10 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Batman Begins (2005)
I'm sorry, but I hated it.
20 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I can see that I am in a distinct minority here, but I really found this movie quite hard to sit through. I can also understand why people loved looks great, the cast is top rate, and the direction is stylish and serious. It is also such a huge improvement on the cheesy nonsense of some of the previous movies. So where did it all go wrong for me?

I was right there at the start, I loved the scenes of Bruce's fall and recovery, and I was really engaged when Morgan Freeman was getting out the Bat-based goodies. It really fell apart for me when the plot veered off into stuff about an unidentified bad guy (obviously Liam Neeson's 'sensei' character) plotting to stick some hallucinogenic gas into the air with the aim of destroying the city because the city is bad. Somehow it just became convoluted, but without the necessary tension to keep me interested. By the end it was a matter of supreme indifference to me if Batman lived or died.

Such a shame, and hence the harsh rating, but I am very hopeful that the next movie will sharpen up the plot a long way, but retain the excellent style of this movie.
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Ikiru (1952)
The examined life...
13 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This great film by Kurosawa is probably less well known than his Samurai tales, but is none the worse for that. The film is both long and slow-paced, but the impact is incredible.

We begin with 'our hero' (as Kurosawa calls him) Watanabe's stomach x-ray, and we are told that he has cancer. We then see Watanabe sitting at his desk in the Tokyo city civil service, slowly marking a great pile of papers with his little rubber stamp. He sits at the head of a group of people doing much the same thing, shuffling papers from one place to another, and we are told that he has been doing this for 30 years! We see a group of ladies complaining about stagnant water directed from one office to another as the bureaucratic machinery churns mechanically onwards.

Against this background, Watanabe goes to the doctor with his stomach complaint. He meets a strange man who precisely describes Watanabe's symptoms, and tells him that the doctors will lie to him, as the disease is terminal. This comes true and Watanabe realises that he is to die soon. The stunning waste of his life then becomes apparent to him, and in a really powerful scene he falls asleep, crying below a commendation from the office for 25 years of service. He isn't worried by dying, rather he's worried by never having lived.

He stops going to work, he buys expensive sake and goes to the bright lights, but this fails to make him happy. He then spends time with a young girl from the office, and it is on an evening out with her that he realises what he must do. This realisation is combined with a roomful of people singing 'Happy Birthday' for a friend...but it is clear that they are singing for Watanabe's rebirth. Watanabe goes back to the office and picks up the file concerning the stagnant water...he is determined to do something about it after 30 years of doing nothing!

The next section of the film is the real key to its impact. We are at Watanabe's funeral, with a number of the technocrats from the City Council. My expectation was that they would all be complimenting the memory of Watanabe and his achievement in clearing the stagnant water and building a park in record time...but they aren't! I was frustrated...I wanted them to recognise that he knew he was ill, and fought the established order so as to achieve something with his life.

As they drink more and more, they begin to reflect on what Watanabe had achieved. They become emotional, realising that he knew he was ill, and realising that with determination, the system can be used to achieve things. The final scene, however, is of one of the men present at the funeral subsiding below a pile of papers, unable to change anything.

The bitter ending is tempered by the powerful feelings stimulated by Kurosawa during the funeral scene. I reached the end feeling that one man can make a difference if he is determined, and that this can only be achieved by reflecting on your life and achievements, and then making a conscious decision to do something!
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Thirsty work
6 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I guess this movie is probably thought of as Leone's masterpiece, delivering, as it does, a dose of the old west with immense style and self-assured presence. Much of the cinematic style used by Leone has entered the folklore of the west and is as much a part of that folklore as spitting, guns, dust and swinging saloon doors. I can't imagine a duel any other way than through Leone's eyes and I now expect a Western to always have a 'man with no name' character who says virtually nothing.

This movie has it all...the waiting, the heat, the sweat, the dust and then the swift, deadly violence. The story is not bad either, pitting our hero and an outlaw against a murderous railway man who is seeking to get a recently widowed ex-whore out of her inheritance. But what it really has is great shots of the amazing scenery, and real, palpable tension. Leone described the film as having the rhythm of the last gasps of a dying man. It is very much like that, and this builds a very strong sense of foreboding. Everyone will not walk away intact, death is woven into the fabric of the movie. As we move from one convulsion to the next the tension is ratcheted up to extreme levels so that the eventual violence is almost a relief.

The end result is an amazing movie that helped to create the legend of the old west, and that is now a part of the legend. It looks amazing, it's a rollicking good tale, and it'll leave you desperate for a beer!
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Seriously, what's changed?
5 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A great movie, made all the greater by Kubrick's willingness to treat a deadly serious subject with a fabulous combination of satire and black humour. The futility of the nuclear deterrent and the twisted, inescapable logic of mutually assured destruction is brought slamming home in a perfect movie that does everything film should do. You can't ask for more if you've been amused, thrilled, shocked and forced to reflect on a giant issue!

The question I suppose now is what we should take from this today. The bombs are still about, the arguments for having them seem the same, and politicians seem just as ready to reach ridiculously extreme positions very easily. Plus, we still have 'fail safe' systems to stop them from launching, don't we? Well, don't we? It's awfully frightening when you think about it. The bombs might be targeted elsewhere for now, but lets not forget about them.

This must have been a real eye-popper in 1964. It is even more amazing that after the end of the cold war these babies still exist. What price a remake either real or on celluloid?
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Rashômon (1950)
I saw it with my own eyes!
5 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This fabulous work was years and years ahead of its time when it was made in 1950, being a work of art that engages the eyes and the ears, but most essentially, the brain. The film is both aesthetically beautiful, using amazing camera techniques, extensive periods of silence and a very limited cast to deliver the action, and the story is typically Japanese...ostensibly amazingly simple, but complex to the point of sending you cross-eyed!

The basic tale is this: a woman and her husband, a Samurai, are travelling through a forest when they meet a bandit. The bandit has sex with the woman and the Samurai ends up dead. That's it. This tale is related to us through the woodcutter and a monk who saw the protagonists give their evidence to the police (the dead Samurai through a medium), but unfortunately the three tales conflict with one another. Each confessor says that they killed the Samurai, and then we hear from the woodcutter who in fact witnessed the event, who gives us a version of events that borrows from each individual account, and is still less credible!

The conclusion presented by Kurosawa seems to be firstly that individuals see things from different perspectives, but secondly, and most importantly, that there is no objective truth. There is no answer as to what took place in the forest, and Kurosawa offers us no way of knowing what went on. Each story is as credible as the other, and so no conclusion about guilt can be reached. We even have to think at the end that as the whole thing is reported to us by the woodcutter and priest, was there any truth in anything we heard at all?

This film leads to an especially tricky conclusion for a movie-goer! Your eyes are supposed to show you objective truth, but they don't. The camera is supposed not to lie, but it does. I feel that the simple message is that subjectivity lies at the heart of life, and this subjectivity needs to be recognised before any attempt is made to understand events.
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Even Sinatra would have said 'no'.
1 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Unfortunately I think this is one of those films that if you or I took it to the studio and said, 'can I make this great movie with my friends Mary, Mungo and Midge from school?' the studio would have you kicked to death on the spot. However, if a bunch of massive Hollywood names say, 'look, I fancy a jaunt to Italy with my mates, how about it?' the studio writes a cheque.

We kick off with the casino boss from Ocean's 11 tracking down the robbers who made off with his cash, and then Brad Pitt is shagging Catherine Zeta Jones, and then there's some monkeying about in Amsterdam and Italy and such and such and then it all ends somehow.

The film does, however, include the most shameful moment of both Julia Roberts' and Bruce Willis' careers, which is a cinematic gem. I nearly vomited in my lap and tore my eyes out when Julia Roberts, playing Tess in the movie, pretends to be (you guessed it) Julia Roberts! Bruce Willis stands about clearly wondering when he can leave, and how much the cheque will be.

Ah well, to be fair, I'd have done it for the cash, so I suppose I can't really criticize the poor loves, but I'm a penniless slob not a Hollywood legend. I guess what really annoys me about this film is not that it is boring and pointless and has a terrible story, but that I think the actors probably all had good fun doing it! I think the actor's entire job is to project emotion outwards...I feel like I paid to go to the party, but had to stand outside in the rain. Booo!

Watch it if you like Como, or fancy CZJ or something, but otherwise go for a walk.
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The Terminal (2004)
A film about waiting.
1 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Funnily enough I saw this one on a plane, which is never the best place to see a movie, but I was in an 'airport' frame of mind, so the film managed to strike a chord with me. Flying is the ultimate process in which you spend time where you don't want to be in order to get where you want to be, and the related frame of mind is similarly restless. The focus of this film is on people who are stuck in the midst of this shiftless world, but stuck for differing reasons.

Our main character, Navorski (played by Tom Hanks) has slipped into a 'crack' in the international immigration system, unable to get into the US, and unable to go home. He therefore has to live in the airport, waiting to escape into New York. He meets a variety of people whilst he waits. He befriends a man waiting for an opportunity to talk to a beautiful immigration controller, who in turn is waiting for love. He meets a cleaner waiting for the courage to face justice in India. He meets a beautiful air stewardess who is waiting for a good man. Navorski is waiting to fulfil his father's aim, for which he waited his whole life. His fate is controlled by a man waiting for promotion, and so it goes on.

Navorski is a selfless and good person. He helps others whenever he is able, and the end result is that he is helped to his goal by those who he assisted along the way. Finally, he achieves his goal, completes the father's collection of jazz legends and goes home.

The moral? Good things come to those who wait, I guess. I landed and went home, and I was much happier there.
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City of God (2002)
From the first moment to the last this movie is enthralling!
31 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The first moment of the film shows us a swaggering gangster preparing food somewhere in the Favella of Rio de Janeiro. A knife scrapes across a whetstone, a chicken is plucked, fabulously atmospheric music plays in the background and a second chicken makes a break for his life! A chase ensues, the poor chicken being pursued by a whole gang of hoods, armed to the teeth, and the frenzy stops with our hero (Rocket) being caught between heavily armed Policemen, the chicken and the hoods. Violence seems inevitable, and things look bad for Rocket...

From this point of suspense we re-wind to the sixties. We are introduced to the City Of God itself...the omnipresent character in the movie. The carefully laid out buildings are reminiscent of a battery farm, and we soon find that criminality is evidently 'designed in'. The local youths (including Rocket's brother) are involved in petty crime, and the crime is of little interest or consequence to anyone. In fact we are quickly shown that crime is the only real option to get out of the Favella. Football is the other, but the ball is shot by one of the criminals, highlighting how difficult that route is.

Against this background, Li'l Dice organises an armed raid on a brothel (he must be about 7 or 8). In a fit of pique caused by his being left outside the Motel, he goes into the building after the criminals have left, and shoots everyone dead. He is on his way (via shooting Rocket's brother) to becoming Li'l Ze, the boss of the gangs of the Favella. At the same time Rocket realises that he cannot be a gangster (he's scared of being shot) and talks of becoming a photographer.

But Rocket cannot escape. He tries to work, but earns nothing, and loses his job. He tries crime, but is no good at it. The City drags him back all the time. He does better than others however. Benny (Li'l Ze's partner) is shot at the point when he is preparing to leave, Knockout Ned is dragged into the violence of a turf war, and so on. The slaughter continues with no intervention from the corrupt police, continually destroying the lives of the residents of the City, continually drawing more and more residents into the battle.

Eventually Rocket's life in the Favella itself becomes the key to the exit door. He can take pictures where no other photographer would ever dare to go, and it is this that takes us back to the police, the chicken and the gang! The ensuing, climactic battle sees revenge being taken, the gang leaders arrested, the police corruption, and Li'l Ze being killed. Li'l Ze is killed by the young kids, much as he has killed Rocket's brother, and the cycle of drugs, territory and violence starts again, imprisoning the next generation.

The film is brilliantly shot, linking subject matter and events into an excellent whole, and is complimented by fantastic sound effects creating a really credible (and Brazilian) view of the slums in which the action is set. The shocking reality of the children running the criminal gangs is well handled (Rocket and Li'l Ze's virginity lies in stark contrast to the experiences no adult would expect to ever see) and underscores what is both a touching, and terribly shocking film.
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Ying xiong (2002)
23 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I've read a couple of the other reviews of this movie, and it looks to me as though most are written by real enthusiasts of the genre. Personally, I have seen Crouching tiger, and that's about the size of it, so I can genuinely say that this film came as a real shock to me in almost every aspect!

The most obvious thing about the film is the way in which it is shot. The scenes themselves are astonishingly beautiful, deeply affecting and (I would guess) just as important as the action that they contain. The scenes engaged me in the same way that great art engages. I wanted to keep looking at them, enjoying the visual perfection.

Against this perfect background the fight scenes are dreamlike, and beautifully choreographed. They highlight the fantastic art of the fighters, and reinforce the link between the understanding of form in combat, and form in calligraphy or art.

The simple, beautiful nature of the combat, the colours, the scenes, and even the names of the assassins serve to underline the simplicity of the story, and reinforce its powerful (if controversial) message. The assassin becomes a hero by understanding that the creation of 'Our Land' is superior to his own revenge, and the chaos that would be created by that revenge.

The conclusion that the greater good of society should supersede the individual's selfish goals probably has more resonance in China than it does in the West, but the point is made powerfully, but above all, beautifully made.

Well worth watching!
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May the farce be with you!
22 May 2005
It's a good piece of entertainment (hence 7/10), and I would heartily recommend it to anyone with a couple of empty hours on a Saturday evening, but I couldn't stop thinking, 'why on Tatooine did anyone bother making these movies?'.

I saw the original movie when I was 7 years old, and episodes 4,5 & 6 (naturally) hold a special place in my heart. They were great tales of a simple band of characters forging a 'new hope' out of the old empire. They came at a time when the world was emerging from the grip of recession and reflected something of the (well-founded) youthful optimism of Lucas and Spielberg. The movies were good fun, and their natural successors seem to be the Indiana Jones series which continue a tradition of the individual battling the forces of evil in an amusing, knock-about adventure.

The most recent 3 movies in the Star Wars cycle, however, seem to be an indulgence. The first two were especially complex, and I have no real idea what the story around the central theme of Anakin's development actually was. Something to do with trade. Anyway, not very interesting, and a world away from the 'band of heroes save world' theme of the first 3! So, in summary, it was a good movie, very entertaining, beautifully made, and as long as you can focus on that and not wonder why Lucas needed to make 8 hours of movie to explain why Ani went bad, then you'll love it!
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