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Favourite movies: Pulp Fiction; Memento; Apocalypse Now; Annie Hall; American Beauty; The Big Lebowski; Million Dollar Baby; Reservoir Dogs; Citizen Kane; Paris Texas; Lost in Translation; Rear Window; Fargo; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; A Clockwork Orange; The Godfather; Dr Strangelove; Full Metal Jacket; The Apartment; Anatomy of a Murder; Short Cuts; Sin City; Modern Times; Stagecoach; Ikiru; The Search (1948); Glory; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; The Wrestler; The Usual Suspects; Up; This is Spinal Tap; Taxi Driver; Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; Gettysburg; Fight Club; Treasure of the Sierra Madre; La Strada; The Deer Hunter; The Sixth Sense; To Kill a Mockingbird; Tora! Tora! Tora!; The Best Years Of Our Lives; Still Life; Witness for the Prosecution; Stars in my Crown; All About Eve; No Country for Old Men; M; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Stalker; Wild Strawberries; Saving Private Ryan.
Prefer clever dramas with good plots, character depth and/or a profound point, gritty crime dramas, edgy comedies and realistic war movies. Movies that make me think and/or feel.
Favourite directors: Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Christopher Nolan.
Favourite TV drama series (incl. mini-series): The Sopranos; Band of Brothers; Breaking Bad; The Wire; Firefly; Generation Kill; Stranger Things; Black Mirror; The Americans; Peaky Blinders; Narcos; Sherlock; The Night Of; Chernobyl; After Life; Fargo.
Favourite TV comedy series: Monty Python's Flying Circus; The Simpsons; Seinfeld; Chappelle's Show; Friends; Fawlty Towers; Arrested Development; Scrubs; 30 Rock; The Thick Of It; The Mighty Boosh; Family Guy; The Office (UK series); Black Adder; Yes Minister; The Colbert Report; Cheers; Action; The IT Crowd; Veep; Married With Children.
Intelligent and/or edgy comedies, plus gritty dramas, in general. Documentaries, esp on military history.
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Away We Go (2009)
A misstep by Sam Mendes, at last
I guess it had to happen sooner or later, that Sam Mendes would make a bad movie. Until now, he hasn't put a foot wrong, directing two of the greatest movies of all time - "American Beauty" and 'Revolutionary Road" - and two other great movies - "Road to Perdition" and "Jarhead".
"Away we go" is boring, pretentious nonsense. It is to Sam Mendes what "A Serious Man" is to the Coen Brothers, or 'Synedoche New York" is to Charlie Kaufman - that movie that was made out of pure self-indulgence, hubris and intellectual arrogance.
Intriguing, action-filled horror-thriller
A family on vacation is confronted outside their home by a family who look identical to them.
Written and directed by Jordan Peele, of Key and Peele fame, Us follows in the same vein as Peele's previous movie, his debut offering 'Get Out': a reasonably clever and engaging horror movie. He's now carving out a for himself in horror, which is a far cry from his comedy roots.
Us doesn't have the same coherent social messaging that Get Out had, but makes up for this with a compelling-viewing horror-thriller plot. It takes a while to get going, but once it does it is an action-packed roller-coaster ride.
Does falter towards the end though. Some plot developments are nonsensical and inconsistent with what came before and the ultimate revelation is pretty tame. Conclusion is also quite weak. A pity, as the first 70-80% was great.
Overall, worth a watch, just set your expectations for the ending quite low.
Tag und Nacht (2010)
Had potential, but the subject has been covered before, and this doesn't shed any new light on the matter. Some interesting moments, but that's about it.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Even more silly and ridiculous than I imagined, and I set my expectations very low. One of the dumbest movies ever made. Plot is incredibly implausible and filled with holes. Plus, the title gives the entire plot away!
Direction is pretty basic. Acting is woeful.
The Irishman (2019)
In a nursing home Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran recounts his days as a teamster and mob hitman. Included in his history is his association with famed Union leader Jimmy Hoffa.
Incredible story. Based on the book "I heard you paint houses" by Charles Brandt and directed by Martin Scorsese, the movie features the usual Scorsese elements of grittiness and engaging storytelling. Quite an intriguing plot, revolving around one of history's most famous mysteries.
Scorsese also surrounds himself with his favourite actors - Robert De Niro (of course), Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel - and actors with "mob movie cred": Al Pacino, Stephen Graham (who played Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire), Bobby Carnavale. It's as if Scorsese was trying to include at least one face from every major mob movie or TV series. I'm sure if James Gandolfini was alive he'd have a part! Steven Van Zandt does have a very minor part, so The Sopranos is still represented!
However, in creating this all-star cast the first problem appears: De Niro, Pacino and Pesci are too old for their roles. While some of the scenes are set when the actors are older, much of the movie is set in their middle ages, 30s and 40s. Despite all the best attempts to make them look younger, through makeup and special effects, it is clear that they are not that young, through their movements. It is difficult to imagine Frank Sheeran / Robert De Niro as much of a threat when he looks so fragile.
As much as Scorsese wanted to stay loyal to people like De Niro and Pesci, and remind audiences of his previous work with them, a better option would have been to hire younger actors for the roles. It is easier to make a younger actor older than an older actor younger.
The other issue is the length of the movie. At 3½ hours the film it was always going to be interesting to see whether the film could remain engaging throughout. It mostly is, but there are scenes that could easily have been edited out. While it never really drifts, Scorsese could easily have conveyed the same amount of plot development with less detail.
Overall, a great movie, but not perfect.
Great cinematography and intriguing plot set up but lacking in substance
Singapore, February 1942. An Australian fighter pilot is shot down over the jungle and must find his way back to Allied lines, through Japanese-held territory.
The basic plot is what made me watch this: the survival theme set in war time is intriguing. Initial set up is good too.
Moreover, from the beginning the striking feature of the movie is the scenery and cinematography. Is very well done, with lush junglescapes and the stillness and peacefulness of nature contrasting with the violent war and life-or-death struggle the airman is engaged in. It reminded me a lot of the cinematography in Terrence Malick's 'The Thin Red Line'.
However, after the intriguing set up there is really very little in the way of plot development or substance. A human/relationship drama is introduced but it is not developed to much of an extent. The middle 60% or so of the movie involves far more style than substance, with the scenery largely replacing plot development.
Conclusion is fairly good and has an emotional element, but even that is underplayed.
Ultimately, okay, but could have been much better. Fairly disappointing.
Creed II (2018)
Great: continues in the same vein as the first movie
Adonis Creed is heavyweight champion of the world. To defend his title, he accepts a challenge from someone with a very close connection to Creed: Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed Creed's father Apollo in the ring. Ivan is coaching his son and is determined to win the belt that Rocky took from him. Viktor Drago is unstoppable and Creed's odds against him are slim.
To my surprise, I enjoyed the first Creed movie. I was never a fan of the Rocky movies and I figured Creed was just going to be Rocky rebooted.
Turns out it was better than that. Rather than style over substance it had character depth and good plot development. The characters were engaging and the story was interesting.
Creed II continues in the same vein with an interesting plot and decently drawn characters. Maybe not as engaging as the first movie, but the intrigue of the David vs Goliath battle between Creed and Drago makes up for that.
Like the first Creed, this movie ties in with a Rocky storyline, so once again we have a refreshing of the Rocky story and a handing over to the new Rocky, Creed.
Grave Encounters 2 (2012)
A film student and his friends visit the hospital depicted in the original Grave Encounters movie. Evil awaits them.
A pretty standard horror movie, which is not a good thing. Unoriginal and derivative. Nothing new here at all.
Clear History (2013)
Goodish comedy. Helps if you like Larry David (as I do). Not great though: uneven and sometimes just silly. However, there are enough hysterical moments and typical Seinfeld/David-isms to keep it going.
Belyy tigr (2012)
Promising start but ultimately very disappointing
The Eastern Front, 1943. After a fierce battle, a young Russian tank driver is hauled out of his burned out tank, more dead than alive. Miraculously he survives and is made the commander of an elite tank crew. Their mission: destroy the mysterious German tank that is wreaking havoc in the sector, and which was responsible for the death of the tankman's crew: the White Tiger.
The movie started very well: had a gritty, realistic feel to it: no gung ho heroics and graphically shows the grim reality of war. Unlike many war movies, equipment was spot-on: T-34s were played by T-34s, for example. Good production values.
Plot looked like it was shaping up to be an interesting one: what is this mysterious German tank and how will the Russians defeat it? Will the Russian plan work?
Unfortunately, that's about the last time it was compelling viewing, as the plot starts to develop holes. The first sign was when the T-34-85 that is sent to tackle the White Tiger only has a 3-man crew - no commander, no assistant driver. I understand why this was done: the writers wanted the main character to be the commander of the tank, while still being the driver (because he was so good at that). So, commander = driver.
The military inaccuracies then start to mount and the movie starts to resemble a supernatural horror movie, rather than a war movie. Plot becomes more and more implausible as it goes on.
It just gets worse and worse. The final act is a total write-off, as the plot goes in a random, tangential direction. Incredibly weak and anti-climactic ending.
Wonderful, gentle, character-driven movie. Amy Adams is superb.
Three sisters share a house in San Francisco. Being descended from witches they have special powers. They use these powers to fight crime and evil.
Entertaining. A tad formulaic but the plots are reasonably interesting. The three main characters are given depth and this contributes positively to the sub-plots and the engagement level.
Engagement does diminish from Season 4 onwards though. Rose McGowan / Paige is irritating and is not in the same league as Shannen Doherty / Prue.
Death in Paradise (2011)
Sent to a Caribbean Island to investigate a murder, a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Poole, ends up being semi-permanently stationed there. While most people would regard this as ideal, just about everything about the island disagrees with Poole.
Entertaining. The sub-plots and dialogue are often funny and there's a nice relaxed vibe about everything.
As far as the murder mystery side goes, it's a bit hit and miss. Hardly Poirot-like, but generally reasonably intriguing.
Midsomer Murders (1997)
Reasonably entertaining and intriguing
The rural English county of Midsomer should be a quiet, idyllic location. However, people keep getting murdered. Luckily Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby is there to solve the crimes.
A fairly low-key whodunnit but reasonably entertaining and intriguing. The mysteries are well constructed and the plots are quite solid. Sub-plots are okay, though not overly engaging.
Engagement is the main problem. The only recurring characters are Barnaby and his sergeant (who changes every now and again, and Barnaby gets replaced too, with another Barnanby!) and Mrs Barnaby, so there are few characters to support. The characters are not well developed either.
Hardly in Poirot's league, but very watchable.
Great movie, decades ahead of its time. Even though it was made in 1927, the plot is still original and fresh today. The story, and moral and philosophical depth, is timeless.
Truly a classic.
WWII from Space (2012)
Clumsy, dumbed-down and doesn't go anywhere new
The strategy and battles of World War 2, as seen from space.
The basic premise of this documentary appealed to me: the battles of WW2 as seen from the air, reducing WW2 to a map. That should help to see the strategic and tactical side, right? Wrong. The 'from space' really means bad quality CGI ships and planes, largely seen from above. It's not original, nor done well.
Nothing about this film is done well, in fact. It is quite clumsy in its delivery, jumping around the WW2 timeline, jumping randomly between subjects and not going anywhere new. Very dumbed down: it's really only for people who know nothing about WW2, and even then it isn't too edifying.
We have the usual bunch of experts who seem more like cheerleaders than objective historians: every is the biggest or the greatest and every situation is the most crucial and dangerous.
Really nothing going for it. Avoid.
49th Parallel (1941)
Mediocre. Could have been very interesting, if told in a balanced way, but, unfortunately, this was made in 1941, so is really just a WW2 propaganda film. Filled with dramatic Shakespeare-wannabe speeches, and pretentious gestures, all of which are there to make the Germans out to be totally evil.
Most irritating performance and character goes to Leslie Howard (who gets top billing over Laurence Olivier). Pretentious in the extreme. Olivier has a few speeches himself - the Shakespearean training comes in handy.
Not all bad. The survival-adventure element (which I was hoping was going to be the only element) is entertaining.
Black Narcissus (1947)
A group of nuns is sent to open a convent high in the Himalayas. The locals are friendly and welcome them enthusiastically, as does the local ruler, The General. His English adviser is another matter altogether, for many reasons. When the General dies and his 20-something year old son takes over, things get even more complicated.
Highly rated, but I'm not sure why. The scenery and cinematography are great, but that on their own is never enough to label a film a masterpiece.
The story started interestingly enough, though, ominously, not very compellingly. As the film went out it became duller and duller. The plot degenerated into empty, overstated, melodrama, like a soap opera. Even the climax was clumsy and weak.
Not helping all this is David Farrar as Mr. Dean. I found him incredibly irritating, yet he was treated like he was some sort of Adonis. More a cad than a charmer, I thought.
I really don't know what all the fuss is about.
World on Fire (2019)
Dull and unengaging, despite the subject matter
World War 2, as lived by everyday people in England, Poland, France and Germany.
A mini-series with heaps of potential. We see the drama, history and action of WW2 plus how everyday people lived through it, and coped. Easy as - should be an instant hit, right?
Well, no. Somehow the writers and producers manage to turn something that should be an easy winner into something unengaging, dull and tedious. None of the characters are really worth following, making for a distinct lack of engagement. The Polish girl was probably the only one I felt any empathy for, the other characters are so bland or unlikeable.
The lack of engagement with the characters is aided and abetted by some incredibly sub-optimal casting decisions. Worst of these is Sean Bean as an irritatingly weak, docile, malleable, quiet and reticent former WW1 soldier. He belongs in strong leadership roles and this is the polar opposite of that. I cringed every time he was on screen.
Plot development is just as boring as the characters. The human dramas are bland and superficial, and drawn out to the extreme. Even the historic and military side is badly done, with some incredibly improbable scenarios. For example, two Poles escape from Poland and manage to end up in the fighting in France! They walked clear across Germany! Clearly the writers figure the audience's geography knowledge is as limited as its history knowledge.
Special effects are pretty bad too, which is difficult to accomplish in 2019. The images of HMS Exeter during the Battle of the River Plate looked like they were hand-drawn!
Simple yet effective
In 1961 Dr Stanley Milgram performed a series of experiments that revolutionised our understanding of human behaviour, particularly with regard to obedience. It went a long way to explaining how the Nazis managed to carry out the Holocaust and explaining other historic events. This is the story of Dr Milgram, this famous experiment and his other work.
A simple yet effective telling of one of the great breakthroughs in sociology / psychology. Is quite a dry telling, with fairly low production values, but it largely works. Quite interesting, especially as you hear about the results of the main experiment plus some of the other experiments Professor Milgram performed.
As mentioned, it is quite dry though, so can feel a bit dull at times. We don't learn much about Milgram himself, even though much of his life is shown. His family life seems more like padding than anything else (even if his wife is played by the wonderful Winona Ryder).
Solid enough performance by Peter Sarsgaard in the lead role. Good supporting cast. Taryn Manning does look out of place though, playing a 1960s housewife. Maybe it is because I kept thinking of her as Pennsatucky in Orange is the New Black!
Dark and intriguing, but also a touch disappointing
Eight teens - four guys and four girls - are the best of friends. One summer, out of boredom they experiment with all manner of new means to entertain themselves. This degenerates into some extreme behaviour and will lead to tragedy.
Intriguing movie, told in a way that keeps you engaged and wondering what happened. By telling the story from the perspective of several of the teens, one at a time, you get fed enough information to get a piece of the picture, but not enough for the whole picture. This creates a great sense of mystery and makes you stick around for more.
However, when everything comes together and the secret is revealed, it is a bit disappointing. The revelation is rather flat and what develops from there feels a touch implausible. Is quite topical and thought-provoking though.
The Favourite (2018)
Interesting and intriguing
Early 18th century. Queen Anne is the monarch of England. Her closest friend, confidant and adviser is Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. Lady Sarah's cousin Abigail comes to the palace, hoping for a job. She used to have status but has fallen on hard times. With Lady Sarah's help Abigail gets a job as a maid. However, her ambitions are much higher than that.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, which made me sceptical about this movie. Lanthimos's previous two movies - The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer - were pretentious, pointless, random nonsense. Here, however, he adds a fair degree of much-needed substance to the style, creating a movie that is intriguing and interesting, even funny, while set against actual historic events. There's still a fair bit of unnecessary style-over-substance scenes (and sounds - the jarring music was annoying at times) but for the most part this is a good story.
Lanthimos makes use of some innovative techniques to enhance the atmosphere. The use of fisheye lens shots was highly original and gives a great sense of the vastness, and emptiness, of the palace.
Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are great in the main roles. Colman as Queen Anne is superb and well deserved her Best Actress Oscar. Solid supporting cast that includes Nicholas Hoult and Mark Gatiss.
The ending is a bit flat though. I was hoping for something more powerful and profound.
Great war drama: gritty, interesting and entertaining
645 AD. Emperor Taizong invades Goguryeo with his massive Tang army. His initial target is the fortress at Ansi. After defeating a major attack by the Goguryeon army he besieges Ansi. The odds are massively stacked in Taizong's favour: opposing his 200,000-strong army is a mere 5,000 force at Ansi. It is lead by Yang Manchun, a man regarded as a traitor by the Goguryeon leader.
Great war drama. Based on historic events, making it interesting as a history lesson, of sorts. The battle scenes are very gritty, action-packed and entertaining. There are a few implausible developments and dramatic liberties taken but it is generally quite well done and believable. Many Asian war movies degenerate into ridiculous martial arts scenes and I was worried this would also follow that path. Thankfully, it does not.
To add some variety and engagement the writers and director throw in a few sub-plots: the would-be spy/assassin, the animosity between two of Manchun's senior commanders, the romantic angle involving Manchun's sister and his cavalry commander. In a lesser movie these end up with too much screen time and crowd out the main story, making the movie quite dull. Thankfully these never get blown into something bigger than the minor distractions they are and ultimately do add some colour and variety to the film.
The Mule (2018)
Great movie from Clint Eastwood
Due to financial problems, an 80-something year old man takes a job as a drug mule, driving shipments between Texas and Illinois for a Mexican cartel. Unbeknownst to him, the DEA are targeting the cartel.
Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the Mule is a return to Eastwood's purple patch of 2003-2009, a period that included such masterpieces as Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Since then his films have a bit hit-and-miss, with great ones, e.g. Sully, interspersed with weak (Hereafter) and downright terrible (15:17 to Paris) ones.
The Mule combines the human drama that made Million Dollar Baby and Changeling brilliant with the crime drama of Mystic River and the everyday-man-in-a-tough-situation of Gran Torino.
Interesting, engaging story with some great little sub-plots and interactions. Eastwood demonstrates his deft touch at human drama, though some of the family drama does feel a bit clumsy and overly melodramatic at times.
Eastwood the actor does well in the lead role, reprising his role of the cranky Korean War vet in Gran Torino to an extent. Good support from Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, Taissa Farmiga and Eastwood's daughter Alison, playing his daughter in the movie.
The ending could have been better though. While it is reasonably poetic it doesn't quite have the punch I was expecting.
First Snow (2006)
Brilliant thriller. Clever, innovative and intriguing plot. Not at all predictable, you are kept guessing to the last moment. Unlike most modern thrillers, no gratuitous twists just to keep you on edge.
Grabbed my attention from the beginning and held it to the end.