The Imposter (2012)
This story would have been nice fiction if it were also not so very true. This awards-winning documentary details the real story of Frederic Bourdin, a French confidence trickster, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay, a boy from Texas, who, in turn, vanished without a trace when he was thirteen in 1993. This documentary is really akin to some fast-paced and compelling thriller, and one has to remind oneself that the events depicted actually happened. But, how could they have, really? And what may a twenty-three year old French man found in Spain have in common with a thirteen-year old American boy who disappeared from his home in 1993? At first glance – nothing at all, and, at second glance – perhaps the desire to be found and loved. Bart Layton (American Animals (2018)) raises many issues in his documentary, making it personal, compelling and suspenseful.
I. Kon-Tiki (2012)
“Kon-Tiki” is an Academy Award nominated adventure film which tells the true story of Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Hagen), a Norwegian adventurer, who sailed around 5000 miles from Peru to Polynesia on a wood raft in 1947 to prove his point that it was possible for pre-Columbian tribes to populate Polynesia from the east. Thor gathers his crew and everyone assumes that they are on a suicide mission, especially since one caveat of the journey is that they build their raft like indigenous people of the past allegedly did, using no modern equipment. What I like most in this great film is that it has a soul. This is truly an inspirational voyage film with one likeable and relatable hero at its centre, some emotionally-moving scenes (Thor also has a wife Liv), and with some absolutely stunning “ocean” cinematography and vistas. Unlike previously reviewed “The Lost City of Z“, “Kon-Tiki” largely takes place where the main action is – the ocean, in this case, and there are a number of tense scenes involving storms and sharks. Moreover, there is some humour and sarcasm thrown into this story, which make for an even more enjoyable watch. Read more
The Lost City of Z (2016)
“There is very little doubt that the forests cover traces of a lost civilisation of a most unsuspected and surprising character” (from a letter of Fawcett to the Royal Geographical Society, December 1921, Grann (2009) at 55).
Based on a great book by David Grann – “The Lost City of Z”, the film tells a true story of Colonel Percy Fawcett, an eminent explorer who believed that there was a hidden ancient civilisation to be found deep in the Amazon jungle and who vanished with his son in the jungle in 1925 while trying to prove its existence. This beautifully-shot film, directed by James Gray, tries to remain faithful to the timeline of the true story as it focuses intensely on the will and determination of Colonel Fawcett, played with dignity and zeal by Charlie Hunnam. The supporting cast is no other than Robert Pattinson as Corporal Costin and Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s wife, but the biggest appeal of the film is probably still the fascinating true story of one explorer on a mission to prove his cause. However, the film’s length is worrying (circa 140 minutes), and, although the film may shine sporadically as a “biography” film, it is largely disappointing as “a jungle adventure” movie. NB. As I will talk at length about the story, there will be spoilers.
Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention… committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or aircraft and directed…on the high seas against another ship or aircraft…”. In 2017, there were 117 piracy incidents recorded (Statista statistics); and, in 2016, 191 similar incidents were reported (ICC statistics); in 2010, Somali pirates took hostage 49 ships with over 1.000 people on board (International Maritime Bureau information).
Captain Phillips (2013)
The film showcases just this instance of a rising cross-border illegal activity, and tells of an incredible true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking (see also a Danish counterpart “A Hijacking” (2012)). Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) was in charge of one ship destined for Mombasa, Kenya from Oman. Captain Phillips and his crew then had to handle four Somali pirates who boarded their ship. “Captain Phillips” has plenty of nicely-executed, tense scenes, and Hanks gives a magnificent performances in the lead role, even though Barkhad Abdi (later “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)) was the only actor nominated for an Academy Award. In the film, it is easy to empathise with the Captain Phillips’s situation and admire his and his crew members’ actions. Perhaps, the film is a little too straightforward for the lovers of intrigue and nuance, but Hanks always plays sympathetic characters excellently, and the film largely holds on the fascinating situation involving the lead character’s commitment to preserve the lives of his crew members as he tries to reason with irrational demands of the invaders. 9/10 Read more
Dreams of a Life (2011)
Directed by Carol Morley, “Dreams of a Life” is a documentary film telling a real case of Joyce Vincent, a 38 year-old woman who died alone at her bedsit flat in London in December 2003, but her body had not been discovered until late January 2006. When the body of Joyce was discovered, it was badly decomposed; a TV and heating in her room were still working; and Christmas presents were neatly arranged beside her, although covered with the three-year old layer of dust. Joyce has always given the impression to be a well-spoken, vivacious, attractive and confident woman; giving this impression of someone “who is probably living somewhere a better life than anyone else around”, although her mysterious nature did surface from time to time. This made the Joyce Vincent case even more prolific in the UK, and it sparked national outrage, with people failing to understand how it is ever possible for someone so relatively young, attractive and friendly to die in one’s home in a populous area of London, and not be discovered for three years. Now, people, especially those living in big cities, like London, pride themselves of being well-connected, such as through Internet, and the case of Joyce shows a darker side of living in a world which is, although better connected than ever, is sometimes too self-absorbed to pay attention to the environment around.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
An inspiring story about an unconventional hero? A graphic tale of the brutality of a war? A touching and believable love story? Mel Gibson can do it all, and, believe it or not – do it brilliantly – all in the same movie. His latest film “Hacksaw Ridge” tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a kind, deeply-religious young man who also happens to be a conscientious objector, enlisting to serve in an army, while having a deep conviction against the commission of violence/murder and would not even touch a gun. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, “Hacksaw Ridge” is the kind of a film which one can easily define as “great”: a moving, heart-felt story is matched by a dedicated director and a committed actor who do their work exceptionally well.
The Revenant (2015)
“He would crawl until his body could support a crutch. If he only made three miles a day, so be it. Better to have those three miles behind him than ahead.” (Michael Punke, “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge”)
In Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film “The Revenant”, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman involved in an expedition to American wilderness in the year 1823. After a bear attack leaves Glass seriously injured, one of his companions decides to betray him, and among other horrific actions, leaves him behind. What follows is Glass’s unforgettable journey back to the outpost, to find the man who not only left him for dead, but also robbed him of the one dearest to him.
Based on Michael Lewis’s book of the same name; directed by Bennett Miller; and also starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, ‘Moneyball‘ tells the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a very ambitious general manager of Oakland A’s baseball team. Beane desires to see his team at the top of every league game, winning the World Series, but, due to the financial constraints, cannot realise his dream. Therefore, hiring a Yale economics graduate, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane uses statistical analysis, measuring in-game activity, to choose his team players. The players picked by Beane are those “undervalued” by others, even though they show a promising talent. Beane’s main premise here is that everyone in baseball asks “wrong questions”, for example concentrating on players’ usual winning record and subjective opinions of a player, rather than asking such objective questions as “which player on a particular team contributed the most to the team’s offense?” These are the principles of subermetrics or “baseball economics”. As Wikipedia states, sabermetrics is “concerned both with determining the value of a player or team in current or past seasons and with attempting to predict the value of a player or team in the future”.