Archive for June, 2009

The taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Aunjanue Ellis

Aunjanue Ellis

Do you love John Travolta like me?

If you do, you will have a lot of fun watching his latest movie, “The taking of Pelham 1 2 3″. With co-star Denzel Washington, the pair of movie superstars¬† offer two hours of suspense in this thriller taking place in the New York subway.

This movie is a remake of a 1974 movie, both based on the novel of the same name by Morton FreedGood. In this remake directed by Tony Scott (Enemy of the State, Man on Fire), the story remains the same: hijackers take over a New York subway train and its passengers and request a ten million dollar ransom.

If the deadline of one hour is not met, one passenger will be killed every minute.

John Travolta plays “Ryder”, a Wall Street convict seeking revenge for his time in jail, while Denzel Washington is Garber, a demoted MTA official who happened to be there when the train was taken.

From start to end, the storyline centers around their dialogue and the unusual relation that they develop. An angered & desperate maniac who will go all the way to make his point, and a simple likable low-key family man who would not hurt a fly.

James Gandolfini plays the New York Mayor beautifully. He is the one with the responsibility to handle this difficult situation, while trying to preserve his own good image. John Turturro is the hostage negotiator, experienced and methodic.

Aunjanue Ellis plays Garber’s wife and she wants to make sure that he does not forget to bring a gallon of milk when he comes back (if still alive).

This is an action movie and there is a lot of it too, with nice special effects and an excellent camera work.

The message of the movie: if you know something no one else does, you can make a lot of money in the stock market.

Star Trek (2009)

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana

As the most recognizable filmed sci-fi icon, no one remotely interested in the sci-fi genre can miss this new release of a Star Trek movie.

Interestingly (but fashionably correct), this is a prequel to the entire Star Trek series. As we learn about the youths of Captain Jim Kirk and Spock before they became Captain and First Officer of the Enterprise. Also how was Vulcan, Spock’s planet, destroyed.

All the other characters of the original series have their younger versions, and they look so familiar even 40 years since the first Star Trek.

Uhura, the young charming black American lady is played by Zoe Saldana. McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) all are perfect reminiscences of the Entreprise crew as we used to know them.

There is always a bad guy and he is played marvelously by Eric Bana as Nero. Rarely will you see such a good looking bad guy.

The story takes place in the year 2387. Ambassador Spock has the delicate mission to consume a dangerous supernova. He pilots a ship carrying some so-called “red matter” that can be used to create black holes. But before he completes his mission, the supernova has destroyed the planet Romulus. Romulus is one of the inhabited planets in the original Star Trek galaxy, and its inhabitants the Romulans are related to the Vulcans.

Captain Nero, one of the survivors of the Romulan race attempts to exact revenge on Spock, whom he blames for the destruction of his homeworld and its inhabitants. Both ships, however, are caught in the black hole’s event horizon (a boundary in spacetime, most often an area surrounding a black hole, beyond which time as we know it to be does not exist).

As you can imagine, the special effects are top-notch (but to be honest not at the level of Star Wars). The space adventure runs its course in a marvelous way. It really feels like space travel really exists.

One element of success in Star Trek has always been its acting and its dialogues, with conflicting characters and a good sense of humor. This aspect is very well kept, in particular the struggles between Captain Kirk and Spock. Spock (Zahary Quinto) is a very likable character as we are the witness of his constant battles for controlling his own emotions, despite very difficult personal circumstances. The younger version of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is also a perfect fit for the role, with all its bravado and courage.

A nice touch is the appearance of the true original Spock (now 78 years old) Leonard Nimoy, as an older Spock coming from the future.

Overall an excellent story and excellent actors and direction.

The message of the movie: let us try to control our emotions, or they will control us.

Departures

Kimiko Yo

Kimiko Yo

A very interesting Japanese movie.

This movie won an Oscar for the best foreign language film of 2008, as well as prizes in Japan.

I found “Departures” to be quite a refreshing movie. Refreshing from the usual Hollywood fast paced type production that has overwhelmed the Western market for a long time.

There is a mix of comical misunderstandings within a very serious subject, i.e. death. This is a slow paced movie with a lot of drama. No special effects or big budget, but an emphasis on the characters.

Daigo is a chronic screw-up who changes his career from an orchestra cellist to working for departures, as the orchestra is disbanded. He thought that “departure” was some sort of travel agency for which he applied through an ad, and little did he know that the company deals with encoffination, i.e. the ceremonial preparation of corpses for cremation.

Initially taken aback by the revelation that the job involves dealing with dead people, he slowly gets immersed in his new duties and progressively learns to master them to the level of an art reminiscent of flower arrangement. As it consists in cleaning and preparing the dead bodies in slow rituals.

He works with his taciturn boss Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his beautiful secretary Yuriko Kamimura (Kimiko Yo). The trio forms an unlikely morbid set.

The movie takes place for the most part in the countryside of Japan at and around the small town of Sakata, Yamagata. Beautiful pictures of this simple and ancestral lifestyle, entirely Japanese as foreigners do not wander in this area. Bathhouse, local houses or a river full of dying salmon in a mountain scenery.

Death is the central theme so if you are looking for a comedy this is not what I recommend, even though there is a constant sense of irony in most situations. But this is one of the saddest movie that I have seen recently, and the beautiful cello music accompanying the events is a good choice to make this sense of sadness even more powerful.

Another theme is the (estranged) father. Or his absence, as Daigo has not seen his in thirty years, since he left them with a waitress. This is sad as well because his father has left a strong mark in Daigo’s psyche, or rather what has become a scar now. He cannot even remember his father’s face.

But it is his father who made him study the cello while still a toddler, and hence he has had a profound influence on Daigo’s destiny despite his disappearance. Daigo still keeps a stone that his father gave him.

The message of the movie: parents have an immense influence on their children.