Categories
Film Review

Pi (1998)

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Running time: 1h 24min
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronofsky (story), Sean Gullette (story), Eric Watson (story)
Starring Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman

Darren Aronofsky’s films are generally not casual viewing – his first film, Pi (1998) sets the stage for his career in this regard with its psychotic tone and artistic choices. Pi is a movie which cannot be recommended for everyone, but it is well worth viewing for those interested in psychological thrillers and/or Aronofsky films. The plot of the movie could be summed as thusly: Jewish mathematician Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) discovers a number sequence that unlocks the secrets of the universe while battling with his inner demons. He must also avoid those seeking to steal the sequence and try to distinguish friend from foe. Crazy, right?

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Film Review

Die Hard (1988)

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Running time: 2h 12min 
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Roderick Thorp (based on the novel by), Jeb Stuart (screenplay by), Steven E. de Souza (screenplay by) 
Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia 

Not everyone has seen Die Hard, but most people will at least recognize the name. The original Die Hard from 1988 was a smash hit that started a very successful film franchise and boosted Bruce Willis’s career in Hollywood enormously. The film is considered by many to be one of the best action films ever made – maybe even the best. I do not personally find it to be quite that superb, but it is objectively a great and extremely influential action film, and I understand why some people think it deserves the gold medal in the action genre. It has also been called one of the best Christmas films, and there is, in my opinion, some merit to that as well.

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Film Review

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

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Running time: 1h 57min
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Written by James Grady (novel “Six Days of the Condor”), Lorenzo Semple Jr. (screenplay), David Rayfiel (screenplay)
Starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson

Three Days of the Condor is a spy thriller from 1975, based on the 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor. The film has aged relatively well considering its age – I cannot speak for the book, which is apparently quite different from the film version. Three Days of the Condor is still enjoyable entertainment – among other things, it has some memorable scenes and an excellent performance by legendary actor Max von Sydow (1929-2020). All of this makes it still well worth a watch in 2021, at least for those who enjoy spy thrillers and/or Sydow. Additionally, the film also has a great, dark tone that persists ever after things start to go badly for CIA bookworm Turner (Robert Redford) in the beginning. The film is not sheer brilliance from beginning to end, however – the beginning, and especially the ending, are superb, but the middle parts of the film do not, in my opinion, quite match those levels of quality.

Categories
Film Review

Commando (1985)

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Running time: 1h 30min
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by Jeph Loeb (story), Matthew Weisman (story), Steven E. de Souza (story)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Heday

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest action hero/muscular meme man to ever exist. Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis come close in the Hollywood action pantheon, but they just cannot measure up to Arnie in terms of sheer charisma, bicep size, distinct and hilarious accent, or the quality of his vast body of work. Commando from 1985 is not the film he is most known for, perhaps obviously, but it is something that many fans of Arnold will list among the films they love the most – at least in the genre of action. I am unashamedly a fan of this hilariously stupid, partly unintentionally comical action film that embodies everything great and everything so bad that it’s great of 1980s action films.

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Film Review

Aurora (2019)

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Running time: 1h 46min
Directed by Miia Tervo
Written by Miia Tervo
Starring Mimosa Willamo, Amir Escandari, Elá Yildirim

Aurora is a Finnish drama/romantic comedy that also commentates about Finnish attitudes (and/or racism) towards immigration/refugees, made some years after the migrant crisis of 2015. The story follows Aurora, a young near-alcoholic blonde living in Finnish Lapland (northern Finland) who “goes with the flow” partying and day-drinking, seemingly without any greater aspirations or plans for the future. By chance she encounters down on his luck Iranian refugee Darian (Amir Escandari) and his young daughter Azar (Elá Yildirim). Gradually Aurora and Darian become friends, and eventually, somewhat clunkily, more than that.

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Film Review

Planet of the Apes (1968)

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Running time: 1h 52min
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
Written by Michael Wilson (screenplay by), Rod Serling (screenplay by)
Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

Planet of the Apes is one of the most iconic and successful sci-fi films ever made. It started a franchise that is still going strong, currently as a rebooted movie series, starring Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings). But let us not talk about the sequels and reboots at length here – I have never been that into the franchise itself, and this review is about the original ape film. For having been made in 1968, Planet of the Apes is still remarkably effective at what it attempts to do. Granted, I do have some nostalgia for it – while I (somewhat obviously) did not see it in the theatre in the 60s, I did first see the film as a child, loved it, and have seen it multiple times now. Rewatching it now as an adult, the experience is not quite as superlative as on that first viewing as a wee lad, of course. But it is still a great, entertaining movie after all these years.

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Film Review

The Specials (Hors normes) (2019)

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Running time: 1h 54min
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledan
Written by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano
Starring Vincent Cassel, Reda Kateb, Hélène Vincent

The Specials is a French drama, apparently based on a true story, about two men who work with children and adolescents with autism. It follows the daily struggles of the two shepherds and their respective flocks, focusing on the lives of the two leads and (some) of the kids. There is also a message about the system’s failure to care for the kids; it seems that only the truly devoted volunteers, despite their obvious lack of resources, stand between the youngsters and institutionalization or a life of crime. The Specials is a competently made small-scale film, but, in my opinion, nothing special.

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Film Review

Unforgiven (1992)

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Running time: 2h 10min
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by David Webb Peoples
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

In 1992 Clint Eastwood directed and starred in Unforgiven; a western in which an aged and reformed gunslinger decides to take on one last job in his old days. Eastwood was 62 years old, and thus the perfect age to play William Munny, “killer of women and children”, in the genre that made him a movie legend. Unforgiven is not a traditional western: it takes the genre and shows it in a more cynical (or realistic) new light. There is no heroism or epic adventure on display here, and the romanticism of the old west is stripped down to a minimum. As much as it is a great western, it is also a commentary about the genre itself, and of Eastwood’s role in the genre’s history. The film won 4 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role [Gene Hackman], Best Director, and Best Film Editing [Joel Cox]) and is now deservedly considered a classic.

Categories
Film Review

Brazil (1985)

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Running time: 2h 12min
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Terry Gilliam (screenplay by), Tom Stoppard (screenplay by)
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro

Terry Gilliam, the American Monty Python, is one of the more interesting directors of recent decades. While his movies are not always successful commercially or critically, he has a unique style, utilizing fantasy and comedy (particularly dark humour), and a penchant towards the absurd, which certainly sets his filmography apart from mainstream Hollywood. Brazil is perhaps his most imaginative and ambitious film, and it is widely regarded as a classic – some (English film critic Mark Kermode, for one) list it among their favourite films ever made. Despite its apparent appeal and recognition, I have always found Brazil a mixed bag – the film has great scenes and ideas, but the execution is far from perfect. It is 2021 and we are living in a mad timeline, so why not revisit the dystopic and nightmarish Brazil, 36 years after its release.

Categories
Film Review

Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku) (2018)

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Running time: 2h 1min
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
Written by Hirokazu Koreeda (original story), Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)
Starring Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Kirin Kiki

Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku is the original title, which Google translates as “Shoplifting family”) is a Japanese drama about, well, you guessed it, a family of shoplifters. A poor family living in squalor has made the choice to supplement their insufficient income from various jobs with less than legal means. This redistribution of wealth is also done by the children of the family, whom the adults have trained for the task. They mostly steal ordinary things, such as groceries and everyday items, but occasionally something more expensive will also get snatched to be sold. The thieving family is not depicted simply as good or bad, which is a major strength of the film – there are many shades of grey to the characters, making them feel like real humans instead of cartoonish caricatures. The viewer is free to make their own judgements, the film is not preachy or moralising.