Life of Pi
The best-selling novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel published in 2001 was widely accepted as being unfilmable. No surprise that the task was picked up by Ang Lee (李安), who has proved utterly fearless in choosing challenging material. He has not always met with success (Hulk was a disappointment and Ride with the Devil was a dubious achievement), and his many fans have awaited the release of Life of Pi with trepidation. Overall, the critical response to the film has surpassed all expectation, and while the heavily allegorical tale of an epic journey of adventure by a boy and a fearsome Bengal tiger might not be everybody’s cup of chai, the mixture of super high-tech cinematography and old-fashioned storytelling is compelling.
R2B: Return to Base
Do we need a reprise of Top Gun? Well, like it or not, the film, or one very much like it, has been made by Kim Dong Wan, featuring newer aircraft: F-15s replacing the F-14 Tomcat that co-starred with Tom Cruise. The lead role is taken by South Korean megastar Rain, and this was his last project before he suspended his entertainment career for obligatory military service. Inevitably he plays a hotshot pilot with a talent for insubordination and finds himself in a front line squadron facing off against the Communist North. The aerial combat between F-15s and MIG 29s — with the superior aerial cinematography that makes Top Gun, made in 1986, seem terribly dated — is definitely worth watching. What hasn’t changed is the flyboy swagger and the aviator shades. Also released under the title Soar Into the Sun.
Paranormal Activity aesthetics, Hostel-like tourists in Eastern European hell plot, a contemporary historical reference, and a pretty much total absence of creativity are the hallmarks of Chernobyl Diaries. A group of young tourists decide to engage in “extreme tourism,” hiring a guide, (played by Dimitri Diatchenko in the only fun role in the film) to take them to Prypiat, which was hastily evacuated during the disaster. They get off on the abandoned city, then discover that it isn’t as abandoned as they thought. You guessed it; bad things begin to happen, but you just hope everyone is offed quickly so you can leave the cinema.
The First Grader
Politically charged drama based on the true story of Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge, an illiterate member of the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya who enrolled in a rural primary school in 2003, when he was 84. As a former Mau Mau freedom fighter, Maruge has his share of demons, and his action led to huge repercussions, ranging from invitations to speak at the UN to threats to his life. Director Justin Chadwick places the film in the difficult territory of the inspiration tale, and the complexities of the background are often blurred in the interests of uplift. It is a good story that is well told, but its good intentions blunt its edge and make it less than it might have been.
An old man is invited to don a robot suit and pretend to be the most recent prototype of a two-legged droid from a middling robotics company. At an expo, the robot saves the life of a girl who is a member of her high school robot club. The robot becomes a star, and the impersonation, intended as a one off, has to go on. The old man finds a kind of fulfillment, and the deception provides opportunities for plenty of gags, which come fast and furious, and with a satiric wit. Shinobu Yaguchi is a veteran of this kind of comedy, and although there are a couple of false notes, there is exuberance and good humor to spare.