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Movie Ratings and Reviews

Millennium Actress (Sennen joy)

One of the most beautiful films of recent times is Millennium Actress, a Japanese animation from Satoshi Kon, who previously made the brutal, disturbing and just plain bizarre Perfect Blue. While both films centre on actresses Millennium Actress is very different from its predecessor. For one it is a film that can be seen by and cherished by everyone. From children to old folks, the film can capture the viewer with its enchanting magic. The film tells a simple, potent story: as an old film studio is torn down, two documentary filmmakers interview its most famous star, a retired actress named Chiyoko, about her life and career. As she tells her story it quickly becomes clear that the most important part of her life was not her film career but her epic journey to find her missing love and return to him the key to "what is most important." The way in which this story is told and the imagination and storytelling bravado that brings it to life is what makes this film stand out. As Chiyoko tells her story, the interviewers - and we the audience - are swept up in her story as it parallels with the films she stars in. This device may take a while to get used to but once you do it is hard not to be impressed with the fluidity with which the narrative moves from scene to scene, from era to era. The film runs a brisk 83 minutes and tells a story spanning one thousands years starting with Feudal Japan to space several centuries in the future. Covering this length of time in 83 minutes seems like a tough task but the film-makers do an exquisite job of covering the main points Japanese history and connecting them to Chiyoko's journey. There is a montage in the middle of the film that spans centuries that is particularly breath-taking. Another feature of Millennium Actress that can be enjoyed by anyone with even a passing interest in Japanese cinema is the films reference to it. The thousand year storyline is confined to one hundred years of Japanese cinema. From period pictures (with direct references to Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood) to samurai flicks, from monster movies to 1950's social dramas Millenium Actress presents a tribute to this distinct cinema culture as lovingly created as the glorious posters of old (fictional) films that populate the world.

Daai si gin (Breaking News)

Breaking News is the best film of its kind since Keanu Reeves had to deal with a speeding bus. This a gripping, edge-of-your-seat, situation action movie which from the virtuoso opening shot to the end credits barely takes a break for lunch. The premise is simple: A group of criminals are hiding out in an apartment complex. The police find out the location of the criminals. The police try to get in. The criminals try to get out. Apart from an added commentary on the use of media that is basically the film. The film's sublime exploitation of its stripped down bareness to achieve maximum effectiveness recalls Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. The film is less than ninety minutes long. There is no filler like so many of today?s action films. It gets to the core of its idea and executes it with technical ingenuity and narrative intelligence. It isn't as quirky as director Johnny To's other takes on genre but by playing it straight he has created a film that doesn't just give an interesting spin on a genre but a film that is itself a remarkable example of one.

A great deal of the success of genre stalwarts Die Hard and Speed can be attributed to a certain level of verisimilitude they maintain. Much of the action felt like it could happen so when something outlandish occurred the viewer was so involved with the story that it didn?t really matter. The same is true of Breaking News. Police procedures are meticulously detailed (this may be the best police procedural film since The French Connection) and feels real. Action is controlled and tight. Writing the following sentence I am aware that it may be one of the few positive comparisons of a film to a video game in the history of human writing but this film feels a lot like Rainbow Six except with, you know, real people. And that is a genuine compliment. Breaking News succeeds where every video game film should succeed but always fail ? here we feel as though we are part of the action. This is thanks to the attention to detail, and camera work and editing are that are rarely anything other than inventive, fluid and perfectly executed.


Kenneth Branagh's towering (and majestic) version of perhaps Shakespeare's greatest play has been appalling neglected for the past decade. Pretty much ignored on initial release and thoroughly dis-serviced by home video, it is a joyous occasion that it is now (finally) presented on a beautiful DVD that does this masterful epic justice and gives us a chance to look at a film that is ripe for re-evaluation as one of the best films ever made.

This version of Hamlet is unique for film and rare for the stage, it is the full version of the play. Not a single line has been cut, though Branagh does change locations to open the film up a bit; indeed many of his location switches enhance the story. Branagh's first masterstroke was resetting the tale to the 1800s. Gone is the dark, oppressive visualization of nearly every Hamlet thus made and incomes a wonderfully opulent visualization. Branagh's Denmark is a beautiful, potentially prosperous country on the verge of an external military coup and threatened to be ripped apart from within by crime and corruption most foul. The halls of Hamlet's palace becomes to the film what the desert was to Lawrence of Arabia - a place of limitless potential and freedom but also of oppression and doom.

The cast is spectacular. Branagh himself is awesome in the title role displaying an abundance of youthful energy and zest. He portrays all the facets of Hamlet's complex character perfectly. He's funny, charismatic and cultured, yet overcome with grief, melancholy and thirst for vengeance. Branagh is wonderfully supported by experienced Shakespearean thespians Derek Jacobi, Richard Briers and Nicholas Farrell and cameos from John Gielgud and John Mills. Shakespeare newcomers Kate Winslet and Julie Christie also deliver wonderful performances and even actors you would have thought were not suited to Shakespeare such as Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Charlton Heston and Jack Lemmon deliver excellent performances appropriate to their roles.

Anyone suspicious of Shakespeare's relevance on a modern audience need look no further than this film. Branagh did a tremendous job of making the story accessible to modern audiences while not changing a word of Shakespeare's text. There is no need to understand every word spoken; the actors do such a wonderful job at conveying what their character is saying. It's absorbing, thrilling and as moving as any modern story. It's the definitive telling of one of the greatest stories ever told and it's the shortest 240 minute films I've ever seen.

How Green Was My Valley

John Ford?s masterpiece [i]How Green Was My Valley[/i] (a personal favourite of his) depicts the life and times of the Morgan family in a Welsh mining-town, through the recollections of the youngest child Huw, now a sixty year old man now bidding farewell to the town he grew up in and breathes vivid memories of. The film is a human drama that presents a community on the verge of dying, now living and fighting against an uncertain future the only way they know. The film strikingly shows the line between the value of tradition, the need for progress and how society handles it. It is an epic but intimate tale of love, life, death, family, religion and society.

The film fills its absorbing two hour runtime with a vast and rich thematic palette. The film is not one note or overly dreary, as would probably be the case had it been made by anyone but Ford. The film is full of life?s humour, sadness, glory and tragedy. Not a scene is wasted or uninspired. Ford's masterful direction and Arthur Miller's beautiful cinematography create a perfectly stark, and frequently beautiful, artistic representation of a Welsh village at the turn of the century. Ford's affection towards the dying culture is clearly evident. The acting is terrific too; Donald Crisp?s portrayal as the father is one of my all time favourites, Roddy McDowall?s performance is certainly among the elite of child performance?s and several of Hollywood?s finest character actors (including Ford regular Barry Fitzgerald) add a lot of colour to the film. [i]How Green Was My Valley[/i] is a haunting and beautiful film. One of the greatest films Hollywood has ever produced and the finest example of Ford?s unique visual poetry.

Heroes of the East

[color=black]The greatest martial arts film I have seen. A terrific story of marital dysfunctional and rivalry between nations plays host to some of the most vivid, thrilling fight scenes ever filmed. Amazingly every fight scene in this film is on par with the others. Usually martial art films will have one or two stand out set pieces and smaller scenes peppered about, but in [i][color=black]Heroes[/color] of the [color=black]East[/color][/i] each fight scene is handled with the same amount of care and attention, which is no small deal as the majority of the film is the fight scenes. Incredibly for a film that is mostly action scenes, no one dies or gets seriously injured in the entire movie. This film is about two nation's warriors learning to respect each other's technique and culture not about striking down the opponent. The marital dysfunction scenes that set the film in motion are also hugely entertaining. One scene in particular in which husband and wive throw down their country's hidden weapons on a table recalls the great Hollywood comedies of the 30s and 40s. Combining the best of both worlds [i][color=black]Heroes[/color] of the [color=black]East[/color][/i] becomes a relentlessly entertaining, inventive masterpiece.[/color]