Carlos (2010)



Plot Summary: Over the course of two decades, an elusive Venezuelan terrorist carries out devastating acts of politically motivated violence.

Cast: Édgar RamírezAlexander ScheerAlejandro ArroyoFadi Abi SamraAhmad Kaabour; Talal El-Jordi

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Queue It) The life of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez is extremely interesting in its own right, but the success of this project really depended upon Édgar Ramírez, who rose to the occasion in a remarkable way. Through him, the viewer can see the charismatic, ambitious, inspiring, fiery, driven, obsessed, aggressive, narcissistic, lecherous, hot-tempered, morally and ethically flexible person behind the notorious and fearsome reputation of Carlos the Jackal. One also gains pretty good insight into some of what drives, and the development of, revolutionaries, insurgents, terrorists, etc., and this series begs the question of where the line between those different classifications lies.  The project also calls out how instrumental governments have been in the success of these non-state combatants, and the ensuing hypocrisy of such governments in denouncing these individuals once their services lose enough value. Additionally, viewers can appreciate a fascinating account of the development of the Cold War from the perspective of its “front-lines” fighters and in constantly shifting international settings. In sum, this is a brilliant series about fascinating people and subjects, brought to life by excellent actors.


City of God (2002)

(R) 129 mins

(R) 129 mins

Plot Summary: Growing up in a Rio de Janeiro slum, Rocket is able to avoid being drawn into a life of drugs and crime by having a passion for photography.

Director: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund

Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Jonathan Haagensen, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Daniel Zettel

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  I kept hearing that this movie was good, but I never got around to watching it.  Having glanced at its cover before, I was expecting something different…more of a sappy romantic tale.  Instead, I discovered one of most poignant, suspenseful, exciting, and action-packed tales of a place that I’ve only heard stories about.  It catapulted me through a wide range of emotions.  Watch this and then try to complain about your “first-world problems.”  The City of God is shockingly poor and frighteningly dangerous, yet culturally rich and unexpectedly beautiful.

Meirelles and Lund manage to convey a stark realism through a cast made up largely of actors from Rio favelas who had never acted before, but who stepped up to the task in an amazing way with some intense coaching.  The film even features some takes which were not scripted, as well as real coverage from true events.  The music masterfully complemented the mood of each scene, while staying true to the beauty of Brazil.  The camera work was top-notch (especially for 2002), both in César Charlone‘s skillful employment of the equipment and in the scenery that he captured.  Daniel Rezende, the film editor, presented Charlone’s vision at a wonderful intersection of deliberate and thrilling, ensuring that the viewer’s attention stayed captive throughout.

This flick is so good, I wanted to watch it again immediately after the credits rolled the first time around.  You will be hooked from the moment the chicken starts running for its life.  Make this film the next one you watch.

Funny Games (1997)

(NR) 104 mins

(NR) 104 mins

Plot Summary: While vacationing at their secluded summer home, an affluent family is terrorized by a pair of sadistic creeps in this disturbing thriller.

Director: Michael Haneke

Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski, Doris Kunstmann

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)  (Must See)  This film is like a very dark version of Scream.  While I enjoy horror movies, haunted houses, etc, not many of them raise my heart rate anymore.  A good thriller, however, may still get my blood pumping.  Enter this unique take on the serial-killer thriller.  Haneke uses a calculating and methodical tempo, a Hitchcock-style method of making your brain fill in the gore, and an expert contrast of peaceful music with obnoxious music to keep the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen.  The movie is like a soccer match: stretches of anticipation, with exciting moments happening very quickly and with little warning.  I had the good fortune to watch the film without knowing what it was about, so those payoffs were even more exciting for me.

And like Scream, while the director showcases his ability to make a proper killer thriller, he also sends a message to the viewer in a creative and artistic fashion.  According to IMDB, Haneke told producer ‘Veit Heiduschka’ during the production that if the film was a success, it would be because audiences had misunderstood the meaning behind it.  It could potentially get frustrating to watch a well-executed thriller color outside of the lines all of a sudden, but if you keep an open mind, you might realize that such creative license actually adds to the thrill.

It would be wrong to end this review without mentioning the actors, who all performed very convincingly.  A great game plan is of no use if the players don’t execute it well.

In closing, I would also be remiss not to mention what I saw as the most important lesson of all to take from this film: a man should have the physical ability and disposition to protect his family.  Just ask Muhe’s character.  Moreover, when presented with a threat, passive compliance is not always the best answer.  Act decisively and before your situation has worsened, and you might just catch the enemy in the OO of his OODA loop.  Sometimes you just have to fight with a busted knee.

Kill List (2012)

(NR) 96 mins

(NR) 96 mins

Plot Summary: When a scarred ex-soldier turned contract killer is pressured into taking a new job, his world begins to unravel until fear and paranoia sending him reeling towards a horrifying point of no return.

Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This movie is suspenseful, well-acted, and interesting in a wide range of ways, including an insightful look at the aftermath of the sacrifices that soldiers make in war.  It has a realistic feel, even with the injection of the occult.  I thoroughly enjoyed this flick…until the end.

The ending may leave you needing more of an explanation…in my case, it did.  I had a better understanding after reading the explanation on Holy Moly, and additional reflection yielded my own interpretation.  Still, I felt that the jump to the final “twist” needed much more development to get there.  Ironically, so many of the characters and relationships in this film were extremely well developed, but this ending left me with theatrical blueballs.

After further reflection, however, I drew my own conclusions as to the meaning of the movie, based on my military background.  Maybe a deeper understanding of the occult and its symbolism would have allowed me to better catch the intended meaning of the film, but, all in all, this film was worth watching for me because it inspired deeper thought hours after watching it.  I’d be glad to discuss any reader’s take on the meaning in the comments, but please remember to adequately mark SPOILERS.

Bronson (2008)

(R) 92mins

(R) 92mins

Plot Summary: Nicolas Winding Refn‘s vivid and unflinching biopic delves into the life of Britain’s most notorious prisoner, Charlie Bronson — who’s been jailed for nearly 35 years — and attempts to dissect the real man behind the deranged persona.

Cast: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance, Kelly Adams, Amanda Burton, Katy Barker

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  A creative, artistic, and interesting way to tell Bronson’s story.  The soundtrack and camera work very-appropriately compliment the tone and pace of the film.

I am not that interested in the movie’s subject matter, as Bronson appears to be a truly ridiculous manchild who perhaps could have found a better place in this world (and maybe even more happiness) as an MMA fighter or military man, were it not for a willfully uncontrolled mean streak (not a lack of discipline, though, as he seems to be able to focus and dedicate his energies to what he actually sets his sights upon).  So, in that sense, the film leaves me annoyed at its protagonist…but never bored.  This flick is like the first half of A Clockwork Orange, but without the rape.

Also, I am even more convinced that Hardy is one of the best actors of our time.  His performance is nothing short of masterful.  According to IMDB, Refn was not allowed to meet Bronson in person since Refn is not from Britain, but was allowed to have two phone calls with him.  Hardy, however, met with Bronson several times, and the two became good friends (although another IMDB post says they only met on two occasions).  Bronson was impressed with how Hardy managed to get just as muscular as he was and how well he could mimic his own personality and voice.  Bronson has stated that he believes Hardy was the only person who could play him.  “Ladies, and gentlemen in ladies’ attire,” if you want to see Hardy’s dick, here’s your chance.  It seems that Bronson loves to fight naked and greased up.  Fellas, you can admire that bad-ass moustache, which, also according to IMDB, was actually Bronson’s moustache that he shaved off so that it could be made into a loose-moustache for Hardy to wear.

Battle Royale II (2003)

(NR) 134 mins

(NR) 134 mins

Plot Summary: Three years after the failure of the last BR program, a second act is forged and a class of students are sent to an island with one objective: kill international terrorist Shuya Nanahara.

Directors: Kenta Fukasaku, Kinji Fukasaku

Writers: Kenta Fukasaku, Norio KidaKoushun Takami (characters)

Stars: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Shûgo Oshinari

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  It’s as if this movie was written by a child: a plot by the World’s adults to get the World’s kids to kill each other; the ease with which anybody can pick up an assault rifle with a grenade-launcher attachment and instantly know how to operate it like a trained pro; the melodramatic speeches against The Man; and the awkward romantic moments inappropriately scattered throughout non-stop violent war.  The action is consistent, though, and Fujiwara does a great job of playing a very different role, now that his character has done a 180 after years on the run with insurgents.  Still, unless you’re a child, or the novelty of 9th-graders murdering each other is enough to get you geeked about this flick–and then you’ve got other issues, freak–hold off until the next installment of The Hunger Games.

Battle Royale (2000)

(NR) 114 mins

Plot Summary: In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary “Battle Royale” act.

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Writers: Koushun Takami (novel), Kenta Fukasaku (screenplay)

Stars: Tatsuya FujiwaraAki Maeda and Tarô Yamamoto

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  Even if I hadn’t seen The Hunger Games first, I would probably still have thought to myself that this movie had some potential, but did little more than hold my attention.  In the end, watching ninth graders slaughter each other in various ways without a better reason for the legislation that forced them to do so is not an activity on which I prefer to spend my time…although it could work for a video game.  Also, the strange infusion of various school crushes and flirting was awkwardly scattered throughout the film.  Knowing that The Hunger Games is out there, and that William Golding‘s book Lord of the Flies has been sitting  around for decades prior, this movie just seems like a weird exploitation of fetishes…or one that I may have enjoyed much more in high school.  It will hold your attention, however, as the action is pretty consistent.

Ali G Indahouse (2002)

(R) 83 mins

Plot Summary: Ali G unwittingly becomes a pawn in the evil Chancellor’s plot to overthrow the Prime Minister of Great Britain. However, instead of bringing the Prime Minister down, Ali is embraced by the nation as the voice of youth and “realness,” making the Prime Minister and his government more popular than ever.

Director: Mark Mylod

Writers: Sacha Baron CohenDan Mazer

Stars: Baron CohenEmilio Rivera and Gina La Piana

Serious Jest:  (Don’t Bother)  I like Baron Cohen and Da Ali G Show, but I was unimpressed with this movie.  Baron Cohen is at his best with extemporaneous roles juxtaposed against unsuspecting foils/victims; instead, this film is poorly-scripted, and relies too much on stupidity and disgusting antics,  with not enough wit.  I did enjoy the soundtrack, though.

In contrast, Malibu’s Most Wanted was silly, but clever.  Watch that instead.

Harry Brown (2009)

(R) 103 mins

Plot Summary: When a crew of drug-dealing gang members takes the life of his only friend, a retired Marine and widower decides to take the law into his own hands — but his old-school training might be overmatched.

Director: Daniel Barber

Cast: Michael CaineEmily MortimerCharlie Creed-MilesDavid BradleyIain GlenSean Harris

Serious Jest:  (Worth Watching)  We’ve seen this type of old-Vet-comes-out-of-retirement-to-teach-these-young-ruffians-some-respect film before, but this one is well done.  The projects–or estates, as they are called in England–are almost personified as a fire-breathing demon that wakes at night (and occasionally in the day) to feed on the innocent.  Caine’s reluctant hero is very believeable, despite the fact that he is an emphysema-ridden old codger trying to take on vicious punks about a third of his age.  This flick is not unique or special enough to call it a Must See, but it’s a solid film that’s worth your time if you’re looking for a movie to entertain you.

Los Hermanos Castano (2010)

51 mins

Watch it for free at Hulu!

Studio: Imagina US

Plot Summary: Three brothers, Fidel, Carlos, and Vicente, take up arms to avenge the assassination of their father by Columbian guerrillas.  They form one of the most feared paramilitary groups in recent history: The United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (AU).

Serious Jest:  (Must See)  So far, this is my favorite of all of the documentaries I’ve watched concerning Columbia, and one of the most awesome gangster stories I’ve ever heard.  Remember how, on Entourage, Vince (played by Adrian Grenier) was trying so hard to make “Medellin,” a fictional movie about the life of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar?  I hope that there’s someone in Hollywood right now chasing this story with the same passion.  Unfortunately, non-Spanish speakers will have to wait for that film, because this documentary is completely in Spanish.