Review: House of Flying Daggers (2005)

House of Flying Daggers is a martial arts movie with a fairy tale-esque plot. Directed by Zhang Yimou, the mastermind behind the Oscar nominated Hero, this film follows the same path. It is crafted with vibrant and colorful action scenes centered on the film’s star, the always stunning Ziyi Zhang, who plays Mei.

The plot is filled with more double crosses than you can count as it climaxes with a lovers duel for Mei’s affection. Despite the nonstop action, the plot twists, and gorgeous cinematography, the plot is predictable and boring. (I’m not proud to admit this, but I found myself fastfowarding to the martial arts scenes.)

It is these brilliantly directed action sequences that save House of Flying Dagger from being painstakingly awful. The plot is clearly not it’s strength, nor does it intend to be.

Most importantly, this movie looks best on the bigget screen you can find. The Echo Game scene, featuring slow-motion shots of pebbles hitting drums and Ziyi Zhang leaping between the drums as her dress sleeves fly, was a personal highlight.

Updated October 7, 2010

Review: Two Women (1961)

Two Women or La Ciociara is a touching story of a mother, Rosetta (Sophia Loren) trying to raise her barely 13-year old daughter, Cesira, during the Second World War.

Rosetta is a woman broken by her loveless marriage and the war. She and her daughter leave Rome to escape from the daily air raids day and to seek a quieter existence in the Italian countryside. This is part of Rosetta’s desperate attempt to preserve Cesira’s innocence. They only discover that the countryside is not as peaceful. The final 30 minutes of Two Women are utterly heartbreaking. Rosetta experiences every possible emotional state imaginable.

This was my first Sophia Loren movie and I was blown away by her performance. I never really knew much about her before other than she is considered to be one of the most beautiful women ever. I’ll admit that at first I thought at the start of this film, when you are as gorgeous as Sophia Loren is, you don’t deserve to be that talented. Yet it is those final moments, when her character experiences the pain of being violated by men again and losing a loved one, of seeing her daughter hurt and seeing the war steal what was left of Cesira’s innocence that convinced me otherwise.  It is incredible to say the least.

Two Women is also very significant in film history. For her role of Rosetta, Sophia Loren received the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. This was the first Oscar ever given for a performance in foreign-language film. That has only happened two times. Roberto Benigni won in 1999 for Life is Beautiful; his award was presented by Sophia Loren.

All in all, Two Women is a film that is not only war and its disastrous affects, but the lasting bond between a mother and daughter that is heartbreaking and an overall rewarding movie watching experience.

Updated: April 29, 2011

Review: Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)

Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia; Doctor Zhivago) stars as Monsieur Ibrahim, the owner of a small Paris grocery store. He adopts a local Jewish boy, Momo(Pierre Boulanger) as his own and the movie follows their unique friendship as it takes them on the journey of lifetime.

This the first foreign film in while that I really enjoyed. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for these types of movies. You know, when the older wiser man takes in the boy with no direction and becomes a father figure to him. But Monsieur Ibrahim added a little something extra that separates it from the pack.

This film explores to very different cultures. The one of the aging Muslim, connected to his religion and tells Momo that he only” knows what is in his Koran”. The young Jew, however, knows little of his faith. Set during the 1960’s in a working class Paris, it adds in splices of American influence with clearly American music. It is the music that connects the different cultures presented in the film.

Most of all, this film is funny, charismatic, full of life and rich with culture. Monsieur Ibrahim is an emotional journey that if you choose to take, you will find rewarding.