Thor: The Dark World
Thor was an Avengers story that had huge potential to go horribly wrong. An arrogant Norse god finds himself in the battle with his half-brother Loki, saves the world and makes good things happen with Natalie Portman. Kenneth Branagh managed to hold the balance between heroics and silliness, and it was hard not to be drawn in by the mixture of high camp and fantasy. The sequel, Thor: The Dark World sees Alan Taylor from Game of Thrones in the director’s chair. The film has acquired a darker hue, and the shadow boxing between the forthright Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the devious Loki (Tom Hiddleston) reaches new levels. But the key to Thor: The Dark World is Hemsworth, who plays the title role with commitment, and an ever-so-slight wink of amusement. This is a B-movie fantasy played with top-shelf production values and acting talent.
Just Like a Woman
Multi-cultural Thelma and Louise with belly dancing. Directed by Rachid Bouchareb, Just Like a Woman is lovely to watch, but cannot be but a disappointment to anyone familiar with the director’s other work, particularly his 2006 feature Days of Glory about North African’s fighting in the French army against Nazi oppression. Marilyn (Sienna Miller) and Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) both have problems at home, one with a husband with a wandering eye and the other with her mother-in-law. They hit the road, carrying with them their hopes, fears and secrets, and as their friendship grows, so does the realization of the consequences of their actions. But for all the social commentary about Arabs living in America, and the heavy dose of feminist rant at a patriarchal society, Just Like a Woman is bland, and the echoes of Thelma and Louise highlight at every point its lack of real dramatic power. This is an inauspicious start to what Bouchareb has said will be a trilogy about changing relations between the US and the Arab world.
100 Days (真愛100天)
Directed by Henry Chan (陳發中), a US-based director who won an Emmy back in 1987 for multi-camera production for The Cosby Show. For his feature film debut, Chan has returned to Taiwan, and located his story in the exotic location of Matsu Island. 100 Days is the story of an arrogant communications executive who is forced to return to his remote island home for the funeral of his estranged mother, and while stranded there by a storm, discovers things about his home, his family and himself that he never knew before. The film stars Johnny Lu (路斯明) as Bo Dan, and Tracy Chou (周采詩) as his first girlfriend who still lives on the island and is about to get married. There is plenty of comic schtick of the city slicker dealing with rural life, and romance inevitably springs up between the two lead characters. The settings have a certain cinematic grandeur, but the style is more TV rom-com, and the unfailingly derivative plot development means that 100 Days is not likely to raise the bar on local filmmaking.
Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (看見台灣)
Created from the master of aerial cinematography Chi Po-lin (齊柏林), Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above is exactly what its title describes it to be. The 93 minutes of aerial photography presented in the film show an often unseen side of Taiwan, and were taken from over 400 hours of film that covers Taiwan from its pristine mountains to images of vast depredation resulting from the island’s rapid development. Many of the images are awe-inspiring in their beauty, often revealing unexpected insights into the island due to the unusual perspective. With a voice-over by Wu Nien-chen (吳念真) and music by award-winning composer Ricky Ho (何國杰), Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above celebrates the beauty of Taiwan and laments the ugliness, all the while expressing a powerful sentimental commitment to the island, its people and its history.
Shield of Straw
Director Takashi Miike is wildly prolific, and he jumps genres constantly. He has made many outstanding films, and has proved he is not afraid to challenge convention, but working at such a pace, it is not surprising that his resume is also littered with duds. Shield of Straw is a typical effort that sports and innovative concept, but has been made too quickly (though with an ample budget) for him to really develop its potential. A team of cops is tasked with protecting a prime suspect of the murder of a young girl, whose father has put out a massive bounty for his death. This situation leads to plenty of violence and a high body count, and the police, led by an idealistic cop (Takao Osawa), wonder at the price of protecting someone who is probably guilty of a terrible crime. Shield of Strawis a good enough action thriller, but is a long way from being ranked among Miike’s best work.