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The Invitation (2015)
A smart thriller, deserving of a better payoff.
A man and his girlfriend are invited to a dinner party hosted by the man's ex and her new husband. Things don't seem right from the go, as the hosts behaviour seems to get stranger as time goes by and more details emerge of the two ex's trouble past. At the party are a number of other guests, none of which are particularly likable or interesting, but the film does an effective job in ramping up the tension. Unfortunately, I found the payoff pretty disappointing, but the build up towards it is smart and effective. The lead, Logan Marshall-Green, who I only remember from Prometheus (where he was shocking), is actually pretty good here, the rest of the cast are forgettable. Not the worst way to spend an hour and forty minutes, would recommend.
Assassin's Creed (2016)
You might find some enjoyment if you've played the games, a really messy movie otherwise.
Well, it's not a total bore-fest. The director of last year's impressive 'Macbeth', Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons, Marion Cotillard, Brendan Gleeson and Michael Kenneth Williams. All these big names make you wonder how they messed this up so badly. There's a good premise in there somewhere, but they inexplicably highlight all the worst aspects of the game; namely the scenes set in the future, instead of focusing on the more interesting of the past time-line. The heavily (and poorly) CGI'ed action feels inconsequential and is poorly shot, and just when you think the film is getting interesting, they jarringly break it up with scenes from the future. Avoid.
Ang-ma-reul bo-at-da (2010)
An enjoyable film, if a little on the shallow side.
Having just watched an excellent Korean thriller (Memories of Murder), I had high hopes for this film. It follows a top secret agent who hunts down and tortures a sadistic killer who murdered the agent's wife. He wants to deliver the ultimate revenge, even it means becoming a monster himself. After this fairly simple plot is established about an hour in, the film then tries to bang it into your head for the rest of the running time with endless scenes of violence, rape and torture. So much so that I was bored with it by the end. The two main characters were flat and one dimensional, nothing about them was explored so instead of actual depth and interesting characters, we're left with an ultimately shallow revenge flick that doesn't really do anything to set itself apart (besides the profound, mindless violence). On a more superficial level, I can't say the film wasn't entertaining, visually it looked great, was well acted for the most part and the action was extremely well directed. That's as far as my admiration for the film went though which is a shame as the film could have been a lot better had they concentrated less on the violence and more on the writing. If you're a fan of Korean cinema, check it out (although I'm sure there are much better films to choose from). Otherwise, you'd probably be better opting for something like Old Boy or Kill Bill instead.
A worthy end to the legendary collaboration between Kurosawa and Mifune
Kurosawa's sweeping tale about an arrogant, young trainee doctor who aspires to be the personal physician of the local Shogun. To his surprise, his family have gone against his wishes and placed him in a rural clinic, under the guidance of "Red Beard", a strict but compassionate doctor. At first, he is appalled at what he see's and rebels, refusing to wear the uniform or work. Through his experiences at the clinic, the young doctor learns the true meaning of life. The film examines the doctors relationships with various patients and more importantly, his relationship with Red Beard, a hardened veteran of a doctor who imparts his wisdom on to him. The daily struggles at the clinic force the trainee doctor to re-evaluate how he see's himself, he learns of the true power a doctor holds, he can make a huge difference in peoples lives if he wanted to and bring happiness to the less fortunate. A life of poverty is worth having if he can make a difference to numerous lives.
Even by Kurosawa's standards, this was quite a sentimental film. One of Kurosawa's trademarks was to use extreme examples of society to get his message across and this film is no different. Another one of his obsessions was existential humanism, which was in full force in this film. Despite the harshness of poverty displayed, 'Red Beard' gives hope and paints a rather positive picture of the human race, especially through the character of Red Beard. It also marked his last collaboration with Mifune, his films after this would paint more of a bleak picture of society.
Mifune played the part with a subtle sort of intensity, a far cry from his usually angry Samurai roles. It really was an excellent performance. In one particularly great scene, Red Beard dismantles a bunch of thugs in Steven Seagal-esquire fight scene, he uses his knowledge of the human body to fracture certain bones in their body. After this scene, he evaluates and damage he's done and realises he was too harsh, he proceeds by patching up their injuries. The protagonist also gives an admirable performance, displaying all the traits necessary for a complex individual who undergoes a miraculous change by the end of the film. A special mention goes to the child actors who were simply superb, one scene near the end was especially moving and I think it even made me shed a tear or two.
Another masterpiece from Kurosawa and for me, it firmly places him as the greatest film maker of all time. Not just through technical ability and attention to detail but through simple, effective storytelling. A must see.
Dai-bosatsu tôge (1966)
"Study the soul to know the sword. Evil mind, evil sword"
Here, in one of Nakadai's best performances, he plays a young, seemingly evil Samurai who lives by his own moral code. He ruthlessly slays anyone who he thinks should die, and it's hard to say whether his killings are unjust or deserved, even though his actions might seem despicable at first. For example, in the beginning of the film, he encounters an ageing pilgrim praying for a quick death. Upon hearing this, Nadakai's character kills him in one swift move. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Nakadai's fighting style echo's his attitude to an extent, it's an ultra defensive style in which he never strikes the first blow. In an iconic scene later on in the film, Mifune's older and wiser samurai tells Nakadai, "The sword is the soul. Study the soul to know the sword. Evil mind, evil sword." In Japanese culture, the sword and style of a samurai could be seen as a window to his soul and "Sword of Doom" beautifully yet brutally echoes this sentiment. In the penultimate scene of the film, Nakadai's samurai is haunted by his past actions and starts to hallucinate, he is clearly a broken man and regrets some of his actions.
The ending of the film is surely a controversial one but I personally loved it. Nothing is resolved, apparently there were sequels planned but they never came to light for one reason or another. Nevertheless, it didn't take away anything from the film and for me it actually added to the mystique and moral ambiguity of Nakadai's character.
Impeccably shot and beautifully choreographed, the film is a feast for the eyes. Nakadai's performance as a self destructive samurai was highly intense and full of emotion, his shift in character alone was astonishing and really displayed Nakadai's talent as a versatile actor. Mifune is also in the film and has his fair share of excellent scenes and lines. In summary, an excellent film that I'd recommend to anyone with a remote interest in Samurai movies.
The Stranger (1946)
Deliciously campy performance from Welles makes this a must see.
"Hitchcockian" effort from Orson Welles in which a police detective, played by Edward G. Robinson, is on the hunt for a Nazi war criminal in small town USA, played by Orson Welles.
Stylish and suspenseful, Welles does a fine job behind the camera, he plays his character in an over the top "look at me I'm the bad guy!" manner, ham fisted in some scenes especially towards the end, his character's final scene is both brutal and hilarious.
A lesser work in his canon but a very good film nonetheless, highly recommended.
Out of the Past (1947)
Irrefutably cool noir starring Robert Mitchum in one of his finest, most charismatic performances.
A quintessential film noir that deals with themes you would usually associate with the genre. A private detective starts a new life in a small town till one day a stranger stops by, looking for an "old pal", cue a flashback with some snappy narration (and a slew of one liners), a convoluted plot and a seductive, almost evil femme fatale.
This film embodies "cool" for me, Robert Mitchum plays his character perfectly, like a hard-boiled Phillip Marlowe if you will. The femme fatale is played by Jane Greer who was also excellent. The film also includes an early performance from Kirk Douglas as the charismatic villain. He plays it with subtle nuances, he's psychotic without ever acting like it. Some of my favourite scenes in the film were between Mitchum and Douglas, their exchanges were highly entertaining and contained some great dialogue.
Along with the dialogue, the most impressive thing about this movie was the visual style, the low key lighting and mise en scène help create a brooding, dreamlike atmosphere fit for any of the best noir's out there. It's astounding to think this film was considered a B-movie in it's heyday, today it's regarded as one of the great films of the 40's, and rightly so!
Detective Story (1951)
Kirk Douglas in one of his best performances.
Play based movie set in a camped New York precinct, pitting the viewer in the shoes of Detective Jim McLeod, as he obsessively tries to convict a doctor accused of killing his young female patients.
Kirk Douglas delivers an intense performance, portraying the highly emotional, tough as nails cop who see's everything in black and white. Another excellent performance from him. The ending was over the top and took away from the film but strong performances and characterisations make this a must watch.
On another note, I was shocked by Joseph Wiseman's performance in this, it was dreadful! Based on the evidence in this film you would never guess he went on to give a great, subtle performance as Dr. No later in his career.
Kurosawa's best film? It just might be...
A terminally ill civil worker lives out his last 6 months as a changed man, with a new found urge to live as he realises his life has been wasting away for the past 30 years. In other words, he was a mummy; a corpse. Sitting on the same desk everyday, looking busy but not accomplishing anything of substance. This film really touched a nerve with me although you'd have to be made of stone not to be moved by it. I could especially relate to Watanabe sacrificing his own life for his motherless son, something my dad had to do when my mother passed. One scene that especially moved me was when he requested a song at a bar, and to everyone's surprise he started singing it himself. Similarly, the scene near the end where he was on a swing, singing the same haunting song, was heart wrenching. For the last quarter of the film, after Watanabe has died, we witness his wake as various co-workers discuss his life and piece together what made him change so drastically. Through the scenes at the wake, Kurosawa manages to provide an excellent critique of bureaucracy in post-war Japan but we also get to see how others viewed Watanabe through their rose tinted glasses. A masterpiece, and quite possibly, Kurosawa's best film.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Interesting premise but ultimately a very unsatisfying film.
Kind of a love-hate film for me. It starts of very well as the priest character is introduced, he's a non-believer who's ironically an evangelical Pastor, simply because he's good at it and people seem to love him. He doesn't really believe in demons and hopes to debunk them by agreeing to shoot a documentary on the last exorcism he performs.
It was a slow building movie, effectively creating tension and suspense simply through good storytelling and fleshed out characters, especially the priest, who was very well written and played to a tee by the lead actor. Similarly the possessed girl was also very impressive, some of the contortions she performed were astonishing. The film seemed to crumble as it approached it's final act, it didn't really have much else to say and threw away everything that was so impressive in the first half, then it just ended abruptly with a 'ballsy' ending that almost ruined the film for me, such was the ridiculousness of it. Still, it managed to scare me a few times and it was clearly a well made film. Just didn't quite come together as the finished article.
Faa yeung nin wa (2000)
In one word: Beautiful!
Two couples move in next door to each other on the same day. Both of the spouses start suspecting their other halves are having an affair with each other and soon, they form a close bond as they start acting out how they think the affair happened. Sparks fly and before the realise, they start falling in love with each other. Simply a beautiful film, the romance is handled with a touch of class and offers a real sense of escapism as the man and woman look for something outside their boring, monotonous lives. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung handle the script with heartfelt performances that really make you feel for their characters. One of the main strengths of the film was the soundtrack; that couple with the excellent cinematography give the film an extra layer of depth and emotion. Brilliant.
A great adaptation of King Lear.
An old, frail War Lord decides it's time for him to hand over his power to his three sons. The younger son reacts with anger and brutal honesty, telling him to rethink his decision whilst the the elder two are more than happy to accept. The elder two soon turn against the Lord and each other, each vying for full control of the land.
Another masterpiece from Kurosawa, while I didn't enjoy it as much as another one of his Shakespearian adaptations, Thrown of Blood, it's still up there with his best films. Another stunning film, it's a sharp contrast to his earlier black and white films with stark, gritty cinematography. Ran is shot in colour with lots of bright reds, yellows and blue's to help give the film a unique, artistic look, more of an achievement when you consider that Kurosawa was almost completely blind when he directed it. Tatsuya Nakadai was electrifying as the tragic Great Lord with a layered performance packed with emotion. Just an epic film, can not recommend it enough.
Tengoku to jigoku (1963)
Highly engaging crime drama. Ransom: eat your heart out!
Is there any genre Kurosawa couldn't do? Aside from a few minor plot holes, another excellent film to add to his list. The first half of the film deals with the kidnap of a rich executive's chauffeur's son, the executive must choose between paying off the ransom which will leave him broke or go through with plans of buying off the company he holds a share in. The second half of the film goes into great detail as it examines the ensuing police procedure as they dedicate all their workforce into finding the kidnapper. All this results in a fascinating drama with scenes that would make Hitchcock proud but the film goes even further through examination of classes and how the poor are largely ignored yet there is great sympathy for the rich.
Mifune superbly demonstrates the inner conflict of his character's moral dilemma. Is it worth throwing away your hard earned fortune for a kid you barely know? In one truly heartbreaking scene, the kid's father begs Mifune to pay off the kidnapper. This is the film that set the blueprint for extortion movies.
An ambitious and unique film that tries to set itself apart from the rest.
The noir style and dialogue didn't really suite the characters or the high school setting but the film did manage to pull me in as it went along, like any good noir would.
Credit to the director for trying something new though, the direction was taut for the most part and it was pretty well written, it's a shame that I found it hard to believe any of the characters. At times it was like kids playing dress up, walking and talking like adults from a different era. I'd still recommend it if you're a fan of noir, the throwbacks to classic films from the 40's will likely go over the average viewers head.
Woody Allen's stunning ode to New York.
Has New York ever looked this good? The film tells the story of Isaac (Woody Allen), a semi successful TV writer who falls in love with his best friends neurotic mistress (Diane Keaton). Now I'm not really a sucker for romantic comedies but when they're done this good you just have to hold your hands up and applaud. Woody Allen blends romance with comedy effortlessly with a script that's loaded with humour, intelligence and wit. The film boats excellent performances from all of it's cast, most notably Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. The main character in the film however is Manhattan itself, the cinematography of the film really is something to behold, possibly the best looking film I've ever seen. The visuals coupled with the excellent soundtrack add an extra layer of the depth and beauty to the film, perfectly capturing the feel of the city. Underneath it all, it's a film about life, love and loss. Highly recommended.
If you're looking for a unique experience in film; this is it.
A riveting experience, difficult to sum up in a few words but I'll try anyway. The film explores the dreams, inner thoughts and fantasies of a famous director suffering "directors block". At first it's hard and confusing to figure out exactly what is going on but as you delve deeper you realise that it's a portrait of a man's mental state whilst he comes to terms with his mid-life crisis. Definitely a film you need to watch more than once to truly appreciate, in some ways it reminded me a lot of films like Barton Fink, Inland Empire and Synecdoche, New York. The influence of a film like 8½ is clear from the get go. Marcello Mastroianni was excellent as the lead and apart from the occasional overacting the supporting cast (which consisted of a host of beautiful women) were good too.
Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen at his best.
Woody Allen's firmly established himself as one of the best auteur's/directors ever in my books. What I liked about the film most was how much I could relate to it, the portrayal of relationships is very realistic and there were numerous scenes where I thought to myself "I know I've been there". I also saw a lot of myself in the Woody Allen character, the ultimate pessimist always worrying about one thing or the other. On top of all that the film was frickin' hilarious, doesn't rely on dumb jokes like most of today's comedies do but rather relies on wit and irony, you can tell a lot of craft was put into the writing. I especially loved the scene where he's standing in line for a movie and there's a guy behind him spouting crap about Fellini. Christopher Walken's scene was great too, loved Allen's response to him, "Right. Well, I have to - I have to go now, Duane, because I, I'm due back on the planet Earth."
Not as good as "Manhattan" or "Crimes and Misdemeanors" but I can confidently say it's one of the best comedies I've seen. It's packed with great lines and one liners without ever coming off as forced or stupid. If you're a far of intelligent comedy and you haven't seen this, well, what are you waiting for?
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
A wonderfully funny and unique film!
What would it be like if a character from one of your favourite movies leaped down from the screen into the real world? No, I'm not taking about 'Last Action Hero'. Here Woody Allen examines the relationship between film and it's audience and the power cinema can have on someone's life. The result is weird yet charming and at times hilarious, yet it's utterly unique and unlike most other movies I've seen. Jeff Daniels shows a lot of promise in one of his earlier roles and Mia Farrow is good as usual. Contains the sort of sharp humour you'd expect from a Woody Allen movie although he doesn't have a role this time, those looking for a few laughs won't be disappointed and may even shed a tear or two. I can totally see why Allen himself rates this as one of his best movies.
Raging Bull (1980)
Tour de force from De Niro.
Hadn't seen this for years so it was due a revisit. One of Scorcese's best, second only to Goodfellas. A lot has been said and written about Robert De Niro's performance and yeah, it really is that good. He completely immerses himself into the role and at times you forget your watching an actor playing a part, Robert De Niro IS Jake La Motta. The supporting cast is also very strong especially Joe Pesci in one of his early roles. Scorcese pulls no punches in his depiction of the boxer, he is a loathsome, hateful and selfish man but you can't help but feel a little sorry for him when you see him at the end with his bloated self. The black and white cinematography was also excellent, it really is hard to fault a movie this good.