Film Reviews

Click here to see my rating system.

Below are the film reviews I've written on Letterboxd, separated by the years in which I watched and reviewed them. All opinions are my own.

2024

Yumeji (1991)

Yumeji (1991)

Reviewed 16 March 2024

Yumeji is about people with a particular type of artistic temperament: playful, wallowful, self-serving, searching. And the film's manner mirrors this: it is the kind of film where the events in scenes are not always literal, but are meant more to mirror emotions and mood, in a playful way.

It is a weird-artsy film in other words. But it is quite well made, and I found its artistic approach interesting and refreshing. Though I didn't quite grasp all of it... I think it is probably best to go into this film with some historical knowledge of Yumeji and his contemporaries (I didn't).

It was also interesting (and appreciated) that it didn't purely focus on Yumeji: it also spoke a bit to his female models' condition. That condition being the experience of having your life tied to flighty men with discontinuous sanity, and taking on some of those traits yourself.

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Hitler - Never Heard of Him (1963)

Hitler - Never Heard of Him (1963)

Reviewed 3 March 2024

It was interesting to get a perspective from the french youth of the 60s, but there really was not much beyond that. It did kind of feel like a filmed survey... perhaps it needed to contrast its interviews against something else to feel a bit more like a film.

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One or the Other of Us (1974)

One or the Other of Us (1974)

Reviewed 3 March 2024

The story did not quite grip me here... the subplots and tangents seemed needless to me. And I felt almost nothing for the characters.. That's a shame, because the real core of the story: being two non-criminals trying to navigate either side of a blackmail, could have been quite interesting. Moments of that shone through, but sparingly.

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The Monk and the Gun (2023)

The Monk and the Gun (2023)

Reviewed 2 March 2024

Watched at the Joburg Film Festival

The story here is very "concocted", i.e. the narrative moves forward because things happen coincidentally. In other films this might come off as unrealistic or otherwise poorly written, but it works here. I think its because the film is unpretentious, its world is rich, and its characters feel realistic in general. It ultimately comes off as sweet.

I also enjoyed the small moments where the west is starting to break into Bhutanese culture, like the fascination with James Bond. But I guess the story is still too simple for me to really enjoy it.

The location is absolutely gorgeous.

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Bye Bye Tiberias (2023)

Bye Bye Tiberias (2023)

Reviewed 2 March 2024

Watched at the Joburg Film Festival

Bye Bye Tiberias sits very comfortably into a class of modern documentary which I might term the "family essay": i.e. the filmmaker interviews and looks at historical artifacts of their family. This gives you a few angles of intrigue, because A) you can spend time uncovering family history, B) you can relate it to other historical events and speak to those, and C) there is the "meta" element where you see the relationship of the filmmaker to the subjects, and the process of the film being made.

If I sound cynical, then its because I am. But this film elevated itself above the rest because A) The family history is unusually well documented with archival footage, and its cast are very charismatic and wonderful, B) The historical context of the disintegration of Palestine is very topical and is something I really was keen to understand the human impact of, and finally C) the "mother" character of Hiam Abbass is an accomplished actress, and it was quite interesting to see her be the subject of her own daughter's documentary.

Wonderful classical guitar soundtrack as well.

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Night Courier (2023)

Night Courier (2023)

Reviewed 1 March 2024

Watched at the Joburg Film Festival

Not much to say here... I think the story is somewhat sparse, though it was interesting enough to hold my attention. And I enjoyed the look and the lighting of the film, and its also interesting to get a view on this side of Saudi Arabia.

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Shadow of Fire (2023)

Shadow of Fire (2023)

Reviewed 29 February 2024

Watched at the Joburg Film Festival

How do you speak about the horror of the war Japan fought in WW2? A war where the army-controlled government would not concede, and pushed their entire country into hell?

You can't show hell, it is simply incomprehensible. So Shadow of Fire instead shows the shells of people that remain. It is a world where boys can be men, and men can be demons and ghosts. And its left for women to parse them out.

Well woman, I should say- this movie is tiny relative to the enormity of its topic. Infact I was steeling myself to watch a bottle movie on the basis of the first act. But I suppose the small scale works in the film's favor: it is better to leave hell to the imagination.

Ultimately, It rests on the actors' shoulders to bring this unimaginable trauma to life. Every performance needs to be top caliber. In practice they are all good, though none blew me away.

I think the main reason this falls off the top mark for me though is indeed the limited scale. I'm fascinated by the world this film presents, but it really boils down to two small character stories - one of which is in a two-room house. Its like being given a delicious milkshake, but only being allowed two small sips.

A sweet aftertaste nonetheless.

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Mami Wata (2023)

Mami Wata (2023)

Reviewed 28 February 2024

Watched at the Joburg Film Festival

Mami Wata is an absolutely beautiful film. It is an incredibly stark image: in a number of scenes you would not be able to make out an actors head but for the markings on their face,the glinting white of their eyes, and the harsh outlines of a backing light. It does well to support the mystical theme. It was also very well framed: the composition did well to capture the actors and the surroundings in tandem.

And very good sound design: it feels enveloping. Especially when the action eventually mounts up.

And now onto the story. I have a problem here, which is that the subtitles at the screening I attended did not work. This meant I only caught moments of the Pidgin-language (which contains some sparse english) dialogue.

I have to review what I saw though, and I felt the story was a little overly simplistic. I felt the rebellion was not sufficiently justified, and that the counter-rebellion was also not well founded. Basically, I don't think the story develops itself perfectly.

And I wanted to love the story, because the image is so gorgeous, but the characters just don't have the same depth. Which BTW was not the fault of the acting, which was good.

Overall it was quite a spectacle to see this in the cinema, and a memorable experience.

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40 qm Deutschland (1986)

40 qm Deutschland (1986)

Reviewed 25 February 2024

40 Quadratmeter Deutschland is a harrowing bottle movie. That is surprising, because its not a horror, and there is little real violence. Its harrowing because it is a kind of domestic nightmare, and since it is a product of culture and the human condition, one knows that it must be widespread.

I think the film does well to somewhat humanize the villain of the piece: the husband. He is not ostensibly an evil man, rather he is a small-minded fool who has transplanted his upbringing rigidly into a foreign land. He is a bad man, because of what he is putting this woman through, but it is not the act of express malice but rather a very restricted worldview. I think if the film had leaned into making him malicious, it would have undercut the powerful social commentary; the realism of this scenario.

It is an unrelentingly depressing movie, which I have to say makes it unlikely I will watch it again, but it is a strong film nonetheless.

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The World (2004)

The World (2004)

Reviewed 24 February 2024

The World is about people who are not living their dream lives. Not in terms of their career, their income, their social standing, or their relationships.

Some escape their situation: they can find a well-to do partner, or leave China. Some hold on to hopes of escape. And some, now exiting their carefree youth, are starting to face the sheer horror of an unremarkable life.

This is a ripe theme for cinema to tackle, and indeed there are a few remarkable moments in this film. One that comes to mind is a scene at a karaoke club (a prime place to entangle with a rich male benefactor).

Two stage actresses are washing up in the bathroom. Neither speaks the same language, and yet they have grown close through their shared experience. One has a boyfriend, and the other: a husband and children in another country. They recognize each other, embrace, and weep.

I think this film is successful in coloring the underside of Chinese society, and the lives of our characters. But this review is a 6/8 and not an 8/8, and indeed I have some notes...

The film is far too long. I get that wistfulness takes time, but nonetheless it could have been done in 1h40 instead of 2h20. Also I feel that the actual setting of the film (the theme park) was underutilized and rather incidental to the film. Yes I get the metaphor: these are miniature monuments - second class representations of the real deal - I still think seeing more of the hustle and bustle of the theme park would have livened up what was a rather plodding pace.

Finally... the use of animation in this film. While an interesting choice, it rather detracts from the nihilistic themes at play. It is also rather cheap.

I'm not going to watch this film again, but I'm glad I watched it once.

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Goodbye (2011)

Goodbye (2011)

Reviewed 10 February 2024

Goodbye is a difficult film. The core theme in the movie is the depressive effect of a suppressive state. The film presents a reality that is de-saturated, with people living alone and without luxury, and a series of unhelpful bureaucratic processes.

Its difficult because while I think the film speaks well to this theme, it is also not exciting to watch. I'm not going to watch it again, but it was interesting.

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Runaway Day (2013)

Runaway Day (2013)

Reviewed 3 February 2024

Runaway Day is a film that really follows the maxim of "show, don't tell". There is no apparent explanation for why people are just abandoning their lives and slowly meandering out of Athens.

I don't really mind that there is no larger explanation, but I would've appreciated more insight into what was going through the mind of individuals. I have a vague sense that they were seeking out something that was missing from a life of modern despair (be it a lost youth, or romance), but there is more wandering than intrigue.

I also did not really appreciate that the film was in black and white until the end. It kind of suited the mood of the film, which is interesting - I think black and white is used more in modern times to achieve a starkness or deliberately age something, but here it was used effectively to lay the focus off the image and let the viewer focus more on the actual events. If only there were more interesting events to focus on.

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2023

Basara: Princess Goh (1992)

Basara: Princess Goh (1992)

Reviewed 17 December 2023

I think there was a mistake here...

So I would assume that this is a kind of sequel to Rikyu (an excellent film BTW), since it picks up from end of that film and it is by the same director. Now Rikyu is very much a drama: with big themes around the tension between culture and power, for example.

Imagine my surprise then when the first third of this film makes it out to be about a warrior princess, with all the unrealistic combat abilities to boot. What a shift!

And then at around the 1/3 mark it seems to come to its senses, drop the warrior nonsense completely (the princess seemingly loses her abilities, and becomes a minor part of the film), and instead we pick up from the Rikyu themes to dive back into spiritual questions.

By spiritual, I really mean the impact of a rising Christianity in Japan. It was done rather thoughtfully I thought: its not about quoting scripture, but rather showing men rejecting the violent samurai or warlord lifestyle and instead pursuing more peaceful ways of existence. There are things explored here that I have not seen addressed in any other Japanese historical film, and it is done using the language of cinema, and I found it fascinating.

If only it had done this from the start! Actually as I write this, I wonder if that tonal shift is really the pacifist impact of Christianity... maybe so, but I will say some of the writing is a bit weak in this film; the plotting and dialogue were okay but nothing more.

Overall I was solidly entertained for 2 and a bit hours, which is no easy feat. I'll also mention that the film is very deftly scored: the theme is used very sparingly. It seeks to enhance the moments that really deserve it.

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Fresh Kill (1994)

Fresh Kill (1994)

Reviewed 17 December 2023

The insane constant screeching soundtrack makes this basically unwatchable, what a terrible idea...

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301/302 (1995)

301/302 (1995)

Reviewed 26 November 2023

Some interesting themes in this movie: lonely apartment life, the relationship we have with food and the expectations we put on others to eat, and abuse. The film does a pretty good job of weaving those themes in to its thriller plot - it is a fresh story.

But frankly I was not that gripped. Maybe I was just not in the mood today, YMMV.

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West Side Avenue (2001)

West Side Avenue (2001)

Reviewed 19 November 2023

Batang West Side is a somewhat typical "slow cinema" film. It is supposedly a mystery, but really this is just an excuse to get in the door and invade the lives of its characters. The various plot threads fizzle out to reveal a broader, realer conclusion.

I think the objective here is to let us sit with these people for a while: for us to breathe in their air, and to let their conditions come to life before us. The naturalistic style helps illuminate that gritty reality.

The film is not perfect: the performances left me wanting, the timeline of events were not clear (and not in an interesting way), and - like other "slow cinema" films - it does require one to steel up some patience. But the payoff is worth it.

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Doomed Souls (1975)

Doomed Souls (1975)

Reviewed 17 August 2023

I was surprised by this one. I generally don't go for "love in the time of crises" movies, but I think this one was a bit smarter than most: careful character development, a definite but not overly nihilistic tone, and a welcome twist.

Also very well filmed: there were a number of quite striking sunlit shots, and the moving camera work did well to keep me engaged for 2 hours plus.

The only real downside (and it is typical of eastern european films of the time) is the terrible sound design. Dialogue in wide open scenes sounds more like a concrete room (and may well have been recorded in one), but as I say, that is par for the course.

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Elephant Song (1994)

Elephant Song (1994)

Reviewed 3 August 2023

This is a very slight film - its under an hour long but it does not feel tight.

But I enjoyed the very simple aesthetic, and the mood... very peaceful. And I would love to see more adventures from our central heroine.

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They Live by Night (1948)

They Live by Night (1948)

Reviewed 25 July 2023

I was entertained by They Live by Night, and my interest was maintained throughout, but nothing in it really grabbed me.

I thought the most impressive element was Farley's performance. I think he really conveyed a sense of nervous bravado... and it was key that he did carry that off as it is that internal/external conflict which guides the whole film.

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The Birth of a Nation (1915)

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Reviewed 20 July 2023

I went to go watch this film for the first time in the cinema of a foreign city I happened to be visiting. It was a rare opportunity to watch a silent movie with live grand piano accompaniment - I was not going to get this kind of experience at home.

Now I've watched it, and I feel very nervous describing it. I've decided I must be honest: It was amazing. Possibly the greatest cinema experience I've ever had.

The actual showing itself was terrific - sublime piano and a perfectly projected image, with a small and silent audience. But again (being honest), I'd probably think this was great even if I watched it at home. It is a horrendous message told with incredible passion and artistry.

I don't know whether I should describe the specifics - I don't really want to promote this film, but then again perhaps one should be explicit and not let it be a pandoras box? I guess I won't, I can't.

What I will say is that everyone in the cinema felt uncomfortable - this was highlighted at the end because a decision had to be made: do you applaud the piano player for their terrific performance, but risk it being misconstrued for approval of the film's message ? There was pause, and someone started clapping tepidly, and then a few of us joined in. We clapped moderately for a while looking very intently at the piano player. I left quickly after.

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The French (1982)

The French (1982)

Reviewed 15 July 2023

The French has quite a hurdle to jump, which is documenting a full French tennis tournament both on and outside the court. The fact that it gets only 6 points from me is more a mark of the fact that I'm not a particular fan of tennis: there is a lot of good film-making here.

In particular, I'm a big fan of how the film gets interviews and perspectives without relying on many talking head shots. It feels a lot more "guerilla" in style: the camera is stealing moments of conversation, taking quick opportunities to get insight (which is possibly true to what Klein actually had to do).

This in combination with a very loose focus on the tennis matches themselves (e.g. documenting the ticket process, coaches talking shop, ball boys idling on the sidelines, etc.) makes for a very cool and modern feeling documentary.

Still, I don't really want to watch a full tennis tournament.

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The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Reviewed 14 July 2023

80% of this film is exactly what you'd expect: very upbeat and charming, some cute segments of singing and dancing, etc. I'm not an especially big fan of musicals and while the pieces were good - I remain a grouch.

The other 20% (the particulars) are made up by a strong cast and a beautiful and quite charming location. It really felt like summer seeped through the screen.

I enjoyed it overall but I'm not going to watch it again.

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Amarcord (1973)

Amarcord (1973)

Reviewed 12 July 2023

I recently had the opportunity to re-watch Amarcord in a cinema.

I think what surprised me was how much Amarcord holds up as a comedy: adults of all ages laughed hysterically throughout the film.

I can't bring myself to give it full 8 points, just because I think it does run a little long and the pacing becomes a bit draining past the halfway mark, but it remains a classic.

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Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

Reviewed 19 March 2023

There is too much rose-tinted, surface-level nostalgia for post-war America here. I get that we are looking at the world through Tucker's eyes, and that it is mean to contrast the rather bleak, crony political antagonists of the story, but I think it can be done in a more human and less sugary way.

But I enjoyed the details of the development: the design of the car, scrapping together a prototype, having to make do with constraints, etc.

This is always the part of business/engineering films which I enjoy - sigh...

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The Lady in a Black Dress (1987)

The Lady in a Black Dress (1987)

Reviewed 19 March 2023

Succeeds as a cool gangster mood piece, fails as a cohesive narrative.

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Embalming (1999)

Embalming (1999)

Reviewed 25 February 2023

Embalming is emblematic of Japanese thrillers of the period: deeply atmospheric, low-energy, and cool. This is all good.

But the story did not grab me. Indeed, I fast forwarded through the last third. I'd recommend Angel Dust to anyone looking for something more engaging.

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Citizen Piszczyk (1989)

Citizen Piszczyk (1989)

Reviewed 6 February 2023

A classic satire: A mix between a broad but incisive look at the social and political context of Stalinism, and the small, pathetic happenstance of a perennially lucky loser.

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Cockfighter (1974)

Cockfighter (1974)

Reviewed 6 February 2023

Cockfighter surpasses the typically dull rural American film, but only just. It speaks to the quality of the actors, and Willeford's well observed and cruel wit - that is all I can say.

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In Search of the Equator (1989)

In Search of the Equator (1989)

Reviewed 6 February 2023

Made me think of Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle. Made me think of how much more I'd rather watch that.

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A Run for Money (1999)

A Run for Money (1999)

Reviewed 5 February 2023

The story of "what would a normal person do with a bag of money" has been done to death, and to stand out it either has to be told by the book with precision or very unconventionally. This film chooses the former and does a decent, but not stellar job.

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The Woman Chaser (1999)

The Woman Chaser (1999)

Reviewed 5 February 2023

The Woman Chaser is an absurd, black, and fairly strange send up of Hollywood and masculine stereotype. Patrick Warburton was an excellent choice.

I laughed, but the film is a little slight - I will soon forget it.

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2022

No Blade of Grass (1970)

No Blade of Grass (1970)

Reviewed 8 October 2022

To put the worst first:

  1. The soundtrack sucks. Numerous genuinely dramatic moments were almost destroyed by tone-deaf soap quality music.
  2. This sort of film relies heavily on a slowly mounting sense of dread (which it mostly had) but it was detracted from by pointless inter-cut flashbacks.
  3. The film makes repeatedly poor attempts at a"green" message. It can be done well, but it wasn't here - it clashes strongly with the guttural essence of the plot.
  4. The acting was "okay".

But the pros outweigh the cons. What makes the film work is its realistic speculation of food scarcity and government policy, and its brave presentation of a pitch-black human response. It made me believe that things would go this tribal, if food became rare.

I watched this film a month ago, and I still think about it. Writing this in Johannesburg, with no water in the taps - I feel happy knowing that things genuinely could be far worse. But I admit, there is a frightening corner in my mind knowing where things could go.

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Still Life (2006)

Still Life (2006)

Reviewed 18 September 2022

Still Life in this context means a stagnation. It is the combination of terrible conditions, a lack of social connection, and a nihilistic resignation to the state of things that reduces people to livestock in their own eyes.

Marvelous, but I'm not sure I could watch it again.

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2021

The Dress (1996)

The Dress (1996)

Reviewed 27 December 2021

De Jurk is not a typical "great" film for me - it is not at all showy in its composition, edits or narrative, not is it an epic - what it is is an intriguing story made incredibly straightforwardly.

It is almost the film embodiment of Dutch frankness, not just in the unassuming way in which it is made, but in the way it doesn't look down, or up on the human condition - but just shows it as it is. This is pure cinema.

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The Night of Counting the Years (1969)

The Night of Counting the Years (1969)

Reviewed 1 November 2021

A lot of this film is watching people walk slowly - yet it works. I think the reason is that the chillingly eerie music and ancient surroundings really make it feel like the gods are watching, and judging. It's not unlike scenes with the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Smash Palace (1981)

Smash Palace (1981)

Reviewed 5 September 2021

I didn't know anything about this film going into it, and that works in its favor, because it is a tragically believable descent. It's an interesting juxtaposition between a light-hearted film - with a charming theme and setting and little-village problems - and a rather dark, startk twist into the depths of human nature.

I suppose life is like that.

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Luz (2018)

Luz (2018)

Reviewed 5 September 2021

Very much a case of style over substance, though the style has tinges of amateurish experimentation (not terrible) and the substance is almost non-existent. This mode of hooking into 80s nostalgia was fun for a while, but I think we need to put it to rest a bit.

Overall: it was enjoyable, but totally forgettable.

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Willow Springs (1973)

Willow Springs (1973)

Reviewed 4 September 2021

It is unusual for me to rate a film this low... not because all the films I see are good, but because I usually stop watching. So what kept me going with Willow Springs?

The synopsis calls it a "fever dream" - I'd call it an inept film with some interesting manifestations. I liked the music, I liked some of the operatic (if not terminally boring) dream sequences, and I guess I liked it in a bit of a "so bad it's good"; John Waters sense.

I'll never watch this again, but I suspect I will remember it for a while.

EDIT: Nope, don't remember a thing.

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Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity (1944)

Reviewed 19 July 2021

What is surprising about this film is how humane it is - of course there is plenty of cynicism to go around, but ultimately everyone has some semblance of a soul, which is unexpected of a classic noir. It is to the benefit of the film though, ultimately that is what gives it a dramatic connection. In pretty much all respects, a gorgeous film.

I feel bad to not give this an 8, but I usually only give those to films which leave my jaw hanging in some way - that didn't happen here. It is quite unfair because this is an incredibly well put together film, but those are my rules. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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Stranger (1991)

Stranger (1991)

Reviewed 10 July 2021

Some wonderful genre highlights:

  • Driving alone in nighttime Tokyo.
  • A cool, tough, stubborn femme who dons sunglasses, smokes, and wears leather jackets.
  • Some vehicular antagonists and combat ala Duel.
  • At any moment, a random sledgehammer can crash through a window.
  • Feed your catfish rare beef.

All of this awesomeness is unfortunately bogged down by a very buggy plot. A shame.

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The Lakeside Murder Case (2004)

The Lakeside Murder Case (2004)

Reviewed 19 June 2021

(As a mystery,) resonant links and clues are scattered throughout the film's runtime, to give a bit of weight to the later reveal. I think this is partly successful.

Things like the recurring blinding of the main character may have some higher significance if you are really digging, but these ideas are generally just detracting from the flow of the story.

The characters do, to some degree, behave in a way that makes the allegorical plot work, rather than in a fully (flawed) human way. This is somewhat forgivable, as the theme of modern societal/parental pressures does rise out.

However - the ad-hoc planning and follow-through that arises from having to deal with a body is the REAL stellar heart of the film. I like the social commentary aspect, but it may have been even better if it had just focused on the meat-and-potatoes, procedural, dramatic consequences of disposing of a body.

Overall, a very good film... I've had a bit of a dry spell the last few weeks and so it was sorely needed.

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Suture (1993)

Suture (1993)

Reviewed 23 May 2021

There was an intriguing question at the heart of this film, being: is a person's sense of self malleable? Under the right circumstances, can a person completely assume the identity of someone else?

But the film fails to grip me: the story wanes, its characters are vapid, and the casting... why cast the role of doppelgangers with two people of opposing race? Now if the film had a theme of exploring race, then I could accept it - but there are no such details. It is simply bizarre.

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Still the Water (2014)

Still the Water (2014)

Reviewed 23 May 2021

The story really doesn't do much for me - I've seen the parent with terminal illness, single mother plot a couple times already. There are some interesting detours into questions of ferocious lust, and brutalities of rural life, but they don't do enough to cure the mundane core (I'm afraid).

But what does elevate it are very good performances by the young girl and her father.

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The Spiral (1978)

The Spiral (1978)

Reviewed 22 May 2021

The film is... intriguing. Our "hero" seems desperate for human connection, yet can do nothing but push people away. He sees no reason to live, but is terrified of death. There is something strangely relatable in him (for me at least).

The film's nihilistic theme gets it down though - it was at points a slog. But I wanted to see a conclusion to this man's turmoil.

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Let Him Rest in Peace (1985)

Let Him Rest in Peace (1985)

Reviewed 22 May 2021

An outsider wanders into an empty town. The city is uneasy - the outsider looks set to disturb the precarious status quo that has been bargained between the bandits and the townspeople. But he is unfazed - he has come to get justice, and he will not back down.

If it sounds like a western, it very much feels that way. The archetypes are played out wonderfully, and it looks pretty good too - the only minus I'll give it is that the characters were a bit stale; lacking humanity.

EDIT: I watched this on an OLED in a dark room, which is why perhaps I wasn't as perturbed by the sparse lighting - I quite liked it.

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Spirits of the Air • Gremlins of the Clouds (1987)

Spirits of the Air • Gremlins of the Clouds (1987)

Reviewed 13 February 2021

Most films which try to create a surreal, dreamlike fantasy are doomed to fail - be it some aspect of the music, the characters, the environment, or the development of the story - something breaks the vision. For a movie to succeed here, it needs to really do something special; something alien, and it needs to form a single vision.

When a movie can somehow pull this off - then it can transcend reality: show things and emote things that aren't possible in our world. It's like seeing a new color - beautiful can barely describe it, it is beyond description. Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds is one of these movies.

Films like this are what cinema is for.

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2020

Mania (1985)

Mania (1985)

Reviewed 13 December 2020

I didn't know anything going into this one - It started seeming like it was going to be about a female programmer in the 80s - it turned out to be about a descent into anarchic, tribal, nature-loving freedom in a city park. Kind of like The Jungle Book meets Apocalypse Now.

Seeing the collapse of social order... people just start swimming in the river, carnal sex, taking food from carts, climbing trees, freeing animals (and killing them), secret houses... I kind of loved it.

Might up my mark on a rewatch.

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Egg (2005)

Egg (2005)

Reviewed 13 December 2020

The story, punk atmosphere, and attempts at character depth are laughably bare. The only points on offer here are for the unique premise - though this implementation shows why it is unique.

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Zorba the Greek (1964)

Zorba the Greek (1964)

Reviewed 13 December 2020

All the hallmarks of a classic are here - an all-star cast with a career-defining performance from Quinn, a great score, and beautiful Crete.

Unfortunately, the characters are a bit dated, particularly Madame "Bouboulina" Hortense. I'm quite surprised Kedrova won an Oscar for this role - though perhaps she can be commended for making such a fluffy, hollow character somewhat believable.

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Chameleon Street (1989)

Chameleon Street (1989)

Reviewed 12 December 2020

Is this one of the few one-off, same-director-writer-actor films which actually WORKS? It must be... though it fails to sustain a core narrative thread, and feels a bit amateurish - its experimental structure, lead performance, and ruminations on black culture have a plucky, magnetic charm.

It reminds of Spike Lee's Malcolm X, though Lee does better to make me care. But not bad Harris, not bad.

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Rocaterrania (2009)

Rocaterrania (2009)

Reviewed 12 December 2020

The story and illustration of Rocaterrania is so vibrantly captivating, that it is really brought down by Ronaldo's boring life story (apologies, but I have to be honest). Interesting to hear he did the titles for a Stan Brakhage film though.

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A Visitor to a Museum (1989)

A Visitor to a Museum (1989)

Reviewed 6 December 2020

Striking visuals and unusual "degenerate" characters save an otherwise poorly plotted film. I would have liked our lead to have dived deeper into this degenerate world, that's where the horrifying heart of the film really lies.

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Clay (1965)

Clay (1965)

Reviewed 23 November 2020

While watching this I was reminded of Po Zakonu (1926) - these films share a swamp-like location, stark visuals, mundane plot, staccato editing, and offbeat characterization.

That quality, a sort of B-movie artful kookiness, is what saves an otherwise uninspiring story. The dark, unearthly ending was also welcome.

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Frost (1997)

Frost (1997)

Reviewed 22 November 2020

Marianne is a fashionable, beautiful, passionate woman - which is a curse. She can only truly express herself in areas of seclusion and security, lest she risk some drunk, hollowed, angry fucker walking up to her.

Imagine going through your day, waiting for your bed to be violated that evening.

So no wonder she leaves with her child, even if it means spending days on end walking through frozen plains - not knowing whether they are going to sleep on their suitcase, trying not to think about what she is going to have to do to make ends meet.

"Slow cinema" is the right way to tell this story. There is something about the horror of abject poverty that requires a few minutes to fully creep in. Add in candle light, far-reaching mist, and desolate spaces - and it becomes an almost dream-like experience.

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Big Night (1996)

Big Night (1996)

Reviewed 21 November 2020

I enjoyed these characters, the setting, and in particular the casting - Campbell Scott really knows how to evoke intimacy and community out of the tiny cast. Overall, I sensed a charming keenness.

But I wish the film had just been about the party, rather than including a conventional lead-up to it. Then I would consider this a classic.

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Barren Illusion (1999)

Barren Illusion (1999)

Reviewed 15 November 2020

Tranquil and bare-bones existential malaise. Some of that comes through a little too well - however I loved the naturalistic shooting and locations, and the focus on every-day textures... the feeling of unwrapping a parcel; McDonald's, the sound of high grass. Wonderful.

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Obit (2016)

Obit (2016)

Reviewed 15 November 2020

The mannerisms of the characters, the wonderment of historical file cabinets, and a general sense of grandeur that one gets from just being around The New York Times pretty much makes up for a subject matter which didn't remotely interest me before watching this film, and likely won't interest me again.

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Beat Girl (1960)

Beat Girl (1960)

Reviewed 11 November 2020

Wonderful music and character designs - I really came in wanting to like this film - but I didn't. Our lead is so unlikeable and dull a main character, and the plot so unengaging that I just could not finish - sorry.

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The Confession (2001)

The Confession (2001)

Reviewed 10 November 2020

This film benefits greatly by narrowing its focus in on the discovery of an affair. Every ounce that cinema can give is being utilized to fully realize the wrenching emotion involved- from the realistic and gruelingly tense script, to the cinematography which anxiously holds still while things move in reflections and corners of the screen, to the performances - which are nuanced and believable.

But for a needless plot diversion into a past drama with a best friend, this would be a truly great film. Nonetheless, highly recommended.

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Giant (1956)

Giant (1956)

Reviewed 11 October 2020

Its certainly Giant. Hudson, Taylor, and Deen? Three and a quarter hours? Massive Texan vistas? Grand and evolving set design? Yes please...

Yet, the film moves amazingly well for its length, even captivating the tragically short attention spans of my family members (and if a 3 hour movie can hold their interest, then it really must be doing something right). This must be one of the few 3 hour films which feels like it did not have a moment to spare.

But should epics not spare a bit? I would have liked to have spent a few minutes understanding Bick's upbringing, or seeing Jett trying to improve himself. This movie was a little too obvious and straightforward. But it serves a purpose, I suppose.

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Calamari Union (1985)

Calamari Union (1985)

Reviewed 5 July 2020

How can I describe this film? Imagine if a trauma surgeon and Philip Marlowe made a feature length music video of Judas Priest's Breaking The Law - then you'd have Calamari Union.

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Patton (1970)

Patton (1970)

Reviewed 30 May 2020

Patton is NOT an epic. This film focuses very narrowly on understanding the character, the mind, and the exploits of one man for the duration of one war. It does so for nearly 3 hours. How can this work?

Because George C. Scott takes Coppola's nuanced script and proceeds to deliver the goods in every. damn. scene.

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The Music of Chance (1993)

The Music of Chance (1993)

Reviewed 5 January 2020

A more philosophical kind of "hustle" film. I enjoyed Spader and Patinkin together, particularly Patinkin - it is the mannered, adult, and philosophical role of Nashe here that he was born to play.

The key point of interest in this film though is how subtly the "ontological prison" is presented. There are only hints that this reality is not like ours (metaphysically speaking) - for all intents and purposes these are just two men working a menial labor contract, without access to the outer world by virtue of not having transport to reach a phone. Yet, it is an unnervingly odd contract, and an unnervingly unusual set of employers.

It is a very subtle theme on the ideas of menial existence, the Sisyphus myth, and the Stoic ideal, but then again that is what makes it ring true... because we've all had those days, haven't we? Days where we wake up for work, or get back from a long day of it and think: is this really how I'm going to spend the rest of my life? It's a creeping little thought living at the back of our minds.

I love independent cinema like this - like The Man from Earth, like Solaris... films about big ideas, expressed in limited scale.

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2019

The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972)

The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972)

Reviewed 8 December 2019

Nice cinematography, nice music, interesting premise but, then what? I don't really have a good sense of the actual nature of our "hero" by the end of the story, and certainly no better understanding of the plot.

It fizzled.

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Freedom (1982)

Freedom (1982)

Reviewed 7 December 2019

How can one just accept a life making car parts? What if I want [economic] freedom now, not maybe in 15 years? There is a vision, a sense of true untamed living that rattles our hero's mundane existence.

It's a very relatable premise, and it shifts starkly from a social commentary into a desperado romance, with pleasantly enjoyable action sequences and an underlying sense of hurtling rebellion (and oncoming brick reality). Wonderful music too.

The ending was a bit lacking, however.

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Find Me Guilty (2006)

Find Me Guilty (2006)

Reviewed 1 December 2019

I previously rated this film a 6, but I've actually watched it about 4 times by now and I have to admit its probably one of my favorite comedies.

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Wonderful Town (2007)

Wonderful Town (2007)

Reviewed 1 December 2019

The coastal town that this film takes place in has been hollowed by a Tsunami. This hollowing has not just destroyed buildings, many of which need to be re-constructed, but destroyed people. The storm washed away hope and meaning, such that all the remnant bodies can do is wander through their coastal town like soulless ghosts on the river Styx.

Some men, already on the path of destruction, became demons when the Tsunami scalped out their spirit. It is left to them to maintain the resulting limbo; to hunt happiness.

This is a tragic film - and very emotional - but what really impresses me is how this is expressed with very little dialogue. We get a sense of our romantic leads' shifting emotions by way of a wistful acoustic guitar soundtrack. We get a sense of idleness and meaninglessness by fluttering towels and curtains. We get a sense of void from the abandoned houses, silent villagers, and rumors of omnipresent eyes.

What a fantastic way to make a disaster movie.

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Larks on a String (1990)

Larks on a String (1990)

Reviewed 30 November 2019

There is something especially nostalgic about Soviet romances... it must be a combination of green expanses, hazy film stock, and dialogue which is concerned with emotion more than plot.

In fact, you could probably summarize this film through the lens of human contact: the surprise of delicate fingertips, the tantalizing moment of covered hands, a covert stroke of the cheek, the sponge-cleaned faces of happy children, the shock of a forbidden bath, and the halted climax of consummation.

Scrapyards can actually be quite beautiful, especially when you have piles of soviet typewriters; discarded human expression.

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The Woman Who Dreamed of a Man (2010)

The Woman Who Dreamed of a Man (2010)

Reviewed 24 November 2019

I think of this film not as a romance, but as a speculative fiction on Passion:

  • What if you, as a contented spouse and parent, start having inescapably intoxicating visions of a mystery man who you see in the flesh the next day?
  • What if your ability to reason is compromised by emotion... so compromised that you have no choice but to watch yourself descend into an affair that will kill the rest of your contented life?
  • What if he doesn't feel the same way?

The dedication given to the possessive nature of passion, and the depraved consequences of that possession, is really what separates this film from other more "conventional" romances. The only real issue at play here is that the film doesn't know how to resolve this theme: it ends with more of a concession than a crescendo.

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Rio Bravo (1959)

Rio Bravo (1959)

Reviewed 23 November 2019

It is certainly a tight film - every scene really feels like it serves a purpose, and it drives diligently towards its conclusion. The acting too is solid, and I enjoyed the characters and the way they development.

But... I was rather hoping for a grander conclusion than what I received.

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Bad Blood (1981)

Bad Blood (1981)

Reviewed 17 November 2019

The premise of the film is that strange individuals who can't and won't interact with their rural community may become increasingly twisted and hostile.

From first hand experience, I know this to be true. People who've never known farming may be inclined to presume that it is a simple care-free existence, but it is actually harrowingly stressful when your income for a whole year can be wiped away by unforeseen events. And rural communities, which lie out of the spotlight, are definitely breeding grounds for strange behavior. And I also know that enmity at your fellow farmer's success can breed hostility, which is reciprocated.

Other than that vote of authenticity, what is striking about this film is the gritty sheer reality that dawns when an odd, bad-tempered farmer suddenly becomes a serial killer. It is pure jaw-dropping horror of concept (not of scares), which is the best kind.

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Elippathayam (1982)

Elippathayam (1982)

Reviewed 16 November 2019

This film centers on Unni, the lazy heir of an estate who relies on his sisters to compensate for his crippling fear of responsibility.

What really makes this film work is the contrast between the grounded, relatable characters who do what they must, and the horrid metaphoric characters who are almost doomed to extinction despite their position of privilege.

There's a kind of magical realism at play in this grand social commentary - I think it is a modern day Aesop's Fable: the irony here being that inherited wealth can cripple people into sad, worthless beings.

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The Demon (1963)

The Demon (1963)

Reviewed 26 October 2019

The plot here is quite garbled , and I mean almost literally. There are sharp cuts right when the musical score is hitting its apex that make me think that either I was watching an incomplete copy, or that this film wasn't very well constructed. The soap-opera acting and characterization give me a sense of the latter.

What redeems this film (slightly) is [i] some striking imagery, like when our witch follows the procession of a wedding from the towering cliff side, and [ii] Daliah Lavi's striking face and movement.

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The Idea of a Lake (2016)

The Idea of a Lake (2016)

Reviewed 26 October 2019

This film is a kind of wistful nostalgia, a cool lake-side remembrance of an incomplete woman's incomplete childhood.

That's the best description I have, because there's really not a whole lot going on in this movie- other than a subtle sense of underlying grief. It is a snapshot. I might have preferred an album, but then again maybe some of the magic would be lost.

Speaking of which, the standout part of this film was a scene where the young protagonist played with her dead father's Renault 4 in a sparkling lake, set to Neil Diamond's Song Sung Blue. Pure bliss.

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Ad Astra (2019)

Ad Astra (2019)

Reviewed 18 October 2019

This movie had a Mad-Max style moon rover shootout with pirates, which is honestly one of the best things I've seen in a Science Fiction movie in recent memory.

Other than a few other similarly exciting space spectacles, Brad Pitt does a good job of carrying a slightly interesting character undergoing a stoic-emotional crisis through an otherwise stupid plot.

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Portrait of Jason (1967)

Portrait of Jason (1967)

Reviewed 18 October 2019

An innovative structure (or rather, daring in its being nothing other than a straight talking-head shot for 2 hours), intriguing morally-grey center, and abusive filmmakers make this worth the while, though those latter two elements give it a distasteful exploitative feel.

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Shinjuku Triad Society (1995)

Shinjuku Triad Society (1995)

Reviewed 17 June 2019

In a nutshell, this film has what us voyeurs of the jagged corners of the cinematic landscape crave: Hard cops, Demonic robbers, low-life backstories, gritty locations, shocking (but not disgusting) violence, and equal-opportunity rape.

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The Slow Business of Going (2000)

The Slow Business of Going (2000)

Reviewed 26 April 2019

Surrealism could be termed a juxtaposition of rational, everyday reality and of dream reality - thus creating a super-reality (or so the artist hopes). If that's the case, then The Slow Business of Going is as surreal as a fried ice-cube.

I guess that would explain why piecing together the plot is such a struggle? Or perhaps it is meant to be a mystery... where figuring the nature of the hero's completely detached, robotic, and telepathic existence is the viewer's challenge.

Anyway, I liked the film. The pacing was a bit agonizing, but it is well shot, well edited, and although the narrative is a bit of hit and miss I think that comes with the price of admission. It's absurd in a funny way too, and it manages to dodge pretension for the most part.

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2018

The First Teacher (1965)

The First Teacher (1965)

Reviewed 9 September 2018

Political soviet plotlines don't come much more blunt than this: a brave young teacher arrives to a rural community run by evil rich land owners to try and teach the next generation about socialism. Conflict ensues, the revolutionaries beliefs are tragically vindicated.

Much of the film's happenings do little to inspire me, though there are moments where we see the"hero's foolhardy revolutionary determination begin to crack - and those moments are quite human.

But there is nothing lackluster about the visuals of this film - an arid rural landscape is a great stage for a soviet melodrama. And the lighting... it really feels like some of the more dramatic scenes are lit by nothing but flickering flames.

A pity the story is so ham-fisted and despicable.

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The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)

Reviewed 13 January 2018

The subject is a fascinating woman... daring, empowered, artistic - fascinated with the forms of people and sea creatures - and potentially fascist.

To start with, the idea that merely idolizing the human form is fascistic seems to me utter nonsense. A fascination with the human form exists in vastly varying cultures and times, and I cannot accept that the Nazis have "cornered the market" (so to speak). Infact I refuse.

As to what extent she believes in Nazi ideals is difficult to say, and really can never be conclusively answered. I think people will have to decide for themselves.

As to regarding the film making of this documentary, it difficult for it to go wrong. Leni's film history is captivating - her eye for composition is really masterful, and her variety of talents and dedication is almost unbelievable. Her shots, and her analysis of those shots, sell the film. But the handling of Leni is also quite admirable - I think it does well to point out the key questions, her statements, and the potential contradictions to her perspective - and then leave it for you to decide for yourself.

The only real pitfall of the film is the unfortunate contrast between the competence of Leni and Muller's footage. While the cinematography of this documentary would be perfectly fine anywhere else, it can do nothing but drag down the building height of the film when it is cut with Leni's.

I must conclude that this is the best film I've seen so far which examines a single creator's body of work. Dangerous?

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Diabolique (1955)

Diabolique (1955)

Reviewed 2 January 2018

Holy sh*t

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2017

The Foreigner (2017)

The Foreigner (2017)

Reviewed 23 December 2017

The action bits are entertaining, but the plot is heavily contrived. It will be easily forgotten.

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Training Day (2001)

Training Day (2001)

Reviewed 19 December 2017

Entertaining and thrilling action, well performed and interesting characters, plus a rare unique twist in the climax make for a treat of a cop film. It does get a tiny but contrived as the film moves to a close, but its mostly forgivable.

As far as Denzel Washington goes, I think this is a good performance. Its slightly unfair to say that because the bar for Washington is so high that this is just slightly above average for him - for any other actor it would be a career defining performance.

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Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners (2013)

Reviewed 13 December 2017

Perfectly constructed and very tense. What a great cast too - Jackman and Gyllenhaal in top form, and always good to see Melissa Leo.

Most other films I would place in this class have some uniqueness or oddity to them that tends to elevate them for me... but I can't think of anything here. There's nothing I haven't seen before, it's just meticulously made. It's kind of a Spielberg quality, though obviously lacking the trademark "magic" feeling. Perhaps its a trademark "focus"?

EDIT: Actually, the more I think about it - the more contrivances begin to appear in my mind. The focus of the film hid them away - but there are many convenient circumstances in this film. I'm taking off half a star.

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The Hours (2002)

The Hours (2002)

Reviewed 11 December 2017

Great music - though its overused, excellent performances - though the characters lack a meaningful history, and a largely uninsteresting script. I got some, but I definitely wanted more.

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Tango & Cash (1989)

Tango & Cash (1989)

Reviewed 11 December 2017

A silly action romp - the way they used to be. By no means great, but certainly good schlock.

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Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Reviewed 10 December 2017

Grand, richly staged and lit, and teaming with interest. It is a marvelous... miniseries. And here, unfortunately, is the rub.

As a miniseries, this is a masterpiece - but if one projects it unto the film plane, some of that is lost. It is not a film - each act contains its own complete arc. It's more apt to call it several films. I feel that comparing its merits within the realm of being a minseries, to other great things within the realm of film is like comparing pears and apples. It is a great pear, but on a scale of apples I must say it lacks the roundness.

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Time (2006)

Time (2006)

Reviewed 10 December 2017

This film has the feel of a low budget science fiction film - it takes a concept, and it explores how it interacts with the human condition. This has all the excellent social commentary too.

The characters are written a bit cartoonish - they reveal themselves as instruments of the film's message at times - however they are performed (and probably directed) very well. The result is both realistic and surreal; surely insane.

This film is weird. Not in the sense of there being vampire cats or anything like that, but that the film twists its characters against each other beyond the point where most films would stop. We go well past the point of insanity - perhaps past the point where the characters are still human. Yet its not a horror film... its a drama.

Despite the heavy themes of jealousy and superficiality - I have to say that I never saw the supposed central theme of time really come through, other than deliberate exposition. It got lost. This is a film which takes risks and makes big gestures - which begin to work against realism towards the end - but the final product is certainly unique, bold and interesting.

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11:14 (2003)

11:14 (2003)

Reviewed 9 December 2017

It's got a good soundtrack, it's shot in a gritty naturalistic style, and it has a simple story which makes the highly non-linear structure work. It's not a grand film, but it's perfectly good at what it aims to do.

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Wadjda (2012)

Wadjda (2012)

Reviewed 9 December 2017

A simple but heartwarming tale of a defiant soul among traditional ideas.

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Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Reviewed 8 December 2017

Beautiful, cooly characterized, romantic yet gritty, and well paced - this is a classic. But perhaps the story is - ironically - not quite well rounded enough.

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Night Watch (2004)

Night Watch (2004)

Reviewed 8 December 2017

This film is like a massive, deluxe, fatty cheeseburger. Full of cheese and ham, stupid, overpriced, but also kind of awesome.

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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Reviewed 7 December 2017

Intense, but vapid - stylish, but lacking substance - well performed, but within a certain range...I think this film would have fallen flat if it were not for the excellent cinematography, naturalistic lighting, and passionate (if not repetitive) score. Its impact is fleeting, even while watching. The most powerful moments feel a bit like an expensive alcohol or cigarette advert.

While the cast did a good job, I think their regard here is a little overblown. If nothing else, the Oscar for acting should have been shared by Figgis and Sting.

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Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Reviewed 7 December 2017

It lacks depth in its characters, and the suspension of disbelief is often broken, but it does have a passion for cinema at its core.

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Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment (1996)

Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment (1996)

Reviewed 7 December 2017

A film with very limited scope, but which knows it's limitations and makes good use of its context. I really feel the trial these authors are under to become recognized... the sweat and ramen. But with it comes comraderie, and contemplation... why try so hard when even success brings little, and the slope is so high? Because then you'll have championed that slope.

Overall, it was peaceful and strangely motivating.

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The Limits of Control (2009)

The Limits of Control (2009)

Reviewed 7 December 2017

Beautiful locations, a slightly surreal tone, and a nice score are all that saves what seems to be an intentionally unengaging film.

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The Birds (1963)

The Birds (1963)

Reviewed 6 December 2017

This was a surreal, frightening but exciting, and classic horror film. It's distinctly of a time and place - a wonderful combination of classic 60s fashion with gaollo blood and a strange, original terror. But why on earth did they not leave when they had every opportunity?

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Black Sea (2014)

Black Sea (2014)

Reviewed 6 December 2017

An entertaining if not moderately contrived sea thriller. Serviceable.

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An American Werewolf in London (1981)

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Reviewed 6 December 2017

Comedy, romance, levity, flashes of horror, and an awkward American in London - an excellent monster movie. But perhaps too simple.

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Siberiade (1979)

Siberiade (1979)

Reviewed 5 December 2017

Moments of passion, moments of hate - moments of ambition, moments of laze - moments of the collective, moments of the self - moments of victory, moments of defeat - and many moments of history.

To take a note out of Coppola's book, Siberiade isn't pro-communist-Siberia or pro-industrialized-Siberia, nor anti... Siberiade IS communist-industrialized-Siberia.

But, there are also many moments of nothing much. It was saved from a three star rating by an excellent ending that brought all the dangling threads together.

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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Reviewed 5 December 2017

A stark, tragic, and beautiful tale of spiraling love and revenge. However, I feel it lacked direction.

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Capricorn One (1977)

Capricorn One (1977)

Reviewed 4 December 2017

A decent popcorn flick - brought up by good performances and a nice score, and brought down by some minor plot holes, an overall weak script, and what I guess one can call an unfortunate casting decision in hindsight.

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Black Snow (1990)

Black Snow (1990)

Reviewed 4 December 2017

Beautifully shot and lit, with wistful themes - but the narrative is a little weak. My patience began to wane towards the end.

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Broken Wings (2002)

Broken Wings (2002)

Reviewed 4 December 2017

A surprisingly powerful family drama - I think it gets away from the cliched melodrama that typically dogs the genre by keeping a quick pace, avoiding too large a focus on romantic subplots, providing an excellent cast, and speaking sincere dialogue. It's a beautiful little film... honest and trapped - just how family crisis really are.

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The White Ribbon (2009)

The White Ribbon (2009)

Reviewed 3 December 2017

A sombre and classical tale of abused souls. It's more concerned with illustrating a time and place then providing a neat arc - so while it is very atmospheric, it is somewhat inconclusive. That may be fine for others, but it was abit of a let down for me. Other than that, its quite a pretty film - the combination of the stark monotone cinematography, the serious German characters, and the hallmark Haneke long shots give it the feeling of an old Bergman film - which was enjoyable.

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Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

Reviewed 2 December 2017

A decidedly average adaptation. There a couple of plot and characterization issues throughout, the photography has a snotty green and yellow tinge with uninspiring modern flourish, and I simply didn't care about any of the characters. But it didn't make any huge mistakes, though perhaps that would have been more interesting.

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Enduring Love (2004)

Enduring Love (2004)

Reviewed 28 November 2017

A minimalist drama which works well, but never stuns.

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The Searchers (1956)

The Searchers (1956)

Reviewed 28 November 2017

Awe inspiring sights, a straightforward story, and corny one liners delivered by John Wayne. I can't call it great - but I can call it entertaining.

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Sid & Nancy (1986)

Sid & Nancy (1986)

Reviewed 28 November 2017

Stylish, rude and tragic - but also slightly flat in the narrative department.

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Lumumba (2000)

Lumumba (2000)

Reviewed 18 November 2017

What better outcome could Lumumba have gotten out of this situation than to be shot? The truest case of damned if you, damned if you don't that I have yet seen.

What lies at the heart of this film, is the idea that power corrupts - but not equally. The truth is that any country, without mechanisms which prevent government power (and even then...), are likely to be taken by opportunists. It's not even that the dictators were bad to start with, just that foreign and local interests have given them the confidence to unlock their hidden potential for evil.

This film makes one realize just how rare and precious truly peaceful revolutions are (and I include the post-revolution period). It makes me appreciate that my homeland of South Africa, despite heavy government corruption and deliberately divisive rhetoric, is one of the lucky ones. But if Mandela were in Lumumba's shoes, I don't know what he could have done to stem the inevitable downfall. This film is surprisingly even handed, and it is that which gives the film its potency and horror. The great evil is human nature, and not even Lumumba can defeat that.

It's not a boring film either. Though it is obviously shot on a budget, the film crackles with the fire of injustice and is lead by a blazing performance from Eriq Ebouaney. Africa is alive.

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Distance (2001)

Distance (2001)

Reviewed 14 November 2017

Tokyo, just around the turn of the new millennium. Things are good. Our characters have jobs, they go home to their families and live life in peace with the other 11 million similar individuals. Similar - individuals.

The shots in this film show the best of Japan - tranquil beauty, peaceful housing projects, contemplative nights. The lighting in particular is excellent - the pitch blue morning, followed by the sparkling magic that is a golden sunrise is miraculous. Too beautiful.

The people in this film (cult members and not) are maniacally content; living in meaningless satisfaction. The natural drive or struggle for life is not external for these people, but internal. After a certain point of watching so many long, still scenes mixed with awkward, incomplete people - the idea that it could them towards the insane becomes more and more understandable. I had a similar feeling after a certain point in watching Gerry.

Certainly, there is no reason in it. Some cult members see the meaning in books, some find the meaning in relationships - it's all a projection of a kind of unspoken fixation on mindful nihilism, I suppose almost zen buddhism. The cult members can't explain it to anyone else, and the film doesn't attempt to explain it directly either. Rather - it tries to explore what it means to feel meaningless, and the deep and dark relationships that might form when the meaningless drifters find each other.

One feels sad for the family members who've had to watch their loved ones drift away without reason. And yet, perhaps the sheer lack of reason for anything is the most definitive answer.

In any case, I enjoyed this film. It felt long, but the extra space allowed the meaning in the environments to deepen within me. It's the kind of dourly tranquil, depressed and strangely philosophical film that is uniquely Japanese. I'd be lying however if I said I didn't almost drift off at multiple points, and some of the editing and narrative decisions may have left the exposition a bit too dry. I was confused at who some of the characters were for long stretches of the movie.

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A Wedding (1978)

A Wedding (1978)

Reviewed 13 November 2017

A watched this on a VHS tape, and that was appropriate because this really felt like a wedding video.

In that context, this is perhaps an area in which Altman's sprawling filming style is quite appropriate - however the typical problem tropes remain. While it was a spectacle, and filled with wonderful characters, it was sometimes a bit too concentrated. I must admit I have the beginnings of a headache after watching this film.

However, it certainly has rewatch value. The cyclical themes of birth, marriage and death - plus the complex interconnections of characters - provide ample potential for further investigation.

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Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Reviewed 8 November 2017

Beyond the excellent performance from Gyllenhaal, beyond the gritty and realistic look, beyond the focused and limited number of locations and a script which eyes its central theme like a hawk- beyond all that, this film is an excellent glimpse at what awaits a business-savvy sociopath in a free market.

Everybody gets what they want. Louis gets money in exchange for his films. The studio gets films which gets them higher ratings. The station manager gets job security. The assistant gets a wage that allows him to live. The public get footage which they devour. Excluding the things that Louis does which cause harm to others, he actually provides a service to society. In the basic aspects, Louis is living the American dream as it was intended.

Louis is such a great character in my mind because, on the one hand, he is of course despicable - but on the other hand, a lot of the sleazy stuff he does is explain-away-able. His associates knew what they were getting into after all - they knew most of the risks. He plays the game the best. A dark part of me almost wants to see him beat his competition (into the ground). And that gives me pause to think what I might do if my morals were a little looser and my desperation were a little higher.

I've been studying basic economics in my own personal capacity lately, and it seems clear to me that capitalism is the best system of the lot. Now though, there's a sour taste in my mouth - I realize that this system allows (and will continue to allow) people like Louis to rise to the top. And we may prosper.

EDIT: I think people misunderstand the film's musical choices and characterization. This film is a social commentary and dryly satirical. It's about a perversion of the American dream.

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The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen (1951)

Reviewed 5 November 2017

Star studded and charismatic, but perhaps a tad too (or rather, several buckets too) melodramatic.

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Wag the Dog (1997)

Wag the Dog (1997)

Reviewed 29 October 2017

Only half as ridiculous as Putin's actual campaign methods (and perhaps Trump's as well).

It would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

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A Man for All Seasons (1966)

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Reviewed 24 October 2017

Now - where a person is deemed the opressor or the opressed by the mere characterstics of the body into which they are born, and where having (or presuming) vile views is enough to cast assault as a civil service - now is the time where we are in dire need of a Thomas More.

A Man For All Seasons is a movie for our times.

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Central Station (1998)

Central Station (1998)

Reviewed 23 October 2017

Beautifully shot. Simple in narrative but complex in its characters, gritty and real yet fantastical - Central do Brasil is a wonderful film. My heart was sinking, and rising, and exploding and man what a ride!

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The Endless Summer 2 (1994)

The Endless Summer 2 (1994)

Reviewed 18 October 2017

Though it lacks the sense of cultural genesis and odyssey that the original has, its still a perfect light adventure film.

There's something about the waves, the tunnels, the search, the journey - that embodies a kind of tranquility and secret perfection.

Maybe I'm drawing at straws here, but there's something about the narration that reminds me of the naive innocence in the narration of old industrial films that's timelessly endearing.

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Life of Brian (1979)

Life of Brian (1979)

Reviewed 15 October 2017

What a rotten bit of luck Brian old chum

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The Battle of Algiers (1966)

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Reviewed 29 September 2017

What makes a striking political thriller is realism - realism in human nature, in motivations, in the humanity of your enemy, in keeping the press on your side, and in choosing casualties and targets. This has it all - plus visceral imagery, motion, and music.

What really sets this film apart is its willingness to not take sides. One realizes in modern times how rare that is, and how unlikely it is given the political divides and authoritarian attitudes in culture today.

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Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous (2000)

Reviewed 24 September 2017

It seems to me that Cameron Crowe films exist on a sliding scale of endearment - this is nearer to the top. Nonetheless, the value of the "cute" moments comes with a rolling eye cost.

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Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

Reviewed 24 September 2017

Like many Kurosawa films, one marvels at the narrative in Rashmon - so startlingly original that careers have been made by just riffing off it.

Unfortunately, the balance of contextual appreciation and modern sensibilities comes heavily into play here (for me). Simply said, I can appreciate the overly-dramatic and slower nature of films of the era, but to watch it today is a test in patience.

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Quiz Show (1994)

Quiz Show (1994)

Reviewed 22 September 2017

Solid.

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Dogfight (1991)

Dogfight (1991)

Reviewed 21 September 2017

Good actors, decent setting, moderate characters and an overall mediocre story.

The problem is that the film spends too much time on meet-cutes, setting establishment, and quirks rather than actual substance. The night is also a bit too thin on actual plot, certainly on unique plot.

If there is such a thing as being "too indie", then I think this film falls in there.

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Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash (2014)

Reviewed 10 September 2017

Mishima, split into symbiotic creatures, fighting against each other and sanity, for ultimate articulation of passion. And pulling off a masculine descent film as good as Schrader is as good as it gets in my book.

That being said, if this story were to unfold further, I have no doubt it would end in the same way as Mishima and Charlie Parker. Ultimate expression means your life must contribute too.

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Auto Focus (2002)

Auto Focus (2002)

Reviewed 9 September 2017

Unique... tragic - but also exciting. Who does that better than Schrader?

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Alpine Fire (1985)

Alpine Fire (1985)

Reviewed 4 September 2017

[Film #1200] Today I have found possibly the best alpine film - by chance. You see, I have felt the drive to find a mountain movie for many years because I have myself spent a large portion of my childhood under the shadow of mountains (not as grand as the Alps I'll grant, but still). There is something about that experience that this film captures perfectly, but also something more.

To be in a lowly populated region surrounded by summits is a mystical experience. It's the scale that grabs you - you are surrounded by objects so big that it is difficult for the mind to truly comprehend the distance needed to traverse and climb them. Their age is incomprehensible as well - the span of wars, civilization, and humanity itself are but the blink of an eye to these rocks. So profound is their objection to the earth, that the sky itself is interrupted by their peaks.

Essentially, to live in a mountain valley is to be humbled constantly. That fierce cultural tradition follows in these regions is also then no surprise. And this film does well to capture that awe - this family lives on the slant of a truly grand sierra.

The framing is perfect. For starters, the image is tall, but also varied in scope. There are intimate shots of the family huddled in their small gas-lit home, and long shots across the span of the range itself. But, importantly, there are no shots which capture the entirety of the mountain on which they live - and thus the mystique of the mountain's innumerable scale is maintained and placed in suspense.

The entire film is naturally lit, or at least does well to present that illusion, and this forces the viewer to absorb the human nature of every space - that the house was built painstakingly by hand, and that all of the land must be controlled by hand. The mountain is happy to live in coexistence.

The central character of this film is the daughter, Brenni, who has had to give up her hopes of becoming a teacher to help care for the son. She is a kind person, humbled (as is everyone) and naturally caring. She enjoys playing with her brother and trying to teach him to read. She likes her radio and makeup as well, but does not begrudge her parents if they are unwilling to get her new things.

The parents are everything you'd expect of a kind germanic home - generally quiet, pious, honest, and hard working. They go along their lives not expecting more or less, but simply content.

And then, we have the boy. He means well... but man does he do some stupid things... in particular, damage to tools. Father is not impressed, but he too is humble, and he forgives what is clearly the act of misunderstanding over malicious intent. Yet, one feels with every misstep that the wellspring of patience runs drier.

The boy is inherently fascinated. In particular, the magic of the mountains is an illusion he can never quite unravel. He starts building totems and huge spans of rock walls along the mountain face - one imagines that left to his own devices he might attempt to chip away the whole cliff. Is the mountain pleased with his devotion? The valley certainly grows more rocky.

I daren't spoil the developments of the film past here, except to say I have never experienced such dread and horror with equal measures of contentment and intimacy in a film until this one. It places in perfect perspective what is probably the gravest social taboo and makes a case for it, and it is absolutely marvellous.

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Adelheid (1970)

Adelheid (1970)

Reviewed 4 September 2017

An aimless film of ghostly post-war depression, of romance based on the withdrawal from loneliness, of power relationships not dissimilar to The Servant, and of uncertainty as to the nature of reality.

These are all riffs though, the film in bare terms lacks a strong central thread and straddles the line between languid and tiresome for the majority of its runtime.

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Reviewed 3 September 2017

A precisely tuned intelligence procedural. While there is plenty of enjoyable intrique and character detail, I feel this film could have been distilled down from two and a half hours to at least two.

Regarding the issue as to whether this film handled the moral implications of the hunt properly, I can only say that perhaps some people weren't paying attention. The flaw of moral comprehension in these characters is evidenced by their single-minded attempt to hunt down UBL. That is a moral failing.

What more is desired? Should a line of dialogue have been inserted by an unrelated character to condemn their actions? Should there have been an added scene? Clearly this detracts from the focus of the film, and is unnecesary. The change needed here is more inquisitive and intellectualy honest consideration of the film.

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Green Street Hooligans (2005)

Green Street Hooligans (2005)

Reviewed 1 September 2017

Although the film has a sincere heart (strangely)- the script is woefully underdeveloped.

The dialogue needs to be less on-the-nose, less directly expository and needs to go deeper than just surface stereotype. In fact, there's not even stereotype - these characters aren't even skin deep.

Thankfully, it's at least terribly laughable.

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Doubt (2008)

Doubt (2008)

Reviewed 30 August 2017

Coincidentally, I was reading through an excellent Skeptic article on the JFK assassination (https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/jfk-conspiracy-theories-at-50-how-the-skeptics-got-it-wrong-and-why-it-matters/) when I began watching this. That focused my opinion on the central theme here: the line between skepticism and cynicism; critical evaluation and conspiratorial feeling; intuition and reason; emotion and rationality.

The fact is, we cannot know what occurred between the priest and the boy. The wine is not evidence, and can be circumstantially used to prove either position. As is the case with all conspiracy: when motive is lacking on behalf of the accused, it is more than matched by the motive of the conspirator. The fact that the JFK assassination was mentioned at the beginning of the film sets all these ideas up quite well - the notion of a loss of innocence and a doubt in authority's intentions (a doubt that persists regardless of overwhelming evidence in that case).

I'll leave you to make your own judgements about the guilt of the priest. All of the cast did a stellar job - I'd say the best performance in any scene was had by Viola Davis on the walk home to work. Beyond that, I'd say this is more a work of consistently precise acting than a composition of rawly powerful standoff performances - but that's hardly a criticism.

Praise aside, one can't help but come away from this film with a degree of disappointment. It is of course deliberately made to be uncertain, and it nails it, but I do have concerns as to whether extreme doubt in the conclusion of a film can work even if it is done well. I liked it in sum nonetheless.

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JFK (1991)

JFK (1991)

Reviewed 30 August 2017

What is most compelling about this film is also its biggest drawback - enthusiasm.

We are wired for conspiracy. Finding coincidences between this event and that person, making leaps to draw conclusions, getting a chance to become an important person in the world, and feeling as if justice is being done. This encompasses Costner's motivations and Oliver Stone's, and what he hopes the audience will feel as well. And boy, is it an exciting and agitated 3 hour film (this feels like it was made at the peak of the "cocaine years".)

But it also fights against true critical reasoning. Stringing leaps together does the opposite of landing at a greater truth. Having recently read a Skeptic article investigating JFK assassination conspiracies - I'll highlight a few notable flaws here:

  • The positioning of JFK relative to John Connally was actually diagonal and elevated - not behind and level. The single bullet theory is quite plausible.
  • The actual bullet impact indicates a slight move to the right for JFK. The sudden jolt to the left is consistent with a neuromuscular reaction, and bullet impacts do not cause the huge forces necessary to create the large jolt (that is an idea popularized in movies).
  • Of all the witnesses interviewed, 81% heard 3 shots... only 5% heard 4 shots or more. Only the 5% are considered.
  • Of the witnesses supposedly killed in mysterious circumstances - only one was actually a witness, the rest are only associated in obtuse ways. If you are interested, I highly recommend reading the (referenced) article: https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/jfk-conspiracy-theories-at-50-how-the-skeptics-got-it-wrong-and-why-it-matters/

What is interesting is the degree to which Stone desperately wants to sell this idea - by stretching truth. That ultimately works in the films favor - because while this film is not a valid conspiracy theory, it undoubtedly reeks of passion. It is exciting, beautifully shot, and charismatically led by Kevin Costner - whose desperate and tireless crusade has rarely been matched in cinema.

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Turner & Hooch (1989)

Turner & Hooch (1989)

Reviewed 30 August 2017

Though sweet, the free-and-loose approach to police investigation causes it to lose any kind of serious core.

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Buffalo '66 (1998)

Buffalo '66 (1998)

Reviewed 26 August 2017

This film has a decidedly indie flavor to it- well indie is a word that doesn't describe much of anything does it? Perhaps it means pretentious, or small, or emotional. Does it mean outside of the mainstream? In fact, the term "indie" (as I've defined it) applies well here.

This film doesn't have much faith in it's own narrative. It meanders between conviction of the ideas and tropes it utilizes, and a kind of general, nihilistic saunter. It comes off at times a little warbling, at other times a little human, but mostly it feels like Gallo struggling to decide what to do with his film. That might not be the case, but that's how it feels.

If this was all the film had to offer it would be a damn aggravating shame - but thankfully it's saved by two damn things. First: Cristina Ricci, and secondly: the look.

Ricci has a talent for deadpan. Given how deliberately uninspiring her character (and all characters) in this film are, it takes a special kind of knack to give that character the needed dark and kooky edge. She can only do it through delivery, looks, and demeanor (because it sure as hell wasn't in the script) - and she does. There's a reason she was cast in The Addams Family, and she has a form of acting "bent" which I don't think is as appreciated as it ought to be.

Secondly: the film's look. It has the dreary, dead-end, middle-America mood to it - the kind of place where the inhabitants know they couldn't make it anywhere else, and decide to either embrace their small-time existence - or start drinking, and eventually arrive at a maudlin existential angst. This is the part Gallo is interested in, anyway.

Scenes are lit quite bright and stark, it seems as if all of the film takes place under overcast weather or under a fluorescent gleam. What's notable is how decidedly un-angelic it is.

Overall, I'd say I liked it - but I don't want to hear from Gallo again for a good long while.

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Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Reviewed 20 August 2017

When in spite of God's creation, life moves on.

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)

Reviewed 20 August 2017

A tight script, hearty performances, and keen social observation lead to a gripping and bittersweet tale of loneliness and conflicting emotion. A true classic.

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Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Reviewed 18 August 2017

Music, yes. Set pieces, yes. Stupid teenagers, yes. Heart?

I felt the movie came full circle when after the seniors beat the junior year boys, they got asked to line up by police officers looking for the same thrill.

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Spanking the Monkey (1994)

Spanking the Monkey (1994)

Reviewed 16 August 2017

This film is... interesting. On the one hand it's difficult to watch because, well, obvious reasons. On the other hand, it's entirely compelling because there are really no films out there (excluding perhaps Lolita EDIT: and the great Alpine Fire) that explore the themes at play here.

The defining part of this film is the late Alberta Watson (whose role in La Femme Nikita stands out to me as one of the defining performances in television), who nails her role. Her character is a difficult beast - she has to be worthy of sympathy and worthy of enmity in equal measure, and also convincingly strange enough to make her various conflicting traits consistent. And yet, she is not a cartoon. She really was destined to play the dark authority figure. R.I.P.

There is a limited set of films to measure this one up to, but it's certainly one of the best films of the genre that I've seen. What's amazing is how it manages to avoid caricature with a subject which has been completely shut out of societal awareness - and how it manages to balance sheer dark horror of concept with pitch black humor... and yet it remain largely un-depressing. There's some kind of magic trick going on here.

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The Iceman Cometh (1973)

The Iceman Cometh (1973)

Reviewed 15 August 2017

As 4-hour long play-to-film adaptations go, this was quite good. The cast all round was excellent (including the rarely seen but sorely missed Moses Gunn) and the play itself was quite enjoyable. It is of course quite long though.

What's really impressive about this film is how it manages to balance seriously depressing themes with a lighthearted atmosphere, and how it is able to moralize without being pretentious.

This is a good film to sort of watch in the background while doing something else. I know that might seem sacrilegious to some film lovers, but frankly the film doesn't give any impression that it wants to hold my attention all that much. And that's fine. Let us be. Stop garn dangit, you're beginnin' to sound like me' preacher.

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Capote (2005)

Capote (2005)

Reviewed 12 August 2017

The main problem here is that this film wants to be about the making of In Cold Blood, but spends way too much time getting up to it. It also wants to try and explain the effect on Truman, and then does so sparingly. Focus!

Overall though I enjoyed it, Hoffman did well in his role and the setting felt quite grim and realistic (which is apt).

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The Boys from Brazil (1978)

The Boys from Brazil (1978)

Reviewed 12 August 2017

Moderately pulpy and slightly under budget for an international production, it nonetheless has some cheesy charm. In particular, I found Peck to be a wholly enjoyable villain.

There were interesting ideas here about the question of nature vs. nurture, and on the idea of killing a future great evil to fulfill utilitarian moral action that I feel could have been dissected a bit earlier and a bit more.

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Kes (1969)

Kes (1969)

Reviewed 12 August 2017

I don't think there's much for me to add here, other than that I was surprised at how well shot this was. Beautifully composed.

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Fletch (1985)

Fletch (1985)

Reviewed 11 August 2017

Though I found the plot difficult to follow and sometimes a little dull... there's a humorously absurd quality to it that works well.

Mostly, I enjoyed Chevy Chase in this. This character offers him a good way to be a proper comedic-everyman-hero. That doesn't sound all that unique, but all of the Chevy Chase films I've seen previously have had woeful characterization (so props).

Add in a good dollop of the wonderful Joe Don Baker and a pure 80s soundtrack and you're well on your way to a solid cult film.

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Elizabeth (1998)

Elizabeth (1998)

Reviewed 11 August 2017

I enjoyed Cate Blanchett fine. The most enjoyable performance probably game from Rush, and its worth mentioning a strong minor roll from Daniel Craig.

Now onto the script: it's flawed. The central plot of seeing Elizabeth cement her power is fine and all, but it seems to capture a period far too small, and also suffers from modernization pitfalls (sorry). I mean, I don't buy this whole "acceptance of religious belief" stuff from Elizabeth - nor do I enjoy the assignment of heroic traits to some characters and villainy to others to try and commercialize the whole affair. Have some faith in your audience's ability to discern morality, for crying out loud. That's half the fun. I'm not here to see moody boy-toys mope about (though, the inversion of the classical power relationship was intriguing).

But I digress- I liked the film overall. It's worth noting that the set design, costuming and dialogue was spot on (barring the occasional cliche).

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Dirty Work (1998)

Dirty Work (1998)

Reviewed 29 July 2017

I enjoy Norm MacDonald's brand of offbeat, deadpan humor - but this film was not the right frame for it.

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Best of Enemies (2015)

Best of Enemies (2015)

Reviewed 23 July 2017

Dare I say that this film has an inflated opinion of it's own message? What I wanted to see was a battle, but what I got was segments of that, coupled with unnecessary biography, discussion of partisanship, and ruminations on American society. It's ironic that the sensationalism the film wishes to bring to light and challenge is something it is itself complacent in.

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The Honeymoon Killers (1970)

The Honeymoon Killers (1970)

Reviewed 23 July 2017

The poster left some expectation of a slasher, bad-taste, or schlock film in me - but thankfully none of that is true. There are moments which are chilling - absolutely - but the strength of the film is how it takes people of some humanity and turns them into the killers they become.

The tensity; fear (or thrill) of the facade breaking at any moment, gives the film quite a strong drive. I also like the unusual pair at the center of the film - far less star-dazzling than say Bonnie and Clyde.

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Things Change (1988)

Things Change (1988)

Reviewed 23 July 2017

A sombre tale, and well performed, but lacking the unique plot-lines that have come to define other Mamet films.

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Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (1993)

Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (1993)

Reviewed 22 July 2017

Ethereal invention, Divas of desire, KGB kidnapping, a Performance for Lenin, Good Vibrations, First "negro" ballet, Forbidden love, Lost love, and a Life never realized. A strange tale for a strange instrument.

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The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

Reviewed 22 July 2017

Fuck You.

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The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

Reviewed 22 July 2017

The best thing about this is that it makes This is Spinal Tap look more like a pastiche than a satire.

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Breaking Away (1979)

Breaking Away (1979)

Reviewed 21 July 2017

An enjoyable coming of age film, sport film, and comedy all rolled into one! In particular you get the sense that it balances these elements very neatly, and the biking scenes are exciting and exuberant.

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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Reviewed 21 July 2017

Good intentions, attempting to highlight themes of social unrest in 60s Britain, but unfortunately not done very well. The device of having these themes be expressed in the thoughts of the runner is strictly a device - there's no interesting allegory or relation to how he is running, it's just "here's how we can explain the story". The character isn't interesting in any capacity, and I must say I've yet to see a Tom Courtenay performance which I have found to be beyond passable.

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Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

Reviewed 21 July 2017

Comradery, enmity, and the sheer limits of the human mind, body, and spirit.

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The Browning Version (1951)

The Browning Version (1951)

Reviewed 21 July 2017

A fantastic drama, with a piercing performance from Michael Redgrave.

I'm not quite sure why I leave a half-star off here; I can't find fault with this film in any real capacity - perhaps I am left a little shocked and uncertain as to how to deal with a film which so deftly looks at the humanity of a figure who is so classically hated in literature and media.

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American Pop (1981)

American Pop (1981)

Reviewed 20 July 2017

A sprawling cultural tale. While the writing doesn't particularly excel and the animation requires more work, it is the feeling of ambition - both in the film's creation and in the characters - that makes this film shine. Plus good music.

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Factotum (2005)

Factotum (2005)

Reviewed 20 July 2017

A listless film of whino-wisdom, held together by Matt Dillon (who's really made for this sort of thing) and Marisa Tomei. It's also commendable in, having realized its modest proportions, being humble in its design. Nonetheless, it falls short of any greatness for the same reason.

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Inequality for All (2013)

Inequality for All (2013)

Reviewed 19 July 2017

I liked this. It had a strong message and good charisma from it's lead character. But it falls short as a documentary - because it's not so much a documentary as it is a campaign video. There needs to be more talking heads from other spheres of thought to achieve documentary status. It also suffers from coupling its message too much to Reich's personality.

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Together (2000)

Together (2000)

Reviewed 18 July 2017

Truly one of the great films about community; it leaves you wanting more. What is best about it are the characters: none are evil, but conflict is inevitable. The conflicts are often funny, but they draw humor out of reality rather than stupid character flaws. It contains the best understanding of the pitfalls of an open relationship that I have thus far seen. It handles sexual awakenings with honesty, and creates a house with complex attractions but avoids painting everyone as nymphomaniacs. The key here is subtlety.

And, strangely enough, the cure to broken relationships is more togetherness.

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The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition (2000)

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition (2000)

Reviewed 18 July 2017

A fantastic true story of desperate adventure coupled with a commitment to the facts, wonderful footage and illustration, and a perfectly maritime narration from Liam Neeson.

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Wayne's World 2 (1993)

Wayne's World 2 (1993)

Reviewed 17 July 2017

Manages to be as good as the first, but in my book that's isn't much.

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Breach (2007)

Breach (2007)

Reviewed 17 July 2017

A solid film.

I realized after watching this that all the political thrillers I really like have a key subversion or intriguing alien nature to them - something that adds spice; This film is done medium rare, and is A grade beef... but it needs some pepper sauce.

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Wayne's World (1992)

Wayne's World (1992)

Reviewed 17 July 2017

Somewhat radical, somewhat bogus.

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Garden State (2004)

Garden State (2004)

Reviewed 16 July 2017

This film works well as a mood piece - it's got great set designs and set pieces and characters - but it's too long to be sustained purely by mood.

It would have been sweeter if it was super-short; I guess I envision a super minimalist plot along the lines of Gerry. Maybe watching so many weird films has warped my idea of what a good movie is.

In regards to the idea of this being extremely "hipsterish": I have to disagree. It's true- these interactions don't have much substance to them - but the subtext is definitely there. I can definitely feel their emptiness, even if the movie spreads it's own emptiness a bit too much.

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The Defiant Ones (1958)

The Defiant Ones (1958)

Reviewed 16 July 2017

Its central theme - racial tension - is dealt with quite well, but it's left a little dry without additional intrigue; I feel a necessary subplot or derailment is missing.

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Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

Reviewed 15 July 2017

Tom Green on the commentary track:

"It all comes togeth- it all fits together. Um, but here's another big moment- See this is a kind of a very sort of- this is a kind of- this moment here of me trying to sell my animations to Anthony Michael Hall is a lot like the concep- is a lot like making this movie in a lot of ways. Cause, the animations are- as you can see here are so stupid... they're so stupid that, you know he doesn't understand them doesn't want to make them. You know, that's similar a lot lot to the teleivison show and to this movie where the idea is, y-you know we've always kind of wanted to make something which is so stupid, and doesn;t really make a lot of sense, and convince one of these adults, like Anthony Michael Hall here, who's playing an adult he's playing a studio exec see he's got the nice suit on, he's obviously you know a person who is uh in control, is able to uh greenlight a project , and um... you know we've come up against that wall, you know - throughout our, our little our little lives here with our silly little shows and things we've been making where people say you know that's too stupid you can't do that. you know, we're not- you know, this is you know? And that's and that's what this scene is all about. That's what this movie is all about, actually you know- really to be honest with you is- being allowed to make stupid stuff. Uh uh in the process, the irony there and there's that word, the irony is that the movie itself IS stupid you see? So... you know, we're telling this story of not being allowed to make a stupid movie or a stupid animation, eventually figuring out how to make the stupid animation, and then the movie itself IS a stupid, thing see? That's uh, that's that's what it's all about."

If you're confused as to what to make of this movie, don't worry - you're getting it.

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Kingpin (1996)

Kingpin (1996)

Reviewed 15 July 2017

Aged badly.

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The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors (1979)

Reviewed 8 July 2017

Mixed feelings here.

On the plus side, we've got:

  • A race for survival inside a city that wants to eat you.
  • Impressive slow-mo action set piece(s?)
  • A dark and isolated environment.
  • Groove.

On the negative side, we've got:

  • The sense that at any moment, two characters are going to engage in a posing competition for supremacy. At least Hill keeps us in suspense as to who's packing Blue Steel.
  • Hill says everything he makes is a western- I'm beginning to get the sense that what he means is he doesn't understand any tropes beyond the wild west, particularly none that might help him take those tropes out of the desert and into New York.

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Knockin' on Heaven's Door (1997)

Knockin' on Heaven's Door (1997)

Reviewed 6 July 2017

It's pretty fun, though it's pretty stupid too. I guess if you want to be a simple escapist film, you best be simple.

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Buffalo Soldiers (2001)

Buffalo Soldiers (2001)

Reviewed 6 July 2017

What I wanted to see was a black comedy, or something along the lines of Three Kings with more of a thrilling and political edge. This had a bit of the former and lacked the latter completely.

The chief problem is that the film thinks it's funny when it isn't. It's not that the humor doesn't work because it's offensive, it's just tonally inconsistent. You can't have a main character who is worried about falling for a girl also casually disregard and joke about murdered people, and then expect us to buy it. The characters are flat and poorly written. I mean the "jealous father going after the boyfriend" trope was probably cliche the first time it was used, let alone now.

There wasn't much else memorable either. I mean it likes to think it has "cool" set pieces, but random tank destruction isn't very compelling if it seems devoid of consequence; when there isn't an element of threat.

It's irritating because there was a good film hiding in the background somewhere- the cast is fine, it's just that they have nothing to work with.

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The Wrestler (2008)

The Wrestler (2008)

Reviewed 2 July 2017

My expectation coming into this was a dumb punching movie. Then, when I read on the cover "A Film by Darren Aronofsky", I though this was going to be unbearably intense. I'm happy to say I was wrong on both accounts. There are some great aspects to this film:

The first great thing is that it falls into the category of (what I like to call) "unconventional procedurals". We see the tightly-knit intimacies of the wrestling community, the damn employers, the slight income from each gig, the tricks-of-the-trade, and the professional lingo.

The second great thing we see is Mickey Rourke, who is damn near perfect for, and in this role. Who better to try and uncontradict the idea of a sweet-hearted super wrestler than Rourke - who's been tough and tender his whole career? Infact, Rourke was an amateur boxer, and rewrote much of his dialogue in this film.

The third great thing we see are the relationships, principally between Rourke the Wrestler and Tomei the Stripper. One is selling the extreme end of his masculinity - the other the extreme end of her femininity. You get the sense that they've both caused mayhem in their lives, neither is afraid of a little fight, and both care about their child who they think they might destroy, or - conversely - might never salvage.

In a lesser film one would expect the strong man and the beautiful stripper relationship to basically boil down to carnal sex and conflict, but in this film it's based on a subtextual knowing and mutual respect of what it takes to sell your flesh to strangers.

The final, and by no means trivially great thing about this film is simply the nature of the narrative; the presentation. This film is not - as one might expect - an action film (though there is action), nor an excruciatingly intense Aronofsky film.

No - what this is is a truly classic drama. It's the 21st Century's Cool Hand Luke- with brilliant characters, timeless themes, a finely structured script and lush performances from old dogs.

Oh and if you enjoy a bit of Mickey Rourke tushie you will not be disappointed.

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Bunker Palace Hotel (1989)

Bunker Palace Hotel (1989)

Reviewed 2 July 2017

Visually intriguing, but the script is unbelievably underdeveloped. I mean there is NO progression, not even conflict - just mannered bickering.

This film was so forgetful and boring that I forgot to rate it two days ago when I watched it. Even films that go woefully wrong are better than this - at least there is some spectacle in the failure.

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Night Riders (1981)

Night Riders (1981)

Reviewed 29 June 2017

[#224 of CSFD's Top 300] Upon starting the movie, I was concerned that this was going to be a low quality and highly one sided patriotic effort.

Though it is still a low budget film, I was surprised at how even handed it took both sides. It is not a matter of good vs. bad, just a conflict of people with misaligned goals.

The film for me was entertaining only in this regard, but just weighing both sides in terms of morals and actions was of sufficient interest to give me an overall positive view of the film. The performances all-round are fine (though the wife's performances raised concerns, thankfully she didn't get too much screen time), which is not really an issues since the scope of the film and characters doesn't really warrant standout performances.

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Manhunter (1986)

Manhunter (1986)

Reviewed 27 June 2017

In some ways this feels like the culmination of American 80s crime cinema; it is the essence of what one wants from the 80s aesthetic. The electronic and synth soundtrack is great, and it is highly stylized without feeling garish - with many pulse pounding set pieces and vignettes. It's got a psychologically tortured hero at its lead (and Peterson really nails it), as well as a great competing villain. I mean it really has some DAMN powerful moments with an excellent finale.

But there is a caveat - this IS the culmination of Mann's 80s, this is Miami Vice as a chiller. But Miami Vice is a giant music video. This film feels like a collage of very expressive set pieces, but it falls slightly short of melding into a completely cohesive whole. The flow is missing.

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Top of the Food Chain (1999)

Top of the Food Chain (1999)

Reviewed 25 June 2017

Why the heck is Canada so good at camp pastiche? In any case, this is certainly one of the best if not the best intentionally camp B-movie satires I've ever seen. What's not to like with: androgynous naming, secret agent postal workers, rubber dolls, a local group of women who engage in casual alchemy and resurrection, and other delightful oddity? The cast is absolutely perfect, they give the film a feeling of a well rehearsed skit and are reliably wonderful throughout.

And the script- well... how about some quotes:

"Dr. Karel Lamonte, Atomic Scientist: So there's no one in town that understands the television tower circuit? Sandy Fawkes: The only person in town who did died last year. Bingo was his name. Dr. Karel Lamonte, Atomic Scientist: B-I-N-G-O?"

"Dr. Karel Lamonte, Atomic Scientist: Officer Gayle, how soon can you get that autopsy report? Officer Gayle: Depends. Dr. Karel Lamonte, Atomic Scientist: Good!"

"Officer Gayle: You atomic scientists... you can send men to the moon so you think stop signs don't apply to you!"

"Guy Fawkes: I am the Alpha and the Omega and I also play the trumpet."

"Officer Gayle: Where's the body now? Dr. Karel Lamonte, Atomic Scientist: Directly where I found it."

"Deputy Dana: We think this guy is some kind of heinous cold blooded fiend. Michel O'Shea: What are you implying?"

"Sandy Fawkes: Well, it's time for grace. Dr. Karel Lamonte: Of course. Sandy Fawkes: ♫ They say that in Rupert's Land, they found our lady of Fatima's hat. Holy Mary, mother of god, they found your hat, how did it come off of your head? Did you sneeze, or drive in a convertible? Did a gust of wind take it away? Or were you eaten by aliens? ♫ All: Amen. (claps)"

The fact that it is so well made, without anything jarringly weird or out of place, may be the reason this doesn't have the cult following it ought to (ironically). But you can count me in to that group (and I'm highly personable to boot).

P.S. Nigel Bennett is amazing, I get a grin every time I see he is in something.

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Gerry (2002)

Gerry (2002)

Reviewed 25 June 2017

I'm not quite sure what to make of this film. On the one hand, it is deeply spiritual, which is to say incredibly real. But it is also quite stagnant.

Ultimately I'm left filled with sorrow, partly because the central relationship between the two Gerrys is so powerful, but also because one gets the sense that these events happen all the time, perhaps even right now somewhere on the Earth. What is clear is that the minimal approach to filmmaking here gives an intimate and hyper-real feeling to the events on screen, which is very well complimented by some devastating vistas and a low-key piano soundtrack.

Casey Affleck is great with his understated performance. Matt Damon's performance is good as well. What really gives the film strength is the particular choice of these two actors, whose real life bond (I would say) creates a great subtext here.

But I have to admit that many of the scenes were stretched beyond the point of story relevance, beyond the point of understanding the characters emotions, beyond understanding every aspect of every shot, really beyond reason. I mean obviously Gus is trying to nail in the reality of the situation, but mostly I was simply bored.

I guess though that this cost is unavoidable in the pursuit of that "deep truth" in slow cinema, which this unquestionably has.

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July Rain (1967)

July Rain (1967)

Reviewed 25 June 2017

A vaguely intriguing film. We see Moscow and the cast in a time of uncertainty... a bit listless and pretentious.

Beyond the metaphorical stuff, this film opened with a bang and ended with a whimper. Honestly it really began to drag quite early, but I'm still left with an overall positive opinion about it just because it had some good set pieces, nice music, realistic characters and a comfortably drifting sensibility - like a contented gaze from a warm apartment towards a cold bedridden city.

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Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Reviewed 24 June 2017

Very good film. Not much for me to add in general that hasn't been stated over and over by others.

(However) I liked the soft environments, over-bloom and color-morph effects (though the latter might be pushing the style a bit too far) - it reminds me a lot of the work of contemporary Japanese photographers. Actually much of this film feels reminiscent of millennial Japanese romance cinema, but with extra Anderson intensity.

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The Goat Horn (1972)

The Goat Horn (1972)

Reviewed 23 June 2017

An utter classic, with a strong revenge arc and simple themes derived thereof which are explored with sincerity and natural power.

What really sets it apart are its gorgeous spaces and lighting (reminds me a bit of Marketa Lazarová in regards to the feeling of raw medieval ruralness). It's largely silent but has a highly emotional script, and a strong central female character. It feels almost mythical, partly because of its taking place in mountainous regions, and also because of its operatic story.

Only criticism I really have is the acting - it was fine for the most part but if the director had payed closer attention during the filming of the more tearful scenes he might have caught onto the cast's limitations (though perhaps he did and didn't have much of a choice - who can say).

Overall though, I can certainly see why it is regarded as one of the great Bulgarian films.

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Cafè Express (1980)

Cafè Express (1980)

Reviewed 21 June 2017

This is really a film of characters over plot, and the numerous unique and humorous interchanges are consistently wonderful throughout the film. Our lead in particular, Nino Manfredi, is more than capable of balancing comedy and drama in equal amounts.

The film is surprisingly well shot considering its relatively low budget and limited set- the lighting in particular does wonders to give the train the feeling of a warm oasis in the cold restless night.

Overall I found this movie to be sweet and enduring. It mixes comedy and tragedy quite well, although occasionally it can veer into being a little over-endearing and simplistic.

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Cold Moon (1991)

Cold Moon (1991)

Reviewed 20 June 2017

For the most part, it's a solid "aimless adventure" movie which has good performances and looks at the timeless themes of loneliness and drunkenness with a knowing eye. A Hendrix soundtrack doesn't hurt either.

But it's the ending, which is utterly startling in its bold premise and matched by its execution, that warrants the extra praise from me.

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Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Reviewed 17 June 2017

Overall an excellent Courtroom drama, mostly because it pays careful attention to the facts, emotions, viewpoints, and political considerations which go into every character's actions. It's a long film, but as a result of this activity, the film is never boring. And it's commendable that it does not provide simple conclusions.

As a side note: I think the greyscale and 1:1.66 format worked well for this film, as it frames the film in a way similar to a historical photograph.

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Misery (1990)

Misery (1990)

Reviewed 17 June 2017

Great plot- it is so well engineered. And of course, Kathy Bates's performance is excellent.

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The Unscrupulous Ones (1962)

The Unscrupulous Ones (1962)

Reviewed 14 June 2017

This film is in some sense a minimal form of New Age cinema. It is the sheer essence of style over substance.

The cinematography is good, the characters are universally superficial and narcissistic, the film is almost entirely hand-held and the plot is basically an excuse.

It is interesting to note how close this actually is to gems of New Age cinema, there are many films which feel almost identical in essence. The key difference is realism - realism often presents itself subtly, but it makes all the difference in making characters and motivations ultimately meaningful, and making the film ultimately meaningful to the audience.

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Mafioso (1962)

Mafioso (1962)

Reviewed 11 June 2017

A film which fully illustrates the fundamental contradiction of nostalgic life in the old country.

I'll just say that beyond the beautiful naturalistic cinematography - and the marvellous script which manages to propel the viewer through blistering uncertain circumstance better than most thrillers - what is especially worthy of praise here is the casting.

For this film to work you need an actor who can be both the charming, comedic and brash everyman, but also someone who can portray the great burden of what has been placed on his shoulders in a realistic way. And boy, does Alberto Sordi fit the bill. His character and portrayal is one of the greatest pairings I have ever seen.

Don't know why I put this film off for so long, because it puts modern crime films to shame.

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The Founder (2016)

The Founder (2016)

Reviewed 10 June 2017

A solid biopic, but not much more. It's well structured, decently acted, and the story is fine - but it doesn't do much of interest beyond that.

A good metaphor for this film is, appropriately, a finely controlled and consitent McDonalds Hamburger.

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Diary for My Children (1984)

Diary for My Children (1984)

Reviewed 2 June 2017

This movie does quite a lot to place you in the lead lady's shoes in this period of Hungarian history.

These are very much the early days of the Soviet Union, and everyday citizens have been the victim; victimizers of each other during the dangerous early stages of the revolution. All are equal, but some are more equal than others.

The framing, lighting and staging here are particularly excellent. It's a dark place this world - a place of grey urban depression, and it comes in to stark contrast with idyllic flashbacks of white marble quarries, misty forests, rolling hills, and expansive lakes.

I initially found this film a little mild for the first half. It had all the marks of a historical drama, but it wasn't really firing. In the second half however, the core nature of our characters - which had been subtly exposited during the first half and determinedly tested (I realized) - were brought to the fore with dramatic consequence. So a bit of a slow-burner, but ultimately quite a competent drama.

What's interesting is that our lead character is not following a completely moral compass. She has her own goals, and she is to some degree naive about who she drags in; what she sets off. But this is fine, because this is real. The actions we take in our teenage years are not perfect, and this is doubly true in the questionable times of Stalin rule.

I look forward to the next two films in the trilogy, with some trepidation over pacing.

EDIT: Oh wow, this is actually a quadrilogy!

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Family Resemblances (1996)

Family Resemblances (1996)

Reviewed 2 June 2017

A very straight family drama - made good by solid performances, relatively interesting cinematography, and a good tone of familial anger mixed with slight humour. It also has some rewatch value because of its "bottle episode" structure.

There's a striking scene at the end when one of the stars stands alone in his dark bar, humming to a song on his jukebox. He's framed completely in black, with the colorful lights of the machine dancing on his internally reflecting, disillusioned face.

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The Doors (1991)

The Doors (1991)

Reviewed 1 June 2017

This is a film which really sprawls out of control every moment it can find - which is as true a testament to Jim Morrison as there is possible to make.

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HyperNormalisation (2016)

HyperNormalisation (2016)

Reviewed 31 May 2017

A fascinating, expansive documentary about the fostering of faux reality.

Unfortunately, it also occasionally goes over the line in terms of simplification to put it all in a film of manageable length (2h46m or so). As some clever person once said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Much is substantiated, but some is only substantiated a little. This really should have gone in to more depth and been just a little bit longer, perhaps splitting the documentary into separate parts.

I think it probably came about in the same way Moore films do. An incredible enthusiasm to get the points across might have resulted in a simplification of argument.

Oh and its got a great soundtrack. Makes the film feel a little like a techno-thriller.

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The Century of the Self (2002)

The Century of the Self (2002)

Reviewed 31 May 2017

A truly great documentary, which completely illuminates consumerism in modern business and politics. I minus half a star because it is not, strictly, a film.

Unfortunately, things are even worse today. Targeted marketing and post selection in social media ensures that people will only become further entrenched in their own bias, because that's the only reality with which they are presented. Modern politicians will continue to be chosen on irrational whim, rather than rational issues (on all sides). If Freud could see the world now, he might have similar feelings over society that Oppenheimer has over the A-Bomb.

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A Serious Man (2009)

A Serious Man (2009)

Reviewed 31 May 2017

This is not a movie with typical Coen twists. What it is, is simply a brief story of a man facing some predicaments, and dealing with them in the limited way he can.

It's most enjoyable because of careful observations of Jewish culture in suburbia, some deftly humorous characters, and a still very "Coen" story - but which is not concerned with crime or Hollywood.

It's simple, it moves well, and it left me refreshed.

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The Hitch (2014)

The Hitch (2014)

Reviewed 27 May 2017

This documentary works most because it is narrated by Hitchens himself, and few speak better. But i think the dramatic stock footage and music was unnecessary.

All in all though, it was good food for the mind, and a great remembrance of an excellent intellectual.

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The Gatekeepers (2012)

The Gatekeepers (2012)

Reviewed 26 May 2017

The Gatekeepers approaches the government-insider-documentary format (if it can be called a format) in the same way The Fog of War does - namely to try and focus the wisdom of its subjects into select lessons.

It's an approach that works extremely well, because no group is more capable of encapsulating Israeli defense than its defense heads.

The second thing it does extremely well is to give a balanced view in the face of the ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict. These individuals' jobs are to defend Israel - that means killing Arab terrorists principally, but also innocent Arab civilians in the crossfire. The filmmaker probes the morality of their actions justly - both from a larger perspective of human rights and a smaller perspective of domestic security.

And the juggling of those two forces makes for an extremely interesting film.

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1971 (2014)

1971 (2014)

Reviewed 25 May 2017

Informative, but the subject matter feels a bit brief. It seems more worthy of being an episode in a documentary serial than a feature film.

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The Day After Trinity (1981)

The Day After Trinity (1981)

Reviewed 20 May 2017

A very well rounded documentary about the birth of the nuclear bomb, mainly centred around the stories of scientists involved.

I enjoyed it, but it felt very conventional. Though that is perhaps not really a fair criticism, since the sheer gravity of the subject matter likely deserves a straight and honest focus. It was also rather unfortunate that Oppenheimer wasn't alive to be interviewed, since the story focuses almost entirely on him.

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Dr. Caligari (1989)

Dr. Caligari (1989)

Reviewed 17 May 2017

Kind of like a feature-length experimental stop-motion animation film- except that:

  • Instead of manipulating play-dough into poses, you manipulate the actors.
  • Instead of grunts you have dialogue that plays like a out of sequence over-acted erotic soap.
  • Instead of a non-consequential pointless plot you have... no actually that stays the same.

Add in a cast that might be from a parallel plane of existence, clothing designs and a colour scheme from a kid's baking oven commercial, and plenty of woman on man-meat licking action - and you've got a wonderfully weird singularity of a film.

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The Painted Veil (2006)

The Painted Veil (2006)

Reviewed 16 May 2017

A historical drama which manages to be fresh, but still authentic.

The key thing that I feel about this film is 'balance'. The film flows very well, the characters are handled very consistently and are properly motivated, and the film doesn't attempt to shock or over-indulge when controlled drama will do (and does).

What this really allowed was the strength of the scenery and cast to stand out, and a very satisfying; proper period piece is left in healthy reserves behind.

EDIT: After I slept on it, I realized a couple issues with this film:

  1. It creates a narrative thread of revolution which never quite culminates.
  2. It's only the main cast who really get to stand out, the secondary cast are left frustratingly underdeveloped.
  3. There's something of a tonal mismatch between the disgusting horrors of cholera and the main cast's relationship.

So I'm taking off half a star.

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The Cyclist (1989)

The Cyclist (1989)

Reviewed 14 May 2017

Not at all subtle, but at the same time quite mythical. A classic really.

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Hanging Garden (2005)

Hanging Garden (2005)

Reviewed 13 May 2017

Surprisingly fervent. It's about a family of various indiscretions, with a matriarch who has horror lying beneath her cheery smile.

Actually, that's a pretty good way of describing it all: horror beneath a cheery smile. There are subtle but deliberate touches here: some scenes are shot with a drained palette, others with a vibrant, scary red. Everything is scored to an "idyllic" harp. Characterizations have a dark core and it seems the whole world is in a state of cynical, nihilistic purgatory. Suspense is built by regulating this gloom with humdrum scenery and patient tracking shots. And then tensions come to a head...

Its all set up to become a hyper-violent slasher, but really its a slice-of-life drama. It's an effect that actually works quite well: it brings heightened tension to what might otherwise have been an average film.

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By the Law (1926)

By the Law (1926)

Reviewed 13 May 2017

The version of this film that I watched had a modern, semi-industrial score - which I think both helped and worked against this film. On the one hand, it gives the film a kind of contemporary, experimental tone which is interesting and fills in some of the gaps in the narrative. On the other hand, it constantly takes you out of the film's element and works against immersion.

In any case, the film was quite interesting - darker and drearier than I'm usually accustomed to from such old movies - but film pacing and structure has definitely come a long way since.

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Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003)

Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003)

Reviewed 11 May 2017

A deceptively simple film, but one which actually manages to quite widely explore how different races deal with past events.

The greatest remedy, or at least the first step towards any remedy, is dialogue. I was very pleased that the director remained completely neutral in this discussion, even going out of his way to state as much, since I think any documentary which really wants to inform has to have no bias.

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Recount (2008)

Recount (2008)

Reviewed 11 May 2017

The performances are fine, but the story begins to get bogged down, especially when we know the conclusion.

What's really amazing is the unbelievable complexity of voting institutions in America (and I imagine elsewhere)... laws and procedures which seem to be designed to be vague, overly extensive and difficult for any one person to understand. I guess that's just part of how the law works though.

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Evolution (2001)

Evolution (2001)

Reviewed 10 May 2017

The actual Ghostbusters remake.

It's silly, loosely connected, and inconsequential. Yet it's also fun, funky and enjoyable. This movie can move past it's pitfalls because it never pretends to be anything more than what it is - a light, fun, action comedy.

And in that capacity, one has to say that the cast is doing quite a good job. So too is Reitman.

And I wouldn't call it forgettable either. The eponymous product placement of integral narrative importance is excellent, almost as good as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (though that wasn't a product).

I mean, what is it that really makes Ghostbusters funny? I think it's comedic charisma and irreverence in the face of danger. And this has plenty of that. Minus a fully developed script.

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Diner (1982)

Diner (1982)

Reviewed 9 May 2017

Every time I watch this movie, my esteem of it seems to grow. But most times I watch it passively, listening to the highly delectable dialogue and never diving deeper. But tonight I needed a bit of comfort and I watched it more attentively.

What I discovered is that these people are facing deep existential crisis. They joke on the surface to hide the fact that they are horrified at the prospect of marriage. They call the pretty girls "death", and one of them later points out death during a screening of The Seventh Seal to nail home the metaphor. Not a single one of them really understands a woman's perspective, nearly all of them are still lacking almost any experience where they don't think of a woman based on her looks or her ability to provide services.

Despite the deeper themes at play, the real heart of the film is the character observations of 50s life that feel pinpoint accurate, and are wonderfully warm and humorous.

In a couple of years I'll probably start walking up to random people and recite the Mathis debate for no good reason, which fittingly is an action with about as much meaning as the Mathis debate had in the first place. They talk about these things to try and forget about the fact that their life at home is empty. But they're happy together.

But the woman aren't. I think there's been some revisionist confrontation to this movie, saying the film is sexist and doesn't have meaningful female characters. I'd rephrase that. The characters are unquestionably sexist, and the film doesn't give the women much screen time - but they definitely have some depth. They're about twice as mature as any of the men for one thing. They're the only ones who can look at a relationship with the opposite sex without thinking about lust or romantic matters.

The fact is, that's where a lot of young men were in the 50s. They'd never really conceived of woman without the sex component. How much of that has really changed? Has it just been buried more?

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Vibes (1988)

Vibes (1988)

Reviewed 7 May 2017

I actually think that Cyndi Lauper and Jeff Goldblum together have some solid potential for A class romantic comedy (and yes, I do think that Cyndi Lauper can be quite funny. See some of her work in the Mad About You sitcom), sadly this isn't quite the space for that.

The plot itself is wholly uninteresting- it really should've tried to stick to it's knowingly-wacky-humour angle, because the film actually has the actors that could pull it off. I suspect though that the "wackiness" arose from plain incompetence in direction and script.

I'm kind of sad that there aren't more comedy films set in a world with genuine psychic capabilities. And I'm sad that this wasn't just a film about two (perfectly matched) comical psychics. Fortunately I know of a certain pop star's music which can cheer me right up.

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Avenging Angel (1985)

Avenging Angel (1985)

Reviewed 6 May 2017

Whereas the inconsistencies in the previous iteration could be forgotten, they're far too gaping here to get past. It's tonally mismatched as well - half super-light, bumbling comedy and half effortless, inconsequential homicide.

Betsy Russel is a far superior actor to the previous Donna Wilkes, it's just a shame that her character is far less interesting and internally consistent.

Still moderately enjoyable overall though.

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Angel (1984)

Angel (1984)

Reviewed 5 May 2017

The rare kind of trash movie that isn't bad in any real capacity. It's fun. It sustains it's length. I don't care about the inconsistencies in it's plot (although they are there). The acting is pretty amateurish, but I like it all the same. People either restrain their obscenities or go effin' and jeffin' all over the room. There's nudity abound - why? Because HOT. And Hollywood Boulevard is giving a star (studded pavement) performance.

We watch these movies while popping back splotchening-buttered-popcorn and slurping saccharine-soulless-SlushPuppies®... and why?

Because we love IT.

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In the Line of Fire (1993)

In the Line of Fire (1993)

Reviewed 4 May 2017

Quite an enjoyable action film - only over-blowing the action hype on occasion. A slightly larger problem though is the lack of narrative nuance - things are explained and exposited a tad excessively and obviously.

There were a couple moments where I chuckled and straight burst out laughing at patently overwrought Hollywood cliches, (dead man over roof ledge comes to mind) but in all honesty that might have actually made it more enjoyable.

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Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987)

Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987)

Reviewed 20 April 2017

Some really apt societal observations, good charisma between the leads, wonderful and humorous little adventures, and a slight cynical edge make this quite a lovely and contained slice-of-life film.

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Nothing But a Man (1964)

Nothing But a Man (1964)

Reviewed 20 April 2017

Some great actors, a timeless tragedy and beautiful nighttime lighting make this a classic.

Plus Yaphet Kotto makes anything better.

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Chopper (2000)

Chopper (2000)

Reviewed 19 April 2017

Beautifully absurd

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Sexy Beast (2000)

Sexy Beast (2000)

Reviewed 19 April 2017

This film subverted my expectations quite handsomely. I expected it to be well produced and humorous, but I didn't expect it to be dryly absurd and (yet) deftly dramatic.

Winston goes against type as a rather sensitive, caring, and calm man. The same in revere applies to Kingsley. Both perform brilliantly - largely because they flesh out characters which are rather unexpected of them.

The exposition and development of this film lives on archetypes: the characters develop by both wildly embracing and risibly going against the respective tenants of their breed. Like demi-devil McShane playing a professional and cold mannered gangster who also embraces in professional and cold mannered orgies.

The film is strikingly well shot. Locations are real, and stunning. The image is well focused, and fine grained. The framing is exciting: it captures the beauty of each setting with well formed and cinematic medium shots, and the tensity of each performance with intense and inescapable close ups.

There is plenty of flourish too - highly vibrant lighting, shots that follow swinging doors, and one which even risks a "misaligned film negative" effect. In many films, this kind of overly stylistic brandishing might come across as pulpy (I'm looking at you Tarantino) but the cinematography here is more than matched by the abilities of the actors and the ludicrous competency of the script. The film stays grounded.

This film is a dashing thing of preposterous realism, but by embracing that duality so fully in all respects of it's production... it avoids being a contradiction. It instead becomes singular.

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Meantime (1983)

Meantime (1983)

Reviewed 16 April 2017

A harsh reality, which arises from crippling self doubt and anger at a perpetually shameful life.

It's interesting how mean attitudes between everyone prevent any type of meaningful progress - and that despite this, love and friendship still exist.

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The Grey (2011)

The Grey (2011)

Reviewed 16 April 2017

Despite the tone beginning to waver in the middle, and uncertainties about character motivations only really being quelled at the end, this film surprised me with it's ultimate depth. It didn't quite follow through with the Hollywood formula I suspected at the beginning.

Could've used a script revision to develop some of it's ideas a bit more consistently though. The internal conflicts of these characters, particularly Neeson's, are fleshed out fairly ham-fistedly for the majority of the film (if at all).

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At Five in the Afternoon (2003)

At Five in the Afternoon (2003)

Reviewed 16 April 2017

A film of visual poetry - about the clashing of the old ways with a harsh modern reality, about the struggle towards a progressive stance in a religious society, and about beauty in the rubble.

The framing in particular was marvelous.

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On the Beat (1995)

On the Beat (1995)

Reviewed 15 April 2017

A police procedural about police procedures, and how they struggle to contain (and to some degree tend to incite) rabid officers.

The film has a very naturalistic and chidingly urban mundanity to it. It's intriguing how entertaining the scenes of lengthy procedure can be... I believe it arises from a shared uncertainty with the accused about what is really happening, and about what is going to happen with irritable cops near.

But... are these cops bad people? It's not always just and often bureaucratic, but they're following the letter of the law and working devotedly. I think that to some degree, their flaws are mostly dictated by their society. But is this film even a criticism of Chinese policy? I can't help but think that it seems that way only from a western perspective - that with Chinese revolutionary indoctrination, it perhaps seems entirely normal and maybe even just (beyond a universal distrust towards the Police).

In any case, it's a fascinating and well illustrated look into police life in 90s China and I enjoyed it to a fair degree. It must be noted that some of it's themes of mundanity do tend towards making the film too mundane (unsurprisingly).

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Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus (1960)

Reviewed 15 April 2017

Grand in scale but also measured in scope - it is a classic epic. But fight choreography has come a very long way since.

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The L-Shaped Room (1962)

The L-Shaped Room (1962)

Reviewed 14 April 2017

A largely depressing but beautifully shot examination of being single and pregnant in 60s Britain.

Leslie Caron does fine in her performance, as does the rest of the cast. Actually the most interesting parts of the film for me we're the performances from the storied older ladies in the apartment building, who encapsulated perfectly the society and time-frame of 60s Britain.

I might have enjoyed this a bit more if I wasn't feeling so sick, but the film does have the feeling of being bogged down into limited locations and narrative ideas. Though perhaps that mirrors our unfortunate heroine's situation.

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Darling (1965)

Darling (1965)

Reviewed 13 April 2017

The overriding theme in this film seems to be one of pointlessness. Julie Christie plays her role very childishly, which while suiting the character also comes across as amateurish. Beyond very general social commentary themes of upper class moral rot and so forth, this film also lacked a real drive.

Ultimately it boils down to feeling like a common British New Age film, but lacking voice. It's interesting to note that the character Julie plays here is very similar to the one she played in the same director's other work - Billy Liar.

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Jerry Maguire (1996)

Jerry Maguire (1996)

Reviewed 10 April 2017

This film has that retrospectively strange quality of both laughing at the cliche of Hollywood redemption stories and possessing all of those very cliches. This means the film is joining me in laughing at it's own mistakes.

Tom Cruise is letting loose his inner brainwashed Scientologist here, Renée Zellweger is doing the same spinster role she's always done, and Cuba Gooding Jr.... man I really wish Cuba were in some better films than what he's generally cast in, he was the only member of the cast I laughed with rather than at.

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Hearts in Atlantis (2001)

Hearts in Atlantis (2001)

Reviewed 10 April 2017

For me it borders between sap and heartfelt, maybe a little more on the heartfelt side.

I'm not sure if there was a supernatural element to Hopkin's character, but if there was I wish it were explored a bit more. Would have been interesting as a spiritual sequel to The Dead Zone, though I guess the tone of that story would be a little different.

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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Reviewed 5 April 2017

Real, depressing, tragic and brotherly. A bit too long though.

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The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Reviewed 4 April 2017

[2001 "Director's Cut"]

The Wicker Man is to Scotland what Hausu is to Japan - a culturally relevant, yet highly strange oddity.

The actual mystery in this film is rather straight, and not the main focus. The main focus of the film is a kind of fever dream of confusion, of happy secluded Scottish pagans. This is indeed as weird as it sounds.

This includes poppy; folky, ritualistic music videos. It includes organs (bodily organs) being sold in general stores. It includes children learning about phallic symbols and death rituals.

The oddest thing in all this, perhaps, is that it isn't scary. Infact, I might describe it as anti-horror - a horror that arises from a feeling of local normality and a lack of horror scares. But don't mistake that for a feeling of stability - herein lies the underlying suspense. Again, the tone is idyllically strange, which comes across in a feeling of surreal dread.

There's something to be said about our protagonist's journey being a biblical one - a judicious Christian cop, who goes maverick and defies the Pagans. He is confused about their (and likely his) faith, challenged by the lack of outrage in the people around him and their seeming bliss. There are enormous parallels to a key biblical moment at the end of the film, but I won't go into details.

Is this island mystical, or is it just highly controlled behind the scenes? Is Howie acting consciously of his own volition in a confusing place, or is he being led through a strange local spiritual realm? Is the Lord sincerely religious, or an opportunistic cult leader? If there is a God in this film, who's side is God on?

All of this is left ambiguous - to the betterment of the film - as it enforces the feverish surreal normalcy of it all and increases re-watch value.

All in all, I must say this film is wonderfully unique, and I will enjoy watching it again.

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The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead (1981)

Reviewed 2 April 2017

The great thing about this film is that it knows precisely what it is - an ultra cheap B movie horror. It knows that some of the things it does to make the horror work are silly, and then it points and says "Ha! Wasn't that great? Look at the blood!".

It's somewhat congruous to think of two-camera sitcoms - obviously fake, removed from reality - yet highly engrossing. It's because the formalist staging makes it cinematic. The controlled environments, lighting and cheapness of some of the effects are cinematic instead of irritating, and it's aided by the film being humble and sincere in its course.

However, there is nothing cheap about the cinematography. The film is largely a mix of medium, close up, and extreme close ups - often very cinematic and exhibition-ary. Angles and pans of varying speed are used all at the right times with a solid sense of the atmosphere from moment to moment. The film is engrossing because each shot proceeds so intricately with the preceding, and you can't wait to see what's next. There is an incredible sense of on-the-go creativity.

The action is also great, and it's largely because of the close attention to small details and objects - not just in establishing things like the positions of weapons and limb damage, but also in limiting the knowledge of the larger sphere of combat. We get a sense of intimacy, fear, and entrapment.

And boy, is Bruce Campbell made for this role - no one does dumbfounded action hero like he does.

It's just a pure classic. Scarily-humorously-gory-rip-roaring-fun.

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The Big Picture (2010)

The Big Picture (2010)

Reviewed 2 April 2017

I really really liked this movie - it's always great to see how normal people have to rise up to incredible circumstances, and then live with the consequences.

It kind of takes the flights of fancy of "another life" and mixes it in with danger, hard reality, and mistakes. Duris gives an excellent performance and the film as a whole is taut as a drum-skin - really well put together.

And the competency of it's structure is really admirable when one considers just how utterly strange the progression of the film actually is. It almost feels like a kind of fever dream, but one which you can't wake up from.

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WarGames (1983)

WarGames (1983)

Reviewed 2 April 2017

As a computer scientist, I just love watching the O.G. hackers doing their thang.

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Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report (2002)

Reviewed 2 April 2017

[A warning: I'm going to try and describe the structure of this film in general terms to avoid spoilers, but it may be unavoidable. Proceed at your own risk.]

What is so fascinating about this film is how it manages expectations - chiefly through an ostensibly poorly concealed surface mystery. The premise of the film is, of course, whether John can change his future and for him to find out his motives. Yet the film lays out an obvious motive from his past pretty much from the start (which he also fails to consider). Why?

I began to think of some of the characters, and the nature of the film in the simplistic frame in which it presented. But I underestimated the ability of the film - it does indeed exceed this frame, and builds another mystery around it while I watch a film whose potential I see as limited.

What this allows is for some of the key pieces of the real mystery to be developed while you still don't know what that actual overriding mystery is. Genius.

The problem, however, is that plot holes remain. If John had some sense, he would find a nice quiet spot, and secure himself down 15 minutes (or more) before the murder was to occur. Supposedly the rationale against this is that he simply "has to know!" blah blah, yada yada (no, sorry, ain't buying it Spielberg).

Maybe his colleagues would be willing to secure him to stop him doing anything, maybe they wouldn't because of protocol and bureaucracy, but the point is that we didn't see John consider this or other ideas - that's a problem.

There are a couple other minor plot holes, but again it is interesting to note how these serve the overriding mystery as a result of the audience (or at least me) seeing limited film potential.

As for the Sci-Fi - although some of the systems and tech ostensibly seem to have that convenient Hollywood design of being highly operatic in their usage - I have to say that the film does a good job of taking the presupposition of precognition (with some good speculative ideas about technology) to build a fairly hard Sci-Fi world.

Performances are decent; the cinematography is quite good; the action sequences are well shot and I disliked the Photoshop glow effect applied to the film. But the film was very enjoyable to watch, especially when it revealed itself as something more than I expected. It opens some very interesting ideas about thriller design for me.

I'm curious to see if other people saw the film in the same way, or if my genre savvy caused me to see this film in a strange orthogonal manner that somehow still worked.

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Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (1993)

Reviewed 1 April 2017

A classic - the latter part of the film really gets some good suspense going. However, my sense of wonder is unfortunately not as high as it used to be, and without that much of the film doesn't really hit home. I can't suspend my disbelief with some of the CGI in the middle.

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Salvador (1986)

Salvador (1986)

Reviewed 1 April 2017

There are one or two good moments, but the characters are uninteresting and the film comes across as unfocused.

It's difficult to take the seriousness of the situation in one hand with the humorous antics of Belushi and Spader in the other.

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The Hurricane (1999)

The Hurricane (1999)

Reviewed 1 April 2017

This is a solid biopic, it's interesting how it looks at racial prejudice from both sides of the table, but it is rather too conventional otherwise.

The looseness of the adaptation also rather contradicts it's own ideas about truth.

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The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

Reviewed 1 April 2017

I don't think I've seen any other film which manages to take vulgarity and make it tasteful.

I've seen plenty of other "weird films", which work along similar lines of full nudity and vulgar talk and rotting meat etc., but they don't impress. They attempt to create some sort of anarchic shock value - they often use such ideas as a form of anti-film protest - which is frankly the sort of thing one does when you aren't competent enough to make a film's imagery work.

But this film is fully competent: strikingly lit and framed, well cast, and brilliantly performed

It's a fascinating juxtaposition between the cinema norms of some of it's "tasteless" imagery, and expert film-making.

That being said, like nearly all "theater" films, it suffers in the pacing department. But that's mostly forgivable.

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The Walker (2007)

The Walker (2007)

Reviewed 30 March 2017

This move would be better titled "Ambiguous Cynicism", because that's the only clear theme in the film. It really irritated me a good deal.

Forewarning though, I found this film deeply fascinating. With each scene, I was intent on solving the mystery of "WTF was Schrader trying to convey?"

It's clear this mystery takes the route of ambiguous information - attempting to cloud the obvious suspects with some sort of casually-cynical-purposefully-overly-complex-political-conspiracy (I wonder reader if you think this would be entertaining - Spoiler: it isn't). I guess the general structure of this mystery isn't all that original, so it's necessary to make things confusing to keep you guessing?

And it's not suspenseful. My only motivation to continue watching within the context of the plot is to get less confused, but I'm being subjected to active attempts of confusion in order to keep it a mystery... how can this result in anything but frustration?

Woody's character is about as ambivalent to the narrative progression as we are, indicative of a lack of momentum in the script. What's worse though is that I really don't care about any of the characters in this film - they're all rich, cynical dicks. (Within the context of keeping us confused, Woody gave a fine performance BTW).

It gets to the point in scenes where I start paying very close attention to the lighting in order to not stop watching. I don't think that's what I'm supposed to be doing though - or is it? Is this supposed to be some kind of anti-film, a protest of modern mystery plots?

No, my suspicion is that Schrader took a weak mystery premise and over-developed it to try and keep the reveal secret until the end.

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Crash (2004)

Crash (2004)

Reviewed 30 March 2017

This movie seeks to be a meditation on racial tensions - which in principle is fine - the problem is that it does this through cliche and really shallow emotional manipulations. Not to mention that the non-linear structure and use of multiple characters is completely pointless.

It's worth perhaps comparing this film to Magnolia. In Magnolia, the themes of sadness and melancholy are subtle, and are revealed over time through character interactions. The cinematography is interesting; there is a voice of creativity.

Crash is the cheap version, without the craft that enforces the drama.

This feels like a film directed by producers - competent, but without voice. And without that, is there really anything?

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Billy Liar (1963)

Billy Liar (1963)

Reviewed 29 March 2017

The period is a wonderful place to explore, and Courtenay has some charm, but beyond that the plot feels too empty. His fantasies are only interesting in and of themselves, and they get old almost immediately.

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Tube Tales (1999)

Tube Tales (1999)

Reviewed 28 March 2017

Some enjoyable moments, but overall it feels too disconnected and is frivolously over-stylized.

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Before Night Falls (2000)

Before Night Falls (2000)

Reviewed 28 March 2017

Beauty in the time of revolution.

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Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962)

Reviewed 27 March 2017

Good performances, and the atmosphere of dark romance is perfect - but it is perhaps a touch too long.

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The Endless Summer (1966)

The Endless Summer (1966)

Reviewed 27 March 2017

This film is so 60s it hurts! I just had a giant smile plastered on my face from the 60s idiosyncrasies, lame jokes and humorous music matching.

There was some extra interest for me as it showed my home country of South Africa back in the day, which was fascinating.

P.S> We have the best surf!

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Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Reviewed 27 March 2017

A great performance, a great plot and a great allegory about oppression and optimism.

The Egg Challenge stands alone as just an all time great segment.

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Donnie Brasco (1997)

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Reviewed 26 March 2017

Good performances, fair plot, decent pacing - but nothing really new.

The problem is that the New York gangster genre is so incredibly saturated, that unless you really bring an interesting and flawless perspective, you can't even get a seat at the main table.

But not a bad movie.

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For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

Reviewed 26 March 2017

A sweeping narrative is held back by sweeping length and the iconic stars, while beautiful, don't give their all (excluding Paxinou).

It's a fair example as to why novels can't be directly adapted.

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This Is England (2006)

This Is England (2006)

Reviewed 26 March 2017

Highly affecting. Generations of people without mothers and fathers, without love, who come to hate instead. The characters are extremely well developed - very human and relateable. A modern classic.

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Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies (2015)

Reviewed 25 March 2017

Solid. Solid solid solid solid.

sigh

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Tremors (1990)

Tremors (1990)

Reviewed 25 March 2017

Not much more than a genre outing, plot issues not withstanding, but still pretty entertaining. Gotta love Fred Ward.

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The Gambler (1974)

The Gambler (1974)

Reviewed 20 March 2017

By his own definition, Axel can't lose.

He takes the worst bets. He gets into debt. He desperately gets out of debt. Then he does it again. He embraces a girlfriend who doesn't really care about him - who's willing to ride his wave without the risk. Even his loan shark tries to talk him out of it.

Gambling addiction hasn't seen a better movie since.

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Witness (1985)

Witness (1985)

Reviewed 20 March 2017

A nice setting, but the plot is a little empty.

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Gas Food Lodging (1992)

Gas Food Lodging (1992)

Reviewed 19 March 2017

A good cast, an interesting setting, and decent dialogue - but the plot is a little dry.

The film is ostensibly about relationships, and actually that's all the film is about. It doesn't really dig very deep into the subject, just a little bit of trial and error until they find "the person they were supposed to be with all along" blah, blah, blah....

The 90s were littered with indie films like this, but in order for them to work you either need great performances or unique plot development to elevate it beyond the rest.

You can count on me watching more of these exact same films though.

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Rollerball (1975)

Rollerball (1975)

Reviewed 17 March 2017

What's interesting about this film is that it strives towards something deeper than your typical sport film. What's unfortunate is that it struggles to really find it, or present it.

I'm not sure whether much of this film is purposefully or unavoidably ambiguous. Who or what is doing the labor in this society? Is Jonathan becoming a revolutionary, despite being the greatest killer his game as ever known?

But I feel something deeper in this film. There's unquestionably a consistent feeling of existential peril.

And then I think: if the film is about anything, then I think it's about the inhumanity of living in a society where you are happy to be kept powerless. And I don't Jonathon can quite put his finger on it either - the point is that no one will, because how can you really justify this revolution? It seems everyone is catered for, everyone is satisfied with mindless sport.

The real shock of it all is, perhaps, that this is humanities most conceivable utopia. The shock that, no - this is not a film about revolution. People are happy. Jonathon's war is a minor one, and personal - not for the sake of society. People simply don't care about history, and knowledge, and how things are run when they have full luxury. Pop a pill and go on happily.

When the human struggle is gone, are we still human? If we take the utopian idea of Artificial Intelligence to be true - the end of all human endeavor - a Rollerball society may be coming to you soon.

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Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993)

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993)

Reviewed 15 March 2017

I think on the surface this film can be a little self-preoccupied.

With minor increase in focus however, one can see that the vignette structure choice seeks to parallel Gould's view of himself - a person highly analytic of the manner of living, whose focus never deviates further from the perceived imbalances in his own routine, image and craft.

All that really needs to be said of this film is that I couldn't help smiling with enjoyment at a damn lot of it. Even when the shorts are being knowingly "darling" - they actually are darling; precious and enjoyable.

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The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)

Reviewed 7 March 2017

Surreal and strange but at it's heart, very human. An adventure in the truest sense.

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Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window (1954)

Reviewed 5 March 2017

About as perfect as low-key thrillers come.

In a way, this film is almost about an audience - how they look at the film (or in this case, the windows of apartments), interpret it, and try to predict what the ending is going to be. But here the audience steps into the screen - affects change, and in turn becomes effected by the dangerous forces inside.

The film was very entertaining, mostly because there are so many interesting things to see. There's a great balance between the main observations of the suspected killer, the sideline stories of the various apartments, and the troubled romance between the leads.

This allows a perfect balance of scope: we see the important parts of all the little stories interspersed with each other, and it never gets boring. Genius.

The film also masterfully balances genre expectations of investigative films - i.e. whether he did or didn't do it - right until the end. As, of course, can be expected from the master of suspense.

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Georgia (1995)

Georgia (1995)

Reviewed 4 March 2017

The pain of not having talent, when your sister has it all. The act of attaining pain to perform better, but still having the same pitfalls.

But she doesn't get better at singing, just more broken.

This is the kind of role Leigh excels at, and she doesn't disappoint here. What was missing where the things around her character and performance - the plot-line never really allows her to reach the depths of sorrow, and while the other performances are fair - they don't scratch up to Leigh's. What's the use of all her talent if she doesn't have something to bounce it against?

There's an irony there somewhere.

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PlayTime (1967)

PlayTime (1967)

Reviewed 3 March 2017

Cute, humorous and sharp.

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Elmer Gantry (1960)

Elmer Gantry (1960)

Reviewed 2 March 2017

The brave challenging of religion and very exuberant performance from Burt Lancaster are joyous to watch here.

However I'm not sure about the novelist aspect of this film - it isn't focused solely on evangelism, but on characters and exchanges and romances which make the film run long. In sum I couldn't say these exchanges don't work, but they do lessen the film's power; punch.

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Ray (2004)

Ray (2004)

Reviewed 28 February 2017

Ray is a standard format biopic - linear with flashback segments - but it's told well.

The music is great, Foxx disappears into his roll, and the colourful world and energetic sense of adventure keeps the pacing up.

All in all, it's exactly what it needs to be - and more than the sum of it's parts.

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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Reviewed 26 February 2017

Excellent war movie. When it's tender, it's tender. When it's comedic, it is comedic. And when it's war, it's hell. And it's made all the more hellish as put in to contrast with the lighter part of the film. That's not to understate the excellence of the action sequences' construction though.

That being said, there is some part of me that wants to say that the romance - while fairly well executed - really is unnecessarily focused upon. It has nothing to do with Doss's motivation in the rest of the film, and she's hardly mentioned in the second half (as indeed she shouldn't be).

On occasion, It also veers a little over the line from heartfelt to sappy.

P.S> Regarding Mel Gibson's sordid past - it's not relevant. There are plenty of great historical artworks out there by unknown creators, and finding out that said creators were devils wouldn't change the art, or it's grandeur.

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Fences (2016)

Fences (2016)

Reviewed 25 February 2017

A pure drama - built on characters and performances, neither of which disappoint. These people really give off their best.

Only minor issue is pacing. This movie doesn't flow all that well - the scenes themselves are excellent, but they don't really give an indication of when the end is going to be reached. But I wouldn't cut any of it.

Might actually be a case for a miniseries cut - separate each scene (of which there are only a few but are lengthy) into separate episodes to be watched over the course of a weekend, leave some time in-between to think about the characters.

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Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

Reviewed 23 February 2017

Partly funny, partly ingratiating, but nonetheless completely unique.

HA HA

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Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca (1942)

Reviewed 20 February 2017

An iconic film. Casablanca and Rick's Cafe are a kind of romantic purgatory- here people neither live nor dead gamble, lust, drink, profit, and dream of other places. Sam is their dream-weaver.

I'm reminded of a Japanese animation concept in this film - that the eyes are the gate to the soul, and the sparkles in them represent their vitality. If we take that as true here, then these people are positively simmering with desperation and nostalgia.

Yet, it must be said, this script does show a little cheesiness in some of it's corners. But it's a mostly forgivable kind of cheesiness, certainly with the quality of direction, cinematography and cast that are on offer here.

And, after all, great romance necessitates a loss in realism.

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Jarhead (2005)

Jarhead (2005)

Reviewed 14 February 2017

A well acted and executed film about a soldier's unmet blood-lust, though it lacks deeper themes and a real voice.

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The Firm (1989)

The Firm (1989)

Reviewed 14 February 2017

National fight club.

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The Pawnbroker (1964)

The Pawnbroker (1964)

Reviewed 14 February 2017

An uncompromisingly dark film, one which looks at human nature as cynically as it can - as this is the only view Holocaust survivors have left.

This is a pressure cooker of a film, a really tight drama which mostly takes place in a pawn shop. Steiger is very good, and he's matched by the way Lumet directs and focuses on him. Close ups become cages, obscure angles give harsh views.

Mix this in with some really tense and tragic moments and you get something that is uncomfortable, yet the script and pure drama excellence keeps you reeled in. Not completely though (I must admit)- it is a little too uncomfortable at times.

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Rikyu (1989)

Rikyu (1989)

Reviewed 13 February 2017

At the heart of Rikyu's masterful tea ceremonies lies a fundamental contradiction. That is, the quality he desires to perfect is ultimate simplicity and poverty, but in the pursuit of this lies much complexity in performance, composition, and costly iteration. His mastery is an internal battle to find the balance.

That, in a way, is a metaphor for this film. it is deceptively simple at the beginning, seemingly focused on a simple relationship between a tea master and his lord ,Hideyoshi, but this relationship has much hidden- deep underneath.

Rikyu's mindfulness for matters other than tea ceremonies, Hideyoshi's insecurity, and Rikyu's potential influence all come into the fore - but nothing is on the surface; nothing is certain. That's important, because that is the limit of what an insecure leader can see of potential insurrection.

Careful and limited character moments develop our understanding of the motivations, flaws and opinions of Rikyu and Hideyoshi. Much of it is done through otherwise mundane moments- such as putting on makeup, learning the tea ceremony, idle chit-chat, etc. The performances of Mikuni and Yamazaki are absolutely masterful, as is the script and direction.

The tea ceremony, interestingly, trains the viewer's observation of the film. It is concerned with very precise observations of the otherwise mundane - and it used early in the film to tell us to look carefully at our leads and the cracks in their image. As the film progresses, and we become engrossed in the story, this device becomes less necessary. But it is still used sparingly as reinforcement.

I must admit, it's difficult for me to place the brilliance of this film in words- the depth really took me off my guard. I just thought this was going to be about tea, but when things really get tense for our leads, and we see the full potential of their ability and that of the direction and the score - I was blown away at what the real scope is.

And on that note, this film has an excellent atmosphere. The climate seems to get colder towards the film's conclusion, and the score is used sparingly so as to enforce the crucial moments where the score does come to life. Again a case of subtlety.

All in all, a very pleasant surprise. And I had about three cups of tea through it all.

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The Seventh Continent (1989)

The Seventh Continent (1989)

Reviewed 12 February 2017

This film works on a sense of ambiguity. The conversations that lead to the tragic plan are not featured in the film. Infact, the only dialogue of any real relevance to the plot are the narrations of letters to parents.

Instead the film is a series of vignettes, hard cut with seconds of black silence to give a deliberately disjointed and episodic feeling. These episodes convey a sense of mood towards the present. But the episodes don't really change, and repeat themselves as time progresses. Thus we see that the family's life is in an arduous cycle.

It was difficult to focus on this film, because it doesn't really flow in a traditional sense and is ardently numbing (and numbingly depressing), but it is unique. And really, these kind of tragic situations are a case of a slow, constant whimper than a sudden bang.

A bold film, in any case.

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The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960)

The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales (1960)

Reviewed 11 February 2017

A wonderfully comic Mexican melodrama with a touch of dark humor. The story is wonderfully simple and actor driven, and Córdova and Rivelles do a perfect job together as an unhappy couple.

I watched this film with a big grin on my face, just enjoying the fantastic comedic acting and wonderfully classic story developments.

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Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

Reviewed 10 February 2017

A unique film - it exists in a space somewhat outside your typical police procedural, and while we know the typical turns of a police investigation, it is uncertain and thus interesting to see how it develops in this case.

This film sort of looks at itself as a farce, yet it does so using realistic cause and effect and political themes. The result is a kind of satire, but this clashes somewhat with the focus on our lead. I mean is this guy stupid or smart? He's somehow sort of both.

Anyway, it was overall quite solidly entertaining and is recommended. Oh and Morricone's score is interesting here but far from his best IMO.

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Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Reviewed 10 February 2017

I watched the Director's Cut, ofc.

First, the problems.

This film is overly progressive in a time which wasn't. Our heroes are happy to work in the fields and toil among the men, praising liberty. Everyone is tolerant of all religions. How nice.

Also, this isn't an actor's film. I think Orlando's performance is okay (which is to say, not noticeably lacking), some others I would go so far as to call good. But then again, I don't think this a character driven piece, so it's really doesn't adversely affect the film.

Now onto the good stuff.

This film (this cut) is a triumph of pacing. Even at about three and a quarter hours, I at every stage wanted to see more. Every scene is enjoyable on it's own, and the progression of this story is strong enough to keep me on the hook.

We have the general sense that this story will culminate in a battle of course, but we know not precisely how we are going to get there, or who the players will include. But to keep up our interest in the scene-after-scene progression, we have small stories which work as building blocks into the larger one.

For example: our young hero changes from a blacksmith into a knight - we have his welcoming to the dessert where he creates some fame from his journey through it - and so on.

This is really perfect plotting.

As can be expected from Scott, it is perfectly framed and shot at every corner. This world breathes, and I can feel it breathing into me. It shows the tradition and lifestyle of the time, but it doesn't become stuffy or get bogged into it. It is always there to progress character and plot.

One scene that sticks in my mind is when Balian sits down with some newly met comrades to some crab at a port, where he has a small scuffle with an important lord passing by. He doesn't get up or get ruffled. We can see immediately that he is not interested in petty politics, and is a man of the people.

On a side note, the swordplay and battles are wonderfully executed.

All in all, one of those rare epics that flies - though it's progressive stance feels a little too Hollywood.

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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Reviewed 9 February 2017

This film is kind of like a shiny jacket with LED lighting interior - it's hip, it's stylish, it wants to grab your attention, it's a knowing cliche of other campy jackets, it'll get you all the girls and make you a perfect , flawless and characterless hero, and it knows that the jackets it riffs off of are as dead as disco.

I would agree on the last point and buy a better jacket.

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Platoon (1986)

Platoon (1986)

Reviewed 9 February 2017

Charlie Sheen is not an action hero. He should not be in a war film. That's why he's perfect here.

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The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest (2014)

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest (2014)

Reviewed 8 February 2017

The story is good - this is a terrible tale of misjustice.

However the films chooses a non-linear structure which is rather uninspiring. The animated segments had a comic book quality to them (which doesn't fit), and the film delivered the really interesting parts - the escapes - with no buildup whatsoever.

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Cemetery Man (1994)

Cemetery Man (1994)

Reviewed 7 February 2017

The story is definitely cult - not without inconsistency and tonal problems, but exploring unique themes about the emergence of psychopathic tendencies and purgatory.

Rupert Everett is an instant icon in this film. His sharp looks and black hair instantly tie him into this romantically gothic cemetery. That being said, his performance was unique but not without flaws. That goes for most of the cast, so I'm tempted to think it was a problem from the director's side.

Wonderfully shot - looks the way most vampire movies wish they could look. This cemetery is beautiful in dark and night. The makeup work and physical effects are quite well done too. This film stirs a sort of nostalgia from it's arousing scenery.

All in all - it's a pretty good cult film, but limited to a cult audience for some good reasons.

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No Path Through Fire (1967)

No Path Through Fire (1967)

Reviewed 6 February 2017

I really wanted to like this film, Inna Churikova is such a fantastic actress and she still does a decent job here. But there isn't much for her to work with.

The story is simply incoherent - I mean it's hardly about painting, or about communism, or about anything other than rambling. If there's some depth here perhaps I'm just too thick or tired to see it - but is nonetheless an arduously boring film and I just don't care anymore.

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Celia (1989)

Celia (1989)

Reviewed 5 February 2017

I don't think this is a horror movie, but it's perhaps a great mindset to go into this film with to be surprised.

This film so brilliantly melds sweetness, bigotry, innocence, terror and violence that it feels like other films have been doing something wrong.

Perhaps it's a tragi-sweet?

The strength of Celia's character comes from the fact that she doesn't talk too much. We get time to look at the world in silence through her eyes, which is crucial to the development of her character (as we empathize with her) and to the film's development. And these kids aren't the watered down type Hollywood would like us to believe in - no, their confusion and innocence is dangerous.

And it manages to meld all these characters, with all their flaws, without making any of them villains.

I don't really want to say too much about this film, but it was quite fantastic. It's a pity this seems to be the director's only good film - but it is nevertheless a fine legacy.

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Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story (2006)

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story (2006)

Reviewed 5 February 2017

An incredible story that scales from the streets of Japan to the heads of governments , with plenty of espionage subterfuge thrown in the middle.

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In Cold Blood (1967)

In Cold Blood (1967)

Reviewed 4 February 2017

An excellent crime thriller. It doesn't attempt to use a convoluted plot with surprise twists and revelations like similar films - rather it looks at what it means to be a killer. That is: what does it take to kill, how do they feel about it afterwards, how do they behave with other normal people, and are they evil?

The film is very well paced and written. The scenes are controlled: well stated and proportioned. The film doesn't try to cram in exciting action to keep you interested through the total run-time, rather it uses slow, intricate character development to keep you wanting more.

The film looks good and sounds good. Naturalistic lighting keeps things dark and local - focusing on the illuminated characters and objects which are the subjects of the particular scene. The soundtrack is excellent, featuring jazz in the calm bits, highly tense deep drums during tense scenes, and silence in general - again an example of restraint and control.

All the actors do a solid job. I think the direction and lighting (as specified above) do much to really bring out their performances.

Only minor complaint is that the themes don't quite seem to be fully explored - but perhaps I just wasn't looking hard enough.

All in all though, a refreshing crime film that hasn't aged at all.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Reviewed 2 February 2017

Sort of humbly low budget in a charming way - more about humanity than special effects.

Although it's novel for it's time, early sci-fi films such as this have undergone so much cultural osmosis that its novelty can really only be felt with knowledge of it's age (the result of which isn't pure novelty, suffice to say).

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Hair (1979)

Hair (1979)

Reviewed 2 February 2017

Fantastic music, good acting, decent characters, so-so story.

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Yellow Earth (1984)

Yellow Earth (1984)

Reviewed 2 February 2017

This film captures a sort of naturalistic, mundane tranquility of rural life in a mountainous area- a place without many buildings, with long paths between important locations, and where ambient electric lights on the ground don't distort the sky. The dusks (which are a big part of this film) are incredibly beautiful in their untouched - dim - natural beauty.

More beauty is found in the harmonious waving of stove flames in a dim room, in the stark contrasts of cool interiors and harshly sunlit exteriors, in the gentle windy rustling of grain dotting the ground, in the slow winding of spinning wheels, in the contrasts of unpainted brown interiors and saturated red material...

I guess this film captures the "focusing on small details" thing that one does in areas with little other entertainment - or at least the thing that I do. As a city boy who has spent much of their childhood visiting relatively rural farms in the Cape, I can say this film captured that experience perfectly.

The story is somewhat abstract: a sort of sorrowful folk tune about the hardships and deeply ingrained sadness brought upon by desperate living, the aspects of life that reflect their music and vice-versa, and the hopes that communism might bring.

Yes, I think there might be a touch of propaganda here... but then I'm not quite sure to what extent this is pro- or anti- communism. Maybe it is a little too abstract?

I think the music grows on you - it grew on me. The girl's singer in particular did an excellent job. That voice rolling across the valley is quite ethereal.

The actors here seem to be rural civilians: you can see their acting is naturalistic, and you can feel the toll of work in their voices and faces. A bit like a Herzog film really.

This film felt slow at times, yet the running time flew by. Strange?... Yes, I guess this film is a bit - but in a quite stirring and exquisitely unique way.

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Vera Drake (2004)

Vera Drake (2004)

Reviewed 1 February 2017

I don't think I've ever seen a period piece as pitch perfect as this. This world is so real - in it's professions and mannerisms and language and social problems - that it feels as though I am transported.

This leaves one in the perfect position for when things become really tense and tragic, as the gruelling, unending process of her arrest and revelation to her family feels completely fleshed out. There are no villains, but the motivations and feelings of all the characters are strongly felt without unnecessary exposition being called upon.

Perfectly minimalist dialogue is also key here - actors express themselves through what they say between words and it results in a great deal of empathy and strength towards their respective characters.

The acting of course is superb in all departments.

Overall it's a perfect example of how the emotional difference of an age is in its almost imperceptible subtleties, and thus a great example of Leigh's ability to capture a society in all its essence.

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The Third Generation (1979)

The Third Generation (1979)

Reviewed 1 February 2017

I'll be upfront - I couldn't finish this. Rather I won't.

Parody and satire are on a fine line: this film attempts to illustrate the faux intellectualism of its terrorists by having them constantly be passively aggressive and mumble through philosophy. This makes the characters irritating. Then you get more irritation in the form of unintelligible humming and TV broadcasts over nearly every scene.

Now if I consciously shut off the fact that I am getting incredibly irritated just having to listen to this film, then I might begin to appreciate the satire at play. It is making a point, and building towards something. But since I am not a faux intellectual I will regard every level of this film and prioritize those which dominate the perception of the film.

Doing that, I can only assert that I am essentially annoyed and that this is thus essentially bad (IMO) - taking the axiom that being annoyed is not a desirable outcome I seek from watching any film.

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The Hurt Locker (2008)

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Reviewed 31 January 2017

This film makes me realize just how sprawling war movies tend to be - they look at so many different characters and themes that they tend to feel unfocused. This film avoids that pitfall. It focuses on a handful of central characters and one or two themes, which makes what it delves into more interesting.

Kathryn Bigelow seems to have a central theme in many of her films, which is the question of machismo. What is it really? Is it blind bravery? Is it bro like behavior? Is it being unable to feel pain when you should? What is it to be a man who seeks a rush?

Wonderfully plotted and acted - this film is far more digestible then most war films and all the better for it.

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A Fishy Story (1989)

A Fishy Story (1989)

Reviewed 31 January 2017

The main problem with this film is its script - its wonky as hell. Things happen without much meaning, characters do things that go outside of their motivations and are otherwise pretty stock. It shifts unevenly in tone throughout.

But the central actors do pretty well with what they're given, and the film looks pretty good. And there are some touching moments, though again this is really due to actor charisma more than anything else.

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Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Dancer in the Dark (2000)

Reviewed 27 January 2017

I have not seen such a pure human drama in quite a while (perhaps Ordinary People was the last). When I say pure, I mean real - unrelentingly real, not afraid to look at the duality that people can hold qualities of kindness and qualities of evil at the same time.

The amount of unrelentingly gritty tragedy here is quite striking - which is of course tempered against the musical aspect of the film...

Bjork's role is unique. I don't think her on par with the actresses who generally win at Cannes, or as good as her counterpart Deneuve. She's good, vulnerable, but I feel reminded that she's being pushed to this performance, that it's due to her specific vocal qualities, that it's being wrought a little...

But the strength of her performance actually comes through for me from her music, her specific brand of music no less.

Bjork's music is a specific kind of magical realism in a way, a flight out of the real world but held in it's gravity with a surreal voice at the centre. How perfect for this film - her casting was not only an act of genius, but it seems clear that the film was designed around her quality in this respect.

There are some minor problems in this film - for one I have no idea if this is supposed to be a period piece or not, although the cars would seem to suggest it, because the early digital photography fights against that theme.

I'm actually not sure how I feel about the use of early digital photography here - on one level it looks sort of cheap and meta, sort of reminding me that this is a film being filmed (which is not good) but on the other it sort of enforces the strangely gritty magical realism, adding the gravity.

No doubt in my mind though that von Trier did a masterstroke here. I'm still hesitant to see his other work given my squeamishness, but maybe one day...

EDIT: Went back to look at my Ordinary People review, pure was precisely the word I used. Good to know my internal review database is working properly.

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State of Grace (1990)

State of Grace (1990)

Reviewed 26 January 2017

The plot here really is nothing special. It might have been uplifted by better characters - which it comes close to, but they too are a little underdeveloped and cliched. The performances in general are okay, excluding Oldman who comes off a little ripe (not for the first time in his career unfortunately).

But, the film is quite well shot - the lighting in particular has a very peaceful feel to it (which links to the films premise... if you could call it that), the score is wonderful - enforced but not repetitive, It's always nice to see Ed Harris in more main roles and the final gunplay exchange was masterful - keeping all the balances of the locations and players in focus throughout.

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Another 48 Hrs. (1990)

Another 48 Hrs. (1990)

Reviewed 25 January 2017

This films is very nearly as good as the first - it still revels in the genre conventions and "buddy cop" vitroil, and it replaces some of the exposition of the first film with more interesting action sequences. Consequently, unfortunately, it does feel a bit of a rehash.

But all fans of the first film will not be disappointed. It's still one of the more solid sequels to an action film I've seen.

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Captain Conan (1996)

Captain Conan (1996)

Reviewed 24 January 2017

I originally though this was going to be a rather simple war film, with hard ruffians talking about mannish silliness in-between battles, but it developed into something much more interesting.

This film analyzes the morality of men on one side of a war - the differences in ruthlessness of soldiers and how they regard each other. The film makes a strong case that the good warrior - that is a ruthless killer - may not be a good soldier. This ruthlessness often comes from the most readily criminal soldiers, who don't necessarily have remorse for harming civilians.

There is no such thing as a perfect soldier in this illustration, either you have moral soldiers who don't kill as effectively or you have effective killers who are (still) disobedient and criminal off the battlefield.

It's an aspect of war which I'm actually surprised to have not seen explored more in other films, and which I welcome here.

Beyond that, the film has a host of good character interactions and quite interesting characters. The battle sequences could do with better pyrotechnics (firework explosions anyone?) but are mostly quite solid. The pacing was also a slight problem, the structure of the film didn't give any sense about when the film would start winding towards a conclusion and I was left a tad impatient towards the middle and end.

All in all, pretty solid.

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21 Grams (2003)

21 Grams (2003)

Reviewed 23 January 2017

A decent drama about love, life and death - brought down a bit because of a confusingly structured and slightly arbitrarily plotted narrative, but brought up by honest characters who realistically go through strong emotions without much rationality or foresight.

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Near Dark (1987)

Near Dark (1987)

Reviewed 23 January 2017

Atmospheric, beautifully shot and an interesting take on the vampire story. But the plot feels a bit too compact - I don't really learn enough about these characters, their history and so on. I wanted to know a little more about what kind of people they were - how they've changed as a result of their affliction. I think that probably would have affected pace, but it does feel slightly wanting to me.

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Center Stage (1991)

Center Stage (1991)

Reviewed 22 January 2017

Interesting structure in this film. It's part documentary, part biopic - where the cast and director talking about Ruan and conducting interviews (doing research) is sprinkled inbetween the film, as well as actual footage of Ruan.

It's an appreciation of acting, showing Maggie as an actress and embodying Ruan's spirit. Characters make soliloquies about how they feel about Ruan, and the act of interspersing the behind-the-scenes action seeks to understand the spirit of movie making.

It's another angle of illustrating Ruan and her contemporaries, by showing the actors playing them understanding their roles.

That being said, it feels sometimes that the movie is struggling to find a voice. It lingers... it lingers well quite often, but still it became difficult to focus during the middle when the conclusion was already so understood.

The film is nonetheless quite stunning to look at and listen to, although there were no real moments of sheer excitement. It's a calm tragedy.

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Nenette and Boni (1996)

Nenette and Boni (1996)

Reviewed 20 January 2017

Claire Denis is one of those filmmakers whose films are instantly recognizable - soft focus, ambiguous films with interludes (or is it the central focus?) of calm, dreamlike everyday settings. The characters are people, heavily flawed but empathetic.

It would be unfair to dismiss this film too quickly because it feels aimless, voyeuristic for the sake of voyeurism; unfocused. There is a great emotional subtlety to this world, hidden but undeniably present; Just because the design of the film doesn't inherently add to a central focus, doesn't mean it isn't interesting; "It certainly stirs up something strong with me, even though I'm not quite sure what it is"...

Why do I want to fight for this film? I think because this films fights so heavily for it's flaws, the humanity and visceral essence present in the ambiguity of life which we can't fully appreciate. It's there, I can feel it coursing through me!

As a side note, the credits for Clare Denis films seem to be a microcosm of the unwillingness to be in a discernible format - here we have the typical scrolling, but the credits don't always line up in neat columns, but flow unexpectedly left and right. In Beau Travail, they popped up randomly in a static frame, fitting neatly in their space which we could not really discern previously.

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Rondo (1966)

Rondo (1966)

Reviewed 18 January 2017

Interesting structure - a set of repeated Sundays where the lack of meaningful change increases the tenseness for a change... something of an allegory for lust and life as it stales without voluntary advancement. It was linked to the idea of a particularly sporting set of chess rules, where you can take back a move and "victories don't matter." But of course they do, and in reality you can't take a move back.

This, and elliptical classical music, where the beauty is supposed to rise out of it's controlled structure, but some disagree.

The acting was solid and the characters developed enough, but the pacing was a little broken... I suppose the point is a degree of repetition, but one shouldn't then be surprised if it comes across as repetitive.

I might have been more drawn in if I had a better copy and could focus on the details a bit more, because the lighting seemed interesting but the washed image hindered real detail focus.

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Tokyo Bordello (1987)

Tokyo Bordello (1987)

Reviewed 17 January 2017

I was quite impressed with this film for a few reasons:

  1. It is the first film I've seen where moderately explicit sex does not detract from the film, but actually works in its favor. It feels sensual instead of hammy.
  2. It's a sweeping (mini) epic - the pacing is steady... perhaps slightly gradual, but on point.
  3. It has a few varieties of love: conditional, self-serving, blind, temporary, fiery... but all are affecting and real. It also manages a romance which feels powerful and unique.
  4. None of the geishas feel stereotypical, and the film dodges easy genre traps. They blossom as characters: they become accustomed to their trade, learn how to act with customers, and generally grow more cynical.
  5. It looks at the procedural nature of the business, with regulations, gynecologists, mentorship, employer relations, prostitute class distinctions, etc.
  6. It has an unexpected (and quite welcome) grand finale.
  7. The music is excellent.

I was really surprised by how good of a film this is. Highly recommended.

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Jovita (1967)

Jovita (1967)

Reviewed 17 January 2017

Not quite noir - not cynical or dark enough, but there are interesting themes of aimlessness, irrational desire and dances of flirtation. Great environments and music too - unfortunately the film began a little to lose it own plot in aimlessness by the end. Still enjoyable though.

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Amores Perros (2000)

Amores Perros (2000)

Reviewed 16 January 2017

Excellent film, but I can't deal with dog tragedy - even if I know it's not real.

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The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Reviewed 11 January 2017

A highly solid adventure, though it doesn't quite catch the greatness of Huston's earlier work.

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Antigone (1992)

Antigone (1992)

Reviewed 8 January 2017

I couldn't get through that title, let alone this film.

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The Last Battle (1983)

The Last Battle (1983)

Reviewed 8 January 2017

People can't talk, sandy office towers, sex dolls, spears, music recorded on cassettes, easy listening, makeshift camps, midget pipe searchers, makeshift plane, Jean Reno "The Brute" and all manner of strange, wonderful, cheerful post apocalyptic touches.

Ranks with the best of the genre.

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Pool of London (1951)

Pool of London (1951)

Reviewed 7 January 2017

An intriguing, semi-noir, British crime film. It's interesting to see this kind of story from the angle of 50's London, with all the mannerisms of that time and place.

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Mandala (1981)

Mandala (1981)

Reviewed 7 January 2017

♪ It's tricky to be a buddhist all the time all the time all the time it's tricky.... it's tricky, tricky, tricky ♪

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The King's Speech (2010)

The King's Speech (2010)

Reviewed 6 January 2017

Wonderfully contained structure to this film - the resolution is ultimately already known to us, and thus it rests on the development to make the film. It doesn't disappoint - the characters are intricate, but relegated to the subject at hand, and the movie concerns itself mostly with what makes the principle nervous, and develops on it. It also uses this as a side entrance to make light of the political situations of the time in a way that is very personal and local, and thus quite affecting.

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