Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever – Antonio Banderas is Jeremiah Ecks, former FBI agent with a stupid name mourning for his lost wife, and Lucy Liu is Sever, disaffected ‘DIA’-trained assassin with an even stupider name. The first thing you need to know about this movie is that it is possibly one of the worst movies ever; secondly, that there was probably more money in the pyrotechnics budget than the scriptwriting, costume and casting budget combined, despite the apparent star power of the leads. Thirdly, it’s based on a video game.
And finally, the title? It lies: after about 20 minutes in, it’s not Ecks vs Sever so much as Ecks with Sever, not to mention the sexual tension between the leads is palpably higher than that between Ecks and his apparently long-lost wife, when he finally rediscovers her. Might have been of some merit if it had come out in 1994; as a 2002 release, watching in 2008, this fails utterly. ★☆
Persepolis: An animated story of an Irani girl, growing up through the Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq War, and the subsequent decades. Told entirely in French, this is oft-times amusing, but still largely poignant story, based on an autobiographical graphical novel by Marjane Satpari. The animation style is distinctive and simple to first appearances, but has a flexibility and depth that is used well. Not knowing French, nor the detailed history of Iran’s revolution, I can’t vouch much for the context, but the story is a compelling one, if a little too heavy. Ends rather abruptly. ★★★☆
Iron Man: Another superhero to add to the growing panatheon of on-screen heroes? Hollywood producers have really begun to mine the comic book world for their ‘fresh’ ideas. In a way, the visual nature of comic books are probably most accesible to movies, the story-boarding and visualising already having been done for them.
That said, Iron Man isn’t half-bad, though the story is half-baked at best in this on-screen incarnation. While Downey Jr. makes a commendable performance, much of the rest of the cast is flat at best. It doesn’t help I suppose that Paltrow annoys me no end no matter what role she is in, and this doesn’t go any way to redeeming her. The action makes up for much, despite everything, and it does end up doing things slightly differently… for the most part.
The inevitable sequel(s) are foreshadowed, and for a pretty good clue to the tone of them, stick around through the credits. Minus points also for having ‘terrorists’ mixing Hindi (or simple Urdu) with Arabic. The hell kind of terrorists are they? ★★★☆
Lust, Caution (色、戒): This is one movie that is so close to perfection, and yet… A weaving story, paced carefully, though with few moments that miss the beat. The direction is studied, with attention to every detail, and the cinematography superb, rich colours where appropriate, washed out in the starker scenes. The cast is undoubtedly some of the most capable, speaking volumes with their eyes as often as with the dialogue. Knowing that lead actress Tang Wei is essentially a new starter, this her first major role, makes her achievement all the more so.
True, the sex scenes are a little full-on, the running time long, and the love story never quite, quite makes sense – unless you take the premise that femme fatales of spy-thriller must necessarily fall in love with those they attempt to decieve, if only to truly bring the tragic circle of the plot back on itself for a neat resolution. Don’t let that distract you too much, though, from pretty much everything else, which is stunning.
This is the kind of movies Wong Kar-Wai makes – a re-imagining of In the Mood for Love, if you will. I’ll freely admit, the only other Ang Lee movie I’ve seen properly is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the remaining efforts forever tainted by the awful Hulk. This is somewhat of a redemption.
One of Tony Leung’s lines in this movie is, “If you’re observant, nothing is trivial.” (or so my translation says) – something that could so easily apply to this film, ripe as it is for symbolism and depth beyond the shallow level of a first watch. Little wonder that this movie won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2007. ★★★★☆