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I was delighted to see the release of that genuine rarity - an Irish
action/war film. And that its based on one of the great untold (or at
least undersold) stories of valour makes it all the more intriguing.
And its wonderful to see the 'Jadotville Jacks' finally having their
I'm slightly reluctant to report that the film itself is something of a mixed bag. Its a particularly difficult story to tell because so many of the events are mired in historical controversy. Even a Graham Greene or John Le Carre would struggle to make sense of the conflicting real life plots of that period. Ultimately, nobody really knows why it was thought to make sense to isolate the soldiers in Jadotville and then fail so miserably to support them, or for that matter why the Katangans were so determined to dislodge them. We only know that the soldiers were victims of geopolitical plotting far from the battlefield. The films tortuous script tries hard to illuminate the multiple double dealings going on in the background, but ultimately this becomes tiresome and excessively literal.
The film tries very hard to be both a historical record, reasonably faithful to the events, and also a kick ass action film. Thats a very hard trick to pull off, and it doesn't quite manage it. Primarily, I think the problem is an excessively literal script - full of little walk in parts from historical figures making portentous and suitably ambiguous statements, with some clunky domestic scenes that try to illuminate the men behind the soldiers stranded in the town. Some of the dialogue is frankly a little painful. Thankfully, this is balanced by genuinely superb action scenes and a great narrative pace. I couldn't help thinking that this is a film that could have done with two different directors - the actual director who shows great talent and skill filming in Jadotville, and another who could handle the other parts of the film with a bit more subtlety and empathy.
It is a pity that it seems the film will not have a wide cinema release, because it deserves to be seen in the cinema. Certainly the audience in the cinema where I watched it were very enthusiastic about it (not least the ladies behind me who regularly expressed their appreciation of Jamie Doran quite loudly). But with luck it will be widely seen on Netflix.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I caught this film at the recent Japanese Film Festival in Dublin -
although not intentional, it is in many ways very similar to the last
Asian film I've seen at a festival - the Korean film 'A Girl at My
door' (Dohee-ya) - both films following the lives of somewhat wounded
people stranded in small, fading rural towns, both films by young
female directors, and both with a somewhat arbitrary sprinkling of
sexual dysfunction to add a bit of perversity to otherwise
The film first focuses on Tatsuo, who seems to be drifting randomly through life, uninterested in anything but Pachinko and drinking. We learn quickly he seems to be suffering some form of PTMS after witnessing a friend dying in an accident at the quarry he works. He is drawn reluctantly into the life of somewhat dim-witted but cheerful and extrovert Tajuki, who lives in poverty with his mother, stroke crippled father, and sister, Chinatsu. Inevitably, Chinatsu and Tatsuo exchange meaningful glances, but seem unable to convert this attraction into actual conversation.
Chinatsu, it emerges, is a part time prostitute and occasional lover of a local corrupt businessman, and if not quite as traumatized as Tatsuo, seems beaten down by life and seems to have largely given up hope of a life for herself. She immediately dumps her businessman lover as she senses something about Tatsuo that gives her some hope.
The film is largely a character study of these broken characters, focusing on their lives. The story does stray into somewhat more perverse territory in what seems an unnecessary attempt to make it stand out - I don't think a subplot about the stricken fathers sexual priapism adds much to the film. After what seems a conventional happy ending, the film then gears up into more melodramatic territory, with a suitably ambiguous (and beautifully shot) ending.
At times I thought the film lacked the courage of its own convictions, relying on shock tactics rather than having faith in the integrity of the characters and how much the viewer cares about them. The three leads are very good and attractive, and quite believable characters. Some of the lesser parts though are not so well acted or written. I did find it gripping, and quite moving at the end - definitely a promising step up for the film makers - I'll certainly be looking out for her next film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just caught this film at the Dublin Film Festival. I always make a
point of seeing any Korean film coming up - I love the way Korean film
makers simply defy any notion of genre, they seem to delight in
This film didn't disappoint. At first, it follows the old plot line of a disgraced police officer, forced out to a dead end town to repair his (or in this case her) reputation. In this case, Young-Nam, a promising officer has been sent to an economically dying coastal town to keep her head down after an apparent scandal as she was outed as having a relationship with another woman. The film heads towards melodrama territory as she reluctantly starts to take care of an abused local girl, the daughter of a man seen by the other officers as too important to the town to take too hard a line with - they are content to hand out endless warnings without actually doing anything to stop him. Young-Nam is clearly unwilling to get too close to the girl, but finds it impossible not to offer her a safe refuge. From here, the film twists unexpectedly into some dark and weird territory as rather predictably, her good deed comes back to haunt her. The film does go into places where most films won't thread, in particular that difficult issue of the innocence or otherwise of abused children. But it is handled very sensitively, without shying away from hard questions.
The film is not perfect - the performances are a little uneven (it looks like many of the minor characters are played by amateurs). Doona Bae is of course the big name in the cast, and she is, as always, a charismatic and powerful presence. She is one of those rare actors who can hold the screen even when showing little outward emotion. In truth, although she is entirely central to the film, the character is not as fleshed out as much as I think she should be - more the scripts fault than the actors I think. She is clearly a deeply unhappy woman, but its not obvious why she rejects the possibility of a happier life with her former lover. There are also some issues with pacing of the film, it seems a little uncertain at times, perhaps not surprising as the director is a first timer (but I have to say, she shows great promise). The film rolls on to a surprisingly (for a Korean film) conventional ending, but there are enough twists and ambiguity to make it quite a satisfying finish.
This is the first film from Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, the launch pad for
a series of superb films which introduced many in the West to modern
Chinese cinema. It is the story of a young woman who marries a dying
man and then inherits his winery (actually a distillery) famed for its
Baiju (red sorghum spirit).
The story is simple, with little dialogue, helped along by a near continuous voice-over of a storyteller. Normally this would be an intrusive device, but somehow it works for such a visual film which aspires to an almost epic scale. I can't help thinking Zhang may have been influenced by Terrence Malick films like Badlands and Days of Heaven. But it is certainly an original and striking debut, if not quite as good as his later masterpieces, Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern. Of course, what all three of those films share is a near obsession with primary colours, but for visual effect and symbolism.
Gong Li of course is charismatic and luminous, it can never have been a doubt from this film onward that she would be a star. But the real star here is the lush, erotic photography. It is a bit of a pity that the final third of the film loses its focus somewhat and becomes a more conventional melodrama. But that is forgivable for a film made in the circumstances. It still holds up very much as a film worth watching.
A run down school, a seemingly random group of people conducting
awkward interviews with new arrivals seems an odd way to look at the
afterlife, but Kore-eda has created something really special with this
film. He somehow makes an enormously unlikely scenario for purgatory -
where the dead are asked to select the memory they wish to hold onto
forever, and (most unlikely!), this is recreated by a ramshackle low
budget film crew, and turns it into something profound and beautiful.
The film is a truly remarkable ensemble effort - there are no real stars in this film (despite a beautiful minor part from that truly great actress, Kyoko Kagawa), even the most minor characters (including an adorable old lady in the throes of a mercifully pleasant dementia) are given their own time and space and are depicted wonderfully. Dull looking salarimen who struggle to find memories that are worth keeping are shown to have lives of real depth and quality. A schoolgirl is dissuaded from a clichéd remembrance of a nice day in Disneyland, and instead remembers a beautiful moment with her mother. A mouthy, sex obsessed older man is shown to be boastful simply as a way of hiding the real love he has for his daughter.
The film is obviously open to all sorts of interpretations, but for what its worth it seems to me to be about the importance of those small moments of joy, of grace, that make life worth living. Interestingly, he implies that those moments don't necessarily have to have really happened - it is the memory that is important, not the reality. Just one moment of ecstasy is maybe just enough for a life worth living.
The film sounds quirky and slow, and it is paced at the speed of life - slow, but all too fast at the end. But it is never less than engrossing and in the end, beautiful and moving. Kore- edas films are not disposable entertainment, they are real art of the type that will stay with you forever if you allow them to wash over you. Try it, you won't regret it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A semi-fictionalized adaption of a true incident where a single mother
abandons four children to live by themselves seems the material of
exploitation or empty moralizing. But Kore-eda proves himself one of
the finest film makers in the world today with this straight up
masterpiece - a gorgeous, searingly intelligent, beautifully made film.
One of the great strengths of this film is that he never takes the easy way out and judges the adults or tries to score easy points about an atomized, uncaring society. The mother is portrayed as child like herself, narcissistic, but more deluded than evil, she somehow convinces herself that her 12 year old son is capable of looking after the family. The adults are just regular people, going about their lives without feeling the need to ask awkward questions about the dirty looking children who turn up sometimes at playgrounds or wander around parks. The only people who suspect these children are abandoned are teenagers working in local shops, who are cowed into not taking the initiative, instead just offering little acts of kindness to the kids, accepting at face value the lies given to them.
This is perhaps the most successful film ever made which gives a genuine child's eyed view of the world. The acting by the child actors is simply astonishing - completely naturalistic. The way in which these fundamentally nice kids try their best to deal with the situation they are landed in, but which inevitably falls apart is deeply moving and entirely convincing.
The film is long, but is entirely engrossing, and enlightened with moments of real beauty and grace. The scene where the older boy and a lonely girl he meets bring his dead sister to the airport, where he always said he would show here the airplanes landing is quite stunning. To avoid sentimentality or exploitation in scenes like this requires a film maker with deep humanity, as well as immense technical skill.
The film is not the easiest of viewing, but after seeing this film, you will never forget it. Absolutely essential.
I was looking forward to this film as I know Chengdu quite well and the
topic of the rapid changes in China society interests me a great deal.
I was less than impressed with the only other film by Zhang Ke Xia I'd
seen (The World), which seemed to me to be a clunking metaphor in
search of a script, but I thought it still sounded promising. How wrong
I was - I find myself mystified by the praise this film has been given.
It starts out so well, with some beautiful and moving interviews with retired workers from the factory, now moving out from Chengdu to an industrial estate to the suburbs (but we suspect of course that this is a fiction, the factory really is no more and the workers are disposable). The insight into what these workers thought of their jobs (they were highly prized) and the genuine pride they felt in their factory is moving and fascinating. But for whatever reason, the film then moves to using painfully obvious actors to read scripted lines. The actors are quite awful, using the pauses for effect and blank stares into the middle distance of amateur dramatic society volunteers. And they quite obviously people who've never been in a foundry in their lives (neither i suspect had the film makers, as the working foundry scenes were patently set up). I can't help see this as an obvious insult to the real workers, who presumably were not considered good looking or articulate enough to be in the film. The scripted stories they tell are so obvious and fake in comparison to the more sober recollections than the real people, its hard not to feel they were written for effect, not to create a real remembrance or to provide some sort of deeper truth (which is usually the excuse of film makers trying to justify short cuts and showy technique). I can only wonder what those people who were interviewed and poured their hearts out would think to see tiny scraps of their personal stories told by some patently bored flown in actors.
The rest of the film is pretty much standard documentary work, with little real feel or imagination in its telling. The photography fails miserably to convey the genuine grandeur of those old industrial buildings and makes no attempt to tell us what the new 24city will look like, apart from a brief moment showing us the model for the new complex. No attempt whatever is made to tell us a bit more about the mechanics of what is actually happening or how the former workers will be treated. The juxtaposition of hardy old industrial workers and the somewhat vapid younger generation is rather obvious and clichéd, it doesn't actually tell the viewer anything new or interesting.
I can't help thinking that this film would never have gotten its release if it had been made by a less exalted film maker. I strongly suspect that for whatever reason (pressure by the government?), the original film was altered significantly, forcing the use of actors and its lack of any concrete reference to the present or future for these people. If this is the case, then it should have been scrapped, not presented as the farrago it is.
This is one of the earliest Ozu films widely available, and the
Criterion version is outstanding in quality.
Its a perfect example of Ozu at his best. Its a gem of a film - beautifully shot, a perfect structure, funny, sad and fascinating. The story is simple enough - a traveling troupe arrive at a town, not realizing the reason the chief actor picked the town is because an old flame of his lives here with his son. His current girlfriend in her jealousy tries to stir things up, but things don't turn out as either expect.
What is most striking about the film is just how modern it seems. The characters are believable and funny, the female characters are strong and willful, while even the minor characters are nicely sketched out. The acting is nothing short of brilliant, which makes the whole film very entertaining - this is no period piece of academic interest only, its a great work of art and a wonderful film - a masterpiece really.
I missed this film when in the cinema, but managed to track it down on
DVD. I am so glad I did - it is a superb film, fully deserving of the
rave reviews it got originally.
It features a stunning central performance by Hya-Ja Kim as a woman whose mildly retarded son is accused of the murder of a schoolgirl. She is by turns dotty, confused, but utterly determined to do whatever is needed to save him. But this film never follows genre conventions - director and writer Bong Joon-Ho delights in upsetting all our expectations, giving us knockabout comedy when we expect action, horror when we expect plot, and heartbreak when we expect a satisfying solution to a mystery. It is brilliantly directed and editing, with a great soundtrack (even the sound editing is wonderful). Its an impossible film to really describe, you really need to see it to fully understand just how great Korean film making can be.
It never ceases to amaze me how Korean film makers seem capable of
balancing so much in their films - so many of the best films from Korea
seem to defy any genre categorizations. They are often funny when you
expect them to be horrifying, thrilling when you expect them to be
ethereal, and have a way of turning all audience expectations upside
Poetry is one of the very best Korean films of the last few years. I saw it last week, and still can't get that wonderful old lady out of my head. It is, very briefly, about a proud but desperately poor woman in her mid-60's, who looks after her taciturn teenage grandson, who finds out that he may have been involved in the rape of a girl who later commits suicide. Simultaneously, she is diagnosed with early Alzheimers disease. She is also trying to find an artistic outlet, to make some mark on the world before she loses her grip. All these elements come together in a way with is somethings horrifying, sometimes fascinating, and ultimately very beautiful.
This film is a flat out masterpiece and demands to be seen.
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