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Monthly Archives: October 2012

For a “Silent War” there is sure a lot of noise. The Silent War (2012).

The Silent War is adapted from the novel Listener to the Wind, the first installment of the three-part espionage series “Plot Against” by Mai Jia, a sort of mainland John le Carre. Mak and the film’s screenplay significantly simplifies the plot.  The story is set in Shanghai, 1949, with the Japanese defeated; China’s own civil war is ramping up.  The Chinese Communist Party is gaining ground in the rural parts of the country, but the Kuomintang (the government advocated by Chiang Kai-shek, and Sun Yet –sen), stills infests the urban areas.  Chinese Communist Party Intelligence knows that the key to taking down the Kuomintang is in tapping into their communication channels, but so far they have been unsuccessful.  Secret Agent Zhang Xue Ning a/k/a “200” (Zhou Xun) is assigned to retrieve a distinguished piano tuner to apply his hearing to various inaudible radio frequencies, but the crafty Agent Zhang quickly discovers that the blind assistant, He Bing, (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), like Zatoichi, has greatly enhanced hearing as many blind people do because of their lack of sight.  Bing is brought into the invisible 701 Unit and proves an unqualified success, sniffing out radio signals no one else can.

 

The female secret agent Zhou Xun, is, in my opinion, the best character in the movie.  Sure we’ve all hear that blind people have their other senses heightened as a result of their inability to see—that is an old tale (i.e. Zatoichi, the comic book character Dare Devil et cetera).  However, it is rare that we have the opportunity to see such a smooth female secret agent that doesn’t seem forced—as so often films tend to do when working with such a character.  As a result, the film’s heroics fall to Zhou Xun, who does a wonderful job in a role that should be the main focus of this film.  Part of her charisma is that she proudly puts herself into harm’s way for love of the Communist Party and on more than one occasion Bing.  Zhou is easily the best thing in the film, and impressed me whether she was turning heads at a glamorous Shanghai function or engaging in high-stakes mind games with the enemy during a round of mah jong.  It is a shame that the film isn’t more focused on her exploits as Xue Ning makes a far more interesting subject than the blind cliché He Bing.

Writers/directors Alan Mak and Felix Chong must fancy movies about hearing (in one form of another) having made Overheard and then Overheard 2—note these are also the chaps that created the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Infernal Affairs trilogy.  As some people say, two steps forward and one step back. The Silent War is that one step back for these two.  What kills you are the long, indolent scenes fixated on radio telegraphy; although Morse code is vital to the story, its technical workings are not explained in a stimulating manner.  The suspenseful action typical of this genre is reduced to one well-staged escape sequence in a concert hall and a finale that is a letdown.

 

One area of the film that I particularly enjoyed, though, was the authentic art deco interiors, elaborated by elegant set decorations that are visually striking.  The elaborate upscale party scenes are filled with rich vibrant colors and embody the tone of the art-deco renaissance of the 1950’s.  Even the film’s cars are cool and classic looking, like they were plucked out of a museum.

If you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, don’t be afraid to watch The Silent War, but don’t expect Overheard, Overheard 2 or anything on the level of the Infernal Affairs trilogy.  The film’s well-acted female secret agent and great sets are reason enough to watch The Silent War, but that is about it.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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And I thought being the Third Shadow was a rough gig, it is child’s play when you are acting as Uday Hussein’s body double.

Those of you who read our review of Ichakowia Raizo in the Third Shadow know that people in powerful positions often have body doubles.  In the Third Shadow, Raizo plays a body double to the reigning warlord due to their uncanny resemblance.  As we saw in the Third Shadow, some of the benefits of masquerading as the lord included living a life of luxury, sleeping with beautiful women and getting large stipends.  The same principle and techniques are still being used today.  Uday Hussein was the sadistic psychopathic son of Saddam Hussein and was considered by many to be even crueler than his ruthless father.  Worried about assassination and other attacks, Uday decided that he needed a double like the several his father employed.  An old classmate of his from University, who had an eerie resemblance to the dictator’s son, was chosen to be Uday’s body double.

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Enter the Devil’s Double, a movie which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and was only released on a limited basis throughout the United States.  The movie is based on the book written by Latif Yahia who was forced to be Uday’s decoy and to this day bears 26 scars on his body from bullets, grenades and the like.  After viewing the film, Yahia said it was about 80% accurate the other 20% was toned down for audiences.  Apparently, he has to take pretty healthy doses of Valium every night in order to sleep and fend off the nightmares.

Only knowing what I had seen and heard on the news about the depravity of Saddam’s children this film was a real eye-opener.  In 1987, Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper), an Iraqi soldier fighting on the front lines in the Iran–Iraq War, is recalled to become a “fedai” (“body double” or political decoy) for Uday Hussein (also played by Cooper), the playboy son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (Philip Quast).  Latif comes from an upper-class family and had attended university with Uday, where everyone would remark on their likeness.  Foolishly, Latif initially refuses the position, but is tortured, and ultimately relents when his family is threatened.  Latif even has to undergo cosmetic surgery to perfect his resemblance to Uday.  Like our protagonist in the Third Shadow, he is given access to all of the luxurious benefits of the Husseins’ fortune, including massive palaces, expensive wardrobes, Uday’s vast exotic cars collection and women (only if Uday gives him permission first).  Latif tries to resist Uday’s exorbitant carousing and erratic behavior only to be stopped, threatened and captured by Uday’s own inner circle of bodyguards.  The first assassination attempt we see in the film is during an appearance at a conference with various Kuwaiti leaders.  There, as Latif is exiting the building a bloody attempt is made on Uday’s (Latif’s) life by a member of the Kurdish rebels.  And who can blame them, after all his father did use poison gas in his efforts to suppress the Kurds.  The real Uday, though, is more concerned with the Kuwaitis, who he believes have been slant drilling from Iraq’s Rumaila oil field.  The first Gulf War is launched with Uday decreeing “The Age of the Sheikhs is over!”  Obviously this chump has his priorities straight.

As the movie progresses, the real Uday becomes more and more debauched to the point of kidnapping 14-year-old girls as well as brides on their wedding day.  Killing them after he’s had his way with their bodies.  Latif sits and watches in disgust as his master sinks further and further into a hellish world of mayhem and self-destruction.  Even Uday’s father wanted to kill him on more than one occasion.  Apparently Saddam had a valet that he trusted and Saddam trusted no one.  During a party authorized by his father, a frustrated Uday takes a bottle of liquor and smashes it into the valet head causing nothing less than severe trauma.  When his father found out what he had done, he showed up with a loaded gun in his hand, pointed it at his son’s head and said if he (the valet) doesn’t live that he (Uday) would not live either.  This moron went so far as to cut someone open with an electric knife at a party given for the President of Egypt’s wife right on the buffet table.  After he realized what he’d done, Uday tried to kill himself by over dosing on sleeping pills.  In my opinion, it was merely a ploy to garner sympathy and avoid torture or execution by his father.  When Saddam shows up at the hospital, he holds a knife to Uday’s private parts and threatens to cut it off only relenting when the Doctor pleads with him saying that Uday will die because of the blood loss.

The film also points out that Latif was not only used as a decoy for would be assassins, but was also a tool for political purposes.  Uday’s double was the one sent to the front to give moral boosting speeches to the troops, where several near miss assassination attempts were made on the decoy who sustained serious injuries.

 

Examples accumulate showing the audience just how sick this Uday was.  Luckily, Latif was able to escape to Malta where a would-be assassin sent by Uday just misses shooting him as soon as he arrives on the island.  Uday calls Latif and offers him one final chance to return to Iraq, threatening to kill his father if he refuses.  Latif’s father encourages him not to return so he is killed.

 

However, Latif does return to Iraq to kill Uday with the help of a man whose bride had killed herself after being raped and beaten by Uday on their wedding day.  In an adapted version of the real attempt on Uday’s life made in 1996, Latif and his partner ambush Uday while he is attempting to lure young girls into his Porsche.  They wound him severely, including–consistent with unconfirmed reports of the real-life attack–mangling his genitals with direct shots.  One of Uday’s bodyguards catches up to Latif as he runs away from the scene.  This guard, however, is one that Latif could have killed as he fled from Uday’s birthday party before leaving the country.  However, Latif spared his life and the guard returned the favor—also, in my opinion, he is silently condoning the shooting of Uday who is clearly out of control.

 

The fact that the real Uday body double said that 20% of the film was toned down shows good taste on the directors’ part.  Otherwise The Devils Double might have been something akin to a gory Asian horror movie.  For me, the film also validates the age old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  It makes me ask how a person who has the opportunity to rule a country wastes such a chance by becoming such a cruel perverted sadist in the true sense of the word.

Good movie.  Donald Cooper, playing both Uday and Latif, does an excellent job by acting in two roles that are polar opposite in their makeup.  I don’t know why the film was only released selectively in the States, but when you get a chance take a look at the Devils Double, if nothing else you will learn a lot about the inner workings of one of the world most ruthless and corrupt families.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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Falling Down (1993) there is a little something in it for everyone.

I was rolling my catalog case along and caught the edge of the elevator door and tripped, but didn’t fall down.  Then it hit me, “eureka! Our next review at JPFmovies will be a look at “Falling Down” (1993), starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duval.”  An interesting film that has some moments of outrageously dark comedy and has some pretty cold, downright psychopathic behavior.  My guess is that while Douglas traverses Los Angeles to “go home” for his daughter’s birthday party, virtually everyone can identify with at least one of the situations he encounters along the way.  For us here at JPFmovies, it was the fast food restaurant scene (see clip below).

The film stars Michael Douglas in the lead role of William Foster (credited as “D-Fens”) the moniker appearing on his car’s license plate.  He is a frustrated, divorced and unemployed former defense engineer.  The film follows Foster as he goes on a violent trek across the city of Los Angeles, to reach the house of his estranged ex-wife in time for his daughter’s birthday party.  Along the way, he ends up in a number of situations, ranging from the trivial to the significant, provocative encounters that cause him to (over)react with violence and make sardonic observations on life, poverty, the economy, and commercialism.  Robert Duvall is an aging, often cowardly LAPD Sergeant on his last day before he retires, facing frustration with socially-accepted spinelessness, even while tracking down Foster.

The spark that lights this fire ignites when Foster’s air conditioning fails in his shitty car while he is in a serious traffic jam.  Out of pure exasperation, he simply abandons his car and begins making his way across Los Angeles to attend the birthday party as an uninvited guest.

The first encounter is at a convenience store, where the Korean owner refuses to give Foster change so he can make a telephone call—yes, that is right, at a payphone.  Foster has a heated discussion about the store’s ridiculously high prices.  The Korean goes for his baseball bat and demands Foster leave.  Foster wrestles the bat away from the shopkeeper and destroys much of the merchandise until the Korean brings his prices back to 1965 levels before leaving—then he pays for a coke and leaves.  In a vacant lot across the street, Foster is accosted by two gang members who threaten him with a knife and demand his briefcase as a toll before allowing him to leave.  Foster gives them a good beating and takes their knife and continues on his journey.

Naturally, having their “honor” challenged, the two gang members attempt a drive by shooting and find Foster in a phone booth.  They open fire, taking out several bystanders but Foster walks away without a scratch.  After the driver loses control of the car and crashes, Foster goes to survey the damage, finds a gun and shoots the one surviving gang member.  He finds the gangs gym bag full of weapons and walks away with his new found supplies.  After that encounter Foster gives his briefcase to an overly persistent panhandler he meets – but it turns out all the briefcase contains is a sandwich and an apple.

Feeling a little hungry, Foster rolls into a fast food restaurant and attempts to order breakfast, but they have switched to the lunch menu.  After informing the manager that the customer is always right, Foster pulls a gun and accidentally fires into the ceiling.  Trying to reassure the frightened employees and customers, Foster orders lunch, but points out that his burger looks nothing like the one shown on the menu.

Foster passes a bank where a black man is holding a sign stating “not economically viable,” protesting being rejected for a loan application.  The man exchanges a glance with Foster, who then asks him to “remember me” as he is escorted away by police.  Looking for a new pair of shoes (we see that Foster is stuffing his shoes with newspaper), Foster stops at an Army-Navy surplus store.  The owner is a white supremacist who chases away the police looking for Foster and when they have cleared out he offers Foster a rocket launcher, and congratulates him for shooting “a bunch of niggers” at the Whammy Burger.  When Foster denounces the overt racism the fool pulls a gun, but Foster shoots, stabs and kills him.  He changes into army fatigues and boots, takes the rocket launcher, and leaves.

In what is probably the second funniest scene, Foster stumbles across a road repair crew, working about as hard as teamsters usually do—not doing much–and accuses them of doing make work to justify their budgets.  He pulls out the rocket launcher, but struggles to use it, until a young boy (who thinks Foster is part of a movie set) explains how it works.  Foster accidentally fires the launcher which goes underground and destroys the construction site.

By the time Foster The film did ok at the box office, grossing $40.9 million domestically.  It earned $18.1 million in theatrical rentals, falling short of its $25 million budget.  Although, it was the number one weekend movie during its first two weeks of release (2/26-28, 3/5-7/93).

Reviews for the film were often positive.  The movie holds a 73% “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 56 out of 100 (“mixed or average reviews”) on Metacritic.

What is fascinating about the Douglas character, as written and played, is the core of sadness in his soul.  Yes, by the time we meet him, he has gone over the edge.  But there is no exhilaration in his rampage, no release.  He seems weary and confused, and in his actions he unconsciously follows scripts that he may have learned from the movies, or on the news, where other frustrated misfits vent their rage on innocent bystanders.

Many film critics claimed that the film glorifies law-breaking vigilantism—which is a total load of nonsense; the character is not the ‘hero’ or ‘newest urban icon,’ but a rogue and the victim at the same time.  There are many elements of our society that contributed to his madness and one may even pity him.  But the film never condones his actions.

Controversy

The Korean American Coalition protested the film for its treatment of the Korean grocer.  Warner Brothers Korea canceled the release of Falling Down in South Korea following boycott threats (chickens).  Of course someone had to be offended.  Somehow unemployed defense workers were also angered at their portrayal in the film.  Falling Down at its core could be seen as the definitive study of the “angry white male”; the character of D-FENS was featured on magazine covers and reported upon as an embodiment of the stereotype.

Some compare Falling down to Boyz ‘N the Hood.  It is a shrewd, nasty–at times wickedly funny–movie that probes nothing and challenges everybody.  I will not be surprised if some people dismiss it as a variation of the Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood vigilante movies of the l970s.  Indeed, the locale and the characters may be new, but the ideology is old and familiar.

Falling Down taps effectively into Americans’ worst collective fears and nightmares, and, considering that it’s well-made and well-acted, the movie might be even more alarming than intended, because it is good entertainment.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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We are having some technical problems here at JPFmovies . . .

Well actually it is WordPress or more accurately Video-Press, a service that I pay no insignificant amount of money for, is having technical problems screwing up the all important video-clips. I will have to take down Falling Down and see if we can’t get it up correctly with the proper clips. On behalf of JPFmovies we apologize.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 
 
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