- Infernal Affairs: 9/10
A brilliant cop movie out of Hong Kong, with a sublime plot and great acting by the two leads Andy Lau and Tony Leung (an indescribably great actor). An amazing concept with Lau as an undercover Triad member in the police force and Leung as an undercover cop in the Triad... which leads to many interesting situations. Great stuff, and the DVD even has the alternative ending (which isn't nearly as good as the main one).
- Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life: 7/10
I really enjoyed TR2, even though the reviews have been largely negative. Angelina Jolie is just great as Lara Croft, and the movie was really interesting and fast paced. The ending was kind of flat though, subtracting half a point from my rating.
- Il Mare: 10/10
The perfect love story, not too soppy and never boring because of another incredible concept out of Asian cinema. This time, a man and woman are exchanging letters, one in 1997 and one in 1999. Sound good? Oh yes. This is just incredible, a perfect, beautiful, memorable movie with great attention to detail and some exquisite cinematography. One of the best films ever.
- Grave of the Fireflies: 9.5/10
One of the most tragic stories ever, and in anime form! The story of a boy and his young sister trying to survive during Japan in second World War, with their parents gone and air raids constant. Brutally honest, tragic, sometimes disturbing, but beautiful and a reminder of the horrors of war. Supposedly based on a true story, which makes it even more mouth-opening.
- 28 Days Later: 8/10
This was one innovative movie. Made in England, this documents a sort of post-apocolypse nation after a virus that turns people into virtual savage animals or zombies breaks out. The country is largely evacuated, but one man wakes up in hospital. We then get one of the most "WOW" scenes in cinema history, when he walks around an EMPTY London. DEAD silence, the sort you can never really hear. He basically tours the city and it's sights... and then runs into the first zombie. And boy, does the movie get creepy after that. He hooks up with some fellow survivors, and the attempt to not eradicate the virus, but to not catch it, begins. Surreal moment of the movie for me was, from a distance (as they didn't go there), seeing my city of birth and upbringing, Manchester, in flames. The acting isn't really great, but the concept and whole intrigue of the plot really compensates for any shortcomings in that department. Not as much fighting as I expected, but never boring. This is definitely the first true "zombie" classic of the 21st century, and worth seeing AT LEAST once.
- Musa The Warrior: 8.5/10
This movie had a budget of some US$60 million, which is huge for Asia. They made good use of that figure, with sometimes disturbing, but very well done fight scenes and in general, beautiful cinematography. This movie is a journey from start to finish. For all 2 1/4 or so hours, the group is journeying, and survives much longer than they expect. The characters were tremendously developed. Even peasants getting killed made you sad, because he or she had been given some screen time and you got to know them somewhat. Later on, it's an emotional rollercoaster, as familiar faces start to go down en masse in one final, epic battle. The movie had an "Asian western" theme, as it was largely set in desert/barren regions, but I never felt the scenery was repetitive, which is a credit to director Sung-su Kim and his team. Highly recommended Asian cinema excellence!
- Bad Boys 2: 6.5/10
This was definitely better than the original, which I found really boring. Smith has improved as an actor since then, although is still not great, and Lawrence, while still one dimensional, was more eccentric in this. This is about 2 1/2 hours of extreme violence and mean spirited humour. Like, I didn't get offended by anything as I'm not easily offended, but I still didn't find a lot of the supposed humour funny, such as corpses falling out of vans and being decapitated by moving cars, or a 15-year-old boy with a gun to his head for dating Burnett's daughter. However, the movie moved fast and was usually entertaining, with lots of explosions and shoot-outs to keep you interested. The action scenes were sublime, very well shot and produced. A movie of this sort doesn't really need to be 2 1/2 hours, but this wasn't boring or anything. I'd recommend it to people of mature age, but DO NOT let kids near it.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: 8/10
I went to watch this movie earlier, having heard all the hype. I was very doubtful that I'd like this, as Disney made it. Boy, was I surprised. This was definitely one of the superior "epic" movies of the last few years. Not only was the storyline entertaining and never boring, but the cast was just awesome. Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Geoffrey Rush were terrific in their roles, and the supporting cast was really good. Johnny Depp deserves special mention. What an actor! He brought the role of Jack Sparrow to life with such a majestic performance. Now for my one complaint of the movie, and one that I expected, given that it was Disney. Way too many out-of-character/setting one liners/jokes/tension-breakers... whatever you want to call them, every modern day American movie seems to have them. There were little flaws too that can be easily overlooked, like one of the cursed pirates using the term "spitting image", which can't be more than 30 years old (and this movie is set in the days of pirates). No more complaining though, this was a wonderful, vibrant movie that everyone of any age should see. The special FX were awesome too, and I loved the main theme from the soundtrack. Depp deserves an Oscar for his role, and should be the most pursued actor in Hollywood now.
- Hana-bi: 7.5/10
Takeshi Kitano is one talented man. Not only is he a great actor, but also an excellent director. Hana-bi is one of his more praised pieces of work. "Detective Nishi (Kitano) is bitter when he learns that his wife Miyuki is terminally ill and his partner Horibe was shot and now tied to a wheelchair. Horibe wants to become a painter, but doesn't have money for that. To help him and a young police widow whose husband was shot dead during an arrest, he borrows money from yakuza. After that he buys an old car, paints it as a police car, and, dressed in uniform, singlehandedly robs a bank. With the money he goes on a final farewell journey together with his wife". I had one big problem with this movie. The concept was built around Kitano's relationships with his wife and best friend, yet they were hardly played up. His wife spoke about five words in the movie, and there was very little interaction between Kitano and his friend. I think this may be a movie that requires repeated viewing to really understand though. Kitano's acting is great as always, with his facial expressions saying so much to the viewer. The movie also features some of Kitano's famous bursts of violences, which are always a sight to behold. The flashback one that we saw several times throughout the movie was amazing. Unless I'm missing something that I'll pick up next time I watch the movie, this wasn't Kitano's best, but was certainly very good.
- Hollywood Homicide: 4.5/10
I went to see 28 Days Later, but the next screening wasn't for two hours, so decided to watch Hollywood Homicide instead. This was the old cop/new cop storyline, with Ford as the veteran and Josh Hartnett as the young cop who also wants to be an actor. Like with "Just Married" from earlier this year, most of the funny moments were shown in the trailer, leaving a lot of dead time. Thankfully, Ford's acting made those parts watchable, but this was a poor role for Ford, who continues to slumber in Hollywood, taking mediocre roles like this instead of shining with better scripts. Hartnett is almost as green as an actor than his cop character was in the movie, somewhat charismatic, but not very good. Most supporting actors were weak, and the main strength of this movie was a really good chase scene through Hollywood at the end. I only laughed a few times, so this didn't really work for me.
- Darkness Falls: 6/10
Reviews for this have been generally poor, but I didn't see any real problems with this movie. I got exactly what I expected, a very scary movie with many "jump" moments. The concept is original too, with something of a toothfairy-gone-wrong that will kill anything in the dark, but is cast away by light, as the main villain. The movie could easily have used an extra 10-20 minutes to develop the characters, which weren't bad, but weren't very well developed. Basically, lots of death, lots of scares, and a decent plot make this a fine one-timer.
- Anne Frank: The Whole Story: 8.5/10 (TV)
An epic look at the life of Anne Frank, just one of millions of jewish victims during the Nazi holocaust. This explores the girl and her family over something like 2 1/2 hours (of movie time, several years of real time). It's a long movie, but never drags. Anne and her family survived the Nazi "removal" of jews from their city by living in an abandoned house, behind a secret bookcase. Another family and several individuals were there with them, often creating an awkward and tense environment, especially when they argued. Anne keeps a diary, which allowed the original non-fiction book to be written. After seeing her first love disappear, probably taken by the nazis, Anne finds another teenage love interest, a shy boy who she becomes attached to. Before they can really go anywhere though, someone gives away the location of the Franks and their friends. In a horrifying scene, the nazis find and take the families away to one of the horrible concentration camp. Then comes one of the most emotionally draining movie stretches ever, as we see Anne's family and friends separated in the unspeakably awful death camps. The situation becomes even worse during the latter days, when most of Anne's tent is dead, and she is barely alive. They clip forward to after the war, and the train back to their home town. Surprisingly, Anne's father is the only one to return. He looks for news on his family and friends, but can't find it. He is given Anne's diary, which one of their friends kept after they were taken away. We finally see this kind, but strong-willed man collapse into tears, believing his girls and wife to be dead. The movie ends by telling us what happened to each person. They all died, besides the father, even Anne (if her body had held up for two more weeks, she would have been liberated). This is one of the most brutally honest accounts into what life for jews during the holocaust was like, and makes us realize how irrelevant many of our own problems are. I was legitimately crying at the end of the movie. How pampered our lives are compared to the people who suffered during the war. Let's just hope the world never has to suffer something like that again.
- X-Files: Fight the Future: 7.5/10
I am a huge X-Files fanatic, having collected all the available box sets and having read up on the series and in-depth details of it extensively. The X-Files, when watched chronologically, is one of the most rewarding and thought-provoking TV series ever. David Duchovny (Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Scully) are one of the best teams in TV history, and had almost instant chemistry. Awesome supporting actors like Mitch Pileggi (Skinner), William B. Davis (Cigarette-Smoking Man), John Neville (Well-Manicured Man), and of course, THE LONE GUNMEN ~!, also help the cause. The movie is set in between series' five (the last truly great series) and six (a very good series, but one where X-Files goes Hollywood, the comedy is raised too high, and writing usually not as good as before), with the conspiracy in full swing. Mulder gets closer to the truth than ever, actually entering a huge UFO in his attempt to rescue Scully from capture. The shadow government group, those being the X-Files' main villains (though not all of them are bad people), are in full force in the movie, with one of the best members being killed off in the movie. The problem with this movie is that it's more of a double episode than a movie. For non X-Philes, it'd be very easy to be confused by this. For X-Philes, the storyline is easy to follow and entertaining. The movie is very good, but I have seen better episodes on the regular TV show. The finish just serves to set up season six, which instantly follows up on "Fight the Future" (I love the episode names. Season five conclusion is "The End", movie is "Fight the Future", season six kick-off is "The Beginning").
Although the concept of "The Italian Job" only appealed to me mildly, the inclusion of one of my favourite actors, Edward Norton, made me decide to check it out. I was reluctant even with Norton involved, as he was forced to take this role to break out of a contract. The plot is based around a theft in Venice that goes perfectly, only for one of the team members (Norton) to betray the others, killing the mentor of the lead character (played by Mark Wahlberg). Said mentor just happened to be Donald Sutherland, who was excellent and underused in the movie. The movie followed a basic plot of revenge, and was fun to watch, if not perfect. Charlize Theron was very good as the daughter of Sutherland's character, who hesitantly joins the team for revenge on Norton's character. However, Mark Wahlberg is a very "blah" actor, who often fails to distinguish himself and make himself worthy of a leading role. Although he wasn't bad, I felt that many others could have worked the role better. Now as for Norton's role, it was one of his worst ever. It was very run-of-the-mill by Norton, who didn't work too well as the main villain, although had his moments. Many of the things that make Norton such a great actor were missing, and you could tell this wasn't exactly a role he wanted. Overall, a good movie that is worth watching once, maybe twice for the awesome heist at the start, that is worked so well.
The big surprise of the year so far for me, after seeing the 6.1/10 average rating at IMDB. Bruce Willis plays a Special-Ops commander who leads his team into the jungle of Nigeria to rescue Dr. Kendricks played by Monica Belluci, who will only go with them if they agree to rescue 70 refugees too. So Willis allows them to trek along, and they almost get caught by the rebels. The choppers arrive, and Willis' squadron do a pseudo-double cross, where they force Kendricks on to the plane (as that was their order, to get her out, and not bother with the situation in Nigeria), and leave the poor refugees behind. On the way, you can see Willis' conscience knawing at him, and he acts it out very well. He orders the choppers to turn back, and they do. 28 of the weakest/slowest refugees are put on the choppers and led to safety, leaving Willis' squadron and other refugees alone, having to trek to Cameroon. This leads into a wildly intense, thrilling, and at times disturbing movie. I rarely get emotional watching movies, but I was on the verge of tears more than once during this flick. Without giving too much away, the horror of war in Nigeria, and the "ethnic cleansing" of the rebel army (which is shown in it's brutal honesty) is depicted. The last sequence of the movie, race to the border, is absolutely breathtaking. The very last scene of the movie is enough to bring someone to tears. I would really recommend this, and can't understand why ratings aren't higher. Sure, it's not "Saving Private Ryan", but it's a damn good stand-alone movie.
Another "monster" movie that was shown back to back with Congo the other week. On paper, this was a little more interesting, because the concept of a sea creature is more intriguing that killer gorillas. However, the creature turned out to be a mere slightly enlarged crocodile, not nearly as scary (or big) as what the movie poster/cover made it look like. I was expecting something comparable to the Loch Ness Monster, being a buff of the paranormal, so was disappointed. Oliver Platt's character was pretty cool though.
This could have been a good movie if you didn't know the "scary monsters" of the movie waiting to be unleashed were regular gorillas with white chalk over them and vicious faces. This had some cool moments and characters, but was pretty predictable and often boring. The best part was the interaction between the doctor and his pet gorilla, which was cute.
- Identity: 5/10
Identity is a very in-the-middle movie that scares you a bit, but eventually lets you down because of a poor, predictable script (until later on, more below), and wooden characters. It had two very good leads, Ray Liotta and John Cusack, but these talented actors were given a basic, wooden script. This movie basically sees characters die one by one in gruesome fashion, and each time they have a key with a room number tag attached. It goes in countdown form (first victim has room 10, second has room 9, etc.). Later on, the only ambitious twist of the movie occurs, and basically tears all emotional attachment to characters away - that's if you can ignore the wooden script and be attached to said characters. Overall, it'll scare you at times, and is fine for one time viewing, but that's all.
- Jeong: 8/10
God, this movie was so tragic, almost enough to bring me to tears at the end. The literal title for this South Korean movie is "My Heart". An elderly woman (Sun-mi) sits in a beautiful meadow and starts talking (in narrator form) about her past. We then see her life, which as the only other review (at present time) of the movie here put it, "... how she then struggled through life, against the most cruel and hopeless circumstances." She is married off at a young age to an even younger boy who doesn't even seem to be a teenager yet. Her step-mother is very cruel to her, and works her like a dog for years. Her husband goes away and returns about ten years later with a girl... who is pregnant. Realizing this isn't the right girl for him, the step-mother is suddenly nice to her daughter-in-law, almost as if she realizes something Sun-mi's husband wants a divorce from her down, and she quietly leaves the house, never to return. She settles in her own small house in an isolated area, and meets a potter. She eventually marries this kindly and awkward man and gets him off the booze, which he had problems with. One day, he spends all the money he made from selling pots on some expensive face powder for his wife. He is talked into having a drink with a friend, and one turns into many. As he's walking home, he realizes he has left the powder behind, and goes to retrieve it. He has another drink, and walks home in the pouring rain, drunk. He drops the powder box in the raging river and tries to grab it, but falls in as he clutches it. He ends up drowning, and the next time his wife sees him, he's a corpse. She takes the powder box as a lasting reminder of her husband, and leaves his house (with many unsold pots still there), carrying only a few possessions - just like when she left her mother-in-law's house. Sun-mi finds work doing some sort of agricultural work in harsh, snowy conditions. There, she befriends a wandering young lady with a baby, who has fled an oppressive husband. They form a older sister/younger sister bond, and the main character becomes attached to the child. One day, the "younger sister" leaves with her child, after a man who now legally owns her (having won her in a bet with the woman's real husband) almost finds her. However, one day the baby appears, and the woman is gone. Sun-mi picks up the baby and races to the river, where she sees her "younger sister" sailing away on a raft. In another gritty, tear-inducing scene as she races to the bank, she yells to the baby, "That's your mother! That's your mother!", knowing he'll never see his true mother again. Once again, Sun-mi loses someone close to her. However, she has the baby and raises him as her own. Back to present day, her son is a tall young man in university, and arrives home for a stay. He treats his "mother" (I don't think he knows about his true mother, but in this sort of movie it doesn't really matter) so well, worrying and caring about her. He goes back to school, and the now elderly Sun-mi watches. It's probably the most emotional part of the movie - she has a content look on her face, because after all the hardship, she finally found something, and has a young, well educated son to be proud of. Really, an excellent movie, grim and depressing, almost too depressing at times. My only gripe is that the transitions from eras of the woman's life were often too quick - like she went from being about 18 to being 30 or 40-something. Highly recommended though.
- The Thin Red Line: 7/10
This movie was an amazing effort by director Terrence Malick. It was his first production in 20 years, and many big name actors wanted to work with him. In how many movies do you see Clooney and Travolta play minor, brief roles? It's based on conflict at Guadalcanal during the second World War, and depicts the horror of war quite well (but not as well as Saving Private Ryan, which itself probably couldn't reflect just how horrible it must have been to fight in the second World War). This has a huge cast of faces you'll recognize, and is almost an all-star movie. My problem with it was the length (2 hours, 50 minutes), which made the movie drag for a looooooong time early on. If I had connected to the (IMO often dry) voiceover dialogue I might have enjoyed the early stages, but I'm a little ashamed to admit that I was waiting for the action. When the pace quickened, the movie became excellent, with some amazing, intense fight scenes. The movie also finishes off quite expertly. Supposedly hours and hours were cut out of this, but I still think the movie could have benefited from at least 50 minutes being chopped out of the final version.
- Confidence: 6.5/10
I was bored and there was nothing else of interest on the cinema, so I chose "Confidence" starring Edward Burns, Andy Garcia, and Dustin Hoffman as my cinema viewing yesterday. This is the tried and tested con man story, revolving around a group of friendly con artists (including the obligatory suspect female they recruit) who accidentally screw over "The King", AKA Dustin Hoffman. To pay back "The King", they have to try and con one of the most important people in the city, and so the movie really begins. I didn't like Edward Burns much in "15 Minutes", possibly because he was in DeNiro's shadow, and it was easy to feel bitter towards him when they killed off DeNiro and had this inexperienced guy step into his shoes. Here though, he really suited the role as lead con, and was charismatic, although one of his sidekicks, Gordo (played by Paul Giamatti), was better I thought. Dustin Hoffman is the star of the movie as the ADD suffering mob boss, but is criminally underused, and not in it enough. This has enough twists and turns to keep you entertained for 97 minutes and is constantly enjoyable, but not a classic or anything.
- Hero: 9/10
They say that this movie will exceed Crouching Tiger for popularity of an eastern movie in the west. "Hero" starred Jet Li and several other big names in a big budget (US$30,000,000, which is probably huge for that region) blockbuster. This is an amazing experience, largely because of the greatest cinematography I have ever seen in a movie. Some of it was just jaw-dropping, such as a forest changing colours, a spar on a perfect lake, thousands of soldiers acting in unison, even seeing a character practicing caligraphy, too much to name. The movie had a very interesting storyline that I won't spoil, as it takes quite a twist, and is also philosophical and thought-provoking. The fight scenes deserve special mention, because they were blowaway great and didn't drag like some (like those in Matrix Reloaded) can. My main fault with this movie was the length - at 93 minutes, it was too short, but apparently a special edition with 21 extra minutes of character development is being released. This was a beautiful movie in many ways, and one everyone should see. It's set for a November release at cinemas in the U.S., so go see it unless you can get the import DVD before then!
- Echo: 3.5/10
One of those low budget TV movies that you find at midday. This was the story about a good twin and evil twin, the latter of whom is presumed dead or something after a car crash that kills their parents. Anyway, he re-emerges as a psycho and kidnaps his younger brother, and tries to become him in his life. Interesting plot, but pretty bad acting and an average script. Kept me watching until the end, but...
- Pulp Fiction: 7/10
This is #18 in the top 250 on IMDB. With some big actors like Travolta, Jackson, and Willis, it doesn't lack namepower. I enjoyed this consistently, but it didn't blow me away, so I can't call it one of the best ever. I'm also not a fan of Tarantino's out-of-chronology approach, which messes things up a bit (like a character dying in one scene, then appearing in the next). The acting was strong besides an awful performance by Tarantino himself in a guest appearance, the script just didn't hit me. It had some great moments though. The "big three" of the movie (those names above) were really good, Willis in particular, who showed that he can really act when he isn't just blowing things up. Good movie, just not anything memorable for me.