Tag Archives: William

THE GREAT WALL (2017) – My rating: 9/10

thegreatwallThe Great Wall is the Best Picture I’ve seen of 2017 so far. Of course it’s only February, but I must say, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was an impressive story with a different and profound plot. There’s a significant amount of humor, which will ease the pain of feeling like you’ve come to see a horror flick. I will try to review The Great Wall without giving anything away because the element of surprise is truly a surprise.

In the time of the Song dynasty during the reign of the Renzong Emperor, a few miles north of the Great Wall, a mercenary group originally consisting of twenty men searching for black powder are being pursued by Khitan bandits, who have already killed a lot of the men. Upon escaping, the remainder of the men seek refuge in a cave but are attacked by something unknown, leaving only William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) alive.  During the attack, William slashed off part of an arm with the hand in tact, (the rest had disappeared) so the two decided to bring the arm with them as proof of the kill in hopes of identifying what it was William had slaughtered. The next day, they stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called the Nameless Order, led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau).

The Nameless Order is a Chinese military order commissioned by the Imperial Court of the Song Dynasty as a special division of the Imperial Army conceived for the sole purpose of repelling a horde of Tao Tei, who rise every 60 years. The commanding officers are shocked upon seeing the severed hand, as the Order believed the invasion was still weeks away. Suddenly, a wave of Tao Tei attack the Great Wall, and the battalions are mobilized. The Nameless Order is divided into FIVE SPECIAL UNITS: the Melee-specialist Bear Troop, the Acrobatic-specialist Crane Troop, the Archer-specialist Eagle Troop, the Siege Engine-specialist Tiger Troop, and the Horse-mounted Deer Troop.  During the battle, William and Tovar are freed by Peng Yong (Lu Han), an unskilled soldier from the Bear Troop and William, in turn, saves him during the attack. William and Tovar’s battle skills earn the respect of General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Commander Lin (Jing Tian), leader of the Crane Troop. Later, William and Tovar meet Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), a European who, like them, had ventured east twenty-five years ago in search of black powder and was also taken prisoner.  Ballard has been serving as an English and Latin teacher for some time. The three foreign mercenaries discuss developing plans to steal black powder from the storeroom and flee while the soldiers are occupied in battle. Later, Strategist Wang meets William and explains the situation and further identifies the Tao Tei.

I have avoided any information about the Tao Tei or further plots as not to spoil the movie.  You may think you know what coming but you don’t.  The Great Wall is truly exciting.  The special effects are fantastic and the story is very good.  The five special units were the most colorful, structured spectacular display of an army I’ve seen.  Each unit had it’s own color and it’s own function.  It was magnificent to watch.  Even the beating of the drums were spectacular and rhythmically spellbinding. Ego and pride are not the driven force in these armies, love and romance does not get in the way and revenge is not a motive.  Plans are executed by a driven leadership who wants the best for all the people at any cost.  I highly recommend The Great Wall in standard or 3D.

 

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20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016) – My rating: 7/10

20thcentrywomen20TH Century Women is a slow comedy-drama directed and written by Mike Mills about a young boy (himself) who was raised by his mother and two other women. I found the situation to be pretty normal for a single mom who worked and needed help raising her son.  The film is set in 1970s Southern California and focuses on Jamie Fields (Lucas Jade Zumann), Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), Jamie’s determined single mother in her mid-50s, who decides the best way she can parent her teenage son is to enlist her young tenants,  Abigail “Abbie” (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields’ home and Julie Hamlin Porter (Elle Fanning), a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor. Also included in the pact is William (Billy Crudup) a mellow handyman.

20th Century Women is no simple coming-of-age story. Much of the movie’s power comes from its talented actresses. Elle Fanning is perfect as Julie—her appearance gives her an air of innocence that contrasts her rebellious lifestyle of sex and drugs. Despite the details of her troubled home life, Elle never makes you feel sorry for Julie, however, her delivery and expressions appear annoying at times.

Interestingly, Greta Gerwig displays the opposite effect: her short, messy red crop matches Abbie’s taste in punk music and hardcore feminist literature, but as the movie progresses, the you begin to see her softness. Gerwig’s tone remains tough and caustic even during expressions of her vulnerability and she allows Abbie’s flaws to come through as clearly as her strengths.

Most notable, however, the incomparable Annette Bening shines as the slightly frumpy, brutally honest and stubbornly practical Dorothea, who cannot seem to find her place in any generation of women. Most of Bening’s acting makes Dorothea into a humorous, sometimes frustrating, character. But throughout the film, her insecurities burn holes in her confident persona like the glowing tip of her ever-present cigarette, which can be nerve racking. Balancing Dorothea’s loud, brash strength with her subtle self-doubt and fear of the future seems impossible, but Bening accomplishes it with ease. Bening’s performance is most powerful during her interactions with Jamie and in their scenes together, it is clear that Bening’s talent inspires unparalleled performance in Zumann as well, whose character flows between self-assurance and uncertainty like any real teenager.

Realness is at the heart of every character in 20th Century Women: each is unapologetically human, which makes the movie timeless despite the music, costuming and references that heavily dictate its setting. In fact, the release of the film on  Inauguration Day could not have been more timely—20th Century Women reflects the themes and struggles of the recent Women’s March and other feminist movements, establishing links between generations of activists, questioning “progress” and warning against the dangers of falling backwards. If you’re not into the feminist movement, nor analytical enough to bear with 20th Century Women literally, then this movie is not for you.  I think it has it’s moments and definitely has it’s messages.

[20TH CENTURY WOMEN is nominated for Best Writing Original Screenplay]

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