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101 reviews in total 
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Human (2015/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Intense and inspiring look at our earth from above and inside fellow human hearts, 14 June 2016

A whopping 190 minutes of intense interviews and hypnotic aerial scenes. Do not go if you are tired. But excellent: makes you wonder what it means to be human.

The film consists two main parts intercepting each other. One part is aerial videos of HD vivid colored, slow motioned, hypnotic yet mesmerizing nature scenes, packed human or city landscapes. Almost like a moving national geographic picture, it is dynamic and full of wonder as the camera closes in or zooms out or pan around to show you more story. Some of the impressive scenes include surfing in the sky with schools of birds which watching them changing leaders and maintaining their formation, or Arabian/Egyptians treading in the vast dessert with camels. Some packed human scenes included a crammed pool of Chinese swimmers, or some Africans with bags trekking behind a bulldozer like zombies on a landfill, looking for leftover treasures in a sea of garbage, or a group of Mongolian teenagers galloping on the grassland. These awesome scenes are accompanied by calm cello or tribal like folk songs, making you slow down and ponder what kind of life we are living on this planet.

These wide shots are interlaced with closed ups of people around the world, talking candidly about their experiences, their fear, love, shame, anger, plead, happiness and gratefulness. Some cited examples and talk about injustice and their beliefs. I wonder how the producers got the people open up to their inner selves and talk about their deepest secrets: many of them burst into tears or choke up when they talk about something/someone dear to them. These people (more than 2000 of them) come from a wide range of background/race (60 countries), speaking all kinds of languages on a great variety of topics yet all of them are related to what it means to be a human being. Some were in prison, others in poverty, a number are gay or lesbian, some experienced war/genocide and witnessed/experienced terrible things done to them or their families. But there are also people who are thankful and pleased despite all the adversity or their mundane life. While some question the materialistic civilization and how we treat nature, all are honest and inspiring though a little intense.

Therefore, it is great how the aerial videos space these interviews out and sort of take us away from the harsh reality and look at our life on this planet from a different perspective. Because when you step back and look at the bigger picture, perhaps everything makes sense and all of us have a mission to contribute to the history of humankind.

I did not know the movie is available on YouTube – in three sections. The HD aerial shots are probably best watched on the big screen, although in the YouTube version, you can turn on the closed caption and see in which country the scenes are filmed and where the interviewees are from. But then, you may think where they come from affect their views and lose the essence or common thread of "humanness". Nonetheless, highly recommended.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Mountains may depart but the roots remain unchanged, 1 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I like it more than I expected. Spanning over 25 years, it showed how personal relationships changed in China amid the exponential growth in economic development. We only see the snapshots of 1992, 2014 and 2025 and had to deduce what happened in between. Many changes take place over the years but something remain unchanged – Tao, the female protagonist, is upbeat, hardworking, and does not forget her roots no matter how bad the circumstance turns out. She is like a pillar against all the changes around her. Her dumplings, her love for her son, and her love for dogs did not change. She treasures keys. She even remembers the dance steps she learnt 25 years ago.

According to Confucius teaching dated back more than 2000 years ago, a woman needs three obedience (三從): obey her father before marriage, obey her husband after marriage and obey her son after her husband is dead. Interestingly this movie mentioned these three important men in a women's life. However, the values are no longer valid with the feminist movement and the rapid changes in economic development and migration.

In the case of our protagonist, Tao has a close relationship with her father before her marriage but she seems to have chosen someone her father does not approve. More than a decade later, Tao emerges into a mature business woman who is divorced. When her father dies she has no husband to obey but instead summoned her 7- year-old son to attend his grandfather's funeral. In the third part of the movie, we are not even sure mother and son ever reunite across two continents. And her son seems to be as lost as his father once was.

Lovers, father, husband and son all left but Tao goes on with life, with the same smile, wrapping the same dumplings she had made for her loved ones. She has no one to answer to but only herself to depend on in new China and she seems fine.

On the contrary, the male characters seems to be at a loss in one way or the other. In 1999, Tao's lover Liangzi left his hometown with a broken heart after Tao chose the wealthier Junsheng. He only returned to his roots after his life dwindled and health deteriorated. Perhaps if he and Tao has been together he would not have had to leave, then he would not have been sick. He always had that sad face and it is painful to see him struggle with life. But Liang is fortunate to have a nice wife who asks Tao for financial help. We do not see Tao regretting her choice even though she has kept his keys all along and passes it back to him. She even keeps the wedding invitation she sent him but he left in the house 15 year ago. Perhaps to her, that was all part of her history.

Jinsheng is the one who changes the most throughout the years. In the beginning he wins Tao over with his wealth and material comfort. The aggressive high achiever even cuts off his friendship with Liangzi, in competition for Tao. He is so into wealth that he names his son Dollar. A decade and a half later, Jinsheng and Tao have been divorced and he works in risk management in Shanghai and sends their son to an international school. Again, he thinks money can do everything and provides material comfort to his 7-year-old son. Another decade later, in Australia, Jinsheng is a lonely old man who does not speak English and feels alienated in a strange land. He is even lonelier than before because he finally has freedom but he does not know what to do with it. He has escaped from his enemy so there is no one to chase or fight against. His freedom ironically forms an invisible jail that traps him in his huge mansion facing the beach. All his life he has been chasing for money; now he only has money: but no wife, no lover, no son, no life skills, no happiness or fulfillment. He cannot communicate with his son. From cars to money to guns, he has all the material comfort he can afford but he is still lonely and insecure and not happy. Could very well be how many rich Chinese feel because they do not know what they were working towards.

Dollar, his 18-year-old son decides to quit college because nothing excites him anymore. He can do anything but he does not remember what his mother's name was. He has not met her since he was 7. Maybe that's why he develops a relationship with his teacher who could be his mom. He is open to new opportunities but he does not realize that reality can be tough – in this sense he is just like his father. Being uprooted is tough and Jinsheng has done it two times over 25 years while dragging his son along.

Something exist throughout the three periods: dog (with Tao's old sweater), key to home, dance, Sally Yeh's song "Treasure", Tao's smile and calmness, her dumplings, mobile phone and electronic devices that supposed to be connecting people (in the third period it actually caused more misunderstanding because of Google translate) but instead making people even more alienated.

Quite an inspiring and visionary piece to force us to reflect on what kind of life we are living in China or elsewhere, and what type of life we would like to live. Great acting. Highly recommended.

22 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Ozu style heart-warming drama stressing family bonding, 19 October 2015

This is the 4th movie on family drama centering around children I have seen by director Hirokazu Koreeda. I love them all and I would say only until this one did I see some resemblance of him to Yasujiro Ozu, Japanese classic humanistic director.

Whatever it resembles or echoes, I quite enjoy the tranquil life in Kamakura, especially family life taking place in an old Japanese house with porch and a plum tree and a little storage under the wood floor. Any movie with an old house like that (such as "I Wish (Kiseki)," "My SO has got Depression," "Wolf Children," "Postcard" and of course "And Then (Sorekara)" would instantly calm me down.

Yet behind this tranquil life, there is family trauma where three girls have been abandoned by their mother after their father left for another woman, a similar theme appears in "Nobody Knows" by the same director. What is different though, the Koda sisters have been brought up by their maternal grandparents in the coastal and historical town of Kamakura, 50 km south-west of Tokyo until they passed away.

When the movie begins, their grandparents are long gone and the girls have been living in the family house and taking care of themselves for seven years. News come from northeastern Japan that their father died and they have to attend his funeral, where they meet their half-sister, 15-year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose) for the first time. Suzu has been living with her step mother and father since her biological mother died.

The only connection between the three sisters and Suzu was their biological father and the lack of mother. Perhaps the big sister Sachi (Haruka Ayase) sees some resemblance in Suzu to her and her sisters, she invites Suzu to move in with them. The other two sisters (Masami Nagasawa and Kaho) second the idea. Alone with her step family, Suzu left for Kamakura and we enter the sisters' world through Suzu's perspective.

Similarly abandoned by adults and take care of themselves as in "Nobody Knows," the sisters in "Our little sister" have grown to extend family tradition – making plum wine and making family styled meals and struggle to fulfill their dreams – be a good nurse, a caring bank employee, a supportive girlfriend and playing soccer. The little brother from "I Wish", Ohshiro Maeda, who played the role of Futai Ozaki, has also matured into a handsome young men and takes the initiative to introduce his new friend for the local beauty – a cherry blossom tunnel.

Sakura, the essence of Japanese culture, was beautifully captured in this movie, not only in the tunnel where the youngsters bike through, but also as a swan's call before their neighbor passes away. She said the same thing as the sisters' father said on his dead bed – that we can look at beautiful things as beautiful before we leave. Life can be hard, but if we focus on the beauty of it, it can still be beautiful.

Death appear repeatedly in this movie – besides their father's funeral, the neighbor and their grandma's deaths are also mentioned. Big sister Sachi works at the terminal care ward and faces death day in and day out. The movie portrays death as something all around us and that not only is it nothing to be sad about or afraid of, but it reminds us how to live fully before we reach this full stop.

Part of being alive is extending family tradition or capturing beauty at the right moment – like Sakura hanami, biking in a cherry blossom tunnel, making plum wine and the white fish toast and rice and playing fireworks in yukata. Part of living relates to sacrifice for a bigger cause: Koda's father and mother leaving Kamakura and Saka's leaving her boyfriend.

Excellent cast and acting. I wish I had a big sister like Sachi and lived in a big house like that. The home-cooked meals make the whole movie very homey, warm and humanistic, even more comfortable than "Midnight Diner." In the big scheme of things, family is what we have left despite all the arguments and differences. And sometimes we may have to make sacrifices for the sake of the family – a theme common in Ozu's movies. Family and food seem to be the source of support we get after all the crazy things we encounter in the outside world – abandonment, betrayal, deaths, etc. Quite heart-warming, uplifting and beautiful. A little sad and a little short, just like life and cherry blossom.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Uplifting and heartwarming family comedy with angelic voices in a deaf family, 21 September 2015

A hearing daughter, Paula Belier (Louane Emera), was born to deaf parents and has a younger deaf brother in rural France. Being fluent in sign language and French, she acts as the family interpreter and bridge to the outside world – whether it is a doctor's appointment or dealing with customers in the market when they sell their farm produce.

Not only can Paula speak, but she also has a gift in singing, as discovered by her music teacher, who decides to train her and a fellow classmate for admission into the Maitrise de Radio France, an elite choir in Paris. Now Paula has to struggle between leaving the family for Paris to pursue her dream in singing or stay home to care for her family who depends so much on her. In the meantime, there seems to be some teenage romance going on …

Very swift tempo and lots of comedy when Paula links her family with the world outside. But it gets serious and tear jerking when we witness her torn between fulfilling her dreams and leaving the family she loves. It gets touching when her deaf father begins to "hear" her sing and finally realizes their daughter need to live her own life.

Totally entertaining and absolutely moving with beautiful singing. The songs fit beautifully with the script. Also great acting from the cast, especially Louane Emera who sings like an angel. Paula's parents and younger brother are very convincing too. Highly recommended and bring some tissue paper.

Inside Out (2015/I)
0 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Fun, sad, education and inspiring at the same time: a creatively educational and emotional animation, 7 September 2015

This is probably the only animation that I cried throughout. I cried while watching Up and some of Hayao Miyazaki's animation but this one somehow moved me with some very raw emotions. I was weeping and laughing while being educated/inspired at the same time.

Even when I saw the pre-animation song on Lava I felt like crying because the emotion was so sincere yet sad despite the relaxing Hawaiian style of tune.

The story is mainly about young Riley has to leave her hometown in Minnesota and move to San Francisco with her parents. During this transition she is sad to leave her friends and seems to have a hard time fitting in the new environment. The movie tells us how her emotions helped her deal with this big change in her life and how she can her family cope with the new environment.

I had no idea why I cried but whenever I saw the faded baby pictures and memories I cried. I like how different emotions in each of us are introduced and they all seem to have certain roles. I think it is very educational to see how our brain works – with different emotions taking turns dominating our thinking. Then the memories and experiences get together to form some islands which are our support systems. The movie uses very lively, tangible, and colorful balls/characters to symbolize some very abstract concepts and hard to see nerve systems so it is easy to follow. Watching the memories being sucked in tube and flying around I felt like watching the neutrons dashing within our brain via our nerve system.

While we usually values Joy, Sadness has a reconstructing effects on us too because when we are too sad, we need support and build something positive on our sad memories. That's how we have grown and become what we are today. It is also how we build our support system which hold us up.

I love this movie too much. The five emotions, core memories, the island/personalities and subconscious are really cute and fun. It is almost like going into someone's brain and see how they operate. In fact, everyone has a console like that and it was really fun to see the dinner scene when Riley was upset and Mom notices it and tries to signal to Dad to ask/comfort her. Too many stories to tell from this short scene: that women are more observant and sensitive but man are usually pre-occupied with one single thing at a time. They also have a tendency not to express themselves very well which makes matter worse. The train of thought is interesting too as the emotions goes around to look for Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong to call for support. But why do we have to let him die? It is so sad.

All in all, the main theme of the story is for us to be more aware of our emotions, be comfortable with them even though they may not make us feel good. Because only when we acknowledge our emotions can we then figure out why we feel that way and how we can deal with it and move on. Also, it is OK to tell others how we feel, it is how we receive support and mutually bond and grow stronger together.

I wish the other emotions play bigger roles in the movie because obviously they - Anger, Fear, and Disgust - protect us in their own ways too. Stay for the end credit which is interesting because it shows everyone's brain and how they help us cope with reality.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Strong family with mentally ill father sticking it out with lots of love, humor and patience, 3 July 2015

Love this movie. I was initially attracted by the subject: a father with manic depression has to take care of his daughters while his wife is away. Then I got more fascinated by the true personal story as the director is telling her own tales. After I saw it, I really admired all the family members' resilience, courage, patience and humor in sticking it out in real life and retelling the story with great encouragement.

Director Maya Forbes's daughter Imogene Wolodarsky plays the role of Amelia Stuart, the director herself when she was a child of round 10, growing up with a sister two years of her junior when their parents were already separated. Their father Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), expelled from Harvard University, suffers from bipolar disorder despite his talents in arts, photography and lights engineering. Zoe Saldana plays the role of their mother Maggie, a smart and strong black woman who decides she has to further her education and thus her career so that she can provide for the family.

Set in Boston, the movie starts with a breakout of Cam's illness which causes alarm and nervousness in the family. He is later admitted into an institution and then a mid-way house, thus unable to fulfill his role as breadwinner for the family. By then the couple has been separated but both parents love the girls and see each other often. Coming from a wealthy family, Cam does not receive much financial help from his heritage to provide quality education for the girls. It is also intended to be a lesson for them. Maggie therefore decides she would study for an MBA at Columbia University in New York for 18 months so that she would get a higher paid job. Before she leaves, she entrusts Cam to care for the girls, then 8 and 10, so that he would have some routine and goals in his life and the girls will be taken care of. It would be hectic for Maggie because too she would travel to Boston to see her family every weekend.

This bold arrangement already shows a lot of courage and confidence for all members of the family. It is a tough situation but they deal with it very well, after overcoming some setbacks and explosions. A great chef and handyman, Cam does a great job as a househusband and de facto single father. We can tell underneath the daily hassle and occasional breakouts that they love each other and make things work in in their own unique ways. Cam tries hard to set examples for the girls even though sometimes he has misread reality. The girls are tough as they defend themselves while protecting their father. It is heartwarming to see Cam integrating into the "mean" young neighbors who accept him as he is and appreciate his talents.

All the cast are great. Mark Ruffalo does not look a WASP but he is great in his role to show a wide range of emotions. The script is witty, precise and humorous. The tempo is crisp and involving. I laughed and cried and admire this family who went through such difficult situation.

The movie is inspirational as there are increasing diagnosis of mental illness these days and perhaps acceptance, humor, and practicality are good ways to help everyone get through it. The girls mature quickly in these circumstances and grow into sensitive, confident and humorous individuals.

The movie slightly explores the race issue which I think could have been strengthened. Their mother, in real life, upon working in Wall Street, founded the first asset management company by an African female. The parents remain separated but great parents.

The girls are really smart, tough and adorable. Cam the father in the movie is lovable and talented too. You cannot hate him but probably do not know how to love him. Director Forbes's father also has lots of skills. It is just unfortunate that he got the illness. But he should be very pleased now his loving daughter tell their family story and realistically portrays how we can live and grow with mental illness. An amazing and enticing story.

Pale Moon (2014)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Challenges for kind and hardworking Japanese women in modern Japan, 17 June 2015

I was looking forward to see this movie, got a little disappointed and went to read the novel. Well, there is a quite a big change during the adaptation and I have to say that the transition in the novel is better but focusing the couple in the movie is probably a better idea.

The movie is choppy because there seems to be little depiction of why the main protagonist, middle-aged wife bank employee Rika Umezawa (Rie Miyazawa) would fall for a university student Kota Hirabayashi (Sosuke Ikematsu) who could be her son. Equally unconvincing is why the young man would fall for her apart from the money and the material comfort it brings.

The economy backdrop and the social issues brought about from the movie and the book are interesting though: after the economy bubble burst in the 1990s in Japan, everyone work hard to maintain a life their parents take for granted. More women and hourly-paid workers join the work force but they are not respected or supported by their company, or even by their own family members. Yet these women work very hard, though some slight skid and falls into affairs with their supervisor while some, like Rika, begin to let greed take over.

In her work, neglected housewife Rika finds satisfaction as well as distraction from her efforts in having babies. To prove her existence, she begins to embezzle from her bank to finance her material comfort and starts an affair with a young man, the grandson of one of her clients. She sinks deeper and reaches a point of no return.

The novel describes two side lines of Rika's friends falling into the same trap of defining themselves by consumerism. But the movie focuses on Rika which I think is a clever move. Yet the building up and fading out of the affair seem to flow rather weakly. The detached marriage can also be better portrayed/ traced.

It is an excellent move to place Satomi Kobayashi as a loyal and single bank employee in comparison with Rika. She seems to serve as a conscience in contrast. This character does not exist in the novel and is a great addition in the adaptation. Both actresses are great. In fact, the whole cast is quite good, but the weak plot kind of hampers the movie.

To understand contemporary Japan and the country's predicament in dealing with the new millennium, perhaps we have to watch both the movie and read the novel to reach more insights. More food for Minister Abe to munch on too.

Wild Tales (2014)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Acting out our violence and soothing us amid our absurd reality, 23 April 2015

I usually develop headaches when I see excessive violence in movies. But Wild Tales makes me feel so good because I can identify with all the underdog characters who take their revenge to the extreme with very black humor. It just makes me feel exceptionally good and relieved. It is vicarious violence without having to pay any consequences! And those jerks really deserve what they finally get.

Great acting and script writing. The 120 minute film composes of six tales, all related to realistic and corrupted and abusive government or bullies in our society. To maintain the suspense, fun and unpredictability, I cannot not divulge too much details of the tales other than saying it can happen anywhere in any country. All the protagonists in the six tales are decent people but they are pressed/abused by the ruthless and ridiculous reality to a point that revenge to the extreme is the natural and only way out. It is almost like a Ben and Jerry cartoon played by real people who resort to their actions with very strong reasons. Thus I can guarantee that you would feel good.

The sad part is that reality sometimes really happened as depicted in the movie – such as the Germanwings incident and indifferent bureaucrats. But still, if you feel your life is suffocated in anyway, go see this and get wild for two hours. It will clear your frustration, makes you laugh hard, and help you look at things from a new perspective.

11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Humanistic look at underdogs and frustrated Japanese crossing paths at a love hotel, 20 April 2015

Sayonara Kabukicho was all full during the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival so when I knew it was on public release, I rushed to see it.

Well, despite the exotic poster and the eye-catching translated title of "Kabukicho Love Hotel," it is a humanistic look at many frustrated but hardworking Japanese who happen to wind up in a Love Hotel in Kabukicho, a red light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Throughout the movie, we can see the director and playwright have great empathy and respect for all the characters – who suffer from different frustrations and setbacks in life and end up in transition in Hotel Atlas, where guest can rent a room by the hour or by the night. But it is exactly here that they find their direction and move on with confidence and dignity.

The movie basically revolves around five couples whose lives are connected with this Love Hotel: the hotel manager (Shota Sometani) is stuck here although he aspired to work in a five-star hotel. He also owes his girlfriend's parents 1.4 million yen for his tuition fees so he did not tell her he works here. His girlfriend, played by AKB48 singer Atsuko Maeda, is an aspiring sing-song writer trying to secure a record contract but is confused as how to go about it.

One of the frequent guests to the hotel is a Korean call girl working for the last day before she returns to Korea to start her own business. She only tells her live-in boyfriend she works as a hostess so as to save up money to marry and return to Korea. Her boyfriend, a chef at a Korean restaurant by night and a student at day, has his own secrets. A middle aged woman working in the hotel as cleaning lady has her own secret and her identify is exposed only when another guest's secret affair is exposed.

A runaway girl ends up in the hotel with a yakuza simply for food and rest in exchange for sexual favor. But during the course of their interaction, things changes.

It seems every character has some secrets and that's why they are in this hotel. Yet when we know them better, we feel sorry for them. We feel their predicament and want to help in some ways. The movie runs 125 minutes but it does not feel long. Pacing is good and the way the stories are told is quite engaging. In the course of 24 hours, we seem to see the real lives of the characters, all of them some kind of underdogs in our society who either has lots of bad luck or has been abused by other people in power. Yet all of these characters have dreams and pride and deal with adversity with lots of self-respect. Hence the love hotel episode is just a transition in their life before they go on to pursue their dreams.

In a way, it is a comforting tribute and encouragement to the tsunami- beaten Japan, as depicted by the hotel manager's sister and her ending up in the hotel. In the end of the movie, all the main characters say goodbye to this love hotel and move on with their lives. The progress is smooth and acting good. Great character development and excellent intercept of witty dialogues, comical scenes and moving moments. Excellent exemplification of the Japanese resilience.

15 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Tightly structured script packed with witty humor, 16 March 2015

I was ready for some comedy and the Israeli movie "Zero Motivation" way exceed my expectation. In addition to a great script, with a well- organized and tightly structured plot, it is filled with black comedy, feminism, friendship, and work ethics wrapped with a little nudity and horror, all done with a limited budget. The acting are very good too.

The movie was divided into three parts which are linked together by two central characters, Daffi (Nelly Tagar) and Zohar (Dana Ivgy), both young female soldiers working in the administration department of a military base in the middle of the dessert. They are among a group of equally demotivated female colleagues supervised by ambitious but frustrated Captain Rama (Shani Klein), the only female officer in the management team.

The film starts with good friends Daffi and Zohar reluctantly return to base after a short break. Daffi, a clerical worker in charge of paper and the shredder, is tired of being stuck in the dessert and wants to be transferred to Tel Aviv. She seeks help from Zohar who is responsible for mail and trusts her in mailing letters for her transfer. Comedy erupts when a new comer Tehila (Yonit Tobi) enters the camp and Daffi treats her as her replacement until something tragic happens.

In the second part, Zohar is obsessed about losing her virginity but she exercises her independent thinking and receives help from a fellow colleague who asserts the female ego.

It is the third part that ties all the loose ends from part one and two and we see more comedy, irony and creative action. Then everything ends in a reasonable and interesting wrap up.

I would not divulge too much plot as it will spoil the fun. But I can guarantee that it is packed with jokes and laughter while making you think about the absurdity and blessing in life, while pondering on gender roles.

Perhaps the only short coming is the military setting which is hard for most international audience to identify with. But the issues of office management, friendship and courtship are universal across industry and culture. Most importantly, the voice of female power is strong. Highly recommended.

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