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Sword of Doom

I wanted to see this film for three reasons:

1. It starred Tatsuya Nakadai.

2. As well as Toshiro Mifune.

3. And it was called Sword of Doom

The story centers around a young samurai called Ryunosuke, who in the opening shot kills an old Buddhist pilgrim. After that he more or less moves from bloodshed to bloodshed, and it is safe to say that he is no way a hero. Despite this the film is predominantly seen from his POV - allowing us to struggle with the sadistic and nightmarish world he creates around himself.

Mifune stars as a sword master, and in a sense Ryunosuke's complete opposite. It is also Mifune's character that clearly identifies the cause and the fault of Ryunosuke; A bloody sword equals a bloody mind." In a sense this can be taken as the film's moral - that all the vile deeds Ruynosuke does deprives him more and more. As the violence escalates, so does his madness and in the end it is this self-inflicted madness that stops him rather than the plucky would-be hero.

The backdrop of the film is the troubled ear of the Shinsengummi and the fight surrounding the Shogunate, and the film implies that Ryunosuke's violence can be seen as symbolic of that period. All in all this film reminded me of the typical urban film noir featuring an anti-hero and his demise, and I consider that high praise indeed.

Let the Right One In

A vampire film set in a small town in rural Northern Sweden that offered a fresh and psychological approach to the vampire myth sounds excellent. Which means I'm a bit baffled that I didn't like it.

The film centers around Oskar, a young boy who is bullied at school, and who one night meets a strange girl called Eli. The narrative of the film is omniscient, and so the audience is informed of Eli's vampirical nature rather quickly as well as being introduced to her helper - the old man Haakan. It is he who has the job of killing and draining the victims, and though he is quite well prepared he repeatedly fails at the task. In a scene that ranks as my favourite in the whole film he is about to drain a victim, but is stopped when discovered by a large, white poodle. It is a scene of surreal genius.

Rethinking the film I concluded that it was the dark humour of Haakan's failings that endeared me to him and that made him the only believable character in the film. He is a pathetic sight with comb-over hair and bad skin, and is almost religiously devoted to his young vampire. It's a shame then that he dies rather quickly, and leaves the rest of the film to focus on Oskar and Eli.

Which is were my grievances come in. At first glance there is nothing wrong with Let the Right One In, but there is no depth either. The latter could be forgiven, except the film clearly wants to be considered profound. My problem is that I didn't find the reflection required to sustain this supposed profoundness, instead I found a lot of hipster posing. Because Oskar? The main character? He isn't a character at all - all his mannerism, his clothes, his taste in music, his haircut are just avatars of the Scandinavian mania for late 1970's retro mixed with Scandinavian minimalism. There are hundreds of Oskars in every large Scandinavian city - a couple of them are actually drinking coffee on the cafe right across from where I'm sitting. Not only are they on every cafe and in every bar, but they are in every new Scandinavian film as well. They've appeared in the Swedish films of Ulf Malmros and Lukas Moodyson. They populate every Norwegian film set in the present day and there are a few Danes kicking about as well. I have no idea about the Finnish situation, but judging by films alone Iceland is populated by nothing but retro hipster. The end result is that I cannot relate to Oskar, whether for good or bad, because he is such a stereotype. Since the emotional arc of the film is closely tied to Oskar this central pint of the film falls completely flat to me.

Secondly, while the cinematography is well done it too suffers from the fetishist fascination with the late 1970's. A good example are all the shots from inside Oskar's apartment which present selected 1970's object (like the record player, his collection of vintage model cars, his mothers apron and so forth)in a flat that is otherwise painted white and minimalistic. Instead of presenting the 1970's as the gaudy decade it was - with wallpapers of large flowers and old, worn lamps - the apartment looks more like the hip home of a local designer. One instance of this would be fine, but the whole movie presents this view; If it is 1970's cool then the protagonists will own it or wear it. If it is uncool then its delegated to the minor characters. I think it is a vital, visual point that the group of local drunks are dressed in bad 1980's fashion, and not in Oskar's streamlined retro-cool.

It is a shame really, because there are a lot of interesting and dark aspects in Let the Right One In. It wants to deal with bullying, murder and pedophilia. The latter is constantly bubbling under the surface, and you're never really sure who the abuser is - if it is Haakan who is using Eli - or if it is in fact the 200-year old vampire who seduces and uses the helpers she needs. There are also some fascinating questions raised in regards to gender - but for me all of these aspects were lost under the weight of all that posing.

Angels and Demons

Imagine Tom Hanks running frantically around Rome while talking about Bernini and angels, and you could have any number of scenes from Angels and Demons. Yet somehow I'm fine with that. Unlike Let the Right One In this is a film I didn't expect to like, and where I'm a bit surprised I actually did. It isn't the movie that will change your life, but it does manage to avoid the tediousness that was The Da Vinci Code. In fact it reminded me of the National Treasure films. The plot is improbable, impossible even, and any form of historical correctness is achieved only by accident - yet I was never bored. With these type of films I think that counts for quite a bit.

Robert Langdon having just discovered that there is ART in Rome! Clearly this calls for a symbologist!

I suspect the plot is fairly well known. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks and his hairpiece) is asked to help the Vatican solve the threat of the Illuminati. Various people oppose this - including Stellan Skarsgård as the head of the Swiss Guard - but these people are usually wrong, and Robert Langdon is usually right. The film has a twist of sorts, but if you've read your Agatha Christie you will see it coming. (or if you've read the book I guess. Which I haven't.)But I'm not going to waste time with the intricacies of the plot, because that was hardly my favourite part of the film.

Instead I'd like to mention the Hans Zimmer score - which is definitely Zimmer'esque and which gives the film a soaring quality that helps establish momentum. While the cinematography isn't stunning, the CGI is fairly good and they include lots of aerial shots of Rome which warms my heart. (an makes me long to visit the city immediately). In some cases the film is also rather clever with its juxtaposition of symbols and shots - for instance the round disk that is the communal wafer dissolving in the next shot to be the buildings of CERN. Since a major theme is the similarities of religion and science these kind of touches serve as clever little symbols to help the plot along.

Where The Da Vinci Code had endless monologues, Angels and Demons rely much more on fast chase sequences, gruesome murders and inane Art Historical babble. They combine this with hand held cameras, fast editing and a Tom Hanks that actually looks like he's having some fun and doesn't take things to seriously. And somehow it all works. Because somehow all the silly pieces fit together and become fun.

(that said, I do find myself longing for a film about the highly trained, yet conservative and religious boys that make up the majority of the Swiss Guard in this film. Lots of repressed Catholics with martial arts training...what?)


Films watched in 2009.



( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 19th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
I loved Let the Right One In, but then again, I don't see retro hipsters on every corner nor are they as present in my country's cinematography (which I avoid like the plague anyhow), so I was perhaps free of the cultural references which lessened your enjoyment of the film. I think Finland is the same too, though, my friend's a filmmaker and she just finished a movie set in late seventies-early eighties, retro haircuts and flared pants included. ;)

Edited at 2009-05-19 03:18 pm (UTC)
May. 19th, 2009 03:22 pm (UTC)
Hee. See, I was a bit bummed about not liking the film, because I had heard so many great things about it - both from you and others on my f-list. And yet I just didn't connect with the film at all. *sob*

she just finished a movie set in late seventies-early eighties, retro haircuts and flared pants included

Good to know the Finns haven't escaped the retro-cool either, though by all means it is a style that can be done well.
May. 19th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
Nah, I certainly know how it is to end up disliking a hyped up film (The Dark Knight being the most recent example for me). But you make me wanna check out Angels & Demons... I wasn't planning to (it sounded kinda boring to me), but perhaps now I will. ;)
May. 19th, 2009 03:34 pm (UTC)
The Dark Knight being the most recent example for me

Ha-ha! I was so annoyed with The Dark Knight - it isn't a bad film, but it isn't the masterpiece everybody claimed either. Basically it came to life when the Joker was there, because he was the only active character. All the other characters just reacted instead of acted, and so for me they largely felt like cardboard. Also they wanted to be Topical and Important, instead of just topical and important. But I hate anvils in films, they make my head hurt.

Angels and Demons is silly, silly fun. But it is shiny, silly fun and every now and then it is actually a bit clever. It is the type of film you go and see on a rainy day, bringing large amounts of chocolate and other snacks. And the film knows it, and it flaunts it. I can appreciate that kind of honesty.
May. 19th, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC)
Now, I thought "Mega Shark vs. Giant octopus" was the best title EVER, but "Sword of Doom" is way way better. I must watch this one day.

The things you noted as minus points of "Let the right one in" were the plus points for me. I really like when films don't take themselves too seriously, especially when these are films about something like vampires. The film's use of stereotypes was most interesting and it's consistent references to the oppressive Cold War atmosphere of 70s (there was even a moment where Oskar's mother was watching a program about some political events of the day) , in conjunction with the themes of snow, cold-blooded vampires and stc. was most fascinating.

As you, I found Oscar's character most unsympathetic and flat. but again, I thought this was a good point. I often ponder (I do often ponder on these things) why some children get bullied and others don't. Obviously, the bullies are to blame. But - why some kids alienate themselves? What makes them into loners who can't connect and relate to other? These are hard questions , I think.

Edited at 2009-05-19 04:02 pm (UTC)
May. 19th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
Now, I thought "Mega Shark vs. Giant octopus" was the best title EVER, but "Sword of Doom" is way way better.

Hear, hear! ;D
May. 21st, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
Hee! Though I must put in a good word for the fabulous title: Robinson Crusoe on Mars
May. 21st, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)
Ohhh, another good one! Very tough call. I'd call it a draw. ;D

Edited at 2009-05-21 04:24 pm (UTC)
May. 21st, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
I wholeheartedly recommend Sword of Doom, and not just because it has an awesome title. It is a very interesting movie about how violence and nihilism destroys a person, though it does have its fair share of sword fighting.

I very much like your ideas about Let the Right one In, and it made me rethink certain aspects of the film. I'm still not fond of it, but I dislike it less than before. Thank you :) I particularly think the Cold War symbolism is a very sharp and good observation, yet I cannot shake the feeling that the films embrace of the retro-cool was in no way intended to be ironic and instead was too tied up in aesthetic trends.

What makes them into loners who can't connect and relate to other?

That is a very good question, and one I have no answer for. I think what jarred me most in relation to Oskar was that I felt the film never managed to give him the depth needed to raise or answer these questions.

But I will give the film this - it has made me reflect on a lot of issues - not just with the film itself, but also in how I read a film based on my own background and culture. Food for thought, that's for sure.
May. 19th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)
I think I'm going to see Angels and Demons this weekend. I didn't see The DaVinci Code and don't plan to, but Ewan MacGregor in a priest uniform? Yum. I don't usually find that attractive, but the trailer made me drool.

I much much preferred A&D to DaVince. I hope they keep MacGregor's motive intact, and give him that final monologue (you said this movie has less) because that was my favorite scene in the book.

Actually, I'm not even sure MacGregor plays the right character, but he has to... he's a main guy and they wouldn't have cast MacGregor if he didn't have a meaty part.

Oh, the pretty.

Wait, there's supposed to be a plot?
May. 19th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
Wait, there's supposed to be a plot?

Um, I think there was, but I honestly didn't care. I was to busy looking at all pretty people and enjoying the mad dash of the film in general. ;D

And yes, McGregor in a priest uniform. Hee. When it comes to differences with the book I cannot give you a detailed list as I haven't read the book, but the basic outline - including McGregor's motives - are very much in place.
May. 19th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
yet I was never bored. With these type of films I think that counts for quite a bit.

That's also the main thing I demand from the big popcorn movies.
Now that a friend has told me that the ridiculous escape from the helicopter is in the movie I'm almost tempted to watch Angels & Demons. Almost. ;)

I haven't watched Let the Right One In because I'm no fan of vampire movies (though I was very pleased that a movie like that became so popular around the world). But it's interesting to read what someone has to say about it from a more "local" perspective, even if you ended up not liking it.
May. 19th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
It should probably be mentioned that I saw Angels and Demons at a press viewing, so I didn't have to pay anything to watch it. Meaning I didn't forsake another film to see Tom Hanks running around Rome. Though I'll admit the film is probably best viewed on the big screen as it employs quite a lot of those aerial shots and nifty effects that look best when viewed big.

And yeah, the escape from the helicopter is very much present. *g*

As for vampire movies, I have a soft spot for them though I prefer it when they stayed away from the extreme edges of Interview with a Vampire and 30 days of Night as neither emo nor splatter interest me. Also good to hear that my local perspective on Let the Right One In was of interest for other than us locals. ;)
May. 19th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
Lots of repressed Catholics with martial arts training.

Jerott Blyth! Hee. What an amazing post. Your reason #3 for watching the Mifune film alone establishes why I hold your opinions in such high esteem. It's interesting to read your critique of Let The Right One In, since you are the only (1!) dissenting voice I have heard among those who have seen the film. And I think I might just go watch Angels and Demons if there is cheest entertainment to be had!
May. 19th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
Dear Nol. You have now given me images of a modern day Jerott Blyth in the Swiss Guard*, for which I am eternally grateful. The fact that you've chosen to illustrate this with a Billy Corrigan icon just adds to the brilliance.
*though in a suit, and not in the silly ceremonial uniforms.

And yes - Angels and Demons is pure cheese, in the pulpish, adventure sort of way. It contains lines like "Quick we must solve the puzzle in Santa Maria Vittoria and save the cardinal, or else the Vatican will be blown apart by the bomb made of anti-matter". It has dubious clergy, dubious academic credentials, Swiss Guard agents and an assassin. The only thing lacking is a good swordfight.

I will admit that I mainly bough Sword of Doom based on the title. The fact that it turned out to be a good film was just an added bonus. Also it never hurts to watch Mifune and Nakadai parade around as samurai. ;)

since you are the only (1!) dissenting voice I have heard among those who have seen the film.

Yeah, I very much feel like I'm going against the grain here, and that's a little sad. I very much wanted to like the film, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. I do like the points alexandral makes about the use of Cold war symbolism, and there must be said that certain aspects of the story are fascinating. So I think my recommendation would be to check out the film and see what you think.

ps. Have you seen the Sherlock Holmes trailer? Someone forgot to tell me Mark Strong was in the cast as well.
May. 19th, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC)
I'd heard only good things about Let the Right One In until your post but haven't had a chance to see it yet. Now I'm very curious to see how I'll react.
May. 19th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
I have mainly heard only good things too, and so I feel like such a dissident for not liking it. But that's just the way it goes sometimes - you and a movie just don't match. I'd definitely give the film a look should it come your way - there are parts of it that are quite good and fittingly disturbing.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )