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If you sat through the Daniel Craig version of author Stieg Larsson’s best-selling book and thought, “I wish there were at least six more hours of this,” then Swedish version of Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy is surely for you. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo recreates the books scene by scene, starting with an investigation into a 40-year-old case and ending with an engrossing murder and government conspiracy. Also, Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of the lead heroine is impeccable.
Kung Fu Hustle was once the highest-grossing film in the history of Hong Kong — and it’s easy to see why. Co-written and directed by Stephen Chow, who also stars in the leading role, the film revolves around a hapless mobster and his pal whom attempt to dupe the residents of Pig Sty Alley into thinking they’re members of the dreaded Axe Gang. The oddball flick harkens back to the ’70s heyday of kung-fu films, though, it does so while ditching in-depth character development in favor of cartoon elements and a heavy dose of slapstick. Retired actors such as Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu round out the outstanding ensemble cast, the latter of which has been away from film for nearly 20 years. Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Looney Tunes, with rampant use of black comedy.
Director-writer Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie remains the highest-grossing French film released in the United States (and for good reason). It’s the whimsical tale of a shy waitress in contemporary Paris who decides to return a collection of toys she found behind a baseboard in her apartment to their original owner, an act that helps her cope with her own isolation and despair after a difficult upbringing. Still, the film is warmhearted and quirky, with laughs to spare.
There are hundreds — if not thousands — of kung-fu movies on Netflix, but few of them are as good as the film dramatizing the life of Yip Man, one of Bruce Lee’s teachers and the first to teach Wing Chun martial arts in China. Film title controversy racked the film even before its debut in Hong Kong, and though we wouldn’t say the film is historically accurate when it comes to detailing Ip’s life in the city of Foshan during Sino-Japanese War, the spectacular stunts belie its accuracy.
House of Cards isn’t the only Netflix original of merit. Egyption filmmaker Jehane Noujaim’s Oscar-nominated film is a powerful documentary that depicts the rapid series of revolutions and toppling of successive governments in Egypt during the Arab Spring. It’s both troubling and encouraging, a thought-provoking testament of what can happen when an oppressed society attempts to regain its freedom from the corrupt regime moonlighting as a functioning government.
Spanish director Pablo Berger’s modern retelling of the classic Snow White story is not what you might expect—and the band of bullfighting dwarves and remarkable gladiatorial scenes don’t even begin to sum it up. The silent film is shot entirely in black-and-white and brims with an eerie sense of ambiguity and melancholia, which further capitalizes on the sadomasochism of the evil stepmother and inspiration drawn from the likes of horror masterminds such as Hitchcock and Browning. It’s a dark portrayal of Spanish culture set in 1910, yet, there’s also an unspoken beauty lining the vivid close-ups and flamenco-flecked score.
Starring Eugenio Derbez, Instructions Not Included focuses on Acapulco playboy Valentín and his growing relationship with a baby girl thought to be his daughter. The amusing film represents the highest-grossing opening for a Mexican film of all time, and though it often comes off as overly comical, it remains teeming with serious commentary on the nature of life. It features a lackluster supporting cast, but Derbez and Peralta’s film chemistry is a wonder to watch.
Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is an appropriate title for this Spanish comedy, given the title is culled from a Beatles song and revolves around an English schoolteacher (Javier Camara) and two hitchhikers who road trip across Spain in 1966 in the hopes of meeting John Lennon. The low-key film swept the country’s Goya Awards upon its release and was even selected to represent Spain at the Academy Awards, owing to Camara’s winning performance and that of fledgling actress Natalia de Molina. It’s also based on a true story, one that takes a tender turn with the help of director David Trueba’s vision and subtle, political undertones.
Films depicting the Holocaust are, understandably, emotional. However, few exhibit the kind of passion and unparalleled love carried out within German filmmaker Anna Justic’s Remembrance. It’s the narrative of a married woman who discovers her former lover, one who previously rescued her from a concentration camp and she believes to be dead, is still alive 30 years down the line. In the end, it’s as suspenseful as it is heart-wrenching, with an unexpected ending many find far from bittersweet.
Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine, suffered a massive stroke when he was a mere 43 years old. The crippling incident left him with a condition known as lock-in syndrome, which paralyzed nearly all voluntary muscles in his body except for his eyes. Bauby was still able to dictate an entire memoir by blinking his left eyelid, however, giving rise to the The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and the film adaptation thereof. The heroic film chronicles the day-to-day life with the condition, along Bauby’s fantasies and past life, culminating in a film that brims with wisdom and celebrates life when it could very easily dawdle in despair given the grave subject matter. Moreover, French actor Mathieu Amalric’s portrayal as Bauby is spectacular… right down to his stationary antics and frenzied twitching.
South Korean director Kim Han-min’s look on the 1597 Battle of Myeongnyang is a David-and-Goliath tale of the highest caliber. It focuses on Korean admiral Yi Sun-shin — played by Choi Min-sik if Oldboy acclaim — and his efforts to thwart an encroaching fleet of 330 Japanese ships with little more than 12 of his own and a literal boatload of courage. However, the characters in the film are only secondary to the Michael Bay-esque action sequences strewn throughout the film, all of which seamlessly combine model warships and computer-generated effects to great effect. The way Sun-shin utilizes the currents and whirlpools to his advantage is captivating, even if Han-min doesn’t delve into the logistics of it all with that much attention to detail.
South Korean director Yoon Je-kyoon’s Ode to My Father is teeming with political controversy — some feel it attempts to idealize the country’s past under the rule of a authoritarian regime — but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the country’s most glorified films in recent years. The epic melodrama traces Korean history from the 1950s through the present day using the lens of one Yoon Deok-soo (Hwang Jung-min), an everyday refugee and shopkeeper who spends his life attempting to care for his family after the death of his father and sister. The film’s merit lies in its resounding ability to interweave historical events, such as the Hungnam Evacuation, with a concise narrative, while managing to wring a sentimental familiarity from the distant events.
Shall We Dance? should never have been remade for American audiences with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon in the starring roles. Japanese actor Kôji Yakusho does a fine job portraying the lovable Shohei Sugiyama, a dejected office worker who begins taking dance lessons after becoming infatuated with the instructor in passing. The original is a delightful and winsome examination regarding the healing powers of self-expression, rooted in superb character development and built upon an award-winning screenplay. Too bad ballroom dancing is still considered shameful and on the verge of taboo to many Japanese residents.
If you like smart, gut-wrenching thrillers, you must watch this movie. Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie plays Roger Brown, an art thief who finds himself in hot water after stealing a rare painting from an ex-mercenary and expert tracker, and his oddball fight to stay alive will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s the highest-grossing Norwegian film of all time, one teeming with dark humor and offering a gritty twist on the familiarity likened to author Jo Nesbø’s novel of the same name.