Sunday, April 15, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #15 THAILAND

This post is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 




PLOT: When the head of a sacred statue is stolen from a rural village in Thailand, a young martial artist (Tony Jaa) must travel to Bangkok and fight his way through the underworld in order to retrieve it.

(This movie isn't nearly as serious as the trailer makes it seem.)


MEMORABLE MOMENT: I know that the most memorable moment should be an unbelievable action sequence filled with jaw dropping stunts, but I'll let those speak for themselves.

No, my favorite moment has to be when the comic relief character, Humlae (Petchtai Wongkamlao), is being chased through the streets of Bangkok by a gang of criminals. He grabs a meat cleaver off a table in a market and turns to face his pursuers. For an instant the gang is intimidated and the audience believes that Humlae might actually escape. Then, an old woman comes between Humlae and the thugs carrying two enormous baskets calling, "Knives for sale!"

You can guess what happens next.


ACCORDING TO IMDB:
  • As you might guess, Tony Jaa performed all of his own stunts. No wires or computer effects were used during the fights.
  • In the three-wheeled taxi chase scene, one of the little taxis crashes into a wall on which is written, "Hi Luc Besson we are waiting for you."   (I guess they really like Luc Besson)
  • Prior to the film's release in the western world, Steven Seagal was so impressed by the movie he planned to release the film through his production company with newly-shot scenes featuring himself as Tony Jaa's teacher (I kind of hope this isn't true).

WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?: Ong-Bak was made for fans of Enter The Dragon, Ip Man, and especially Jackie Chan's films.

I singled out Jackie Chan in particular because like Chan's most popular movies, Ong-Bak combines "oh my God they actually did that!" stunts with comedy. The chase scene described above has several moments right out of a Buster Keaton movie (maybe fans of silent film slapstick should also watch this film).

As for films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, Ong-Bak is similar to those only in that it contains fantastic martial arts sequences. However, if you're looking for Crouching Tiger's stunning natural visuals and easy going pace, you might prefer movies by Yimou Zhang (who also directed Hero).

That being said, if you are looking for action but haven't been introduced to the martial arts genre, Ong-Bak is an excellent place to start, especially if you've enjoyed the recent Avengers and Star Wars movies, which are more focused on comedy. Like those films, Ong-Bak isn't a spoof and contains some very dire scenes (especially in the second half), but there are plenty of hilarious moments that would have easily been at home in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnorok or even Force Awakens


WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? Netflix DVD. It is also available to rent ($3.99) or buy ($12.99) on Amazon. I'm sure you could also borrow it from many public or university library systems.

RUNTIME: 105 Minutes (104 Minutes Directors Cut...those tend to be longer.)

DIRECTOR: Prachya Pinkaew

WRITERS:
Panna Rittikrai
Prachya Pinkaew
Suphachai Sittiaumponpan

STARING:
Tony Jaa
Petchtai Wongkamlao
Pumwaree Yodkamol

Sunday, April 8, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #14 BELGIUM

This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 





PLOT: Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne), a seven-year-old transgender girl, comes out to her family and neighborhood. While her parents insist that she wear boys clothing and play sports, Ludovic dresses in pink skirts and falls in love with the son of her father's ultra-conservative boss.


MEMORABLE MOMENT: Ludovic goes over to to play with Jérôme (Julien Rivière), a local neighborhood boy and the son of Ludovic's father's boss. While exploring the house, Ludovic wanders into a girl's bedroom. Jérôme says that his sister is "away." Later, Jérôme's mother catches the boys putting on a pretend wedding in which Ludovic is wearing one of her daughter's dresses. It's only then that the audience learns what really happened to the sister.

WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?:  Obviously, anyone interested in films with LGBTQ themes should check it out. However, I'd also recommend Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink) for anyone who just wants a funny, moving coming of age story.  

I would especially recommend this movie for parents who want to expose their kids to stories with transgender characters. Ma Vie en Rose isn't necessarily a children's movie, but it might help kids understand what their friends and loved ones are experiencing. The film would be especially important for kids who are themselves transgender. Don't let the R rating discourage you. There are some "Thematic Moments" (SPOILER: a child attempts suicide) and a bit of swearing, but most PG-13 blockbusters are more unsettling than this film.

According to Wikipedia there are many who disagree with the film's R rating, believing that it was a result of transphobia. Ma Vie en Rose came out over twenty years ago. Even if the film had been released in 2018 it would have still been met with controversy. It must have been considered particularly progressive by 1997 standards (unless Belgium is more accepting than the United States)


WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT?: Netflix DVD. It is also available to rent ($3.99) or buy ($12.99) on Amazon.

RUNTIME: 88 Minutes

DIRECTOR: Alain Berliner

WRITER:
Alain Berliner
Chris Vander Stappen

STARING:
Julien Rivière
Michèle Laroque
Jean-Philippe Ècoffey

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Publications Seeking Short Fiction: TERRAFORM

I just wanted to give all of my fellow writers a heads up, TERRAFORM, a weekly science-fiction publication is open for submissions.

They've published a lot of fantastic works. Two of my favorites are:

MUSIC FOR THE UNDERWORLD - A man uses music to reconnect with the love of his life in a bleak futuristic city.

THE INVENTOR - A genius creates a world-changing device in war-torn Syria. 


-Submissions shouldn't be longer than two thousand words.

-Baseline payment is 20 cents a word.

-Publication qualifies for the Science Fiction Writers of America.


According to their website they are seeking: "...Nearer-future fiction; think a bit more along the lines of sentient chat bots or climate-changed dystopias and less far-flung alien space operas. And we don't care what form it comes in: Classic-style SF short stories, social media posts from beyond the horizon, fictive data dumps, experimental graphic narratives, and so on."
Make sure you read the guidelines in full here.

Good luck! 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #13 MEXICO

This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 



PLOT: Two oversexed teenage boys and an attractive older woman set out on a road trip to a beach that doesn't exist. During their travels each of them experiences an unexpected awakening.


MEMORABLE MOMENT:  This movie is known for its graphic sex scenes. However, there is considerably more to this film. The characters who inhabit Y Tu Mamá También's world, especially Luisa (Maribel Verdú), all have very deep, incredibly complex personalities.  The scene that stuck with me the most is relatively PG, but is also absolutely devastating.
 
Luisa, the gorgeous "older woman" (whose character is probably younger than I am, yikes), talks on the phone with her unfaithful husband.  The film has previously implied that she is facing disastrous health issues. As her relationship and life fall apart, she breaks down into sobs. In the phone booth's glass we see the reflection of the two boys (Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal) bounding around, playing fooseball and acting like teenage assholes. This moment sums up her world vs. their world.  Her life is in shambles while they are so caught up in their prime they don't notice her distress.


IMDB TRIVIA
  • When the producers tried to buy the rights to Frank Zappa's "Watermelon in Easter Hay" they were told that Zappa had requested that this song would never be played in any media outside the original album. However, Frank's widow saw the movie when editing was almost complete. She agreed to make an exception because she believed Zappa would be proud of the film. 
  • Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki said he used "90% natural light". Only a few scenes include additional lighting.
  • On his bedroom wall, one of the two boys has a poster from the movie Harold and Maude (1971), another film about a young man who has a sexual relationship with an older woman.

WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?: As I mentioned above, this movie has some very graphic sex scenes. While I would encourage viewers to not be turned away by this, I have to be realistic. Y Tu Mamá También isn't for everyone.

However, I think even more viewers will turned away because the two boys act like total dicks. I certainly don't expect (or want) characters who act like cherubs but there where some scenes when I wanted to smack these two guys over the head with an oatmeal spoon. Not enough to hurt them, just enough to put them in a mild coma.

That being said, there are tremendous character arches and these two guys do develop as the movie progresses. If you are looking for a coming of age road trip movie this one will probably be right up your alley.

I also want to add that for some reason, I have always associated this film with Nico and Dani.  The two movies are thematically very similar.  If you like one you'll probably enjoy the other.

Also, lets not forget that this is an Alfonso Cuarón movie. If you're a fan, this film should already be on your list, especially if you want to see where he developed the documentary, long-take style he perfected in Children of Men.

That being said, don't pick up this movie simply because you enjoyed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I won't say there are zero similarities (both movies are about young men growing up), but Y Tu Mamá También is magical in a very different way.

(I've noticed that I've made Harry Potter references three movie posts in a row now.) 
 
WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT?: Netflix Instant. It is also available to rent ($3.99) or buy ($12.99) on Amazon. I'm sure you could also borrow it from many public or university library systems.

RUNTIME: 106 Minutes (exact same as Devil's Backbone, from a few weeks back) 

DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón

WRITER:
Carlos Cuarón
Alfonso Cuarón

STARING
Maribel Verdú 
Diego Luna
Gael García Bernal

Thursday, March 29, 2018

If you didn't attend MARCH FOR OUR LIVES, go to the next march.


My wife and I attended March For Our Lives in DC this past Saturday. 



It was exciting, moving, exhilarating, powerful, exhausting and a thousand other adjectives.

Apparently A LOT of teachers attend these marches. I kept getting high fives for my sign and people stopped me to take photos and ask if I was a teacher (My parents were. It's not genetic).

One group of teachers even asked if they could have their photo taken with me.


I knew several people who attended. We randomly ran into one , but it would have been impossible to find any others even though I later learned some were standing just a few feet away.

It’s weird to think that there were friends I had not seen since high school just a couple hundred feet from me but I couldn’t see them. 


If you have never been to a march like this one, seriously attend. If you are physically able to go, please go. Yes, it’s claustrophobic; yes, you have to stand for hours; yes, it’s emotionally overwhelming but it’s worth it. If I can handle the crowd, you can handle the crowd. 

This march and the 2017 Women’s March were unbelievably cramped but everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) was polite. No one lost their temper. No one shoved or started a fight. 

There's nothing quite like being in a massive crowd of polite people.



 All of the speakers were fantastic. They were all focused and well-spoken. I know a lot of the media are painting them as ignorant kids who want to sneak into your homes and steal your hunting rifles, but that is not the case.

Even if you are a life-long conservative, even if you are a gun owner, seriously consider taking part in one of these marches. My favorite signs were ones that read “Republicans for Gun Control!” or “Hunters for Gun Control!” I wish I had gotten my phone out in time to take a photo of these.

Yes I’m a liberal. Yes a lot of us who attended are liberals. But this isn’t a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is a life vs. death issue. 

    
Also, don’t make the same mistake I made during the Women’s March, write a message on BOTH sides of your sign.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #12 AUSTRALIA

This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 


PLOT: In northern Australia, an Indigenous Aboriginal man named Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) realizes that his younger brother, Dayindi (Jamie Gulpilil), is in love with one of his three wives. During a hunting trip, he tells Dayindi a story set during the time of their ancestors. Through the story the impatient younger brother learns how find balance in life.


                                     

Just a heads up, the above trailer is NSFW because it contains a good deal of non-sexual nudity. 


MEMORABLE MOMENT: The audience learns all the horrors that might befall you if an evil sorcerer gets a hold of your feces. He could put it in a tree and every time the branches rub together you will suffer from a sore throat. He could set it on fire and kill you. Or he could use it to steal your soul. Not the kind of magic taught at Hogwarts. 


IMDB TRIVIA
  • Ten Canoes was the first major Australian feature completely filmed in an Indigenous language.
  • The canoes in the film were made according to original tribal methods, using directions from elders who had not made them for at least fifty years.
  • During shooting in the remote Arafura Swamp, the crew required eleven crocodile spotters.

WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?: Anyone who is a fan of Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, Badlands) will love the natural beauty and mythic themes found in this film. I would also recommend this movie to people who want to see a film set in a culture seldom represented in Hollywood.  In many ways Ten Canoes is unlike anything else I have seen before.
 
WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT?: Netflix DVD. You can also buy the DVD on Amazon but the first price that came up for me was $67.99. So, yeah, just get it from Netflix.

RUNTIME: 90 minutes.

DIRECTOR:
Rolf de Heer
Peter Djigirr

WRITTEN BY:
Rolf de Heer

 STARING: 
Crusoe Kurddal
Jamie Gulpilil
Peter Minygululu

Sunday, March 18, 2018

52 MOVIES FROM 52 COUNTRIES - #11 SPAIN

This is a part of an ongoing project in which I watch one movie from a different country every week. 

In honor of Guillermo del Toro recently winning best Director and Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards for The Shape of Water, this week I decided to go with one of his first (and one of his best) films.


PLOT: After Carlos, a 12-year-old whose father died in the Spanish Civil War, arrives at a remote orphanage, he discovers that the school is haunted...and that's just the start of his problems.    



MEMORABLE MOMENT: A bomb that was recently dropped from an enemy aircraft sticks up in the middle of the orphanage's courtyard. Boys play around the weapon, not giving it any mind. Carlos (), is assured that the bomb has been deactivated. He playfully kicks the bomb and presses his ear to its outer shell.  Metal clangs within the mechanical guts. Something is still alive in there, waiting to explode.

IMDB TRIVIA:
  • The director has also said that the film was strongly inspired by his own personal memories of his uncle, who supposedly came back as a ghost.
  • The design of the ghost was inspired by the white-faced spirit in Japanese horror films like Ringu (Thank you Ringu. You will always live in our nightmares.)
  • Guillermo del Toro worked on this film for sixteen years. He started writing it when he was in college. (So let that inspire those of you who have novels, screenplays and symphonies hidden in your drawers.)

WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR?: Fans of films like The Others or The Witch should definitely check this movie out. The atmosphere is potent and seeps under your skin. While I have not yet seen The Orphanage (sorry, I know, I know) I have heard that these two movies are extremely similar. The Orphanage was even produced by del Toro and the two movies share similar plots and even images. 

I was once swapping obscure horror movie recommendations with someone at work. He said something along the lines of, "I want something totally messed up, something were even the dog dies." This wouldn't be the movie for him. 

Don't get me wrong, The Devil's Backbone has some very unsettling moments (Spoiler Alert: children do die). However, while there are several classic horror ghost scenes the true terror comes from the atmosphere and the turbulent times in which these children live (the movie is set during the Spanish Civil War). In a way the film is more melancholy than it is disturbing. It is a truly beautiful ghost story with images and characters that will stay with you long after the the dedication at the end, "To my parents."

WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? The movie is available on Netflix DVD. It is also available to rent ($3.99) or buy (12.99) on Amazon.

RUNTIME: 106 Minutes

DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro

WRITTEN BY:
Guillermo del Toro
Antonio Trashorras 
David Muñoz 

STARING: