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162 reviews in total 
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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Hit the Road: India, an inspiring and vibrant travelogue, 23 December 2013

In our technologically advanced era there is an endless amount of methods for exploring a foreign land and it's often impossible to choose one that will best suit our needs. Given that nowadays even the seemingly most luxurious options tend to be somewhat affordable, people often choose those, which are the least tiring and the most pleasurable. Yet, there is still a small group of people willing to take up the challenge and begin a life-changing journey into the unknown. Although very short, that's an adequate summary of what happens in Hit the Road: India.

Directed by Armenian brothers Gor and Mushegh Baghdasaryan, Hit the Road: India closely follows two friends, Richard Gazarian and Keith King, as they travel across the country in a rickshaw, a means of transport that most would probably call old-fashioned and impractical. It's not an ordinary expedition, however. As a two-man team they've decided to participate in Mumbai Express, a 12-day-long rickshaw rally across India, along with 5 other adventure craving pairs. Although very enthusiastic at first, they gradually come to realize it's a race that demands not only lots of mental and physical strength, but also a great deal of determination and good will.

The documentary doesn't really focus on the race per se, but on the experiences that the two men have during their long trip. Days filled with enthusiasm and luck often intertwine with days marked by pain and signs of resignation, creating a very diverse travelogue of the most engaging kind. Mixed emotions only confirm that even though the decision to take part in the event might've been a bit foolish, it will surely have a greatly rewarding effect.

In the form of an audiovisual travel journal, the boys present their many escapades with the help of camera's attentive and inquisitive eye. Due to many wonderfully picturesque shots the journey is blessed with excitement, vigor, and that rare kind of beauty worthy of a true travel documentary. Complemented by an interesting, often emotional narration by the travelers, Hit the Road: India only proves that India is a country of great allure, but the further we go the more tiring such an unusual expedition might soon become.

Apart from its huge attention to eye-popping landscape shots, the camera offers a close insight into the everyday lives of Indians, who are often enormously fascinated and amused by the presence of white people. Scenes that were the most appealing to me, however, were the ones filmed by a camera hidden inside the tuk-tuk. Those short sequences have the ability to exhibit genuine feelings in a funny and surprising way.

Even though I'm perfectly aware that the directors' intentions wasn't to concentrate on the entire course of the rally, I would've loved to see what all the other participants felt about this challenging adventure. With supplementary, probably completely different perspectives on the whole thing, the film would've gained an additional driving force to give the story a more meaningful tone. It's a lot of fun to watch the guys in action, but there are a few slower moments that could otherwise be improved by an alternative point of view.

Hit the Road: India is not a remarkable documentary, but an inspiring one. What makes the film enticing is its lively and eventful depiction of the journey, meant to encourage the viewers to take a risk and experiment a bit during their own journeys. As I've mentioned earlier, there are really lots of exciting and original ways that will make an initially ordinary getaway unforgettable. So, instead of buying a plane or train ticket next time why don't you just hop on a motorbike and take a cross-country road trip somewhere in India or in any other place that still waits to be fully explored?

Original review here: and-vibrant-travelogue.html

Kill! (1968)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Kill! astounds with its blend of comedy and drama, 27 December 2012

With all its dark humor and cynical attitude towards samurai code of honor, Kill! comes as a truly unformulaic and genre-bending period drama. Written and directed by the famous Kihachi Okamoto, the film's loosely based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's widely read short story Peaceful Days (also the basis for Kurosawa's Sanjuro). Kill! (or Kiru in Japanese) combines a well-crafted, complex plot with audaciously choreographed fight scenes, some visually-stunning, long shots of Japanese landscapes, with a bunch of witty - and often farcical - dialogues.

The picture presents a story about two luckless, hungry would-be warriors, who find themselves in the middle of a ferocious battle between the opposing sides of a dangerous yakuza clan. Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a former samurai, who got tired of the difficult lifestyle of a wandering ronin. He wasn't able to find any other work, and just wound up in the deserted city, where he met Hanjiro (Etsushi Takahashi), an ex-farmer who wants to become a samurai, but didn't have a chance to prove his abilities yet. As soon as the two discover that the abandoned city is a battleground for a merciless group of samurai retainers, it's simply too late, and they get dragged into the whole deadly intrigue in just a matter of minutes. It becomes clear that one side of the conflict betrayed the other, and the resolution of the struggle might come only when one of the parties kills the other. In the cutthroat game of murder and betrayal, the two main characters take differing sides, and in order to achieve success they need to kill each other at first. Though Hanjiro's first assignment as an aspiring samurai is to dispose of Genta, he hesitates for a long time, as Genta proved to be a valuable source of information regarding the precious samurai life. As the tension mounts, and both groups become more and more irritated and bloodthirsty, Hanjiro and Genta decide to team up and outsmart everyone in their way, leading on to one of the most riveting and satisfying finales in a samurai picture ever filmed.

The problem with Kill! is that it's not as well-known around the world as it really should be. Moreover, it's simply an under-watched samurai epic, even though it actually shares - and makes fun of - all the far-reaching values of many prominent Kurosawa pictures. Here the portrayal of typical samurai warriors is a most parodical one, as Kill! shows so deliberately that there are those, who behave only badly and those, who behave only honorably, and there's nothing in-between. It's a game-changer of sorts when it comes to the topic of samurai, given its highly fanciful attempt at denuding all the hidden aspects of those seemingly convoluted personas.

The cinematography is as raw-looking as it is actually picture-perfect. It brings out all that's eye-popping about the beautiful, yet blood-filled, Japanese scenery.

Kill! also references various other samurai pictures, playing with the idea of a dramatic and serious samurai film, giving itself an utterly lighthearted tone. Kihachi Okamoto created a little, under-appreciated gem that's not only engaging, but also truly smart and concise.

Notable debut by the master of craft, 27 December 2012

Though the story presented in Sugata Sanshiro might not be the most appealing one, it's still a considerably enjoyable tale about the beginnings of Judo and its most prominent representative, the titular Sugata (played by Susumu Fujita, in a role that earned him a notable spot in the Japanese cinematic history). It's a simple and modest, but a truly elaborate and serious tale of one man's difficult journey to martial arts stardom. In order to find peace in life and achieve perfection in the craft that he's been practicing for some time, Sanshiro needs to come to terms with his own emotions and find a right path, which might eventually lead him to the desired golden mean.

Based on a best-selling novel, Sugata Sanshiro established the reputation of Kurosawa, and made him a prominent figure in the filmmaking business. Though it's far from being a genuine masterpiece, the film still shows the director's steady hand and is the admirable proof of his awe-inspiring versatility.

To become the master of martial arts is an uneasy task, and Sanshiro learns the lesson in the first minutes of the picture. Trying to join a clan of Jujitsu fanatics, he quickly realizes that they're just a bunch of up to no good coxcombs. Seeing how easily Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi), the originator and master of Judo, defeated the group, Sanshiro decides to become his student. To become a proficient Judo technician the young, strong-willed, yet somehow reckless Sugata must overcome many of his weaknesses and find out the meaning of a warrior's way, thus learning the true meaning of life. The student, struggling to accustom himself to the situation, is constantly tested by his master, in many more or less laborious ways. And when the time comes, Sanshiro is finally able to take part in tournaments, in order to prove his indisputable technique and unrestrained power. On his way Sanshiro meets a mysterious, elegant, devilish man by the name of Hagaki (Ryûnosuke Tsukigata), who's like a shadow that's been following Sugata everywhere that he goes. Ironically so, the man - with his familiar look and specifically evil attitude - comes as a typical dark character, taken straight out of a superhero movie. In the film's most climatic and disquieting sequence, the two rivals participate in a duel that will determine who's the strongest living martial artist.

For all the lovers of Japanese culture, and for all the adepts of Asian martial arts, Sugata Sanshiro will definitely be a worthy film experience. For the rest it might be an insightful, valuable, and well-crafted period drama that's not only full of perfectly choreographed action scenes, but also full of humane qualities that prove to have an authentic meaning even in the modern times.

Ben Affleck, win #1, 27 December 2012

Gone Baby Gone achieves a tremendously engaging level of suspense, and does it through the depiction of a perplexing story about a young private detective Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck in a superb role) , who - along with his partner and lover Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) - takes on a difficult case and tries to find a kidnapped girl. Ben Affleck, never really considered a leading man in the acting business, proved for the first time (and not for the last) that his directorial skills are top notch. His high aspirations make Gone Baby Gone a fresh and entertaining addition to the crime thriller genre. The film takes place in Boston, mostly in its underground world, and does a great job of portraying the twisted mechanism that governs the crime scene and all its members.

Enhanced by great supporting performances from Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman - who play the two shady yet plausible Boston area police officers - the cast astounds with an unusually realistic attention to details in the representations of regular working-class folks, who are trapped in an intrigue that's literally making them go insane after only a short period of time. In all its sensational, captivating glory, the story presented in Gone Baby Gone looks as though it's been taken straight out of a newspaper's front page, delivering many real-life moments of pure drama. Apart from depicting the step-by-step investigation, the film also aspires to be a considerable psychological piece, pondering how the mess surrounding the case rebounds on the personal and professional life of the main character. Patrick, giving all that he can in order to discover the truth, begins to doubt his sanity and becomes infuriated with his inability to cope with what's been happening around him.

As usual in this kind of movies the truth is hidden several layers deep, and in order to reveal the whole one has to go through a troubling amount of more or less acceptable evidence. Every new and unexpected fact found by Patrick adds up to the masterfully build suspense. Though unmistakably intense and utterly gripping, Gone Baby Gone offers one twist too many and changes its message for a less entertaining, yet still perfectly valuable one. In the world of corruption and hypocrisy nothing is certain, and Ben Affleck's debut feature is not only a taut and downright realistic thriller, it's also a hard-hitting exemplification of all the values that rule this shabby place.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Culturally conscious period drama, 27 December 2012

The film is not only based on an incident that happened in the 12th century, but also on the Noh play Ataka, and on the Kabuki play Kanjincho. Initially banned, the film was first released in 1952 and is the fourth film made by Akira Kurosawa. The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail focuses on the exemplification of true feudal values that ruled Japan starting in the Heian period. In order to understand the movie perfectly, one has to know what happened before the events depicted in the picture. Here's a brief presentation of the story: after winning a bloody Naval battle with the rival Heike clan, the triumphant lord Yoshitsune Minamoto returns to Kyoto in order to take command. However, his jealous and envious brother Shogun Yoritomo orders his men to arrest Yoshitsune and all his comrades. Due to a lucky circumstance, Yoshitsune and six of his loyal samurai retainers are able to escape. In order to be truly safe they need to travel through the country and find shelter in the home of an only friend, Idehira Fukiwara.

The movie starts when a group of monks traverses through a huge forest. Being accompanied by a silly yet truly helpful porter (Kenichi Enomoto), the group rests and decides to figure out a perfect plan. It's the first time the audience gets acquainted with all the characters, in order to realize that the monks are actually the lord (Hanshirô Iwai) and his samurai companions in disguise. They plan to march to the gate where the keepers await, and trick them into believing that they're actually a group of friendly monks gathering money to build a large temple in Kyoto. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers are already aware that a group of seven men is traveling through the country in such a disguise. With the help of the porter the men finally arrive and face the enemy, in what seems to be a tranquil, yet strangely intense, battle of nerves. Benkei (Denjirō Ōkōchi), a warrior monk, and Yoshitsune's most loyal friend, takes the stand and tries to persuade the watchful sentries of their faked mission. After a few moments of danger, just when the whole situation seems to be in shambles, Benkei once again shows his unmistakable intelligence and self-control. He proves that his skills and experience are masterful, leading to a successful ending to this dramatic story.

The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail is not Kurosawa's best, bust still a truly remarkable, detailed, and culturally conscious period drama, where the many ponderous Japanese virtues meet with an ostensibly stagnant atmosphere, all covered up in a package of truly minimalistic aspirations. Though short and not that interesting as many hope it would be, the film gives a fantastic glimpse at the rules that governed Japan in the 12th century, and presents a story, where wisdom and decisiveness are more valuable than bravery and prowess.

Scandal (1950)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
An early masterpiece, 26 December 2012

Being a perfectly consistent and downright expressive man, Akira Kurosawa knew how to approach every fresh topic, no matter how controversial. He had this innate ability that allowed him to transform, with unmistakable ease, each and every one of those topics into impressive and captivating motion pictures. Scandal (Shûbun) is his darkly satirical effort to unveil the gradual deterioration of the Japanese press industry. Through a somehow unsurprising and bitterly pretentious – yet informative and intense – drama Kurosawa attempted to criticize all the immoral actions of reporters in post-war Japan. For the sake of sensationalism, the private lives of not only celebrities, but even some of the lesser-known citizens, were suddenly deemed invaluable. It seemed as though to catch the attention of the readers is to forget about a human moral code. Writing a story, which might not even be true, was totally all right, and even hurting other people's feelings was on the agenda. Ironically so, all those wrongdoings remain unchanged up to this day in most places in the world.

Scandal proves to be a considerable visualization of a celebrity's worst nightmare. Coincidentally, a well-known beautiful singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) meets an aspiring painter Ichiro Aoye (Toshiro Mifune) while he's working on a new painting in the countryside. Moments later, Ichiro offers Miyako a lift on his bike, since they both stay at the same inn. Unfortunately, they are tracked down by a group of paparazzi looking for an exciting story to publish in their tabloid magazine Amour. One random picture and a cover story that insinuates an ongoing romance between the two artists change the pace of the film dramatically. In just a short period of time Ichiro and Miyako become the objects of interest of almost the whole nation (a silly exaggeration, though a efficacious one). To prove them all wrong, irritated Ichiro quickly decides to sue for damages, and in order to do so he hires a clumsy, welcoming, yet secretly perfidious lawyer Hiruta (Takashi Shimura). Though Hiruta convinces Ichiro that he shares his hatred towards the press and its shameful actions, he actually goes behind his client's back and decides to throw the trial, in order to get some money for his sick daughter Masako (Yoko Katsuragi). What's surprising is that even though Ichiro is aware of the position of his disloyal lawyer, he still believes that he will come to his senses and choose the right way. For the sake of sheer entertainment and for Kurosawa's own sense of fulfillment, Hiruta goes through an enlightening transformation and brings about the most satisfying twist in action.

Even though Mifune, with all his suave and charm, comes as the most prominent actor of the movie, it's really worth to mention Yoko Katsaguri's performance. Her character, though bound to bed through the whole movie, is the brightest star of the whole showcase. With her purity, kindness, and plausible sense of judgment she is the source of all-energy and immediately becomes, even in her fragile state, the guardian angel seeking a happy ending.

In the ever-changing media reality people are only looking out for themselves, and that is, in the subtlest sense, a cause of the gradual downfall of humanity as such. People tend to care about material things in the first place; they need to suppress their urges through the misfortune of others. And press – with all its power and attention – creates this deeply superficial world, as we now know it. Scandal, the title of this picture, corresponds not only to the sensations that surround the fictitious love affair, but also to the behavior (though unnecessarily biased) of all the characters connected to the newspaper industry.

The Town (2010)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Ben Affleck's directorial win, 18 December 2012

The Town is a deliberately old-fashioned, pulpy crime drama that serves its purpose as a romantic heist picture, where character-driven narrative intertwines with many action-packed sequences of utmost suspense. With this film Ben Affleck surely hit a second spectacular home run (right after Gone Baby Gone), assuring that his directorial career will be more rewarding than his acting one.

What's surprising is that the story depicted in The Town comes as a rather familiar and simple one, but the way it's presented and acted promises many splendidly entertaining and downright thrilling moments. Right within the first few minutes of the picture the tension mounts to unbearable levels, as a group of masked criminals robs a bank and takes one of the female workers as a hostage. The woman, Claire (Rebecca Hall), quickly becomes the object of interest of the mastermind behind the heist, Doug (Ben Affleck in his most promising role to date). Yet still unknown to her is the fact that Doug was actually the one, who commanded the operation and caused the whole mess. As the two begin their burning love affair, Doug - along with his three partners in crime - plan another dangerous robberies. His sudden affection towards the girl and gradual loss of readiness to go into action makes his partner anxious and relevantly angry. Jem (Jeremy Renner; the guy really had a good few years), his longtime friend and former jailbird is trying to convince him that money is worth more than a girl. Apart from the personal conflicts, Doug is followed closely by a FBI operative Frawley (Jon Hamm), who is eager to put the guys behind bars and stop the Charlestown criminal ring once and for all. Because, after all, it's a business of relationships, and what happens in the family stays in the family. Doug walks a thin line between freedom and imprisonment, and this one final action might be all that he needs to finally take the matters of his life into his own hands.

Being a smartly written and captivatingly shot (many great aerial shots of Boston) thriller, The Town brings about all that's best about the genre, without referring to any clichés per se. Through combining its modern, violent crime nature with an appealing 30's vibe, The Town advises the audiences to look closely into the substance of the film and react to a many of the intense and gritty sensations that cleverly fill the core of the film. Every actor has a room to maneuver, and - decidedly so - each and every one of them finds a way to be a considerable part of the whole picture.

Sideways (2004)
Great comedy from the master of existential angst, 18 December 2012

In Sideways - Alexander Payne's most bittersweet comedy to date - men on the verge of emotional breakdowns need to take a dangerous journey into the deepest parts of their minds, in order to challenge all the incoming problems, and - ultimately - accept their better feelings. To find solace and tranquility in life is an uneasy task, and the characters of the picture learn that harsh lesson very quickly, just as they traverse through the sunny, chic wine country of California.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) are two middle-aged buddies, who decided to spend a few days just roaming around various vineyards tasting wine and eating good food, just before the latter will take the trip down the aisle. Miles is both an unsuccessful, nerve- racking writer and a passionate wine lover. Even though he tries to enjoy his time, he still can't forget about the fact that his wife has left him a couple of months ago. Jack is a struggling actor, a former TV star, and a desperate playboy, who will jump at every opportunity just to get laid. His laid-back attitude and quirky humor make a local girl named Stephanie (sandy Oh) fall in love with him. While Jack is having a good time doing wild things with his new partner, Miles is striving to impress a pretty woman Maya (Virginia Madsen), who also happens to be a big wine amateur. Though Miles has nothing to show for himself as a person, he's able to make a girl interested just by saying all those ridiculously poetic stories about everything wine-y. He's miserable and anxious all the time, yet Maya seems to be the cure for all his troubles. In the meantime, the sex-filled relationship between Jack and Stephanie is brutally stopped because of the little marriage-related secret that's finally been revealed. Ironically, even the humiliation and beating don't stop Jack from trying another one of his cunning tricks on another unsuspecting lady. And who's going to help him when all his plans are in shambles? Of course no one other than the good ol' Miles.

In all the naturalism and humanism that permeate the film, Sideways proves to be a smart, wonderfully-written dark comedy that is not only humorous, but also tremendously realistic. The story might go both ways, and it does at some point, just to arrive at a conclusion that is as heartbreaking as it is actually pleasing. The boys come back from the trip changed, they think differently, and the aspirations that they now have are incomparable. Sideways - with all its charm and subtle pretentiousness - shows that Alexander Payne knows how to create a madly good film with a splendid character-driven narrative, where existential angst is only a man's world.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Geeks unite, 18 December 2012

I'm not an avid comic book fan, but I really enjoyed this cheerful, passionate geek-doc. It's really not as much about Comic-Con in itself, as it is about the people that travel there from different parts of the world in order to follow their lifelong hopes and dreams of distinguishing themselves in this ever-changing, tremendously cool industry.

By juxtaposing the interviews with some awesome, well-known people, with the adventures of a few Comic-Con regulars Morgan Spurlock achieved a subtle level of tenderness and showed a much different side of this enormous, spectacular fan gathering. The subheading (A Fan's Hope) reveals the whole truth about this picture, as the movie truly corresponds to the adventures of five attendees, who think of Comic-Con as a place of ultimate fulfillment. Comic-Con is a cultural phenomenon that's able to bring together not only all the true geeks and cos-players, but also many people, who aren't actually interested in comic books, yet they still want to take part in this splendid event. The truth is that this is the only place in the whole world where all of those people can really feel at home.

Apart from showing the passion and energy that permeate the place, this documentary also ponders a very difficult topic, namely the gradual demise of the cult fan-base, due to the overpowering force of corporate impact on the industry. While comic books will be made and fans will still read them, Comic-Con is slowly changing into a sort of business conference, where money is mentioned more times than any superhero or villain. That's a thought that the creators of the movie leave the audiences with.

Straw Dogs (1971)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Gritty and challenging, 17 December 2012

Home Watching Straw Dogs proves to be a haunting experience, one where brutal and graphic scenes of violence shock as much as the psychological tension and emotional imbalance presented by all the recurring characters. In a seemingly peaceful village in England horrible incidents occur one after another, and the thin line between good and evil becomes blurry, as the transitions that the characters go through change the way the audiences perceive the whole unnerving intrigue.

David Summer (Dustin Hoffman's most sinister role), an American mathematician, moves to the isolated town of Cornish along with his gorgeous, young wife Amy. Shortly after their arrival, all the citizens begin to show their dark natures, harassing and assaulting the two newcomers. In the film's most climatic and disturbing sequence, David decides to fight back against the oppression, and realizes that the only way to fight violence is to do it with even more violence. In a most suggestive manner,

Straw Dogs plays with the viewer's imagination, fiercely suggesting that David might actually be the antihero of the movie, and the source of all-evil in himself. His strangely unemotional attitude towards all the horrifying occurrences and – even more – towards the tragedy of his wife ironically makes him the antagonist of the film, and sort of a brutal animal that won't stop till he does too much damage.

The film became famous for its controversial rape scene, which is by far one of the most unsettling scenes of sexual harassment ever filmed. The bestiality and mockery that permeate the film almost all the time makes Straw Dog an emphatic affair where physical bloodbath must give way to deeply psychological struggles between the id and all its counterparts. Sam Peckinpah created a truly gory and forcible tale about bullying, in which man's worst nightmares suddenly turn into the realizations of his most ferocious ideas and dreams.

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