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11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
An excellent closure to 2009's best trilogy!, 13 September 2010

(The following review is a follow-up on the reviews written for Julian Jarrold's "Red Riding: 1974" and James Marsh's "Red Riding: 1980"; for further info on the Red Riding trilogy and content related to the series' continuity, read the other reviews before this one.) The excellent Red Riding trilogy has finally come to a close...and it went out with quite a bang! Anand Tucker helms the final film, "Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983" and does a pitch-perfect job of joining the two previous films, solving up most of the enigmas that had been ignored, and closing the circle. Tucker is a master at his characters' catharses and at carefully observing and commenting on the infinitely heartbreaking human characteristics of revenge, redemption and atonement. Tucker concludes Jarrold and Marsh's films in this way: he extracts Jarrold's poignancy from "1974" and Marsh's intelligence from "1980", mixes them and adds his own masterful touch while tying the loose ends of each film's plots. The result is, as I've said before, an excellent closure to this harrowing series and a very satisfying finale.

The film returns to 1974, and the opening scene shows us the corrupt and darkly evil group of villains we've already come to know assembled in a country estate, including Harold Angus (Jim Carter), the seedy police superintendent, and Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), the mysteriously cryptic and detached crime investigator. The child murders we saw in the first film are only just being discovered by the police, and their shady dealings with John Dawson (Sean Bean) are beginning to be discussed. Then the film shifts us to the year 1983, where attorney John Piggott (Mark Addy) is being commissioned to appeal for the killer of the three girls, whom his family believes to be innocent (and secretly, so do we).

The film dangerously shifts between 1974 and 1983 without letting the viewer know. At first we're confused to see so many characters who're supposed to be dead already involved in present-time events, but as the film goes along it is all explained. Tucker is interested not in the chronology of events or making sense out of the twisted plot...after all, what sense can ever be extracted from such base crime and corruption? We eventually manage to sort the plot out, and by then we just KNOW that no matter whether the events make sense or not, the depravity and evil behind it all can never explain itself to our consciences. Tucker digs deeper into the Yorkshire murders than Jarrold and Marsh could because he can play with all of the characters from the previous two films, giving us everybody's side of the story, everyone's point of view and every person's true face (as opposed to the mask they've been painting all along). And the new character (Piggott, the attorney) who we've only come to know is such an ambiguous, flawed and relatable character that (even through his weak points) he becomes the most human character of the film. Piggott leads the investigation taking place in 1983 and Maurice Jobson leads a covert investigation back in 1974 parallel to Eddy Dunford's (but obviously laden with a corrupt agenda).

Once again, the film builds a steady tension that reaches unbearable heights as each minute passes on, as as the answers to all the questions we had are revealed to us, we can't help but lift our hands to our mouths and stare open-eyed at the horror behind the truth. The first two films dealt with one person trying to expose the guilty murderers and crime lords; this film is about the murderers and members of the Force seeing how they can cover up their footprints, how they can redeem themselves from tainted consciences, and how they can go on living while internal disagreements arise. And Anand Tucker, who has shown us with films like "Hilary and Jackie" and "Shopgirl" that he's a master at exploiting guilt and internal conflict, makes the most of his characters and blows them up from the inside out.

I can't say anything about the ending without spoiling everything for you, but I WILL say that the series couldn't have ended better. I saw these films on DVD, in the comfort of my bedroom, and as soon as "1983" was over I felt like jumping to my feet and clapping my heart out. I'll never tire of repeating this: I am amazed! Overwhelmed, really.

I've recently heard that Ridley Scott's been taken into consideration to direct an American film which joins this trilogy into one full-length feature. That is just ridiculous. These three films put together amount to over FOUR hours and a half, and not a minute is wasted in any of them. Trying to summarizing this will take out the POINT of it all, and is sure to be a flop (after all, there's a reason why the British made this into a trilogy). I seriously recommend you see this before the USA releases its own reduced version. This is as good as trilogies are ever gonna get. Rating: 3 stars and a half out of 4!

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A more serious and more controlled sequel. VERY good!, 12 September 2010

(this review is a follow-up on the "Red Riding" trilogy; for previous references, including further information on the trilogy, read the review for Julian Jarrold's "Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974") Once again, Yorkshire's Channel 4 and Revolution Films' admirable "Red Riding" trilogy has managed to completely absorb me. The second part of the series is directed by James Marsh (from the exceptionally good documentary "Man on Wire") and here we see how hiring three different directors for each film works to the trilogy's advantage: Julian Jarrold established an emotional basis in "1974" as well as the main characters who sully the British government with unimaginable corruption; his work hovered on poignant emotion, his characters opened our minds to the horror behind the crimes his film short, "1974" served as a gritty introduction to what promised to be a fabulously dark series. Now James Marsh takes over with the second film, "1980", in an even grittier and more suspenseful tone.

This second film introduces us to Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine), a criminal investigator who (like Eddy Dunford in the first film) is transferred to Yorkshire to investigate on a series of brutal crimes. This time, Yorkshire has been haunted for over four years with the infamous Jack the Ripper, who's already claimed thirteen victims, all prostitutes, and who has all of England terrified. Unlike Dunford who was an over-excitable but keen rookie, Hunter has ample experience and a very methodical and controlled way about him; we can see he's an expert at what he does and that he has no trouble managing his team and interpreting his information. He's replacing Bill Molloy (Warren Clarke) as the chief criminal investigator of the Yorkshire police (much to the Force's chagrin) and is met with instant dislike from his new co-workers and once again, the ever-cryptic Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) leaves him on his own, mysteriously distancing himself and reserving any kind of comment.

Unlike Dunford too, Hunter has all the files available to him and is working with the support of the police, which should make his job easier; he's been allowed to assemble his own team, and he includes an agent/old lover of his, Helen (Maxine Peake), on the investigation. He comes to discover that the Yorkshire police is contemptuous of him not only because he's basically taking over their investigation but because, while making his inquiries, he comes into contact with many people involved in the shooting at the Kawasaki club (the place where the denouement of "1974" happens in one of that film's final scenes). Naturally, his involvement with this incident speaks of danger to the corrupt elite of the Force and Hunter will soon find that his life is in danger...and that Jack the Ripper is NOT the greatest of Britain's troubles.

James Marsh does an excellent job. He's not as keen to observe the poignancy behind his characters' emotions, but that may be because his characters aren't meddling rookies but true professionals. Paddy Considine does an excellent job with the lead role; observe how Hunter always keeps his cool, how he gauges each situation and intelligently leads his words into exacting truths from the people- even when the film climbs to nerve-shattering heights, this man seldom fails to control the situation. Even the romantic subplot between Hunter and Helen is very controlled; unlike Dunford and Paula in the first film, the couple here are matured, logical people who rarely let their emotions betray their actions, no matter how much pain we read in their eyes.

The pace of this second film is quicker, too. Here we see Marsh's "Man on Wire" skill over again; scenes roll by quickly, the multi-layered plot twists and turns almost seamlessly, there's rapid-fire dialogue and some very logical, quick-witted analysis of facts...we can see how meticulously well Marsh (and screenwriter Tony Grisoni) worked over the story. That's NOT to say, though, that the film is merely an exercise in plot and story-writing, leaving characterization and emotion completely to the side. No, Marsh uses his characters' personalities, troubles and traumas to move the plot along. Let's just say that this film has a more 'mature' air about it, that it seems more logical and intelligent than the previous one, which means that the horror and suspense will be plot-driven rather than emotion-driven.

Once again, the film starts out with the investigation of gruesome murders but strays into a completely different subject (namely police corruption). This is not a flaw in the film- it wasn't a flaw for the first film either- because this "Red Riding" trilogy is interested in shedding some horrifying light on the nature of corruption; it makes us think about how deeply-rooted it is in our society, how we can't run from it...the murders are the inciting incident, a subplot even. In the first film, Dunford was an inexperienced journalist so the police had little trouble dealing with him; here, they're dealing with one of their own so the stakes are raised. THAT, I think, is what heightens the suspense of it all.

By the end of "1974" and "1980" you'll be more than overwhelmed with the harrowing world you've been introduced to. James Marsh, his cast and his crew do an excellent job with "1980" giving us some of the best crime noir in a long time. I can't wait to see the third and final film! Rating: 3 stars and a half out of 4!

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Top-notch crime noir. Don't miss it!, 11 September 2010

There's a new fashion going about European filmmakers, and it's to hire a great number of important directors to work on the same project: there's "Paris, Je t'Aime" which was a film consisting of various short films by a great number of highbrow artists which, put together, made up a poignant portrait of the city; then there's "Chacun son Cinéma", another film where various vignettes made up a very intelligent view of people's love for cinema; and now we have the "Red Riding" trilogy, which has recently become internationally famous due to its powerful storytelling and harrowing complexity. The "Red Riding" trilogy are three films by three important directors which, put together, explore the shocking truth behind crime and police corruption in Scotland and sheds light on some of England's most bizarre murder cases (including Jack the Ripper). This was a huge project commissioned by Yorkshire's Channel 4 and produced largely by Revolution Studios; it made quite an impact on English viewers, the three films were joined into a 4 hour and a half-long movie in the USA, and is now being released in DVD to critics and audiences' wide acclaim. Intrigued by all the rage, I decided to rent this huge project to watch at home.

The trilogy begins with "1974" directed by Julian Jarrold (in a bold departure from his usual style, like "Brideshead Revisited"). Jarrold, as you may know, is a director who opens up his films in a very slow, meditative pace and methodically gathers up the pace to nerve-shattering intensity. "1974" introduces us to Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) a young investigative reporter working for the Yorkshire news. He's no doubt talented, but is new to the job and, like any excited rookie, is prone to some blunders and is in need of experience. One of his first assignments on the job is to report on the recent death of a ten year-old girl, who was found murdered on a large, abandoned plot of land, dreadfully tortured and featuring a pair of swan wings stitched into her back. Dunford starts investigating and soon finds that this murder may be connected to the murder of two other girls in previous years.

Due to his lack of experience and unduly-channeled zeal, he starts asking very problematic questions and meets opposition from most of his co-workers, including investigation leader Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey). He gets involved in a couple of miscarried interviews and draws attention upon himself...but learns from his mistake. Little by little, he starts putting the pieces together and ends up with a dumbfounding web of police corruption, high-level crime involvement, an unexpected lover (Rebecca Hall) who's linked to his investigation and who seems to be keeping some information from him, and some very powerful enemies including a corporate magnate (Sean Bean), who's presence itself is more than fearful.

Jarrold has really outdone himself. The web is spun with countless twists and intrigues and as the minutes run by, you can't help but be fascinated and scandalized at the kind of events unfolding. The film explores Dunford's character in depth (and Andrew Garfield's performance is pitch-perfect) but far from only being an exercise in character development, the film excels at commenting on the horror of corruption. This is a psychological thriller, and the terror behind the plot lies on how deep this corruption runs; it forces the viewer to accept the fact that we are alone when our safety and protection are involved, and that the police and government are actually the ones behind the atrocious murders we so frequently read about in the papers. Dunford will eventually find himself alone, fighting against (or running from) the highest powers of his country. As intelligent viewers we're tempted to inhabit the story and walk into Dunford's extremely frightful conclusions.

The story is excellent. Based on David Peace's renowned crime noir novels, the screenplay by Tony Grisoni is practically flawless. Adrian Johnston's score is (once again) both sublime and haunting, and Rob Hardy's cinematography is some of the best I've seen this year. The acting is very good too (especially Garfield, who day by day shows me he's bound to be one of Hollywood's best one of these days). There are some scenes especially that will be etched into your memory perhaps forever: notice, for instance, the two meetings Dunford has with John Dawson (the character played by Sean Bean), first in his car and then in Dawson's private club. These scenes are the work of an expert and are so flawlessly executed you KNOW they're bound to be dissected and thoroughly analyzed in some film school This is only the beginning of what the trilogy promises to be a revelatory, intelligent work of art. It MAY have some flaws, but they most certainly can be overlooked. I can't wait to see the other two films; "Red Riding" has become my new addiction.

Rating: 3 stars and a half out of 4!

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A hilarious character study that truly shines., 29 August 2010

There's something I really enjoy about films focusing on dysfunctional families and it's the fact that it leaves a lot of room for character development...and character development, it must be said, is one of the principal decisive factors for a great movie. Most independent films nowadays thrive on this, as a matter of fact; and, I mean, who doesn't enjoy a movie that works as a character study where the main character is as round as can be? Where his convictions and manner of thinking come full circle and are affected by the events unfolding on screen? Raymond de Felitta's latest "City Island" is exactly that: a film that functions because of its characters and not because of the events. I can imagine film buffs and film students dissecting this movie from head to toe in the attempt of deeply analyzing the character changes within.

The movie deals with Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia), a prison guard whose life seems stagnant and uneventful. Vince lives in City Island, a colorful adhesion to Brooklyn, a small fishing city where there's a distinct line between the natives and the outsiders, and where the natives are VERY willing to establish their power and domain over the sea-kissed land. To save himself from utter boredom from his dysfunctional family, Vince moonlights as an actor, taking classes from a politically incorrect teacher (Alan Arkin) and trying to audition for his first role on a Martin Scorsese film alongside with Robert De Niro. Vince is an exceptional character: he wouldn't look out-of-place in "The Godfather"; he has the accent, the slang, the moves and the motivation. He looks like some dude from a gangster movie, but he's actually a good-hearted man who cares for his family (even though it takes some analyzing to discover this), who's mild as a prison guard, and who reads Woolf's "Orlando" while nobody's watching him. He's just like any other human being: born to play the role he's living but having trouble adapting to his true life.

His wife, Joyce (Julianna Marguiles) is a phone operator who feels her life as the expected suburban wife to be too much to handle. She lives up to her role as the Italian-American wife but her sturdy, metallic personality hides a deeper, more poignant desire to outstand. Vince's two teenage children are your typical, troubled and confused kids: there's Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), who's infatuated with terribly obese girls, and Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy Garcia's true daughter) who's been kicked off her university scholarship and now works as a seedy stripper to pay off her school tuition. One day Vince discovers Tony (Steven Strait) just got into prison for grand theft auto and immediately recognizes him to be his son from a past flame; Tony has filed for parole, but he has no family to accept the responsibility, so Vince takes him into his home (without revealing his true identity as his father) in an attempt to establish a bond. Along comes Molly (Emily Mortimer), who Vince meets in his acting class, and she becomes his confidante, sharing all of his secrets and smooth-talking him into accepting his responsibility.

What follows is a little over an hour and a half of hilarious events that make Vince and his family come full circle into accepting each other (with their respective quirks) and maturing. The acting is pitch-perfect: Andy Garcia and Julianna Marguiles shine in their respective hard-headed roles which must come to terms with each other by the end of the film. Like I said before, De Felitta listens and ponders his characters to perfection, and the actors carry out their performances to a tee.

There's a scene which makes the audience ponder: Alan Arkin is teaching his acting students that pauses are unnecessary when acting and that a character should not pause when delivering his lines but rather make them come out as a spontaneous reaction to the screenplay. Vince listens to the advice with interest but soon learns, via the poignant events he's undergoing with his family, that pausing to reflect upon what is being said is the ONLY way to effect a perfect symbiosis between the character and the actor's personality; his pausing to reflect on his character will eventually lead to one of the most interesting casting sessions he'll ever have.

The movie's straight-out hilarious. There's two scenes overall (a scene early on where the entire family's having a family dinner and a final cathartic scene where all the truths are discovered) that are flat-out outrageous...but it's the actors' control over their characters and their skillful performances that raise the story out of common melodrama and comedy into something resonant of greatness.

The film has its flaws: for one, it's slightly uneventful and (apart from Garcia's and Marguiles' characters) many of the characters achieve a rapid and unsatisfactory catharsis. This can all be overlooked, though, because De Felitta aims his movie to be a character study rather than a successful exercise in plot. Besides, the film's somewhat dark and intelligent comedy is very refreshing and is bound to have you entertained for quite a while.

The score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (a favorite composer of mine) is also very good. If you're familiar with Kacmarek's scores ("Finding Neverland", "Unfaithful", "Evening") you'll know that his music is somewhat heart-breaking, reflective and poignant. To have one such score as a background to the seriously funny events and dialogue going on screen is nothing short of satirical and genius and one can't help but appreciate the finer point it makes.

See the movie. You're bound to have a good time. Rating: 3 stars out of 4!

Inception (2010)
1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Nolan CAN'T fail! This film is perfect!, 24 August 2010

Wow. I really mean it, WOW. A Hollywood blockbuster that doesn't only deliver action and special effects galore, but which also has a perfect screenplay, enough depth and which raises enough moral questions. A film which adventure/thriller lovers worldwide will praise for years to come and which critics are hailing as this year's best film (so far). Who would ever have thought that such a commercial film could pack such a punch? Yes, I am talking about Christopher Nolan's recent "Inception" it makes sense, doesn't it? Perhaps the only mainstream director who can actually make intelligent Hollywood thrillers (let's not forget 2008's "The Dark Knight" which will live on for eternity), he continues to live up to his name.

As we've seen from his previous films ("Memento", "Insomnia" and "The Dark Knight"), Nolan excels at playing with his audience's minds and twisting the story to such complex but perfectly understandable depths that we can't help but marvel and be awed. This is one such film, which I'm sure will prompt film lovers to sit for hours in cafés and restaurants discussing the plot and which, try as they might, won't have a flaw to its name. It takes place in a very near future, where the ability to link two or more people while they sleep merges their dreams and creates an alternate reality. In their dreams, these people can imagine and live out fictional adventures which might never be possible...but they can also unconsciously reveal their deepest secrets. There's a secret agent Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is known for his complex imagination and for being able to wrestle any hidden truth while jointly controlling their dreams; he's being hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe), the CEO for a huge company which seeks to control most of the world's energy resources. The only thing standing in Saito's way is Fischer (Cillian Murphy), his greatest competitor's son, who's about to inherit his father's entire corporation.

Saito approaches Cobb with the task of performing an 'inception' on Fischer. An 'inception' is when someone enters a person's subconscious via their dreams and plants an idea within, thereby changing their thoughts and tampering with their will. What Cobb is being hired to do is to mess with Fischer's thoughts and dreams and to incite him into breaking up his father's corporation; in return, Saito will use his contacts to free Cobb of the erroneous charge of murdering his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), thereby permitting him to return to the U.S.A. to live with his kids again. To do such a complicated procedure as 'inception', Cobb enlists the help of his right-hand man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a talented dream architect (Ellen Page), a wise forger (Tom Hardy) and a respected anesthesiologist (Dileep Rao), but he'll find that so many different imaginations pose a veritable threat to all their sanities including his own, which is plagued by the memory of Mal and her fictional appearance in all their dream sequences that aim to destroy their plan.

To try and explain the plot in more detail is absolute madness; it's so complicated and multi-layered that I'm sure I'm not the only one who has trouble making sense of the entire mélange. But unlike other films whose complexity leads to their downfall, "Inception" is enriched by it and the audience doesn't find too much trouble in understanding it all as the film goes along. Audiences and critics alike have called it "mind-blowing" and, believe me, that's just THE right word to describe this feat. You'll feel dizzied and disoriented for many hours after the film's over because it deals with so many levels of consciousness and dreams, it poses so many existential questions and it furiously toggles between reality and imagination where we're dragged to question our own realities and our own convictions.

Like any other Hollywood film, it's packed with almost non-stop action, thrills and special effects, but the intelligent dialogue, the excellent characterization and the frequent twists and turns always keep it interesting. It's one of those movies where the suspense grabs hold of you since the very first scene and doesn't let go until the credits start to roll. It has Nolan's name and reputation stamped out all over it, and even being close to three hours long, it's so fast paced you won't notice time fly by (it feels no more than an hour long). Simply stated, this movie reminds us why we like to go to the multiplex, why we love the movies: it's both artistic and entertaining.

All of the acting is superb (I mean, just look at the long list of A-list stars it has, including Oscar nominees DiCaprio, Watanabe, Page and Oscar winners Cotillard and Michael Caine). The cinematography is perfect, the ominous score shatters your nerves, the production design is the stuff of dreams and the screenplay (its best asset by far) is as original and refreshing as they come. We're already in the middle of August and so far I must agree with what is being proclaimed around the world: that this is the best movie of the year so far! See it! I can't stress this enough. Rating: 4 stars out of 4!!

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Roman Polanski has done it again!!, 10 August 2010

If there's a director that everyone should admire and respect it's Roman Polanski (admire him for his work, I mean, not his shady past). He's given us some of the best films ever like "Chinatown", "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Pianist". With each new film he manages to blow our minds away and prove that good cinema isn't dead but flourishes distinctly under the touch of his mastery. His new film, "The Ghost Writer" has become an instant hit with critics and audiences alike and takes its place now along Polanski's arsenal of intriguing, extremely intelligent works of art. That he managed to direct, co-write and co-produce the film while being kept under house arrest because of his age-old rape charge is no small feat; even if he was forbidden to leave his home, he managed to orchestrate the film to perfection, and every scene, every line has that Polanski touch we've come to love and expect.

The film is based on Robert Harris' ("The Silence of the Lambs") novel. It deals with a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor), a man who is hired by publishing houses to finish and edit novels for other people with no credit to his name. The ghost is hired by Rhinehart Publishing to finish the memoirs of a famous former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a great political figure who has come to the end of his term and whose memoirs have been long-expected by the public. Lang isn't a very good writer, and his right-hand man, who had been editing and perfecting his memoirs, died in a mysterious ferry incident a few days ago. The ghost visits Lang on Rhinehart's small château in the U.S. (where Lang is currently vacationing until the completion of his book) and stays with him and the two women who manage his affairs: his efficient, secretive assistant Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) and his sharp, activist wife Ruth (Olivia Williams).

Upon his arrival, the ghost is treated to very private, somewhat discomfiting scenes of Lang's private life that give him an edge and an insight into Lang's life; he thinks he knows how to complete the book and becomes very involved in discovering anything about Lang's past that might embellish the book and give it more depth. But all of a sudden, Lang is being investigated by the International Court of Law for various alleged war crimes and he must flee to Washington to take cover; the ghost is left at the beach house retreat to work on the book, where he discovers a variety of disturbing information and clues concerning Lang's past that may just directly tie him to some of the cruelest war crimes ever committed. Not only that, but the deeper he digs (obviously), the deeper his life is in danger.

Yes, it's a suspense thriller with heavy political references. It's the kind of story that reminds us of Joel Schumacher's "The Client" or Tony Gilroy's "Michael Clayton"...and much like the aforementioned films, it grasps our attention from the very first scene and never lets us go until the end credits are over. It also reminds me of "Rosemary's Baby" in the way that although the plot is fairly slow it never really feels like it, and also in the way the suspense builds very slowly but VERY surely, to the point where we're literally sweating and anxiously scratching the filling out of the tortured pillow in our grasps. Few films (and few directors) can manage to give us that nowadays. This year, only Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" and this film have done it.

Not only is the screen writing perfect, but the other elements of the film are practically flawless. McGregor plays the ghost to near-perfection, as a confident man who takes on 'just another job' and ends up scared out of his wits and fighting for his life. Brosnan and Olivia Williams are edgy and witty as ever in their political roles and they deliver some of the most audacious lines in the film. Alexandre Desplat's score compliments the plot and heightens the suspense to sky-high levels; the cinematography is excellent, much like the editing. Basically, it's one of those films where, try as you might, you CAN'T find a thing to condemn. And it's also one of those cases where a famous director delivers once more and our love for his work remains in high value.

By the way, the Oscars usually love political thrillers, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see this film short-listed for next year's Academy Awards; and it should be so. I mean, there's something about a good political thriller that rings true to us: even if the story's pure fiction, there's enough corruption and shady doings by powerful government representatives to keep us aware that it's all happening in our countries.

Rating: 4 stars out of 4!!

A Prophet (2009)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The best mafia movie ever!, 10 August 2010

Step over, "The Godfather". Move a bit to the side, "Goodfellas". The world has found a new contemporary classic to name THE best crime movie ever...and it's not an American film, you know. It's Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" which (having come out only a year ago) has already established itself as a perennial classic and as a gang movie that will be remembered for ages to come. It's not like Coppola's "The Godfather" or Scorsese's "Goodfellas" will move on to oblivion, no; they remain in their altars, but "A Prophet" manages to take the mafia genre to new, modern heights and an equally or more profound level of storytelling. It's that kind of a film you're extremely thankful to have watched before dying.

It takes place in a French prison. Malik (Tahar Rahim) has just turned 19 and must be moved from a juvenile penitentiary to complete the remainder six years of his sentence in a gritty, high-security jailhouse where the most dangerous gangs orchestrate their outside shady deals. He's an arab, which means that he comes into instant trouble with the French-borns, and being but a sapling to the overgrown lawn of crime, he is in need of protection and maturity if he expects to survive; not only that but he hardly knows how to read and write, so he's basically screwed.

Upon his arrival, his lack of social skills and obvious alienation drive Luciani (Niels Arestrup), a crime boss of the French-Italian mafia, to take interest in young Malik. There's a new Muslim recruit who threatens to give Luciani trouble with the kind of information he has, so this guy must be taken out as quick as possible, but none of Luciani's prison gang can kill him; they need an inside guy, someone who can get close to the Muslim without exciting the attention of the Arabs. Malik is perfect for the job.

Luciani tasks Malik with killing the dangerous arab, and in exchange he'll protect the sapling and, well, won't kill him. Malik undertakes the job and therein encounters his commencement into a many-layered, complexly nuanced world of crime which his avid mind is only too keen to absorb. The film follows Malik's progression into Luciani's gang and his painful, discomfiting maturity from a naive human being into a drug-trafficking, coldly-calculating and VERY intelligent crime war boss. I can't even explain more about the plot; it would a) give out too many spoilers, and b) destroy my poor brain trying to write some sense into the heavily complicated plot (complicated to explain, by the way, NOT complicated to understand). It's one of those stories where you begin out by trying to sort-out and predict the events and outcomes, but there's a point where it all overwhelms you and there's nothing to do but sit back and watch in wonder and the utter perfection of the screenplay.

Jacques Audiard has outdone himself. This is the first Audiard film I see, but I've read that with it he's reached a maturity level he never could have hoped to accomplish with his previous films. I need to watch them to form my own analysis, but there's no doubt that Audiard has eased his way into my list of Most Respected Directors; this is a film which shatters your nerves and never cares to reassemble them. The DVD's been off for ten minutes and I can't stop running my hand through my head in stupefaction.

The mafia has always been a disturbing topic, and one which appeals to audiences worldwide because of the unimaginable web of corruption it reveals. "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" did an excellent job exposing us to the blood-paved, double-timing world of crime, but "A Prophet" presents it to us in the grittiest, most horrifying way possible; not only that, but it carefully and poignantly studies the transformation of the human being from a 'normal' person into a crime machine. The character of Malik is a character which not only film lovers will remember and ponder upon, but it's a perfectly analytic sociological dissection of the nature of corruption (both social and psychological) and the dog-eat-dog situation we're born in. The prison the film takes place in is an allegorical microcosm of the lives we lead; the blood, the violence, the cruelty, the painful maturity...EVERYTHING is the same to the lives we lead, everything but the prison walls.

THIS is the kind of film every human being should watch. It's expertly-made, every technical aspect is perfect (especially the cinematography and Alexandre Desplat's suspenseful score), the dialogue and screenplay couldn't possibly be better and, most importantly, it'll have you thinking and thinking for many time to come. It's called "A Prophet" because of some visions Malik sometimes has concerning future events and because, like a prophet, he came into the prison silently proclaiming an eventual change of power. For me, it's also called "A Prophet" because it paints a horribly true portrait of the eventual dehumanization of men and the spread of social corruption in our youngsters' minds. Put any teen or young adult you may know into Malik's shoes and see if the resulting thoughts don't scare the living hell out of you. Rating: 4 stars out of 4!!

Vincere (2009)
15 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Extremely good. Historical dramas don't get any better., 5 August 2010

I just love allegories. I love the way so much imagination is poured into the re-telling of a story via new material. We all know our history, so we know about Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and his reign of Fascism over Italy. But we don't know about the adulterous relationship he had with a certain Ida Dalser, who gave birth to his child and who Mussolini, in his unforgivable cold-bloodedness, calmly strived to strip apart. That's what Marco Bellocchio's new film, "Vincere", is all about: it's a historical drama about the woman Mussolini tried so hard to ruin after economically and sexually using her...and it's also a sublime allegory of how he used all of Italy.

Critics worldwide have seen the genius behind portraying Mussolini's reign of terror as a headstrong but powerless woman. Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) instantly falls under the spell of a young, handsome Mussolini (Filippo Timi). Italy is only beginning to experience the first waves of Socialism, and among those first to rebel against the government is this young man who has a certain power with words; in a scene where he runs away from the police for being involved in a riot, he shields himself behind the curious Ida who stepped out for a look, and passionately kisses her. I mean, Benito is a good kisser, or so he seems to be, because Ida melts in utter passion in his arms while he kisses her and he...well, he's a really good actor too, for he can focus his strength on this steamy kiss at the same time that his full concentration and awareness are scrutinizing the area to see if the police are gone. Sure enough, once they're gone he pushes Ida away and runs without so much as a half-hearted smile...but the kiss was enough for Ida to fall mercilessly in love with him.

In a matter of days, she's stalking him, getting into his fights and showing him glimpses of her crotch which get our all-too human Benito hot for her. The first twenty-something minutes of the film our two main characters spend passionately and intensely going at it. Well, Ida does the passionate part and Mussolini, as I've said before, is a really good actor; while Ida spends her every second in a sexual Nirvana, he is all steam but his stare is distant, serious, no doubt thinking about anything else but the woman coming in his arms. Ida's obsession with the dude takes her as far as selling almost all of her things and giving him all the money so he can establish his own Socialist newspaper. Notice the incredibly sarcastic scene where Ida finally asks Benito to tell her 'I love you.' Mussolini, who at this point of the film hasn't gotten over his hate for Germans, plainly answers 'Ich liebe dich.' But this is an allegory, so here's where the plot thickens. Mussolini just happens to be married, Ida finds out, but he can't move himself to even let her go properly because he's becoming really powerful so he doesn't need her anymore. Ida gives birth to his child, but he couldn't care less. Ida's obsession is so deep, though, that she really starts pestering Benito every living moment she has...and by the time Benito is a 9-year old boy, Ida spills the cup and our villainous dictator sends her to an insane asylum and gives the custody of her son to one of his right-hand men. From here on, it's chaos...both in Italy and on our tragic heroine's life. Just as a side note, the film claims to be based on true events; obviously, the rise of Fascism in Italy IS a true event, but I can't vouch for the verisimilitude of Mussolini's secret lover. I'm ready to believe it, though, because he was such a horrid man that he must've done to thousands of women the very same thing he did to Ida. And not only women: I mean, didn't he screw up millions of people's lives by using them? The film brings the suffering of an entire war-torn country into a very intelligent perspective by allegorizing it into the character of Ida Dalser, and that's more than can be said by any recent historical drama.

Sounds good, doesn't it? The acting is pitch-perfect, especially Mezzogiorno who redeems herself for her atrocious main performance in Mike Newell's "Love in the Time of Cholera" and manages to give us a heart-breaking, poignant, sublime and VERY powerful performance (I wonder why she didn't get an Oscar nod? Academy voters must've definitely been high). We see a woman who has no chance of survival, who'll never see her son again, whose life has been ruined by Italy's most powerful man, but her strength and courage stand true to the very last. The screenplay is VERY good, actually; Carlo Crivelli's score is one of the best scores I've heard in a long time (which sounds like a perfect cross between Philip Glass and Dario Marianelli) and Marco Dentici's cinematography couldn't possibly be better. Also, the film never lags, and it touches on so many levels of human suffering and cruelty, that you can't help but me moved to deeper thought. What more can you ask of a film? See it. Italy has outdone itself this year with such an excellent film. No one in their right minds could possibly be disappointed. Rating: 4 stars out of 4!!

Mother (2009)
5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
One of the BEST foreign thrillers ever!, 5 August 2010

"She'll stop at nothing," reads the ominous tagline on the poster of Bong Joon-ho's latest cinematic triumph "Mother". I remember seeing Bong's thriller "The Host" (the one filmed documentary-style where a giant octopus threatens a city) and I didn't think much of him as a director; sure, the movie was interesting and thrilling enough, but it didn't make it great or memorable. One year afterwards he turns up with "Mother" and quickly establishes himself among the greatest and most respected of foreign directors. I mean, how can I sufficiently give honor and credit to such an intelligent film? In one year, Bong has managed to mature cinematically and challenge audiences worldwide with a film that's deep, VERY thrilling, intelligent to a tee and indubitably important.

The film's short title and its ominous tagline tells us a bit about the plot: obviously, it's about a mother who'll stop at nothing. Duh. The mother in the film is nameless, perhaps so we can identify with her and her unending quest. Played to perfection by Kim Hye-ja, she's an over-protective, extremely affectionate woman who sells a variety of herbs and medicinal plants and who performs acupuncture to her rich customers on a South Korean city of no name. Her son, Do-joon (Won Bin) is one step away from retarded, mild-mannered and all-around silly; we fail to identify with him at the beginning and go as far as to condemn his passiveness. In his stupidity, he hangs around with a local tough guy named Jin-tae, who's his best friend, and who accompanies him to the local country club to collect stray golf balls whom Do-joon plans to offer as a gift to a girl he likes. From the beginning scenes where a car runs over Do-joon and Jin-tae goads him into wrecking the culprit's car on revenge, we know their friendship is flawed and the latter can do nothing but lead the poor retard on a wrong path.

Well, it so happens that one night Do-joon gets drunk and, as he goes back home to his worrying mother, he follows a girl down a seedy path looking to have sex with her. She ignores him and he returns home, as planned...but on the following morning, the girl is found dead on a rooftop and one of Do-joon's golf balls is found near the scene of the crime. The police guesses he's guilty, they present him with a document where he pleads guilty which the silly Do-joon signs in his naïveté. Having accepted the guilt for the crime, he's imprisoned, much to the rage of his affable mother. She knows him better than anyone and is SURE he's not guilty, but the police won't hear otherwise, and she has no money to entice a lawyer into thoroughly investigating the case. So, like any concerned mother, she starts playing detective around town trying to solve the mystery behind the girl's death so she can acquit her son. But as truth after disturbing truth is uncovered, our protagonist finds that 'she'll stop at nothing' to save her son's freedom.

The film shines. The many technical aspects (such as the muted, ominous score, the perfect editing and the cinematography) aid in making this an interesting experience, but the REAL triumph behind the movie is a) the clever screenplay and b) Kim Hye-ja's flawless acting. First, the plot thickens and thickens to insurmountable depths, and it leaves virtually no plot-holes; it's a well-devised mystery unlike any I've recently seen. And second, Kim's performance of a cunning, methodical, calculating mother truly deserves an Oscar nod. Every second she's on screen she turns up the thrills. We can't help rooting for this enraged mother trying to protect her son, even as the mystery leads her deeper into a web of violence and murder, and the depth she gives to her character alone make the goings-on all the more nerve-shattering.

I can't say more about the plot because I might give away some spoilers, but trust me when I say every single scene, every single character counts, and Bong Joon-ho has gone meticulously through the film to present us one of the most exciting thrillers ever. John Powers from Vogue calls it "darkly funny", and I have to agree. Even though it is a detective thriller, it's enriched with some VERY dark comedy (seasoned with cinematic irony and social commentary) that will have you meditating on the absurd nature of crime scene investigations. Not only does the movie present you with a swell story, but it touches on themes such as crime, prostitution, no-secrets towns, the stupidity of our youngsters and, most importantly, the zealous nature of mothers towards their sons. Few films manage to exact surprised laughs from us at the same time that it keeps us riveted to the edge of our seats, our minds shattered by what we see.

I recently discovered this was South Korea's official entry for the 82nd Academy Awards last year (2009), and I am enraged to see it wasn't nominated in the end. A film of such power and such depth shouldn't be overlooked, and quite frankly, I'm appalled to see films like "Mother" be snubbed from the Oscars (even Italy's excellent film "Vincere" was snubbed and overlooked for other films like Peru's "La Teta Asustada" which, even though it was very interesting, doesn't reach "Mother" or "Vincere"'s height). "Mother" is a film every thriller-lover should watch, and I can assure you it won't be easily forgotten.

Rating: 4 stars out of 4!!

Greenberg (2010)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Baumbach matures with this film...but alienates us even more., 5 August 2010

Noah Baumbach. What can I say? He's a respected filmmaker and one of the funniest, most introspectively intelligent minds of the American Underdog nowadays. His first film, "The Squid and the Whale", became an instant classic back in 2004 when it was released and is still being discussed (and even studied) six years afterwards. His next big release, "Margot at the Wedding" wasn't as successful as his previous feat but managed to take 'serious comedy' to an infinitely profound level, bearing open various veins of social commentary and establishing Baumbach's maturity. It is, therefore, not surprising that his latest film, "Greenberg", was one of 2010's most anticipated independent films, and one which I immediately went to see once it was available in my country. But...what can I say? It's not PRECISELY that Baumbach has failed to uphold his increasingly respected position, but he most definitely has failed at achieving expectations.

The film deals with a man named Roger Greenberg who follows Baumbach's vein of ambivalent characters which makes the audience toggle between adoration and utter loathe; he's the kind of man we admire for his intelligence, wit, and humanity but whom we condemn for his egotistical personality, his tiresome self-centeredness and his somewhat unnerving neurosis. Baumbach's main characters are always people we alternately hate and love and for whom we simply can't come to a conclusion by the end of the film, but Greenberg goes beyond that: he's the kind of character we love to analyze (and we applaud the director for such an original creation), but after the first hour he's tedious to watch. I mean, I KNOW Baumbach meant it to be so, but when 99% of the scenes feature him and his personality-flawed intelligent monologues and dialogues with other ambiguous characters, there comes a point where we simply want it to stop. We lose focus of Greenberg and opt for paying attention to the plot, instead. BUT like every other Baumbach picture, this is a character-based movie and the sparse, slow plot serves mostly as a simple medium through which they can develop their personalities. So what do we get? A film that starts out as possibly the best film of the year and ends up in your checking your watch to see if it's nearly over.

Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is a 40-year old man who basically does nothing (he's a carpenter, but that's sort of like his hobby). When he was young he played in a band with his three best friends, had a good time, but now he's hit a point where he feels challenged by time's constraints. He recently had a nervous breakdown and has only just come out from a short sojourn at a mental institution, so his brother (Chris Messina) lets him stay at his huge house while he and his family take a vacation through the Middle East. Greenberg lived in New York and his brother's house is in Hollywood (his old stomping grounds), so upon his arrival he starts getting in touch with his past friends and acquaintances, including his old 'best friend' Ivan (Rhys Ifans), who has never forgiven him for breaking up the band, and his old 'girlfriend' Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is now happily married, has kids of her own, and isn't too keen on having Greenberg and his problematic personality back. While staying at his brother's house, he meets Florence (Greta Gerwig), his 25-year old assistant, and starts developing a) a crush on her, b) a certain nostalgia for the past, and c) a sudden reality check on the ridiculously empty road his life has taken him.

Stiller turns in a powerful performance as the egotistical, tiresome but intelligent Greenberg, a man as remarkable as he's quirky. And Gerwig equally shines as the simple-minded, bored and somewhat confused Florence. The best scenes are actually those when they're together, and even though we can't identify ourselves with these characters, even though we're not sure we even LIKE them, we root for them and their growing dysfunctional relationship. Baumbach embellishes the film with his trademark witty dialogue and his modern yet simple plot but, like I said before, there comes a moment when it grows TOO tiresome. Even Stiller's practically flawless acting (his very best, I guarantee it) can't save us from condemning Greenberg.

Also, it's obvious Baumbach wants to raise the bar with each of his films, and we notice that with "Greenberg" he tried to give even more depth and more brilliance to his screenplay and his marvelous characterization. Perhaps he achieves it, but there's a point where we simply don't care anymore. It's like you just KNOW you're watching an important film, but there's no appeal within the characters or within the story to keep us interested. And that's really sad coming from a film that's less than two hours long.

I hear that critics really liked this. I mean, REALLY liked it. I understand them and acknowledge its depth and power but, honestly, I was yawning halfway through. My advice is: see it and see how you like it. Rating: 2 stars and a half out of 4.

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