problems I've had with him in the past. I didn't really mind him as Bruce Wayne. Whether or not I minded him as Batman is another story, but oh well, I just can't stand the way he talks when he's got his suit on. Annoyingly ridiculous. Bane is an alright villain. But it's a tough job to follow Heath Ledger's Joker. Plus I had difficulties understanding what he says. Subtitles would've been great! I mean subtitles in a language other than Chinese.
Joseph Gordon-Lewitt's young and noble-minded police officer is good-looking seems a bit one-layered and clicheed for a film like this. But of course I liked him, because he's a likable character, and I like characters who are obviously likable. It's always a pleasure, of course, to watch such veteran actors as Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman. Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard looked super beautiful, all the time, and so did all the other females in the movie. Oh wait, there were no one else. So yeah.
Another problem was that too much of the time I didn't know what was going on. This is mostly thanks to Makuuni, and their 7pm deadline. Had it been 8pm, I would've had time to finish Batman Begins once upon a time in 2006 and today I would've caught all the references and understood the movie better and certainly liked it better, and wouldn't have been so confused about why Cillian Murphy suddenly appeared to do one scene out of the blue. So thanks a lot, Makuuni. If this was America I'd sue.

So, I guess you can tell that I wasn't exactly blown away by the movie. Sure, the quality of it was great. There were some fascinating ideas and concepts; like that prison was wonderfully horrid. But, although I do know it's just the thing that makes Nolan's Batman movies stand out, I'm not too much in love with the seriousness of it all. I like my comic book adaptions and superhero movies made a bit more tongue-in-cheek. After all, we're talking about grown men wearing animal costumes.
Oh and one more thing: The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most stupidly and borigly named films ever. I hope Nolan makes one more film set in Batman's world and calls it Robin Falls Down.

Sep 4, 2012

I need to talk about We Need to Talk about Kevin

"I used to think I knew. Now I'm not so sure."
I watched a film this morning and I have a feeling it was one of those films that linger in your mind and reserve a spot somewhere in the back of your head. It was also one of the best films I've seen in a good while. Granted, I haven't been watching too many films in a good while, but still.
We Need to Talk about Kevin is a story of an unusual relationship between a mother and a child. That relationship is supposed to be a tender, caring one, full of unconditional devotion, loyalty and love. What if, for some unexplicable reason, it isn't so? What if a mother isn't able to love her own child, as something about that child just seems to be off? Is it the child's fault, or the mother's? Is it anyone's fault? Is it so that the mother doesn't really love the child, because there is something wrong with him? Or is it so that there is something wrong with the child because his mother never really loved him?
The films plays with a lot of questions, but doesn't give any straightforward answers. And you can't really be handing out any absolute truths, when the topic is this. We are so deep in the darkest corners of the human mind, that no one can know for sure what's going on. When a 15-year-old boy does something like Kevin in the film, you can bet everything hasn't been completely okay in the environment he grew up in. On the other hand, you can also bet that some other child growing up in a similar environment wouldn't turn out the same psychopathic way. It's about the balance between nature and nuture, how they both mold a person, and how sometimes the combination of the two results in a sick, violent mind.
You don't hear many stories about the families of the young men who shock and terrify and anger the world with their mindless acts. It's a very difficult subject, because you don't know whether you should feel sorry for them or blame them. Maybe both. I kind of expected We Need to Talk About Kevin to be a story about a poor, poor mother, who despite her best, sincere efforts, couldn't stop her son from doing a horrible thing, because she didn't see it coming. Instead of this (kind of boring-sounding) tale, we get a mother who definitely is not a saint, either. You can see how she's losing it from the beginning, how she just doesn't know how to be a mother to her son. And as he grows up to be, frankly speaking, a completely horrible, manipulative brat, you just know there's no way of fixing the rotten relationship. And everyone suffers.
Tilda Swinton is just magnificent in this film. I can't really imagine anyone else giving such perfect, soul-bearing performance, and conveying the mother's silent suffering like that. Damn, the headwork she must have done, preparing for the role. And we will definitely be seeing more from the young kid, Ezra Miller, who is so chilling and creepy as Kevin that I'm convinced he's actually a psychopath in real life.
It's very interesting to read everyone's thoughts about the film, especially the final scene and how differently everyone has interpreted it. For example, I, as a hopeless optimist, wanted to see a glimpse of sincerety and hope in the final interaction between the mother and the son. Someone else saw the same remorseless Kevin, in another act of manipulation. The beauty of it is that we can't know for sure what was going on. Maybe reading the book might give a hint. I'm definitely going to do that.
It's the night of the day that I began by watching We Need to Talk about Kevin, and my thoughts are still circling around it. I expect this to be one of those films that never quite leave me. And I will see it again. I just need to remember that whenever comes the time when I'll start thinking about having children, I won't be again watching this movie as light early morning entertainment on my day off.

Sep 2, 2012

The Flowers of War (2011) / 金玲十三钗


directed by Zhang Yimou / starring Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Zhang Xinyi
Nothing goes without a hitch when you're in China. In case you didn't know, I indeed happen to be in China right now (have been for seven-something weeks), and just came to discover that even writing a post about a film is easier said than done. I haven't been watching too many films lately, thanks to this damn country and my busy and tiring schedule. However, today I saw a film that I liked, and what is more, felt inspired to maybe even write a post about it. Hurray, right? And it was a Chinese film, too.

Well, I wrote half of the title to the post and then checked the film's IMDb page. I noticed the original name of the film is Jin líng shí san chai. 'I wonder how that translates to English', I thought. 'I have to check that out!' Well. Easier said than done. Google Translator doesn't cooperate with me right now, so I've been forced to use other means.
I've been sitting here for a half an hour now, and this is what I've found out: Jinlíng is what they used to call the Western part of Nanjing - the city where the film is set (and Nanjing was called Nanking at the time of the film's events... Make up your mind, will you?). Shí san is thirteen. That one I actually concluded by myself, as my enormous knowledge about the Chinese language includes numbers from one to ten. Sure, I couldn't be certain, because then again, shì also means 'be', and several other things, so I couldn't be sure about it before I saw the film's title written in Chinese characters (金玲十三钗 : the third symbol means ten and the fourth three (and that's pretty much all the symbols I recognize... I'm pathetic)). So, 'Nanjing thirteen'. What about chai? (Before I had time to do more research I had to go and have dinner, and sleep and then go to work. New day, more research.) One meaning I found was 'hairpin'. Well, that doesn't make any sense. Then I finally found it! Chai can also mean 'beauty', as it did in an ancient Chinese novel 'Dream of the Red Chamber'; the main characters are referred to as 'the Twelve Beauties of Jinlíng'. Bingo!
So. The name, Jin líng shí san chai, or The Thirteen Beauties of Jinlíng, is a modification based on the characters of the 18th century novel. Why thirteen? If you've seen the film, you'll know.
...Now, do you see what I mean? Saying that everything, everything is easier said than done when you're in China? Jeez. Well, since I now know what the film I just saw is called (or think I do; it's possible that the title translates to something completely different), maybe now I can move on and actually start talking about it. Or at least approach the point when I do.
I hadn't heard about this film before a friend of mine mentioned it when I was talking to her on Skype. Maybe I had come across it before; I did a lot of research (=googling) on films made and set in China before I came here. If so, I probably just pushed it aside immediately, because of Christian Bale (not the biggest fan of the actor). But as my friend described the film in a few words ("The Japanese attack a Chinese city and kill a bunch of people..."), I thought, 'Hey, sounds kind of familiar'. I'm actually just reading a book about it. So screw my dislike on Christian Bale and screw the running time that is too long for my taste (two and a half hours). I had to see the film!
The Nanking Massacre, or the Rape of Nanking, is what they call a six-week-period that took place in the Chinese capital at the time, in December 1937, when the Japanese troops violently took over the city, mindlessly killing, torturing and raping. Cheery, right? It's only natural that I've taken interest in it...
(Okay, NOW, let's get to the point.) In The Flowers of War Christian Bale plays a jackass American, who finds himself taking refuge in a Catholic church, with some school girls and a group of local prostitutes. (Yesterday I was describing the plot similarly to another friend and I realized it kind of sounds like the beginning of some high-budget adult movie...) The hard way they learn to work together, to try and escape from the Japanese surrounding them.
I really liked the film. Sure, it was a tiny bit too long, and yeah, Christian Bale still puts me off a little, and yes, some scenes were too graphic for my taste. And yeah, whenever there's a film like this, with two countries at war, and the story is told from a specific point of view (so it's taking a side), I wish they wouldn't show the "enemy" as 100 % evil; because they never are. Like in most good Holocaust movies there is always one good Nazi: in The Pianist there's that poor little soldier who has a shitty end, and in Schindler's List there's Schindler, and so on. (And by the way - true story! - the Nanking Massacre they had their very own Schindler: a Nazi called John Rabe who helped establish a safety zone to save innocent civilians.) I'm not saying we should sympathize Nazis, but nothing is black and white. In The Flowers of War the Japanese are evil, barbaric, cruel, soulless. Period. Of course, you can't tell this particular story with the Japanese as the good guys. But the film was shamelessly, 100 % anti-Japanese. Maybe it has to do with the relationship between China and Japan. I guess, even today, not everything that happened in the past has been forgiven...
I ramble. News?

Like I was saying, I really did like the movie. Here's something that I liked about it:
I understood some of the Chinese! Like two words, tops, but still! And I was able to tell Japanese and Chinese apart! Success!
There were so many women! Haha. Okay. Even though the main character is a man, and the story was told pretty much from his point of view, but he is surrounded by strong female characters. And the interaction and solidarity between the girls and the women is much much more interesting than the boringly predictable love story.

How the atmosphere was just dark enough. With lighter, funnier, more encouraging scenes sprinkled here and there. It was all in good balance. Of course, the overall tone of the film was dark, and sure it doesn't leave you with a smile on your face, but they had found some natural ways to lighten up the horrible context the characters lived in.

The film had some very nice and elaborative cinematography. At times I just wanted to freeze the picture, because they would've made such beautiful works of art to put on the wall. And the slow motion. Haha. I like slow motion. And Chinese women are so beautiful! Maybe next time when a Chinese woman or girl comes to me and communicates that she's ugly and yellow, and I'm so beautiful, I'll just give them a mirror and ask them to take another look.

I must say I kind of even liked Christian Bale in this. Or maybe I just liked Christian Bale for doing this. I mean, not many Hollywood actors have worked in an all-Chinese films in the past. I guess I just appreaciate his bold choice of doing something unusual. Bale says he also enjoyed working in China, as the only Westerner in the cast, but good old China just might ruin its chances of ever getting him back there; apparently he showed too much interest in potentially meddling with China's domestic politics, as he attempted to visit a human rights activist. So he might not be allowed to return. Lovely.

The Flowers of War is based on a novel by Yan Geling. I want to read it! And other books she's written. (I had to check whether she's a she or a he. These Chinese names all sound the same to me. (Although, speaking of Chinese names, I have to point out the sophistication and knowledge I show when writing the Chinese names in this post. For example, even though on IMDb it reads 'Xinyi Zhang', I knew better and wrote 'Zhang Xinyi', because that's how it would be written in China: family name first, because family is considered more important than an individual (at least that's what one of my China books said, and I read those like the Bible...))).

I should also watch more Chinese movies. Going to see a Chinese film in a cinema here would be so great, but I'm afraid these people are not familiar with the concept of English subtitles, at least not in Shenyang. So, unfortunately seeing a Chinese film here would be too much of a challenge, unless the dialogue of the film consisted of saying hello, thank you, bottoms up, and repeating the numbers from one to ten. And I don't think I'd pay to see that film.

Well. I ended up writing less about The Flowers of War and more about everything else, but no one should even try acting surprised.