Even if Keanu Reeves knew how to act, 47 Ronin would probably still not be a terribly good film. This is sad, because the original Japanese story about a band of warriors who set out to avenge the death of their lord, an act explicitly forbidden by the emperor, is splendid material. They face certain death in the event of failure, and in the event of success, death for their disobedience to the emperor. Director Carl Rinsch, whose background is primarily in advertising, has a reasonable eye for action, but is incapable of managing pace and tone. Then there is Reeves’ character, who as a half-English half-Japanese outcast with a grudge of his own, has been inserted into the story simply to make the film appeal to Western audiences. Not only is his presence unnecessary, it also fouls up the strong dynamic of the tale. His leaden acting is highlighted further by good performances by the lead Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, who carries the main emotional burden of the film. Visually, 47 Ronin has its moments, but its squandering of excellent source material to make what is little more than a big-budget B-movie is tragic.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Based on a short story by James Thurber published in 1939 and first made into a film starring Danny Kaye in the title role in 1947. This version robbed Thurber’s story of much of its darkness, and this new version, with Ben Stiller in the lead, strips it of what little narrative muscle that remained. Without doubt, Stiller, who also directs, has created a visually stunning, if over-manicured, movie, but while the romantic comedy at the heart of the story, along with the inevitable and glibly inspiring tale of self-discovery, is well intentioned and good natured, it is also cloying and backhandedly manipulative. In Stiller’s film, Mitty’s fantasies drift into reality as he “embarks on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.” There is some clever cinematography that allows fantasy and reality to drift in and out of each other, and scenes such as Mitty skateboarding toward an erupting volcano have their share of cinematic vim, but at the end of it we are left with nothing more substantial than one of Mitty’s fantasy.
It’s probably too long, too big and too much of a mess, but David O Russell’s film American Hustle has a huge heart and you can forgive most of its many sins against good storytelling. Russell proves himself the master of mood and tone in what might seems to start off as a police procedural, but which grows into a human comedy that plays off against a brilliant jazz score and a dazzling 1970s backdrop. The story is based on an actual FBI sting operation, the Abscam operation, which resulted in a massive takedown of senior politicians for corruption. Melvin Weinberg, a convicted con artist, helped the FBI design and carry out the operation. The story itself has massive potential, and its cast, which includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence, is certainly going to get any cinephile excited. The story is vastly convoluted, and Russell, whose track record includes recent critical successes The Fighter and the Silver Linings Playbook, has managed to go off the rails in spectacularly entertaining fashion, holding together a movie that in other hands would surely fall apart at the seams.
It can be hard to keep track of all the animated films coming out at the cinema these days, but the critics are pretty unanimous that Frozen is a top shelf product that uses good old storytelling, state-of-the-art computer 3D technology and loads and loads of soul to overcome the fact that the story is far from original. Fearless optimist Anna teams up with practical and gauche Kristoff in an epic journey across arctic conditions to save a city from a fearsome winter. There is even a lovable snowman called Olaf, who is inevitably in something of a predicament joining the duo in trying to bring back a return of warm, barmy weather. Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee manage to pull together a rather predictable mishmash of ingredients and create something that is an authentic modern fairytale. The inclusion of some great musical numbers is an added bonus.
Feature film debut of Spanish director Oriol Paulo aims to create suspense and give its audience a bad case of the chills, and it does this very effectively. And if that is all you want, it is an excellent film. The action takes place over a single night, giving it the real-time vibe of 24 and a breathless expectation of very bad things about to happen. After a security guard (Manel Dueso) flees a morgue in terror, only to be hit by a passing car, it’s discovered that the body of heiress and businesswoman Mayka Villaverde (Belen Rueda) has gone missing. Detective Jaime Pena (Jose Coronado) is brought in, and while he quickly solves the crime that brought Villaverde to the morgue, the disappearance of her body suggests some supernatural elements, which are fortunately for the movie, put aside in favor of an ingenious howdunit storyline. Solid production values and good performances make this genre material rise above its provenance.
Adieu Paris, a German film by director Franziska Buch has some pretty big names, not least Jessica Schwarz (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) and veteran TV actor Hans Werner Meyer, and also Gerard Jugnot from Christophe Barratier’s The Chorus, which was a huge alternative cinema hit here. But for all that, there is something a little bit contrived about Adieu Paris, with its often extreme coincidences in which Patrizia Munz (Schwarz), an emerging author with limited organizational skills is helped out by thoroughly efficient investment banker Frank Berndssen (Meyer), who buys her an airline ticket with the hopes of a solid payback. You know that this is not just going to be a quick one night stand, and there is a foodie undercurrent as Berndssen sets off to manage a takeover of a French meat production chain, but it is never clear whether the film wants to be a romantic drama or a thriller.
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
The 22nd Taipei Arts Festival (臺北藝術節) opens tonight with three productions, a slightly scaled-down pandemic version that seeks to keep its tradition of big ideas, challenging programs and international connections alive and moving forward in an increasingly uncertain world. The theme of this year’s festival is “Super@#S%?” — as good a term as any when descriptives and superlatives seem not only inadequate, but somewhat irrelevant in a world where so many people cannot imagine being able to return to theaters, either as performers or audience members — they are too worried about having a job and their health. Technically, however, it is
Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) is both a Hakka outpost and a place of great ecological interest. The conjoined body of water from which it gets its name is the centerpiece of the 17.16-hectare Shuanglianpi Wildlife Refuge (雙連埤野生動物保護區). No waterways of significance fill or drain this scenic lake in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉). During the 1895 to 1945 period of Japanese rule, the colonial authorities — struggling to secure Taiwan’s foothills — encouraged Han people to settle in areas adjacent to indigenous communities. Around 1910, a 49-year-old Hakka pioneer called Tsou Cheng-sheng (鄒成生) from what’s now Taoyuan decided to begin farming at