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I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are six mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.  

31. A Bittersweet Life, Neo-Noir Thriller/Action, Director Kim Jee-woon, 2005 Korea, 100%/7.5

Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun), the driver and enforcer for Korean crime boss Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol), is ordered to keep an eye on Kang’s younger and very beautiful mistress, Hee-soo (Shin Min-ah), while he (Kang) goes away for three days on a business trip. Kang’s instructions to Sun-woo include orders to kill Hee-soo if it turns out she is not faithful while he is away.  Needless to say, Sun-woo discovers that Hee-soo does indeed have another lover and he is torn between carrying out Kang’s instruction or, in some way, saving the girl and her lover without incurring the wrath of Kang. Such is the way with crime bosses and hitmen in Korea and the scene is set for action, lots of action, between Sun-woo, Kang, and a rival set of Korean villains seeking to move in on Kang’s turf.

The story is very straightforward and moves along a predictable arc but what sets the film apart from what we might call ‘regular’ Korean crime movies is the ferocity and seeming authenticity of the action scenes. Korean film directors, their fight choreographers and cinematographers, excel at creating fight scenes that are so real that even the thought that they are staged never enters your mind. If you watch this movie, look for the face-scraping along a rough wall sequence. How was this scene filmed without causing permanent disfigurement to the recipient of Sun-woo’s treatment?

Korean director, Kim Jee-woon, is foremost in the creation of movies containing realistic fight scenes. He first came to prominence with the much-acclaimed  horror movie, A Tale of Two Sisters, in 2003 and, subsequently, has produced a number of excellent action movies including The Good, the Bad, the Weird in 2008 and I Saw the Devil in 2010 (reviewed in an earlier Movies for Movie Buffs post), both starring Lee Byung-hun, the conflicted hitman. If you can keep in mind that the action scenes are not real, you will enjoy this movie. If artificial violence is not your thing, avoid the movie.

And, by the way, the 100% Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes is based on eleven red-tomato reviews. The reviewers were unanimous in their praise of A Bittersweet Life.

32. Queen to Play (Joueuse), Drama, Director Caroline Bottaro, 2009 France-Germany, 71%/6.9

I recently watched the fictional chess player, Beth Harmon, played to perfection by actress Anya Taylor-Joy, take the world of chess by storm in Netflix’s mini-series, The Queen’s Gambit. In my university youth, I was a mediocre chess player at best but the mini-series was riveting and brought back memories of the game—the plan, the chase, the threat, the parries and, if the goddess of chess, Caïssa, is on your side, the execution, none of which I was very good at!

Today, I watched the beguiling French actress, Sandrine Bonnaire, play a similar part in the French-German movie, Queen to Play. Bonnaire plays a housewife, Hélène, who works as a chambermaid in a hotel on Corsica and, in her spare time, as a cleaner for a reclusive American doctor known only as Kröger (Kevin Kline). Early in the movie, Hélène watches a guest couple play chess on the balcony of their hotel room. The couple are clearly deeply in love and they intertwine amorous gestures—brief kisses, interlaced fingers, loving smiles, meaningful glances—as they move the chess pieces in an erotic dance. This inspires Hélène to buy an electronic chess board for her husband, hoping to breathe life back into their almost non-existent love life. In the event, the husband rejects the gift and Hélène decides to teach herself and discovers she has both a skill and a passion for the game.

It turns out that Kröger has a chess set and Hélène asks him if he will teach her above and beyond what she is able to learn from the electronic set. Reluctantly, he agrees and so the story develops. As Hélène’s expertise improves, we see the impact on her husband and teenage daughter and, of course, on her relationship with the doctor.

Queen to Play is a gentle film, very French in its cinematographic style with sweeping panoramic views of Corsica, the setting for the film, light unobtrusive background piano music and, best of all, a terrific showcase for Sandrine Bonnaire’s expressive face and incredible smile. Helen of Troy’s looks were said to have launched a thousand ships. Sandrine Bonnaire’s Hélène’s smile would do likewise.

33. The Silence (Das Letzte Schweigen), Thriller, Director Baran bo Odar, 2010 German, 88%/7.0

Within the first ten minutes of The Silence, on July 8th 1986, we witness the abduction, rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, Pia, by two paedophiles, Peer Sommer (Ulrich Thomsen) and Timo Friedrich (Wotan Wilke Möhring). Peer carries out the rape and murder whereas Timo sits in the car unable to participate, stop the deed, or turn away. A few days later the girl’s body is discovered and an investigating police office, Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaußner), is appointed, but the case is never solved.

Fast forward 23 years and on July 8th 2009, Krischan is at his retirement party when news comes in that another young girl, Sinikka, has disappeared at the exact spot where the first abduction took place. Although Krischan is now no longer on the force, he has no confidence in his successor’s ability to solve the new case and insists on connecting with Pia’s still grieving mother to re-open Pia’s case and look for further clues. Where is Sinikka? Is she still alive? Has the same rapist/killer struck again or is it a copycat crime? Is the July 8th date a coincidence or is there significance in the two dates being the same?

I’ll say no more other than to comment that this is a dark but well-constructed movie similar in style to the very successful Scandinavian detective series The Killing (2007, Danish) and The Bridge (2011, Danish-Swedish)—dark, brooding, chilling and intensely dramatic at times.

34. Fly Away Home, Adventure/Drama/Family, Director Carroll Ballard, 1996 Canada, 87%/6.8
Spread your Wings (Donne-moi des Ailes), Adventure/Drama/Family, Director Nicolas Vanier, 2019 France, 67%/7.3

In 1996, the Canadian film, Fly Away Home, garnered much praise and awards for its story of a 13-year-old girl, Amy (Anna Paquin), who rescues a clutch of Canadian goose eggs and successfully incubates and hatches them. The first thing the goslings see as they emerge from their shells is Amy and she is identified by them to be ‘mother’, a process called imprinting. Amy’s father, Thomas (Jeff Daniels), an inventor, explains that the geese learn how to fly from the mother and he teaches Amy to fly an ultra-light machine (ULM) so that the geese will follow her when she takes off. Thomas also explains that, when it’s time, the geese learn their migratory routes from the mother and, ultimately, Amy takes off in the ULM with the geese in flight beside her and flies them down from their birthplace in Ontario to their summer home in North Carolina. Apparently, the mother goose only has to do this flight once. In ways that we do not fully understand, the geese are able to memorise the route and fly back along it effectively reversing the memory.

Fly Away Home was inspired by the real-life achievements of the Canadian inventor and naturalist, Bill Lishman (1939–2017), who first succeeded in getting geese to fly behind and alongside his ULM and, in the process, achieved some remarkable photographs. Lishman doubles for Jeff Daniels’ character, Thomas, in the movie when Thomas is seen flying the ULM.

More recently (2019), a French movie based on the real-life exploits of French ornithologist, Christian Moullec, has inspired a very similar movie called Spread Your Wings (Donne-moi des Ailes). The story in Spread Your Wings is similar to but not the same as that of Fly Away Home. In some respects, Spread Your Wings is a mirror image of Fly Away Home. Amy, the 13-year-old girl is replaced by Thomas, a 14-year-old boy. The migratory flight is reversed in that first the barnacle geese are transported by road from their birthplace in the Camargue region of southern France to Lapland inside the Arctic Circle and then they follow Thomas in his ULM back to France. Also, Amy’s ULM takes off and lands on land whereas Thomas’s ULM takes off and lands on water. These, and other differences in characters and relationships, mean that Spread Your Wings is not a remake of the earlier Fly Away Home. The French movie stands on its own two palmates.

I have watched and enjoyed both movies. They are movies for all the family, especially young children, and both may have you reaching for a tissue at certain points in the telling of their stories. I have a slight preference for the later Spread Your Wings movie. It has more humour, more drama, a slightly better story line, is more philosophical about the need to protect and save endangered species, better cinematography (with incredible drone-based aerial sequences) and I am sure that Louis Vazquez, the young actor who plays the 14-year-old boy, Thomas, is actually flying the ULM. In Fly Away Home, shots of Anna Paquin flying the machine are always closeups and you are never sure if the scenes were filmed in a studio with a backcloth. Thomas’s flights look to be genuine. The only drawback with Spread Your Wings is the dialogue is French but if you speak French that’s fine. Alternatively, if you are okay with subtitles, they are excellent.

For a family-night-at-the-movies, I recommend either movie but would lean more towards the 2019 French movie, Spread Your Wings. Make sure the box of tissues is to hand. I guarantee you will well up. I did.

‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.’
American Indian proverb, quoted at the end of Spread your Wings.

35. The East (De Oost), War/Drama, Director Jim Taihuttu, 2020 Dutch, not yet rated on Rotten Tomatoes/7.1

At the end of World War 2 in the Asia-Pacific, a power vacuum opened up in Indonesia. The capitulation of the Japanese who had occupied the Dutch East Indies resulted in the Dutch attempting to regain control of their former colony and several Indonesian rebel groups attempting to restore independence and who, consequently, used guerrilla tactics to prevent the Dutch from doing so. Consequently, the Royal Netherlands East India Army (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger; KNIL) set about quelling the rebellion in what became known as the Indonesian National Revolution. KNIL Captain Raymond ‘The Turk’ Westerling (Marwan Kenzari) was given carte blanche to do whatever it took to eliminate the insurgents (he called them terrorists) and he became the leader of the Depot Special Forces commando unit. His anti-terrorist policy was to fight fire with fire and he began a campaign of seeking out and executing suspected Indonesian terrorists without trial or further examination thus creating an anti-terrorist terrorist group. This movie tells the early part of his story with, apparently, very little departure from the truth and a realism that is brutal in places.

The story is told through the eyes of a new recruit into the KNIL, Johan de Vries (Martijn Lakemeier), who joins The Turk’s commando group and, subsequently, rejects the policy of summary executions—the classic soldier who develops a conscience storyline. There are very few combat scenes in the movie. Director Jim Taihutti has focused more on the humdrum life of soldiers fighting an elusive insurgency force. Consequently, you will find no Saving Private Ryan battle scenes but you will be shocked by the casual way The Turk hands out his form of justice.

If you watch the movie, I recommend that afterwards you read up on Westerling’s career on Wikipedia and also check the Trivia entries on IMDb’ s entry for this movie.

36. 6 Underground, Action/Comedy/Thriller, Director Michael Bay, 2019 USA, 6.1/36%

Michael Bay is a Marmite director—love his movies or hate them; there’s no in-between. Responsible for such over-the-top action movies such as Bad Boys 1 and 2, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, Transformers 1 thru 5, and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, his movies are characterised by extreme action scenes, rumbustious explosions, derring-do feats, athletic heroes and heroines, and dry wit under extreme adversarial conditions. Bay once described his movies as made for teenage boys and 6 Underground is the very essence of this statement. The story, if that is what it is, tells of six officially dead (underground) but very much alive swashbuckling adventurers who take it upon themselves to rid the world of rich and powerful bad guys (typically mafia dons and dictators). Known only by their numbers, One thru Seven (see later), the avenging guardians are headed up and funded by billionaire One (Ryan Reynolds, the R-rated superhero of Deadpool 1 and 2 at his driest wit best). The movie opens with a car chase through the busy crowded streets, buildings, museums and archways of Florence in Italy which leaves you with just one question—how the hell did Michael Bay create that chase without closing down the whole of Florence, populating it with thousands of actors, and with permission to destroy priceless statues? When you view this chase, watch for the nuns’ reactions when they almost get run over by the bright green Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio supercar driven by one of our heroes.

With one exception, the swashbucklers survive. The one who dies is replaced with Seven and under the guidance and planning of One, the group set about eliminating the evil dictator of fictional Central-Asian Turgistan, Rovach Alimov (Lior Raz), and replacing him with his peace-loving pro-democracy brother, Murat Alimov (Payman Maadi). And so the scene is set for two more amazing set pieces of action—the first among the skyscrapers of Hong Kong; the second aboard a luxurious yacht. I won’t attempt to describe these set pieces. Just watch and be amazed at the unfolding scenes of chaos, death-defying athleticism, and more explosions than New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney, London and New York combined.

I like Michael Bay’s movies (I also like Marmite, including the Guinness and chilli-flavoured special editions) but be aware that this movie is highly profane and thus unsuitable for those who eschew such language. In other respects however, such as nudity, explicit sexual situations, or horror-movie-like gore, the movie is clean and rated R. Teenage boys, and girls, will enjoy it, as did I. I guess, at heart, I’m still a teenage boy. I wish!