Kung-fu is not a genre of action film that I am often drawn to. Even… MoreKung-fu is not a genre of action film that I am often drawn to. Even when I saw the trailer for "The Grandmaster", I wrote it off slightly, but the pacing, the storytelling, and the lore of Ip Man achieves greatness no matter what the genre. Nominated for two Academy Awards, in Best Costume Design and Best Cinematography, the film reaches admirable levels of both, but reaches much further, producing amazing performances and an intriguing story of a nation divided and a man that is less a hero and more a temple of martial arts knowledge. A man that weathered the storm and went on to teach the greats, including one of the most popular martial artists of our time, Bruce Lee.
Beginning in the pouring rain, we are subject to witness Ip Man (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) fight a number of combatants. Kung-fu is hard enough to catch on film correctly, but it becomes a dance for Le Sourd, involving the camera movements gliding gracefully along the masters as they battle one another from room to room from street to street. With the camera dancing alongside the fighters, producing rich visuals throughout the choreography of fighting, it's hard to deny the actors in these roles, convincing the audience that they are grandmasters, indeed. Soon, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) from the North arrives in the South to announce his retirement and his successor, but places a challenge for a South successor as well. With Ip Man picked to represent the other grandmasters, the passing of knowledge from a handful of fellow grandmasters commences in one of the most appealing bouts of storytelling of the film. Along with Gong Yutian comes his daughter Gong Er, played by the gorgeously talented Zhang Ziyi of "House Of Flying Daggers" and "Memoirs Of A Geisha" fame. Let the untouchable romance begin.
A battle of wits ensues between Ip Man and Gong Yutian, leaving Ip Man victorious. Sharing a few moments together, Ip Man and Gong Er decide to keep in touch, despite Ip Man already being married. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1938 breaks out in the South, forcing Ip Man to take work in Hong Kong, never actually keeping in touch with Gong Er. The rest of the film plays out like a Greek tragedy. To top it all off, this entire film is based on some sort of fact, mythology if you will, despite its fantastical nature. With a convincing cast and visual styling that breathes authenticity, you forget you're watching a film and begin to experience the feeling of watching archival footage play in front of your eyes. The costumes are memorable in "The Grandmaster", especially that of the women, and in particular, the leading lady and her fur coats. But the costumes become part of the story as Ip Man brings to the audience's attention that he never wears suits, except for a single ID photo and the winter coats he purchases but then has to sell to feed his family. Zhang Ziyi, alone, is worth viewing the film for, on top of some of the most amazing displays of martial arts you'll ever see on film. Filled with impressive kung-fu battles and with some stellar scenes in the pouring rain, there is a distinct feel to the visuals in this film captured by Philippe Le Sourd and for that, "The Grandmaster" becomes a kung-fu film that breaks its boundaries and produces a period piece action film that I highly enjoyed.
Charles Dickens was a selfish man. "The Invisible Woman" depicts his… MoreCharles Dickens was a selfish man. "The Invisible Woman" depicts his true story courting of his mistress Ellen "Nelly" Ternan in 1857 while still married to his wife Catherine. With twenty-seven years separating the two of them, the film really depicts the relationship as heavily one-sided, placing Ellen in the predicament of always being the "other" woman, with no possibility of marriage and a life filled with solitude. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars as Dickens, playing the role with an exuberance that brings the character to new life. His multi-layered performance brings a new dynamic to the way you picture Dickens, making him a suave people pleaser, as well as a brooding creative type. For being one of the greatest writers of all time, you get the feeling Dickens is not very in touch with his emotions. Also, you begin to disassociate him with his body of work and realize the man had a life and before tabloids and entertainment news was a thing, gossip and newspapers were handed out from person to person.
The star of "The Invisible Woman" is by far the young and talented Felicity Jones, who continues to leave me in awe of her performances. Blossoming into a fully formed woman in the flash forwards of the film, she not only wears the brilliant period costumes with a zeal that steals the show, but her emotional presence in the role really adds a depth to her character, that Jones brings to all her roles. There's always something going on in her eyes and her pouting lips that truly delivers the emotional connection between her character and the audience. As the innocent, eighteen year old Nelly, Jones still brings a maturity to the young girl that rings true, as she's obsessed with Dickens' work and far more intelligent than most people around her. Jones is a such a beautiful young woman and I cannot wait to see her in more roles and especially if she continues to progress as she does in this role.
Fiennes, as a director, never lays heavy on the dialogue of the relationship. Through most of the film, you're not sure where the relationship is headed or how anyone involved feels, unless in a subtle exchange. The audience is experiencing the relationship as if an outsider, who only sees the characters involved at face level and never knowing the inner reaching of how they feel or what their intentions are. You're never quite sure if Nelly actually even loves Dickens, or if she was just infatuated. You never quite sure where Dickens sees the relationship going or if there was ever any sex involved between the two of them. Besides an intimate moment of touching each others faces, there is not even so much as a kiss between them shown on screen. There are many conflicting emotions throughout the film. Dickens' wife, Catherine, has become appalling to him and there is a definite distance between them, as with most long standing marriages. But he's eventually willing to throw that away to "be" with Ellen. With the backdrop of his novels, like "Great Expectations", being written while this personal turmoil continues around him, it feels like an honor to be apart of this man's muses while writing some of the greatest novels in the history of literature. But as great a writer as he was, you get the feeling that his love as entrapped Ellen, who is basically hidden away by the end, left to wait for a man whom she can never be married, knowing that with their huge age gap, he will be the first one to leave her. And for this, taking a brilliant young woman with an entire life ahead of her and stealing her love without much choice in the matter, hence the name of the film "The Invisible Woman", it returns us to my opening remark in that Charles Dickens was a selfish man.
RENDITION // Before "Zero Dark Thirty" caught everyone's attention… MoreRENDITION // Before "Zero Dark Thirty" caught everyone's attention about the treatment of terrorist suspects in other countries, "Rendition" explored the same basic idea six years prior to a much lesser audience. But what's the difference? Were people not ready to hear about the idea of "extraordinary rendition" back then, which was a very real thing that occurred under the go ahead from the George W. Bush administration? One thing "Rendition" did have on its side was star power, which is actually what finally got me to see it. While "Zero Dark Thirty" has impressive newcomers that will be legends decades from now in Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, "Rendition" has household names like Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and Reese Witherspoon, which on paper, really sells this film on its own.
When "Rendition" came out in 2007, I paid little attention, probably because I am not that in touch with politics, especially back then. With its entire plot focusing on the event of a U.S. citizen and family man being intercepted at an international airport and being immediately deported to be tortured in a foreign country, there's not much sheer entertainment value in that to grab anyone's attention. But add to that the familiar faces, like Gyllenhaal in his follow up role to the dark and brooding Fincher movie, "Zodiac" or Meryl Streep in one of her only villainous roles, and the reasons for seeing the film skyrocket. And once you take the film at face value, the story becomes interesting and you start learning more about this strange occurrence in our nation's history and you start to wonder why this wasn't a bigger deal in the media at the time.
Timing is the key factor here. Not long after the death of Osama Bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty" made waves with a female director and the story of how men were tortured to divulge information in order to find and kill Bin Laden. "Rendition" takes no real measures in focusing on any real life counterparts and presents a political fiction simply based on ideas. Both films have great performances in them, with a fantastic cast of characters, but "Zero Dark Thirty" proves so much more with its unseasoned cast and with a shocking look at that world, in which the curtain is drawn back on some of our nation's dirty secrets. "Rendition" is a film that always feels like a film, which makes the audience lack that connection that latches them to the material. We may love the actors in their roles, but in the end, its watching them play these roles instead of become these roles that makes the huge difference.