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33 reviews in total 
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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
In The Heat Of Tradition, 6 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There is something Shakespearian about Kurosawa. He deals with huge themes, and is willing and able to deal with multiple themes and work on many levels. A strong and evocative story-line with fascinating central characters is his starting point, and he directs with compassion, imagination and the eye of an artist. Many of the frames are filled with beautifully balanced shots that are rarely seen outside of the work of a handful of great directors. He is not afraid to shoot actors from behind or from awkward but revealing angles. This is one of the most gripping and satisfying Kurosawa films I have seen. The image of the sacrifice of the foundry and the theme of destruction by atomic war brings to mind Tarkovski's The Sacrifice. Indeed, with so much drenching rain in some scenes, and with Tarkovski's known admiration for Kurosawa, it is quite possible that this film did have some influence.

The story is about an extended family who are charging their father with insanity as he is determined to sell up the family business and move to Brasil because of his fear of atomic radiation engulfing Japan. Atomic radiation was a major cause for concern in post-war Japan, and there were many books and newspaper articles at the time explaining that the Earth's wind currents would bring radiation from atom bomb tests and from atomic war to Japan. This fear was the impetus for such monster films as Godzilla. However, Kurosawa is also using the radiation as a symbol for modern development - the changes that are taking place to the traditional Japanese ways, mainly from the mysterious modern world beyond Japan's shores.

The film opens not with the family, but with a dentist who is to be one of the judges who will decide on the old man's sanity. It is notable that the dentist works in bright, clean, modern surroundings with modern equipment, while the old father owns an old, dirty, dark, dangerous foundry where the workers have to be warned to take care of the fires or the place will be engulfed. We first encounter the family as they squabble outside the informal family court room where the case will be heard. The heat, anger and irritation are made very clear - there are sweat stains and angry swishing of fans throughout this and many of the other early scenes. It was at this point that I knew that I was going to enjoy this film a lot. There are many films that within the first ten minutes you know if the director is confident and in charge, and is ready to take risks. There is no doubt at this point that the placing of the actors, the camera angles and even the actors' gestures has been controlled by the director and that everything is working smoothly and effortlessly in the right direction. Even though the story is about the father and his family, we are kept in contact with the dentist throughout the film, even when the court case is over. And it is he we see in the final scene walking down the slope of the hospital as the father's youngest daughter walks up.

This is a film about a family. This is a film about moral values in a changing world. This is a film about the fear of modern society. This is a film about a Japanese society coming to terms with itself and its relationship with the outside world in the aftermath of the Second World War. This is a film about living in fear. This is an awesome film. I understand that this is the film that Kurosawa himself was most proud of. And I can certainly see why.

Crash (2004/I)
13 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Hard To Swallow, 8 November 2005

It's good emotional stuff at the time, but the very real weaknesses nag at you as soon as the film ends. It's a real fader. After a month you've forgotten all about it.

Once there's some distance from the emotion, I have to say that it sucks. Issues are isolated and blown out of proportion just to give an immediate emotional intensity. There is a lack of reality, intelligence, craft and creativity about the whole thing. And I found the racist, sex abusing cop's back story of being a dutiful son and then being a dramatic hero somewhat hard to swallow - after the event. Yeah, sure, at the time it felt like there was some significance there, but on reflection you see that it was just a dramatic scene in a Hollywood movie. And any suggestion that even a racist can also be nice to his mom is not worth making, except by racists to excuse and justify racist behaviour.

The confusions you feel at the time are the result of some blunt emotional exploitation by the movie makers. It's like a series of big expensive, well made adverts strung together, some saying vote conservative and some saying vote liberal. At the time the adverts seem to be saying something. But by the next day real issues and real life take over and you return to reality.

The Train (1964)
12 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
A Breathing, Living Train - A Masterpiece In Any Genre, 1 November 2005

Sometimes people comment that The Train is one of the greatest War Films ever made, or one of the greatest Train Films ever made, as though by itself The Train isn't that good, but as part of a lesser group it stands out - like a big fish in a small pond. Yet, for me, this is not just one of the finest movies, but is also one of the finest works of art in existence. As a War Film, though, it is actually quite weak, as The Train is not concerned with war. The final days of World War Two are the setting for the film and the impetus for the plot, but the battle that takes place is not about the dominance of armies, the brutality of soldiers or the heroism of combat. This is a struggle about the nature of Art - or even: Nature V. Art. Does Art represent the living spirit: the achievement of Nature, as embodied in the very physical machinery of the train engines - machines built for a function, yet breathing, spitting, gloriously living works of art. Or does Art represent higher ideals: cold, calculating, observing - dismissive of all lower concerns, including human life. The anonymous, distant authorities in London, and the cold, calculating German officer, Col. von Waldheim, who use and abuse the lives of the French in order to keep control of the Art seem to desire something different to the French resistance who are prepared to struggle, suffer and sacrifice their lives for an ideal which sums up a "vision of life, born out of France ... our pride, what we create." A very breathing, spitting, gloriously living vision of Art. The doubting, questioning, very real and human Frenchman Labiche may not get excited to stand near the crates of Art, but he shows a much deeper understanding of the beauty of human nature in his very existence. He is in himself a work of art - a human who defies, who is prepared to stand up and defend his fellow man to the very end. Admirable, worthy - displaying all the qualities we admire in humans - resourcefulness, compassion, resilience, adaptability, true grit and determination. Even the cold Col. von Waldheim recognises the art in Labiche and wants him to be part of the package he is taking to Germany. Shot in gritty, living black and white with a stunning depth of texture, and backed with a soundtrack drenched in the animalistic breath of the huge trains, this is a compelling drama. The action scenes are as emotionally stunning as the human cameos are quietly moving. Yes there are flaws - such as: apart from Waldheim, the German characters are mere cyphers on which to hang the film; they have no character or motivation. But these are quibbles. This is a huge film, painted on a huge canvas - beautiful to look at, to listen to, and to be drawn into. A masterpiece in any genre.

Ali (2001)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Editd By The Tea Lady, 25 September 2005

Oliver Stone style documentary drama with good (earnest even) intentions but lacking the right touches to make this film really fly. The fight scenes are excellent documents of what happened in the ring; and, even though (or more probably because) they are safe and clean, they hold an emotional charge which makes them compelling to watch, especially the Rumble In The Jungle fight which climaxes the film. The music choices are excellent in capturing the essence of the period covered, the black soul, the political happenings, Ali's friendships, and underscoring the events on screen. The fight scenes and the music production are the best parts of an otherwise dull, confused, boring and weary film which brought this viewer no closer to an understanding of Ali. The editing for the TV version I watched must have been done by the tea lady because there were many confusions and oddities. Either that or the editor assumed the audience would already know so much about Ali's life and the political and cultural events of the time that it would be just too silly to give people basic information, such as Ali losing his come-back fight. There is much interesting material in Ali's life that would a great film - this is not that film.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Wears Its Satire On Its White Sleeve, 25 February 2005

In the late 40's early 50's the Ealing studio released a series of dry, dark comedies that affectionately poked fun at many aspects of British life. Man In The White Suit was one of those films. Directed by the man who steered Whiskey Galore to success; staring Alex Guinness and Joan Greenwood who both had made an impression in previous Ealing Comedies; and using as its theme the contemporary concerns of progress, capitalism and the unions, this one was sure to impress. Indeed, for its light charm, many still regard this as a great film.

It's cute enough, and everyone goes through their paces with practised ease. The directorial touch is confident without being in any way stylish or interesting. It works. It's not a film that contains anything meaningful, impressive, interesting, moving or exciting, but it moves along and is rarely dull. It may wear its satire on its sleeve, and one complaint may be that the themes are pushed a little too heavily, but it entertains in a light and charming way.

Guinness is here at his most Hugh Grant popular. Not giving us a performance to admire, but certainly being boyishly cute.

This is a film that is neither good nor bad, but is that most fine thing for a wet Tuesday afternoon, a decently average movie.

17 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
Great Finger Work Poor Homage, 24 February 2005

I am fascinated by the vampire legend. It is a rich vein for artists to draw upon. The first vampire film, and quite possibly the best, is Murnau's Nosferatu. Bram Stoker's Dracula is laid before us in all but name. But the stunning visual imagery of Murnau's Expressionist film has not been taken up by other film-makers doing their versions of the Count. Except here. Herzog is clearly doing a re-make of Murnau's film rather than another vampire/Dracula interpretation.

As such Herzog concentrates on the visual. Dialogue is reduced - simple lines that would look good on a silent film dialogue card. Mood and atmosphere and pace are the key elements he is exploring. The effect is much like a minor classical piece of music or a Dutch landscape painting. There is much to admire but little to excite - and flaws are obvious.

Some scenes are stunning - the ship docking by itself with the dead captain tied to the wheel; Lucy's view through the mirror of the shadow of the count arriving in her bedroom; lines of coffins moving slowly through the streets of Wismar. Yet, despite these moments of visual splendor, and an interesting performance of the fingers by Kinski, this film does invite comparison with the original and fails badly.

5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Hitchcock Vanishes, 22 February 2005

One of the last films Hitchcock made before going to America, he was clearly already comfortable with making comedy thrillers involving an attractive male and female partnership.

Nicely made and nicely judged though it is, The Lady Vanishes adds nothing much to the format that Hitchcock established with his ground-breaking and very modern 39 Steps from three years earlier. Indeed, there is much missing. The sexual tension, the energy, the driving wit, the sheer verve, the breathless pacing, the joy and arrogance of that earlier film are lacking here. It seems, at times, that Hitchcock is merely going through the paces. The greatest moments in The Lady Vanishes either involve Naughton Wayne and Basil Radford as the English caricatures Caldicott and Charters, or any of the minor supporting characters: the hotel manager, or the other passengers in the train carriage.

This is a watchable and entertaining film, but if you are looking for an early Hitchcock classic then turn your attention to the much finer 39 Steps.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Tinned Corn, 21 February 2005

Julien Temple struggles to make decent movies. After the appalling Absolute Beginners, a film that - despite all the promise and potential of a great novel and a decent cast and a soundtrack by Bowie - falls short of the target by miles, Temple manages to barge around with an admirable lack of skill here in this cardboard cutout piece of cheap music hall. Nothing works. The film is slow and stiff with long embarrassing moments of nothing. In desperation a bored viewer may grasp at the flimsiest piece of stale slapstick to let out a yawning chuckle, but mainly the film can only be enjoyed by those who find turkeys amusing.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Despair and Desperation in Las Vegas, 13 February 2005

The premise for Leaving Las Vegas is very promising - an observation without direct moral comment of despair and desperation in Las Vegas. A deliberate, destructive drunk, and a prostitute with low self-esteem looking for love from any man she feels she deserves - a violent brute or a clumsy drunk, meet and form an uneasy but tender relationship. It's a story without direction or hope or consummation. It is a small, sad tone poem about people who cannot cope. But with all that premise, with all the mood enhancing jazz, and the seedy, empty, soulless backdrop of Las Vegas, nothing truly happens for the viewer. There is no story. There is no drama. There is no understanding. Yes we recognise these people, and yes there is an honesty and a truth about Elisabeth Shue's performance that is impressive. But scratch the surface and there is nothing there. Maybe that is what we should take away from the movie, the emptiness of the whole thing, but I would have liked a little more. However convincing Cage is as a lost puppy drunk, I was expecting a performance with a little more depth and meaning after all the awards he collected.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Boring, 11 February 2005

A tiresome Walt Disney kiddies movie with appalling dialogue and a Bodger Award for the most dreadful performance by a leading actor in a major movie of all time. Everyone just woodenly and stiffly and badly moves through this movie repeating their dreadful lines with a lack of enthusiasm. Some embarrassment is evident. The storyline is pathetic and boring and dull. The initial action is limp and dull. In fact dull is the key word. Dull and boring and bad and wooden. And how on earth did this ever get filmed. Surely it can't be that hard to make an exciting, interesting and worthy pirate movie in such pleasant locations? The movie does pick up toward the end with some decent fight scenes, and a bit of swashbuckling, but it's too little too late.

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