Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Ninth Gate (1999)

The Ninth Gate is based on Spanish novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, although in the movie all reference to Alexandre Dumas has been removed. Directed by Roman Polanski, this is one of must-see movies. Johnny Depp plays Corso, a book dealer, or a rare-book hunter. In the beginning of the movie, we are shown that Corso will not hesitate to do dirty tricks to make as much profit as possible. It's a very good scene: Corso offers a sum of money for 4 volumes of Don Quiotte to an heir who doesn't know the true value of those books. She is very happy to receive the money. Obviously the price offered is much higher than she has expected. Meanwhile, we see the owner of the book, who suffers a stroke and cannot move or speak, is silently furious.

Corso is hired by Balkan, a book collector, to authenticate his rare book "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows". There are only 3 copies left, but as Balkan believes the book can summon the devil, and he cannot summon the devil with his, he thinks perhaps his copy is fake. Corso must compare his book with the other two and find which one is the original. In his quest, Corso finds that the words in the 3 books are the same, but of the 9 pictures/drawings, only 3 are original. To collect all 9 original pictures drawn by Lucifer, one must have all 3 books.

Who would think that being a book hunter can be dangerous, eh? Corso's friend is murdered and he himself is almost killed several times. It's only a book! I myself love reading, but for me the 1st or 50th edition is the same. I only need to read the words in the book and don't bother with the binding, paper, etc.

The Ninth Gate was marketed as a horror movie, so a friend of mine refused to watch this. I told him this was actually a thriller and that was no ghost in it. As much as he liked Johnny Depp, he still refused. Emmanuelle Seigner does look scary sometimes, but I always turn my face away every time she stares into the screen and tries to break the 4th wall. The scariest moment, in my opinion, is when the dead face of Baroness Kessler shown in a close-up. The original page of the 9th picture also makes me shivered. The burning castle picture is very shocking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Conspirator (2011)

I am not familiar with this American history, but I believe most facts in this movie are true. So Abraham Lincoln was shot when watching a play. The movie runs smoothly and we feel the injustice and prejudice after the assassination. I think in most countries, even if one's part in an assassination is so little, he/she still to be punished. However, this is America, where some lawyers still have ideal ideas.

Mary Surratt (played excellently by Robin Wright)'s part in this tragedy, is to give rooms to John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, and his friends; for she runs a boarding house. Her other fault, is to give birth to John Surratt, Booth's right hand. Does it means she takes part in Lincoln's assassination?After the assassination, the army cannot find John Surratt, so they arrest her mother and do everything to convict her, including with false testimonies. James McAvoy plays a young lawyer who at first is reluctant to defend her -because like all good Americans, he is also angry with the assassins, but as time passes by, he believes that she should not punished because of her son's crimes.

The movie is emotionally moving. I think Robert Redford as the director did a wonderful job.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

The involvement of Guillermo del Toro made me want to watch this movie, and the title made me decide to watch this at daytime. Pan's Labyrinth is a great movie and I expected something like that, but it turns out Don't Be Afraid of The Dark's plot is not rich like Pan's Labyrinth. I think Don't Be Afraid of The Dark is equal, maybe even worse, to Mimic, which was made almost 15 years ago.

I enjoyed watching Bailee Madison, though. She plays the main character, Sally, a little girl of 10 or 11 years old. Sally's mother sends her to live with her father, played by Guy Pearce, who I think is wasted here. The father now lives with Kim (Katie Holmes - who looks very thin) and both have been decorating a big Victorian house, once belonged to a famous painter named Blackwood - who mysteriously disappeared in the end of his life (but his disappearance is not mysterious to the audience). Sally is lonely and sad, thinking that her mother has given her away. Then, Sally finds the house's basement. There live little creatures who say that they want to play with her. Soon Sally knows that the little creatures are dangerous, but no one listens to her.

Bailee Madison looks like young Katie Holmes and I think she is more suitable to be cast as her daughter than Guy Pearce's.

The plot needs more character development or side stories, in my opinion. There are also some annoying situations. We kind of want to yell, 'Oh, come on. Why don't you believe her? Can't you see?' Why the gardener keeps shutting his mouth and only says 'you must get her out of the house'? - but not saying the reason? If the monsters are many, then surely Blackwood & his son were not the only ones missing [because those are taken by them would become them]. There should be a rumor spreading in the village about the basement's house. At least the pictures taken by Sally can be a good proof.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Les yeux sans visage (1960)

"Although too much for many critics of the day to stomach, Franju's masterpiece is now considered to be one of the greatest, most influential and disturbing horror films ever made." ~ written on the back DVD cover, which made me put off to watch this until my stomach was ready. Last night I finally decided to watch this and I was relieved to know it wasn't as scary as I had imagined. Les diaboliques (1955) is more thrilling.

Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur), a brilliant surgeon, helped by his assistant Louise (Alida Valli), kidnap young women and take their faces for his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) whose face is gone during a car accident, which her father drove the car.

Of course it is not just an easy task to remove one's face and put it on another. If the skin doesn't match, it will not stay healthily and will be spoiled. Today perhaps they would do a DNA test first or something before start butchering, but in 1960, they only choose the victims by looking at their beauty skin. When the police finds a body drown in the river, Dr. Génessier acknowledges that it was Christiane's, leaving another father whose daughter is missing heart broken. Christiane herself wants to be dead. One thing that she really longs for, is to be with her fiancé Jacques; but this is impossible since she doesn't want Jacques to see her in her present state and he himself only knows that she has been dead. She sometimes calls him on the phone just to hear his voice, until the time she cannot take it anymore and whispers his name. Jacques goes to the police, but they only say that he is imagining things. They later send a young girl, Paulette, to Dr. Génessier's clinic. After examining her, the doctor sends her home, but she never reaches her home because Louise has kidnapped her. When asked about this, Dr. Génessier says that after leaving the clinic, a patient is no longer his responsibility. Therefore, he is cleared by the police.

The nightmare, however, must ends. Christiane lets Paulette go, kills Louise, and free the dogs, who all this time have become objects for Dr. Génessier's experiments. The dogs kill the doctor and Christiane walks towards the street. What becomes of her, I wonder.

The Edna's surgery scene is quite scary, although it's nothing compared to today's standard. I watched Conan a couple of days ago and the level of violence in that movie was very high that I had to turn my face away from the screen several times. I am not sure how it is with horror movies as I tend to avoid this genre. The surgery scene is not very scary for me because I figured out how it could be done.

I also wonder about the car crash, why Christiane's face is totally ruined but the eyes, hair, and body are intact. For the sake of art, perhaps.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Debt (2010)

The title is intriguing. What kind of debt is it? Who own the debt?

It's about 3 Mossad agents: Rachel, Stephan, and David who went to Germany 30 years ago to kidnap a war criminal, Dieter Vogel, known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, who used Jews for his horrible experiments during WW2. Vogel hid/worked as a fertility doctor in East Germany using an alias and the 3 agents successfully kidnapped him, but the escape-from-East-Germany mission went wrong. They had to guard him until they have another opportunity to cross the border and bring him to Israel to face trial. In short, Vogel escaped his guards. The 3 agents couldn't tell the truth to their bosses and to make everybody happy, they made a story about how Rachel shot Vogel to death when he was trying to escape. They returned to Israel as heroes.

For 30 years they have lived with this lie. Then David died. Also at the same time, 1) Rachel's daughter published a book about their heroic deed and 2) a shocking news came from Russia. Someone had told a journalist that he was the Surgeon of Birkenau.

To pay the debt, Rachel goes to Russia (Stephan lives on a wheelchair, so he cannot do the task) to find this Surgeon of Birkenau to kill him, as she should have done 30 years ago. The ending has some surprises and this is an enjoyable film. Both Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren who played Rachel were very good.

Michael Ball - Heroes Live

Filmed at Birmingham Symphony Hall in June 2011, the show started with instrumental medley of film themes about heroes such as Superman, Indiana Jones, Flash, Batman, The Saint, The Avengers; which was amusing. Michael Ball was as wonderful as always and his voice was at top form, although the sound in the DVD was not as good as I expected. Like in his previous concert DVD, Past & Present Tour Live, he made maximum use of his backing vocalists. I loved the tribute to New York medley and the rock'n roll part; but personally I think he used the backing vocalists better in Past & Present Tour Live; I really really loved the musical medley.

I had heard Michael Ball singing Sunset Boulevard a couple of times, yet when he sang that song again for the DVD, it seemed better than in previous occasions. He also sang Empty Chairs at Empty Tables very well (although I thought he had recorded it on DVD too many times), perhaps because I just watched The 25th Anniversary of Les Miz DVD last month and Michael Ball sang that song much more powerfully and emotionally than Nick Jonas. Another favourite performance is Not While I'm Around from Sweeney Todd. Stephen Sondheim songs are not easy to sing, in my opinion, because if one sings it badly, the songs become awful. The way Michael Ball sang Not While I'm Around made the song one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Before I watched this DVD, I read a complain that the songs sung were the same as in the previous concerts. I prepared myself for this and in the end I thought that no, it was not true. There are many new songs and how I enjoyed the 'old' songs he had sung in previous DVDs. My conclusion: it was a wonderful show, but I prefer the Past & Present Tour Live.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

To celebrate its' 25th anniversary, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of The Opera was presented at the Royal Albert Hall, and it was filmed. At first I was very excited to hear this, because I could finally see (again and again) the wonder of the show. The version with Gerald Butler is not the show itself, where on one same stage we can see how the designers cleverly show several locations: on stage, behind stage, under the opera house, the cemetery, etc.

Obviously I have never been in the Royal Albert Hall and didn't know that they cannot hang curtains there. OK, so the show has been modified, and I must say that I miss the big elephant and the mannequin. However, I must say that the Masquerade scene is much better than in the original show because for the anniversary they could afford more people.


You little demon - is this what you wanted to see?

Sierra Boggess is wonderful as Christine. I also love Hadley Fraser's Raoul. Wendy Ferguson's Charlotta is funny and she made me laugh a couple of times. As for The Phantom, I don't like Ramin Karimloo since he ruined the only POTO live show I can see. I must say that he did a good job, but I still don't like his voice, which I think lack of emotion. It's a surprise to see Colm Wilkinson, Anthony Warlow and John Owen-Jones came. With Peter Jöback (he was the only one of the four I didn't know), they sang the title song with Sarah Brightman. Michael Crawford was also present (he didn't age a bit for the last years), but he didn't sing with them. They also didn't give him a microphone.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Unknown (2011)

Liam Neeson plays Dr Martin Harris, who comes to Berlin with his wife for a conference. On his arrival at the hotel, Martin realizes that one of his suitcases is left at the airport, so he leaves again immediately. On his way back to the airport, he has a car accident and has to be fished from the river. He wakes up in a hospital without any ID and when he goes to the hotel, his wife doesn't recognize him, and there is someone else with the name of Dr Martin Harris. Why he is so important that someone else wants to take his identity?

He seeks help from the taxi driver who was in the same car with him when the accident happened. The nurse from the hospital also sends him to a detective. Meanwhile, someone wants him dead.

The movie is quite enjoyable, particularly because of its lead actor - although the story is not very original. The story where the lead character lost his memory is not new. One movie I can think of is Vincenzo Natali's Cypher.

The first half of the movie is the best part because it's so exciting and like Martin, we are also in the dark. Like him, we regret why he didn't check in with his wife at the hotel's receptionist. However, a big hotel such as that should have installed CCTV camera at the front side so they can see guests arriving.

Death Wish (1974)

This original Death Wish movie turns out to be not as barbaric as I have imagined. Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey, an architect who works in a real estate development. The movie begins with Kersey and his wife in Hawaii, very happy in their holiday. After returning to New York, his colleague tells him about how high the crime rate, but Kersey doesn't take it seriously. Soon, 3 muggers come into his apartment, kill his wife and rape his daughter - which makes her so traumatized that she has to be sent to a mental hospital. The daughter also cannot describe those who have attacked her and her mother, means there is little possibility the 3 muggers can be caught.

Kersey's work brings him to Arizona, where he learns about the wild west and how to shoot with a gun. On his return to New York, he receives a gun as a gift. So what is wrong, when Kersey defends himself and shoots his attacker with that gun? However, it becomes a habit. Kersey then deliberately puts himself as a bait and shoots whoever want to harm him.

The NYPD must treat those unnatural deaths as homicide and they begin to investigate. On the contrary, those on the political side are happy with the vigilante action as the crime rate is down by half and the New Yorkers start to learn to defend themselves. The crime rate in the movie is so worrying. In a scene in a subway train, we see that a police/guard disappears after seeing 2 muggers approaching; he gives them liberty to do what they please.

It's interesting that Kersey never catches the 3 muggers who have killed his wife and raped his daughter, for he doesn't know who they are. [In 1974 they didn't have CCTV.] It sorts of giving this movie a bit reality, not like some revenge movie. Kersey is also described not as a cold blooded robot who shoots muggers for only revenge. He only shoots those who are attacking him. After his first killing, he even gets sick.