Foreign Objects

Foreign ObjectsLike Jell-o in their underwear, most Americans don’t like having to read while watching a movie. And then there are the folks who use that excuse to hide their illiteracy. Either way it’s a shame because just like Jell-o in your underwear once you try watching a subtitled movie you’ll wish you’d been doing it all along. Each Wednesday Rob Hunter takes a look at a movie produced somewhere other than the US, from France to Russia to Italy… with many, many stops in Asian countries along the way.

Updated Every: Thursday

Cinedigm

It’s possible you haven’t noticed, but Hollywood  is in a bit of a superhero glut right now. This isn’t a bad thing — especially if the mediocre fare is balanced out with fantastic titles like Captain America: The Winter Soldier — but they all seem to be aimed at the same target demographic. Where are the comic book adaptations for Presbyterians? Or bodybuilders? Or even for kids? Antboy is a new film from Denmark that tries to address that last gap with a story and style aimed squarely at the pre-teen crowd. Pelle (Oscar Dietz) is a shy kid, small for his age, and crushing hard on the most popular girl in class. Trouble continues when he tries to help a kid being bullied and instead ends up chased into an abandoned yard, but it’s there where he’s bitten by a genetically modified ant. Soon he’s discovering new abilities like super strength, wall climbing and highly acidic pee, and with the help of his comic-loving friend Wilhelm (Samuel Ting Graf) he sets out to fight crime under the moniker Antboy. It all goes fairly easy too until a villain calling himself The Flea (Nicolas Bro) shows up on the scene, kidnaps his crush Amanda and holds the town in terror.

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Rhatha Phongam in THE PROTECTOR 2

For a brief while there in the first decade of the 2000′s it looked like Thailand’s Tony Jaa was laying claim to the title of best action star of the 21st century. Ong Bak introduced him as a viable and extremely capable action lead, and the next few years saw that status confirmed with two sequels and The Protector (aka Tom Yum Goong). And then he went nuts. In his defense he was trapped in an incredibly restrictive contract and his ego had grown to elephant-sized proportions, but that’s a long story for a different day. The good news is that he looks to in the process of making a comeback. He’s currently filming Fast & Furious 7, has two Dolph Lundgren films in the can and is rumored to be attached to sequels for The Raid and SPL. He also made a sequel with the same people whose tight grip almost drove him mad. The Protector 2 begins similarly to its predecessor with Kham (Jaa) living a bachelor’s life in rural Thailand with his pet elephant Khon. Trouble starts when the pachyderm is abducted by some ruthless thugs for nefarious purposes forcing Kham to once again leave home to rescue Khon and kick some ass along the way. A repetitive plot is bad enough, but while the first film was loaded with fantastic fight sequences and visibly impressive stunts to make up for it the sequel limps along under the weight of action “assisted” by ridiculously obvious wire work […]

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review the attorney

It’s easy to forget for those of us in the United States that as recently as the mid 1980s South Korea was under a military-led despotic rule. Post-war Korea saw universities and libraries at risk of closure, free speech and freedom of the press curtailed, and the concept of democracy destined to be little more than a dream. That ended less than thirty years ago, but for many South Koreans it must seem like only yesterday. Their action/revenge films may be the ones that most frequently reach our shores, but the Korean film industry also has a subgenre of films exploring this delicate and frightening time in their relatively recent history. Im Sang-soo’s excellent and absurd The President’s Last Bang is one of the more well-known examples, and Yang Woo-seok‘s The Attorney begins roughly around the same time in the late ’70s. Song Woo-seok (Song Kang-ho) is a lawyer whose lack of “proper” education has forced him to be craftier in his trade than those around him. His tactics earn him scorn and derision along with a healthy income, but his thirst for cash takes a backseat when he stumbles into a case involving government-sanctioned torture of Korean citizens. On the surface, The Attorney is a David & Goliath-type tale about a lone lawyer standing up for what’s right against the power and threats of a corrupt police department and legal system. It works well enough on that front to satisfy viewers looking for a dramatically thrilling story, but the film earns […]

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review the suspect

Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) is one of 20,000 North Korean defectors trying to build a new life in the South. He works as a driver but otherwise keeps to himself. It’s not that he’s shy, it’s that he’s focused on finding someone. His apartment walls are lined with maps and info, and one of his clients, the chairman of a controversial corporation, has been offering assistance in the search. When the chairman is killed, Ji not only becomes the police department’s prime suspect but also the target of the man behind the assassination. An innocent man, wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, is forced on the run from both the authorities and the real bad guys. The setup of the new Korean action/thriller, The Suspect, won’t win any awards for originality, but the script offers other additions that when combined with the numerous action sequences makes for a mostly compelling movie.

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review whats in a name

Pierre (Charles Berling), a university prof who wears corduroy “like his second skin,” and his wife Elizabeth (Valérie Benguigui), an eternally optimistic middle-school teacher, are hosting a small dinner party for three guests. Claude (Guillaume de Tonquedec), a single and successful trombonist, has been best friends with Elizabeth since their childhood. Her carefree brother, Vincent (Patrick Bruel), is also joining along with his pregnant wife, Anna (Judith El Zein). All hope for a quiet and casual gathering is thrown violently out the window when the night becomes a highly combustible, Mediterranean food-fueled fracas among friends and family. The fireworks start innocently enough when, with Anna running late, Vincent entertains guesses from the others as to what they’ve decided to name their unborn son. They all come up short leading him to reveal a name that quickly moves the room from incredulous to enraged. The ensuing argument triggers a spate of insults, insinuations, and revelations that threaten to ruin not just the evening but their relationships as well. What’s In a Name? is a wickedly sharp and biting look at the value we place on names, both the proper ones we’re given and the identifiers we use in daily life, and how they’re used to sum up a person’s life and contribution in just a word or two. Friend. Brother. Wife. Lover. Asshole…?

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review caught in the web

Chinese director Chen Kaige is a veteran filmmaker and no stranger to U.S. fans of foreign language cinema. He’s been directing features since 1985 and even scored two Oscar nominations for his 1993 film, Farewell My Concubine. His career since has been somewhat eclectic with the standouts being a handful of epic period pieces (The Emperor and the Assassin, The Promise, Sacrifice) filled with martial arts, doomed romance, and gorgeous visuals. The less said about his singular foray into Hollywood the better. His latest film sees a young woman lost in her own issues unknowingly cause an incident that rattles the fragile social mores of those around her. Her transgression goes viral, streaming across the airwaves and internet, and while it marks her as a pariah, it also sets in motion a chain of events in the lives of several other people. A single act, a multitude of ramifications. Caught In the Web races into the present with a contemporary tale that uses our addiction to social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and the ease with which society rushes to judgement, to examine the current state of the human condition. And, failing that, the film essentially points out that when given the opportunity, most people will prove themselves to be selfish twats.

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review its me its me

Hitoshi (Kazuya Kamenashi) works a job he hates for a boss he loathes, but he does it for the measly pay check he gets at the end of the week. It’s not long before that’s not enough though, so one day he makes a spur of the moment decision to “accidentally” steal a stranger’s cell phone and commit a bit of a scam. It’s called ‘ore-ore sagi’ which loosely translates to “it’s me! it’s me! scam/swindle,” and it involves phoning a stranger’s friend or relative, claiming to be that stranger, and then milking the concerned person on the other end of the line for money. It’s a rash act, something Hitoshi would never have thought himself capable of, but he does it all the same. He calls the stranger’s mother, pretends he’s been in an accident resulting in damage to someone else’s car, and then convinces her to deposit money into his own bank account. Cash in hand a short while later, Hitoshi is briefly thrilled before the guilt settles in forcing him to ditch the phone and attempt to return the money. But then things get weird.

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Screenshot-Space-Battleship-Yamato-2010-under-attack

It’s 2199, and Earth is under attack from an alien race called the Gamilas. The assault has left the planet’s surface uninhabitable, and while the survivors huddle underground the radiation above will lead to mankind’s extinction in a year’s time. A message arrives from the previously unknown planet of Iskandar with an offer of help and designs for a special engine to travel there, pick up the device for Earth’s ailment, and return back before the year is up and humanity is doomed. The battleship Yamato, sunk during World War II, is resurrected and retrofitted into a space ship capable of making the journey across light years. A crew is assembled, and the ship sets off on a mission that will determine the fate of mankind. If the plot of Space Battleship Yamato sounds familiar but the name doesn’t it’s probably because you know it only by its American title. Star Blazers was an animated television show that aired in the U.S. in the late ’70s and was a re-edited and dubbed version of the original Japanese series. We got three seasons of it here before it passed into relative obscurity, but it’s stayed a fairly active franchise in its home country culminating in this big budget feature from 2010. Those unfamiliar or unmoved by the show will find this live-action feature to be a laughable sci-fi adventure of the highest order, but for the rest of us, especially those of us who recognize the value of the original series’ […]

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review our day will come

The French have a slur (“les roux ça puent”) that at its most basic says “redheads stink.” Some translations go so far as to say it means they stink like stinky vaginas. That’s a bit extreme (and strange), but whether due to Judas Iscariot, witches, or just a simple fear of the unusual, it’s an unfortunate fact that red-headed children are sometimes viewed as lesser versions of their “normal”-haired counterparts. Rémy (Olivier Barthelemy) is a young man who knows this truth all too well as he’s been the brunt of abuses both verbal and physical born in large part to his dark, red hair. His rage leads to a physical assault against his own mother that sends him fleeing into the night and into the passing car of a bored psychoanalyst named Patrick (Vincent Cassel). The good doctor has come to grips with his own auburn hair, but he sees both a brother in follicles and an entertaining diversion in the disillusioned youth. He takes Rémy under his wing and challenges him through a succession of awkward and combative situations, but what starts as a deviation from his daily humdrum becomes a violent road-trip that spins wildly out of control. Our Day Will Come is equal parts psychological drama, descent into madness, and buddy comedy, and it’s exactly as odd as it sounds.

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review inch allah

We follow a woman wearing a backpack through a crowded street. Kids play around her, diners laugh and eat at a cafe, and a caged pigeon stares blankly at a little boy’s smiling face. And then the world explodes. Chloé (Evelyne Brochu) is a Canadian doctor straddling the Israeli/Palestinian border both in her daily activities and in her sympathies. She lives in Israel but works in a clinic on the other side of the concrete wall in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. In addition to the day job she’s taken on private nurse duties for a young, pregnant woman named Rand (Sabrina Ouazani) whose husband awaits sentencing from an Israeli judge. Chloé is equally friendly with Ava (Sivan Levy), a female soldier who lives one floor below her. They share the ride to work every day with Ava stopping at the border while Chloé continues past it. The film follows Chloé’s day to day experiences in a world where the cycle of violence is never-ending, and all the club-hopping, drinks with friends, and late night calls home to her mother in Canada can’t change that. She’s witness to the carnage left behind by terrorist bombings and the human rights violations, violent inspections and casual death that come as retribution, and like everyone else there’s not a damn thing she can do about any of it.

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review the terror live

Single location thrillers can be tough on filmmakers and audiences alike, but things get a little easier the bigger you make that single location. A coffin (Buried), a car trunk (Brake) and a remote banking stand (ATM) pose all kinds of troubles, but what if the location was a radio station studio in a highrise building with a view? Yoon Young-hwa (Ha Jung-woo) was a high profile TV news anchor before being demoted to radio talk show host after some embarrassing and potentially dirty dealings. In the middle of his latest show discussing the pros and cons of federal taxes a disgruntled caller threatens to blow up a downtown bridge. Thinking the man is little more than a radio troll Yoon encourages the act before moving on to the next caller. An explosion outside the office’s windows reveals a smoking bridge near collapse, but instead of bringing in the authorities Yoon moves fast to secure a deal to return him to a network anchor chair knowing the man will be calling again. He’s less sure of his plan once he discovers there’s a bomb in his earpiece too. What follows is an often tense but occasionally inane back and forth as Yoon tries to milk the situation for personal gain. The Terror Live moves forward mostly in real time, and it finds an interesting and suspenseful footing early. By the time it hits the third act though all pretense of real world logic or consequence has gone out the window, […]

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nikkatsu 2

Japan’s oldest major film studio, Nikkatsu Corporation, began producing romantic pornography (aka Roman Pornos) in the 1970s. The movies are a mix of sex, nudity, violence and nuttiness, and while they range from dramas to comedies the focus never veers very far from the obscene and offensive. The studio has been out of the business for a while now, but Impulse Pictures is resurrecting the films on DVD. I covered a pair of releases last year (review here), and while one of them managed to be both funny and sexy the other was too rape-happy for my tastes. One bad egg wasn’t going to ruin the entirety of pink cinema for me though, so being the consummate professional that I am I’ve gone spelunking once more in the fleshy caverns of Nikkatsu’s back catalog with two recent releases from Impulse.

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review paris manhattan

Love isn’t always easy, but sometimes the wisdom you need to navigate matters of the heart can be found in the movies. Cinema actually contains the answers to most of life’s questions provided you ask the right ones, know where to look and don’t have terrible taste in films. This is well-established fact. Alice (Alice Taglioni) is a believer in this theory I just made up, but she subscribes to a very specific application of it. Put simply, she loves Woody Allen and his films to the point that she has conversations with the life-size poster of him in her bedroom. She asks for advice, and he replies with dialogue from his movies. The results haven’t exactly been spectacular, but she’s convinced that he knows what he’s talking about. She meets and falls for a young man, but her sister swoops him up and makes him her own. Ten years later and Alice is still single and pining for her sister’s now husband, but things start looking up when she meets a new beau (Yannick Soulier). Except she also meets Victor (Patrick Bruel)… Paris Manhattan is less of a love letter to Allen than it is a mash note as it tries to say a lot in a limited space to varying effect. It finds both romance and comedy in its story, and while they work well enough the 77 minute run-time ensures neither really takes hold.

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review graceland

The value of a really good story hook can never be overstated, but it’s become fairly uncommon these days to find a film that has one. The odds decrease even more when it comes to movies with a fantastic premise and a successful execution of that idea. Ron Morales‘ second feature, Graceland, manages to do both. Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is low level driver for a sordid congressman, and while he hates what the elected official does with his free time, he needs the paycheck to help raise his own daughter Elvie. He drives the congressman’s daughter to school every day and makes a habit of bringing Elvie along for the ride, but when a routine traffic stop turns into a botched kidnapping, his life is thrown into immediate turmoil. The captors have mistaken Elvie for the politician’s daughter and are now demanding a hefty ransom. The immoral congressman won’t pay if he thinks his own little girl is safe, so… what’s an honorable and desperate man to do?

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fo silence

Two men sit in a darkened living room watching an 8mm home movie play on a screen before them. It shows a young girl, terrified and sitting on a bed, while a man in a mask sits beside her and begins to unbutton his shirt. The two men head out into the sunshine of the day, driving aimlessly, until they see a young girl on a bike turn down an off-road path into the woods. They follow. It’s July 8th, 1986, and eleven year old Pia is raped and murdered by Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) while the second man, Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring), watches with equal parts disgust and arousal. The two dispose of the body and return home, but before Peer’s car has been washed of any evidence Timo has packed and boarded a bus out of town. 23 years later, to the very day, another young girl goes missing with only her bike and bag left behind at the very spot where Pia was abducted so many years ago. Writer/director Baran bo Odar‘s film, The Silence, follows the families, the police and the two men behind the original unsolved case in a story that pairs grief and guilt, obsession and duty. A suspenseful journey through other people’s pain, the film nevertheless finds beauty too through its cinematography, score and performances.

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fo berlin file

Korean cinema has developed certain genre expectations over the years, and those external pressures seem to dictate a lot of what gets made and distributed internationally. Violent revenge and romantic comedy seem to be the two areas that encompass much of people’s perception of Korean films thanks to break-out hits like Old Boy and My Sassy Girl having spawned dozens of hopeful imitators. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as numerous quality films have released under these generic genre banners, but it’s still nice to see Korean filmmakers moving outside those comfort zones. Ryoo Seung-wan‘s The Berlin File doesn’t necessarily break new ground within the action/spy genre (thanks to predecessors like JSA and Shiri), but for one of the first times the action and drama takes place entirely outside of Korea. The film follows a North Korean spy stationed in modern-day Berlin who is framed by his own agency when a deal turns deadly. He and his estranged wife, who’s also been implicated, are forced on the run with agents from both sides of the Korean peninsula chasing after them. The plot grows ever complicated, too much so unfortunately, but the action set-pieces including gunfights and hand-to-hand combat are impeccably done and exciting as hell.

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fo_taste of money

Im Sang-soo‘s The Housemaid is a devastating look at class distinctions in South Korea couched in a film that manages to be sexy, blackly comic and stunningly photographed. Its heady mix of beauty and wit makes it a film that stuns and engages on multiple levels. Im’s latest film, The Taste of Money, takes aim at a similar target, but while nearly every frame is pleasing to the eye it misses the mark in some key areas. Yoon (Baek Yun-shik) is the CEO of a large Korean corporation looking to expand into the Americas, but while he runs the company his wife Geum-ok (Yoon Yeo-jung) rules everything else with a watchful eye and an iron fist. Her secretary Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo) is ambitious and looking to climb the ladder of wealth and status, but the behaviors he witnesses are slowly breaking his resolve. The couple’s grown daughter, Na-mi (Kim Hyo-jin), is torn between the lifestyle and pangs of kindness and sympathy with those around them. Memories of a certain housemaid who perished before her eyes aren’t helping matters any either. Yoon beats them both to the conscientious punch though when he falls in love with the maid (Maui Taylor) he’s been diddling on the side and decides to walk away and choose happiness over wealth. His actions don’t sit well with Geum-ok, especially as they coincide with legal issues brought on by their son’s (On Ju-wan) illicit behavior, and soon events take an even darker turn.

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fo_in another country

A beach-set comedic drama isn’t often what comes to mind when you think of South Korean cinema, but writer/director Hong Sang-soo has never been fond of convention. That’s especially apparent when it comes to his preference for nontraditional narrative structures. His films are often broken into sections or chapters with actors and themes recurring throughout to tell a singular or collective tale. His new film, In Another Country, follows this trend but adds a foreign face into the mix in the form of Isabelle Huppert. Hanging out in a tiny seaside town on the west coast of Korea is no teenager’s idea of a good time, and when family strife pushes her indoors one young woman turns to the page to pass the time. She’s an aspiring writer who decides to craft three tales set in the very same village using the people around her as inspiration.

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fo_foreign duck2

Yoshihiro Nakamura isn’t as high a profile Japanese director as folks like Takashi Miike or Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but he truly deserves to be. His early career focused on horror, but the last few years have seen him deliver powerfully affecting entertainment in the form of films that explore friendships and relationships through fresh, thrilling and often fascinating  stories. Fish Story, Golden Slumber and A Boy and His Samurai are fantastic movies, each charming and supremely entertaining in their own ways., and any one of those films would mark Nakamura as a director to watch. But all three on his resume means anything he directs deserves at least a cursory glance. Thanks to Third Window Films those of us who don’t speak Japanese finally have the opportunity to view one that preceded the three above but retains some of the same themes and much of the quality.

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Foreign Objects - Large

Love is a complicated thing, and whether you believe in soul mates or that it’s all a crap-shoot of the heart you’d be hard-pressed to deny that’s it’s an elusive, fragile and all together dangerous emotion. It’s especially complicated when the two people involved aren’t anywhere near the same page. And when you add socio-political commentary into the mix? Hallmark doesn’t have a card for this one. It’s post-WWI Spain, and Tristana’s (Catherine Deneuve) mother has died. Before she passed the woman entrusted a “friend” named Don Lope (Fernando Rey) to take on the role of guardian to the teenage girl and protect her into womanhood. He takes Tristana on as his ward, but what starts in innocence quickly leads to more physical desires triggered by a casual glimpse at her breasts beneath a nightgown. A see-saw relationships develops between the lusty old man and the sweetly optimistic teen, but as time passes emotions and loyalties shift in dramatic fashion until the couple they are and the couple they were bear little resemblance.

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