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In the winter of 1937, after Japan conquered and destroyed Shanghai, Emperor Hirohito’s cruelty and ruthless thirst for power shifted to Nanking, the Chinese capital. More than 200,000 people were massacred, including the Chinese army, and only a handful of ordinary people fought to survive. Their bravery and heroism have become legendary in China. This is the true story of an American mortician named John Miller, brilliantly played by Christian Bale, who miraculously made his way through the fire, mortar and bombs to reach a Catholic cathedral to prepare a murdered Catholic priest for burial. […]
The Flowers of War is profoundly involving on many levels. Clocking in at 141 minutes, it requires patience, but the rewards are numerous. Zhang Yimou finds human revelations in small places and small faces, as seen both through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, forced to age prematurely while she watches the brutality of aggression and conflict from a hole in a stained-glass window, and through the gun sights of the last Chinese soldier in Nanking, who sacrifices his chance to leave for one final act to save his people. […] Zhang Yimou knows how to build characters gradually, until you get to know his roll call as friends but without the unnecessary exposition that burdens most historic war pieces. […] The film mercifully shields the viewer from too much graphic gore and brutality in the interests of finding an audience. But the imagination is unmistakably fueled. Instead of shock value, the director concentrates on individual acts of heroism, masterfully conveyed and emotionally wrenching.
Zhang Yimou (pronounced “Johnny-moo”) used to be a cinematographer, so his films are always sumptuous. From the colorful costumes of the courtesans performing a Chinese folk song to the ashes of the city in ruin, every image is evocative. The music is magical and gorgeous. Without exception, the richness of the cross-cultural performances really resonates. It’s rare for a bankable star like Christian Bale to collaborate with a foreign director and appear in a film of this magnitude, but having once appeared as an English boy trapped in Japan’s invasion of China in Steven Spielberg’s great 1987 film Empire of the Sun, he has remained intrigued by the period. With an unheard-of budget for a Chinese film of $100 million, his diligent work and the punishment of the no-frills location shooting in China pay off handsomely.[…]
You can read the full review here.
[…] The film gains its truly spectacular look and feel from its epic scope but clearly Yimou is far more interested in the humanity that survives these trials and the message of hope sent my Miller’s moral reversal. Shot in Mandarin and English the film feels entirely authentic, especially in the way Miller communicates with the locals. Bale, whose debut in Empire of the Sun was also set in China, is perfectly cast here. He plays a combination of irresponsible American bravado and new found dignity with a perfect sense of character.
The women cast opposite him are mostly from the area and many are non-pros, but all appear completely professional and accomplished, with a standout performance from Ni Ni as the lead prostitute and Zhang Xinyi as Shu, the schoolgirl at the heart of the story. Also impressive is Huang Tianyuan as George, a young boy who is taking on big responsibility to protect their sanctuary after the school’s priest is killed. Also quite touching is Cao Kefan as Mr. Meng, a Chinese civilian doing everything he can to save his daughter. The Flowers of War is ultimately an inspiring, stirring and unforgettable human drama in the face of a horrifying war. It is highly recommended.[…]
Full review here.
Edward Egan of Fangoria wrote a really nice review of ‘The Machinist’. Here are some parts:
As we are introduced to the pitiful Trevor and his lonely existence, we witness his growing fear that others are tormenting him for some reason he cannot fathom. With every character he meets, all of Trevor’s relationships become plagued with an unreasonable distrust, as he constantly wonders who is out to get him and why. As Trevor’s paranoia grows, it is a taunting game of hangman that he plays with an unknown antagonist that furthers his downward spiral, ultimately resulting in a surprising and painful twist.
These signs lead to a series of frightening visions, which Trevor fears may be memories. Increasingly doubtful of the people and the world around him, and exacerbated by his yearlong battle with insomnia, Trevor’s suspicions begin to turn inward, tormented by thoughts and fears of what he may have done.
Unlike most horror films that rely heavily on grisly makeup or CGI for scares, the single greatest special effect in THE MACHINIST is Bale’s disturbing appearance, the result of the most chilling physical transformation ever committed to film.
The unique visual style of THE MACHINIST comes complete with weird imagery, tilted camera angles and uncomfortable close-ups that often give the production a somewhat retro quality, akin to a classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode. The creepy violin strains of Roque Banos’ eerie music, the dark yet intimate cinematography by Xani Gimenez and the crisp writing by Scott Kosar combine to brilliantly convey Trevor’s bleak, lonely and nightmarish world.
Throughout THE MACHINIST, two characters spout the same line to Trevor: “If you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist…” After the film is over and the viewer begins to process the work completely, it’s interesting to realize how key this line really is to Trevor’s actual goal. When looking back on his dramatic weight loss, it appears that in an effort to pay for his crime, Trevor’s subconscious wish was to get thinner and thinner, so that he will no longer exist and have to face the nightmare of what he has done.
Full review here.