In-Bruges-movie-posterIn the grey moral morass of modern society there are some very certain boundaries which are not crossed. The harming of innocents is one of those lines. How we react to those line-crossing events can define us and shape us in subtle and extreme ways.

In Bruges the dark comedy from  Martin MacDonagh we see the  results of life choices rebounding on people and their rections. Colin Farrell in an excellent performance and Brendan Gleason star as Ray and Ken two British hit men who are sent to the Belgian city of Bruges after a hit goes wrong and told to wait for further instructions from their boss Harry (played to the hilt by Ralph Fiennes).

Ray cannot stand sightseeing in the historic town for one second while Ken in having the times of his life looking at the building and churches, just what went wrong on the hit explains rookie hitman Ray’s nervous energy and inability to sit still. Colin Farrell won a deserved Golden Globe for his portrayal of the conflicted Ray.

Ken is eventually told to kill Ray for his mistake but Ken refuses and instead puts him on the train out of town and Harry shows up to get the situation in hand. The resulting gun battle and both surprising and unsurprising deaths and satisfying make this one of the best movies I have seen recently. Combined with film within a film references of the movie set Ray and Ken encounter and their own by-play as they tour the town which is excellent, the human side of the movie is so well done and is never boring, a common pitfall.

This is an excellent movie and very well done.


Goodness knows that a historical movie is right up my alley and Agora fits that bill. Agora is the fictionalized story of Hypatia, the philosopher living in Alexandria, Egypt at the end of the 4th century AD. Historical movies can be so much a hit or miss affair, it either works or it doesn’t, adapting a story for a two hour screenplay requires a balance between drama and emotion that reality does not always provide. Inject too much fiction and the story loses the very anchors that make it historical.  The Eagle is an example of this, it starts out as a historical, but ends up being just another adventure/action movie that just happens to be in Roman times: its a good movie, just not very historical. Agora largely avoids this pitfall by using the subtext of the dubious morals of the “Christians” under Bishop Cyril who take over the leadership of the city. From the Wiki:

Agora is a 2009 Spanish historical drama film directed by Alejandro Amenábar and written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil. The biopic starsRachel Weisz as Hypatia, a female mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in 4th century Roman Egypt who investigates the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system and the heliocentric model that challenges it. Surrounded by religious turmoil and social unrest, Hypatia struggles to save the knowledge of classical antiquity from destruction. Max Minghella co-stars as Davus, Hypatia’s slave, and Oscar Isaacas Hypatia’s student Orestesprefect of Alexandria.

The story uses historical fiction to promote a “conflict thesis” interpretation of the relationship between religion and science amidst thedecline of Greco-Roman polytheism and the Christianization of the Roman empire. The title of the film takes its name from the agora, a gathering place in ancient Greece, similar to the Roman forum.

There is very heavy fictionalization in Davus and his relationship with Hypatia and her investigation of the heliocentric view of the solar system. The later is used as a story device in that finally unlocking the secret of elliptical orbits allows Hypatia to accept her fate at the hands of the parabalani thugs. Davus is a purely fictional character who is there to serve as a viewpoint character.

Agora is remineiscent of the old “sword and sandal” biblical movie like Ben-Hur. This seems to be intentional on the part of the director, as he studied these movies before starting the project. The care in creating the sets is obvious and lush visuals without obvious CG are perfect.

People my age will remember Carl Sagan waxing poetic as he told the story of Hypatia in the Cosmos TV series and indeed that is where the inspiration for this project comes from.

Rachael Wiesz and the others all turn in fine performances.

I love this movie, for its attack on reactionary fundamentalism and the setting. Highly recommended.


This movie is on the recommended viewing list for the game Fiasco so I have been wanting to see it; once I noticed that it has been sitting on Netflix Instant Watch and was subtitled it quickly went on my queue. Although it is not without its flaws this movie is slowly growing on me and is becoming a favorite.

The opening scene where the two buddies get into a brawl outside of a bar sets the tone for the movie and lets you know this is not a typical Hollywood action movie with the hero taking on dozens of opponents in short order and running unscathed through a hail of bullets. This film has realistic violence with it ugly and brutal results and the main characters wind up bloody and beaten in the middle of a street.

Plot summary: Two petty if violent criminals kidnap a girl being paid $1m to be a surrogate mother. As the baby is for a gangster the pair’s demand for money sees several henchmen and assorted other ruthless characters head after them to Mexico. Bullets rather than talking are always going to settle this one.

What follows is an extremely complex tale that is most definitely not your standard Hollywood movie with tragedy and betrayal at its heart.

In terms of a Fiasco style of movie, if you watch how every character has some sort of relationship an is connected and the way these all unfold at the end you see exactly the sort of style that a Fiasco game is building as it develops.

Way of the Gun is certainly not without its flaws, extremely slow pacing especially at the beginning and the way it is not the two main characters who are the heroes of the story. If you keep in mind that the amoral pitiless two that open the story are not the protagonists then the movie makes far more sense. I wish there were more movies like this coming from Hollywood instead of the cookie cutter made-by-committee movies that are churned out by the dozens.


I decided to watch this movie a few weeks ago with a friends recommendation. A desire to see Elijah Wood in a non-Frodo role and some interest in the soccer hooligan subculture sealed my interest. I actually liked this movie, the plot was very predictable and formulaic but some excellent performances especially by Charlie Hunnam as Pete, and well done fight scenes rescued this and elevated it to one of my favorites. Elijah wood plays a push over who learns to stand up for himself by running with a British soccer firm. From the Wiki:

Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) is thrown off his journalism course at Harvard University after cocaine is discovered in his room. However, the cocaine belongs to Jeremy Van Holden (Terence Jay), his roommate. Buckner is afraid to speak up because the Van Holdens are a powerful family, and Jeremy pays him $10,000 for taking the fall. Matt moves to the United Kingdom to live with his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani), her husband Steve Dunham (Marc Warren) and their young son, Ben (James Allison). There, Matt meets Steve’s brother, Pete (Charlie Hunnam), a loud and thuggish Cockney who runs a local football hooligan firm – a group of football supporters that arranges fights after matches – and teaches at a local school. Steve asks Pete to take Matt to a football match between West Ham United and Birmingham City, though Pete reluctant to take a “Yank” to a football match, because of the xenophobic nature of his friends. He is persuaded only because Steve will give Matt money. After defeating Matt in a fight, Pete decides to take Matt to the football match, thinking the yank might learn a thing or two.

Elijah’s portrayal as having no confidence and the total change in himself by the end is effective. Pete is riveting and really steals the show, Charlie Hunnam is an actor to watch in the future.

the fight scenes are well done highlighting Matt’s ineptness at the beginning to his strength at the end.

Green Street is reputably becoming a cult classic and despite its flaws, its easy to see why.


The Man From Nowhere is an excellent action movie from Korea. Very good action scenes and well choreographed fights. Bin Won stars as a pawn shop owner who befriends a little girl who comes to the shop at times. Cha Tae Sik is a loner but obviously has a violent past that he is avoiding. The girl’s mother gets in the middle of a dispute between rival drug gangs and is in need of rescue. I won’t give away the rest of the movie because while it seems formulaic the script and acting make this one a standout. Gun-Fu, Kung-Fu, Car crashes, etc. etc. ece;;ent movie all around. From the Wiki:

Operating a pawn shop in a small neighborhood, Cha Tae-sik now leads a quiet life. His only connection to the rest of the world is a little girl, So-mi, who lives nearby. A heroin addict and So-mi’s mother, Hyo-jeong, smuggles drugs from a drug trafficking organization and entrusts Tae-sik with the product without his knowledge. When the traffickers find out about this they kidnap both Hyo-jeong and So-mi. The gang sends a number of thugs to Tae-sik’s pawn shop to retrieve the stolen drugs, but is easily overpowered by Tae-sik, making his identity ambiguous. However, upon learning that the gang now has in their possession both Hyo-jeong and So-mi, Tae-sik gives the beaten gang members what they are looking for.

Cha’s initial reluctance to get involved with the girl and his mysterious past are played very effectively. They come up with a reasonable background without the heavyhanded feel of a lot of “mysterious strangers who happen to be deadly assasins” so common nowadays.  His feelings toward the young girl go from coldness to warm smiles as he regains his humanity through his pursuit of her captors. Just an excellent action movie.

This is the movie adaptation of Terry Pratchetts’ Discworld story of an aged warrior looking for one last shot at glory.

The production values look very good especially for an amateur film crew. From the Kickstarter pitch:

Troll Bridge is an epic short film based on a fable written by Terry Pratchett.  Set in the phenomenally successful Discworld series, Troll Bridge is about the world’s last Barbarian hero (now at the age of 87) embarking on a suicide mission to battle a bridge troll in mortal combat.

I asked if this project would be subtitled and immediately the response came back as “yes, we want to do this in as many languages as possible.”

I backed the project right then 🙂

The following teaser trailer shows Cohen the barbarian in his youth and glory:

Back in the halcyon days of the early 1980s when America was still climbing out of the 1970s, the hot trend in movies (between Star Wars movies) was the Ninja movie. Despite the rise of anti-Japanese sentiment garnered by the economic problems of the USA, the ninja was adopted whole heartedly by American teen boys looking for a new martial arts hero. The trend was started by the Golan and Globus brothers production of Enter the Ninja with Sho Kosugi. Two more films were made in the Ninja series with Sho Kosugi going on to star in followup Revenge of the Ninja and several more martial arts films. Even in the cheap and somewhat shoddy Cannon films productions Kosugi’s work as a martial artist stands out. He garnered much praise and he still stands out in the pantheon of martial arts stars. It also pays to remember how unusual it was for a Japanese to star in an American movie production. From the Sho Kosugi website:

The Ninja sensation was so big that when Pat Rod, of the Hollywood Reporter, was in countries like Greece and Turkey she said,”Movie enthusiasts there never asked me about Stallone, Cruise, or Harrison Ford; it was always,’Have you ever met Sho Kosugi?'”

He did recognize that the ninja craze was a fad and moved on to more general action movies by the late 80s. But his sense of timing left an indelible impression on the ninja craving fans.

Sho Kosugi went on to found the SKI Institute in Hollywood teaching everything from taiko to gymnastics along with other martial arts schools in Japan. His two sons, Shane and Kane have also appeared in movies and are occasionally competitors on the Sasuke TV show in Japan (Ninja Warrior here in the US).

departuresWe watched Departures this weekend – amazingly beautiful, sad, funny, uplifting film.

A premiere symphony orchestra in Tokyo disbands, leaving Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) suddenly unemployed.  Suffering from an innate sense that he is a mediocre musician, he faces up to the fact that not everyone who has devoted their life to music can become a top artist. With wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) in tow, he moves back to his home town in the northeastern prefecture of Yamagata.  They move into the crumbling remains of his mother’s house, which doubled as the local pub.

Spotting a Help Wanted ad featuring the word “departures,” he is excited about the prospect of trying a new career in the travel industry.  He arrives for the interview, curiously eyeing the coffins lining the back wall of the office.  The company owner, Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), hires him on the spot, with only a cursory glance at his resume. Daigo finally ventures to ask what is involved, exactly, and is stunned to learn what he has gotten himself into: the ceremonial “encoffination” of corpses prior to cremation.  Sasaki urges him to take the job, proffering large amounts of cash.  He’s getting older, and needs someone to carry on the tradition.

In desperate straits, Daigo overcomes his initial trepidation and begins to travel around Hirano with Sasaki. Sasaki is comically matter-of-fact but firm in his directives and the contention that they are providing an important service to their community.   Some cases are markedly traditional, featuring beatific family members in time-honored transition.  Others highlight family dramas fraught with inevitable collisions, eased into unexpected conclusion.  True to Sasaki’s expectations, Daigo develops a deep respect for life in all its variations, and a profound empathy for people trying to make peace with the finality of death.

Too embarrassed to tell his wife about his conversation-stopping profession and admit that he has fallen in love with the townsfolk, Daigo vainly tries to keep his new life secret. As their relationship hangs in the balance, the big question is how he’s going to react to surprising news she brings, as an encoffineer, as a husband, as a son and as a human being.   It is Daigo’s turn to deal with life and death among the people who are dearest to him.

A story of love, of discovery, of revelation and of the transcending human spirit, “Departures” will linger in your heart and mind long after viewing.

makeupI loved this movie, gorgeous scenery from Japan, insight into traditions and culture, humor, philosophy, etc. It has it all. Showing the traditions of funerals in Japan and how the times have changed them. A glimpse into something rarely seen. Daigo’s acceptance of his role and growing care and respect in the rituals of encoffination and the way he uses his skill at the end of the movie to resolve his feelings was very poignant and well done. Very good movie, very deserving of its accolades.

copyrights to HighRanger on Flickr

copyrights to HighRanger on Flickr

Post apocalypse Australia? Looking for Max Rockantasky driving a MFP pursuit special?

No, its a dust storm in Sydney, Australia. Severe drought and gale force winds picked up huge amounts of soil from Australia’s interior and caused this orange sky. The scene immediately brought to mind the post-apocalyptic ruined city in Mad Max: Beyond Thunder Dome.

After 25 years of development Hell we may finally get another Mad Max movie,  maybe as an animated movie this time around to boot.

Tina Turner’s official video:

wildthingsareI really hope that the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are turns out to be as good as the trailer makes it seem. The book is so short, I guess that a lot depends on what extras they tacked into it and how the story plays out….

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