Reviews for 2011
(page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6)
Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin, Loïc Pichon, Xavier Maly, Jean-Marie Frin, Olivier Perrier.
Directed by Xavier Beauvois.
One part speculative historical fiction and two parts character sanctification, Of Gods and Men covers a 1996 event, when a group of French Trappist monks from a monastery in Algeria were abducted by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. News of the event focused on the aftermath, but this film, directed by Xavier Beauvois, deals with the time before the kidnapping, when violent groups began to encroach upon the peaceful community.
The film is colored by an idealistic outlook made believable through unhurried depictions of daily life and a sober presentation of its characters. The monks, led by Christian (Lambert Wilson), have long been an accepted part of the Islamic Algerian community in which they reside; they provide medical facilities and share in the local work, support, and celebrations. Within the monastery, the monks maintain their discipline of prayers and chants. This heartwarming example of human harmony is then abruptly juxtaposed by the threats introduced by the external militants, who bring warlike activities that certainly endanger the monks' very lives. Religion is thus shown in its two extremes: as the instrument of peace and understanding, and as the justification for intolerance and murder.
The bulk of the film involves the monks' pressing dilemma: should they stay or should they go? But by the time the set up for this scenario has been completed, the savvy audience knows there's only one way it can go. The group of seven monks, plus one doctor, are asked to vote on the decision, and naturally some of them are very frightened. But this is a story about strength derived from faith, is it not? And though it's set to show the formation of the decision as something compelling, the movie's direction and point-of-view are far too evident to make this so.
(Minor SPOILER alert here)
The movie shows its hand in a penultimate scene that essentially depicts the group's last supper, scored by the sounds of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, replete with close-ups of their faces, tears welling in their eyes. Of Gods and Men wants the good kind of religious conviction to move us, and the wrong kind to enrage us, so it plays to our instincts for righteousness, spotlights the obvious, and confirms without really challenging our readily held beliefs about the nobility of selflessness and sacrifice. (added 7/20/2011; this review also appears at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)
Ong Bak 3 (2010; 2011, U.S. release)
Starring Tony Jaa, Primorata Dejudom, Dan Chupong, Nirut Sirichanya, Petchtai Wongkamlao, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Sorapong Chatree, Chumphorn Thepphithak.
Directed by Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai.
Martial arts sensation Tony Jaa and his creative collaborator Panna Rittikrai appear determined to tell an actual serious story with Ong Bak 3, the direct sequel to the tale begun in Ong Bak 2. In the previous film, we got hints that they were trying to thwart the usual expectation of a martial arts action pic, in which awesome fight scenes are priority number one and story is much less important. There, if it seemed an epic story was trying to make its way out, then Ong Bak 3 confirms it, since it begins with religious overtones, as the captured hero, Tien (Jaa), gets the life beat out of him, only to later somehow wind up in the hands of a Buddhist monk (Nirut Sirichanya) and put on the path to recovery and enlightenment.
So what about the action? It's there, though mostly in the beginning and the ending -- and, frankly, there's not much variety in it. Only three fights are staged before the third act, and only one of them features Jaa. One fight highlights this film's bad guy, Bhuti Sangkha (Dan Chupong), and -- like the Jaa fight -- features one man taking out a gang of swordsmen. Thankfully, the ending is worth a look, mainly due to what I call the "A Touch of Zen concept" -- the idea of an enlightened warrior calmly deflecting all manners of violent attack with superior physical command while barely breaking a sweat. There's something strangely satisfying about such a sight; and if that doesn't do it for you, the sequence in which Jaa defeats multiple enemies while hopping about atop several elephants should. Finally, there is a one-on-one battle, an occasion sadly found to be more and more rare in these movies.
Ong Bak 3 retains Ong Bak 2's problem of not living up to the eye-popping jaw-dropping promise of the first Ong Bak, but by now it's pretty clear Jaa and Rittikrai were never attempting that. They wanted to balance the spectacle with a very serious tale of a man reaching the point where he rejects aggression and anger. As channeled through martial arts films which highlight the battles, the conviction behind this concept, of course, isn't very convincing, and it leaves Ong Bak 3 as an awkward hybrid of sincere fable storytelling denouncing angry violence and a demonstration of the martial arts skills of both Jaa and Chupong. At the end, I'd say the "enlightened" defensive fighting of Jaa, whose screen presence is more crucial than ever here in selling this scenario, pulls it off -- but just by a hair. (added 2/10/2011; this review also appears at ReelTalk Movie Reviews)
Previous page | Next page
©Jeffrey Chen, 2011
Home | Feedback welcome