2015 Fall Break Movies
Posted by Gerald on October 18, 2015
Fall Break Movie #1 – Fulltime Killer (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai, 2001): Here we have a film that happily sacrifices any sense of heavy drama for heaps of stylish darkness. This takes a well-worn concept (a conflict between the Best Assassin Ever and the Guy Who Wants the Title) and breathes some life into it with some good action pieces, a lot of pop-culture references (everything from the movie “Point Break” to the manga “Crying Freeman”), and a fun performance by Andy Lau as the smirking would-be top killer. The use of Beethoven along with choreographed slow-motion violence, and a heavy helping of grotesque humor, give a couple of the sequences a strong feeling of “A Clockwork Orange”. As is often the case with these Hong Kong action films – especially those from Johnnie To – this moves along in a pretty formulaic direction and then suddenly veers in a very strange direction – like structuring the whole ending of the movie around a cop who had gone insane in a big shoot-out with the two gunmen finding closure by writing the ending of the story – but then fictionalizing it so he can sell the screenplay. Odd and very worthwhile if you are into this genre.
Fall Break Movie #2 – Winter on Fire (Evgeny Afineevsky, 2015): This is a documentary about the 2013-2014 revolution in the Ukraine that brought down the Yanukovich government and indirectly sparked the current conflict there. It eschews and pretense at an objective stance in favor of a celebration of the protesters. What this loses in informative power or persuasiveness it more than makes up for in immediacy. It is mostly made of video shot on the streets and interviews with protesters – in many cases the very people caught on camera. It is hard to watch at times – the view of police violence and the bloody victims is hard, watching as a sniper kills unarmed protesters is even harder. This is a very worthwhile view of revolution from the street level and a story that we are dealing with now just over a year later.
Fall Break Movie #3 – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Peter Jackson, 2014): Finally saw it. Most of my friends know that I loved the LOTR films (and make a ritual out of watching them every New Year’s Day) but I just can’t feel the same way about the Hobbit films. Much is good – I love Martin Freeman as younger Bilbo, all the work from WETA was excellent, and more… – but overall I can like these movies, but not love them. They’ve taken what could have been an enchanting single movie and blown it up into something it should never have been. I’m not going to argue the points – there is much to love here, but not for me.
Fall Break Movie #4 – The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015): This is an excellent, though not flawless, example of a favorite genre of mine – space exploration adventures (not really “science fiction” as it usually appears in movies). Others would include films from 1969’s Marooned to 2013’s Gravity. It is nicely paced and features beautiful scenery. The characters are well-written and nicely played, even if in some cases they are also a bit stereotypical. If I have a major criticism it is that the movie seems to play out in a fairly predictable fashion. There is never really a strong feeling that it will end any differently than it does – but it is still fun seeing exactly how it plays out. A few weaknesses don’t spoil the reality that this is a very good film and well worth the watching.
Fall Break Movie #5 – Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg, 2015): This was the second of a back-to-back movie day and a second film from a favorite genre of mine – a Cold War movie (that is also a historical drama). This tells the story of attorney James Donovan who represented Soviet spy Rudolph Abel and was subsequently involved in the negotiations concerning Abel’s exchange for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. Strangely enough, a movie about the U-2 spy plane incident starring Tom Hanks attracted a crowd that was, on average, somewhat older than me. The movie does have the burden of telling a true story whose outcome is a matter of history, but manages to overcome that by emphasizing the uncertainties of the process itself. The real success of the movie comes, not surprisingly, from an excellent performance by Hanks who portrays the sort of ordinary hero he has made his specialty. The result is more drama than thriller, but still packs some tense moments.