After the first post in this series was well-received, I thought that I would quickly do a second. Not only do I enjoy recapping the films I have seen, it is also nice to think about them, when it has been some time since they were watched. Let me know if you want me to keep going though, as it could become a very long series. Once again, I chose a shelf, and slipped six films from the top of a stack. here’s what came out.
1) The Raid (2011)
Despite having a lot of foreign films in my collection, this is the only one from Indonesia. (Original language, English subtitles.) The tagline for the film reads, ’20 Elite Cops, 30 Floors Of Hell.’ This should give you some idea of what to expect, and it delivers. This is a rollicking roller-coaster of a film, (critics love that description) with a huge cast, an enormous amount of shooting and killing, and some first rate martial arts combat too. After a brief build up, it continues at a frantic pace until almost everyone has been killed. I needed a rest after watching this, it wore me out.
The plot is nothing special. The SWAT team are sent in to root out drug dealers and gangsters occupying a deserted tower block in the city. But they have an informer in their midst, and the criminals have been alerted to the raid. The police walk into an ambush, and have to fight for their lives, with no sign of any help arriving.
This is a great foreign film, that bars no holds, and pulls no punches. I loved it.
2) Ride With The Devil (1999)
Ang Lee’s award winning film set during the American Civil War is a must-see, for any fans of the genre. It is one of my favourite modern films, but I confess to being very interested in that war. I have reviewed it previously on my blog. Here is that review.
‘This 1999 film, directed by Ang Lee, eschews the huge battles and massed ranks of the more conventional Civil War films, to concentrate on an isolated aspect of the conflict. Missouri, in America’s mid-west, was a state divided against itself, as neighbours and former friends chose sides at the outbreak of hostilities. Here, there were no rules, no uniforms, and no mercy shown to the enemy. Armed bands of irregulars roamed the state, and crossed into Kansas, to pursue the causes of the sides that they had picked. The story concentrates on a band of Confederate sympathisers, and their exploits during a relatively short period. Historical accuracy is flawless, and period feel is so good, it often seems like a documentary that could have been made at the time, if such technology had existed then. The action, when it comes, is a series of frantic engagements, and uneven fire fights, though a lot of time is spent sitting out the weather, and avoiding capture. The main set piece of the film, a depiction of the real-life raid on the town of Lawrence, in Kansas, with the massacre that follows, is well portrayed, and convincing enough. Where the film scores is in how it handles the quiet moments, and the human impact of the war. Excellent performances, including an exceptional Tobey Maguire, lift this film far above what you might expect. This is not just for the Civil War enthusiast, as it works for lovers of film everywhere.’
3) Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)
This is film from Canada, set in an Inukitut (Inuit) community, and entirely in their language. (Original language, English subtitles.) This film is worth watching for the cinematography and scenery alone. Critics at the time called it ‘Visually stunning.’ And it is. But it is also an insight into the Inuit community, and their legends and traditions, one of which is told in this story. The legend of Atanarjuat is the tale of evil, magic, and shamans. Two brothers try to overcome this this blight on their people, but one is killed, and the fast runner must complete the quest.
This film is just amazing, and will stay long in your memory. It is unlike anything else I have seen, except perhaps the pseudo-documentary ‘Nanook Of The North.’ (1922) And it will give you an glimpse into the rich culture of these people into the bargain.
4) Valhalla Rising (2009)
Another unusual film, this time with established credentials, and some familiar faces. Directed by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn (‘Drive’,’Bronson’) and starring another Dane, Mads Mikkelsen. But it is not a foreign language film, and it is set in an unspecified Norse location, though filmed in Scotland, with a predominantly British cast. It is hard to properly review this film with limited space, but I will try to give some idea of it. it is told in six chapters.
It is 1000AD, and One Eye (Mikkelsen) is a fierce fighter, held captive by a local chieftain. He makes him fight to settle disputes with other clans and enemies. He escapes, accompanied by the young boy who is tasked with looking after him. One Eye has visions, and can see his own fate. Perhaps he is a mystical being? We can make up our own minds.
He comes across a group of Christian warriors, who are seeking a route to the Crusades. They decide to throw in with this strange pair, and events take strange turns as they set out on their voyage to find the Holy Land. Their navigation is unsuccessful, and they return to the river, arriving at a moody, mystical place. After being attacked by unseen enemies, and drinking a brew of hallucinogenic herbs, the group fragments, with some losing their minds. Much of this film is reminiscent of ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’, with its fruitless quest, and magical landscapes. Something different, for those who think that they have seen everything.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
A psychological thriller that is all the more disturbing as it is set inside a family group. This film got high praise from the critics on release, and I can only agree with them. I have already given it a very short review on my blog, in 2013. Since then, many of you will no doubt have seen it. Here is that review.
‘I will not add plot spoilers, or go into too much detail about events, as this should help you come fresh to the viewing. Dealing with a particularly difficult and disturbing subject, the 2011 film, ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, is a rare thing; an American film with the feel of European cinema. The performances by all the cast are excellent, with the English actress Tilda Swinton, outstanding in the lead role, of Kevin’s mother. This is not a comfortable, or feel-good film, so don’t expect to laugh, or for that matter cry. It is an experience to be had, at the hands of talented director and writer, Lynne Ramsay, and like nothing you will have ever seen before. If you are at all serious about film and cinema, I urge you to see this superb film.’
I still feel much the same about it now.
Arn: The Knight Templar (2007)
More Crusaders, this time in a full-blown epic. A big-budget Swedish film, the DVD copy is an edit of two films made as part of a trilogy, drawn from the books by Jan Guillou. This film has no less than five languages in it, including English. As a result, there are subtitles, then no subtitles, as and when necessary. The film starts with the young Arn at home in 12th century Sweden. He is part of a large and powerful family that are at war with another faction, for the control of the crown. After the King is killed, Arn is compelled to give twenty years of service as a penance, and he travels to Jerusalem, to become a Crusader.
Once in the Holy land, Arn gets involved in adventures and combat, and even manages to save the life of the Christians’ enemy, Saladin. The film has some good authentic touches, as well as some entertaining set piece battles. If you can forgive the odd liberty with historical facts, (and I can) this is an enjoyable epic film, made in the old way, and no less entertaining for that. The cast contains a few familiar faces, including Stellan Skarsgard and Simon Callow, but most of the Scandinavian stars will not be familiar to us. In my book, this helps to make it work.
Another six films for you to think about, if you haven’t seen them of course. A more mixed bag on this occasion, and despite two films featuring Crusaders, there should be something in here for everyone.