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Villainous lines series




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Quick ‘n’ Dirty: March at the pictures

I didn’t go a lot to the cinema in March but I made up for it watching more European films (from Belgium, Spain and Denmark, to be precise). So here are my short and sweet reviews. Dig in!

Belgica: the story of Cafe Belgica and Jo and Frank, two brothers who own it. We see the evolution from hole-in-the-wall bar just for the locals with some live music into concert venue with regular gigs and selected clientele. At the beginning working at Belgica seems like the best thing in the world (sex, drugs and rock and roll) but, as time goes by, we see that it comes with a lot of baggage and pain, paralleling a heavy night of partying and drinking (more Bukowski’s style). What grabs more the attention is the music, it cleverly evolves in style with the changes of the bar and the strifes and troubles between the brothers. The cinematography is also to the point: the film begins with a red, warm hue suggesting intimacy and fun and, as the bar expands beyond control, the color schemes shift toward a harsh and cold blue. The performances of Stef Aerts and Tom Vermier as Jo and Frank are convincing and compelling. One minor quibble could be that some interesting secondary characters are not given much depth, but it’s just nit-picking. Intriguing —7.5/10



Zootopia: the latest Disney animated film is set in an anthropomorphic city where mammals, predators and not, co-exist peacefully… more or less. Comedy, adventure and crime drama are well mixed together in a story that has never a dull moment. There are endearing characters like our heroine Judy Hopps, who is the first bunny to join the police of Zootopia, and cheeky ones like Nick Wilde, a fox and a hustler. There’s humour for kids and grow-ups alike (the sloths at the DMV are priceless) and a nice message about tolerance and inclusion that works well without being too corny or cheesy. The voice actors are perfect for their characters and the animation is top-notch. Maybe it’s not my favorite among Disney animated films but it is entertaining. Fun —7/10



Land of Mine: the life of German prisoners in Denmark in 1945, right after the end of War World II. The Danish government decided to use thousands of German prisoners of war to remove the mines on the western coast of Denmark (put there by the Nazi during the occupation). The film tells the story of a small group of such prisoners, mostly still boys, and Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moeller), the Danish soldier in charge of them and their mission. While beautifully shot the film falls short of the mark: the story of each character feels flat, without any reasonable development or believable motives. Sgt. Rasmussen suddenly change from Nazi-hater and treating the boys worse than animals, to father-figure, especially with Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), the unofficial leader of the group. The most important issue of the Geneva Convention about prisoners of war and not behaving like the Nazis did is completely glossed over, which makes for an easy way out for the director and writer Martin Zandvliet. Stray observations: no way it’s always sunny in Denmark, even in summer; if it’s windy it’s nigh impossible to keep the sand out of your eyes; the boys have always perfectly trim hair even after months of work… doubt that a barber showed up there every few weeks! Disappointing–5/10



A Perfect Day: another movie about the aftermath of a war, this time is the Balkans in 1990s. What is most compelling is that the main point of view is neutral, the viewer is shown the ugliness of war in an objective way without judgement or taking sides. The plot is about an international group of aid workers who are supposed to clean up wells to provide the local population with potable water. Drama and comedy are dosed well, combining interesting and insightful situations that stem from language and cultural barriers, moronic bureaucracy and personal relationships. Black humour at the expense of military authority and the helplessness of the UN is reminiscent of M*A*S*H. Benico Del Toro and Tim Robbins, as the two old-timers of the group, are spectacular and well worth watching. Alex Catalan’s superb cinematography of the arid mountain landscapes and war devastated backdrop further enhances this enjoyable dark comedy/ funny drama. Unusual and riveting —7.5/10




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Villainous lines series


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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Director: Justin Chadwick; Main Cast: Idris ElbaNaomie HarrisTony Kgoroge, Riaad MoosaJamie Bartlett

Nelson Mandela’s story: from his early days as brilliant lawyer defending black people to joining the ACN and the non-violent protests against the apartheid. He then moves to more extreme forms of fight like bombing public facilities and he is arrested and convicted to a life sentence. We see Mandela and his fellow leaders of ACN growing old in prison while the unrest in the country turns into open revolt, mainly lead by his second wife Winnie. It is quite interesting seeing both his private and public life, how they intertwine and evolve, and his relationship with Winnie, in a manner, quite crucial for the end of the apartheid in South Africa as well. The film ends with SouthAfrica’s difficult transition to a proper democracy and the election of Mandela as president. Idris Elba does a wonderful job as Mandela, the right mix of charisma, energy and compassion, but not devoid of flaws, making him very human. Naomie Harris shows her acting chops and is quite convincing as Winnie Mandela. All in all it is not only interesting but also a compelling film. I particularly enjoyed the lighting and the colours of the photography, accurately depicting the different moments in history. Moving and uplifting. —8/10

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Thor: The Dark World

Director: Alan Taylor, Main Cast: Chris HemsworthNatalie PortmanTom HiddlestonAnthony HopkinsIdris ElbaKat DenningsStellan SkarsgårdJaimie Alexander

This is one of the rare cases in which the sequel is better than the original movie (which has been made only, I suspect, to be sure that the non-geek crowd would recognise the blonde guy in the Avengers). The quality of the film is mostly due to the fact that there is more humor and that Loki is a scene stealer. Tom Hiddleston is brilliant as Loki, showing many layers within what was meant to be a clean-cut villain. This time Thor must fight to save not only Earth but his beloved Jane, his home world and the universe itself from the evil elves and never-ending darkness. To do so he must defy his father and ally with his untrustworthy brother, who uses his tricks to help him but also to pursuit his own machiavellian plan. Can Loki truly redeem himself or will he finally show his true colours? It’s easier to relate to him because he is conflicted, flawed and very human… for a god. Chris Hemsworth does a better job this time around as Thor, a more well-rounded performance and less super-buff caricature. Natalie Portman comes back as Jane Foster and she is unwittingly responsible of discovering the ultimate evil… why scientists are always held responsible for bringing doom to the planet? Hollywood seems to love that! And for the record: an astrophysicist is perfectly able to change her phone’s ringtone. Poor Stellan Skarsgard is relegate to comic relief alongside Kat Dennings. Anyway the film is very entertaining, with plenty of action and effective special effects. The 3D doesn’t add anything, as it is the case most of the time, but, at least, it’s not distracting or disturbing. Well done, let’s see what will come next! —6.5/10


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Pacific Rim

Director:  Guillermo del Toro, Main Cast: Idris ElbaCharlie HunnamRinko Kikuchi

I completely understand del Toro for wanting to make this film, I also grew up watching tons of Japanese anime with giant robots that beat the crap out of alien monsters/robots, so my inner eight-year old was giddy at the idea. Multi-million visual and special effects notwithstanding, we were both disappointed (my inner child and I). I didn’t appreciated the weak script, the inconsistencies of the plot and the super-cliched story arc of our hero: young and over-confident fighter, brought back to the harsh reality of life by tragedy, reluctant comeback after years of obscurity and finally saving the world…well, nothing new under the sun. My inner child instead was really upset by the abysmally poor tactics and the overall strategy in fighting the monsters (kaiju = monster in Japanese filmography…as much creativity as calling the first satellite in human history “sputnik”). What’s with the fist fights and low-performing energy beams….seriously?! Where are the atomic punch, the thunder break or the double harken? Our heros remember halfway through a fight that they have a much more effective sword…what the hell? Why not use it right away instead of a freight ship as a cudgel? And why always wait for the kaiju to come and destroy cities instead of meeting them in the middle of the Pacific where the inter-dimensional portal is? I won’t even talk about the pseudoscience or the lamest speech a la “Saint Crispin’s Day” since Independence Day. Anyway, del Toro is already planning a sequel, so I hope that he will refresh his memory watching some episodes of Mazinger Z, Great Mazinger or Grendizer. Try, try again, fail, fail better.–4/10

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