So this is one possible outcome when a film, here a science fiction think-piece, is based on a critical essay? That essay was penned by eastern bloc author Stanislaw Lem perhaps best known as the author of book used for Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solyaris (an adaptation the author was not particularly happy with, albeit it is one of the key films of science fiction cinema). I wonder what Lem, if he were alive today would have to say about 1. Would he like the ponderously dense wordplay within the film a hybrid of voice-over narration, expository information overload and satirical potshots at a variety of societal institutions including book publishing, news-media and shady governmental secret police. 1 is a curious beast because it does make attempts to ‘show-don’t-tell’ but cannot figure out any coherent way to do so, so it ultimately has to talk-talk-talk, while cross-cutting to surreal imagery. As if Louis Buñuel and Terry Gilliam co-directed a run-on sentence. One will note connections to dystopian mind-fucks along the lines of Brazil, Ghost in the Shell or Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash albeit without the whimsy or kineticism in any of those works, perhaps the more apt comparison would be to Oshii’s follow-up Innocence, a film that also gets swallowed by its own linguistic pretensions.
There are so few bonafide movie stars these days. These are actors that can light up the screen in such a way that even in a highly stylized and kinetic motion picture about an infamous personality, all eyes are riveted on the curve of the mouth or the lift of a brow of the player: Insouciance is celebrated. Vincent Cassel is certainly one of those actors. Whether he is hamming it up in the all star Ocean’s movies (or the goofy Sheitan) or turning into a monster in Irreversible or La Haine. Few stars of Cassel‘s caliber can go from the charm and sex appeal of Warren Beatty to the pure motherfucker-ness Charles Bronson to full on nutter of Jack Nicholson. And director Jean-François Richet allows for all of the above in Public Enemy Number One (Part One). While we get little real insight into one of Frances most notorious criminals, Jacques Mesrine, what we do get is one of the most snappy crime thrillers in quite some time. The stylish presentation and driving narrative do not let up. The film asks you to root, cheer, and laugh for a truly despicable human being, and with its stars charm and menace at the helm, you might just find yourself doing so. Yes, in a the strangest of ways this is a good thing.
North American’s likely know Jean-François Richet from his remake of John Carpenter’s Assault in Precinct 13, but that somewhat forgettable film cannot adequately prepare for the mastery on display in the construction of Public Enemy Number One. Visually echoing the styles of Michael Mann and Brian DePalma, Richet makes the most of split screens, changing film stocks, Ken Burns effects, extreme close-ups and when necessary, precise, static long shots. The opening credits of the film set the tone in the form of multiple versions of Vincent Cassel and Ludivine Sagnier on screen, simultaneous yet different angles and slightly off in timing via a masterful use of split screen. This is the stuff perfect introduction on what the film is going to be, slick glossy and commercial, yet not at the expense of edgy filmmaking. There is something going on: a bomb, a bank heist, the feel is familiar, the cinematic grammar an obvious telltale. But things are cranked up a bit further than your run-of-the-mill thriller. It feels like the film is taking the first step crossing a busy and wide street, knowing that only centimeters away is fast moving death on wheels. That feeling never really goes away over the course of the film, making the 2 hour run time feel like mere minutes. The viewer is asked to watch some pretty grisly stuff, not the least of it being a bit of tense marital gun fellatio. The first part of the film which resembles a good old fashioned gangster yarn in the vein of Scarface of The Godfather, to the second half which fuses a terrorism biopic with Bonnie and Clyde. The two fuse together neatly while chronicling the first dozen years of the stranger personal and professional life of Jacques Mesrine from his time doing hoodlum stuff on the streets of Paris in the 1950s to the full blown crime spree in Quebec in the 1960s which culminates in a full frontal prison assault of all things. As a Canadian, it was curious to get the French take on the Canadian prison system, if the film does nothing else, it is a good adviser against committing felonies in Montreal. The opening credits of the film have a disclaimer that belongs in front of every biopic ever made. Something along the lines that this film isn’t truth, or history, but a artistic and commercial point of view. Truth is in the eye of the filmmakers. Not since The Untouchables has this type of filmmaking been realized so bloody well. Excising much of the stories intimate drama or Oscar-bait histrionics, and relying on the magnetism of Vincent Cassel’s charisma to grab the audience in between bullets, chases and macho posturing, Public Enemy Number One is a bloody shiv, broken off at the handle and shoved in hard by a smiling, crazy, and charming superstar in his prime. Bring on Part Two please.
This review was originally posted during our TIFF 2008 coverage. The title of the film was originally Public Enemy Number One (part 1) with an at the time, unreleased sequel. At Fantasia 2010 you have the chance to see both Mesrine : L’instinct de mort and Mesrine : L’ennemi public n°1.
The directorial and writing team behind Infernal Affairs (Felix Chong and Alan Mak) return with a new crime thriller, Overheard and unfortunately they are not able to recapture the magic of the Infernal Affairs trilogy. While the concept behind Overheard could lend itself to a very interesting thriller or drama the movie is weighed down by bloated plotting and a need to please the audience even though Mak and Chong want to say that crime doesn’t pay.
Three police officers working surveillance, Johnny (Ching Wan Lau), Gene (Louis Koo) and Max (Daniel Wu) end up hearing a secret discussion while watching a surveillance tape and discover that they have the chance to make a large sum of money by using insider information on the stock market. After some initial discussion, money is borrowed and spent and the three have to deal with an impending investigation and some very nasty criminals who are not happy with their actions. Instead of keeping the story simple we are shown and told how each member of the trio is suffering due to health concerns, a secret relationship and unhappiness caused by relatives. While this does provide justification for their actions it also bloats down the story unnecessarily and only causes confusion as to whether the audience should be cheering for the three. Mak and Chong want this to be a story of grays as opposed to black but they are unable to make it compelling and they cave in and give the audience a weird feel good conclusion. Bad things continue to happen to Johnny, Gene and Max throughout the movie, mostly caused by their actions. When they try to do things in the right way they are still punished for their crime. Perhaps it is just the fact that the world feels like it is out to get all three of them that has really soured me on Overheard but I think it is more a matter of the story really being bloated.
Infernal Affairs was as much a character study of the main characters as it was a solid thriller. I can tell that Overheard wants to be more than it is but it fails. While all the main character’s do an admirable job with their parts I just lost interest in it and when the climax of the movie arrives I was even more disappointed with the story because it really felt like it was copping out in an attempt to bring the audience back in. I know that I will return to the Infernal Affairs trilogy over and over throughout the years but I doubt I will return to Overheard again.
There is really something to be said for movies that catch you off guard when it comes to the story they are telling. Going in expecting one thing and coming out with something else is one of the great pleasures of movie going. You might not always get what you originally wanted but when you get something else that is highly entertaining or thought provoking you come away with a treasure. I remember going into Sean Penn’s The Pledge starring Jack Nicholson expecting a strong but standard story of a cop tracking down a killer. Instead what I got was a deep look into the psyche of a man driven by an unattainable quest. Like The Pledge, Accident delves into the realm of the obsessed and rewards you for it. The story starts out with the basic premise of a team of hitmen discover after one of their own is killed that there is another team working against them. The leader of the team, Ho Kwok-fai or “The Brain” (Louis Koo) is driven to discover just who is working against them and who is responsible for the death of Fatty (Suet Lam).
What sets Accident apart from other hitmen or spy movies are two things. First off, the way the assassin team works is by arranging accidents. In a couple of cases the accidents are a bit to coincidental to be believed but they are still entertaining. The first death is caused by the lone female of the team (Michelle Ye) having a flat tire which forces their victim down a side road. The car of the victim is then splashed from a truck driven by Unlce (Shui-Fan Fung) carrying some form of liquid which caused the car to swerve and which point a banner is dropped from the roadway above. When the victim removes the banner, he pulls on it dislodging a glass plate which shatters and drops down on him killing him. As far as the police are concerned this is an accident and therefore there is no search for the assassin. Each of the assassination planned in Accident are similar in nature. In effect the movie plays out much like a heist movie as opposed to a hitman movie with each team member having their own tasks and it is quite fun to watch the team work together and also experience some difficulties as mistakes are made.
As already mentioned, what truly sets Accident apart is that after the initial half is Louis Koo playing the driven character. He is sure that he knows who is responsible for things falling apart with his team. Koo plays the role perfectly. Just like Nicholson in The Pledge Koo is given much of the screen time and this allows us to watch as he works through the mystery of just what happened. From, his distrust of his teammates to listening in on the suspected killer who is having sex in the apartment above, watching Koo become The Brain is compelling.
Accident is produced by Johnnie To and is directed by Pou-Soi Cheang has several of the key elements of a To directed film. There are elaborate set pieces, the team of experts and more than a couple well shot scenes. I would not place Accident in with To’s better films but it is more than a match for his mid range films and this is saying something as I am a very big fan of Johnnie To. While I was expecting more of a typical action thriller I ended up with a very interesting character study . The only real faults that I can find would be that a couple of the “accidents” really are a bit too coincidental to be believed plus a whole subplot with the Uncle character developing Alzheimer’s felt a bit too rushed. Overall though, Accident is an interesting movie that has made me interested in checking out Pou-Soi Cheang’s other feature films.
No one is currently doing movies that combine moments of horror, comedy, action and drama like the South Koreans in my opinion and the leader of the pack in cross-theme movies is actor Song Kang-ho. He somehow makes the character trait of bumbling-but-oddly-proficient seem like it makes sense. In Hun Jang’s The Secret Reunion the focus is the cold-conflict between the North and the South spies. North Korea has sent assassins into South Korea and Lee (Song Kang-ho) is a special agent tasked with bringing down the insurgents.
This is the danger of ignoring the Korean Film industry, while Chungmuro has not been operating at quite the level of the early 2000s heyday, there are still some real gems to be found out there. So colour me surprised when the 2008 blockbuster A Frozen Flower re-invigorates the ubiquitous costume genre with a lot of steamy sex and heady adult melodrama. Although there is no literal or production connection, I do consider A Frozen Flower the spiritual sequel of the wildly successful The King and The Clown, which seemed to be the key film in opening doors for depicting homosexuality in a populist blockbuster. The 2005 sleeper hit had a literal Shakespeare connection, the film structured in a similar fashion to Hamlet, although from the point of the view of The Players. In A Frozen Flower, there is also a significant Shakespearean feel – loads of trickery and hijinx with still a romantic bent – albeit not connected to any of the bards specific plays which allows for a refreshing unpredictability in the films unusual love triangle. With the exception of the final, wholly unnecessary shot, A Frozen Flower is a perfect piece of thoughtful and intense film-making.
There is a moment at about the halfway point in manga inspired Serbian animated film Technotise: Edit & I where the lead character has intense consensual sex with her own central nervous system. The moment is a transcendent one both on a visual level but also in looking how identity can be divorced from the flesh but still used for physical gratification. Think of the Merovingian computer program giving another digital construct an orgasm in Matrix: Reloaded, yet have this one take place more in the real world from a machine merging into the body of its protagonist. I wish there were more moments like this in Technotise which often confines itself to a more straightforward chase and action extravaganza with only a scant cerebral morsels hidden along the way. Based on Aleksa Gajić’s comic book, Edit & I, it is a solid but not perfect first feature from animation house Black White ‘N’ Green. Nevertheless, it puts contemporary Serbia on the map as a place to watch not just in gory-graphic political films, but also digital pop entertainment.
This ridiculously fun adventure flick that combines 1980s style comedy-adventure film a la Romancing The Stone with the mannered deadpan sensibility of Danish comedy. That At World’s End is a Anders Thomas Jensen screenplay is immediately obvious despite the grenades-and-jungle clothing. Shot all over the world, from Copenhagen to Jakharta to Sydney, it is an enthusiastic reminder of why we (I say that as those who grew up in the eighties era of Lucasfilm and Golan-Globus) loved these films, but with more than a few surprises in where it goes and how the story plays out. Deep in the Sumatra jungles, there is a rare flower that (legend has it) provides eternal life for those who consume the pedals on a regular basis. The living proof of the legend is Severin, a European man born in the 19th century (making him 129 years old) living in jungle-isolation with Hedvig (his name for the plant) until a team of BBC documentarians accidently discover the prized possession. Severin is perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic in defending the source of his immortality, and it is not long before there is an international incident between the local government and the Danish consulate. Enter Adrian, (Nicholaj Lie Kaas here a bundle of anxieties and nervous tics) a meek psychologist in mid-career crisis and a closet smoker who was just informed that his mother is dying of lung cancer (a taste of the films humour), is volun-told by his boss to go (along with his pretty, blonde secretary, Beate) down to Jakharta to assess the Severin’s sanity, declare Severin mentally unstable and get the loopy possible citizen (the jungle-man is bearing a 1906 Danish passport) shipped out and away from further bad press. Meanwhile, the local authorities are hell-bent on getting their hands on this miracle-plant.
Fans of The Sopranos will be hard pressed to not come away from Ben Wheatley’s Down Terrace with their jaw dropped to the floor. Wheatley’s first feature film is a deep look into a family that is held together for all the wrong reasons. Bill (Robert Hill), the patriarch and head of a small collection of British Criminals has just been released from prison. Bill is a tough as nails, say it like he sees it bastard with a taste for playing folk music with his friends. Karl, Bill’s son with a temper (Robin Hill) has also just been released from after serving a short sentence. Both father and son believe that they have an informant in their midst are set about to remove the threat. Julia Deacon is Karl’s mother and in many ways is the most vicious of them all. All three of the family talk about what they have to do in order to find and remove the informant none of them have a problem taking the actions needed but the weight of their lives seems to be destroying their humanity.
The remainder of the cast consists of relatives and friends of the family who are associated with the family. There is only one non criminal and that is Karl’s girlfriend who shows up pregnant. Instead of Bill and Karl’s mom being happy they can’t help see but see her as an outsider and a threat, even going so far as to eventually saying that she needs to “disappear” for the good of the family. From this point on the film plays out with family members working for what they believe is the good of the family. There are several deaths as friend and family meet their end.